• Multicultural Music: Broadening Students’ Musical Horizons

    Mike Lawson | October 22, 2006

    By Dawn Allcot

    In a recent survey conducted by MENC, the National Association for Music Education, 95 percent of 364 music teachers polled reported that they teach multicultural, or world, music in their curriculum. Eighty-four percent said they include this music in their ensembles' performances.

    In a separate survey, 25 percent of the educators questioned said that their choices of multicultural music included selections from the represented ethnic and/or religious groups in their schools. An additional 29 percent said that the selections "pretty much" included choices from these different groups.

    While the MENC survey represented a cross-section of music educators - from instrumental music to choral and general music - the percentage of band and orchestra directors that actually incorporate world music into their ensembles could be much lower.

  • Recording: Mastering – The Crucial Step in CD Creation

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006  By Greg Simon & Nick MacDonald   Is your school band, orchestra or choral group planning on making a recording to sell or distribute? Making a CD or DVD of a school band, orchestra or choral group has become extremely popular due to current advances in music technology and the lower cost of recording. […] Read More...
  • SBOUpfront: Planning a Performance

    Mike Lawson | October 18, 2006By Robert Brown All conductors face the issue of planning for their next performance. I constantly mull over questions like "How many weeks do I have?" and "How am I going to tackle this issue?" In planning from year to year, I always look for new and interesting ideas to help in the preparation for […] Read More...
  • Web Development for Music Educators pt 4

    Mike Lawson | August 1, 2006

    A new frontier for music educators is interactive Web-based instruction and assessment. Why? Because there aren't enough hours in the day let alone class time to do all the great things music educators can accomplish. And now with music technology, it is possible to successfully augment your curriculum as well as cleverly assess all those pressing standards.

    Interactive Web-based instruction and assessment can bring you and your students together with 24/7 flexibility. Band, choral, and string performance techniques now have home instruction options because programs such as Makemusic's SmartMusic and Pyware's iPAS can improve the quality of home practice and provide accountability data.

    The most recent development is numeric data assessment on your Web site that is not easily obtained in the classroom setting where teachers are overloaded with so many responsibilities. I can't think of anything more precious to busy music educators than more efficient use of their time.

  • Web Development for Music Educators pt 3

    Mike Lawson | July 1, 2006


    Audio and video Internet streaming media has changed the Web as we knew it. Namely, the Internet has changed from a static text- and graphics-based medium into a multimedia experience populated by sound and moving pictures. This remarkable technology allows a Web site visitor to click on a button and, seconds later, listen to or view CD-quality music along with a video as a powerful presentation. Streaming works by first compressing a digital audio/video file and then breaking it into small packets, which are sent, one after another, over the Internet. As the packets reach their destination (the requesting user), they are decompressed and reassembled into a form that can be played by the user's system. To maintain the illusion of seamless play, the packets are buffered or preloaded, while packets play and more packets are being downloaded and queued up for playback.

    Music educators can benefit immeasurably by having their music ensemble groups/students featured online. I can't think of a faster way to stimulate interest in your music program than by featuring performances by your students and music ensembles over the Internet in real-time. Have you ever seen and heard a 200 piece marching string orchestra? Duluth High School in Duluth, Georgia has one and it can be viewed at: Once you have created a streaming file (in this case, parade2004.rm), it only takes one more step to prepare everything for posting on the Internet. Go to a text editor, HTML editor or a WYSIWYG application and create a one-line file with the URL of where the streaming file will be located on the Internet. In this case, the text or HTML file will read: Then just have a link for that text file as, and you are ready to view the video-streaming file. For examples of how audio streaming can promote your students, go to and you will see many examples including a violinist sounding like Jimi Hendrix entitled, "Reva Song #7" (both audio and video streaming on that URL). The audio streaming file for this example is: and its correlated text/HTML file with the streaming file name inside of it is Spotlighting your students and concerts is a perfect reason of using audio and video streaming on your school Web site. Viewers will need to download Real Player to view the audio or video streaming saved in the Real format.


    Mike Lawson | December 1, 2003

    Masterfoods USA proudly presents:

    Playing Tip of the Month

    Drum Roll, Please

    "To help your snare drummers play a closed roll, have them play halfway between the rim and the center of the drum head. The drum head naturally vibrates more in this area than in the center."

  • Trumpet Techniques

    Mike Lawson | December 1, 2003

    It is fall in Texas. On football fields across the state, hundreds of young athletes are struggling to deliver a product that will be appreciated by their teachers, parents, friends, and perhaps even themselves. These athletes will contort their faces and tense every muscle possible to find the physical action necessary to accomplish what is being asked of them. They are not lazy. They work as hard as possible. They are trumpet players. When they are unable to come up with the winning combination, the frustration they feel will only push them to try harder. It is a vicious and potentially destructive cycle that is being imposed on younger and younger trumpet students every year.

    One trend that is particularly disturbing is the proliferation of middle school students being asked to play under the Friday night lights. Some play every week right alongside the middle school football team. Others play once a year as band directors attempt to bolster community pride and support for expensive music programs desperately trying to survive the budgetary ax. Few activities can impress a community of tax payers, donors and, perhaps more importantly, new recruits more than hearing (and seeing) hundreds of young musicians from every school in the district gathered for a mass performance. Still others are inside their middle school gymnasiums performing for mini versions of their future high school pep rallies, eagerly pumping up the student body to achieve in all things academic and otherwise. These are all valid reasons to push young players out into the light – into the world of high Cs and fortissississimo dynamics.

  • Lee Berk

    Mike Lawson | August 1, 2003

    Photos by Tony Scarpetta, Scarpetta Photography, Somerville, Mass.

    Many of the country's prominent colleges and universities - Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Brown - have been named after individuals who were influential in their schools' establishment and evolution. So it is also with the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. - though, perhaps, somewhat less conventionally. While the other schools were named for adult leaders who made significant contributions to their respective colleges, Berklee was named for a young boy who had yet to realize his own role at the school.

    Lawrence Berk, founder of the Berklee College of Music, created the school's name by reversing his young son Lee's first and last names and combining them. While Lee Berk was unable to offer his leadership and support at such a young age, he made up for it after he graduated from the Boston University School of Law in the mid-1960s.


    Mike Lawson | June 1, 2003

    When York High's band strikes up the school song in its new band hall, director and music department chair Ron Polancich hears more than just the music. He hears the fine-tuned harmony of school administrators, architects and taxpayers whose collaboration has resulted in Illinois' most expensive school to date and a state-of-the-art music education facility. He also hears the final proof that his extensive, and sometimes taxing, involvement with the entire process has been worthwhile.

    Built in 1919, York High School in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst required a complex renovation and construction project, keeping intact the original edifice while enlarging the school by 18 percent and thoroughly modernizing the interior. Pat Sumrow, a former York administrator for whom the position Construction Facilitator was created, consulted with Polancich, the music director, even before an architect had been hired. Knowing that a music classroom differs from a math or English classroom in significant but subtle ways and that a music department has specific architectural needs that other departments do not, Sumrow had asked Polancich and his music department colleagues to bring to preliminary discussions issues that an architect might otherwise miss.


    Mike Lawson | March 1, 2003

    One of the more difficult musical instruments to play is the violin. I will present in this article ways to help fine-tune basic remedial problems in violin techniques. Remedial teaching is an extremely difficult form of teaching, and it can be terribly hard on both teacher and student.

    When a student has remedial problems, one should not discourage him or her by saying that everything is wrong, and that they must start from the very beginning. I believe that this is a devastating remark and one which I would never use. It is far better to say, "You have some problems and we are going to correct them one by one." As Carl Flesch says, "Progress in a large measure depends on eradication of one's faults rather than the constant learning of new materials."

    Naturally, the remedial teacher is anxious for the student to show rapid progress to correct the faults that brought him to the teacher in the first place. However, many times this anxiety results in wasting time changing or trying to change some of the student's abilities to fit the teacher's particular mannerisms or characteristics, which may often be of an unusual or unique physical nature. This should be avoided at all costs. If a student comes to a teacher for specific remedial teaching and this student possesses a good bow arm, or a good left hand, or a good stance, for heaven's sake leave the assets alone and be grateful to his or her earlier teacher.

  • Dee Spencer: An All Star Gig

    Mike Lawson | March 1, 2003

    During its first year of existence, the SF Jazz All-Star High School Ensemble catapulted onto the national jazz education scene, landing a spot among 15 finalists in the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Competition.

    Director Dianthe "Dee" Spencer had every confidence in the abilities of the high school musicians drawn from 16 cities in the San Francisco Bay area to comprise the ensemble; she just hadn't expected national recognition to come so soon.

    Dee Spencer"I didn't even leave that weekend free on my calendar - that was my level of shock," recalls Spencer, an established jazz educator, performer and director. "Needless to say, I had to do some scrambling because I had a tour set for myself that conflicted with the Essentially Ellington performance in New York. I had to clear my calendar so I could make that gig."


    Mike Lawson | January 1, 2003

    String programs used to be a part of a complete music program in schools across the country. As budgets diminished, and many arts programs were cut, a large number of string programs were among them. Fortunately, we are seeing a resurgence of interest in strings. One reason for this is that districts are looking for ways to improve those all-important test scores. They are realizing that some early "hands-on" experience with instruments helps students retain their music skills at test time. Since string instruments are available in sizes suitable for elementary students, it makes them an excellent choice for this mission.

    Getting Started

    There are many advantages to creating a string program that starts students at an early age. Playing a string instrument helps develop hand-eye coordination. This and other necessary motor skills are easier for young children to develop than they will be as they get older. This is important for success as a string player. I start students in the third grade. They can be responsible for practicing alone at home at that age and can participate effectively in a group.

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