Well, I knew this before I married her in 1978, but every day I work “side by side” with her on music education projects like the South Hills Junior Orchestra Online Academy (SHJOOLA – pronounced shah-ZOH-lah), I discover even more of her amazing “hidden” talents and insights!
Donna Stark Fox is the author of 99% of this Fox’s Fireside.
We launched SHJOOLA and other digital/virtual/alternative programs (like SHJO.clips) to keep our community orchestra instrumentalists practicing inspite of the school closure and restrictions caused by the pandemic. We want to foster our players’ self-confidence and motivate even greater focus on new growth and achievement in instrumental technique, key literacy, ear-training, musicianship, personal goal-setting, and artistic enrichment. As the character Jean-Luc Picard from the Star Trek Next Generation series says, ENGAGE… in the pursuit of their own inspired initiatives in music learning!
During the first week of SHJOOLA, we introduced this SMART Practice Primer (download and adapt to your own practice regime). The philosophy comes from my wife’s (ahem) 55+ years in the field of music performance as a violinist and pianist and a versatile career of 38+ years in the public schools teaching strings, band, general music, elementary chorus, musicals, etc.
This article hopes to bring out a new approaches to “practice builds self-confidence…”
Are you ready for SMART Practice?
Schedule time for practice by using a calendar.
Find a quiet place to practice and gather everything you need.
Set goals. Write them down, make them measurable, and be specific and realistic. Check them off and “raise” your goals frequently.
Gather your equipment, including your instrument, music stand, chair, pencils, music folder, metronome, and tuner.
Chart your practice with a list of what to practice, because writing it down is a promise to do it!
Keep a reflective journal to organize your thoughts, to analyze and to set new goals.
Regularly make audio or video recordings of yourself and keep them in a file in a folder on your electronic device.
Success starts with a plan!
Begin with a long-range goal/dream.
I will perform a solo with a symphony orchestra.
I will become a professional musician.
I will play in a college orchestra or band.
I will enjoy music throughout my adult life.
Set medium-range goals.
I will play a Mozart Concerto before I am 16.
I want to upgrade to a better-quality instrument when I am 14.
Set and rest short-term goals on a weekly and even daily basis.
This week, I will play the Bach Fugue with accurate fingerings and pitch.
This week, I will play the Bach Fugue at performance tempo.
Here is an example of one violinist’s SMART Practice plan:
Tips on SMART Practice
Warm-up with drills and exercises.
Identify the key of each selection you are practicing.
Play the scale for the key you have identified, using a rhythm or articulation pyramid.
Select a passage to improve and mark the fingerings in pencil.
Say the note names in half notes. (“If you can say it, you can play it!”)
Be sure you practice every note as a half note using the fingerings provided by the conductor.
Use a metronome to “keep it honest.”
Practice VERY SLOWLY using the original rhythm and bowings/articulations.
Gradually increase the tempo by “inching up” on the metronome.
How many times have you played the passage correctly?
Ten consecutive times right today, and ten more tomorrow, will already make the passage 20 times better than it was before!
Schedule your next practice session.
Reflect in your journal and set new short-term goals for tomorrow!
Training your brain is SMART Practice
Practice is a process.
Practice is all about habit development.
Practice leads to self-confidence.
Practice is an opportunity for self discovery.
Practice is cumulative.
Practice is where you can make mistakes privately.
Amateurs practice to get it right.
Professionals practice so that they never play it wrong.
Variety is the spice of life and music variations challenge the mind!
You may have heard these strategies before:
First make it easier, then progressively harder.
First subtract (e.g. remove slurred notes) and then progressively add more challenging elements to the music (dynamics, longer phrases, articulations, fingerings, positions, memorization, etc.)
First play it slower, then progressively faster.
First take smaller sections (measure by measure, phrase by phrase), then progressively expand to larger sections, eventually being able to play the entire piece.
Try these rhythm and articulation pyramids on your scales, warmups, etudes, and any difficult passage in the music. Taking “baby steps,” create a new way to learn the part…
More to come… Part II will dive into additional recommendations for personal music problem solving with numerous examples.
Keep at it! You’ll make us all proud. Most importantly, especially yourself!
The mission of the nonprofit South Hills Junior Orchestra is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow players.
The second half of our 37th season (Spring 2020) was postponed due to school closures and the pandemic. We are now offering SHJOOLA – the South Hills Junior Orchestra Online Academy. The program includes virtual sectional rehearsals, special workshop seminars via Zoom, and remote music learning activities, both synchronous and asynchronous instruction, and provides a one-year subscription to MusicFirst Classroom, PracticeFirst, Sight Reading Factory, Musition (music theory), Noteflight (score notation) and other apps. Western PA instrumentalists are welcome to apply for membership in one of the 25 remaining “seats” in SHJOOLA by contacting Managing Director Janet Vukotich.
This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts. For a printable, hard copy of this article, click here.
Summertime Reading Suggestions for Music Directors
What do authors C.S. Forester, Simon Sinek, Jocko Willink, and Leif Babin have in common?
They offer a fresh perspective on leadership principles, reflections perfectly applicable for the skill-set development of music teachers who desire to better “lead” their music programs, students, and parent boosters.
It was no accident that I chose these books to help explore the truths of inspiring confidence and leading groups of people like we do daily in our classrooms, rehearsal halls, and on the stages or marching band fields. Their use of military (as well as company or government management) anecdotes defines and re-enacts the very essence of leaders, leadership concepts, goals, and public service.
“These [military group] organizations have strong cultures and shared values, understand the importance of teamwork, create trust among their members, maintain focus, and, most important, understand the importance of people and relationships to their mission success.”
Why do we admire music teacher “heroes” and most sought-after conference keynoters in our profession such as “Dr. Tim” Lautzenheiser, Peter Boonshaft, Scott Edgar*, and Bob Morrison* (*the latter two to be featured in the PMEA Summer Virtual Conference on July 20-24, 2020). They inspire us. They recharge us and pick up our spirits. They serve as models of visionaries and coaches. They challenge the status quo and help us to grow!
I believe these books will do the same, assist in your career development to morph into an even better leader and teacher. Since many of us are “stuck at home” during the pandemic for awhile, here is a new “reading list” for personal self-improvement.
Who is Horatio Hornblower?
To start with, how about a series of historical fiction from the Napoleonic-Wars era?
Hornblower is a courteous, intelligent, and skilled seaman, and perhaps one of my favorite examples of an adaptable “leader.” Although burdened by his (almost shy) reserve, introspection, and self-doubt (he is described as “unhappy and lonely”), the Forester collection illustrates numerous stories of his personal feats of extraordinary cunning, on-the-spot problem solving, and bravery. The first book spotlights an unpromising seasick midshipman who grows into a highly acclaimed, productive, and ethical officer of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, gaining promotion steadily as a result of his skill and daring, despite his initial poverty and lack of influential friends. And yet, the common thread throughout is that he belittles his achievements by numerous rationalizations, remembering only his fears.
“Hornblower’s leadership is thoroughly self-conscious: what makes him a great leader, morally, is that he assumes as a matter course that he must lead rather than he can lead; Hornblower’s pervasive sense of responsibility would be diminished if it all came to him naturally and that he acts therefore as each situation demands. He can be self-effacing or fierce, or obsequious, all depending on what is necessary to get the job done. As it happens, Hornblower‘s many other gifts, including a formidable diligence, always beyond the call of duty, and a supple intelligence, make him a man others trust and lean on; but for the reader, especially young reader, it’s his moral qualities that are most engaging, it is instructive.”
This set is a wonderful “chestnut” to acquire, sit back in your leather recliner, and devour over the coming months. Even though it may take you some significant time to finish Forester’s eleven novels (one unfinished) and five short stories, I promise you, it will all be worth it!
[If you like the Hornblower assortment, also checkout the works by Alexander Kent and Dudley Pope, all drawing parallels to the exploits of real naval officers of the time: Sir George Cockburn, Lord Cochran, Sir Edward Pellew, Jeremiah Coghlan, Sir James Gordon, and Sir William Hoste.]
Now, how can you personally glean new leadership habits from this treasure chest? Coincidental to doing some research for this blog, I bumped into the article on LinkedIn “Leadership Lessons Learned from Horatio Hornblower.” My sincere thanks and “attaboy” go to Amro Masaad, Education and STEM Leader at Middlesex County Academies, who gave me permission to share his documentation and insightful interpretation of the following leadership tips learned from Hornblower that we can all employ as “best practices” in the education profession:
Don’t be afraid to stand up to a bully.
Don’t insist that all of your successes be praised.
Don’t let employees sabotage your mission.
If you want excellence, you can’t look the other way.
Prove yourself when the situation demands it.
Take one for the team.
Show sacrifice and honor, even with your enemies.
I have always been inspired by the adventures of Hornblower, mostly because of his displays of humanity at a time in history when things were inhumane and primitive. Hornblower consistently modeled his intentions for the care and success of his subordinates while other officers “stepped on them” to get advancement, his unimpeachable moral code that guided his every action, and “taking it on the chin” when necessary for his shipmates and the good of “god and country.”
Leaders Eat Last
I was struck by this quote by Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action, who posted a popular TedTalk lecture of the same name:
“There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold the position of power or authority, but those who lead, inspire us. Whether they are individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And, it’s those who start with ‘the why’ that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others to inspire them.”
His latest book, Leaders Eat Last, brings up the rationale of mutual collaboration and prioritizing the mission and the needs of your team members. Sinek observed that some teams were able to trust each other 100%, so much so that they would be willing to put their lives on the line for each other, while other groups, no matter what enticements or special incentives were offered, were “doomed to infighting, fragmentation and failure.” Why was this true?
“The answer became clear during our conversation with the Marine Corps general. ‘Officers eat last,’ he said. Sinek watched as the most junior Marines ate first while the most senior Marines took their place at the back of the line. What’s symbolic in the chow hall is deadly serious on the battlefield: great leaders sacrifice their own comfort – even their own survival – for the good of those in their care.”
Throughout his book of vivid narratives from armed conflicts to business “revolutions” of take-overs or new CEO transformations, Sinek dives into the precepts of what constitutes “great” leadership:
The value of empathy should not be underestimated.
Trust and loyalty exist on a two-way street – to earn them, leaders must first extent them to their team members.
The role of leadership is to look out for (and take care of) those inside their “circle of safety.”
For the success of the team, goals must be tangible, visible, collaborative, and written down.
Leaders know: There is power in “paying it forward.” It feels good to help people, or when someone does something nice to us, or even when we witness someone else doing something good.
It’s also a big deal when leaders express that final personal touch and shake hands.
Leadership is all about service… to the “real, living, normal human beings with whom we work every day.”
I have never found a better source for defining the four “chemical incentives” in our bodies (also known as hormones) and numerous actual examples of their daily use (and misuse): endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
Also intriguing is an expanded Chapter 24 and Appendix section in the book called “A Practical Guide to Leading Millennials.” Similar to another suggestion for summer perusal, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba, Ed.D (Simon & Schuster, 2017) which focuses more on our current young “charges,” Sinek’s differentiation is provided to inspire and educate the ultimate multitaskers of the “distracted generation.”
“This is what it means to be a leader. It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst toward the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.”
“The biology is clear: When it matters most, leaders who are willing to eat last are rewarded with deeply loyal colleagues who will stop at nothing to advance their leaders vision and their organization’s interests. It’s amazing how well it works.”
This next leadership philosophy, the core premise of the book Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, will not surprise anyone who has ever taken on the inherently risky task of programming a student concert, marching field show, dance recital, or musical/play: the music director assumes full responsibility for the failures and faux pas that may occur during the performance, but instrumentalists, singers, actors, and/or dancers should get all the credit for a successful production.
“Combat, the most intense and dynamic environment imaginable, teaches the toughest leadership lessons with absolutely everything at stake. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin learned this reality firsthand on the most violent and dangerous battlefields in Iraqi. As leaders of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser, their mission was one many thought impossible: help US forces secure Ramada, a violent, insurgent-held city deemed “all but lost.“ In gripping, firsthand accounts of heroism, tragic loss, and hard-won victories, they learned that leadership – at every level – is the most important factor in whether a team succeeds or fails.”
This is a comprehensive textbook on Leadership 101. Admittedly, the rehash of their battle scenes are scary. This is a world so far apart from anything I have ever experienced. We do owe all our veterans a massive depth of gratitude to face such dangers to defend our freedoms and way of life. (As an inexperienced teacher, the worst fear I ever had to face was a homeroom of 99 excitable and talkative Freshman girls in my first year as the high school choral director.)
When possible, I try to share the Contents (chapter titles) of my book recommendations, giving you a broad glimpse of the outline of their publication:
No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
Check the Ego
Cover and Move
Prioritize and Execute
Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
Decisiveness Amid Uncertainty
Discipline Equals Freedom – the Dichotomy of Leadership
From these sections, we can explore these fundamental building-blocks and mindsets necessary to lead and win.
Part I: Winning the War Within (Chapters 1-4)
Leaders must own everything in the world. There is no one else to blame.
A leader must be a true believer in the mission.
Even more important then “the how” and “the what” is “the why” of any plan. Not knowing the rationale of a decision or goal is a recipe for failure. It is a leader’s job to understand the mission and communicate it to his/her team members.*
During situations lacking clarity, leaders ask questions.
Leaders temper overconfidence by instilling culture within the team to never be satisfied and to push themselves harder to continuously improve performance.
Leaders know that over-inflated egos cloud judgment and disrupt everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to except constructive criticism.
* Who said “great minds think alike?” (Answer: Carl Theodor von Unlanski.) The concept of “the why” is also described in great detail in the aforementioned TedTalk by Simon Sinek.
Part II: Laws of Combat (Chapters 5-8)
Elements within the “greater team” are crucial and must work together to accomplish the mission, mutually supporting one another for that singular purpose.
In life, there are inherent complexities. It is critical to keep plans and communication simple. Complex goals and plans add to confusion which can compound into disaster.
Competent leaders can utilize their own version of the SEAL’s prioritize and execute. It is simple as, “relax, look around, and make a call.” Prioritize your problems and take care of them one at a time, the highest priority first. Don’t try to do everything at once or you won’t be successful.
Leaders delegate responsibility, trust and empower junior leaders to make decisions on their own as they become proactive to achieve the overall goal or task.
Part III: Sustaining Victory (Chapters 9-12)
Effective planning begins with an analysis of the mission’s purpose, definition of the goals, and communication of clear directives for the team.
Effective leaders keep the planning focused, simple, and understandable to all of the team members and stakeholders.
Leadership doesn’t just go down the chain of command, but up as well. Communication to your supervisors is also key.
Leaders must be decisive, comfortable under pressure, and act on logic, not emotion.
In challenging situations, there is no 100% right solution, and the picture is never complete.
Leaders have self-control and “intrinsic self-discipline,” a matter of personal will. They “make time” by getting up early.
Self-discipline makes you more flexible, adaptable, and efficient, and allows leaders and team members alike to be creative.
A leader must lead, but also be ready to follow.
A Leadership Recap for Music Teachers
I am probably not doing justice to these incredible resources. They offer an exhaustive body of knowledge and examples on leadership ideology as well as a dazzling array of practical advice on what habits/skills are essential to become an effective leader. You need to sit back and devour these books one-by-one, apply their relevance to your situation, and come to your own conclusions about prioritizing the needs for your own personal leadership development.
To sum up a few of the theories from all this literature, we could revisit page 277 in Extreme Ownership and quote “The Dichotomy of Leadership” by Jocko Willnick.
“A good leader must be:
confident but not cocky;
courageous but not foolhardy;
competitive but a gracious loser;
attentive to details but not obsessed by them;
strong but have endurance;
a leader and follower;
humble not passive;
aggressive not overbearing;
quiet not silent;
calm but not robotic;
logical but not devoid of emotions;
close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge;
able to execute Extreme Ownership while exercising Decentralized Command.”
“A good leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove!”
Many years ago, my wife and I were fortunate to participate in almost all of those early PMEA Summer Conferences that were basically leadership training workshops. Initiated and inspired by our first guest clinician Michael Kumer (who was then “modeling leadership” first-hand as Dean of Music for Duquesne University), we were exposed to a rich curriculum of “the greats” on leadership, team building, time management, and professional development. If you have not consumed them yourself, a few of these resources from the first couple years should be added to your reading list:
One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
First Things First and other sections from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People series by Stephen Covey
A Kick in the Seat of the Pants: Using Your Explorer, Artist, Judge, and Warrior to Be More Creative and A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative by Roger Von Oech
As a part of fulfilling “total ensemble experience” and to make the learning meaningful, I have always “taught” leadership to my students. The settings may have varied, whether it was as a part of the longstanding tradition of training marching band leaders, student conductors or principals’ who ran sectionals, our spring musical “leadership team” of directors, producers, and crew heads, elected high school choir officers, participants (grades 6-12) in a six-day string camp seminar, or even booster parents in a “chaperone orientation.” Many of my own often-repeated leadership quotes were passed down:
“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi
“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” – Ken Kesey
“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” – Abraham Lincoln
“The very essence of leadership is you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” – Rev. Theodore Hesburgh
“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” – Stephen R. Covey
Finally, to close this seemingly-endless essay, I would share one of my regular but more unique lessons: “leaders flush.” We advise our plebe leaders-in-training that when anyone on the team sees an opportunity to take care of something that’s not right, or someone who needs help, or a problem that can be resolved on their own, they should take it upon themselves to do what is necessary for the greater good. We cite the example that, if you visit a restroom and discover someone before you did not flush the toilet, you do what’s right. Leaders flush.
It’s been awhile since I have ventured back into searches for “creativity in education” with blogging on the philosophy and practice of creative learning and creative teaching, two of the most essential needs (and deficiencies) in public school education.
After being inspired by the likes of Sir Ken Robinson (especially from his TedTalks), Ronald A. Beghetto and James C. Kaufman, Curtis Bonk, Eric Booth, Susan M. Brookhart, Susan Engel, Daniel Pink, Robert J. Sternberg and Wendy M. Williams, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, Roger von Oechand, Peter Webster, and many others, I periodically try to fulfill my ongoing mission of spreading the importance of fostering creativity in education, and finding research (and hands-on) material on the related subjects of innovation, inventiveness, curiosity, flexibility, adaptability, critical thinking, artistry, and self-expression.
Here is the latest installment of newly found resources for your perusal.
Creativity at Work
Linda Naiman, the founder of Creativity at Work, an international consortium of creativity and innovation experts, design thinkers, and arts-based learning practitioners, offers “trainings and workshops to help leaders and their teams develop the creativity, innovation and leadership capabilities required to adapt to change, stay competitive, improve business performance, and make a positive difference in the world. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, educational institutions and government organizations.”
Play like a child: the secret to liberating your creativity
The Creativity Crisis
I don’t know how I missed this… Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman wrote an education article, The Creativity Crisis, for Newsweek, posted on their website on July 10, 2010. Selected excerpts:
Back in 1958, Ted Schwarzrock was an 8-year-old third grader when he became one of the “Torrance kids,” a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance. Schwarzrock still vividly remembers the moment when a psychologist handed him a fire truck and asked, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” He recalls the psychologist being excited by his answers. In fact, the psychologist’s session notes indicate Schwarzrock rattled off 25 improvements, such as adding a removable ladder and springs to the wheels. That wasn’t the only time he impressed the scholars, who judged Schwarzrock to have “unusual visual perspective” and ‘an ability to synthesize diverse elements into meaningful products.”
Today, Schwarzrock is independently wealthy—he founded and sold three medical-products companies and was a partner in three more. His innovations in health care have been wide ranging, from a portable respiratory oxygen device to skin-absorbing anti-inflammatories to insights into how bacteria become antibiotic-resistant. His latest project could bring down the cost of spine-surgery implants 50 percent. “As a child, I never had an identity as a ‘creative person,’ ” Schwarzrock recalls. “But now that I know, it helps explain a lot of what I felt and went through.”
Creativity has always been prized in American society, but it’s never really been understood. While our creativity scores decline unchecked, the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses. The problems we face now, and in the future, simply demand that we do more than just hope for inspiration to strike. Fortunately, the science can help: we know the steps to lead that elusive muse right to our doors.
— Newsweek: Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Not to be outdone by Newsweek, TIME published a compilation The Science of Creativity – a series of articles divided into four large chapters:
The Creative Animal
The Creative Mind
Creativity in Action
Creativity at Any Age
The essays, penned by a myriad of authors, are eclectic and intriguing, many of which have appeared in past issues of TIME magazine:
Introduction: Striving for the New
This Is Your Brain on Creativity
Learning from Leonardo
Under the Hood
Are Neurotics More Creative?
A Fine Madness
The Power of Sleep
Inside the Creative Space
Seven Secrets to Unleashing Creativity
Pushing Your Envelope
Does Screen Time Stunt Kids’ Creativity?
You’re Never Too Old
When Schools Get Creative
How Parents Can Excite and Inspire
The Last Word
Creativity is one of the most human of qualities. But what is creativity, and what makes us creative? The Science of Creativity takes a look at both the science and the art of this world-changing trait—how we define it, how we measure it and what encourages it. With insights from the editors of TIME, this new Special Edition features thought-provoking articles on the meaning of creativity, its part in human history and its role in our future.
— Amazon review of TIME special edition
Creativity in Orchestra
A recent NAfME article was written specifically for orchestral players and their music directors. Even after more than 43 years of conducting orchestras, I would have to admit that helping my instrumentalists to become more creative musicians has always been a challenge. In the Music Educators Journal, Volume 105, Number 3, March 2019, “Integrating Creative Practices into the Orchestra Classroom,” author Leon Park seeks to explore the realm of the “less traditional” in rationale, goals, and techniques to build the capacity of his students’ imagination, innovation, and creativity.
My primary objective as a high school orchestra educator is to help students develop and refine their perpetual and technical acuities as orchestra musicians – from understanding and applying proper instrument-playing technique in functional music theory as they relate to repertoire to reading and translating music notation with accuracy and confidence to interpreting musical compositions with an understanding of the composer’s intent and a sensitive sensitivity toward performing in an expressive manner.
The daily regime of helping my students of achieve these objectives is an extraordinarily enriching yet time-consuming endeavor. As such, I find that opportunities to engage students in experiences that reach beyond the purview of traditional orchestra musicianship – such as improvisation, songwriting, remixing, soundscape in, recording, and looping – are rare.
— Leo Park
After providing a list of hardware, devices, web apps, software, and iOS apps, Park proposes a series of exercises and other creative practices:
Melodizing over Chords
He also shares a video playlist of creative approaches, primarily string players engaging in creative music-making.
If you currently teach instrumental music, I recommend you read this piece. (You must be a member of the National Association of Music Education for access to its periodical Music Educators Journal.)
Creativity should be at the heart of all the affective areas of the curriculum. Its context is imagination, origination, and invention; but it goes beyond that to include interpretation and personalized imitation. Characteristically it calls upon preference and decision to a greater extent than other modes of thought. It is especially important as “a way of coming to know” through independent, innovative responses to ideas into means of expression.
— John Paynter in Sound and Structure
Educational Commission of the States
In a more recent release of EdNote (July 2018), How School Leaders Can Inspire Daily Creativity makes a good case that, “As building-level leaders, school principals play a key role in ensuring every student has access to high-quality and equitable arts learning as part of a well-rounded education,” citing numerous supportive sources:
The article concluded with the following salient statements:
From identifying the arts in a school’s budget to supporting student performances and gallery displays, principals can engage parents and the school community in the school’s educational goals.
While our [administrators’] daily routines may feel less inspired than other activities, it is through innovative ideas and acts of self-expression that shape everyday life as we know it. The arts can provide students with these same opportunities, setting them up for success in school, work and life.
Hopefully, readers/followers of this website will send in their own “gems” on creativity. Please feel free to comment and share your own references… so we can collaborate on and re-energize this dialogue.
If you have not had the opportunity to read my past blog-posts on creativity, please take a moment and examine these:
Part II: The reinvention continues… new perspectives, recent renovations, fun pathways, and more technology
Happy Thanksgiving to all! Enjoy your time with your family and friends next week!
I feel very blessed and thankful for my health, happiness, economic stability, and relative comfort. My wife and I have “weathered” the so-called “passage to retirement” with success and grace, and continue to explore finding life’s meaning to fulfill the three most important things a job usually provides (according to best-selling author Ernie Zelinski): purpose, community, and structure.
Back in July 2015, I wrote the introduction to this “personal trek” of post-employment transitioning, coping with life-style changes/altered expectations, and personal metamorphosis to “living the dream!” (You can review all of these articles by clicking on the “For Retirees” above.) Specifically on “how retirement has changed me,” nine months ago, I wrote “Part I – One retiree’s quest for learning technology, science, and history” (https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/how-retirement-has-changed-me/), and can report “all is good” in progress on all of these fronts.
We all know personal growth is about curiosity, exploration and acceptance of change… so, now’s the time to report back. What have you been up to, Paul, since then?
Writing, Collaborating, and Becoming a Better Techie
Here are a few quick check-marks to add to my post-employment technology portfolio:
I learned how to create a blog site and write blog articles
I learned how to use Zoom online and hold committee meetings on the web
I learned how to make a webinar video
To all current and future retirees, I strongly recommend venturing into the creative process of writing… and building a website to archive all of your “treasures.” Posting a blog is a perfect vehicle for getting something off your chest, promoting discussion on almost any topic, researching areas you always wanted to unearth, sharing your thoughts and experiences, and stating your opinion for the record using the Internet.
“The sky’s the limit” for the subjects you could present. What do you like to write about? It is probably easier to dive into the things that are closest to you, your “pet peeves” and passionate viewpoints, or perhaps drawing from the vast store of knowledge and competencies you developed in your music education career. My own “categories” on my website are “Becoming a Music Educator” (for pre-service and new music teachers), “Creativity,” “Ethics,” “Firesides” (epistles I have given to my students), and “For Retirees.”
Look into one of the free, “do-it-yourself” online sites like WordPress, Wix, Web, or Weebly.com. Unless you really want to, it is not necessary to pay for a domain name. However, if you want an easy-to-remember tagline (something everyone can remember), be creative with the title of a new Google email account (from which these web-creation services usually generate your website’s domain name). My professional email is email@example.com, so WordPress removed the dot and created my website moniker as “paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com.”
My quest for further education in stimulating personal technological advances have included using services like “Doodle,” “Wufoo,” “Zoom” or “Go to Meeting” for collaborating with members of the Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention, and submission of several videos which have been archived in the NAfME Academy Professional Development library (of which I am most proud):
Marketing Your Professionalism for Collegiate Music Education Majors: Tips and Strategies to Prepare and Present Yourself for Interviewing and Landing That First Music Teacher Job (two-part video)
Preparing for a Smooth Transition to Retirement
Supercharge the School Musical
No, I’m not dead yet. Retirement has provided me many rich new set of pursuits and brain-stimulating activities. Some of these activities are intellectual, some physical, and some just wear out my wallet!
How to spend large amounts of our monthly pension? In other dimensions of personal development, my wife and I are slowly renovating our house, finally getting around to making decisions on colors, styles and its overall presentation. When I was a full-time music teacher, I didn’t spend a lot of time at my home. Now in retirement, I have discovered how much it costs to frame a picture, especially if the only criteria when choosing a frame is the beauty of the wood grain and how well you match the double matting to the lithograph. (Without asking the price, I bought a $800 frame for my $125 Charles Wysocki print!) Taking the high road, we hired a professional to securely hang things on the wall, another very expensive process when your interior decorator ($75/hour) accompanies your installer ($50/hour) to do the job, but all is “perfect” and no marital disputes erupted! After refinishing the floors, installing new windows, painting all the walls, “staging” several rooms (new transformations), and finally finishing the wall-hangings, it looks like the Foxes have a “showcase” residence.
Raising two cute dogs have become a centerpiece of my life. We need to walk them several times a day, something on which you can’t procrastinate. One would think this regular physical exercise is part of an aerobic routine that is keeping me super-fit!
How do they always know my mood and needs better than I?
No matter when you glance at them, what moves them to show you unconditional “love at first sight,” instantly lowering your blood pressure, nurturing your peace-of-mind, and improving your disposition?
Since dogs have no lips, how are they so aptly able to express a loving kiss with a simple lick of our hands?
How is it that they are always available (24/7) to cuddle, play, sleep in your lap, explore the mysterious ends of their leashes, and follow you everywhere?
Regardless of the mistakes you make, why are they the first to forgive you?
And all they ask in return is to “hang around with you!”
Although I volunteer as the founding director of the South Hills Junior Orchestra and teach “kids of all ages” on Saturdays every week, one of my other volunteer pursuits centers around pushing wheelchairs at the local hospital. The good news? I see so many of my students and their families at St. Clair Hospital. My favorite trip is going to the family birth center and discharging a new mother and her baby… and with surprising frequency, reuniting a former student or colleague with their “old” school music teacher or community orchestra director. Any bad news? Well, I am still puzzled why I have lost a little of my stamina and endurance since retiring. After only a little more than 3 1/2 hours of pushing wheelchairs (some of whom contain very large patients), I notice I am ready for a power nap! This does not mesh well with my employment days when I was teaching full-time, arriving to school by 6:45 in the morning, and often did not make it home until 9 PM (after-school rehearsals, meetings and performances of the marching band, fall play, and spring musical. What’s up about that?
Philosophy of Post-Employment Professional Engagement
“Ask not PMEA can do for you, but what you can do for PMEA.”
The most important part of my long-term goals is to try to make a difference in other people’s lives… colleagues, collegiate or pre-service educators, and others. As for PMEA, I’m throwing my hat in the ring as your Coordinator of Retired Members. In addition, I accidentally walked into a summer meeting a little more than a year ago and was voted in as chair of the Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention. This is an exciting time in during PMEA’s new governance and recently ratified five-year strategic plan. We have the opportunity of doing some real meaningful work for music education in the state of Pennsylvania.
I hope that you continue to participate in PMEA and NAfME yourself. Obviously, once we “Cross the Rubicon” into retirement, we need not to worry about the hectic day-to-day schedule, politics, and stress of a full-time teaching position. However, we can make a difference, acting less engaged but still on-board helping our professional associations and advocating for the success of music education. PA music teachers (the focus of many of these blogs), please consider keeping your membership up-to-date, joining the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry, volunteering for guest conducting, presenting sessions, doing other jobs for PMEA, an/or attending official events.
In a recent Retired Member Network eNEWS, I mentioned that as unofficial mentors and sage advisers, there are many ways retired members can “return the favor” of a career full of wonderfully enriching professional development and music festival resources, simply by helping PMEA out a little:
1E. Continue to improve and find new and innovative ways to engage PMEA members in advocacy efforts including Advocacy Day in Harrisburg and Music in Our Schools Month activities (“team-up” with retiree Chuck Neidhardt, PMEA State MIOSM Coordinator).
2A. Explore topics of lifelong learning (music therapy, community music, service learning…)
2E. Focus on topics of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access by providing space for dialogue, reaching more students beyond traditional ensembles, and identifying and promoting success stories and appropriate practices.
3B. Investigate possibilities of various partnerships with other music associations.
3E. Develop leadership (e.g. retreat and training sessions).
4B. Promote and expand the Music Performance Assessment program (e.g. solo and chamber ensemble opportunities, virtual MPA’s, and traveling adjudicators).
Still have your “conductor chops?” One way to encourage your colleagues to think of you in becoming a guest director or accompanist of a PMEA festival is to join the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry (see the retired member section of the website at https://www.pmea.net/retired-members/)and send an email sharing your interest and availability to the District President and the local Festival/Fest Coordinator.
Did you know that anyone can suggest a session for a local workshop or PMEA spring and summer conference? (See the PMEA website.) What’s on your mind? What do you think is important to explore, collaborate, or exhibit? I know of few PMEA retired members who do not have a “special expertise” and passion about an area in music and education. Go ahead, “let the cat out of the bag” while it is still “fresh” in your mind!
Submit articles or reviews to our PMEA News editorial committee chair Doug Bolasky (also a retiree) for publication consideration in our state journal. Like #3 above, this is an excellent outlet to “get something off your chest,” promote discussion on almost any topic, research areas you always wanted to unearth, share your thoughts and experiences, and state your opinion “for the record.”
Offer to serve on a PMEA committee. For example, volunteer to serve on the listening or session evaluation committee. Prefer to stay “close to home?” Ask your District President if you can be appointed to (or be placed on the ballot for) one of the many leadership positions in need of caring, committed, and competent representatives. Also, PMEA always needs guest lecturers, panel discussion members, presiding chairs, and info booth volunteers for the spring conference.
In short… we need you, your collective wisdom, experience, and the ability to dodge problems before they become big. Sure, relax a little, personally reflect, refocus, and revitalize your goals during your retirement, but don’t retreat from “doing your bit” for “making a difference” in music education.
Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Matt Hains
Making mature and meaningful decisions to plan personal practice
As the school concert season draws to a close and summer is almost upon us, now is the perfect time to reflect on a little musical goal-setting, complete a personal inventory and needs assessment (in what areas do I need help?), prioritize what’s the most important, and define several new “practice plans.”
Do you recall a cartoon with Lucy van Pelt bossing Charlie Brown around and handing him his own very long list of New Year’s resolutions? Except for your parents and the music teachers who know YOU, it isn’t usually effective for someone else to pick your goals. (Of course, if you don’t listen to the suggestions from your music directors and private teachers, there’s a good chance you will never improve!) Sitting around doing nothing, accepting things as they are now, and randomly floating from one task to another accidentally “making music” without foresight or planning are not likely to work. Inattention and osmosis are slow ways to achieve anything in life. Obviously, you must be motivated, ambitious, focused, and committed to “whatever it takes” on the pathways towards self-improvement and musical mastery!
According to “goals experts” (such as the One Minute Manager book by Kenneth Blanchard and the Utah State University recommendations below), to create meaningful personal goals, they should:
Be written down (Take the time and post them in your room!);
Be specific (Keep it focused, simple, and to the point!);
Be concrete (Exactly what/how do you need to do?);
Be measurable (How do you know when you’ve succeeded?);
Be viewed and reviewed often (Look at them daily/weekly/monthly, and every time you practice!);
Be shared (Show them to your music teacher and/or parents/spouse!);
Be flexible and change as needed (Modify and adjust – set new goals!);
Have a time frame (When will these have to be completed?).
Your practice should have well-defined goals. What do you want to learn as a musician? Are there particular pieces of music, styles, or technical skills you would like to be able to play? Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you decide what work is needed and assist defining specific learning targets. If you have a private teacher, he/she will automatically prescribe objectives for you, based on your present strengths and weaknesses. But if you desire to join the local youth symphony, participate in a music festival, play in a pit orchestra, perform solos or chamber music, become a conductor, help coach your peers, or want to improve a specific technical skill or general musicianship, make sure your teachers know it! They may be able to share warm-ups, strategies, or practice materials that will help you improve and expand your knowledge, technique, expressiveness, sight-reading and ear training.
Here are some goal-related questions to ask yourself (consider several of these):
Have you signed up for the local band or string camp?
Have you made arrangements to take a few lessons on your instrument or even on piano or music theory over the summer?
What was the last method book you used? Did you finish it? How many pieces can you memorize from it?
When was the last time you performed a solo or two and recorded yourself? Wouldn’t it be fun to video yourself playing a mini-recital and sending the DVD to your grandmother or grandfather?
One of the greatest challenges in performance is sight reading. Can you pull-out a random piece of music (even something written for a different instrument) and play it straight through without stopping?
Pick your greatest weakness or problem on the instrument. What needs your attention? New keys, rhythms, articulations?
Ask your teacher what would be an appropriate exercise book. Can you define several new challenging goals in playing scales, arpeggios, other warm-ups, or études specifically geared for your instrument?
For Western Pennsylvania residents, did you know the South Hills Junior Orchestra is always open to new instrumentalists? SHJO begins its Saturday practices a week after Labor Day (USCHS Band Room 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). Everyone is welcome to play in 2-4 free-trial practices!
This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “A Community Orchestra for All Ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Feel free to download a printable copy and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.
SHJO rehearses most Saturdays in the band room of the Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. New members are always welcome! For more information, please go to www.shjo.org.
It can’t get any better than this! Probably the most comprehensive one-stop vault of articles and “friends of NRN” sources for further study, the NCN provides an extensive collection of creativity tools: news stories (still current as of the week of April 7, 2017), quotes, webinars, blog-posts, past competitions like the USA Creative Business Cup, and a Board of Directors from across North America including many “giants in the field” like one of my heroes Sir Ken Robinson (California), along with George Tzougros (Wisconsin), Margaret Collins (North Carolina), Steve Dahlberg (Connecticut), Carrie Fitzsimmons (Massachusetts), Peter Gamwell (Ottawa, Canada), Jean Hendrickson (Oklahoma), Wendy Liscow (New Jersey), Susan McCalmont (Oklahoma), Robert Morrison, Scott Noppe Brandon, David O’Fallon (Minnesota), Andrew Ranson, Susan Sclafani (Washington D.C.), and Haley Simons (Alberta, Canada).
According to their website, Dennis Cheekis the Executive Director of the National Creativity Network (right).
The following is reprinted directly from the National Creativity Network website, and should be used as a model or “food for thought” towards the infusion and prioritizing creativity in education and business settings. Bon appétit! PKF
National Creativity Network
A vibrant and flourishing North America where imagination, creativity, and innovation are routinely valued, skillfully applied, and continuously expanded.
The National Creativity Network engages, connects, informs, promotes, and counsels cross-sector stakeholders who skillfully use imagination, creativity and innovation to foster vibrant and flourishing individuals, institutions and communities across North America.
OUR CORE BELIEFS:
Imagination is the bedrock of human creativity and remains an underdeveloped and under-utilized resource.
Creativity is present in every human being and can be further nurtured and developed.
Innovation entrepreneurially figures out how to make creative ideas function well in the real world at a scale that matters.
A desirable future for institutions, communities, and societies depends upon continuously finding imaginative, creative, and innovative solutions to profound and complex challenges.
Supportive environments are essential to the unleashing of imagination, expression of creativity, and realization of innovation.
NCN’s EXISTS TO:
Spark local, regional, state and provincial, and national movements to create environments—in homes, schools, workplaces, communities and public offices—where every person is inspired to grow creatively.
Develop grassroots networks of organizations and regions to facilitate the exchange of ideas, models and “best questions” as well as providing support and processes for those who want to take part.
Serve as a national and international thought leader and influential policy voice for matters related to imagination, creativity, and innovation.
Seek new national and global partners whom we can engage, connect, understand, and promote.
Provide high quality, synthesized, and timely information across geographies, sectors, problems, activities, and needs.
Facilitate cross-sectoral (education, commerce, culture, and government) and cross-regional work that tackles difficult and perennial obstacles to progress in North America.
We accept the following working definitions for our work, adapted with permission from the book imagination first: Unlocking the Power of Possibility by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon (Jossey-Bass, 2009):
Imagination is the capacity to conceive of what is not yet present or manifest.
Creativity is imagination applied (“imagination at work”) to do or make something that flows from the prior capacity to conceive of the new.
Innovation consists of further creative actions that advance the form, depth, reach, and richness of that which has been brought into being.
Getting the Most Out of Music Conferences… Suggestions for First-Time Attendees or New Teachers
Music conferences offer students as well as seasoned musicians a wealth of professional opportunities. They are motivating and help recharge your battery. They even help set future goals. Consider music conferences an essential component of your training and career…
For professional networking, it is your “charge” to create multiple pathways to/from school administrators, HR managers and secretaries, music supervisors and department heads, and music teachers… and you – your skills, accomplishments, unique qualities, experience, education, and personality traits. – Paul K. Fox https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/networking-niceties/
Welcome to the annual state conference! For Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Education Association (PCMEA) members and soon-to-be-hired music educator prospects, this guide will help you get the most out of attending the 2017 Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) Spring Conference (and future professional development events).
Reasons to “drop everything” and attend an in-service conference:
Conferences “grow” your professional network and opportunities for future collaboration.
Conferences build your knowledge base: to hear about potential job openings, stay current in the field, learn new ideas, music literature, classroom materials, curriculum initiatives, research, technology, and unique approaches to problems, and to see “state-of-the-art” (“model”) performances of student and professional music ensembles.
Conferences expand your resources.
Conference motivate (a.k.a. “recharge batteries”) and help you plan future goals.
People in academics cultivate exceptional resources—and they’re excited to share them with like-minded colleagues. During the conference, I had an opportunity to test out new technology, review upcoming publications, share teaching tools and techniques and obtain samples of textbooks, software and mobile applications. Conferences are full of people promoting new ideas, vendors selling new products, and consultants teaching new methodologies. I always take advantage of this opportunity to fill up my academic tool-shed with new techniques and technology to improve my career. – Emad Rahim
The annual PMEA Spring Conference will be held on April 19-22, 2017 at the Erie Bayfront Convention Center. These sessions may be “perfect for PCMEA!”
Opening General Session with Tim Lautzenheiser Thursday 8:30 a.m.
PCMEA meetings Thursday 10:30 a.m. and Friday 11:15 a.m.
Getting the Most Out of Your Student Teaching Experience Thursday 1:30 p.m.
Cracking the Graduate School Code: When, Where, Why, How, & How Much Thursday 3 p.m.
Starting with the End in Mind – or – You’ve Got Four Years, Use Them Wisely Thursday 4:30 p.m.
Music Education & Gaming: Interdisciplinary Connections for the Classroom Friday 8:15 a.m.
Ready for Hire! Interview Strategies to Land a Job Friday 9:45 a.m.
Planning Strategies to Develop a Responsive Teaching Mindset Friday 2:15 p.m.
Final General Session with NAfME Eastern Division President Scott Sheehan Friday 3:45 p.m.
First things first! Prepare yourself in advance. Grab your winter or spring issue of PMEA News. Review the program of sessions which is usually laid out in chronological order and also by content strands (e.g. advocacy, choral, classroom music, collegiate, curriculum development/assessment, higher education research, instrumental, music technology, World Music, and special interest topics), as well as the list of keynote speakers, guest clinicians, showcase (music industry) demonstrations, association meetings (like PCMEA), and performances. Using an “old-fashioned” 20th century tool, mark up the conference schedule with two different colors of highlighter marking pens, first targeting “high interest” areas in yellow, and then “must attend” events in hot pink or other favorite color.
Next, download the PMEA Conference App (usually from Core-Apps.com). This is the 21st Century technique for setting up your conference schedule (“where to go and what to do”), reading the bios of the presenters, locating the session rooms and exhibit booths, finding out who is attending, taking and storing your notes, and learning about last minute changes. Here is the picture of the 2016 PMEA app:
More DO’s and DON’Ts for effective conference attendance:
DON’T remain in your “comfort zone” by sitting exclusively with your friends or college buddies at every session and concert. DO socialize with your peers at meals, and DO attend meetings of your PCMEA. However, if you are trying to take advantage of networking opportunities, to get to know other professionals, possible job screeners, administrators, etc., DON’T just sit with people you know at every other event.
DON’T focus exclusively on attending sessions or concerts in your specialty or most proficient areas, such as band if you’re a woodwind, brass or percussion major, orchestra if you are a string player, general music/choral if you are a vocalist or pianist. DO go to sessions that are not directly related to your major. You might be surprised at the connections you discover or the new interests that arise. Imagine “they” want to hire you next year as the next middle school jazz coach, HS marching band show designer, choreographer for the elementary musical, conductor of the string orchestra, teacher of AP music theory, etc. Could you select music for an elementary band (or choral) concert, create a bulletin board display for a middle school general music unit, set-up a composition project, or lead folk dancing at the kindergarten level?
DO stay at (or near to) the hotel where the conference is being held… to see and DO more!
Learn and DO the best practices of networking, personal branding, business card creation and distribution, and record-keeping of conference notes, job openings, and contact information. DO read my blog-post on Networking Niceties: The “How to Schmooze Guide” for Prospective Music Teachers at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/networking-niceties/.
DON’T be shy! A conference is no place for being timid or afraid to start up a discussion with a more experienced music teacher. PMEA is all about circulating and introducing yourself, exhibiting your “charming self,” exploring resources and who are the experts/leaders in music education, getting the “lay of the land,” and adding as many names and emails to your professional contact data base as possible. Of course, DO follow-up with anyone who suggests that there may be a future employment posting from their school district!
DO attend both general sessions, one usually scheduled on Thursday morning and the other on Friday afternoon. These will feature the keynote speakers and a special performance or award presentation. Since it is free and another opportunity to network, DO attend the Saturday morning awards breakfast and general membership meeting.
DON’T be the first person to leave a session, and definitely DON’T “hop around” from one clinic or concert to another. Many attendees consider leaving early disruptive and rude, and it does not allow you to get the “whole picture” of the presentation. DON’T run in and grab the handouts… they will not have much meaning unless you attend the entire one-hour workshop. DO interact with the clinicians and conductors. If someone gave a talk, introduce yourself and ask a thoughtful question on some issue about which you are curious or found interesting.
DO attend (and participate in) at least one panel discussion, music reading workshop, and technology session. DO search for special sessions held for college students on interviewing and landing a job. DO visit the displays of the PMEA Research Forums and the Exhibits.
DON’T expect to get a lot of sleep at the conference. DON’T miss the interesting concerts to attend at night as well as early morning breakfast meetings and evening receptions. But, whatever you do, DO have FUN at your first music teacher conference!
Actually, PMEA represents only one of a series of outstanding music education conferences offered to school music teachers. In addition, you should look at:
Hopefully, these tips on networking and taking advantage of the many professional benefits for attending an in-service conference will assist your successful pursuit for “landing” a job, discovering your own “calling” in the field of music education, and contributing a lifetime of meaningful work to our profession. See you in Erie!
Caffarella, R. S., & Zinn, L. F. (1999). Professional development for faculty: A conceptual framework of barriers and supports. Innovative Higher Education, 23(4), 241-254.
Guskey, T. R., & Huberman, M. (1995). Professional development in education: New paradigms and practices. Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027 (paperback: ISBN-0-8077-3425-X; clothbound: ISBN-0-8077-3426-8).
Guskey, T. R. (2000). Evaluating professional development. Corwin Press.
Snow-Gerono, J. L. (2005). Professional development in a culture of inquiry: PDS teachers identify the benefits of professional learning communities. Teaching and teacher education, 21(3), 241-256.
Sunal, D. W., Hodges, J., Sunal, C. S., Whitaker, K. W., Freeman, L. M., Edwards, L., … & Odell, M. (2001). Teaching science in higher education: Faculty professional development and barriers to change. School Science and Mathematics, 101(5), 246-257.
Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Alexander Kalina
Tips on Developing Better Practicing Habits
Every good musician knows that regular practice is a must, but did you know that careless or inattentive practice can actually make you worse?
It is not necessary true that “practice makes perfect” – more likely that “perfect practice develops perfect playing.” Quality not quantity, you say? Your school music teachers will urge you to increase both the quality (focus, attention, goals/planning, etc.) as well as the number of minutes per week. Here are a few hints on improving practicing techniques. Read on… there are many additional resources for parents to guide their musicians to musical mastery!
Designate a quiet place for practice at home
Limit all distractions (TV, video games, computers, phones)
Plan habits of consistent daily practice time(s) and weekly frequency
Make practice goals (what do you hope to accomplish this week?)
Take a few minutes to warm-up (scales, finger patterns, long tones, or lip slurs)
Sandwich method (start at the bottom and work your way up)
Review a song you already know (bottom slice of bread)
Focus on a few “hard parts” (the meat in the middle of the sandwich)
Sight-read something new (condiments, pickles or cheese)
Review another well-prepared song (top slice of bread)
Identify and prioritize the problems or hard sections
Partition the entire song
Focus on a “slice” of the music – a measure, phrase or line of music – at a time
Drill (daily) on one or a few slices
Next practice session, repeat then progress to next section
Re-order the sections of a piece (scrambling)
Target a difficult passage, play slow at first, then increase tempo gradually each time you play it
Try patterns of instant slow/fast and then fast/slow
Fire up different sections of the brain on a problem spot
Say the letter names out loud (or sing them) – speech center
Bow or tap the rhythms “in the air” – left-side psychomotor
Finger the notes without the bow or mouthpiece – right-side psychomotor
Combine a, b, and/or c on specific passages – all parts of the brain
Create new rhythmic or articulation/bowing variations to challenge your playing of the passage
To improve your musical batting average, implement the Ten-Times Rule (accurately in a-row)
Always add expressive markings including dynamics, tempo and articulation changes, etc.
Yes, practicing should be heard at home. It is NOT enough simply to play at school. The long-tested “success equation” is TIME + MAKING PROGRESS = FUN (encouraging more time, progress and fun). Practicing on a regular basis improves technique, musicianship, self-confidence, endurance, reading skills, and besides… playing better is a lot more FUN!
PARENTS: Here are several excellent websites on recommendations for developing better practice skills, but ask your school music director for more advice!
This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “A Community Orchestra for All Ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Please feel free to download a printable copy (CLICK HERE) and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.
SHJO rehearses most Saturdays in the band room of the Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. New members are always welcome! For more information, please go to www.shjo.org.
Advocate the Arts and Creativity by Providing Feedback to Your State’s Education Department
“With this bill [ESSA], we reaffirm that fundamentally American ideal—that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make of their lives what they will.” — President Barack Obama
In the constantly changing climate of “educational reform,” the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed by President Obama in December 2015 is the latest “flavor” of educational law to come down from Congress, serving as the re-authorization of the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Each state must now develop and adopt their own “plan” of ESSA implementation. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is considering some very broad topics for inclusion in its state plan, and is currently asking for feedback from the general public on the following (source – Pennsylvania Music Educators Association – PMEA – http://www.pmea.net/specialty-areas/advocacy/):
Can we reduce the amount of time students spent on statewide PSSA testing (grades 3-8)?
Is it feasible to test students at multiple times across the school year instead of only once?
Can we eliminate double testing for middle school Algebra I students? (Would need to add advance math test in high school for those students.)
Accountability – Measures
Future Ready PA Index – a proposed tool to measure school success
Increased weight on growth in test scores versus point-in-time achievement
Local options for additional assessments
Career ready indicators and meaningful post-secondary student engagement
More holistic measures of student success
Measures of both inputs (i.e., course offerings) and outcomes (achievement scores)
Accountability – Interventions
Tailored to local context and school based needs assessment.
Intervention for lowest performing schools to include BOTH academic and holistic strategies
Level of state intervention to be responsive to student progress over time.
Educator Preparation and Evaluation
What are the best strategies to ensure effective, diverse educators and school leaders for all students?
What changes in teacher preparation do we need to consider to improve the readiness of new teachers?
How to promote alternative pathways to teacher certification?
Mark Despokatis, Chair of the PMEA Council for the Advancement of Music Education, says that music teachers and parents “don’t have to respond to every suggestion, but please feel free to respond to those on which you can provide opinions and feedback.” Comments should be shared directly with the PDE at RA-edESSA@pa.gov. Also, PMEA members should submit their feedback to PMEA via email to Mark Despotakis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog-series on “creativity and education” maintains the position that a focus on the development of self-expression and artistry in the schools should be at the top of the critical “big four list” for satisfying “the real purpose of education” – personal discovery, self-improvement, and developing the building blocks for success and happiness in life:
“Talk is cheap! Educational research, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills movement, and other leading-edge groups, company managers, HR Directors, and the general employee job market have known for a long time what is best for kids and the economy… in a nutshell, the need for more exploration, teaching, and mastery of student creativity, including inquisitiveness, ingenuity, inventiveness, flexibility of thought, and inquiry-based learning! In this era standardized testing, the Common Core revolution, and relentless “teaching to the test,” are we embracing the best practices of “whole child” learning? True customization, individualization, and personalization of education dictate a change in emphasis from not relying purely on lesson targets and assessments of simple objective, one-answer-only, convergent thinking, but moving towards the more complex (and richly meaningful) higher-order, multiple-pathway, divergent thinking – greatly valued skills of analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing.” — Paul K. Fox in “Creativity in Education” https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/creativity-in-education/
Here is your next installment of research and resources on rationale and application of helping our students become more creative. However, do not be shy in vocally expressing your own views and support of the arts to your state legislators and and governor. For the future of education, this is probably the most important role a music advocate can play!
Google’s Most Cited Sources for Creative Teaching and Learning
Creativity in Education edited by Anna Craft, Bob Jeffrey, and Mike Leibling (Continuum 2007)
Creativity and Education by Hugh Lytton (Routledge 1971/2012)
“Throughout the world, national governments are reorganizing their education systems to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. One of the priorities is promoting creativity and innovation. In the new global economies, the capacity to generate and implement new ideas is vital to economic competitiveness. But education has more than economic purposes: it must enable people to adapt positively to rapid social change and to have lives with meaning and purpose at a time when established cultural values are being challenged on many fronts.” — Ken Robinson in the Preface of Creativity in Education
Creativity in Education provides insightful essays by Margaret A. Boden, Ken Gale, Laura Haringman, Susan Humphries, Dame Tamsyn Imison, Mathilda Marie Joubert, Jenny Leach, Bill Lucas, Bethan Marshall, Kevin McCarthy, Susan Rowe, Leslie Safran, and Peter Woods. The book is divided into two general sections and thirteen chapters:
Part One: Creativity and Individual Empowerment
The Art of Creative Teaching
Creative Teaching, Teaching Creativity, and Creative Learning
Little “c” Creativity
Creativity as “Mindful” Learning: A Case from Learner-Based Education
Part Two: Creativity and Pedagogy
Creativity and Knowledge
Teacher Education within Post-Compulsory Education and Training: A Call for a Creative Approach
Creating Danger: The Place of the Arts in Education Policy
Poised at the Edge: Spirituality and Creativity in Religious Education
Creative Leadership” Innovative Practices in a Secondary School
Effective Teaching and Learning: The Role of the Creative Parent-Teacher
Creating a Climate for Learning at Coombes Infant and Nursery School
A Hundred Possibilities: Creativity, Community, and ICT
Although conceived more than ten years ago, this set of comprehensive articles are a “must read.” As Sir Ken Robinson endorsed, these contributions provide arguments that “educating for creativity is a rigorous process based on knowledge and skill; that creativity is not confined to particular activities or people; that creativity flourishes under certain conditions and, in this sense, can be taught.”
Creativity and Education comes to us via Scientific Research Open Access of “Creative Education” 2010, Vol. 1, No. 3. Robina Shaheen shares interesting research focused in her three sections of her paper:
The Link Between Creativity and Education
Changing Role of Education
The Inclusion of Creativity Within Education
She cites numerous authorities in support of the essential rationale for promoting creativity in schools.
“Fostering creativity in education is intended to address many concerns. As a summary, this includes dealing with ambiguous problems, coping with the fast changing world and facing an uncertain future ( Parkhurst, 1999). Perhaps the most dominant current argument for policy is the economic one. The role of creativity in the economy is being seen as crucial (Burnard, 2006) to assist nations for attaining higher employment, economic achievement (Davies, 2002)and to cope with increased competition. It is for this reason that creativity cannot be “ignored or suppressed through schooling” (Pool e, 1980) or its development be left to “chance and mythology” (NESTA, 2002). It is predominantly for this reason that there is a call for its inclusion in education as a “fundamental life skill” (Craft, 1999) which needs tobe developed to prepare future generations (Parkhurst, 1999) so that they can “survive as well as thrive in the twenty–first century” (Parkhurst, 2006). Developing children’s creativity during their years in education is the start of building “human capital” upon which, according to Adam Smith and successive commentators, depends the “wealth of nations”(Walberg, 1988).” — Robina Shaheen
Shaheen discloses the new focus of the Foundation Stage Curriculum and National Curriculum for schools in England, with the aim that the school should “enable pupils to think creatively and critically, to solve problems and to make a difference for the better. It should give them the opportunity to become creative, innovative, and enterprising.” The key points on the National Curriculum website are:
What is creativity?
Why is creativity important?
How can you spot creativity?
How can teachers promote creativity?
How can heads and managers promote creativity?
She concludes that there has been a recent upsurge in “creativity and education” in most European, American, Australian, and East Asian countries, as reflected in their policy documents. She cites the example of what UNESCO now proposes should be taught to Asian students:
Rather than “learning how to learn” – “learning how to learn critically”
Rather than “learning how to do” – “learning how to do creatively”
Rather than “learning how to work together” – “learning how to work constructively”
Rather than “learning how to be” – “learning how to be wise.”
Another excellent reading, the bookCreativity and Education rounds off the third most cited online reference on this subject.
Author Hugh Lytton (1921-2002) was a distinguished scholar in the field of developmental psychology. His table of contents displays an amazing wealth of thought-provoking material:
The creative process
Imagination and intuition
The poet’s inspiration
The scientist’s insight
“Convergent” and “divergent” thinking, or how intelligent is a creative and how creative is an intelligent person?
Origins of intelligence tests
Mechanics of intelligence tests
Theory of intellect
“Intelligence” and “creativity”
Do “creativity tests” measure creativity
What are creative people like?
Madness and genius
Developing productive thinking
The creative child at school
Is education biased against creativity?
Teachers’ and pupils’ attitudes
A propitious school climate
Teaching for creativity
Specialization in arts or science
Although a little pricey, the book is currently available for purchase on Amazon, which provides the following description.
“The author provides a lucid account of creativity and its educational context. He discusses the creative process, the character of different kinds of creativity, creative people, developing creativity, and the creative child at school, to give his readers an understanding of the issues that home or school have to face in fostering a creative, non-habit-bound child. The book should be particularly welcome to all concerned with education in view of the present stress on child-centerd education and on the development of individual children’s abilities, especially their powers of original thought and search to the full.” — Amazon re: Creativity and Education by Hugh Lytton
Politically, very little is in the forefront on nurturing creativity in education. Our legislators, administrators, and curriculum revisionists continue to be more concerned about standardized tests, the Common Core, and the “basics” of math, reading, and writing. Most states (PA included) do not embrace the recently revised and released National Core Arts Standards, for which “creating” has three major essential targets:
Anchor Standard #1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work
Anchor Standard #2: Organize artistic ideas and work
Anchor Standard #3: Refine and complete artistic work
As stated in the first “lessons in creativity,” we should all venture out on our own expedition… to find additional strategies to implement teaching and learning creativity. As you can see, there is a lot of material to review, at least on the rationale of creativity in education, if not the “how to” of bringing it into the classroom. Happy hunting!
Picture credits: Photographers Collwyn Cleveland, Cienpies Design, Nevvit Dilmen, Shamseer Sureash Kumar, John Nyberg, Gerrit Prenger, Jeff Vergara and cover photo artist Cecilia Johansson at http://www.freeimages.com
“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.” — Plato
Things for Which Prospective Music Teachers and Students Majoring in Music Education Should Be Thankful… and on Which to Reflect Over This Holiday Season!
Music educators and those training for this honorable career have many reasons to feel blessed. This Thanksgiving 2016 blog is another one of my “pep talks” and an ongoing goal to share resources for pre-service professional development. Lets begin with a classic “top-ten” list — the fruits and cornerstones of our profession:
Music is one of life’s greatest treasures!
You will always have your music. Your future employment is also your hobby, and even after 35 or more years, you will inclined to continue your music throughout the “golden years” of retirement.
There are so many ways you can make a difference in the lives of children with music. Whether it is singing, playing an instrument, composing, listening, feeling, or moving in response to music, music fills a basic need!
Although music is an excellent vehicle for developing 21st Century learning skills (the four C’s of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication), participating in music for music’s sake is paramount. To find true meaning and personal artistry, you cannot review the arts without “doing” (or creating) the arts.
Your joy of creative self-expression and “making music” will sustain you through almost anything… and will transfer to your students’ success in life.
In many settings of school music courses and extra-curricular activities, your students make a conscious effort to choose you and the study of music in order to spend as much time together. “They may have to take math and English, but they also want their daily dose of music!”
Newcomers to this field, you do not have to be right or perfect all the time in class. During your student teaching and early years on the job, if you are enthusiastic, dedicated, and respectful of the feelings of your students, your mistakes (and there will be many) will be forgiven. Besides, there are usually no “single right answers” in music and art – only opportunities for divergent and flexible thinking, adaptability, and personal expression.
You’ll never forget your students… and when you bump into them after graduation, they will remind you all about “those good times!” Don’t be surprised when they tell you were the best part of their education.
Your band, orchestra, and/or choral director back home (school district and university) are rooting for you… and want you to succeed. If you have questions, go see them. They would appreciate you asking for their advice.
Good news! Help is on the way! On this blog-site, there is a single link to all of the articles, handouts, PowerPoint slides, etc., everything from branding yourself to a review of the interview questions you will need to answer at job screenings. To help you market your professionalism, develop a philosophy of music education, learn the basics of networking, dive into making a business card, professional website or e-portfolio, or practice taking interviews, go to the link above or https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/becoming-a-music-educator/.
Why Music? Why Do You Want to Become a Music Educator?
It never hurts to embrace and share the excellent voices of our music education advocates. Check out these interesting online sources:
After you finish your fall semester finals, juries, concerts, writing assignments, and other projects, you may have several weeks before you have to return to full-time classes at the university. Besides catching up on your sleep and visiting your family and friends, how many of these enrichment activities can you accomplish?
Share your gifts. Play your instrument, accompany someone else, or sing solos at a local nursing home or senior center.
Sit in with a church or community choir, band, or orchestra. Just ask the conductor if you could participate in a few rehearsals over your break.
Learn something new about music… a different instrument, recent releases in sheet music or recordings, unique composer/arranger in your major area, music education article from a professional journal, innovative music software or interactive online programs (often free trials are available to future teachers), etc. For example, have you perused SmartMusic and MusicFirst?
Spend a lot of time sight-reading… especially on the piano. To take your ear-training training a step further, pull out your old folk-song sight-reading series or Hindemith’s Elementary Training for Musicians and practice musicianship exercises.
To improve your score reading, take a choral arrangement and play the individual vocal parts at sight (soprano + bass, alto + tenor, soprano + tenor + bass, etc.). Or, perform on the piano 2-4 parts of a string quartet score.
Volunteer to assist coaching a sectional or large ensemble at your local public school.
Attend as many local concerts as you can: school, amateur adult, and professional.
Compose or arrange a short holiday, folk, or classical song for unusual instrumentation (e.g. flute, viola, baritone sax, and tuba). Who knows? Someday you may have to conduct an ensemble with such unique membership.
Record video/audio excerpts of your major instrument/voice for placement on your professional website. Begin preparations on or update your e-portfolio.
Readall of the “marketing professionalism” articles on this blog-site. Take notes or print the things to which you want to refer back. Make a list of the possible interview questions, and put yourself through several “mock job screenings” (alone or with one or more college buddies) with you answering these randomized questions in front of a camera. Assess your performance. During your”free time” over the holiday break, assemble your “personal stories” – anecdotes revealing your skills, personality traits, teaching experiences, and accomplishments that could be shared at future employment interviews. Most important article on this subject? Look at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2016/02/27/interview-questions-revisited/.
Best wishes for a healthy, peaceful and fulfilling holiday. Please enjoy lots of turkey with your loved ones, but if you can, “catch up” on your long term preparation for becoming a music educator. Make every day count over the recess. Reflect on why you are becoming a music educator, and be grateful for the multitude of benefits! Finally, never forget your own creative roots… make time for music every day!