Reference Letters: What To Do?

Reprinted from “A View from the Podium” (Upper St. Clair High School, 2015) for current South Hills Junior Orchestra members and other students seeking recommendation letters from their music teachers.

foxsfiresides

If you are requesting a letter of recommendation from any teaching staff member, administrator, minister, coach, or activity sponsor for college entrance, scholarships, awards, or job placement, please follow the instructions of your school counselor AND review/complete the steps below.

Do you have an updated “me-file” on your computer’s desktop? Maintain a bulleted list of accomplishments with dates. Scan archives of awards, programs, commendations, special honors, and significant assessments. This will become the basis for the creation of résumés or portfolios, and background for your college or employment essays.

In person, ask the teacher from whom you want the letter if he/she is willing to do this. This should be an adult in whom you have a great deal of trust and with whom you have had frequent contact. If you have any doubt or misgivings like “Does this professional like me?” or “Will he/she give me a fair rating?” – then you should ask someone else. If you are a current member of SHJO, anyone asking Mr. Fox should have no fear. He will tell you immediately if there is any problem in writing a positive letter.

In my opinion, if you choose the right person to do your letter, you can sign-off your rights to see it before submission to the institution. A student checking “yes” to waiving his/her access to/examination of the reference may look better to the evaluator. Although not required, some may send you a copy of it for your files. That is my standard practice.

Know your deadlines. BY WHEN do you need the reference letters or common app teacher recommendations?

seriestoshare-logo-01As a courtesy to the writer (and modeling good preparation on your part), give at least two to three weeks’ notice (more is better). Remember: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on the teacher’s part.” It would also be polite to “gently remind” the staff member about the final deadline of the recommendation (at least one weekend’s notice). For SHJO, one Saturday ahead of the final deadline would be ideal.

Unless it is an online application or digital reference, the individual requesting the recommendation should provide in advance a pre-stamped self-addressed envelope to be signed, sealed, and mailed directly to any school or organization.

To facilitate “anecdotal references” and confirm accurate data/details, email a mini-résumé of your achievements, particularly those things that can be mentioned in the letter. Try to complete as many of these as possible:

  1. When did you first begin your musical (or other academic specialty) study? When did you join SHJO or other music group?
  2. What classes, ensembles, and/or productions have you participated at school?
  3. What music or academic leadership positions have you served (give specific dates)?
  4. What are your outside activities?
  5. What have you done as community service?
  6. How are you unique? Describe yourself in three to five words.
  7. What qualities or strengths have you exhibited that the staff member, from working with you, could corroborate in the letter?
  8. Can you remember any funny or significant class or rehearsal anecdote that demonstrated growth in your musical technique, expressiveness, student leadership, “team” or ensemble building, or the 21st Century learning skills of creativity, communications, critical thinking, collaboration, and global understanding?
  9. What is your planned major or minor in college, and how did your association with the staff member (his/her classes or activities) help you gain the experience, insight, or confidence to go into this field?

Good luck! PKF  Revised 3/18/19

hi-res logo 2018

The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, 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 members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

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.

Click here for a printable copy of Reference Letters: What to Do?

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulfox.blog/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fireside” by pixeldust

 

Interviews

READY TO HIRE: Strategies to Land a Job

For all future music teachers everywhere, especially members of a PCMEA or NAfME collegiate chapter, we post these handouts from past NAfME and PMEA music teacher conference sessions, all moderated by Scott Sheehan, Immediate Past President of NAfME Eastern Division and Past State President of PMEA.

As a tradition at the annual state conference, the session “Ready to Hire: Interviewing Strategies to Land a Job” has offered “tried & true tips to assist promising music education majors with developing interviewing skills to successfully land their dream job.” One of the features of the clinic is the set-up of a “hot seat” where volunteer candidates are put through one or more questions in a “mock interview,” and then assessed on their “performance.” The guest panelists often distribute a “takeaway” with valuable tips on interview techniques and questions, and developing personal branding, networking, and marketing skills.

These suggestions are offered as a way to “practice” taking employment interviews.

Best wishes on your job search. Now go out there and “nail” the interview!

 

NAfME Logo_eastern_division

NAfME Biennial Eastern Division/PMEA State Spring Conference

April 4-7, 2019 in Pittsburgh, PA

 

Sheehan: Interview Session Handout

Metelsky: Interview Worksheet

Pearlberg: Ready to Hire Interview Strategies

Fox: Job Interview Playbook

 

 

PMEA conferences.png

Pennsylvania Music Education Association Annual Spring Conference

(various years)

 

Basalik: Ready-Set-Interview

Baxter: Music Interviews

Fox: A to Z Job Interview Checklist

Fox: Marketing Your Professionalism

 

pcmea

Additional Resources

PMEA Job Board

NAfME:

Sullivan Interview Strategies that Work

Older blog-posts at this site:

 

Acknowledgments:

  • Sue Basalik
  • Howard Baxter
  • Marc Greene
  • Susan Metelsky
  • Alicia Mueller
  • Henry Pearlberg
  • Kathy Sanz
  • Scott Sheehan
  • Jill Sullivan
  • Lucy White

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

All rights reserved by the individual authors of this material

Life Hacks for Musicians

The Laws of Practicing & More Tips on Preparing Music

foxsfiresides

Many of the early South Hills Junior Orchestra “Fox’s Firesides” are about developing new techniques to solve musical problems, dispelling the myth that all you need to do is put in the time. Is there any truth in “practice makes perfect?” Not really. It is more critical that all instrumentalists set-up a regular schedule for focused practice, limiting all distractions, defining and working on goals, and then the truer adage can be modeled: “perfect practice develops perfect playing.”

Perhaps since January is the first month of The New Year, this would be a good time to review the different practice techniques we have already published at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/, especially #1, #4, and #8.

Here are a few more ideas, “borrowed” from my former place of employment – the Upper St. Clair School District Performing Arts Department.

 

THE LAWS OF PRACTICING

The 24-Hour Law – It takes 24 hours for yesterday’s lesson to be learned.

The Perfect Attendance Law – Practicing a little every day always beats cramming.

The Three Musketeers Law – Never practice without a metronome, tuner, or recording device to hear how you sound.

The “Elephant in the Room” Law – One must “face the music,” specifically, the musical passage with which they are struggling the most.

The Sloth Law – When in doubt, play it slower.

 

LIFE HACKS (Practice Edition)

Sloth Hack – Playing slower, to the point that it is impossible to mess up.

Jaws Hack – Slur a passage with which you are struggling.

seriestoshare-logo-01Karaoke Hack – Play the passage in conjunction with your favorite recording of the piece.

Time Trial Hack – Put a timer on for a few minutes and see how much you can accomplish in a short amount of time.

Drop the Bass Hack – If a passage is too high, play it down an octave.

Cheat Code Hack – Simplify a rhythm if you are struggling to learn it.

Here are several additional websites with excellent “hack” recommendations for developing better practice skills, but don’t forget to ask your school music director and private teacher for more advice!

 

Keep up your commitment to and PRACTICE towards real self-improvement, creative self-expression, making beautiful music, and participating in your school and community bands and orchestras!

PKF

hi-res logo 2018

 

The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, 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 members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

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.

Click here for a printable copy of LIFE HACKS for Musicians

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fireplace” by judenicholson

A Collection of Collegiate “Treasures”

3 by 3: Essential Books + Websites for Music Ed Majors

By now, at least several weeks after the holiday/winter break, most of you have probably returned to school and are “back at it” fulfilling your studies in music and education methods. Welcome to the New Year (2019) and good luck on meeting your goals!

It has been my pleasure to present numerous workshops and conference sessions for pre-service, in-service, and retired music educators on a variety of topics: interviewing for a job, marketing professionalism, ethics, transitioning to retirement, supercharging the musical, etc., and have been asked on occasion, “Where do you find all of the information, research, and resources for your blog-posts and talks?

Well.. I’m glad you asked!

book-841171_1920_PourquoiPas

It would be hard to credit one or a few sources on reliable data, insights, and recommendations for career development. The following “gems” – a few ideas from someone who has taught music for more than 40 years – are just my New Year’s “gifts” to you… hopefully useful in your undergraduate or advance degree studies. Please enjoy!

This is probably the wrong time to suggest making a few “buys” for the sake of educational enrichment. College students are bombarded with many required readings of their (often expensive) textbooks and handouts from their comprehensive higher education courses of study. It is somewhat daunting to “cover all the bases,” especially when you may want specific advice and “answers” as a result of being recently thrown into “the real world” of field observations and student teaching. What else would a prospective music teacher need or have time to read? How can we better prepare you for the challenges of our profession?

Since you have to order books (or borrow them from a library), we’ll start with the printed publications. Here are my “top three” for your immediate consideration.

 

My Many Hats

My Many HatsIn the category of “things I wishes someone would have told me before I was hired to be a school music educator,” the inspirational book, My Many Hats: Juggling the Diverse Demands of a Music Teacher by Richard Weymuth, is a recommended “first stop” and easy “quick-read.” Published by Heritage Music Press (2005), the 130-page paperback serves as an excellent summary of the attributes (or “hats”) of a “master music teacher.” Based on the photos in his work (great “props”), I would have loved to have seen Weymuth’s conference presentations in person as he donned each hat symbolizing the necessary skill-set for a successful educator.

A quote from the author in his Introduction:

“I want my hats to put a smile on your face as you read this book, just as they do for the airport security guards as they go through my bags at the airport. They ask, “Are you a magician? A clown? An entertainer?” My answer is, “Yes, I am a teacher.”

His Table of Contents tells it all:

  1. The Hat of a Ringmaster: Managing your classroom and your time
  2. The Hat of a Leader: Setting the direction and tone of your classroom
  3. The Hat of a Scholar: Learning when “just the facts” are just fine, and when they aren’t
  4. The Hat of a Disciplinarian: The Three C’s: Caring, Consistency, and Control
  5. The Hat of an Eagle: Mastering your eagle eye
  6. The Hat of a Crab: Attitude is everything; what’s yours?
  7. The Hat of a Juggler: Balancing a complicated and demanding class schedule
  8. The Hat of a Banker: Fund raising and budgeting
  9. The Hat of an Artistic Director: Uniforms and musicals and bulletin boards, oh my!
  10. The Hat of a Lobster: Establishing the proper decorum with your students
  11. The Hat of a Pirate: Finding a job you will treasure
  12. The Hat of a Bear: Learning to “grin and bear it” in difficult situations
  13. The Hat of a Peacock: Having and creating pride in your program
  14. The Hat of Applause: Rewarding and recognizing yourself
  15. The Hat of a Flamingo: Sticking out your neck and flapping your wings

Here are a couple sections that should be emphasized if you are currently a junior or senior music education major.

All student or first-year teachers should focus on his/her three C’s of class discipline in Chapter 4: “Caring, Consistency, and Control.” In order to resolve problems and seek advice from local mentors (especially help from second and third-year teachers who may have just gone through similar conflicts), he poses these questions:

  • What is the specific discipline problem that is currently bothering you?
  • Who could you interview in your educational community to help with this problem?
  • How did they handle the problem?
  • What discipline solutions worked and what didn’t work?

girl-3718522_1920_nastya_gepp

Those getting ready for the job search and interviewing process this year must turn to Chapter 11 immediately! “Just like a pirate, you are searching for your treasure, or at least a job you will treasure.” Suggesting that first-year teachers should stay in their assignment for a minimum of three years (to show “you are a stable teacher and are dedicated to the district”), Weymuth offers guidance in these areas:

  • The Application Process
    • Cover Letter
    • Résumé
  • The Interview
    • Make a Good Impression
    • The First-Class Interview
    • Frequently Asked Questions
  • The Second Interview

The book is worth the $17.95 price alone for the interview questions on pages 85-88.

Once you “land a job” and are assigned extra-curricular duties like directing after-school ensembles, plays, and perhaps fund-raising for trips, shows, uniforms, or instruments, come back to Chapter 8 for “The Hat of a Banker” and Chapter 9 for “The Hat of an Artistic Director.” His guidelines for moneymaking and record-keeping include insightful sub-sections on:

  • Planning and Administering a Fund-Raising Activity
  • Possible Fund-Raisers
  • Motivating Students to Sell, Sell, Sell (Set Goals, Prizes, and Tracking)
  • Budgeting

Having previously posted a blog on “Supercharging the School Musical,”  I was impressed with his pages 65-69 on “Show and Concert Choir Dress” and The Musical,” and especially the “Appendix – Resources Books for Producing a Musical” in the back of the book.

 

Case Studies in Music Education

Case Studies in Music EducationNext, I would like to direct pre-service and new music teachers to Case Studies in Music Education by Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head. This would be an invaluable aid to “facilitate dialogue, problem posing, and problem solving” from college students (in methods classes?) and “rookie” teachers to veteran educators.

Using the format of Introduction, Exposition, Development, Improvisation, and Recapitulation known by all music professionals, each chapter presents a scenario with a moral dilemma that many music educators face in the daily execution of their teaching responsibilities.

 

“How should a music teacher balance learning and performing? What is the best way to handle an angry parent? What are the consequences of the grades teachers assign? What are the best ways to discipline students? How should teachers relate to the administrators and to other teachers? The emphasis here is not on the solution, but on the process. There are many viable approaches to nearly every obstacle, but before any meaningful long-term solutions can be made, teachers must identify their own personal philosophy of music education and recognize those traits that are admirable in another’s style.”

―Excerpt from back cover of Case Studies in Music Education, Second Edition, by Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head

Case Studies in Music Education provides a frank discussion about the critical real-world issues music teachers face but are rarely addressed in college courses:

  • Balancing the goals of learning and performing music
  • Communications and relationships with parents, administrators, and other staff
  • “Fair use” and other copyright laws

If you are seeking more reflection and peer review of ethical issues in the music education profession, good for you! Few music teachers ever talk about the “e” word. What’s important is not only becoming aware of your state’s/district’s statues on the “teacher’s code of conduct” and dress/behavior expectations, but developing your own ethical “compass” for all professional decision-making. A good companion to the Abrahams and Head book is to peruse my previous blogs on ETHICS (posted in reverse chronological order).

 

fatigued-1822678_1920_sasint

Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers

“Book number three” is probably the most expensive, and I could only wish you were already exposed to it in one of your music education courses. If you have not seen it, go ahead and “bite the bullet” in the purchase of Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers: 101 Tips that Principals Want Music Teachers to Know and Do by Paul G. Young, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2009. [Note: Be sure to give them your NAfME membership number for a 25% discount!]

“If you want to improve your professional performance and set yourself apart from your colleagues—in any discipline—these tips are for you. If you desire anything less than achieving the very best, you won’t want this book. Rather than addressing research and theory about music education or the “how-to’s” of teaching, Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers focuses on common-sense qualities and standards of performance that are essential for success-everywhere. Whether you’re considering a career in music education, entering your first year of teaching, or nearing the end of a distinguished tenure, this advice applies to musicians in any setting. Affirming quality performance for experienced teachers and guiding, nurturing, and supporting the novice, Young outlines what great music teachers do. Easy to read and straightforward, read it from beginning to end or focus on tips of interest. Come back time and again for encouragement, ideas, and affirmation of your choice to teach music.”

– https://nafme.org/reading-list-music-educators/

ENhancing the Professional Practice of Music TeachersHis chapters are organized into six tips:

  • Tips That Establish Effective Practice with Students
  • Tips That Support Recruitment
  • Tips That Enhance Instruction
  • Tips That Enhance the Profession
  • Tips for Personal Growth
  • Tips for Professional Growth

Paul Young is a musician and band director who later became an elementary school principal. His book is derived from his experience as a music student, music teacher, and educational leader. The intent of the publication is to guide both new and experienced teachers in continued personal and professional growth. He uses his experience as an administrator to point out to music teachers the traits he has seen in individuals who have become successful in the profession.

Now that you ordered at least one of these for personal research and growth, I should point out other sources of book recommendations for the budding music educator, courtesy of NAfME:

 

Online Resources

Okay, now comes the “easy-peasy” part, and even more importantly, it’s mostly FREE!

NAfME blogThe first thing I want you to do (and you don’t even have to be a member of NAfME yet, although you should be!) is to take at least a half-hour, scroll down, and read through numerous NAfME “Music in a Minuet” blog-posts, bookmarking any you want to return to at a later date. Go to https://nafme.org/category/news/music-in-a-minuet/. Get ready to be totally immersed into the music education profession in a way no college professor can do, with articles like the following (just a recent sampling):

 

learn-868815_1920_geralt

Hopefully you did receive a little cash in your Christmas stocking… or something from grandma! Now is time to “belly up to the bar” and pay your dues. Every professional school music educator should be a member of their “national association…” NAfME!

Once you do this, get ready to reap countless benefits! First, besides offering a discounted rate for all collegiate members, you will be eligible for a significant price break for full active membership renewal during your first-year of teaching! Then, the doors will open wide to you for all of the many NAfME member services such as classroom resources, professional development, news and publications, special offers for members, etc.

Amplify

Once you are a NAfME member, open up your browser, and go immediately to the NAfME AMPLIFY community discussion platform, instructions posted here. Getting started on AMPLIFY is easy:

  • Go to community.nafme.org.
  • Edit your profile using your NAfME.org member username and personal password.
  • Control what information is visible on your profile.
  • Join/subscribe to communities of your choice – you will automatically be enrolled in Music Educator Central, our general community for all NAfME Members.
  • Control the frequency and format of email notifications from Amplify.

If you prefer, they have created a video or quick-start guide here to set-up your account’s profile, demonstrate the features, and provide some help navigating through the AMPLIFY menus.

Once you familiarize yourself with the forum, find the “Music Educator Central” and “Collegiate” discussion groups… and start reading. If you have a question, post it. AMPLIFY connects you with as many as 60,000 other NAfME members… a powerful resource for networking and finding out “tried and true” techniques, possible solutions to scenarios or problems in the varied settings of school music assignments, and the sharing of news, trends, perspectives, and more!

Try it… you’ll like it! When you feel comfortable with the platform, contribute your own posts, thoughtful responses to comments from the reflections of your “colleagues,” teaching anecdotes, personal pet-peeves, and ???  – you name it! The sky is the limit!

brass-3099922_1920_emkanicepic

Tooting My Own Horn… the “Paulkfoxusc” Website (now paulfox.blog)

Finally, if you have indeed “blown the budget” over family holiday purchases, I can suggest one freebie website that archives a comprehensive listings of blog-posts, links, and books. Under the category of “marketing professionalism,” you can search through blogs placed online in reverse chronological order at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/marketing-professionalism/ or you can “take everything in” from one super-site entitled “Becoming a Music Educator” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/becoming-a-music-educator/.

Of course, I have a few “favorite” articles which may provide you a great start to your journey of self-fulfillment:

ipad-820272_1920_1_fancycrave1

Best wishes on you continuing your advancement and personal enrichment towards the realization of a wonderful career in music education!

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “student” by geralt, “book” by PourquoiPas, “girl” by nastya_gepp, “fatigued” by sasint, “learn” by geralt, “brass” by emkanicepic, and “iPad” by fancycrave1

 

 

Summertime Prep for Music Ed Majors

Collegiates: You snooze, you lose!

After a well-deserved break from your academics and other college or work deadlines, music-2674872_1920_kevinbismnow would be the perfect time to explore supplemental resources and get a “head-start” on additional pre-service training for next fall. These tips are especially valuable to anyone entering his/her senior or final year as a music education major, finely honing in and marketing your skills as a professional in order to be prepared for finding and succeeding at your first job.

Actually I hate to admit it, I enjoy assigning college students a little “homework!” But, most of this you can do from the comfort of your patio, beach blanket, swimming pool lounge chair, or couch in the game room. With the exception of “getting your feet wet” and diving into enriching music teaching field experiences and a summer workshop or two, all you need is a pencil to take notes and a device with access to the Internet.

There’s a lot to-do right now, and you only have the rest of July and August. Please try to “keep your eyes on the target” and squeeze in a few of these self-improvement plans around your vacation trips (seven lessons – see sections below) :

  1. Summer practicum
  2. Conferences
  3. Online research
  4. Skill gap-filling
  5. Ethics training
  6. Digital archiving
  7. Interview prep

 

orchestra-2496505_1920_HeungSoon

 

1. Are you really ever “on vacation” from music education?

Most veteran music educators would respond with “NEVER!” We maintain our professionalism by participating in workshops, reading teacher journals and online articles, perusing lesson materials and new music, practicing and advancing our personal musicianship, undergoing technology “tune-ups,” and focusing on other career development. This is a 12-month, even 7-day process, and academic breaks when they appear on our calendar allow us to “double-down” in areas we need the most help.

“Hands-on” training not only “fills-up your resume” with primary employment/volunteer sources, but more importantly, exposes you to realistic opportunities to expand your skills and knowledge of the “best practices” in music education and leadership training, while building techniques for handling student motivation and discipline best learned from “the school of hard knocks.”music-3090204_1920_brendageisse

These placements don’t always come “knocking at your door.” Go out and seek a little adventure! For leads, talk to your high school band, string, or choir director. Your purpose is to find something that allows you some contact with children… free (usually) or paid, in or outside the field of music and the arts. Here are a few ideas:

  • Coach summer band sectionals, field rehearsals, marching or dance practices, etc.
  • “Put up your shingle” and teach private or small class music lessons.
  • Offer to arrange music or or provide choreography for local school drum-lines, marching bands and/or auxiliary units, or theater groups.
  • Sing in a community or church choir, and offer to help accompany, vocal coach, or conduct.
  • Sign-up to assist in local youth ballet, modern dance, or drama programs.
  • Sing, play, or teach solo or chamber music for summer religion or music camps, childcare facilities, hospitals, or senior citizen centers.
  • Volunteer (in almost any capacity) at a preschool or daycare center.

 

kids-1093758_1920_klimkin

 

 

2. The tools of the trade – CONFERENCES!

Summer is a GREAT time to grow your network of valuable opportunities for future collaboration, do a little goal setting, and “push the envelope” with professional development of the “latest and greatest” and “state of the art” music and methods.  The primary source for professional development is the education conference. There still may be time for you to find one close to you, perhaps in conjunction with a little sightseeing or visits with friends and relatives in the same city, like the following:

Thanks to www.takeflyte.com/reasons-to-attend-conferences, we know that attending workshop sessions are “good for you!” Participating in a conference helps you to…

  • Sharpen the saw (sharpen your skills – Stephen Covey’s seventh habit of highly effective people)
  • Meet experts and influencers face-to-face
  • pmeaMix and mingle to improve your networking opportunities
  • Find new tools and innovations
  • Learn in a New Space
  • Break out of your comfort zone
  • Be exposed to new tips and tactics
  • Relearn classic techniques with greater focus
  • Share experiences with like-minded individuals
  • Discover the value of the serendipity in a random workshop
  • Invest in yourself
  • Have fun!

If you really need any additional rationale for spending the money, click on the blog-post “Getting the Most Out of Music Conferences” at https://majoringinmusic.com/music-conferences/.

Finally, believe-it-or-not, you can bring the conferences to YOU! For the annual $20 subscription fee, you can view NAfME Academy professional development videos on almost any topic you can imagine. Check out the NAfME library of webinars: https://nafme.org/community/elearning/.

 

marching-band-1404489_1920_sam99929

 

3a. A winning website

The aforementioned Majoring in Music website is an excellent place to visit. It is amazingly extensive. You should read these articles for your “final year of prep.”

 

3b. These “awesome” resources are brought to you by NAfME

Besides the broad-based music subject matter and specific teaching skills, here’s some valuable advice, including how to “run a music program” (first link). I hope I am not stating the obvious: You should become a member of this national association for the advancement of music education.

 

Amplify

I also want to point you to the community discussion social media platform called Amplify, a benefit of NAfME membership. We are stockpiling a lot articles for college music education students, as well as sharing dialogue on everything from pedagogical issues to music equipment purchasing recommendations in both the collegiate member group and “music education central.” Go to https://nafme.org/introducing-amplify-largest-community-music-educators-country/.

 

guitar-2922536_1920_sunawang

 

4. “Filling in the gaps”

Your music education methods courses and other college classes were never expected to provide 100% of the necessary tools to become a competent teacher in every setting. This spotlights the need for professionalism. Once you land a job, you will have to “catch-up” and seek additional training to improve those areas in which you feel inadequate or unfamiliar. You can begin NOW to explore a few of these areas while enjoying your less stressful off-campus schedule:

  • child-621915_1920_skeezeUnderstanding specific educational jargon and the latest approaches, applications, and technologies in the profession (e.g. Backwards Design, The Common Core, Whole Child Initiatives, Multiple Intelligences, Depth of Knowledge and Higher Order of Thinking Skills, Formative, Summative, Diagnostic, and Authentic Assessment, etc. – Do you know the meaning of these terms?)
  • Teaching outside your “major” area or specialty (e.g. instrumental music for voice students, etc.)
  • Comprehending behavior management techniques and suggestive preventive disciplinary procedures
  • Mastering the use of valid assessments (e.g. can you give specific examples of diagnostic, authentic, formative, and summative assessments?) as well as a variety of music rubrics and evaluative criteria
  • Knowing the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and other confidentiality statutes, Individual Education Plans and service agreements, and accommodating students with disabilities

flute-2245032_1920_congerdesignYou need to ask yourself the question, “What are my greatest weaknesses in music education?” Or, to put it another way, “What school assignments would I feel the least confident to teach? After earning your state’s all-essential credential, your certificate will likely be general and only say “music Pre-K to Grade 12.” Administrators will expect you can “do it all” – introducing jazz improvisation at the middle school, accompany on the piano or guitar all of the songs in the grades 1-6 music textbook series, directing the marching band at the high school or the musical at the middle school, starting an elementary string program, etc.

Figure out and face your greatest fears or worse skill areas. Work on them now! Take a few lessons, join a new ensemble of the “uncomfortable specialty,” ask help from your peers, etc.

More about this was printed in a previous post: https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2018/03/11/transitioning-from-collegiate-to-professional-part-ii/.

 

microphone-1804148_1920_klimkin2

 

5. The ABC’s of professional ethics

So far, have you been given any ethics training in college? Most pre-service educators only receive a cursory introduction to such things as codes of conduct, moral professionalism, guidelines to avoid conflicts in relationships with students, use of social media, confidentiality regulations, copyright infringement, pedagogical and economic decision-making, etc.

Now in my 46th year working in the field of music education (although retired from the public schools in 2013), I unblushingly admit I never had a full-blown course in ethics. Music colleagues have confirmed to me that it was barely (or not at all) touched-on in music methods classes, introduction to student teaching, school district orientation or induction sessions, or back-to-school in-service programs. choir-458173_1920-intmurrSince music teachers are all “fiduciaries” (do you know the meaning of the word?) and legally responsible for our “charges,” wouldn’t it be a good idea to review our state’s regulations and code of conduct, and hear about the challenges and pitfalls of ethical decision-making before we jump in and get “over our heads,” so-to-speak?

I can offer you two ways to immerse yourself into music education ethics. If you are a PCMEA or PMEA member and an “auditory learner,” you might prefer the FREE PMEA online webinar video (two-part) plus handouts at https://www.pmea.net/webinars/. Otherwise, visual learners and others may like this five-part blog series:

 

band-1850616_1920_Pexels

 

6. “A picture says a thousand words” in marketing yourself

Have you been archiving your last several year’s of field assignments? Have you recorded numerous moments of teaching, music directing, performing, and working with students? Are you prepared for the coming year’s student teaching, getting ready to take still photos, audio samples, and video excerpts?

“We cannot emphasize the power of pictures enough when it comes to portfolios. During interviews, committee members are trying to get to know you and trying to envision you teaching. Don’t trust their imaginations to do so, give them pictures… photos or newspaper articles of you teaching students in the classroom, with students on field trips, learning excursions or outside class activities, with children while you are serving in adviser roles, with your students at musical or athletic events, coaching or working with children in a coaching capacity, as a leader and role model.” – http://www.theeduedge.com/top-five-must-haves-top-five-could-haves-your-teacher-interview-portfolio/

As I mentioned in a previous blog, be careful to obtain permission in advance to video record students for your e-portfolio. During your field experiences or student teaching, little-girl-3043324_1920_Atlantiosask your cooperating teacher (or his/her supervisor’s) permission. Some school districts have “do not photo” rosters. (However, in my district, only a few elementary students were “on the list” and most defaulted to a “permissible” status unless the parent opted out. The principal’s secretary had a record of all exceptions.) It is also suggested that you focus your camera mostly on YOU and not the students, from the back of the classroom or rehearsal facility (possibly from afar), so that the student faces are not clearly discernible. To respect their privacy, in the recorded excerpts, do not use any segment announcing the names of your students.

What would be ideal to place on/in your website/e-portfolio? Show a wide spectrum of experience and training: elementary and/or middle school general music, band, choral and string ensembles (all grades), marching band, musicals, dance, music technology, piano and guitar accompanying, Dalcroze eurhythmics, Orff instruments, etc. Competency, versatility, and being well-rounded are the keys here.

 

boy-273279_1920_Silberfuchs

 

7. Teacher interviews – “practice makes perfect”

I have written a lot on the subjects of assembling a collection of your teaching anecdotes and stories, marketing your “personal brand,” and preparing for the employment screening process. (Have you wandered through the comprehensive listing at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/becoming-a-music-educator/?)

However, I recently came upon several new-to-me online articles that summarize the basics. Please take a look at these:

After reading all of these (and compile your own list of interview questions), you should get together informally with your fellow juniors and seniors and hold mock interviews, record them, and jointly assess the “try out” of your interviewing skills to land a job.

Finally, have you recently updated your resume, and created (or revised) your professional business card, website, and e-portfolio?

children-2685070_1920_mochilazocultural

 

Okay, I admit it. I got a little carried away. You would need TEN SUMMERS to cover everything above. What’s that saying? “There’s never enough hours in a day…”

Hopefully these resources  and recommendations are helpful “food for thought!” You cannot accomplish anything by procrastination… or just “sleeping in!”

 

Many have said that aspiring to be a music educator is a lot like a “calling.” Using your summer “free time” is all about “professional engagement.” One of my superintendents said he expected prospective new music teacher recruits to show high energy, enthusiasm, sense of purpose, and dedication during the interview… even a supposed willingness to “lay down in front of a school bus” or “do whatever it takes” to make the students (and the educational program) successful. Regardless of the hyperbole, that’s engagement!

So, what are you waiting for? Pass the sunscreen and the ice tea. Then, after a quick swim, jog, round of golf, or game of tennis, get started on your summer assignments!

PKF

 

piano-78492_1920_nightowl

 

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “music” by ArtsyBee, “music” by KevinBism, “orchestra” by HeungSoon, “music” by brendageisse, “kids” by klimkin, “marching band” by sam99929, “guitar” by sunawang, “child” by skeeze, “flute” by congerdesign, “microphone” by klimkin, “choir” by intmurr, “band” by Pexels, “little girl” by Atlantios, “boy” by Silberfuchs, “children” by mochilazocultural, and “piano” by nightowl.

Summer or Anytime Music Enrichment

Focus on YOUR MUSIC during summer vacations, holidays, or academic breaks

foxsfiresides

The following idea-bank is a checklist offered to Band and Orchestra instrumentalists, their music teachers, and family members as “food for thought!”

Here are a few suggestions to consider as a TO-DO LIST after all the standardized tests, final concerts, and end-of-the-semester projects in all academic areas. Summertime is a wonderful way to “get to know” your instrument and build on your knowledge-base, technique, musicianship, and repertoire.

  1. Help organize your time by setting up a regular daily practice schedule. Practice a little every day. Consistency creates confidence!
  2. Create a “scale journal.” Write down on manuscript paper all your major and minor scales and the I, IV and V7 arpeggio series. Practice scales in all keys.
  3. Shriya NarasimhanCreate four new scale variations every day and add them to your “journal.” Creative new variations should make playing scales more enjoyable. Some examples are unusual rhythms (pizza toppings, desserts, interesting proper names), more difficult slurs, scales in thirds, etc.
  4. Explore the performance of one, two or three octaves of major, minor, chromatic, pentatonic and whole tone scales.
  5. To improve reading skills, play new music “at sight,” even music written for other instruments. Don’t be afraid to play a challenging piece above your ability level or even read a song from a piano score.
  6. Play through some of your “oldies” and favorites from past lessons or Band/Orchestra classes.
  7. shjo_Jonathan Pickell and Wendy HartVisit the local music store and browse. Explore new publications of Classical, pop, folk, fiddle/jazz, show tunes or other styles.
  8. Sign-up for a music camp or college classes of music appreciation, theory, eurhythmics, etc.
  9. Take a few private lessons. For enrichment, take piano, voice and/or learn a new instrument.
  10. Spend an entire day in the sheet music, recordings, and music book section at the local library.
  11. Purchase and learn the music audition requirements for your MEA band/orchestra ensemble or solo adjudication festivals.
  12. Form a chamber group with other players in your neighborhood and rehearse at least once a week.
  13. _shjo_violinistsPurchase a duet book for mix or matched instruments (such as Beautiful Music for 2 Stringed Instruments by Applebaum—Book I (easy), Book II (medium), Book III advanced). Team up with another musician (band or string) and share non-transposing parts (flute or oboe with violin, trombone with cello, etc.).
  14. Encourage yourself to “pick out a song by ear” and try to write it down on music paper.
  15. Sit in or join a local community or youth ensemble like the South Hills Junior Orchestra which rehearses on Saturdays in the Upper St. Clair High School (Western PA) Band Room. Rehearsals resume on September 8, 2018.
  16. shjo_David Levin_and_Devon AllenPlan a vacation or academic break around an out-of-state music workshop or concert series.
  17. Update your iTunes, Google Music, Amazon Music or other online music streaming services by purchasing and listening new solo or chamber works by artists who perform on the same instrument as you.
  18. Subscribe to SmartMusic, install/learn new music software, or peruse free online programs. Samples: Have you tried https://www.musictheory.net/ or https://www.good-ear.com/?
  19. Tune in to WQED FM, WDUQ or PBS and share a few minutes of classical music at least once a week. Attend concerts by professional musicians (like the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Civic Light Opera, or River City Brass).
  20. Prepare and perform a fifteen-minute recital for the residents of a local nursing home, hospital or Senior Citizen center.
  21. _shjo_in_rehearsal_031018 - 00Read books or magazine articles about famous musicians, performers, conductors or composers.
  22. Take a “field trip” to a luthier (person who makes or repairs string instruments) or the instrument dealer. Have your instrument examined, cleaned, adjusted and appraised. Purchase accessories and do any necessary repairs. If necessary, update your insurance!

How many of these can you accomplish over the months of June, July and August… or throughout the year? “Practice makes self-confidence,” and the more time you put into it, the more you take away from the experience. Please enjoy your summer or winter breaks, but learn to have fun with your instrument and EXPLORE MORE MUSIC!

Click here for a digital “take-away” of this list. Also, please feel free to share the other SHJO enrichment resources and “Fox Firesides” at http://www.shjo.org/foxs-fireside/ or https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

seriestoshare-logo-01

Paul K. Fox, Director, South Hills Junior Orchestra        www.shjo.org

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “fire” by skeeze.

 

“Creativity Thinking” in Music Education

A Brief Taste of the Research of Peter R. Webster

Peter Webster

Portions reprinted from the chapter “Creative Thinking in Music: Advancing a Model” by Peter R. Webster at www.peterwebster.com/pubs/WillinghamBook.pdf and other sources. For more current research and resources, it is recommended you visit the homepage of Peter Webster, and especially peruse his slides at http://www.peterrwebster.com/Present/keynoteDesertSkies2017.pdf.

 

“When the history of music education is written many years from now, there will be mention made of the time period represented by the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the new millennium as a critical point in the profession’s history. It will be noted that practical, theoretical, and research-based writings focused attention on both product and process in the teaching and learning of music. Rather than just product (largely music performance), the processes involved in the creation of music are becoming import as well. In addition to the nurturing of fine solo and ensemble performances, a more comprehensive approach to music education is emerging which embraces the study of composition, improvisation, music listening, cultural context, and relationships to other arts. In the United States, this trend began in the sixties with the Comprehensive Musicianship Project and the Manhattanville curriculum project and continued by the Yale, Tanglewood, and Ann Arbor symposia in following years. In more recent times, the National Voluntary Standards in the Arts have come to mark a more comprehensive approach. In other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, attention to music composition as a curricula focus has been long established. It is clearly the case that no longer can a music teacher expect to be successful by only teaching children how to perform the music of others in a dictatorial fashion, paying little attention to the development of aesthetic decision-making and musical independence of students.”

“Creativity Thinking and Music Education: Encouraging Students to Make Aesthetic Decisions” by Peter R. Webster

sculpture-3365574_1920_CouleurAccording to the above study by Peter Webster, Scholar-in-Residence at the Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California in Los Angeles, “good music teaching” involves the practice and observation of three types of musical behaviors:

  • Listening (most common)
  • Composition (perhaps the least common)
  • Performance: reproduction of music written by others (common) and the creation of music “in the moment” (improvisation)

Several basic tenants are proposed and reviewed in his work:

  • “Music teachers design environments that help learners construct their personal understanding of music.”
  • “Teachers must teach for independent thought” and “…our students can make aesthetic decisions about music… and to develop a sense of musical independence.”
  • “Student decision-making is predicted on the ability to hear musical possibilities without the presence of the sound… think in sound.”

brain-20424_640_PublicDomainPicturesPeter Webster’s definition of “creativity in music” is succinct: “the engagement of the mind in the active, structured process of thinking in sound for the purpose of producing some product that is new for the creator.” Furthermore, this is a thought process and “we are challenged, as educators, to better understand how the mind works in such matters — hence the term creative thinking.” (Webster, 1987)

Creative thinking in literature reveals five common elements:

  1. A problem solving context
  2. Convergent and divergent thinking skills
  3. Stages in the thinking process
  4. Some aspect of novelty
  5. Usefulness of the resulting product

Webster states, “Studies in many disciplines have revealed that creative thinking generally progresses through stages: preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.”

brain-2062055_1920_ElisaRiva

In 1992, Webster reviewed literature on creative thinking in music education and cited nearly 200 writings. He organized the studies into three major categories:

  1. Theoretical (works based on philosophical or psychological arguments)
  2. Practical (writings designed to inform praxis but not based on empirical evidence)
  3. Empirical (studies of product and process across composition, performance/improvisation and listening, and studies that examined cause and effect and relationship

More recently, he has augmented his research with a bibliography of more than twice that size, including the following references with new trends:

  • violin-3182455_1920_DekoArt-GalleryA heighten interest in the young child and invented music notation and their discussion of it as a window to understanding the child’s knowledge (Barrett, Gromko, MacGregor)
  • New approaches to assessment, including 1. consensual techniques (Hickey), 2. peer assessment (Freed-Garrod), and 3. novice evaluation (Mellor)
  • Attention to the role of collaboration (Kashub, Wiggins, MacDonald/Miell
  • New speculation and experimentation on the role of music technology (Hickey, Stauffer, Ellis)
  • Emergent thinking on the pedagogy of composition teaching (Odam)
  • New work on cause/effect and relationship (Auh, Hagen, Fung)
  • Compositional strategies (Auh, Folkestad)
  • Thought processes while composing (Younker/Smith, Kennedy)
  • New studies on how various musical behaviors (composition/improvisation/listening) relate to one another (Swanwick/Franca, Savage/Challis, Burnard)
  • Developmental patterns of creative thinking (Marsh, Barrett, Younker, Swanwick)
  • Creative performance (Dalgarno)
  • New work on improvisation: 1. empirical (McMillan) and 2. conceptual (Elliott, Kratus, Booth)

banner-1005546_1920_geralt

A few of Webster’s thoughts for future considerations

  • We need more work on social context, particularly the role of popular music to frame compositional and improvisational work. Clearly certain popular idioms that are easy to grasp play a dominant role as entry points for compositional and improvisational thinking, but what is less clear is the path toward more sophisticated skills.
  • We need to study the revision process and how it functions in the teaching context. We need to earn how to go beyond the primitive gesturals to encourage kids to think in sound at a more sophisticated level.
  • treble-clef-1132378_1920_deidiRelated to this are the issues of teacher control: when do we step in to change something or suggest a new path.
  • Experimentation with open-ended vs. more closed-ended tasks for creative teaching and research deserves more study.
  • Experimental validity is an issue. How can we make the actual collection of data more realistic and deal more directly with the time constraints and contexts of “school” vs. out of school.
  • When do children start composing music with “meaning.” After age 9, or long before? What does it mean to compose with “meaning?”
  • When we ask children to compose or improvise or listen or perform “in school,” is the result different than if these behaviors were done out of school?
  • When children compose, are they working from a holistic perspective or are then working locally without a plan?
  • Is it fair or correct to evaluate the quality of children’s creative work with the eyes of adults?
  • Are there stages of creative development in children?
  • Is it really possible to study and define creative listening?

 

cranium-3244110_1280_GDJ.png

References

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention . New York: Harper Collins.

Finke, R., Ward, T., & Smith, S. (1996). Creative cognition: Theory, research, and applications.

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind: How children think and how schools should teach. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1997). Extraordinary minds: Portraits of exceptional individuals and an examination of our extraordinariness. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1999). The disciplined mind : What all students should understand. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Guilford, J. (1950). Creativity. American Psychologist. 5, 444-454.

Guilford, J. (1967). The nature of human intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kafai, Y., & Resnick, M. (Eds.). (1996). Constructionism in pracice: Designing, thinking, and learning in a digital world. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

music-1924589_1920_ahkeemhopkins

Mark, M. (1996). Contemporary music education, (3rd ed.) New York: Schirmer Books.

Mayer, R. (1999). Fifty years of creativity research. In: Sternberg, R. (ed.). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press., 449-460.

National Standards for Arts Education. (1994) Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference.

Sternberg, R. (1999). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. & Lubart, T. (1999) The concept of creativity: Prospects and paradigms. In: Sternberg, R. (ed.). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press., 3-15.

Wallas, G. (1926). The art of thought. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Webster, P. (1990). Creativity as creative thinking. Music Educators Journal, 76 (9), 22-28.

Webster, P. (1987). Conceptual bases for creative thinking in music. In Peery, J., Peery, I. & Draper, T. (Eds). Music and child development, (pp. 158-174). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Webster, P. (1992). Research on creative thinking in music: The assessment literature. in R. Colwell (ed.), Handbook of research on music teaching and learning, 266-279. New York, Schirmer Books.

Williams, D., & Webster, P. (1999). Experiencing music technology. (2nd ed.). New York: Schirmer Books.

piano-1496056_1920_allyartist

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “CD cover” by kellepics, (picture of Peter Webster from his website), “sculpture” by Couleur, “brain” by PublicDomainPictures, “brain” by ElisaRiva, “violin” by DekoArt-Gallery, “banner” by geralt,  “treble-clef” by deidi, “cranium” by GDJ, “music” by ahkeemhopkins, and “piano” by allyartist.

Transitioning from Collegiate to Professional – Part II

The Final Leap from Pre-Service to In-Service:

The Metamorphosis and Integration of Philosophy, Maturity, and Teacher Preparation

This segment, Part 2 of the series, and will continue with an examination of ongoing music teacher preparation (much of it “direct instruction”) and mentoring programs.

 

application

Moving from “Book Learning” to “Practical Application”

It is a challenge to squeeze everything necessary into a college curriculum for music education certification: mastery of your major instrument/voice, music theory, music history, sight-singing/ear-training, conducting, piano proficiency, instrumental and vocal methods, etc. The school from which I matriculated (Carnegie-Mellon University) had a five-year-plus program guiding me towards the degrees of Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music and Masters of Fine Arts in Music Education. Even with the extra year of classes, time over the summers, and practical “on-the-job training,” many things were overlooked.

NOW IS THE TIME to fill in these gaps!

First off, how well do you know common educational jargon? Prior to your interviews, it would be good to review the terms (and even abbreviations) in frequent use. My music education methods courses never got around to detailed definitions and applications of…

  • woman-3061656_1920_RobinHigginsThe Common Core
  • Whole Child Initiatives
  • 21st Century Learning Skills
  • Flipped Classrooms and Blended Schools
  • Multiple Intelligences
  • Depth of Knowledge (DOK) and/or Higher Order of Thinking Skills (HOTS)
  • Customization, Differentiation, and Individualization
  • Formative, Summative, Diagnostic, and Authentic Assessments

Just for fun (a crossword puzzle), how many of these acronyms can you identify? https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/07/18/the-alphabet-soup-of-educational-acronyms/

One of the tasks in “year one” of my first position was to write a course of study for junior high school music appreciation. I had received no training in writing curriculum. The “hurry-up” self-tutoring was stressful, and occupied many long nights and weekends. However, by December, I had satisfied my principal’s instructions and then began preparation over winter recess to teach that course for the coming second semester.

Since then, I have written dozens of course curriculum. Most of them required familiarity with the national and state standards in music, and a backwards-design approach introduced by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (UbD) in the planning of curriculum “maps,” setting goals before choosing instructional methods and forms of assessment, and formulating essential questions (EQ), enduring understandings (EU), etc. (See: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/understanding-by-design/.)

Bottom line: Start now and assume the role and responsibilities of a professional music educator. Begin researching (even practicing) writing lesson targets, lesson plans, and even curriculum. Seek resources like the PMEA Model Curriculum Framework: https://www.pmea.net/resources/pennsylvania-music-standards/.

Other areas on which you may need to “catch-up” are:

  • microphone-1804148_1920_klimkinBehavior management, disciplinary procedures (especially preventive practices) and posting class or ensemble rules
  • Valid assessments, scoring/rubrics, and use of the school’s grading system
  • Provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other confidentiality policies
  • Individual education plans (IEP) and accommodating students with disabilities
  • Management of a proverbial “sea of paper” required of all music educators: purchase and repair requisitions, absences reports, student attendance records, conference requests, induction/in-service program assignments, etc.
  • Public relations and communications with parents and the community

It would not hurt to purchase and read cover-to-cover at least one book like The Everything New Teacher Book by Melissa Kelly (Adams Media, 2004) or The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide: Ready-to-Use Strategies, Tools and Activities for Meeting the Challenges of Each School Day by Julia G. Thompson (John Wiley & Sons, 2013).

In addition, take advantage of the outstanding free resources on the NAfME “Music in a Minuet” blog-site, like the following articles:

 

Artist vs. Teacher

The transition from a collegiate musician and pre-service educator to becoming an in-service “master teacher” involves the balance of two distinct skill sets: depth of knowledge vs. methodology. Both are absolutely essential!

In the first several years of classes like music theory, solfeggio, eurhythmics, and lessons on your major instrument or voice, most college programs focus on developing your own deep understanding and musicianship.

No one should become a music teacher who has not previously achieved a near-virtuoso level of playing/singing on their own part. The profession demands a high degree of technical mastery and artistry… which you will need when you stand in front of a school choir, band, or orchestra to prepare repertoire rated above a level 3 or 4.

excited-3126449_1920_RobinHiggins9However, in the methods classes that come later (perhaps in the second through fourth year?), the basics of “how-to teach” will come. Of course, as you sit in a class teaching you to “cross the break” on a clarinet or play a scale on the flute with good tone, you must also absorb (and remember) the finite steps required in the lesson to pass on this knowledge and skill, not just honk or squeak a few times to master the proficiency exam for yourself.

In addition, your studio teacher may help you to grasp the pedagogical concepts of these abstract but important foundations:

  • Assessment of student needs and diagnosis of problems and solutions to learning
  • Application of brain theory to “making connections” in order to recommend solutions to problems and in planning lessons
  • “Scaffolding of learning” techniques (interrelated “building blocks” of curriculum)
  • Creation of stories and analogies to introduce specific learning objectives such as the principles of breathing, embouchure, pitch, steady beat and rhythm, bowing or moving with a natural and efficient follow-through, etc.
  • Team building and collaborative learning
  • Leadership and the cornerstone of trust

One of the best courses I took at Carnegie-Mellon University was “repertoire class,” offered for no credit and no grade, but required by my string professor. We sat in a circle Monday afternoon for two hours and played solo selections assigned by our studio teacher, after which one-by-one we commented on each other’s performance. We learned the art of listening, prioritizing areas for improvement, and how to give constructive criticism and positive remediation without “crushing” the feelings of the player… probably among the most valuable lessons I later carried with me to my job as full-time string teacher in grades 5-12.

boy-273279_1920_SilberfuchsYou will be required to seek additional research, study, and at times “re-tool” outside what was presented in your methods courses. Some of these new “best practices” will be presented by the induction or in-service training of your school district. When I was hired by the Upper St. Clair School District, a big three+ year professional development program was the Madeline Hunter Model of Mastery Learning. Grudgingly (at first I did not see the purpose), I came to realize that labeling and defining the “eight steps of effective lesson plan design” improved my overall skills as an educator, especially in many of her strategies of “anticipatory set,” “modeling,” “checking for understanding,” and “guided practice…” none of which were ever mentioned even briefly in my five-and-a-half years in college. (For more info, read https://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/turnaround-principles/8-steps-effective-lesson-plan-design-madeline-hunter.pdf.)

Finally, I have said this before in past blogs: “You may be the best musician this side of the Mississippi, someone who has perfect pitch, can conduct Orff’s Carmina Burana or Shostakovich‘s Festive Overture blindfolded, play an extremely fast and even paradiddle on the snare drum, and sing a high “A” with perfect intonation and tone, but if you cannot inspire students, work with coworkers, and communicate effectively with the parents, your chances for success in the public schools is doomed from the start.

 

Generalist vs. Specialist

Whenever presenting at college chapters of NAfME or music education methods classes, I always try to ask the students several things on a one-to-one basis:

  • What is your focus or main subject area?
  • What would be your ideal job?
  • Do you see yourself as a band maestro… choral director… string teacher… jazzer… general music instructor… or early-childhood specialist?

thinking-3079060_1920_RobinHiggins11Of course, these are “trick questions.” The answer should be “I want to teach music,” or even better, “I want to teach children.” In most of the school districts across the country (with a few exceptions in the Midwest and places that accept teaching specialty certification by grade level or subject area), you are licensed to teach music in grades Pre-K to 12. At no point in any conversation with a potential administrator (or colleague who may become a member of the screening committee for a music opening) do you want to be “pigeon-holed,” or give the impression “I can only teach_____.”

It is important to “apply your skills” and become a well-rounded “generalist,” while embracing the concept of unity in education, which includes the following philosophy (shared at college seminars):

  • The needs of “The Whole Child” are a priority.
  • All course offerings are equal in importance.
  • Most school districts do not design and administer their curriculum solely on one approach like Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, or Suzuki.
  • Avoid being labeled and “branded” to an exclusive subject area or grade level.
  • Multiple certifications and skills may be helpful to land a job (although later they may become liabilities if you never teach them).
  • Utilize your college resources now to “broaden your training” and lessen your insecurities.
  • Figure out your worse area – work on it now! (Get lessons, join ensembles, ask help from your peers, etc.)
  • Develop resources – people and programs to get and keep your job!

I ask, imagine what would be your worst assignment?

  • Coach a primary student to match pitch or maintain a steady beat.
  • Teach beginning or advanced guitar.
  • Introduce jazz improvisation for the first time to middle school instrumentalists.
  • Start a string program.
  • Accompany the chorus (any grade level) and be able to play simultaneously some or all the vocal parts in rehearsal (demonstrate altos and tenors only, soprano 2-alto 1-bass 1, etc.).
  • piano-2564908_1920StockSnapAccompany, direct/teach the drama, and choreograph the middle school musical.
  • Adjudicate and coach a high school instrumental or vocal ensemble.
  • Set-up a keyboard lab and instruct students in composition and A.P. Music Theory.
  • Arrange the music and chart the halftime show for the high school marching band.

If you think you are a “miserable” pianist, take a few extra lessons. Or conquer your other “fears” such as learning to sing better, playing a new string instrument, crossing the break once again on the clarinet, practicing jazz , etc.

 

mentor

Cultivating a Mentor or Two

board-784349_1920_geraltEgo and arrogance has no place in the teaching profession. Where did I hear this saying? “The more you think you know, the less you actually know.” Joining a mentoring program or finding a formal or informal veteran teacher “buddy” will go far to insuring your professional success and dodging those first-year teacher “pot holes” (dumb but common blunders) and “rookie blues.”

Your state MEA may have a mentoring program. Go to their website. A quick (non-comprehensive) Google scan of “music teacher mentors” fetched links for the following:

A well-defined description for the benefits of first-year teacher orientation and connection and assignment to a “senior advisor” comes from TMEA:

TMEA mentoring1

TMEA mentoring2

 

birds-2672101_1920_Dieter_G

These blog-posts are also excellent resources:

r3_logoRetired music teachers are another excellent resource. For example, if you live or work in Pennsylvania, many post-employed PMEA members have placed their name and contact information on the Retiree Resource Registry to serve as willing, capable, and informal consultants for pre-service, novice, or other members recently transferred into a non-major specialty “outside their comfort zone.”

R3 documents the amazing record of contributions of some of the still most active albeit retired PMEA members while it allows needy members access to “expert advice” on a number of essential topics:

R3

Although it is free, the advice and experience of these retirees may be considered “priceless.” In addition, retired music teachers may have more time available to confer in person or by phone, respond to your concerns more quickly, and have a few “quick fixes” or share their “bag of tricks” to solve the problems of “newbie teachers.” It’s all about, “been there, done that!”

All you have to do? Just ask for a little help! You won’t be sorry.

 

listen-2840235_1920_Robin_Higgins12Please feel free to comment on this blog-post. What are your thoughts?

The “finale” (Part 3) is coming soon and will devote discussion on these concepts, significant issues about marketing your abilities and getting a job as a music teacher:

  • Personal Branding
  • Networking
  • Engagement

 

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “tutor” by nrjfalcon1, “woman” by RobinHiggins, “microphone” by KimKin, “excited” by RobinHiggins, “boy” by Silverfuchs, “thinking” by RobinHiggins, “board” by geralt, “birds” by Dieter_G, and “listen” by RobinHiggins.

 

Goals for the Musical Road to Success

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?), foxsfiresidesprioritize 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?).

ALL students, parents, and teachers – CLICK ON THIS LINK! Download, print, and read Getting What You Want – How to Make Goals: https://www.usu.edu/asc/assistance/pdf/goal_setting.pdf

seriestoshare-logo-01Your 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):

  1. Have you signed up for the local band or string camp?
  2. Have you made arrangements to take a few lessons on your instrument or even on piano or music theory over the summer?
  3. What was the last method book you used? Did you finish it? How many pieces can you memorize from it?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. Pick your greatest weakness or problem on the instrument. What needs your attention? New keys, rhythms, articulations?
  7. 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?
  8. 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!

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website. Under “Resources,” check out the three sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

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.

Where Are the Models, Mentors, and Motivators?

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Peter C.

 

Are You Listening to Solo, Chamber, and Orchestral Music?

foxsfiresidesWhen I was teaching full-time school orchestra music grades 5-12, the following conversation by students in my program may have been shared at the dinner table. “He wants me to spend time and listen to several outstanding players. I was a little embarrassed when he called on me in class and asked, ‘Who is your favorite violinist?’ and I could not identify a single principal string player or even the current Concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra!”

I was dismayed that as many as 80% of my instrumentalists could not respond with the name of a famous classical musician who is currently playing their instrument! This brings the issue to the forefront of my greatest concern: DOES ANYONE LISTEN TO GOOD MUSIC ANYMORE?

Obviously, most people learning how to play golf, tennis, ballet, ice skating, gymnastics or any of the contact sports, could instantly name their “hero” and leading examples in their field. Can you imagine not watching a professional athlete model his/her technique? For example, if you wanted to learn how to be a high-diver or competitive swimmer, would you simply read a book on the subject, study the moves, take a few lessons, practice in the pool, and not once attend a local swim meet or watch the Olympic event when it appeared on TV?

seriestoshare-logo-01Pittsburgh has a strong cultural base, providing a home for the world-class Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Pops, the Pittsburgh Ballet and Pittsburgh Opera companies, and the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera productions, to name a few venues. We are also most fortunate that many amateur or semi-professional groups such as the Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra, Washington Symphony, and River City Brass Band are local (some concerts presented conveniently next door in the Upper St. Clair HS Theatre). Professional soloists and chamber groups visit our city nearly every month, and opportunities to enjoy free concerts are limitless on cable/FiOS television and WQED.

This revelation motivated me to bring my laptop computer to every music lesson and ensemble rehearsal to share musical examples. With truly “basic” technology, there is really no excuse for not exploring a sea of masterpieces, watching a virtuoso performing his craft up-close – thanks especially to online resources such as www.youtube.com. Here are just a few “totally free” audio examples:

Here is the musicianship prescription – tips on providing meaningful motivation, momentum, and exposure to GREAT works of art in order to become more culturally connected and musically literate:

  • Families: Take the music break and listen to Classical (all styles/eras), folk, pop/jazz music at least once a week.
  • Encourage your musician to regularly use his/her computer/tablet to watch performances on the web.
  • Choose several favorite soloists playing the same instrument you are studying, and follow them.
  • Buy CDs of music or download movements of concertos, sonatas, or symphonies from iTunes, etc.
  • Go to a live professional concert at least once a year – more often in the summer, if possible.

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website… Under “Resources,” check out the two sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox. In particular, download and read the Listening Enrichment Session, the perfect companion to this article.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

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.