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Yamaha and the Piano Technicians Guild

Sure, there are reviews and word-of-mouth endorsements, but how can you know if a person is really qualified to tune and care for your piano? To ensure you’re entrusting your instrument to a capable craftsman, you’ll want to know about the Piano Technicians Guild — an organization that has a long history with Yamaha.

The Piano Technicians Guild

The Piano Technicians Guild (PTG) is the acknowledged leader and resource for training, registering and sharing information amongst piano tuners, rebuilders and craftsman. Formed in 1957 from the merger of two piano technician organizations (American Society of Piano Technicians and the National Association of Piano Tuners), the PTG has become the #1 resource for technical information, for networking and referrals, and for training in the art of piano care. The Guild runs training classes at their headquarters in Kansas City, Kansas, which also houses a museum of historical instruments. While primarily a U.S. organization, it boasts a membership of around 3,300 people from around the world and holds regional conferences and an annual convention attended by manufacturers and members alike.

Yamaha has a long history with the Guild in recognition of the benefits of having a known network of accomplished professionals to draw upon for their dealer’s needs. Yamaha formed their U.S. company, Yamaha Corporation of America (YCA) in 1960, and immediately started supporting and working with the PTG. They draw on the Guild to find technicians to work on their pianos in the field, to help dealers find competent service people, and to learn about trends in the marketplace. Ryan Ellison, the YCA Supervisor of Piano Services is a long-time member who joined when he first decided to go into the practice of piano service and tuning. He states that he is in contact with the organization almost every working day, and recommends them to all his dealers.

Training and Certification

The training program offered by the PTG is comprehensive, and considered one of the best in the world. Interestingly, it is based on training materials and methods that Yamaha developed in the U.S. for the care of their instruments, and was run for 40 years under the name “The Little Red Schoolhouse.” Now called Grand Action Regulation in 37 Steps, the program was created by LaRoy Edwards, former head of service for Yamaha, before being turned over to the PTG in 2012. A practical guide to the workings of a grand piano, the course teaches technicians all they need to know to adjust and regulate the instrument, as well as tuning skills and best practices. While it was developed as a Yamaha-centric training, Ellison explains that “these are common, baseline things that all pianos need and benefit from. The basic design and technology of the grand piano hasn’t changed that much over the last decades, and the attendees learn skills that translate to most every instrument out there.”

To be certified by the PTG, a technician must pass three tests. The first is a written exam establishing basic knowledge of piano design, tuning concepts and various repair techniques. This is followed by two hands-on evaluations covering practical application of those studies. One is a tuning exam that challenges the technician to match a “master tuning” that was devised by a panel of experts as an optimal target. The judges use extremely sensitive audio equipment to measure the deviation from the desired target. Even though it is common to use electronic tuning devices these days, a technician aspiring to receive PTG certification must show the ability to reach the target goals by ear as well.

The final practical exam covers the technician’s knowledge of assembling both grand and vertical piano actions, and adjusting the myriad of settings of the mechanism, called regulation. This also includes demonstrating skills in the common repairs needed, including working with the wood elements, cloth and felt components, piano string wire and the other materials found in a piano action.

These exams must be performed within a prescribed period of time (four hours each), so the final judging is based both on skills and desired proficiency. Passing these exams confers upon the student the title of Registered Piano Technician. You should look for this qualification (RPT) when hiring a tuner/technician to work on your instrument:

Logo image.

The PTG Convention

Yamaha is also involved in the Piano Technicians Guild’s annual convention. Along with providing pianos for the event and exhibiting their instruments, Yamaha often holds seminars to educate the attendees. In 2022, Yamaha displayed their CFX Concert Grand, their Enspire Pro Disklavier reproducing piano, and the Bösendorfer 280VC Concert Grand piano. The company also held multiple workshops on piano maintenance, including four sessions led by a senior product designer from Bösendorfer. Finally, they sponsored a unique concert where Yamaha Artist Frederic Chiu performed a two-piano concert featuring him playing the CFX in duet with a CFX Disklavier, showing off the latter’s self-playing and synchronized-to-a-Disklavier-TV-performance capabilities. The 2024 PTG convention will be held from July 17 – 20 at the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada.

Top Basketball Video Games

With the onset of fall, change is in the air. School has started again, the leaves are falling, and of course, it’s the beginning of another season for the National Basketball Association.

But the popular sports league, which is known for stars, scoring and athleticism, is also on display in many favorite video games, from the rudimentary offerings of the 1980s to those pixel-perfect ones today. Yes, basketball gaming is nearly as illustrious as the sport itself!

Here are eight of the best basketball video games ever made.


The first-ever video game to feature a licensing partnership with the NBA, this 1983 title from Electronic Arts highlighted two of the NBA’s best players. Julius Erving, better known as Dr. J, would go onto win the NBA championship in 1983 and Larry Bird would win it the following year. But in this game, made for PC and Atari, along with several other systems of the era, the two stars are pitted against each other in a one-on-one half-court battle. Beware big dunks, because they can shatter your backboard, forcing a digital janitor to clean it up. This title was so popular that it led to the 1988 sequel Jordan vs. Bird. Preview it here.


Gamers know the name Tecmo thanks to the popular 1991 release Tecmo Super Bowl. But just a year later, the company released its basketball version for the Nintendo® Entertainment System (NES). Featuring rosters from the star-studded 1991-92 season, this is one of the last titles to feature the trio of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson (who had retired the year prior) and Larry Bird (who retired at the end of the season). It was also the first game to be officially licensed by the NBA and the league’s player’s association. As far as the game itself, it marks an advance from the 1980s One on One series to include full-court gameplay, complete team rosters and improved graphics. Preview it here.

3. NBA JAM T.E. (1994)

The original NBA Jam came out in 1993, but the updated version, NBA Jam Tournament Edition, dropped a year later. This series was so popular that it’s still part of the lexicon now, thanks to phrases from the game’s announcer like “He’s heating up!” and “He’s on fire!” Popular both in arcades and on home consoles like Sega Genesis® and Super Nintendo®, NBA Jam T.E. offered users the chance to pick from three players on every NBA team’s roster to play in fast-paced two-on-two contests. Not only could gamers play as stars like Scottie Pippen, Shawn Kemp or Muggsy Bogues, there were secret characters to unlock too, like the musician George Clinton. This release was famous for big dunks, pushy defense and fun characters. Preview it here.

4. NBA LIVE 95 (1994)

This offering marks the first of the NBA Live series. As such, it features many crucial innovations, including precise in-game free-throw shooting and a turbo button for player speed bursts. Made for consoles like Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, this was also the first NBA title to include the option for users to create fictional players, which gave gamers the chance to even create themselves as players. Today, NBA basketball video games are big, big business. But this was the first example of a more lifelike one, which would pave the way for others on this list like NBA 2K11 and NBA 2K24 (see below). Preview it here.

5. NBA STREET VOL. 2 (2003)

As stylish and bombastic as any sports video game created in the early 2000s, this sequel to the original NBA Street (which was released in 2001) includes skyscraping dunks, iconic legends of the game (like Larry Bird and Dr. J) and full-court three-on-three gameplay that mimics playground pickup games, but on steroids. This EA Sports™ title for Sony PlayStation 2®, Microsoft Xbox™ and Nintendo GameCube® is lavish and eye-popping, with a stellar soundtrack that includes songs from many popular artists of the era. Preview it here.

6. NBA BALLERS (2004)

Another game that depicts a hyped-up playground atmosphere, this 2004 title from Midway Sports was available for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. It offers one-on-one contests that pit players against each other for a timed best-of-three series. Inspired by the flashy styles displayed in the AND 1 Mixtape street ball leagues and videos — which were all the rage in the 2000s — NBA Ballers embraced the more flamboyant side of the sport with acrobatic moves and full-throated trash-talking announcers. Preview it here.

7. NBA 2K11 (2010)

NBA 2K11 is remarkable for several reasons, most notably because it features the NBA’s greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan. The Chicago Bulls star even graced the cover of this title, which offered both single-game matchups and a special season-long Association mode, where players could control an entire franchise from preseason all the way through the playoffs. Longtime gamers know how rare it is to have MJ in a video game, so including him in this one makes it feel that much more special and, well, necessary. Preview it here.

8. NBA 2K24 (2023)

The most popular run of NBA video games today, the 2K series’ most recent offering is the hyper-realistic NBA 2K24, which has already become a fan favorite. Its cover features the late NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, who wore No. 24 on his jersey during the final years of his NBA career. Available for multiple modern consoles, including PlayStation 5®, Xbox One™, Nintendo Switch™ and others, this full-featured game offers players traditional five-on-five gameplay or immersive options like being able to manage rosters, play entire seasons, engage in online competition against opponents and more. It also offers a PROPlay mode, which incorporates real, up-to-date NBA footage into the gameplay. Preview it here.

Writing Songs from Bass Lines

Strumming a guitar or playing piano is such a standard way to invite and capture musical ideas that even great bass players like Paul McCartney and Sting put down their four-strings when it’s time to write songs. But is it possible to write songs by making magic with your bass riffs? The answer is an unequivocal yes, and in this posting I’ll show you how.


For our purposes, a “song” is a story we tell with rhythm, melody and harmony — in other words, a pulse you can feel, a line you can hum and a chord progression with a narrative arc, usually organized in terms of intros, verses, choruses, bridges and outros.

Many bassists think of music in terms of single-note bass lines instead of chord progressions. Because we spend most of our time playing the root of each chord, the other notes can be an afterthought. But if you want to add songwriting to your skill set, it’s helpful to learn about chord progressions.


The order in which chords appear is one of the great foundations of Western harmony. Our ears have become accustomed to certain chord sequences which have been used over and over again, so being familiar with these chord progressions makes it easier to learn tunes and write songs that satisfy (or subvert) listeners’ expectations.


Chords are important, but even if you’re clueless about a song’s harmony and/or lyrics, the melody can still embed itself in your brain. Bass players are usually supporting vocals and melodic instruments, but we can play melodically too. Besides being fun, playing melodies on bass can aid in learning the fretboard, inspire your soloing, and help you write melodies of your own.

The rhythm of a song is just as crucial — so crucial, in fact, that the same chord progression over a different rhythm can sound like a different tune altogether. As you prepare to write, decide how you want listeners to experience your song’s groove (style and feel), tempo (usually expressed as beats per minute, or bpm for short) and harmonic rhythm (how fast the chords go by).


There are several ways to write songs on bass. Try singing a melody to yourself, playing it on bass, and then figuring out chords on bass that work underneath it. You could also take a stock chord progression and make it your own, substituting chords at will. Learning new songs, as well as practicing scales and arpeggios, may also fire up your inner songwriter. Of course, playing with guitarists and pianists is an excellent way to bring your songs to life, but working with samples can be rewarding too. Instead of click tracks, I practice with apps like Drumgenius and frequently find myself coming up with new parts as a result of those jams.


Here’s an example of how you can craft a complete song from a collection of bass riffs. It starts with an idea that came to me one day while I was practicing octaves between the D on the B string and the D on the A string of a Yamaha BBP35 5-string bass:

When I played along with a beat, it sounded like an intro to me:

I first tried outlining a D major chord, but it just didn’t feel right, so I made a verse part by playing the root, third, fifth, and flat 7th of D minor instead:

After that first verse, it felt natural to go to the E string and repeat the pattern in G minor (a fourth up from D minor) before returning to D minor. If you’ve ever played a blues pattern, this progression — “going to the four” — will sound familiar:

Continuing the minor bluesy flavor, I played B♭ major for two bars, threw in a fill in G minor, and briefly touched on Fmaj7. After restating the original D minor groove, I played the B♭major-Gm-Fmaj7 progression again:

I then felt like going to a major tonality with a more “open” feel, so I created a new section (Fmaj7-Am7-B♭maj7-Fmaj7-Fmaj7-Am7-B♭maj7-Gm7), most likely inspired by a classic vocal melody:

After the expansive energy of the chorus, it felt right to bring the energy back to D minor:

Now I had a basic structure: intro, verse one (Dm7), verse two (Gm7), back to verse one, then verse three (B♭major-Gm-Fmaj7), verse one again, verse three, chorus (Fmaj7-Am7-B♭maj7-Fmaj7-Fmaj7-Am7-B♭maj7-Gm7), and back to verse one before a fadeout:

Developing this rough idea meant figuring out which chords worked for the bass part, adding a couple layers of keyboards, replacing the drums and carefully finding guitar samples that fit. A sax solo helped complete the vintage feel:

Meticulously arranging vocal samples from a series of loops made this really feel like a complete song, which I titled “It Ain’t Love.” Here’s what the final mix sounds like:


As the saying goes, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” If you stay open to inspiration and are ready to catch it when it happens, you might find that good ideas show up more often. But no matter how (or how often) inspiration strikes, writing songs on bass can definitely be lots of fun!


Check out E.E.’s other postings.

5 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

Music students and music teachers alike suffer from writer’s block every now and then. Some days, it’s harder to keep that creative spark alive in the classroom.

Many of the things that foster my own creativity have helped my students as well. Kids are artists, too, and not as different from us as you might think! Here are a handful of tips to help un-stick writer’s block — no matter the student’s grade level or age.

guitar player composing

1. Lower the Stakes

Some people say that the hardest part of composing is getting started. It’s daunting to open a blank document or DAW hub and penning or punching in the first few notes. While I partially agree with this, I think that high stakes are the biggest reason that dampens creativity.

High stakes can mean several things. When I compose or arrange, the project takes longer or never gets done if I have too many parameters. Starting with a 20+ instrument orchestral score or an overly flowery description of a piece as “inspiration” is a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, basic string quartets can be embellished and expanded into a symphonic piece with ease.

How can you lower the stakes? I reduce everything down to a lead sheet and chord symbols. I have found that when there’s a lack of rules, real magic happens. This works for our students, too.

The next time you give a composing assignment, stick to one or two parameters. “Come up with a song for a spooky movie” or “Use sol and do in a passage.”

Or, have students improvise over a basic drone and later sit down to write on the staff paper — this will have the same effect. Playing an instrument over just one note lowers the stakes.

closeup of someone playing the ukulele

2. Try a Different Instrument

Writing on or for the same instrument over and over again can feel redundant. So, if your class is always playing on hand percussion and xylophones, break out your classroom set of ukuleles.

Writing on different instruments feels different and will inspire different musical pieces. For example, when I play the cello, my writing often results in a legato, melancholy piece. But when I compose for guitar, the music tends to be more poppy. Students have a different relationship with each instrument they come across, just like you do.

Try bringing in and demonstrating an exotic instrument and have your students write a melodic line for you to play on it. You’ll be surprised with what they come up with. Some instruments that I have brought into the classroom include piccolo, djembe (a West African drum) and hammer dulcimers.

child with eyes clothes standing outdoors with headphones on

3. New Listening Exercises and Prompts

If your students aren’t relating to Vivaldi, supplement your listening exercises with something more modern. For example, have students listen to modern songs, and then prompt them to write a melody for that artist to sing. “Write a melody for Post Malone or Taylor Swift.” Make sure you select a clean and appropriate playlist for reference, of course.

Listening to music of all eras is important, but realize that if your classroom is in a creative rut, a pop-rap composition lesson might garner more excitement than saying, “Write an alternate motif for ‘Winter.’”

I remember teaching in the middle of February and struggling to keep the attention of a 1st-grade class. I decided to try an out-of-the-box idea — a Valentine’s Day-themed lesson where students would write poems on paper hearts, and then rap them to one another. I chose a basic copyright-free instrumental backtrack with a groovy feel. This was one of the students’ favorite lessons all year. For the rest of the school year, they asked to do the Valentine’s rap game. Little did they know that the lesson was a composition in disguise.

student walking outside on campus

4. Move!

With an administrator’s permission, take your students outside for a walk before a composing lesson. A walk may sound like the opposite of doing music, but we all need to clear our minds before focusing. Students don’t get the chance to get up and about as often as they should. In middle school and high school, they have stricter schedules with even less opportunity to get out and move.

A Stanford study showed that people were 60% more creative while moving and that creativity remained for a while even when the exercise had concluded. For me, composing is best done after a stroll or getting that cup of coffee.

Before anything creative can happen, you must meet your own and your student’s basic needs (see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory). Your students won’t be as creative if they have unmet basic needs. If they are thirsty, hungry, anxious, or need to move, address these issues first. Keep emergency snacks and drinks on hand, and maintain a safe and comfortable spot in your classroom — these are essential for students of all ages.

watching a symphony orchestra

5. Try a New Experience First

A new experience can be a lot of things — a trip to the symphony or art museum, a group drum circle, or a slam poetry/music collaboration project. Mixing up your routine — anything you wouldn’t normally do in your classroom — is creative fuel for young minds.

One other thing that fosters creativity at many age levels is improvisation. If you teach a group of older musicians, have students comp (improvise) over a tune as the rest of the band vamps (plays a basic section). Record this exercise and have students transcribe what they wrote on the fly.


Reclaim Time

Things I will never get back: the hours I wasted trying to get 200 names copied from an Excel spreadsheet as First Name, Last Name instead of COMMA, First Name, Last Name. Also, those hours wasted trying to do a mail merge from Word for three labels when I could have just printed them at some point.

Here are some tools and tricks I’ve accumulated over the years that have eliminated some of teaching’s little annoyances. The good news is that they save time every day. The bad news is that if I am missing any of these items or visiting somewhere, I must become “flexible.”

I picked up these tools gradually. If your funds allow it, go ahead and splurge. Otherwise, gather these items one at a time and make some small, but much appreciated, improvements.

group of ink stamps


Ink stamps have saved me time for small items such as return address envelopes to hall passes. I always wanted the automatic time and date stampers that our front office uses for passes, but these can run several hundred dollars. For about $10 to $20, you can get a self-inking stamp and customize it with your name, school, etc. It doesn’t fill the entire pass requirements, but it has cut down on filling out passes dramatically. You can also use these for music scores, stamping original parts, etc.

Time saved per use: 20 seconds, which was used to scroll forums for last year’s marching band placements.

close up of someone holding pen over sheet music

Extra Scores

Every time I purchase a piece of music, I get an additional score. This has come in handy more than I realized. I’m able to have a desk set and a podium set, or even bring one home to mark up during some free time. Additionally, whenever we have a clinician come in, or even an interested student, I can simply hand over the score.

Uses: your own score study, handing scores to other ensemble members or clinicians, mark up scores for comparison; home set for score studying and putting kids or spouses to sleep quickly by reading program notes.

Label Printer

This one is a bit of a luxury item. An individual label printer, such as a Dymo 550, can be an invaluable tool. I have a collection of Avery label pages that have 10, five or even just one label used on them. When I try to reuse them, they either get jammed or I don’t put them in the printer properly.

Uses: individual labels for envelopes, instrument case, return address envelopes (if you don’t have your fancy ink stamp), you name it. I also use these to indicate on purchase orders what my account is and where it is coming from, and the date I submitted the purchase order. Cheaper options exist — just make sure your tech department supports additional devices being connected to your computer.

Time saved: depending on my patience and mail-merge skills, at least 10 minutes. I used this saved time to unnecessarily label items, including office supplies, and yes, even the label maker.

hand holding key organizer

Key Organizer

Maybe you enjoy getting holes in your nice dress pants, right next to the valve oil stains that won’t come out. Maybe you prefer jangle over joy. I don’t. I upgraded to a fold-out key organizer, and I’ll never go back. Most people have heard of KeySmart key organizers, but I use a brand called CarboCage, and I’m going on at least six years with it. I have a clip attached to it that allows me to securely attach it to my lanyard or car keys, and my keys are always conveniently at my disposal.

Time saved: it’s convenient until I have to spend precious minutes listening to drummers say, “You know what would be awesome on that? A drum key!”

mobile phone with QR code on screen

Barcode or QR Scanners

Some districts are moving to scanned attendance. If you hold after-school rehearsals, there are some options for scanning IDs to take attendance quickly. However, using your handy dandy labels, you can also create barcodes or QR codes for student attendance logs or even for instrument inventory. This certainly takes some time up front, but combined with a cheap barcode scanner on Amazon, you can quickly scan kids in for attendance, fundraiser turn-ins, etc. I use a USB-connected barcode scanner and just search online to convert serial numbers or IDs to barcodes.

Time saved: about five minutes per rehearsal. Use this time to entertain yourself by scanning an ID and announcing, “Price check on aisle five!” to 100 silent, judgmental teenagers. At least you entertained yourself.

Flash Fill

This is not a purchase, but I must share this tip with those who don’t know about it. I love spreadsheets, but I easily get frustrated when they don’t work the way I want them to work.

Then, I stumbled upon something that changed my whole day: Flash Fill. Export some data in a table, such as ensemble members names or instruments. Next to these columns, write a few lines as you want to see them. You can use this to change the title case, reorganize words, and even adjust names in alphabetical order. Ctrl-E on Windows and Command-E on Macs. For Google docs, it’s called “Smart Fill” and activated by Ctrl-Y or Command-Y.

Time saved: at least 30 minutes. You’ll save 20 minutes trying to organize the sheet, and 10 minutes wondering if a pivot table is actually a gymnastics routine.

jacket, shirt and matching purse hanging on a hanger

An Extra Set of Clothes

To deal with spills, surprise superintendent meetings or just for a change of pace, an extra set of clothes, preferably nice and presentable, can be helpful. Add some deodorant and a toothbrush in an office drawer as well.

Time saved: the time it takes to drive to a store or drive home is well-worth saving. Just make sure that if you change sizes over the course of your teaching career that your back-up clothes reflect this. Trust me on this one…

Pencil Dispensers

I purchased a pencil dispenser similar to a diner’s straw dispenser for my classroom. It’s refilled weekly, and I don’t have to worry about access to pencils. I place it in the front of the classroom, and we are always able to mark our music accordingly.

Time saved: once I got over the initial joy of dispensing pencils just to put them back in, this has easily saved us several minutes each rehearsal.

Extra Legal Copies of Music in a Drawer

Consider placing extra purchased copies of music in a drawer or file that students or a designated trusted student can access. If a student misplaces or forgets their music, the trusted student can help them out, which saves you the time of having to be at the beck and call of every request.

Time saved: about five to 10 minutes a week of copying. Unless that guy — the guy who loves to talk (a “time burglar“) — is at the copier, and you know that you’re not getting out of the copy room for at least an hour if he sees me.

person holding an open three-ring binder

Multiple Classes? Multiple Folders

If you teach two or more classes, keep a separate folder for each class. Even if some materials are redundant, keeping multiple copies in each folder will save time because you won’t have to shift even a single sheet or two back and forth. Grabbing the folder and going is a lot easier than making adjustments in between each period.

Time saved: depends on how far your office is. However, if you’re stressed from a rough class, you’ll have to create another excuse to leave the room for a bit.

Give Up Some Control!

I heard an interview with an author and entrepreneur who said that once he gave his employees some control, his workload went down considerably, the employees were happier, and the company thrived. I’m not comparing students to employees, but they certainly have requests and they do want to get the job done. Consider the most frequent student requests that start with “Can I” or “May I?” These are things that the kids can do themselves but feel they need to get permission.

Time saved: honestly, not much. You’ll probably hear the question, “What about this one?” over 100 times if you assign some kids to sort music. But they will get the job done, and future requests will go more quickly. It also creates more buy-in for your organization.


And there you have it — a small toolkit that makes a teaching day at least a little less chaotic. Use these tips to reclaim time for what truly matters, like wondering what you’ll do with all the time saved.

What Is a Subwoofer?

You’re visiting a friend (or relative) and are blown away — almost literally — by the sound coming from their audio system or home theater. The low end is making a special impression, to the point where the walls are almost starting to shake.

One glance around the room and you can see where the sound appears to be coming from: two or more speakers, connected, no doubt, to a powerful amp or receiver. But then there’s that mysterious-looking black box sitting on the floor, perhaps directly under the TV, perhaps tucked off to the side.

What the heck is it?

Well, actually, it’s the source of much of the magic you’re hearing. It’s a subwoofer — a special kind of speaker whose only job is to add extra sonic impact. Ready to learn more? Read on …

Anatomy of a Subwoofer

To better understand how a subwoofer works, let’s break the word down into its two parts: “sub” and “woofer.”

A woofer is the big cone at the bottom of a loudspeaker, the section designed to produce low frequency sounds. (The other, smaller cone or metallic component — called a tweeter — produces high frequency sounds. In some cases, there may also be a mid driver to produce midrange sounds.)

The sub prefix is short for “sub bass” — the lowest of the low end. So a subwoofer is a speaker in an self-contained enclosure that reproduces only the very bottom of the audio spectrum — those rumbling sounds that we actually feel more than we hear.

A rich, full sound ideally consists of a good blend of not only highs, mids and lows, but sub-bass too. So when that HUGE bass pad makes your chest vibrate during the breakdown of your favorite dance song, or that epic explosion practically lifts you out of your seat while you’re watching your favorite action film, that mysterious black box on the floor — the subwoofer— is largely responsible.

Subwoofer History

The first subwoofers were designed in the 1960s to help add bass to Hi-Fi stereo systems. As technology progressed, they found their way into movie theaters and then into home theater systems, where they reproduce the LFE (Low Frequency Effects) channel in surround sound mixes. The often-used term “5.1” refers to five full-range speakers and a single subwoofer (the “.1”) to play back the lowest frequencies. Advanced AV receivers like the 11.2-channel Yamaha RX-8A can route signal to two subwoofers (the “.2”), along with 11 main speakers.

View of receiver from front left corner.
Yamaha RX-A8A AV receiver.

Construction Considerations

The enclosure plays an especially important role in the performance of a subwoofer. Usually made from wood, fiberglass or other sturdy materials, it holds the sub driver in place and may also include any associated electronics such as crossover (the frequency at which the subwoofer begins working) and volume controls. While designs vary, some subwoofers have a port or hole to help project the sound, while others are sealed. The Yamaha NS-SW100 features a Twisted Flair Port design, which helps create a smooth flow of air for additional clarity and accuracy.

Small black square speaker.
Yamaha NS-SW100 subwoofer.

Subwoofers also come in various sizes and shapes. Most are designed to sit on the floor, while some compact models have a down-firing driver and front-facing port, enabling them to be rack-mounted or positioned vertically.

Active subwoofers include a dedicated amplifier, whereas passive subwoofers do not — instead, the power is provided by the amplifier or receiver. Power ratings, expressed in watts, represent the amount of power a subwoofer can handle on a short-term (“transient”) and/or continuous basis. Higher power ratings generally translate to a louder, cleaner sound.

Advanced Subwoofer Technologies

Subwoofer technology continues to improve. For example, there are now subwoofers (such as the Yamaha MusicCast SUB 100) that can connect with a MusicCast-capable system wirelessly. In addition, Yamaha NS-SW Series subwoofers such as the aforementioned NS-SW100 incorporate a proprietary system called Advanced YST (short for “Yamaha Active Stereo Technology”). This helps improve the motion of the subwoofer driver for especially strong and accurate low end.

Subwoofers can also work with sound bars, helping to extend their frequency range. With a product such as the Yamaha TRUE X BAR 50A, a wireless subwoofer is included, allowing you to place it anywhere in the room. (Low frequencies are not easily localized — that is, it’s hard for the human ear to perceive where they come from — so a subwoofer can be positioned pretty much anyplace it sounds good.)

Small square speaker and long thin horizontal speaker.
Yamaha TRUE X BAR 50A sound bar and wireless subwoofer.

So if you’re looking to improve the richness and fullness of your audio system or home theater, consider adding a subwoofer. It will help lighten the load on your other speakers or sound bar, and fill out the all-important bottom end. More importantly, your favorite action films, video games and music tracks are sure to sound better for it.


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The Basics Of Piano Keyboard Fingering

It’s important when learning a new piece of music to plan out your keyboard fingering ahead of time — to decide which fingers you will use to play each note, and how you will move your hand position to cover passages that don’t fit underneath a single location. If you don’t take this important step, you may find yourself unconsciously changing your fingering decisions each time you play a piece of music, which in turn won’t allow the repetition of practice to help you develop proficiency in performance.

Here are some tips for making good choices.

The Basics

Piano keyboard fingering is commonly numbered as follows:

  • The thumb is numbered as 1
  • The index, or pointer finger, as 2
  • The middle finger as 3
  • The ring finger as 4
  • The pinky as 5

Some players feel that rules are made to be broken, but there are four best practices for piano keyboard fingering that you should follow:

1. In general, don’t use your thumb on black keys. Doing so moves your hand forward (away from you and closer to the back of the keyboard), which makes it harder to control the white keys. The exception is if you are learning a piece of music that starts on a black key and/or is predominately played on the black keys, in which case you will almost certainly have to use your thumb.

2. Try to use as many of your fingers as possible when executing passages. It’s tempting to only use the first two or three fingers, which tend to be the strongest, but the more fingers you utilize, the smoother your playing.

3. Similarly, try to keep your hand in a position that covers as many of the notes in the passage as possible. Think of it as economy of motion: no need to move around more than necessary just because you couldn’t cover one note at the end of a phrase.

4. If you have never studied how to play scales in basic piano lessons/pedagogy, it would be good to work on this keyboard fundamental. The fingerings and technique you learn will be very helpful in figuring out how to execute new music.

Most musical passages you will encounter can be broken down into one of three scenarios. Let’s explore each in turn.

Scenario One: Everything Fits Under Your Fingers

In this scenario, the notes of the phrase all fit easily underneath your five fingers. The fingering for this is easy: just place your hand over the range of notes and play accordingly. For example, if you were to play this passage …

Musical annotation.

… your hand should be placed over the keys as follows:

Keyboard diagram.

This works even when all the notes aren’t white keys. Here is the same example played in the key of E major:

Musical annotation.

Here, your hand should be placed over the keyboard as follows:

Keyboard diagram.

Finally, here’s the same phrase played in the key of E-flat major. This is an instance where it’s fine to place your thumb on a black key:

Musical annotation.

Here, you should place your hand over the keyboard as follows:

Keyboard diagram.

Scenario Two: The Need To Stretch

Usually, only small sections of a piece of music will fall so cleanly under the hand as in the above examples. More common are phrases that can be best played by stretching your fingers so you can reach more notes without having to completely move your hand position. For example:

Musical annotation.

To play the notes in the first measure, you’ll need to stretch your hand slightly so your 5 (pinky) finger reaches up to the A, as shown below. (No finger needs to be positioned to play the D, since it’s not part of this phrase.)

Keyboard diagram.

In the second bar, you’ll need to stretch slightly further so the pinky can now play the B-flat while the rest of your hand remains in position:

Keyboard diagram.

Scenario Three: A Change In Hand Position Is Necessary

The most advanced situations are phrases that require you to reach notes further away than any single hand position can cover. This encompasses the widest range of possibilities, and the first that we’ll discuss is a phrase that requires you to make two easy shifts in your hand position along with stretching your fingers during the section, as in this example:

Musical annotation.

The first two beats in measure 1 require you to stretch your hand so your thumb plays the middle C and your 4 finger plays the B-flat, as follows:

Keyboard diagram.

Alternatively, you could have chosen to use the 5 (pinky) finger for the B-flat, fingered as follows:

Musical annotation.
Keyboard diagram.

There is almost always more than one way to approach these kinds of decisions; do what feels best for you.

In the rest of measure 1, the line climbs higher, so you’ll have to move your hand position to be able to reach the remaining notes. As suggested earlier, it’s best to find a way that moves your hand into a position that covers as many of the notes as possible. Accordingly, as you get to the B-flat, you should start to bring your thumb under to the right to bring it closer to the F. That way, after playing the G with the 3 (middle) finger, your thumb will be ready to play the F. You can then stretch your hand upward to get into position for the upcoming B-flat and C, using the 2 (index) and 3 (middle) fingers respectively:

Keyboard diagram.

Next, stretch the hand again so you can reach the upper G with your 5 (pinky) finger. As you reach for the G, bring the rest of your fingers back together to cover the last two notes, like this:

Keyboard diagram.

Scenario Four: Long Ascending Lines

The longer a phrase is, the more you will have to keep shifting your hand position. As a general rule of thumb (pun intended), you should try to use groupings of three to four notes before shifting your hand position. Let’s figure out what to do for this example:

Musical annotation.

Trying to use as many note groupings as possible, here’s one possibility:

Musical annotation.

The beginning of the phrase through to the middle of the second measure works well as four-note groups, and then you need to bring the thumb under to jump up to the C on beat 3. From there, you can choose a three-note group and bring your thumb under again to help stretch up to the high A. Then you can let your hand relax into a normal position, which allows you to cover the rest of the notes.

The only difficult part of the above example is the jump from the G (played with the 4 finger) to bringing the thumb under to the following C note on beat 3. Here’s an alternate approach that might be smoother for you:

Musical annotation.

Starting off with two three-note groupings sets you up to play the E, G and high C in the second measure, all within the same hand position (using your thumb, 2 and 4 fingers), after which you can bring your thumb up and into the following notes in closer proximity, which may feel better to you. You can then play the rest of the phrase within the same hand position by just stretching up slightly to reach the A.

By applying these basic principles, you will learn to work out the best fingerings for your hands — an essential step towards smooth and fluid playing.


Check out our other Well-Rounded Keyboardist postings.


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Yamaha Network Hi-Fi Receivers at a Glance

Traditionalists love two-channel Hi-Fi. Forward-thinkers love networking and music streaming. With Yamaha Network Hi-Fi receivers, you get both.

Here’s a guide to the current lineup, along with a description of their salient features.

Streaming Plus

There are four Yamaha Network Hi-Fi receivers to choose from: the R-N600A, R-N800A, R-N1000A and R-N2000A. All four models offer superb stereo sound, Bluetooth® wireless connectivity and support for Apple® AirPlay 2® so you can share music with multiple connected devices and exercise voice control of those devices via Siri.

All are MusicCast-enabled too. MusicCast is the Yamaha proprietary whole-house solution that uses your existing Wi-Fi network to share music to other MusicCast-enabled audio components under the control of your smart device. This groundbreaking technology allows you to listen to downloads from your computer or other devices and to stream music from the most popular music services such as Amazon Music HD and Spotify®, letting you fully enjoy exceptionally high-quality audio anywhere in your home with complete fidelity.

All four models are available in your choice of a black or silver finish, and all offer a rear panel subwoofer output as well as a front panel headphone output. They also provide dual stereo speaker outputs so you can connect two pairs of speakers, along with a comprehensive set of input connectors, including special phono terminals so you can easily connect a turntable and enjoy music from your vinyl record collection. There’s even a Pure Direct button that bypasses all tone control and loudness circuitry, allowing you to instantly hear the purest sound through the shortest signal path.

Let’s take a closer look at each model.

Good: R-N600A

Image of receiver.
Yamaha R-N600A.
Image of receiver.
R-N600A rear panel.

The Yamaha R-N600A is a traditional stereo Hi-Fi receiver with all the modern features described above. It offers 80 watts of output power per channel with a frequency range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz, and provides five analog audio inputs and four digital audio inputs, including an optical connection so you can hear TV sound with Hi-Fi quality. A front panel USB port allows connection to a thumb drive, and its advanced construction design mounts all circuit boards to a composite resin base that is anti-resonant and isolated from the chassis to effectively remove any external mechanical vibration.

Better: R-N800A

Image of receiver.
Image of receiver.
R-N800A rear panel.

The R-N800A ups the ante with 100 watts of output power per channel and advanced features such as a front panel OLED digital display that shows the content being played, a rear panel preamplifier (PRE) output, specially designed anti-resonance feet that absorb and reduce mechanical vibration, and a detachable power cord. It incorporates the renowned SABRE ES9080Q 384 kHz / 32-bit Ultra DAC (from ESS Technology) to deliver superior sonic performance and accurately reproduce even the finest musical nuances and the subtle ambience of concert halls.

In addition, the R-N800 offers YPAO™ (Yamaha Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer) sound field correction. The goal of YPAO is to create an ideal listening environment right in your living room. This is accomplished by analyzing your room and automatically applying small amounts of precision EQ to match the two speakers to one another. The end result is tightly focused sound, with each sonic element occupying its own space in the sound field. You can even store individual YPAO settings for each set of connected speakers (A, B and A+B).

Best: R-N1000A

Image of receiver.
Image of receiver.
R-N1000A rear panel.

The R-N1000A incorporates all the features of the R-N800A, along with gold-plated speaker and input terminals, ensuring a high-quality connection that prevents signal loss. In addition, it utilizes extra-thick wires for the internal ground connections — a critical feature that establishes the componentry as being truly premium Hi-Fi, with increased signal-to-noise performance.

The R-N1000A also provides an HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) port, allowing connection to a TV with just a single cable, and with excellent hi-res sound quality. Like the R-N800A, there’s a rear panel USB connector with built-in DAC (digital-to-analog conversion) functionality. The internal ultra-precision dedicated crystal clock ensures signal accuracy, with support for DSD 11.2 MHz native playback and PCM 384 kHz playback, letting you take full advantage of the sonic precision unique to today’s high-resolution and lossless sound sources.

Audiophile Quality: R-N2000A

Image of receiver.
Image of receiver.
R-N2000A rear panel.

For the ultimate network Hi-Fi receiver, look to the flagship Yamaha R-N2000A, which incorporates all the features of the R-N1000A but utilizes the same patented floating and balanced amplifier design as our acclaimed A-S Series integrated and M5000 all-analog power amplifiers. It offers 90 watts of power per channel with an extraordinary frequency response of 5 Hz to 100 kHz and incorporates a toroidal transformer that delivers an overwhelmingly spacious sound filled with realism.

The mechanical ground concept utilized by the R-N2000A maximizes rigidity for expressive and rhythmic bass, and its ESS SABRE ES9026PRO Ultra DAC ensures ultimate high-performance conversion. The front panel features elegant level meters with softly illuminated LEDs that evoke the nostalgic era of Hi-Fi, and the rear panel offers speaker terminals that are cut from pure brass for highly secure connection, along with an Ethernet connection for high-speed data transfers. Listen to your favorite music through the R-N2000A and you may even discover a few details you never noticed before!

Whatever your budget, whatever your audio needs, there’s a Yamaha Network Hi-Fi receiver that’s right for you.


Check out the full range of Yamaha Network Hi-Fi receivers.

Concert Percussion Tuning Know-How

When your music program invests in quality percussion equipment, it’s vital to make sure that your drums sound their best. If the instruments sound great, your students will have a better chance of sounding great, too!

Like string instruments, drums can go out of tune with use and time. Here are some suggestions on how to properly tune your concert percussion. While drums with modern plastic will hold their pitch for a long time, it’s a good idea to tune your concert percussion instruments at the beginning of the school year and recheck them at least halfway through the year (more for an instrument like the snare drum that may get used much more).

When tuning any drum, the following must be considered:

  • Quality/condition of instrument & heads
  • Type of heads used
  • Clearing the heads first
  • The tightening order/tuning process

Having heads in good condition will help tremendously. Like woodwind reeds, a drumhead’s response will change with use. A head’s sound and response may be affected when the coating is wearing off and it shows many dents when completely loosened.

worn drumhead that needs to be replaced
This drumhead is ready to be replaced!

Tuning Concert Snare Drums

Head selection can vary greatly, but for concert snare drums, a coated head will generally provide a clearer articulation and a good amount of resonance. Some good heads for a concert snare drum include the batter side Remo Ambassador Coated, or the Evans Genera or Genera Dry. The Genera Dry has an additional bit of vented film that reduces overtones and ring. For the snare side, the Remo Ambassador Clear or Hazy, or the Evans 300 Snare Side are good choices.

While tuning for concert snare drum can vary depending on the literature and environment, the most important concepts are a crisp articulation and even response. Start tuning with the batter head. For an existing head, loosen each tension rod (following the sequence below) one turn at a time until the top of the tension rod just touches the collar of the rim. Then give each tension rod one full turn, then go around one more time and do one full turn.

Turn snares off and tighten following a crisscross pattern. Press down in the center of the head and if wrinkles appear, slowly tighten at the tension rod closest to each wrinkle until the wrinkle disappears. At this point, check that the head is “cleared,” which means that the pitch is consistent all the way around the head. With the snares off, lightly tap the head at each tension rod to make sure the pitch is the same at each spot, adjusting up to the highest sound as needed to match pitch all around the drum. Continue tightening until you reach an approximate pitch of an A for a 5½-inch depth drum or Bb for a 6½-inch drum.

Follow the pattern shown below for a 10- or 8-lug drum. A 6-lug drum is the same as an 8-lug —go across and to the next lug over without skipping one.

head tuning sequence for 10-lug drum
Sequence to tighten a 10-lug drum.
head tuning sequence for 8-lug drum
Sequence to tighten an 8-lug drum.

Follow the same procedure to tighten the snare side head, ending up about a half step higher for a crisper response, or match the batter head pitch for increased resonance.

Now, turn on the snares. Adjust so the response of a soft tap in the center of the batter head is about the same as a loud tap. You want a short, but not choked, response. If you hear extra buzzing after the attack, there may be a loose snare strand. Check visually and clip any loose strands close with a wire cutter or replace a severely bent snare strip.

If the snares do not tighten enough, you may need to adjust the tension of the strap or string connecting them to the throw-off switch. Check that the ends of the snare strand are the same distance from the shell of the drum and adjust, starting with the end that is farther from the shell edge. Start by loosening the tension on the throw-off switch and loosen the adjustment knob at least halfway. Using a drum key (some brands require a screwdriver), loosen the plate that secures the snare strap or strings, then pull the strings or strap until the snare strand is closer to that side of the shell.

adjusting snares on snare drum
Loosen snare strap plate to tighten the strap.

Retighten the securing plate and turn the throw-off switch on. Then use the knob to adjust the snare tension for the best response.

You might hear a bit of resonance or “ring” at this point, and external dampening can be used to reduce this if desired. There are gel-type products (such as Moongel) that may be temporarily placed near the edge of the head to dampen the sound. In general, the farther the dampening gel is placed from the rim, the greater the dampening effect. Do not place dampening gel close to the center of the drum because this will change the tone and pitch dramatically.

An inexpensive alternative is to attach a binder clip to the rim to secure a folded handkerchief or piece of soft cloth. This method allows you to vary the amount of cloth on the drumhead to alter dampening.

gel patch to dampen drum
Gel patch placed near edge of drum.
use handkerchief to dampen drum
Use a handkerchief and a binder clip to dampen drum.

Tuning Concert Bass Drums

The most important elements in getting a great sound from your concert bass drum are 1) heads in good condition and 2) clearing the heads.

Often, the stock heads that the drum comes with are thinner than replacement heads and will wear out much faster. Some good heads to use on your concert bass drum include Remo Emperor Renaissance on the batter side and a Ambassador Renaissance on the resonant side. The Ambassador Fiberskyn heads also produce warm low tones as well.

Starting with the batter side, loosen the head completely, then follow a crisscross tightening sequence to get the head just beyond wrinkling, and then check that the head is cleared. Tune from this lowest tension until the head plays a definite pitch and doesn’t sound papery when struck at the center. This pitch will vary depending on the size of the drum, but it’s often much lower than you’d expect.

Note: When checking pitch, make sure to strike just slightly off center and not near the edge of the head.

Next, follow the same steps to tune the resonant side to a pitch that is a minor third higher. The drum should have a very deep tone and be resonant. You can experiment with changing the amount of natural resonance by raising the resonant head pitch more if desired. It has been my experience that many school concert bass drums are tuned too high.

Dampening the concert bass drum is a performer task, not something that is usually accomplished by placing external muffling permanently on the head. Dampening will stop or reduce resonance but should not change the pitch or tone of the drum when struck. There are multiple ways to dampen the bass drum, and they vary depending on use.

use left hand to dampen bass drum
The most common method is to place the left hand about a third of the distance to the center of the drum, touching the fingertips after a note is played. For general use, the drum should not be dampened when striking, but after striking to reduce resonance and produce a shorter tone.


use knee to dampen bass drum
If additional dampening is needed, place the right foot on a short stool or chair, and use the knee to dampen the head along with the left hand.


use left and right hands to dampen bass drum
To get the shortest sound, dampen both heads after striking. This is accomplished by touching the fingertips of the left hand to the resonant head (about a third of the way toward the center) while using the right knee and extended fingertips of the right hand holding the mallet to dampen the batter head.

Tuning Concert Toms

Concert toms come in a variety of sizes and are usually in high and low pairs, with 13” and 14” used most often in school settings. While concert toms are usually dry sounding single-headed drums, there are some band directors who prefer double-headed toms for more resonance. The mounted toms from a drum set can also make a good substitute when placed on stands of appropriate height.

concert toms

When tuning your concert toms, start with quality heads and clear them so the tension is even all around the head. While the tuning will vary depending on the tone required for a specific composition, a good place to start is by tuning your drums a third apart. As a general reference you can start with these pitches for these drum sizes:

10” – E

12” – C

13” – G#

14” – E

15” – C

16” – G#

Some pieces may require a larger interval between drums for the desired effect. An interval of perfect fourth or fifth between two drums is common. As with other drums, the heads on toms must be in good condition and cleared for the best tone. Clear, non-coated heads generally work best for concert toms, and some recommended heads include the Remo Ambassador Renaissance, Ambassador Clear and Pinstripe Clear.

Concert toms are generally used without dampening, however if a shorter sound is required, the same methods mentioned earlier for snare drums can be applied.

Final Thoughts on Tuning

After you’ve tuned a drum, listen to it from where the audience might hear it.

Oftentimes, the snare drum that was high, short and crisp when you’re standing right above it might sound lower and looser out in the hall. You may also find that the resonance or ring you heard right above the drum is nonexistent in the hall. If you’re in a very resonant hall, additional dampening may be used (a plastic dampening ring may be helpful in an extremely resonant hall, such as a gymnasium).

The bass drum that seemed a bit rumbly up close may sound full and resonant from farther away, or perhaps not as resonant as it sounded when up close. Toms that seemed high enough might get lost in the ensemble’s resonance out in the hall, requiring perhaps a slightly higher pitch.

Remember, the most important sound is what the audience hears. If your drums sound great, then your students can sound even better!

Setting the Foundation

Drummer Sonny Emory and bassist Nathan East comprise one of the most solid rhythm sections in music. The reason is that they are tight — not just in the musical sense, but in terms of a steadfast friendship that has lasted for over 30 years.

Their credentials are impeccable. The Atlanta-born Emory started drumming at the age of 4 and moved to Los Angeles twenty years later, where he began playing with Joe Sample and the Crusaders. From 1987 to 1999 he held down the drum chair with the legendary R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire, and served as a member of Bruce Hornsby’s Noisemakers band from 2002 to 2018. In the course of his career, he has recorded and/or performed with a virtual who’s who in pop and jazz music, including Eric Clapton, Stanley Clarke, David Sanborn, Bette Midler, Al Jarreau, Paula Abdul, Jean-Luc Ponty and Boz Scaggs. A graduate of Georgia State University with a B.A. in Jazz Performance, Emory has long had an ongoing commitment to academia and currently serves as part-time professor of applied percussion at Georgia State University. His rock/funk group The 7eventh Time (formed with his sons sons Nic Gibran and Ni Emory) recently released their debut single, “Lost in the Sunshine.”

Drummer playing.
Sonny Emory.

Nathan East is well-known as one of the top session and touring bassists in the world. A founding member of the chart-topping contemporary jazz group Fourplay, he was 16 years old when he got his first break and found himself on the road with Barry White. For the last forty years, he has been churning out hit songs with legendary artists like Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Barbra Streisand and Stevie Wonder. His genre-crossing groove has earned him recognition — including a Congressional Record for his contributions to the worldwide music community — and the respect of his peers, as illustrated by his appearances on hit records as diverse as Andrea Bocelli’s Passione and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.

Man playing guitar.
Nathan East.

Another commonality shared by the two is that they are both Yamaha Artists. We recently caught up with Emory and East as they discussed what it takes to build a foundation on which great music can be made.


Sonny Emory: We’re a team and we’re hired to create something together that supports the artist. Every night is special for us because we approach it with love and passion, and we’re trying to get better every night.

Nathan East: You dig a groove, and you just keep getting deeper. And pretty soon you can’t get out of it.

Sonny: Into a hole you can’t get out of, known as the pocket.

Nathan: Exactly.

Sonny: It is very, very important for the bass and drums to become basically one instrument, and then you build the musical house on that one foundation. But it takes two willing parties to be able to find out where the other party is living and meet in the middle so that you can create something together.

Nathan: Listening is such a big part [of it], listening and trusting, because whenever I put a note down, it [should be] with the bass drum simultaneously, and [with Sonny] I don’t have to worry that it’s going to be in front or behind. You just trust this one location where that downbeat is going to be. And for me, every bar is the new downbeat, a new opportunity to get it right.

Sonny: When you do that as a duo consistently, that is what creates that groove. Any bass/drum duo that you’ve heard in the past has been really successful as far as the groove.

Nathan: Especially with our instruments, drum and bass, the most important thing is consistency. We have to be a constant, and I try to maintain that constant energy and attitude.

Two men fist bumping and smiling while sitting onstage with drum kit in background.
Firm friends.


Nathan: You know, it’s easy to start off with focus. You start the tune and you’re concentrating, but then as it goes on, a lot of people will [begin to] drift. Pretty soon it’s not as focused toward the end. But up until the last note, it has to be focused. That’s one of the things that Joe Sample always tried to drill into us: Don’t just start and then let it go.

Sonny: There’s a mental kind of telepathy thing that we have to do. Nate is standing in front of me and downstage, but I’m always out of the corner of my eye looking at his body language, checking out how he’s feeling, what we need to feel. We’re navigating the hole, and we have a lot of fun [doing it]. The fun is the challenge of being able to lock that groove in and make it feel the way it’s supposed to feel every night.

Nathan: For me, the drums are the DNA, the ground zero for the beat, the groove, the song, the dynamics.

Quote 'For me, the drums are the DNA, the ground zero for the beat." - Nathan East

Sonny: The bass to me plays a similar role. I would go even as far as to say that the bass is the glue. I’m trying to lay the concrete, here comes the glue for the other parts. And of course, Nathan plays so beautifully, so melodically as well as [laying down] the foundation of the groove and has mastered how to do both, basically simultaneously without getting in the way of or detracting from either one. I know I can depend on him. That’s what you need. You want to have your best guy with you to make sure that you win.

Guitarist and drummer jamming.
”You want to have your best guy with you.”

Nathan: Sometimes I look at it as, say, a basketball team. Did we win the game tonight? When we go out there, we have to not be individuals, we have to pass the ball to each other. We have to think in terms of, ‘What’s going on around me and how am I going to be able to help the conversation and be here to serve?’

Sonny: And to assist. There are nights where sometimes there may be a little quirky something, but we all have to have each other’s back in order for us to stay the course and win the game together, not [just] the quarters. You want to win the whole game. It’s not enough to just play two or three songs great. That set overall needs to be a good set.

Nathan: A great set. But we’re not talking about perfection. If there’s a clam or a mistake, you get to see what you’re made of. Steve Ferrone used to say, never make the same mistake once. But the times that I feel it just tickle are when you simply put that groove down there. It’s infectious and it’s a lovely thing.

Sonny: And the audience, they feel that right away. If you do that from beat one and you try to make that your goal, every bar of every song, they feel it. It’s an emotional thing. Especially when it starts on the bottom, everything on the top is just icing. The challenge is concentrating for a complete hour and a half. Not 30 minutes, not 42 minutes, not 60 minutes. 90 minutes from the first beat to that last downbeat.

Nathan: Your intensity [has to be] as strong on the last song as it is on the first song. In order to win, you’ve got to push it.

Sonny: You can’t drop the ball an hour and 15 minutes into the game; you don’t want to fumble with two minutes left in the fourth quarter if you’re about to score.


Sonny: Well, good luck! [laughs] You’ll need a little bit of that, too. Nathan has always been a musician that I’ve admired, not simply because of his mastery of the instrument and his musicality, but because of the person that he is. He’s a very, very genuine person. He’s grounded. I tried to model myself after guys like Nate who live life with integrity and play music with integrity, always a gentleman, well-rounded. That’s what I want to impress upon the younger guys now. But if you’re getting into music, be ready for some disappointments. You’re not going to always win, or the situations aren’t going to always turn out the way that you would hope for. Just continue to try and move forward. Stay true to the craft.

Nathan: Music is what we do, but we do it with so much love and passion, it almost becomes who the person is. But I think you make a good point when you stress the human element and the humanity that comes with your playing as well. And this is one of those things that shouldn’t have anything to do with how much you’re making. You still should bring the same love, whether the gig is for 20 people or 20,000 people. You’re not going to play less, and you’re not going to be less of a person. And you can’t do it for followers, for likes, for money. No. It has to be something that you love.

Sonny: The ups and the downs are going to come. But if you have the love for [music], the love will get you through those down periods. That’s what keeps motivating you to continue to move forward.


Nathan: We’re in a completely different music environment [today] than when we started playing.

Sonny: The paradigm has definitely shifted. This is a totally different industry.

Nathan: Young musicians have to figure out how to navigate this paradigm, just like we had to figure it out when we started out. It’s a people business, and every time you get on stage, there are eight other people over there, each with their own story, each with their own life. I’m not as concerned with telling my story as I am about finding out what everybody else’s story is. That keeps you curious. It keeps you passionate, and you learn, and you listen as much as you can.

Quote "You stop growing the minute you stop learning." - Sonny Emory

Sonny: When you stop learning, it’s over. It really is. You stop growing the minute you stop learning.

Nathan: And if you’re up there, be careful [because] it can change in an instant.

Sonny: Which is why staying grateful is very important. So stay grateful, stay humble, and stay hungry. Stay learning. Continue to just become a better version of yourself.


Learn more about Sonny Emory here.

Learn more about Nathan East here.

This Holiday Season, Give the Gift of Music

The holidays are here! There’s no better way to get into the spirit of the season than by giving the gift of music.

Here are some suggestions from Yamaha that are sure to please the musician or music lover in your life.

True X Bar 50A Sound Bar and True X Speaker 1A Portable Speaker

Small speaker on table with holiday decorations.

Movie buffs appreciate great audio, which is why a quality sound bar like the Dolby Atmos®-compatible True X Bar 50A makes the ideal holiday gift, especially when paired with wireless True X Speaker 1A portable speakers.

Equipped with both dual built-in subwoofers and a separate wireless sub for extra deep bass, the True X Bar 50A incorporates upward-firing drivers that are designed to bounce sound off the ceiling for a fully immersive sound experience when listening to Dolby Atmos mixes. Alexa Built-In enables full voice control of your sound bar, including volume level, playing music, setting alarms and timers, controlling smart home devices and more, and Clear Voice technology provides enhanced dialogue clarity. The True X Bar 50A is wall-mountable with built-in keyholes and offers simple setup with HDMI or optical connections. When paired with True X Speaker 1As, surround speakers can be placed anywhere in the room. Instant home theater!

DTX402 Electronic Drum Kit

Focused child playing an electronic drum kit.

If you’ve got a burgeoning drummer in your family, an electronic drum kit such as the Yamaha DTX402K makes for a great gift. A major benefit of an electronic drum kit is that it provides a volume control, allowing your child to play and practice while wearing headphones, so as not to disturb other family members or neighbors.

But that’s not the only advantage. Electronic drums are versatile, portable and easy to store, plus they come with a wide range of sounds, making them great for both live performance and recording. The DTX402K includes four drum pads (snare and three toms), three cymbal pads (ride, crash, hi-hat), two silent pedals (kick, hi-hat), a trigger module (the central “brain” of the kit) and all required mounting hardware. It comes loaded with 287 drum and percussion sounds, 128 additional sounds (including special effects), and there’s an onboard metronome too. Ideal for beginners and intermediate players, the kit provides 10 onboard training functions that make practicing fun and help the user quickly develop drumming skills for various genres of music; also included is a free three-month subscription to Melodics lessons. And, when using the DTX402K in conjunction with the free Yamaha Rec’n’Share app, aspiring drummers can practice and perform with their favorite music — even with video — and share their progress with friends and family on social media.

FSC-TA TransAcoustic Guitar in Ruby Red

Woman playing a red acoustic guitar.

Yamaha TransAcoustic guitars like the FSC-TA are ideal for both beginning and advanced guitarists. They offer an extraordinary combination of classic craftsmanship with revolutionary technology, transporting the player to new, creative spaces via immersive, built-in reverb and chorus effects that actually resonate within the body of the instrument itself. What better way to celebrate the holidays than to give the gift of an FSC-TA in a beautiful Ruby Red finish?

Its lightweight concert body (similar in size and shape to a standard classical guitar) makes it easy to play the FSC-TA for extended periods, and its cutaway design enables easy access to every note on the fretboard. Constructed from quality tonewoods — with a solid spruce top, mahogany back and sides, a nato neck and rosewood fretboard — this award-winning instrument delivers rich, warm tone, and its scalloped bracing provides enhanced projection, making it ideal for live performance in venues of every size. This is one guitar that sounds as good as it looks!

reface CP Electric Piano

Electric keyboard.

Yamaha reface mobile-mini keyboards provide big sound in a compact size. These keyboards present reimagined interfaces of classic Yamaha instruments, making them a great gift for the synthesist who is looking to hone in on one particular family of sounds instead of taking a “one size fits all” approach. The reface CP model offers a variety of electric piano and keyboard tones with retro analog-type knob controls in a portable package, making it the perfect go-anywhere songwriting partner.

reface CP offers six detailed vintage keyboard types and five stomp box-style effects, along with 128-note polyphony. The high quality mini-keyboard allows fast, natural performance with premium feel and response, and there’s a built-in stereo speaker system with enhanced bass response for full, rich sound. For increased portability, reface CP is battery powered too, using six standard AAs with five hours of battery life. A USB TO HOST port allows MIDI connectivity to any USB-equipped computer or iOS device, and an aux line input lets you connect and hear mobile devices, tablets and more through the instrument. There are even dual 1/4″ line outputs for connection to mixers, audio interfaces, DI boxes and other devices.

DGX-670 Digital Piano

Closeup of someone's hands playing electric piano.

The DGX-670 Portable Grand digital piano is ideal for beginners and accomplished pianists alike. It has an 88-note weighted keyboard with a graded action that gives the low keys a heavier response and the high keys a lighter response … just as in an acoustic piano.

It’s got great sounds, too, including high-quality samples of the flagship Yamaha 9-foot CFX concert grand piano, as well as over 600 other Voices, including non-keyboard instruments and drums, plus 250 accompaniment Styles. There’s a microphone input with high-quality effects that allows the player to sing along and record their performances directly to a thumb drive, and Bluetooth® compatibility enables wireless streaming of the player’s favorite music to the keyboard’s onboard dual speaker system, making practice easy and fun. Weighing in at less than 50 pounds and offering a streamlined workflow via a full-color touchscreen and dedicated backlit buttons, the DGX-670 is perfect for live performance, but it’s also a great home keyboard. The optional L-300 stand enables an LP-1 three-pedal unit to be added, providing a playing experience similar to that of an acoustic piano.

YEV-104/YEV-105 Electric Violin

Young girl playing an electric violin.

Not all violinists are traditionalists. An electric violin like the Yamaha YEV-104 (or the five-string YEV-105) gives violin players the opportunity to explore new creative and sonic possibilities, and allows them to experiment with new genres and perform in environments where the sound from their traditional violin doesn’t project sufficiently.

These innovative instruments are visually stunning, yet play the same way as their acoustic counterparts. They deliver a warm, smooth organic tone, and can be connected to any standard amplifier or P.A. system. Unlike “clip-on” violin pickups, they amplify directly and cleanly, with no feedback issues, making them ideal for both indoor and outdoor performances. And with an electric violin, it’s easy to add effects like reverb or distortion with the use of any standard effects pedal or signal processor.

SILENT Brass™ System

Young man playing a trumpet with a electronic mute.

Kids love playing brass instruments like trumpet and trombone, which is why they are among the most popular instruments in school music programs. But, as every parent knows (or eventually finds out), brass instruments can be very loud when you get up and close and personal

Yes, the sound can be reduced somewhat by using a mute, but the problem is that mutes dramatically alter tone as well as volume. Yamaha provides the perfect solution with its revolutionary SILENT Brass system, which turns the sound and feel of a muted instrument into an unmuted one. The system consists of a specially designed mute fitted with a pickup that connects to a small electronic “personal studio” unit that clips onto the player’s belt. That little box contains exclusive circuitry that simulates a standard acoustic tone, making the instrument sound as though there’s no mute being used. Versions are available for trumpet, cornet, Flugelhorn, trombone, French horn, euphonium and tuba, and the SILENT Brass mutes for the latter two have extra adaptability in that the position of the mute head can be adjusted to match different bell sizes and personal preferences — which also means that the same mute can be used on B♭, C, E♭, and F horns. A great gift for kids as well as parents!

GB1K Baby Grand Piano

Closeup of someone playing a Yamaha baby grand piano.

A piano is more than a gift. It’s a gathering place where the spirit of the season comes to life, and where memories are made that will last for years to come.

Grand pianos vary in size from “Baby grand” models that can be as little as 4 1/2 feet in length, all the way up to “Concert grand” models, which can be 9 feet in length or more. The compact size of the 5-foot Yamaha GB1K baby grand model makes it perfect for any room — even rooms with limited space — yet it offers a full, resonant tone comparable to that of many substantially larger models. Available in six different colors and finishes, including Polished Ebony, Polished American Walnut, Polished White, Polished Mahogany, French Provincial Cherry and Georgian Mahogany, the GB1K can fit into any décor … and it looks every bit as beautiful as it sounds.

HS3/HS4 Powered Studio Monitor Speakers

Smiling person behind computer with monitor speakers on either side of the display.

HS Series speakers have become the standard in studio monitors, trusted for many years by the world’s top audio engineers, producers and artists. Now Yamaha has redefined their essence in a compact housing. The HS3 and HS4 are powerful tools to help create a wide range of audio content — from music production to video editing — that meets the expectations of creators who have limited space and need to keep the volume down but do not want to compromise on quality.

These two-way bass-reflex nearfield monitors offer 26 watts of power, with solid bass and crisp highs, plus there are onboard controls that allow the response to be tailored to the acoustics of the room. They’re self-powered — no external amplifier needed — and offer multiple inputs so you can connect a wide range of devices, and a stereo 1/8″-to-phono cable is included too. HS Series monitors have become an industry standard for a reason: their accuracy. The HS3 and HS4 continue that tradition, delivering clean, clear sound that will bring your creations to life.


For more information about these and other Yamaha music products, click here.

Off the Page, Part 2: Explore Simple Melodies by Ear

To encourage students to engage with melodies beyond the confines of sheet music and go off the page, consider having them decipher melodies by ear. This approach can be scaffolded to gradually build upon student success. Begin with a “fill-in-the-blank” melody exercise, where a portion of the melody is notated in standard notation, leaving a measure blank. Challenge students to use their ears and musical memory to fill in the missing measure. For this exercise, you can choose a familiar folk melody or a children’s song that everyone knows.

The next step in this process is to have students play a melody they hear from a recording. Select a popular melody that students are familiar with and loop a section at the start of the class. Display it on the board for students to work on while they assemble their instruments as part of their warm-up routine. Play the melody together as a class using the loop, then turn the loop off and have students play the melody independently. Encourage students to infuse style into the melody by experimenting with articulation and dynamics when they play it. Finally, have students share their stylized melodies with the class. This approach encourages students to be more expressive with their single-note playing and helps them better understand melodies when reading them from sheet music.

Notation of the song "Let it Go"

Melody Tab

When playing melodies from memory, it’s helpful to consider where the melody aligns with the underlying chords. Most often, melodies start on chord tones like the third or fifth. To introduce this concept to students, use melody tab notation. In melody tab, chord tones are represented by numbers in place of note heads, and the rhythms are indicated using beams and flags.

notation of the song "Jingle Bells"

Display chord spellings on the board for various instruments in different keys and have students practice these melodies while paying attention to chord tones. To delve deeper into this, encourage students to memorize chord spellings and play melodies using their memorized chord knowledge. This approach not only teaches them about melody theory but also serves as a foundation for improvisation.

Melodic Transcription

Transcription is a challenging yet rewarding skill for composers, improvisers and musicians who play off the page. Beginning with a blank page can be daunting, so guided transcription provides students with a structured approach to learning melodies. Divide students into small groups and provide them with melodies, along with supplied rhythms and starting pitches to assist them in transcribing. Students can use notation software like Dorico or traditional paper and pencil for this exercise. Start with simpler songs, such as Blink-182‘s “All the Small Things” and gradually progress to more complex jazz solos.

notation of the song "Sunflower"

Harmonize a Melody

Teach harmonization in two ways: by ear and through theory. When teaching harmonization by ear, consider it like lanes of traffic. Identify a lane, which represents a chord tone either above or below the melody, and follow the direction of the melody while staying within the harmonic lane. Play a simple melody for students to learn by ear, play chords underneath with a piano or guitar, and have students experiment with chord tones above or below the melody. Let them discover the notes that fit harmonically while following the melody’s contour. Remind them to stay in their lane and find notes that sound good.

For a more theory-based approach, introduce students to harmonization through chord tone analysis. This sample score brings students through an approach of writing harmonies in a more traditional manner. Combine both strategies to create a solid foundation for writing harmonies.


notation about harmonizing a melody, page 1


notation about harmonizing a melody, page 2

Download this Harmonizing A Melody score and view the video here.

Put It All Together

Once students can write their own chordal parts, learn melodies by ear and harmonize melodies off the page, they can create their own complete arrangements. Encourage students to listen to horn arrangements by different artists to understand how timbre changes through instrumental texture and how harmony can be added or removed to create varying textures. Have students select a tune and arrange it together as a call.

Start by collectively storyboarding and narratively planning the melody, harmony and instrumental parts of a song. Then, experiment with different combinations of timbres, ranges and instrument families for the chords, melodies and harmony parts. Perform the song at a concert and explain the creative process to the audience. With practice, students will be able to craft their own arrangements of songs, fostering creativity and expression in a student-centered, project-based environment.

See Part 1 of this series about bringing creativity into the band room.

The materials and methodologies shown in this blog are available in shedthemusic’s Rewire Theory curriculum. Click here to learn more.

Five Surprising Ways to Find Gigs as a Guitar Player

I’ve always been an advocate of creating a job, rather than finding one. This gives you control over both the employment details and the job description, along with the ability to adjust each parameter to personal taste.

I know this entrepreneurial approach isn’t for everyone — especially those who aren’t self-starters — but it’s served me well for many decades.

Of course, there are multiple ways to earn a living within the music industry: anything from executive positions within major corporations to retail store sales positions, content creation, teaching, and of course, live performance. In this posting, however, I’d like to cover one specific area of the music industry and share five surprising ways to find (or create) a gig as a guitar player.

I’ll assume you are at a reasonably proficient level of ability, have good gear and a list of songs that you can perform at a moment’s notice. Repertoire will be essential if you are a solo performer, jazz musician or cover band musician: You’ll need a shortlist of standout tunes you can use for auditions, as well as a more extended list for when you land the job. Most live performance engagements last for three hours, typically broken up into three 45-minute sets, though sometimes the first set needs to be an hour long to get the audience “hooked” and excited.

Here are five tips for landing a gig as a guitar player:

1. Subbing

Author playing an acoustic guitar while singing for an audience.

The first thing I did when I moved to Nashville (and later to Kona, Hawaii) was to go out and meet the local players who already had established gigs. Making friends with these musicians will allow you to tell them who you are, what you do, and offer your services should they ever need a last-minute stand-in (a “sub”) for their regular gig.

I’ve literally been called or texted an hour before a gig to fill in for a booked artist. These positions can turn into a regular engagement if the artist moves on to a better time slot or venue, or leaves town altogether. For me, many of these initial substitute gigs turned into lucrative long-term resort residencies.

Think about it this way: Helping a fellow musician out of a tight spot builds good faith, shows willing professionalism, and allows you to showcase your talents to the venue management. Win-win!

2. Become a Sideman

In the major music hubs like New York, London, Los Angeles and Nashville, there are long lists of musicians that are available to play one gig, a weekend run of dates, or a world tour. These players aren’t necessarily looking to join a band, but are instead sidemen that work for hire to back up an artist. These gigs can become regular engagements, and even sometimes turn into band positions, though management, artists and labels often prefer to offer a short-term contracts to session players instead.

Sideman opportunities may arise through friends, your listing in a session agency or the Musicians Union, or simply because you’re well known in the industry as a reliable asset to any performance situation.

If you’re extremely professional, proficient in multiple styles of music, have a cool vibe, learn fast, get on well with people and are available for travel on short notice, this might be the ideal gig for you. Just remember that when these kinds of jobs come to a close, so do the revenue streams that are associated with them. Generally speaking, sidemen get paid for the performance day, not the travel days. This may mean being on the road for five days but only getting paid for three — something you might want to consider (or negotiate) before accepting the gig.

3. Worship Gigs

If you attend a church that features weekly live music, you’ll notice just how amazing some of those players are. That’s because many of them are professional musicians during the week, and support their faith through performance in church on Sunday.

Many musicians take these kinds of jobs just to network with the talent on those stages. The worship industry is huge, and that simple “church gig” could well turn into a major placement as a session player, bandmember or as an artist in your own right.

You’ll often find multiple guitar players onstage at worship gigs. If you hope to join them, make sure both your electric and acoustic skills are up to par. As a bonus, if you sing or play bass, keyboards or percussion, you’ll become known as a multi-instrumentalist, and your financial value will increase dramatically.

4. Jam Nights

Many clubs host a weekly jam session, and playing at them is a great way to showcase your skills. Quite often, these venues will have a house band that you’ll jam with. These players are likely to be working with many other musicians on the local music scene. Impress those guys, and your name will be whispered through the ranks of other well-respected players in town. Never underestimate the power of impressing people at a low-key event!

Performance jam sessions are also a great way to work out new material and/or conquer any stage fright issues that may be holding you back. You may also meet other participants or attendees that simply need a back-up guitar player for a gig or recording session.

5. Songwriter Rounds and Open Mic Nights

Songwriter rounds and open-mic nights are another great way to showcase your skills (and your songs, if you write). More often than not, other writers or attendees will jam with you, or you with them, by playing fills, singing harmony or taking solos. I did this a lot when I lived in Nashville, and I can’t tell you how many times I was asked to play a gig, record a session or collaborate on a project after a show.

If you’re in a music hub like Nashville, you’ll get to hear the newbies working out the kinks in their performances, but you’ll also witness the master musicians that turn heads with every note they play or sing. But even in off-the-beaten-path places like Hawaii, these kinds of events can provide great networking opportunities. One evening I was playing at the “First Fridays” art walk in Holualoa. I was there to support a local art gallery, playing for tips, and I met a couple of very influential people that were very impressed by my performance. That “free” gig led to some of the most lucrative resident gigs and private events I’ve ever played.

The Video

One of my favorite gigs is representing Yamaha guitars at trade show events. In this video, I’m playing to a group of NAMM attendees that are enjoying the tones of a Yamaha SA2200 semi-hollow body electric guitar played through a Line 6 Helix processor and a Yamaha STAGEPAS 1K PA system.

After this performance, the guitar player and keyboardist for a mega-star artist asked me if I’d be interested in playing guitar in the band for the next tour. It’s these kinds of opportunities that arise when you are active within your industry.

The Guitar

Closeup of author's hands playing guitar.

The handmade Japanese-crafted sunburst SA2200 semi-hollow guitar is my favorite instrument in the Yamaha guitar range. The tone, playability and cool vibe it offers resonate perfectly with my stylistic approach — and I hear the same positive comments from every musician who has ever played one. It’s just one of those guitars that works well in so many genres of music.

The Wrap-Up

I’m a huge believer that we, as humans, are transmitting thoughts, desires and all sorts of communications into the ether.

But it’s a two-way street: You also need to have your antenna “open” and tuned in to receiving messages of guidance. We can wait for divine inspiration, a sign, or the muse to appear, or we can choose to be proactive and manifest the reality we want, and the jobs we desire most.

Activity breeds activity, and we have the ability to create the realm we live in: that’s what consciousness is, after all. So go out and manifest that amazing gig you’ve always dreamed of!

Photographs courtesy of the author.


Check out Robbie’s other postings.

Matthew Whitaker Makes Musical Direction Moves

22 year-old Matthew Whitaker is the very definition of a one-time child musical prodigy. His grandfather gave him a Yamaha keyboard when he was just three years old — and soon, he was off and running. “I taught myself nursery rhymes,” Whitaker, who was born blind, says. “I was just copying whatever I heard on the radio.”

His family quickly realized this wasn’t just a toddler making noise — this was an extraordinarily talented musician. Whitaker first attended New York City’s Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg (FMDG) Music School, an institution committed to helping people pursue their study of music while addressing the challenges posed by vision loss, where he learned to play piano, later becoming adept at both drums and the organ. At 10, he performed at the Apollo Theater, opening a show that celebrated Stevie Wonder’s induction into the legendary venue’s Hall of Fame. At 15, he was named a Yamaha Artist — the youngest musician ever to join that storied group. In 2020, the long-running CBS television show 60 Minutes devoted an entire segment to him.

Man seen in profile playing piano.
Musical Director Matthew Whitaker playing a Yamaha grand piano during the opening run of “Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For” at Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Despite all the accolades, humility seems to be second nature for Whitaker. “I always tell people that God blessed me with a gift,” he says. “And I’m always blessed and honored to share that gift with other people.”

Two Musicians from Two Different Eras

Some 85 years before Whitaker arrived on the scene, another child prodigy named Billy Strayhorn was born. By the time Strayhorn reached his teens, he was already composing sophisticated songs, writing for musicals and leading jazz combos. Most impressively, he began composing what many consider to be his masterpiece, “Lush Life,” when he was just 16 years old. That song, a preternaturally world-weary lament set to an almost mystical D-flat melody, has since become one of the American Songbook’s immortal standards, covered by countless musicians over the decades, including Nat King Cole, John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald. Even pop megastar Lady Gaga tackled “Lush Life” with Tony Bennett on their Cheek To Cheek duet album in 2014.

Strayhorn’s closest collaborator for more than 30 years was Duke Ellington, who called him “my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head, and his in mine.” Indeed, Strayhorn composed Ellington’s signature song, “Take The ‘A’ Train,” along with countless other Ducal favorites.

The Musical Comes Together

In the fall of 2023, the separate paths of Matthew Whitaker and Billy Strayhorn crossed when Whitaker became musical director for Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For, a new musical that debuted at Pittsburgh Public Theater. Written by Rob Zellers with Kent Gash, the play tells the Strayhorn life story, from his impoverished youth in Pittsburgh to his behind-the-scenes wizardry with Ellington, to his work with such singers as Lena Horne and Billie Holiday.

The musical features lively dance numbers, intricate choreography and vibrant wardrobe, but it also delves into the composer’s trials and triumphs as an openly gay Black man during an era when both the civil rights and gay rights movements were in their infancies. Tragically, Strayhorn didn’t live to see the dawning of a more tolerant age; he passed away at the age of 51 in 1967.

Whitaker got involved with Something To Live For via Steven Tabakin, one of the musical’s producers, who had made About Tomorrow, a PBS documentary about the pianist that aired in 2022. “During the filming process, [Steven] was like, ‘Oh, you remind me so much of Strayhorn,’” Whitaker recalls. “He said, ‘I’m working on this musical with Kent Gash, and I would love for you to be a part of it.’ I said, ‘Wow, I would love to.’ I think [Strayhorn] and I are really similar. The fact that he was able to do this despite how he was treated — it’s really inspiring.”

Cast of show singing and dancing on stage.
The musical features lively dance numbers and vibrant wardrobe.

Matt’s Musical Direction

Featuring a score filled with Strayhorn’s best-known works (plus plenty of hidden gems), Billy Strayhorn: Something To Live For gave Whitaker the chance to take a deep dive into the composer’s musical universe — though he didn’t feel the need to improve on perfection. “Billy is one of the greatest composers,” he says. “I’ve been digging into his music and when it came to arranging, everything was pretty much there. [He] had such a great ear for everything. All I did was put in a few of my things in here and there, and that was pretty much it.”

According to Whitaker, it’s significant that Something To Live For debuted in Strayhorn’s Pittsburgh hometown. “The fact that we’re so close to some of the landmarks that have been mentioned [in the show] is fascinating,” he notes. “For example, one of the scenes [takes place] at the Stanley Theater — and that theater is really close to the theater that we’re in.”

Playing a grand piano provided by Yamaha Dealer of the Year Solich Piano, Whitaker led a live jazz group each night during its initial run, expertly accompanying the onstage action. Despite the fact that he’s a seasoned performer, having taken the stage at such hallowed venues as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, taking part in this kind of production is new to Whitaker. “Honestly, it’s really fun working with everyone,” he says. “Everyone is super unique [and] is just really gelling with one another.”

Two men performing.
Matthew performing live with lead actor Darius de Haas.

Critics have been impressed so far. “The Billy Strayhorn story may be known to jazz heads, but it’s a fiercely human narrative that deserves to be heard after years in Ellington’s shadows,” wrote Broadway World’s Greg Kerestan. “Hopefully, this show will put Billy Strayhorn back in the narrative … and double hopefully this cast and orchestra will record a cast album so I can hear these performances again!”

“Audiences have been loving it, and everyone is wondering what’s going to be happening next with the show,” Whitaker says. “So hopefully — fingers crossed — we’re going to be going somewhere with it after this run is over. I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Looking to the Future

In the meantime, Whitaker has his own career to tend to. The musician already has three albums under his belt — Outta the Box (2017), Now Hear This (2019) and Connections (2021). Featuring some of the jazz scene’s biggest names, including Christian McBride and Jon Batiste, each one is a showcase for his burgeoning skills on piano and organ. Whether covering favorites by such jazz piano giants as Thelonious Monk and Ahmad Jamal or offering up a host of terrific originals, Whitaker is clearly a force to be reckoned with. And he’s just getting started.

“I have a project coming up next year called On their Shoulders that’s going to be a tribute to some of my favorite organ heroes,” Whitaker reveals, naming Jimmy Smith, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland and Joey DeFrancesco as a few of the master musicians who will be highlighted on the album. “The plan is to hopefully do a series to feature other instruments, like piano and then drums and then other stuff.”

Whitaker’s relationship with Yamaha remains strong. “Yamaha is what I’ve known all my life,” he says. “Back in the day I had a PSR-262— one of those small 61-note keyboards with all the sounds and accompaniment styles. It was so much fun! It was actually my sister’s, but I obviously took that from her because that’s what brothers do,” he says with a laugh. “Over the years, I’ve gotten more into other instruments, [but] the fact that Yamaha makes every instrument under the sun — seriously, it’s amazing.”


Accessibility in Music

Whitaker is looking towards the application of technology for the next generation of blind and visually impaired musicians. “[Yamaha] makes it so that [their keyboards are] accessible for blind users to navigate and that’s something I would love to get more involved in,” he enthuses. “Just chatting and figuring out programming, making sure it’s all accessible. I want to help with that more.”

Billy Strayhorn once said, “I believe in the power of music to heal, to uplift, and to inspire change.” It’s a sentiment Whitaker is fully onboard with. “Music is something that can be healing,” he says. “I’m always grateful whenever I get a chance to share my gift with others. Everyone deserves to be happy and positive.”

Photographs by Michael Henninger for Pittsburgh Public Theater, courtesy of Pittsburgh Public Theater.


Check out Matthew Whitaker’s further adventures, including tour dates, videos and more, at

Percussive Storytelling: Making Music Accessible to Kids Everywhere

Yamaha Artist Cory Hills began his professional percussion career the traditional way, never imagining that one day, his primary audience would be elementary schoolchildren.

Man smiling while standing behind a table full of percussion instruments.
Cory Hills.

After discovering his love for percussion at a young age, Hills kept on drumming throughout high school and into college, finding success and checking off the goals of an aspiring professional musician: obtaining multiple degrees, holding prestigious fellowships and performing with orchestras all over the country, even winning a Grammy® award.

Man in front of class.
Hills teaching students Percussive Storytelling.

But when a graduate program took him to Europe to study art, he had an epiphany. Instead of following a path that would lead to either a professorship or joining a major symphony, Hills decided to turn his focus to where he felt he could make the greatest impact, creating Percussive Storytelling, a children’s program that fuses original classical music with storytelling.

While Cory still dabbles in traditional musical pursuits, performing regularly with the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet and numerous other chamber groups, his mission has become to make music accessible and empowering for youth. We recently sat down with Hills to discuss how he unexpectedly found his purpose.

Man with certificate with image of Grammy award.
Hills with his Grammy Award Certification.


The a-ha moment happened while in Italy, Hills remembers. “I was studying contemporary arts exploration; European art, avante garde, high art and high fashion,” he says. “It was art for art’s sake, and I felt a disconnect with the audience and what my voice was trying to say.”

He channeled his struggle by writing a simple story called “The Lost Bicycle” and putting percussion to it. It was 2005, and without realizing it, the interdisciplinary Percussive Storytelling concept was born. Yet Hills set the idea aside and powered on with a typical percussion career.

Years later, Hills was asked to perform “Lost Bicycle” at a Kansas elementary school, and the students loved it. It led to more gigs, then an unusual offer from a local donor who wanted to personally fund Cory to present the show at multiple schools in Kansas. Hills took the opportunity to bring music to more kids, and for the next six months performed throughout the district nearly every school day.

“Playing drums while telling stories is not a new concept,” Cory says, noting that this has been an important part of the Senegalese griot tradition for thousands of years. But his particular approach to merging original stories and music was a winning recipe for Hills’ audiences — and for his sense of purpose.


Hills spent the following years performing nonstop, but it wasn’t until he had kids of his own that a new perspective was added.

Becoming a stay-at-home dad gave him the time needed to reflect and start connecting with researchers and experts that explored different educational approaches. “I hadn’t really had a chance to dissect what I was doing before and understand why people liked it, what worked and what didn’t,” he recalls. Everything changed for Hills after spending time with his own children. “That’s when I realized I was able to attach some of what I was doing to child psychology and learning development,” he says.

As an example, Cory cites Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which states that kids learn in different ways, from verbal to visual to tactile. Hills remembered this from his undergraduate studies but realized he could put it into practice by “making these stories come alive in three-dimensional ways to give children the maximum number of opportunities to successfully interpret the information.”

Hills also reflected on his original mission of bringing music to low-income communities. He often found himself performing at the same middle-class schools, and decided to shift his focus to working with schools in lower socioeconomic areas. He also won a grant through the National Endowment for the Arts in the small town of Alamosa, Colorado, where he not only brought his workshops to schools but also to settings like after school programs.

For the first time, Hills worked hands-on and with the same kids regularly, whether daily for a week, or once weekly for several weeks. “Instead of me performing, we’d sit down together, write stories, play percussion, and compose music together, all in a short span of time,” he says.

It was an approach he found to be far more impactful, partly because percussion instruments are so accessible and easy to pick up and learn without much instruction. “It’s not like learning tuba,” he points out. “For percussion you just hit a woodblock or triangle with a stick, and essentially have a 100% success rate. That’s what makes it really fun, because we don’t lose time on the learning curve — the kids can just jump right in. They quickly realize, ‘I can do this!’ and gain confidence.”


Once Hills shifted to workshops, bookings skyrocketed, and soon thereafter he was offered a fellowship with the Fred Rogers Institute in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, from 2021-2022.

Cory raves about his time studying the legacy of Mr. Rogers. While the organization’s emphasis is primarily on creating original productions, Hills was a fellow on the research side — their first to focus on children’s music.

Man standing in front of tribute wall for Mr. Rogers.
Hills at the Fred Rogers Institute during his fellowship.

He analyzed Rogers’ extreme attention to detail and deliberate use of music and props, then created his own show, “Frankie the Otter.” It features a non-gendered otter who’s new to an animal sanctuary, meeting other animals who tell their stories. “It focuses on social emotional learning and growth, so it’s a show about friendship, kindness, and the power of community,” Cory explains. With emphasis on access, Hills also created a free accompanying PDF guide for the show that any parent or teacher can easily use. It contains activities and QR codes linking to videos.

“It’s transformative, like music therapy for some students,” Hills says of “Frankie.” Many participants start off writing light, silly stories, then eventually feel empowered to share deeply from the heart. Cory has watched bullied, silent children open up after several days and process a range of emotions, and has observed nonverbal autistic kids discover how to engage and newly express themselves.

Stuffed otter toy.
Hills’ “Frankie the Otter.”

Hills notes the influence of Mr. Rogers, who noticed that some kids shut down if you try to engage directly. “[But] if you put something as a buffer between you and allow them to talk through something — for him it was a puppet —they will actually open up,” he says.


What lies ahead? Given the workshop’s impact, Hills hopes to cultivate partnerships enabling him to create additional interactive guides and visit more schools. He’s also leveraging technology to expand access, using virtual shows to reach schools that might not have as much access to the arts.

Cory Hills will be presenting “Frankie the Otter” at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) this November.


Learn more about Cory Hills at

Student Teaching 101: A Guide to Success

Student teaching can be a transformative time — it’s literally the last stop after at least 16 years of schooling before you’re trusted with the reins (or in some cases, where the reins are removed!) to begin teaching.

However, as the old adage goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. Listed below are some tips for student teachers (and those who host them) to get the most out of their experience.

Don’t Be Afraid to Test Things Out

Some of the best cooperating teachers I know have often told their student teachers the same thing: Try things out with the group in front of you. If you screw something up, you get to leave in a few weeks, and they clean up any messes!

Student teaching is truly the time to dig in, get out of your comfort zone and expand your teaching toolbox. Try one new thing every rehearsal, whether it’s an icebreaker, rehearsal technique or even something with your conducting. Keep what works and decide whether the things that don’t work either need refinement or just need to go.

quizzical person with hand under chin and looking up to the left

Frame Your Questions Tactfully

You won’t always agree with your cooperating teacher, and that’s perfectly fine. However, it’s essential to handle disagreements diplomatically. Instead of outright dismissing their ideas, ask open-ended questions to better understand their methods. This approach not only shows your willingness to learn but also keeps the lines of communication open.\

Often, our sense of self becomes so important that we must stand our ground on every single thought. Keep in mind that the statements and actions from your cooperating teacher may be but a single sentence, but they come with years of experience.

Consider the following dialogue options:

  • Prompt A
    • Co-op Teacher: “I think kids need to learn and master their scales before we even consider putting a piece in front of them.”
    • Student Teacher: “I don’t agree. Let’s get a piece in front of them soon so they are more encouraged to learn these scales.”
  • Prompt B
    • Co-op Teacher: “I think kids need to learn and master their scales before we even consider putting a piece in front of them.”
    • Student Teacher: “That’s interesting. I never thought about building up those skills; I often just dove right in. Could you walk me through the process of what the timeline for this might be?”

Both student teachers probably think the same thing, but prompt B puts the ego in check a little bit. Student Teacher B is interested in this process and wants to learn more. Student Teacher A immediately dismisses the concept. Who would you rather work with?

two women shaking hands and showing professionalism

Maintain Professionalism and Manage Relationships

Maintaining professionalism goes beyond your interactions with your cooperating teacher; it also encompasses your relationships with students and parents. Communities are closely knit, and word travels fast. Whether it’s your behavior, communication style or attitude, any misstep can damage your reputation — sometimes irreversibly. Therefore, always act respectfully and professionally to safeguard your standing within the community.

Sometimes, especially if you’re younger than your cooperating teacher, students and parents might feel more comfortable confiding in you. They may even go as far as to express a preference for your leadership, citing a better rapport with someone closer to their own age. While flattering, such comments can be a slippery slope.

To manage this situation effectively, it’s important to align yourself with your cooperating teacher rather than compete for popularity. If a parent or student praises your approach over that of your cooperating teacher, it’s wise to have a pre-planned response to defuse the situation while preserving the team dynamic. For instance, you could say, “I appreciate the compliment. Mr. Stinson and I work hard as a team to ensure that the students have a great experience.”

If the parent persists, simply reiterate your original statement. This keeps the focus on teamwork and the collective goals of the educational experience, rather than individual egos.

Build Your Own Rapport — Don’t Copy Others

Building rapport takes time. While it’s tempting to imitate your cooperating teacher’s style, it’s crucial to forge your own relationship with the students. Authenticity is key; let your unique teaching style shine through. And if you don’t have a unique style, this is the time to build it!

When you observe your cooperating teacher, you are observing years of skill, experience and refinement. You are also seeing established rapport amongst the teacher and students. Sometimes this may look like friendly banter or jokes. Although you may know that you have the skills to lead a rehearsal, the students need time to warm up to someone new. You are a visitor, but you are also able to develop your own appropriate rapport with the ensemble.

Copying speech patterns, phrases or even jokes from your cooperating teacher may seem inauthentic to the students, and in worst case scenarios, may even insult them! Let the rapport unfold itself, and don’t force it.

journal with several question marks around it

Ask a Lot of Questions

Time questions appropriately. Keep a journal and write down any questions you have. Then, consider speaking to your cooperating teacher about setting aside a weekly time to go over some items. Remember, keep your ego in check.

Many of us are just itching to get out and teach, and after 16+ years of school, we’re ready. But we still must be prepared to be schooled. Ask your questions, write down the responses, and take the answers to heart.

If You Want to Experience Something, You May Have to Ask

We don’t know what we don’t know — I go back to this again and again because it’s so true. If there are items that you think you would benefit from during your student teaching experience, don’t hesitate to speak up. I believe that a student teacher should be able to conduct at least one piece at a concert, but there are other directors who either disagree or don’t put this out there until the student teacher asks.

Advocate for yourself but curb your expectations. Most student teachers would probably not be entrusted with taking on half the program for a major festival, but being involved with a home concert is a reasonable ask.

person embracing self

Embrace the System

For nearly my entire educational life, people have complained about the “new” way to do math, and how kids can get the right answer but they don’t get full credit if they don’t use the correct process. This is true not only for “new” math, but for every classroom, household, workplace and business. There is always some sort of structure or system in place.

We teach kids how to get the correct answer, but we are also teaching them about systems. If a student wants to get into coding, they will have to understand the ins and outs of HTML, CSS and other coding languages. Schools thrive on systems, too, from the school board and district office all the way to the classrooms. Yes, systems can be frustrating and even restrictive at some points, but as a student teacher, you must learn about this system. Even if the process is not the same at every school, you will gain experience in procedures, chains of command and administrative tasks that are common at most schools.

By the end of your student teaching experience, consider this short checklist:

  • Understand safety procedures, including but not limited to fire drills, lockdowns and other emergency drills.
  • Complete a bus request.
  • Complete a facility request.
  • Initiate at least one parent contact, positive or constructive.
  • Assist with planning for a field trip.
  • Be introduced/introduce yourself to key school personnel, including but not limited to building administration, administrative assistants, deans, custodians and other teachers.
  • Write a thank you note to most of the people above.
  • Attend one music parent meeting, if applicable.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it should get you started with the non-classroom teaching items.

two students, one playing the silent violin and the other the trumpet

There Is Always Work to Do

Hard reality: Your future employer may not care how good your groups sound. They will care if you are late in answering emails, not submitting your bus requests, and unaware of typical school procedures. Sit down with your cooperating teacher and hammer out one or two of these a week at the beginning of your assignment. Use the list above to start.

Once you’re ready, see what you can take off their plate. Your first job’s procedures may differ, but you’ll at least be aware of how a field trip request works, what procedures are in place to background check chaperones for a trip, and request space for a concert.

Are you done with attendance, copying, rehearsal planning and score study? Take a look at some other pieces. Clean up an area of the rehearsal room, tighten music stands, practice your secondary instruments, work on your choral accompanying skills or practice your interviewing skills. There is always something to do, and now is the best time to do it.

Ultimately, you’re looking for abundant experiences and a letter of recommendation by the end of your student-teaching assignment. Get the work done so your cooperating teacher has plenty of examples to draw from when writing about you.

Leave on a Good Note

The great student teachers I have had formed a rapport with the students that was their own, and were not afraid to make mistakes in front of the ensemble. They also thanked everyone and left on a great note. They showed up on time every day, did not ask for special treatment, and got the job done. We’re big on writing notes in my program — every kid gets a note of encouragement or recognition on their program before every concert. Many of my student teachers took this to the next level by writing an individual thank you note to every kid in the program. A lot of work? Absolutely. But a great lesson in appreciation and going the extra mile.


Student teaching is like a testing ground — a place where you can stretch your wings, make mistakes and figure out what kind of educator you want to be. It may be a short chapter in your life, but it’s one that can shape your career in big ways. The advice and to-do list laid out in this article won’t cover everything, but they give you a solid starting point. Keep in mind that being an educator means you’re always learning. Your time as a student teacher is just the beginning of a long and rewarding journey.


Making Music Streaming Smarter

Music streaming services are, by their nature, technologically sophisticated. And thanks to recent advancements, they’re now even better able to discern your musical tastes and serve up the songs you want to hear. Here are the latest developments in that field.


Services such as Spotify®, Apple Music®, Amazon Music, Qobuz, TIDAL and Deezer offer catalogs in the neighborhood of 100 million songs. With so much music, it can often be challenging for users to decide what to listen to, which is why customized suggestions are so helpful. That’s where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in.

TIDAL and other streaming services present users with customized suggestions.

Some streaming services provide playlists curated by humans, but those are not personalized for each user. More commonly, they employ AI algorithms that rely heavily on the user’s listening histories to create suggestions. Recent improvements in AI, particularly Machine Learning (ML) — a subset of AI — have substantially increased the accuracy of such recommendations.

Machine Learning

Machine Learning involves training computers to analyze vast amounts of data, look for patterns, and make human-like inferences and predictions. A machine-learning algorithm continually improves its abilities as it learns more data, without requiring additional programming from a human.

Streaming services use several different ML techniques to create user recommendations. One is called collaborative filtering. This involves analyzing users’ listening patterns for commonalities, then making song and album suggestions based on them. A simplified example of the logic used in collaborative filtering would be: “Because most listeners of band A also listen to band B, recommend songs by band B to anyone who listens to band A.”

Another Machine Learning technique that Spotify and other streaming services use to categorize music before making recommendations is Natural Language Processing (NLP). This takes the metadata associated with each song (such as artist, genre, songwriter, lyrics, release date, production credits, etc.) and then searches the web for keyword matches in articles, blog posts and other text. NLP sorts through what it finds to identify connections between songs or artists that help inform its recommendations.

Yet another way streaming services implement AI is by analyzing a song’s audio for specific characteristics, a technique known as feature extraction. Tempo, genre, key, mood and instrumentation are some of the characteristics it considers. This analysis helps the streaming service accurately categorize songs, and its data adds to the precision of its recommendations.

Screenshot of audio waves.
Feature extraction analyzes the song’s audio for relevant characteristics.

Your streaming service also learns more about you whenever you listen to a song. It remembers your activities, such as searching for an artist, following an artist, rating a song, adding a song to a playlist, or choosing to listen to a recommended song or album. Not only does the streaming service use that data to refine its recommendations to you but also to inform its collaborative filtering algorithms.

MIIR: Finding the “Chill Phrase”

If all that sounds pretty sophisticated, just wait. An AI-based technology on the horizon will soon be making recommendations even more accurate and impactful.

This development was recently announced by a new enterprise called MIIR Audio Technologies (MIIR is an acronym for Music Intelligence Impact Retrieval), formed by a group of scientists, producers, musical artists and others. The company claims to have discovered how to find the moments in a song that affect listeners the most. They call these “Chill Phrases” — the lines or musical phrases in a song that gives the listener the greatest emotional response. “Most people can think of a phrase in a song that gives them the chills,” explains Roger Dumas, PhD, Chief Science Officer and co-inventor of the technology. MIIR finds that Chill Phrase, along with a secondary one, and then rates both according to a Chill Index.

This data will help streaming services recommend the most impactful music to their listeners, increasing customer satisfaction, but MIIR also has plenty of other potential applications. For example, the company touts its possibilities for maximizing the effectiveness of music in TV commercials and even for helping patients with dementia.

Generative AI

Other than the “big brother” ramifications of having your music-listening activity uploaded to a database, the AI techniques and applications described here are relatively benign and help the services present you with music that more accurately fits your taste.

However, there is one area in which AI and streaming music services intersect that may negatively impact artists who legitimately make royalties (small as they are) from their music getting streamed. It involves another form of artificial intelligence called Generative AI.

That technology, available to the public on websites such as Boomy, allows users to create AI-generated songs based on a few descriptive choices such as genre and mood. Such compositions are controversial for a couple of reasons.

First, these songs are created using all preexisting music as their reference. The songwriting, lyrics, arrangements and mixes of everything that’s come before become the raw materials for the generative engines. Both artists and the record industry argue that such activity is tantamount to copyright infringement.

Secondly, unscrupulous people have used AI-generated songs and bots posing as listeners to generate royalties, an activity called “artificial streaming” — something that Spotify terms a “longstanding, industry-wide issue that [we are] working to stamp out across our service.” The company recently purged many AI-generated songs from its collection, suspecting they were being used in such schemes. (Read more about the controversy.)

AI’s impact on music streaming will only increase as technology evolves. As with AI in general, we have to hope its benefits outweigh the problems it creates. One sure bet is that personalized recommendations from streaming music services will continue to get more sophisticated and accurate in the months and years ahead.

Teaching Music in High Need Schools: Defining Success

Defining what success looks like for our students and our program can be a contentious topic. Regardless of the uniqueness of the setting in which we teach, we were trained in college music programs that gave us the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to build a program based upon the traditional licensure pathways of general, vocal and instrumental music. Throughout the country, however, we see that more music teachers are offering a diverse array of music-making experiences. Depending on our knowledge of and exposure to a variety of musical styles, we may have doubts about our preparedness to create these experiences.

Most of what we initially conceptualize as success is informed by our own experiences in K-12 and collegiate music organizations. Concerts, tours, field trips, large and small ensemble assessments, competitions, community events and the awards we receive from these performances usually influence our perception of a program’s success. Large enrollments, the percentage of students with high GPAs and academic honors, and the number of students who make all-state, regional and district-level ensembles can also build a narrative that allows parents, administrators and the community to define success by these indicators.

This article, however, shares how we can look at different ways to more authentically measure success. By knowing our students and the assets they bring to the classroom, understanding our own strengths and weaknesses, and creating unique music-making opportunities for our students that are relevant and content-rich, we can reconceptualize what success can be.

Know Students’ Assets

student composing in notebook while holding saxophone

Students bring a wealth of knowledge and skills into our classrooms that we are sometimes unaware of. All too often, I go to classrooms where the teacher’s expectations and current circumstances do not align, and the teacher has fallen into a deficit thinking mindset. Instead of seeing what students can offer to help build the program, the teacher only sees what is lacking. This mode of thinking can often mislabel students from underserved communities and assume that the reason why students are struggling is because of factors that inherently prevent their own progress — i.e., lack of motivation, inadequate family support or cultural differences. This thinking, however, can be easily remedied by first developing a rapport with our students, and then by learning more about their life experiences and musical interests.

Knowing what my students were already bringing into the classroom helped me to incorporate different musical genres and a variety of ensembles into the classroom. My first job was as a high school band director in 2006. The school was relatively new and the administration was very supportive. This allowed us to dream big and offer a variety of ensembles beyond traditional band, choir and orchestra. Though the term did not exist at the time, we were at the forefront of the modern band movement that helped get more students involved in music-making at the secondary school level. We also decided to turn one of our storage closets into a music production studio, had it retrofitted with all the necessary equipment and acoustic treatments, and partnered with the Dallas Austin Foundation to provide in-school and after-school music production, audio engineering and beat-making classes. By understanding our students’ interests, we were able to provide them with deeply impactful experiences that shaped their development as both musicians and people.

Understand Our Strengths and Weaknesses

fist held up in the air

Though I am now an advocate and practicing clinician for popular music education and technology, I did not have the necessary skill sets to teach music production, notation software or live sound reinforcement when I began my teaching career. Even though these areas are tested on music teacher licensure examinations, I did not have any classes or formal training in college. Some of the knowledge I gained came from being involved in jazz combos and big bands while I was in high school and college, and some other skills came from my own curiosity and wanting to know more about the music industry and how it functions. I used my own experiences and strengths to improve myself in areas where I believed I was underprepared.

To feel more confident about creating and facilitating more modern music classes for my students, I invested in myself through professional development and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). I joined the Association for Popular Music Education and attended workshops through Technology in Music Education. MOOCs are also an excellent way to acquire new skills at an affordable price — and sometimes even for free! After I completed the music production specialization MOOC by Berklee College of Music through Coursera, I realized that all the time I invested in my development had turned what was once a weakness into one of my strengths.

Make Unique Music-Making Opportunities

One of the advantages we have as music teachers is the ability to take the ideas we learn about from our students and make them into reality. When I was in high school, which was a Title I school in an urban school district in the southeastern United States, our band director gave us ownership of the program in many ways. He knew the skills we had, understood what motivated us and leveraged that to help our jazz band class tour throughout the region each spring. Though our director would help us with some logistics and sign paperwork, we students were responsible for scheduling the performances, contacting organizers for the events, setting compensation fees, requisitioning bus transportation, finding restaurants that would cater or provide meals for us, rehearsing pieces, and even selecting or composing the literature to be performed.

rehearsal for winds section

From those experiences, I gained immense confidence and clarity about the career path I would pursue after high school and realized that music education would be a great fit for me. We can all do the same for our students. Whether it is performance-based, recruitment-focused or fundraising-minded (my high school experiences ended up being all three), we can create opportunities for our students to transform into leaders for the program. Because this approach is student-driven, it can also lead to a sustainable program that is more resilient to a change in music teacher.

It’s All About Student Success!

Music educators can strongly influence what success can look like for our program. In a profession that traditionally uses ensemble size, competition trophies and assessment ratings as the standard benchmarks for program success, it is up to us in the profession to offer more authentic and inclusive value-added metrics that truly speak to the personal and academic growth of our students.

Read Part 1 of this series on recruitment.

Read Part 2 of this series on rapport.


USC Thornton’s New Initiative: Young Artist Project

In the spring of 2022, 75 female classical guitarists took the stage — the virtual stage. Aiming to highlight women’s accomplishments in the field of classical guitar, Doris Cosic, then a senior at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, had organized an all-women virtual guitar orchestra featuring musicians from all around the world. After commissioning a piece from Grammy-nominated Brazilian-American composer Clarice Assad, Cosic organized, compiled and edited a video performance piecing together all 75 musicians in perfect harmony.

Brian Head, associate dean and director of Classical Guitar at USC Thornton
Associate Dean Brian Head

According to Brian Head, Associate Dean and Director of Classical Guitar at USC Thornton, Cosic is still using the same skills in her professional life post-graduation. “Doris now works for a classical production company that produces videos,” Head says. “She learned a lot of digital audio and video editing that she’ll probably continue to use going forward.”

Cosic’s virtual orchestra is one of about 40 interdisciplinary performances that classical music majors at USC Thornton put on every year as part of a new initiative called the Young Artist Project, which requires classical music majors to combine their music performance acumen with another area of study, culminating their senior year in a presentation that shows how they can combine classical music with other skills to create something new.

“Even the greatest classical musicians in the world are doing other significant things that aren’t about playing the cello or piano,” Head says. “At a music school, that can almost feel sacrilegious. Every hour you take away from practicing scales [or] getting ready for that big concerto is an hour wasted; that’s the mindset.”

Head, along with the faculty of USC Thornton’s Classical Performance & Composition Division, aims to change this mindset by inspiring students to draw connections between their work as classical performers and other skills they’ll use in their future jobs. “We’re trying to show the relevance — the active, in-the-present relevance — of the work they’re doing in school with professional life,” Head says.

The Young Artist Project first launched at USC Thornton in 2019. After a brief hiatus due to the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, the program has now completed two full iterations and will enter its third rotation during the 2023-2024 school year. The project has gained momentum among students during the past few years, and Head sees big plans for the future.

Newman Recital Hall at USC
The interior of USC Thornton’s performance space, Newman Recital Hall. (Photo courtesy of the USC Thornton School of Music)

Beyond the Practice Room

The Young Artist Project began as part of an overall curriculum change in the Thornton School a few years ago. Called the “classical redesign,” the new academic trajectory emphasizes interdisciplinary connections over mastering a given instrument.

This method presents various areas of study as inherently interconnected. “It’s some kind of psychological trick in our minds that, when you sign up for a class, it’s in its own little box and has nothing to do with the rest of your life,” Head says. “Young Artist Project is an attempt to break down those barriers and show this as a real trajectory by linking this up with other courses.”

Undergraduate majors in the Classical Performance & Composition Division begin their Young Artist Projects during the second semester of their junior years, when they take a class to conceptualize and plan their projects under the mentorship of both faculty and peers. However, before that class begins, students have already started to think about the ways music connects to other areas of their life.

For example, one class that many students take before beginning their projects is called “Music and Ideas.” Instead of focusing on a specific genre or historical era of music, the class organizes music by other themes that connect music of many styles and periods to each other and to larger aspects of the human condition.

Gateway Facility rehearsal room at USC
The Gateway Facility rehearsal rooms for the USC Thornton popular music program. (Photo by Jason Dontje)

“We organize it around concepts instead of composers, time periods or places,” Head says. “We might talk about money, and how musicians made money in different eras. We might talk about religion or politics. We talk about jazz in the 1920s, what the political realities were during the Harlem Renaissance, and how that relates to composers in the late 1700s who were trying to assert themselves as artists. And, in turn, how that informs choices faced by musicians today.”

Classes like this help students to start drawing connections between musicianship and professionalism. “The overarching goal is to elegantly incorporate all of this into what a student is planning to do outside of school,” Head says. “The mission is [for students to get] equipped with practical skills, but also the philosophical and cultural apparatus to talk about it, to raise money for it, to collaborate and become more of a citizen of the world.”

Majors, Minors and More

When the time comes to choose a topic for the Young Artist Project, USC Thornton encourages students to look to their career goals and non-musical interests, including any double majors or minors they may have. “Some of our students are double majors, or they minor in the neurosciences or East Asian Languages,” Head says. “We want them to recognize that everything they do as artists is tied to what they do as humans, in their academic endeavors and in life.”

Students’ projects span a variety of disciplines — from sustainability to social justice to technology and more — and examines the way those topics can intersect with classical music. “It could be scholarship, it could be coding, it could be work that they’re doing at a retirement community nearby,” Head says. “The goal is to tie that to their musical practice and create an event, a deep work of scholarship, a tour, an app, a podcast.”

Each year, the classical music major at USC has about 40 students in the junior class. Because the Young Artist Project is a requirement for a classical music degree, that means Head and the other faculty see about 40 new projects each year.

student playing the cello
Composer Quenton Blache (‘23), a graduate certificate student in USC Thornton’s Screen Scoring program. (Photo by Ben Gibbs)

Unique, Individualized, Bespoke

Because students’ project formats rely on their specific interests and career goals, there is no one template for a successful final project. “If you have 40 students, you have 40 different ways those presentations work,” Head says.

As Head explains, projects like Doris Cosic’s virtual guitar orchestra exist as a finished product that can be accessed anytime online. However, other projects might require a one-time presentation or performance.

For example, Classical Guitar major Robert Wang, who is an accomplished fragrance designer as a side hobby, curated a concert that paired musical pieces with different smells. Wang studied the multi-sensory performance approach of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin and then created his own performance, arranging and choosing music that he tied to specific scents. He held his recital at the Los Angeles Olfactory Institute, where a series of fragrances were distributed to audience members to inhale while the student performed each piece of music.

male student standing holding cello
For his Young Artist Project, Blache partnered with a fellow USC Thornton student to create a live-to-picture concert with the Thornton Student Symphony Orchestra.

Though each project has one thing in common — classical music — every other element of the project, presentation and final assignment is tailored to the individual. “Some projects are scheduled throughout the semester. Others exist on the web. Some do a tour experience and they video tape it and present it,” Head says. “We try to make it bespoke.”

Because each project has its own requirements, some projects may require a budget while others don’t. Head says that while most students can accomplish their projects without a big financial budget, others may need funding. These students use this opportunity to practice finding outside grants, crowdfunding and putting together a budget.

However, because funding is often small, Head says that part of the learning experience involves keeping the scope of your project realistic. “Part of the exercise is to manage the expectations of this kind of first effort,” Head says.

exterior of Doheny Library at USC.
Doheny Library at USC. (Photo courtesy of USC Thornton School of Music)

A Bright Future

Increasing funding for the program and grant opportunities for students is one of Head’s goals for the future of the Young Artist Project. “We have identified a donor who’s helping to underwrite this in a meaningful way, starting this fall,” Head says.

But beyond the financial, Head hopes to expand the program in other ways as well. Mainly, he wants students to become motivated by seeing successful alumni projects. “I love when former students come back and say things like, ‘Now I’m the production coordinator for the Santa Fe Opera doing multimedia, just like the Young Artist Project I did five years ago,’” Head says.

While alumni regularly return to USC Thornton to inspire current students, Head is looking forward to seeing alumni taking advantage of all the skills they used in their projects — beyond music performance — in their professional lives. “We hope that we create a feedback loop … focusing on this thing that isn’t just their playing,” he says. “That’s my next step.”

The Young Artist Project is intentionally open-ended, but Head says that doesn’t mean students need to pressure themselves to make their projects something groundbreaking or career-defining. Rather, the projects should serve as a debut creation, with the idea that many more creations are yet to come.

“This is an example of something you might be doing in a major way, and this might become part of your professional identity,” Head says. “You’ll do many projects. You need to make your mark, identify what you’re doing and get a great start.”

The University of Southern California is one of 10 distinguished colleges and universities selected to be part of the inaugural Yamaha Institution of Excellence program, which recognizes extraordinary commitment to innovation in the study of music. The Yamaha Institutions of Excellence were chosen for their dedication to providing unique and challenging experiences to music students through diversity of thought and curriculum. They are also recognized for exposing students to a wider variety of voices and opportunities and preparing them for the modern world of music.

5 Teacher Tools that Will Maximize Your Efficiency

Feeling overwhelmed by endless to-do lists and the demanding role you play in your students’ lives? I once thought technology would solve everything and that using more apps would make my life easier. However, as I strived for focus, I found that only extremely useful tech tools make the cut. In fact, minimizing screen time and notifications has been remarkably beneficial. This guide introduces tools, both tech-based and ones that are refreshingly simple, that have proven invaluable in managing the complexities of teaching.

 notes and Post-Its inside notebookman using app on cell phone

1. Paper and a To-Do App

My to-do list used to be comprised of emailing myself, Post-Its, lists, whiteboard lists, to-do apps and my memory. I was spending four times as much time managing these lists as I was doing actual work. I’ve written about prioritizing tasks using the “Getting Things Done” system, as well as developing Atomic Habits. By moving to two inputs — a notebook and one to-do app, Todoist — I removed a significant amount of stress from my life.

My notebook goes with me to the podium, and I can write down any notes, such as “order more reeds” or “John has a conflict with the football game.” I then take time in the afternoon to either complete or insert these tasks into my app. Rinse and repeat.

Your method may vary. If Post-Its work for you, stick with them, but consider that too many lists create more work. There is also the chance for more items to slip through the cracks.

Replaces: Post-Its, multiple apps, a full email inbox and precious mental bandwidth.

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Yamaha Harmony Director

2. Yamaha Harmony Director

I was a little late to the game with the Harmony Director, but this is my go-to tool in the classroom. It saves time, is somewhat portable and very easy to use. I used separate apps and devices for metronomes and tuners, and I spent a long time attempting to teach pitch matching and justified intonation. This tool cuts that time down significantly. There is a bit of a learning curve, but by now, so many people are using the HD-300 that resources are plentiful. I saw a younger director post online about ways to teach intonation with the Harmony Director. An older director made this snide remark: “How about good old-fashioned listening?”

I believe the Harmony Director is something that speaks to both the newer generation of educators as well as the more experienced one. There are no fancy screens or wires to hook up. The teacher gets the job done by using this tool to demonstrate, and the kids have to listen to adjust. Truly an invaluable teaching tool in the right hands.

Replaces: Multiple apps, metronomes, tuners and simple recording devices.

artificial intelligence graphic

3. AI Textbots

This may be controversial, but AI generators, when used for the right reasons, can be helpful. I have yet to be convinced that the current generation of AI can replace everything a human can do, but ChatGPT and Google Bard are invaluable for spelling and grammar and even for checking tone.

If I have a particularly tough email to send, I will write it out and then ask an AI to see if my email looks aggressive or has any conflicting statements. About half the time, I accept the suggested changes and send the email. With the other half, I realize that if I have to revise as much as the AI suggests, then it’s better to pick up the phone and speak to the other party directly.

AI works well for simple coding. I often have Excel lists of students that I need organized in various ways. Asking an AI bot to provide a formula to sort all junior woodwind players by last name but listed in first and last name format, so I can easily copy to a concert program, has been a huge time-saver.

Replaces: Time spent on YouTube trying to figure out pivot tables and the organization of data in Excel sheets, and annoying your colleagues with “Does this email sound OK?” requests.

close up of someone using laptop

4. Transparent Sub Plans

I hated taking time off because I knew a non-musical sub would oversee my class. They were responsible, but I knew that we would not get as much done on that day. So, I took matters into my own hands and decided to let everyone in on the sub plans. All students have email accounts, so I sent the sub plans as either a PDF or a non-editable Google Doc link to my supervisor, the sub and all my section leaders. This worked great! Kids felt accountable and responsible for their class, and I returned to a glowing report from the sub.

Moving forward, I provided even more transparency. I simply emailed the plans to everyone in the band and let them know which students would be in charge. This has become a typical pattern, and our substitutes feel a lot more at ease subbing in a music class.

Replaces: The opportunity for music kids to inadvertently stage their own production of “The Lord of the Flies.”

two female students playing trumpet

5. Non-Musical Section Leaders

OK, this isn’t a tech or archaic tool, but more of a human resource. Note: “Non-musical” doesn’t mean that this section leader doesn’t have musical ability; rather, it means that their specific job isn’t helping other students with musical performance. Think about the things that take up a lot of your time that aren’t sensitive materials. For example, I had issues organizing the reed and supplies cabinet. A student complained twice about this, and I said, “Congrats! You’re now the reed cabinet supervisor!” The student laughed, and I explained that it was certainly something I could do, but that there were many other areas of the program where I might be better suited. The student volunteered to organize the reed cabinet every Friday and even went above and beyond by emailing me a weekly list of items that needed to be ordered to replenish our stock.

Replaces: Time and effort spent on the endless organization of supplies. Bonus: Provides student opportunity and leadership.

Find What Works for You

Effective teaching doesn’t have to be a lone journey filled with stress and clutter. The right set of tools, both digital and non-digital, can significantly streamline your processes and make teaching not just manageable but truly rewarding.

From using Todoist to organize your tasks to the Yamaha Harmony Director for pitch training, and even AI textbots for spelling and grammar checks, technology can be your ally. But let’s not forget the value of human resources like non-musical section leaders who can take some of the load off your shoulders.

The most important lesson is to tailor these tools and strategies to your unique teaching style and needs. When you find what works best for you, you’ll see that the road to teaching excellence becomes far less complicated. After all, teaching is less about managing stress and more about inspiring the next generation. May these tips help you focus on what truly matters — creating a transformative learning experience for your students.

How to Care for Your Drums

In modern music, the drums are the foundation — the rhythmic backbone of the group.

The drum kit has provided the beat and tempo for almost all forms of popular music since the dawn of jazz in the early 20th century. That makes it one of the most important instruments on the stage or in the studio, as well as one of the most involved. But drums have many moving parts and pieces — in addition to taking up sheer space — and setting up and maintaining a drum kit requires a specific knowledge and awareness of the gear itself.

Here are some pointers and expert tips from Yamaha product training specialist Jim Haler on how to keep your drums visually attractive, eminently playable and sonically pleasing.

Proper Placement and Storage

Say you just acquired a brand new drum kit and it’s going into your house or studio for the first time. In the excitement of the moment, you may have the impulse to set up and start playing right away, but it’s important to consider where and how your kit will “live” in its new environment.

  • Do not set up your kit where it is exposed to direct sunlight. While the finishes for some kits (including some Yamaha models) are treated with UV protection, that’s not always the case. “If your drums sit in direct sunlight for long periods of time, they’re going to fade,” says Haler. “And if they have a “wrapped” [smooth glossy white or silver] finish, you also risk having the finish getting hot and bubbling on you.”
  • Be sure to put your kit on a rug. Dedicated “drum rugs” do exist, though any floor rug with rubber on the bottom will work. Without a rug, your drums will slide and shift as you play them. Not only does this make it hard to perform, the pointy kick drum spurs could damage hardwood floors. A rug will also catch and confine any splinters and sheddings from your drumsticks.
  • When not playing your drums, cover them with a drum cover — like you would an expensive car — to prevent accumulation of dust and debris.
  • Even with a cover, some dust will inevitably find its way to your kit. “Dust can act like small pieces of sand and put minor scratches in the finish,” cautions Haler, who recommends applying Yamaha Piano Unicon Polish with a soft microfiber cloth to prevent cosmetic damage and keep your drums shiny and clean. “Yamaha also have an exclusive non-glossy finish called Vintage Natural,” Haler adds. “For this particular finish I recommend using an orange oil furniture cleaner for periodic maintenance.”

Getting the Most Out of Your Drum Heads

The heads are the part of the drums that take the most abuse. They’re meant to be replaced over time to maintain proper tone, but there are ways to maximize their longevity.

  • Playing with correct technique is vital. “Make sure you’re playing the drums properly and not burying the stick into the head, but playing off the head,” says Haler. “It makes less of an impact and is going to help your drums not only sound better, but last longer.”
  • Position and angle your drums correctly relative to your height on the drum throne — something that can help with proper striking technique. “If your toms are at too much of an angle and you’re not sitting at the right height, when you go to strike your toms, you’ll be digging the tip of the stick in,” says Haler, who warns that this can also reduce overall playability.
  • Choose drum heads that suit your style of playing. “If you’re playing metal and really hard, aggressive stuff,” says Haler, “you shouldn’t be using single-ply heads; you should be using double-ply heads.”

Snare Care

Snare tone is one of the more tangible artistic choices at a drummer’s disposal, especially in the context of rock and pop music. This part of the kit deserves special treatment.

  • Make a habit of turning over the snare drum and examining the snare wires themselves from time to time, especially if you begin to notice a lack of snare response. If any of the wires are bent or are starting to get detached, they will tend to rattle after you hit the drum, compromising the snappiness and pop of the resultant sound, so consider installing a new set. If you’re in a pinch (i.e., right before a performance) and can’t replace the snare wires, take a wire cutter and snip off any misshapen strands all the way down to where the wire is soldered on, as small tips of exposed wire can cut into the head.
Closeup of snare drum.
Snare wires.
  • Whenever you swap out a snare head, it’s a good time to lubricate some of the moving parts of the drum itself — especially the “throw-off” strainer mechanism that is moved up and down to raise and lower the snares. Haler recommends putting a small drop of 3-IN-ONE® oil in those contact points so the lever moves smoothly and doesn’t make any noise. You should also add a small drop of oil around the adjustment screw for the snare wires (on the bottom) and the threads for the tension mechanisms, as well as the turning screws and the ends of the tension rods.
Closeup of snare drum lever.
Snare “throw-off” strainer.

Proper Treatment of Cymbals and Hardware

Some drummers like their kit to be shiny and polished, while others prefer the road-worn look. Either way, here are some basic fundamentals for caring for the metallic portions of your kit.

  • Avoiding rust is key. If you need to transport your kit, make sure to wipe off any condensation if the drums have been moved inside from the cold. This is particularly important when it comes to hardware like stands and tom mounts, which have many fine points of adjustment.
  • Some drummers perspire more than others. Be aware of your body chemistry, as stray sweat and hand oils can also lead to spot rust.
  • Position your cymbals at a slight angle to encourage proper striking technique and prevent breakage. “When you’re striking right into the edge of the cymbal, that’s the most fragile part, and that’s where you’re going to get a lot of cymbal breakage,” Haler points out. “It’s best to play your cymbals at least at a slight angle.”
  • Be wary of what solutions and polishes you apply to your cymbals. More abrasive products can discolor or tarnish them — some can even remove your cymbal’s logos altogether!

Tips for Safe Travel and Transportation

Whether you’re transporting a kit to band practice, gigging locally or touring the world, there are some universal do’s-and-don’ts for moving your drums.

  • Invest in road cases. If you’re playing nightly as part of a tour, hard cases are a must — if only for the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your shells, cymbals and hardware are always protected — not to mention that they’re more compact and efficient for loading/unloading. If you only occasionally move your kit for local gigging, soft cases will prevent scratches and random damage.
  • Be wary of kit loaning and sharing. It’s common practice, especially in local circuits, for a band to backline its kit. This act of generosity will help keep things moving smoothly when there are multiple performers on the bill, but it also opens up the inherent risk of other drummers — with perhaps more aggressive playing styles — damaging part of your kit, breaking a cymbal or drum head, etc. If you’re on a tight budget or concerned about damage, it’s best to not share.
  • Always carry a tool kit and spare breakables such as drum heads, as well as extras of small, easily misplaced components such as cymbal felts/wingnuts and hi-hat clutches. You never want to be caught in a pinch mid-gig, so come prepared to make minor on-the-fly repairs if needed.

Whether you’re playing an entry-level kit like Yamaha Rydeen models, or higher-end options, such as PHX and Recording Custom Series kits, these guidelines will protect your investment and keep you firmly in the pocket. Happy drumming!

How to Navigate Student Resilience

“Mr. Stinson, I’d like to play the oboe, but don’t seat me in the front row. Even though I’m the only oboist, I don’t want the oboe solos. Could you also make sure no one looks at me or hears me? And if I make mistakes, don’t mention them. If I sound good, don’t mention that either. In fact, please act as if I don’t exist. Oh, and can you order better reeds?”

This student’s request might seem extreme, but it highlights a growing trend. According to psychologist Jean Twenge‘s book, “Generation Me,” starting around 2006, kids have generally become more risk-averse. Below are some techniques I use that I have garnered from Twenge, as well as Carol S. Dweck’s “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” and Ryan Holiday’s “The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph.” Educators must come up with strategies to help students step cautiously yet confidently out of their comfort zones, especially in environments like school music rehearsals.

swimmer reaching out of the water

Balance Introversion and Extroversion

As educators, it’s our job to guide today’s kids beyond their comfort zones. While I still encounter students brimming with confidence — those who can’t wait to play a solo or relish being the center of attention — I’m increasingly meeting students reluctant to play, sing or even speak in class. Often, these students resort to having others ask questions for them.

Our aim is not to transform introverts into extroverts. We want to equip all students with the skills to advocate for themselves and actively participate. Some of our students might prefer solitude, while others sit silently, yearning to share their passions but feel hindered by nerves or by the complexities of being a young person. I know I was that person, and I’m thankful to my teachers for helping me work toward advocating for myself.

shy girl hiding behind her hands

Build Resilience

Recently, I’ve dealt with some students who have trouble with basic face-to-face interactions, such as ordering at a fast-food restaurant during band trips. How can we nudge them into positive discomfort, and more importantly, inspire them to persevere toward goals, especially after experiencing setbacks?

Our aim isn’t to make professional musicians. We want to help students grow to understand themselves and handle the world around them. To do this, we combine knowledge of how people think with real-world teaching methods. We want to get students ready for the different challenges they’ll definitely encounter in life.

Cultivate Confidence in Small Groups

Utilizing small sectionals is an effective way to make students feel more at ease with both speaking up and playing alone. It’s fascinating to witness kids who were initially hesitant open up and exhibit a newfound comfort when they’re in smaller groups (as opposed to standing in front of the whole band). This smaller setting serves as a launching pad for future confidence. Don’t stop there! If you ask a student to take the big leap of performing solo, set them up for success, especially if it’s their first time stepping into the spotlight. Make the environment as fail-safe as possible because the objective is to encourage a repeat performance — or at the very least, instill the belief that solo performances are beneficial experiences worth pursuing.

The rehearsal atmosphere must be more than just a place to practice music; it must be a sanctuary of sorts. If you find that the music itself isn’t resonating with a student, then explore alternative routes to connect with them. I was once told that there are worse things than selecting music that the kids like. Casual conversations about day-to-day topics — “What did you do over the weekend?” or “What are your favorite foods?” — can go a long way in building that crucial student-teacher rapport.

Be a little daring — gradually put more difficult pieces in front of the ensemble. The intention here is to coax and nurture a slow but steady development of skills, a resilience of sorts, in students. Remember: These selections don’t even have to be part of your concert repertoire. The point is to remove the element of a high-stakes performance, and allow them to just play.

Customize the Journey

Honor Individual Strengths and Interests: Not every student aspires to shine in the same way. While some may shy away from solo performances, they may excel at speaking in public. Rather than strictly funneling them toward musical solos, I encourage them to use their verbal talents for tasks like program notes or concert introductions. I’ve even seen such role diversification inspire other students to consider alternative ways to contribute to the musical community.

female student holding up fists

Understand Fight or Flight: I’ve told my students of my own paralyzing nervousness in 5th grade when faced with performing at church. My solution? I faked an illness to get out of it. Ironically, I didn’t have to go that far because I worked myself up to actually being sick. These anecdotes serve to remind students that even those of us who appear comfortable had to confront and overcome our fears.

Adaptation in Feedback: Feedback is not a one-size-fits-all mechanism. While some students can absorb an ongoing stream of constructive criticism, others may find their emotional bandwidth taxed at just three comments. In such cases, I’ve learned to cap my feedback at two points initially, regardless of how urgently more feedback might seem needed. I then gradually introduce additional positive comments over time, observing their receptiveness and adjusting accordingly.

Group Strategies for Comfort: Another tactic to make students more comfortable with solo performances is to initially divide them into sub-groups. Whether sorted by age, choice of instrument, or even shared experiences like having broken a bone, these smaller groups can serve as a softer introduction to performing alone. It’s a tactic that has dual benefits — it enhances performance comfort while also building a sense of community among students by highlighting shared experiences or interests.

The Dual Nature of Our Class: Our class is a blend of the personal and the professional. While the personal connection comes naturally through our shared love for music, the business part entails the constructive feedback required for improvement. I’ve even incorporated role-playing exercises where a student volunteers to play a passage, receives feedback and then applies it. We then discuss the interaction to clarify that constructive, even direct, feedback is not unkind or mean, but rather, it is essential for growth. When students experience this later “in real life,” they tend to understand that this is the process.

child looking sheepish after making a mistake

The Art of Making Mistakes: Mistakes should be normalized, not stigmatized. They are, after all, the clearest indicators of areas ripe for improvement. One idea that is effective is to feature a “common mistakes” segment in class, transforming what might be perceived as faults into constructive discussions for learning and growth. By doing this, we shift the focus from faults to improvement and resilience. Whenever possible, I try to have my kids listen to rehearsals or view behind-the-scenes footage of great works of art. We often are presented with finished products, falsely creating a sense that things come easier to others and that mistakes are not made.

Foster Holistic Development through Communication and Collaboration

Build Communication Skills and Setting Boundaries: More and more, I find students hesitant to directly communicate with their instructors, often resorting to emails or enlisting friends to speak on their behalf. While I understand the apprehensions, it’s crucial to develop good communication habits. So, if Marcie sends a friend to ask me if she could try a different instrument, I’ll directly address Marcie and gently but firmly emphasize that she should be the one making her own requests. My tone is always measured, so I don’t heighten any existing fears about direct communication that a student may already harbor.

Collective Learning and Performance Opportunities: To build confidence in students, I look for ways to make the learning experience collective and collaborative. Once, a colleague from outside the music department stopped by our rehearsal. Seizing the opportunity, I asked my students if they’d like to sight-read a piece for him. Half were eager, half were hesitant, but we went ahead anyway. After a typical sight-read session with all its hitches, Mr. Smith applauded the effort, leaving many students encouraged. What began as a tentative exercise turned into various sections of the band performing short excerpts for him. Sure, there were nerves, particularly among the younger players and those who I know have performance anxiety, but the collective atmosphere made individual participation less daunting. As a side note, Mr. Smith ended up spending half an hour instead of the two minutes he’d initially planned.

introverted female sitting alone in a school hallway

Reflection and Ongoing Improvement: After such activities, it’s essential to make time for reflection. Students should have the opportunity to identify their strengths and areas that require improvement. This not only validates their hard work but also reinforces the culture of continual growth that we want to cultivate.

Strategies for Resilience: Finally, it’s crucial to provide students with stress-management tools, ranging from simple breathing exercises to sharing personal stories and resilience strategies. Although skill development is vital, emotional resilience also plays a key role in creating a well-rounded learning environment. Don’t hesitate to share your own setbacks and the lessons you’ve learned from them. Doing so can often foster open dialogues, encouraging older students to share their own experiences and insights.

Final Tips

Balance Individual Needs with Collective Growth: Extreme cases are bound to arise in any educational setting — for example, students who are exceptionally sensitive to face-to-face interactions. It’s crucial to maintain a balanced approach in such situations. While it’s not your personal mission to “change” the student, you do have a responsibility to foster their educational development as a whole person. For instance, after calling a parent to inquire about their child’s reluctance to interact in class, I received an unexpected tip: my deep voice intimidated the student. I didn’t try to impersonate Mickey Mouse the next day, but I was more mindful about my tone and volume with that particular student.

confident-looking girl

The Fine Line of Personalization and Universal Learning Goals: The knee-jerk reaction to modern education problems might be to personalize learning to the extreme, catering to every student’s unique needs. However, that’s neither practical nor beneficial for the community at large. I’ve written on how essential it is to strike a balance. We aim to build positive relationships with our students while guiding them toward a realistic understanding of the world they’ll eventually navigate as adults. The goal isn’t to carve out special rules or conditions for every individual. Instead, we need to empower all students to maintain their unique identity while also acquiring the skills to adapt and advocate for themselves in various situations.

By integrating elements of communication, collective experiences, reflection and resilience into the teaching framework, we can create a more supportive and enriching experience for all students.


20 Scariest TV Shows Since the Year 2000

Just in time for Halloween, here’s a collection of 21st century TV shows that will light up your home theater in spooky shades of orange and red. You might want to keep the doors locked while watching these!


This continuing American horror anthology on the FX Channel consists of a dozen seasons (and counting), each of which follow different sets of characters in various fictional universes and locations. Actress Jessica Lange, in her first regular role on television, won two Emmy Awards® and a Golden Globe® for her performances. The first series, “Murder House,” was the most-viewed new cable show of 2011.

2. SUPERNATURAL (2005-2020)

An American dark fantasy drama on The WB, Supernatural starred Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as two brothers who hunt monsters, ghosts, demons and supernatural beings. To add to the spooky atmosphere, many episodes during the 15-year run were filmed in an old abandoned military base in Vancouver, British Columbia.

3. THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2022)

A post-apocalyptic horror drama based on a comic book series of the same title, this long-running series (177 episodes!) featured a large ensemble cast as survivors of a zombie apocalypse.

4. STRANGER THINGS (2016-2023)

This Netflix hit is set in the 1980s in the fictional small town of Hawkins, Indiana, where the residents face the horrors coming from an alternate dimension known as The Upside Down. A group of nerdy friends eventually discover that the phenomenon is caused by a government facility that secretly experiments with supernatural and paranormal energy. (Check out the top 10 scenes here.)

5. THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (2009-2017)

Based on the book series of the same name, this supernatural drama focuses on teenager Elena Gilbert, who, after losing her parents in a car crash, falls in love with a 161-year old vampire. We soon learn that Elena’s neighbors appear to spend all their time guarding the town from witches, werewolves, hybrid creatures and ghosts.


Created by Aaron Martin, this horror anthology premiered on Chiller but was later acquired by Netflix. Featuring an ensemble cast along with recurring guests, each series presents a masked killer with no known motive for murdering his (or her) victims.


Ready for an eerie gothic romance drama? This Netflix series is based on an adaptation of the 1898 horror novella The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James. Its nonlinear narrative takes place in a haunted country manor in the United Kingdom, where a young American nanny cares for two children while dealing with the apparitions that reside in the home.

8. ATTACK ON THE TITAN (2009 -2021)

This highly successful anime TV series was set in a world where the residents live in cities surrounded by three giant walls that protect them from man-eating humanoids. These fearsome creatures, called Titans, are hunted by the central character, Eren Yeager, who has the astonishing power to turn himself into one of them.


Part survival epic, part psychological horror and part coming-of-age drama, this Showtime production follows a talented girls high school soccer team whose plane crashes in the wilderness of Canada on the way to a tournament. As they fight to stay alive, they even have to turn to cannibalism at one point! The series has received seven Primetime Emmy Award nominations.


Based on the Anne Rice novel of the same name, along with other elements of her Vampire Chronicles, this AMC series is set in early 1900 New Orleans and depicts the horrifying nocturnal excursions of affluent vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson) as he seeks new victims.

11. THE LAST OF US (2023)

This post-apocalyptic drama is based on the 2013 video game of the same name. It stars Pedro Pascal as a smuggler escorting teen Bella Ramsey across the country. The show is set 20 years into a pandemic where a mass fungal infection has transformed its hosts into zombie-like creatures. HBO recently announced a second series, though no release date has yet been set.

12. THE TERROR (2018-2019)

The first of this two-part series opens with two Royal Navy ships in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago seeking the existence of a fabled Northwest Passage. The ships become trapped in the ice floes, and the uncertain weather conditions compound the unknown menace that stalks the crewmembers. The second season takes place during World War II, where another creature terrorizes a Japanese-American community in the internment camps of Southern California.

13. SCREAM QUEENS (2015-2017)

This satirical black comedy/slasher series (!) featured an all-star cast that included Jamie Lee Curtis, Emma Roberts, Lea Michele, Glen Powell and Skyler Samuels. The first series centers around a fictional sorority, where a 20-year-old murder mystery has a serial killer reemerge, dressed as a Red Devil mascot. In the second season, new serial killers ply their grisly trade in a nearby hospital.

14. THE OUTSIDER (2018)

This critically acclaimed psychological thriller was based on the novel of the same name by bestselling author Stephen King. It stars Ben Mendelsohn as Ralph Anderson, a detective and a struggling alcoholic who is investigating the murder of a young boy while coping with the loss of his own son. Classic Stephen King!

15. EVIL (2019-2022)

Starting on CBS before moving to Paramount, this series centers around Dr. Kristen Bouchard, a somewhat skeptical forensic psychologist in New York who allies with a Catholic seminarian and a technology contractor to investigate supernatural incidents.


This Netflix mystery thriller stars Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale as a married couple who buy their dream home in a suburban neighborhood … but soon after moving in, they find themselves stalked by someone who signs letters to them as “The Watcher.” Spooky events follow, such as empty rooms that play music and doorbells that ring with nobody there.

17. CASTLEVANIA (2017-2021)

This adult animated action series was based on the Japanese video game of the same name. It centers around a vampire named Vlad Dracula Tepes, whose wife is buried at the stake after a false accusation of witchcraft. Vlad summons demons to kill the people of the town where it happened, but a monster-hunting savior, aided by a team of helpers, takes the vampire on.

18. BATES MOTEL (2013-2017)

This psychological horror drama series was meant to serve as a prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho. It explores the twisted relationship between creepy Norman Bates and his even creepier mother, but takes place in a modern-day setting. The show won three People’s Choice Awards, for Favorite Cable TV Drama and Favorite Cable TV Actress (Vera Farmiga) and Actor (Freddie Highmore).

19. THE STRAIN (2014-2017)

In this eerie series, the head of CDC’s fictional Canary Project, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, has been tasked with investigating an airplane that lands in New York City with all passengers dead. He and his fellow scientists discover an ancient strain of vampirism in a viral outbreak, which begins to spread. War is soon waged to save humanity!


This recently premiered Apple TV® horror fantasy is based on the novel of the same name. It presents the story of a man in search of his missing wife and abducted son in an alternate New York City. The answers he seeks force him to enter a magical world where mysteries await.


Check out the 20 scariest movies since the year 2000.

How Yamaha SILENT Brass™ Works

Takayasu Ebihara, head of product planning for SILENT Brass™ at Yamaha Corporation of Japan, began playing the French horn in his first year of junior high school. He has a vivid memory that informed his career choice. “Over the summer break, I brought home my instrument so that I could clean it,” he recalls. “My mother wanted to hear me play, so I thought I’d give it a go — but after only a minute of me playing, a neighbor called to complain.”

From time immemorial, all over the world, brass players have faced the same dilemma: How to practice without disturbing the neighbors?

With the introduction of the first SILENT Brass system in 1995, Yamaha provided the perfect solution. And with the recent introduction of the third-generation SILENT Brass system, things have gotten even better.

Ready to learn more? Read on …


Before the introduction of SILENT Brass, the only practical option a player had for quiet (though not silent) practice was to use a mute. These devices are designed to be placed directly inside the bell of the instrument and are commonly made of cardboard, aluminum or wood, with cork or spring clips employed to hold them in place.

A collection of metal mutes for horn instruments.
A variety of brass mutes.

The benefit of using a practice mute is that it greatly reduces the sound of the instrument, but there are two major drawbacks. First, it drastically changes the tonality of the instrument, giving it a tinny sound. Even more significantly, using a mute makes it harder to play the instrument and control pitch, so many players find it tiring and difficult to use. “They’re generally considered a necessary evil,” says Jonathan Goldman, Senior Product Marketing Specialist, Winds and Strings at Yamaha Corporation of America. “The problem is that you have no way to really hear yourself. You’re kind of playing on feel, so you tend to overblow and push too hard so that you can hear something resembling pitch and articulation. After a short amount of time — 20-30 minutes tops — you’ve got to put the mute away. You have to stop playing because it can really mess with how you perceive pitch and how you perceive your sound.”

Enter Yamaha SILENT Brass

Array of elements for sound.

The Yamaha SILENT Brass system not only turns the sound of a muted instrument into that of an unmuted instrument, it restores playability. Here’s how it works.

The system consists of a special practice mute fitted with a pickup microphone (appropriately enough termed a Pickup Mute™), which is connected to a small electronic Personal Studio™ unit that clips onto the player’s belt. That little box incorporates Yamaha-exclusive Brass Resonance Modeling technology that works in much the same way as noise-cancelling headphones, removing the tinny muted tonality and replacing it with the natural acoustic tone you hear when playing without a mute, making it sound as though you are playing mute-free. (More about this below.) The Personal Studio unit can also be connected to a computer or smart device via a supplied USB cable, making it easy to record performances or take part in online lessons at home. Just plug in the included headphones and anyone can practice to their heart’s content whenever they want.

The SILENT Brass system.

SILENT Brass systems are available for trumpet, cornet, Flugelhorn, trombone, French horn, euphonium and tuba. Each comes with a mute specially designed to recreate the feel and response of that particular instrument. The euphonium and tuba mutes, for example, have an adjustable plunger rod that allows use with a wide range of bell and instrument sizes. When a mute is connected to the Personal Studio box, the system automatically senses which one is being used and triggers the appropriate sound when the pickup mic detects that the instrument is being played.

Trumpet Cornet Mute 1k
SILENT Brass trumpet/cornet mute.
Flugelhorn Mute Resize
SILENT Brass Flugelhorn mute.
Inserts for muting horn.
SILENT Brass trombone mute.
Muting insert for horn.
SILENT Brass French horn mute.
Euphonium Mute Resize
SILENT Brass euphonium mute.
Tuba Mute 1k
SILENT Brass tuba mute.


Today’s third-generation SILENT Brass system offers numerous improvements in terms of both playability and sonics.

In addition to being much more comfortable to blow through, the latest generation SILENT Brass Pickup Mutes are also significantly smaller and lighter than the original ones. “The heavier the mute is, the harder it is for the player to keep the bell up,” says Ebihara. “This is why we did our best to make the mute as lightweight as we could. It is also more compact than previous ones, so players can store their instruments in their cases with the mute still attached.” These new mutes are also designed to attach and remove smoothly and easily, and they can be used independently of the Personal Studio.

“Throughout the development stage, we emphasized that the system needed to have a very lightweight, very portable, extremely free-blowing and quiet practice mute,” says Goldman. “We thought that if we started at the root with a really good-playing practice mute that felt like there wasn’t something in the bell all the time, that would give us the best chance of success. The new mutes are super lightweight — a small fraction of the weight of the original version, which you couldn’t leave in the bell while you were traveling or while it was in the case. They also fit perfectly, almost perfectly flush with the outside of the bell.”

The size of the Personal Studio has been reduced as well, enhancing portability, but the biggest change came in the form of the Brass Resonance Modeling technology incorporated within. “We have always placed value on reproducing the natural sound of instruments,” says Ebihara, “but our digital processing technology has made significant progress since our first model. Our new Brass Resonance Modeling technology effectively cancels out the acoustic characteristics of the mute, allowing the instrument’s natural sound quality to shine through.”

The updated electronics in the new Personal Studio box also help combat the need to overblow in order to hear and feel what you sound like. “The faithfulness of the articulation and your sound is so good that you can spend more time practicing,” explains Goldman. “Your musculature can do what it’s supposed to do in a much more natural way.”

In addition to onboard reverb and individual mic and output gain controls, the new Personal Studio box also provides an aux input so you can play along with songs from your music library. Another new addition is a USB output that allows you to participate in online lessons and directly record your playing as an audio track in a DAW (digital audio workstation) such as Steinberg Cubase. The USB output also enables the SILENT Brass system to integrate with the free Yamaha Rec’n’Share app, allowing you to record your performances — complete with video — on your iOS or Android™ device for sharing with family and friends via social media.

Also new to the Personal Studio are two sound modes: “Player” and “Audience.” Player mode is optimized for practice. When selected, the following processes occur:

  1. Sound picked up by the microphone at the end of the pickup mute is processed digitally to cancel out the characteristic “closed” sound of the mute.
  2. The natural sound that emanates from the bell when the instrument is played without a mute is reproduced and added.
  3. The timing, volume and tone of the sound reaching the player’s left and right ears are individually adjusted, and reverb is added as needed to accurately simulate the feel of performing in a room or hall from the player’s perspective.

In Audience mode, the listener hears the sound of the instrument as if it was being played in front of them, making this mode ideal for recording or online lessons. Here, the following processes occur:

  1. Sound detected by the microphone at the end of the pickup mute is digitally processed to cancel out the sound of the muted instrument.
  2. The natural sound that is produced by the unmuted bell is recreated for the player to hear, emulating the sound an audience hears when an instrument is played on stage.
  3. The sound reaching the listener’s left and right ears are adjusted for timing, volume and tone, with reverb added as needed to accurately simulate the sound of the audience experience.

“The designers were so thoughtful in the way they sampled acoustic instruments,” enthuses Goldman. “They did recordings of the player playing their instrument both with and without the mute, with microphones placed both directly behind the player’s head and in a 360-degree pattern from all different directions. They had microphones hearing what the player is hearing as well as microphones hearing what the audience was hearing.” When used to replace the muted sound, the end result is a drastic reduction of the harshness that comes from the pickup microphone that is sitting inside a plastic environment.

To Goldman, the recording process was one of the keys to Brass Resonance Modeling technology. “I’m a trombone player,” he explains, “so I am used to hearing the instrument on the left side of my head; I hear much more of my sound on the left than I do on the right because there’s nothing there. But if I play French horn, the sound is coming from a lower position on my right, down near my hip. When I plug a SILENT Brass mute into the Personal Studio box, it senses which one is plugged in. In Player mode, the system balances the sound in the stereo field appropriately — to the left and a bit forward if I’m using a trombone mute, lower and to the right if I’m using a French horn mute, just like it is from the player’s perspective. It’s important when you’re practicing to be able to hear the instrument where you naturally hear it. But when you change to Audience mode, the system creates a balanced left-right stereo sound field and adds the sound coming from the front of the bell, recreating what the audience hears. In either mode, when you attack a note, the representation you hear in the headphones is very real.”


Japan is one of the most densely populated nations in the world, dotted with tiny, closely-adjacent apartments and thin separating walls that are sometimes literally made out of paper. It was logical, therefore, that Yamaha — the world’s largest music manufacturer — would be the birthplace of repeated innovations in practice technology, going back many decades.

“In very congested Japan, where they love the arts and they love piano, the number of children practicing piano in densely packed neighborhoods during the day was getting to be problematic; people were complaining a lot,” explains Goldman. Accordingly, the first SILENT product from Yamaha was the SILENT Piano™, introduced in 1993. This groundbreaking instrument, which is still in production today, utilizes a mechanism that lowers a bar inside the piano which prevents the hammers from hitting the strings. Even when employed, the action feels exactly the same — the only difference is that there is no sound of hammers hitting the strings. Instead, when you put headphones on, you hear the digitized sound of a real concert grand piano — a sound that matches the expectations of your ears and enables quiet, private enjoyment of your instrument … complete with something that an acoustic piano cannot offer: a volume control.

Other SILENT products followed, including the first-generation SILENT Brass system that debuted just two years later, along with SILENT Session Drums™ (1996), SILENT Violin™ (1996), SILENT Cello™ (1998), SILENT Bass™ (2000), SILENT Guitar™ (2001) and SILENT Viola™ (2002). With a user experience that makes players forget that their instrument is muted, Yamaha SILENT Brass technology provides musicians with the capability of playing comfortably anytime, anywhere, without bothering the people around them. It is an extraordinary solution that was borne of the company’s goal of placing equal weight on the musician’s own enjoyment and consideration for others.

Check out the videos:


Explore Yamaha SILENT Brass instruments.

Learn more about the design of the Yamaha SILENT Brass system.

How to Add Versatility to Your Front Ensemble

Marching bands and drum corps are known for their ability to create immersive musical experiences with a vast array of nuanced sounds. One of the key tools that empowers this sonic versatility is the field frame used to house mallet percussion instruments. In this article, we’ll explore how Yamaha’s redesigned field frame system offers a wealth of opportunities for educators and their percussion ensembles.

Versatile Mounting Solutions

The Multi-Frame™ II offers a robust, reinforced frame that unlocks a realm of creative possibilities for percussion ensembles. Whether you’re in need of a mark tree for a delicate transition or an electronic percussion pad to trigger samples, this frame is the answer. Educators, who are looking to add unique textures to their ensemble’s repertoire, rely on the Multi-Frame II and the versatile RDC-10 Percussion Clamp to mount virtually anything to marimbas, vibraphones, xylophones or glockenspiels.

closeup of cymbal and snare drum attached to Multi-Frame II

Cymbals: The Multi-Frame II is most commonly used in conjunction with a short-boom or medium-boom arm cymbal holders. Most percussionists mount a suspended cymbal on the frame, but some opt for various effect cymbals, such as a splash cymbal (which can be used for splits among players), or a a pair of closed hi-hat cymbals. Regardless, the versatility from the Multi-Frame II and the cymbal holders enables you to create dynamic and impactful transitions and accents within your ensemble. Helpful Hint: To mount a crotale mounting bar, use the base tube of a cymbal holder.

Microphones: When it comes to enriching your percussion section’s sound and seamlessly integrating it with the rest of the ensemble, you may need to amplify your instruments. Programs operating on a strict budget often use bungee cords to attach a microphone to the keyboard’s rail assembly. While this method is effective, it may not be the most secure solution, and it lacks visual appeal.

An alternative approach is to utilize the instrument’s stay that runs beneath and across its length or one of the supports on either side. Here, you can securely clamp a microphone boom arm equipped with a shock mount. This setup allows for precise microphone positioning beneath the instrument, while also minimizing the risk of picking up frame noise that could otherwise be transmitted through the microphone.

In regions where external noise interference is a concern, a windscreen can further enhance sound quality by mitigating unwanted signal. This comprehensive approach ensures that your mallet percussion instruments are amplified with precision and without compromising the ensemble’s overall sound quality.

figure 1 of mounting the DTX percussion pad
figure 2 of mounting the DTX percussion pad

Electronic Percussion Pad: When you need a member to trigger samples in your ensemble, but your keyboardists are already covering another part of the composition, Yamaha has a solution. Import your desired sample and assign it to a pad on the DTX-MULTI12 Electronic Percussion Pad. This way, a mallet percussionist can play the sample, adding a unique layer to your performance. See figures 1 and 2 above on how to mount the DTX. Be sure to plan for cable routing to amplify the sample through your PA System.

This innovative approach allows you to achieve a range of sounds, including drum set (kit 009), timpani (kit 040), chimes/tubular bells (kit 041), and more. With the MAT1 Module Attachment and CL-945(L)B Tom Ball Clamp, you can securely mount your electronic percussion pad and avoid equipment damage.

closeup of concert tom attached to Multi-Frame II

Concert Drums: Educators can maximize the acoustic potential of their front ensemble with a range of concert drums. Mounting concert snare drums or concert toms has never been easier, and it can be done within seconds. This versatility allows for a powerful, horizontally and vertically aligned wall of sound, ideal for various musical expressions, from aggressive to delicate.

Pair the CL-945(L)B with the Yamaha 8000 series or 9000 Series Concert Toms for exceptional attack, brilliant tone and a wide tuning range. If you need additional low-end impact, consider impact drums, which may be challenging to mount on a field frame, but they can be transported separately. For a mountable solution, search for a standalone kick drum fitted with a tom mounting bracket and use the outer pipe assembly of a cymbal holder.

For a concert snare drum, all you need is your drum of choice and a snare drum stand. Remove the leg base from the stand, place the pipe assembly into your clamp, mount the drum and you’re ready to show off your well-rounded percussionists. For storage and transport of these drums, a hard case is an essential to avoid cosmetic or structural damage.

closeup of xylophone mounted on Multi-Frame II

Multi-Application Xylophone/Bells: Achieving the perfect balance of articulation and resonance is essential in modern front ensemble orchestration. Educators can mount a marching xylophone or bells with two clamps and an adapter. This approach is ideal for ensembles with limited resources or space, allowing you to create a well-rounded ensemble sound even with a smaller group.


  • Adjust the adapter’s placement to find the optimal playing position.
  • Exercise caution when mounting and transporting these instruments.
  • Store them in their respective cases during transit. Mounting them while the Multi-Frame II instrument is in transit is not recommended.

Trap Table: For percussion instruments without mounts or when you need a convenient way to store mallets for quick changes, a trap table might come in handy. If the trap table includes a standard pipe mount, it should fit right into your RDC-10 Clamp. This addition has the potential to streamline your performances and enhance the efficiency of your percussion ensemble.

Auxiliary Percussion: To make use of any extra cymbal holders or percussion mounts, consider mounting a range of auxiliary percussion instruments with standard 3/8″ mounts. Diversity in your percussion ensemble’s soundscape is crucial because different musical styles call for different instruments. Whether it’s cowbells for Latin beats, woodblocks for contemporary compositions, castanets for a Spanish flair or tambourines for folk music, this system adapts to the demands of various genres.

To safeguard your percussive arsenal during transport, consider investing in hard cases or soft bags designed for auxiliary percussion instruments. These protective solutions ensure that your instruments arrive unscathed and ready to contribute their unique voices to your ensemble’s performances.

Multi-Frame II with different percussion instruments mounted on frame

Get Creative

Don’t hesitate to think outside the box and experiment with unconventional additions. Drum corps are known for using metal objects like anvils, brake drums or cylinder tanks as instruments. Sometimes, the most distinctive sounds come from the most unexpected sources.

If a particular item creates the precise sound your composition needs, it deserves a place in your ensemble. If traditional mounts don’t work, consider a custom solution by involving a skilled parent volunteer. Embracing innovation in this regard can lead to remarkable musical results. By exploring the myriad of mounting options and possibilities that the Multi-Frame II offers, you can take your percussion ensemble to new heights of creativity and musical expression.

Refueling for the Educator’s Soul

In September 2023, I posted the article “20 Ways to Set the Tempo for a Great School Year” that quickly resonated with many of you. The response was overwhelming, to say the least. Colleagues and strangers alike reached out to thank me for writing that article. I’m grateful for every single message, but as the notes of appreciation poured in, I had a lingering question: “What happens when the going gets tough? How long will a list of tips actually last?”

Full disclosure: I wrote that initial list as much for myself as for other educators. It’s easy to make a list of ideals when you’re feeling … ideal! However, what do you do when even the best-laid plans hit a sour note? I thought to myself, it’s time for some reminders and recharging.

So, on those days when the morning coffee tastes like someone added some valve oil, or when the once-eager faces in the classroom seem like an audience awaiting a show you’re not prepared for, here’s a follow-up.

thank you card

1. The Power of Appreciation

Never underestimate the impact of a simple “thank you.” Be it a word of appreciation from a student, a gesture from a colleague or a nod from an administrator — it’s a validation of your efforts. And don’t forget to thank yourself. Self-gratitude is a replenishing reservoir.
Try this: Send one handwritten thank-you note to someone who has helped you out after you read this article. Keep it short and simple. Mail it out or put it on your colleague’s desk. Don’t expect anything back — you’re just saying thank you because you believe in showing appreciation.

2. The Joy of Small Wins

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your favorite concert piece was written one note at a time. Sometimes all it takes is one student to finally master that complicated rhythm or nail that elusive high note to remind us why we love our jobs. Small victories accumulate into big triumphs. There will be highs and lows, but a trumpet player who finally presses finger one down for Bb the first time is just as big a deal as a pristine performance. One win leads to others. Consider keeping a small journal or even a section of the whiteboard where kids can write their small victories. In one week, you’ll see a considerable amount of progress that you may have missed or trivialized.

winds section during rehearsal

Sometimes it feels like there are no wins, and that’s OK because one day does not define us. On our worst days, we need to focus on at least one thing that has gone right, or we can try to find the humor in the absurdity of the situation.

Recently, I had a day where nothing went right. The students were challenging, some surprises came up with the schedule, the car started making noise, dinner was burned, etc. I went to the grocery store that night. The cart system requires a quarter to release the cart, and when you place the cart back in the corral, you get your quarter back. I was thinking about how the day couldn’t get any worse as I put the cart back … and there was no quarter. I found the situation to be a little funny. Then a guy went up to get a cart and said, “Hey — free quarter!” I absolutely lost it and just laughed all the way to my car. I shared this with my students, and all of them were able to relate with their own quarter-eating story.

3. Less Is More

In our zeal to cover every piece, technique and theory, we often forget that sometimes less is more. It’s better to have students deeply understand fewer things than superficially cover many concepts. This type of understanding often leads to a greater appreciation and application of knowledge.

Step back — do you really need to run every piece today and make the same progress as yesterday? Sometimes narrowing our focus on one specific item can make a world of difference in our progress and stress level. It is OK to spend 10 or 20 minutes or even an entire class period on a measure or two, to tune a note or get the perfect diction down for one word. I’m lucky enough to have the Chicago Symphony Orchestra an hour away from my school. I tell my kids that what sets those musicians apart from everyone else is that a lot of us would pay money to hear one of them play even one note. Taking time to master one small item can help our kids understand what it is to push yourself and strive for the next level.

letter tiles that spell out "Pause, Breath, Resume"

4. Don’t Fear the Reset Button

If something’s not working, don’t be afraid to hit reset. Whether it’s a teaching method, a lesson plan or even a classroom layout — it’s never too late to change up things. A fresh start is often the quickest way to regain your momentum. And it doesn’t have to be permanent. “Strings, everyone sit by someone else today. We’re going to focus on listening to parts we aren’t normally seated near.” Then go back to your regular seating the next day.

This can apply to your personal life as well. Recently, I started reading a book. I was about three hours into a book that would require five more hours of reading. It was a slog; I wasn’t getting much from it and started to dread my reading time, which is something I normally enjoy. So, I stopped and picked up another book and devoured it in two sittings.

5. Your Well-Being Matters, Too

We often pour so much into our students that we forget about ourselves. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Exercise, meditate, read or simply take a break when you need to recharge. I got busy and started going down the fast-food route again. A simple course correction of adding in some meal planning on Sunday saved me quite a bit of stress. If you don’t take your lunch break at school, consider starting small: Once a week during your lunch time, take a walk, visit another area of the school or even try something extravagant like eating your lunch in peace. We often think we need hours and hours of rest to recharge, but oftentimes, a five- to 10-minute break can be time enough to recharge.

two students hold hands up in class

6. Keep the Big Picture in Mind

Drown out the minor irritants and daily drudgeries by focusing on the larger mission. You are a mentor, a guide and a cornerstone in the development of the next generation. That’s no small feat! This can be easier said than done, so here are a few tips:

You can still check email but try to tackle one of your big projects first, such as score study, lesson planning or even something fun for your program. Then, in the remaining moments before your next commitment, complete other people’s requests like emails. Apply Parkinson’s law, which states that work will expand to fill the allotted time. If you spend 30 minutes on email, see what happens when you restrict your email response time to just 10 minutes. You may be surprised by your work output and energy level.

7. The Classroom Is a Stage, But It’s OK to Drop the Act

By this point, you have been “on” for quite some time. Sometimes, Super Teacher’s civilian clothes show under their superhero costume and mask. Authenticity goes a long way. While it’s necessary to maintain professionalism, it’s also OK to be human. Show your vulnerabilities and share your stories — they allow students to connect with you on a deeper level.

8. Every Question Is a Good Question

This classic piece of advice is easy to forget. Encourage questions — they can be about course material or life in general. A curious student is a sign of an engaged mind, and that’s what we want, right?

The only exception is: “Are we playing today?” The answer is and always will be: “Yes, we play every day, have played every day and will continue to play every day.”

two women talking while sitting at a table

9. Network and Share

Isolation can be a teacher’s worst enemy. For those of us who teach fine arts or other electives, we may even be secluded to another part of the building, away from the majority of teachers. Go talk to someone — anyone — in your building. Say hi and catch up. Go be a time burglar for a bit! Share your experiences and challenges with colleagues and listen to theirs. You’ll be amazed at how many new perspectives and solutions you’ll find when you open up. (Note to self: When you actually see another adult who stumbles into your wing, don’t open with, “Look! Another adult! PLEASE TALK TO ME!” (This comes across as slightly desperate.)

10. Find the Humor

Laughter is an underused tool in education. A classroom where laughter is frequent is one where learning is a joy, not a chore. Humor can be a fantastic icebreaker and a great way to make material more accessible. Plus, we all want to be a part of something that is fun and joyful. When a section in my group starts laughing, the rest of us wonder what we’re missing out on.

man laughing with head thrown back

It’s fine to bring up a goofy thought, but don’t let it derail your class. We started a food fundraiser recently, and all the items looked absolutely delicious. My favorites were any products that had sugar in them. I thought, “What if a company tried to sell flavor combos that just didn’t work?” So, I said it out loud. My band is now looking at starting an LLC to sell cookies in five exciting flavors, including “Toothpaste and Orange Juice,” “Sedimentary Coffee Grounds at the Bottom of Your Cup Because You Made It at Home to Save Money” and “Middle School Gymatorium” (essence of ketchup, sweat and regret). It was silly and had nothing to do with music, but we had a great rehearsal after that.


Teaching is a long road, and like any journey, it has its ups and downs. Never forget that you have the best co-pilots a person could ask for: your students. Keep these gentle reminders in your back pocket, adapt them to your style and keep forging ahead. Even during tough times, remember that you make a difference. Continue to lead with purpose and integrity.

Why You Need to Be a Good Conductor

If you are responsible for one or more large ensembles, conducting is one of the most important parts of your job. Your performance as a conductor is a window into your skills as a teacher. That’s why it is vital to be a good conductor for your students. By “good,” I don’t mean you passed Conducting 101 in your undergrad music education program. “Good” means that you can show the intent of the sound in your head through your gestures (explaining it in words doesn’t count!).

I have seen many conductors who are blessed with incredible rehearsal techniques and a musical ear, but their conducting was basically the pattern with an occasional dynamic. This isn’t good enough.

Here are the five reasons why you must be a good conductor for your students.

1. At Least You Did Something

conductor in front of band

You may have heard that the role of the conductor is to look like the music. The greatest conductors who you probably love to watch all look like the music personified. There is some truth in that statement, but that idea should be approached cautiously.

If you are of the mindset that you need to look like the music, that may get in the way of what your ensemble needs. If you have choreographed every move of each piece you conduct, you may look like the music you listened to, but do you look like the sound that your ensemble is creating? You need to look like the music in a way that will help your group sound the way you want them to.

I was lucky to participate in a conducting masterclass in Sicily where I conducted the first movement of Holst’s Second Suite in F. I had come up with a vision of what I thought the movement should sound like and was ready to take my shot at conducting. I started, listened, and showed the group articulation, the shape of the line, dynamics, etc.

When I was done, the maestro said, “I don’t know what you were trying to do, but at least you did something.” Ouch — I’ll try to take that as a compliment!

I encourage you to try something that can help your ensemble. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but at least you did something. And you can do something else next time.

2. Made for All Ages

No matter what grade level you teach, from elementary to college, being a good conductor is important for your students. As students get older they understand and respond more to nuances in your conducting, but don’t count out the younger students. Elementary students listen and engage in music in various ways such as drawing and dancing to music the way they hear it. By the time students start playing instruments, they can understand the gestures you show because they can connect the idea of motion to music.

You might think, “But my group can’t play in time unless I’m mirroring with both my hands the whole time.” I feel like that sometimes, too (this is where not conducting can be extremely effective, but that’s a topic for another time). Sure, depending on the age and ability level of the students, you may feel like you need to focus on some things more than others — in this case, time. However, there are other aspects of the music that students can respond to as well. Who knows, maybe if they start to include other musical aspects into their playing, it may fix other issues.

When I work with middle schoolers, I do not change my conducting but rather my focus because their needs are different. Like I said before, students are capable of understanding. They get bored seeing the same thing the whole time. Just think of how many TikToks they watch in five minutes. Their attention spans can be very short.

If you are conducting big all the time, that is all they will see and all you will hear. When they see it all the time, they will stop paying attention, which might be shocking because kids pay attention all the time, right? However, if you do something different, they will notice and will watch, analyze and respond. They can do it. And you can let go of all the control.

winds section rehearsal

3. Engaging Rehearsals

Being a good and effective conductor will keep your rehearsals fast-paced and engaging. How many times have you played in a group where the conductor started telling you what to fix even before the third trumpets realized everyone had stopped? I’m guilty of doing this when I’m in a rush.

Imagine how much time you could save if you showed your students something instead of telling them. If you are so focused on sounding like the music that you have to stop and explain to your group what you are doing ­— “When I do this, you should sound like that” — that defeats the purpose of being a conductor, it eats up rehearsal time, and you run the risk of fixating on your choreography instead of the music. I, for one, think I am a better musician than dancer!

4. Inspire


Part of being a good conductor includes score study. Through score study, you begin to understand the ins and outs of the composer’s intent and develop an image of the piece and the gestures that will help you communicate the music. If you simply conduct a four pattern and do nothing else, you are doing a disservice to the music and all the work that you put in to understand the piece.

One time, my band was working on a piece, and the students seemed disengaged; they were phoning it in. They weren’t playing the piece — which should have been very easy for them — at the level that I expected from them. As a result, I changed my conducting. Not to be more musical but to be less, and they sounded even worse (how was that possible?).

I then said to them, “If you don’t care about the music and how you sound, why should I care about the music and how I look?” This could very easily have gone the other way.
If you don’t care about the music and showing it, why should they care about playing it musically? If you are simply conducting the beat pattern of the music, they will play the musical equivalent of that, and you will be disappointed.

What your ensemble needs may vary from week to week, day to day or even moment to moment, and you must meet those needs. In my article about unconventional rehearsal techniques, you can — and should — focus on the music immediately. Do not wait for students to play perfectly in time before you begin working on and showing the musical nuances.

strings rehearsal

5. Make Them Want to Play for You

How many times have you yelled “Watch!!!” in the middle of a piece? Hopefully, they weren’t during a concert. And how many times did that fix anything? If it was more than zero, I’m impressed.

In general, students want to do well for their teachers. I truly believe that. Do they always follow through on that? Of course not — they’re just kids!

Although their desire to do well is natural, don’t give them a reason not to try. Remember, you are also performing with them, and every time your group plays, it is a performance. One of the greatest compliments I received from a dear friend of mine was: “You always give so much energy and emotion into your conducting in rehearsals, and just when I don’t think you can give any more, you somehow give more during the performance.”

Your students deserve your all. When you do this, many things will happen — students will respond, you will create a stronger connection, and they will give it their all. All this needs to happen just once for students to want to play for you forever.

Yamaha Master Educator Emily Threinen conducting

How You Can Get Better at Conducting

There are many ways to improve your conducting. It all depends on what you want to improve. The cheapest way is to record your rehearsals and performances and watch them afterward. It is uncomfortable and awkward, but necessary. Unrelated to conducting, I once viewed security footage at the school and had the speed at 2x. The assistant principal said, “Here you come down the hallway.” I was mortified! I looked as if I had never walked in my life. Why did I move like that? After all, I’ve been walking for at least a few years by now. Regardless of how you look, it is the truth. Watch the videos of yourself and then send them to trusted colleagues for feedback.

Another option is to attend conducting symposiums with some of the best conductors. It is extremely rewarding and humbling to work with people much better than you and watch them work with other conductors.

And finally, practice. Practicing conducting may feel awkward at first but it gets better— trust me. People you live with will get used to it, too. It is weird to conduct without an ensemble, but as a result you will be leading, and not following, in your rehearsal.

How to Get Started Recording Bass at Home

Thanks to technology, recording bass at home is easier than it has ever been. Here are a few tips to help you get started.


Before you even start recording, make sure your bass is ready to go:

  • If necessary, get your bass set up and intonated. This will ensure that the string height is just right and that the instrument is in tune all the way up the neck.
  • Put on a fresh set of strings and break them in so that they’ll stay in tune as you record.
  • If your bass is active, replace the battery.
  • Dial in the right bass tone for the song, with the understanding that getting the bass to sit nicely in a mix might mean having to remove some of the low end.
  • Plug in and make sure your input level isn’t too high.
Electric bass guitar.
The Yamaha BB435 is capable of many different tones.

Recording puts a magnifying glass on your technique, so warming up before a session by practicing with a metronome is also always a good idea.


Most of today’s computers have enough processing power to run DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software such as Steinberg Cubase, but make sure you have enough disk space to save your recordings, whether on your internal hard drive or any connected external hard drives. To connect your bass to your computer, however, you’ll need an audio interface; these come in all shapes and sizes. Some amplifiers, like the Yamaha THR10II desktop amp, have a built-in audio interface. The THR10II is designed primarily for use with guitar, but does a superb job with bass too.

Front and rear view of small amplifier.
The Yamaha THR10II makes it easy to record bass.

In addition, in order to ensure you’re hearing your bass accurately while recording it, you’ll want to be sure you’re listening through high-quality headphones like the Yamaha HPH-MT7 and/or monitor speakers like the Yamaha HS Series.

In both professional recording studios and onstage, the engineer will likely plug your bass into a DI (“direct injection”) box, so you should have one in your home studio too. One of the advantages of recording through a DI is avoiding audio gremlins like ground hum.

In addition to taking this direct signal from the bass, many engineers also place a microphone in front of the bass player’s amp. A well-recorded DI will capture solid tone with excellent definition, but miking your amp will give you the sound of that amp (which can be used to bolster low end, especially if it’s connected to large speakers), plus some of the “air” in the room. Both sounds are useful, and many engineers blend the two together.

Here are three audio clips (all played on a Yamaha BB435) that demonstrate this. First, a DI signal on its own:

Next, the same bassline recorded by putting a mic in front of an amp:

And finally, the sound of the two combined:


Equalization (“EQ”) and compression can be applied to your bass during recording, during mixdown, or both. The advantage of doing it during recording is that future overdubs are made to a more-or-less finished bass sound; the disadvantage is that you’re pretty much stuck with that sound if you later decide that it doesn’t fit in with the other instruments. On the other hand, if you leave EQ and compression solely to the mixdown stage, overdubs are being done to a bass sound that may not be quite polished. The decision is yours to make; experiment until you come up with the technique that works best for you.

To record an effect, you can plug into a pedal before your interface or use a software plug-in, again. As with EQ and compression, this can be done during recording, during mixdown, or both. A plug-in will be cleaner and introduce less noise than a pedal. In addition, it might have cool presets, and you can always change how much of the effect you hear. Consider recording both a clean track and an effected one so you can blend the two as desired during mixdown.


Decide whether you want to record all the way through the song or go section by section. It may be easier to record one section at a time, but playing all the way through can impart a better overall feel. When it’s time to record, back up a couple of measures so you have time to come in. Some people like to record in a “cycle” mode (your DAW may call it something different), which repeats a section over and over, allowing you to record multiple takes without stopping.


If you’re adding bass to someone else’s track, send them a few choices. Be sure to include both the complete track with your bass part and just your bass part on its own. This “soloed” bass track should be the same length as the complete song, even if your part is shorter or you only play on certain sections. Doing this makes it easy for the recipient to place the track in their DAW, hear it in context and mix it. If you export MP3 files, they may be small enough to attach to an email, but if not, use a file transfer application like Dropbox, WeTransfer or whatever service works best for the recipient.


Many players experience pre-performance anxiety when they see the red “record” light. If you’re nervous before a session, take a deep breath, acknowledge it, and remember that, unlike highly paid professional studio bassists, you’ll most likely have plenty of chances to get it right — as well as the tools to fix most mistakes in your DAW. So play with confidence!


Check out E.E.’s other postings.

Today’s Tasks that Pay off in May

Music education has always been about the long game and less about the quick wins. While instant gratification can be enticing, I’ll always choose the joy of long-term accomplishments. Here’s how you can set up your class for lifelong success.

orchestra rehearsal with two students playing silent violins

Always Address Tone

We’re always swamped during rehearsal, but if we wrap up early, it’s back to tone. Think of it as building musical athleticism. Forming an embouchure, holding a bow or singing with proper breath support is physical. The mechanics of good tone involve real muscle and airflow. No shortcuts allowed.

Treat your musicians like athletes and understand that if you want great tone at the spring concert, then you must start your physical conditioning now. Rushing this process isn’t just ineffective, it’s potentially damaging to the musicians’ physical wellbeing. So, plan accordingly, and commit to the long game of developing tone.

Try These Practical Tips

  • Play or sing for your students regularly; let them hear it straight from you.
  • Use online resources, but don’t just settle for anything. Find a credible source, such as university or professional recordings, and stick with it. I like to use either the Bravo Music’s Winds Training Series DVDs or the London Symphony Orchestra YouTube videos.
  • Work breathing exercises into your daily routine. Tone starts with air.

students smiling during band rehearsal

Insist on Intonation

We focus on intonation from the first day of class, and in many instances, we begin during the summer through extra rehearsals. Without this early commitment, my ensemble will not be able to perform in tune effectively. The process is layered — first, we work on achieving a characteristic tone, followed by addressing balance among the instruments. Only then do we dive into the specifics of tuning unison pitches.

There’s a camp of people who argue against using electronic tuners, advocating instead for “listening.” While I’m a big proponent of developing listening skills, I see the value in attaching tuners to each student’s instrument, especially during the early phases of rehearsal. My ears may not be perfect, but they’re still more trained than those of the students. Consequently, they often don’t know what good intonation sounds like until we collectively produce it and internalize that sound. It becomes a lightbulb moment when I can get just two students to play in tune, which gives them a benchmark, a goal.

By the time December rolls around, the majority of students have a tangible understanding of what “in tune” really means. Why the push to start so early? We’re back to our musical athletes. Certain muscular techniques — like tightening or relaxing the embouchure to alter pitch — require time to develop. These are not skills that can be rushed without risking poor habits or even physical strain. Therefore, an early start on intonation is crucial.

Try These Practical Tips

  • Utilize the resources at your disposal: employ tuners, drones and other tools to refine pitch.
  • Conduct a pitch inventory in pairs for targeted improvement. Designate a space like a practice room where two students can bring their instruments, a tuner and a note sheet. One student plays while the other observes the tuner and records the pitch accuracy — sharp, flat or in tune. This exercise makes students aware of their individual pitch tendencies.
  • Incorporate specialized tools like tonal harmony software or the Yamaha Harmony Director to teach intonation. Pairing these resources with instructional materials like the Bravo Music’s Winds Training Series DVDs can enhance learning.
  • Start by tuning a single pitch each day and then progress to tuning an entire chord daily. This gradual approach helps students better understand what being “out of tune” really means.
  • Use the “two tuners trick” to improve pitch perception: Set up two tuners to produce a tone simultaneously, one at 430 hz and the other at 440 hz. Gradually increase the frequency on one tuner by one hertz at a time. Have students raise their hands when they no longer hear the wavy sound produced by the conflicting pitches. This exercise is effective in teaching students to recognize out-of-tune waves.

student putting sheet music into folder on music stand

Start Sightreading Every Day

Encourage your students to sightread a new piece of music every day. I know that time is a constraint. However, the dividends of consistent, daily sightreading are invaluable.

Investing in sightreading during the fall months — October, November, December — eases the fears and anxieties your musicians might have about new music come January and February. The task becomes less daunting, and your students will eagerly take on new pieces. Plus, incorporating regular sightreading into your routine can serve as a refreshing change of pace, breaking up the potential monotony of lengthy concert preparation cycles.

Try These Practical Tips

  • Start small: Dedicate one day a week as sightreading day or focus on one new piece a week over multiple days. Aim to increase the frequency over time.
  • Utilize resources: Tap into sightreading books or methods, whether from print or digital retailers. Most books, such as Tradition of Excellence or Essential Elements, provide some sightreading or rhythm reading examples in the back. If you use MakeMusic (formerly SmartMusic) or Musicfirst, the sightreading examples they supply will work well.
  • Switch it up: Have musicians swap parts. For example, part 1 can play part 2, part 2 can play part 3 and so on. Trumpets might tackle clarinet parts (adjusting for range) and vice versa. Get creative — there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to help students improve.
rehearsal of flute section

Maintenance Matters

I drive a 2003 Toyota that has its share of minor issues, but it’s a reliable vehicle overall. While I’m no car expert, I address mechanical problems as they arise and prioritize preventive maintenance. Given that I’m driving an older model, I understand the importance of frequent oil checks and having a professional inspect various components like tires and spark plugs every so often.

In the same vein, maintaining our musical instruments — and yes, that includes voices — instills discipline and responsibility in our students. It also minimizes unpleasant surprises, like a clarinet spring breaking just moments before a performance. Take time during class to remind students to oil and grease their instruments regularly. For vocalists, emphasize the importance of vocal rest, staying hydrated and avoiding straining activities like screaming, whispering or even speaking loudly.

Try These Practical Tips

  • Keep a visible chart with a maintenance schedule for instruments so everyone knows when it’s time for a tune-up.
  • Reach out to parents or, even better, partner with an instrument repair company to send technicians for periodic check-ups, akin to doctor’s visits.
  • Incorporate a quick “health check” at the beginning of each week’s practice. Have students do a basic rundown of their instruments or vocal cords, noting any issues like sticking valves or vocal strain, so they can be addressed before they become larger problems.

woman looking at herself in a handheld mirror

Facing Fears

I don’t mean to get psychological here, but I know from conversations with colleagues that a lot of us have things that we’re either afraid of or that we simply avoid. Maybe you’re hesitant to focus on a difficult music section, reluctant to rehearse an unpopular piece or nervous about asking for more funding. Do your due diligence — know your facts and prepare accordingly. Then, get real with yourself: Make a list of what you’re avoiding. Depending on your comfort level and the stakes involved, you can either approach these issues cautiously or jump in with both feet.

I had my own set of fears — inviting clinicians (too soon, we’re not ready), isolating sections or individuals during practice (I don’t want to single anyone out, we’re too busy), and petitioning for additional funding (it’s a tight budget, they’ll likely refuse). Recognizing these fears was a game changer; ignoring them was no longer an option. Facing them head-on has improved me and my ensemble.

Try These Practical Tips

  • Carve out some time to reflect on what you tend to avoid during rehearsals. Write down your reasons for avoiding these things. Next, ask yourself if others are doing these things and succeeding. If so, question why you think you can’t. Keep in mind that we often see what we expect to see when looking at others’ situations — not the whole truth.
  • Depending on your personality, try a different approach to confronting these issues. If you’re usually hesitant, try diving right into a smaller task. If you’re the type to act quickly, maybe slow down and think it through before taking action.
  • Regularly reassess your list of fears or avoidances. Once you’ve tackled one, it’s easy to replace it with another one without even noticing. A periodic review ensures that you’re constantly evolving, both as an educator and as a musician.

Sustained Success

The beauty of long-term strategies lies in their subtle transformational power. When you incorporate these habits into your routine, they become second nature to both you and your ensemble. Using a recording device serves as a potent tool to track this evolution. When you play back recordings from October in May, your students will likely be in disbelief at how far they have come. It’s crucial to celebrate this progress by acknowledging it and reflecting on the strategic steps taken. Instant gratification might keep the engine running, but it’s the long-term investments that really fuel the journey.

A Brief History of Yamaha Headphones

For more than 45 years, Yamaha has been manufacturing headphones, bringing quality sound and the latest technology to personal listening.

Here are some of the most memorable product releases through the decades.


Over the head headphones.
HP-1 Orthodynamic headphones.

First introduced in 1976, the HP-1 represented our first entry into the headphone market. It was a product that had many unique features. Yamaha engineers had developed a manufacturing method to sandwich a very thin polyester “orthodynamic” diaphragm embedded with a thin copper conductor in-between two specially designed magnet structures. Similar in concept to the electrostatic speakers being experimented with at the time, the sound was open, full range and very musical. In addition, the skills of renowned Italian industrial designer Mario Bellini were tapped to create the look and feel of these headphones. Their open headband and fabric head strap made them extremely light and comfortable, good for hours of non-stop listening. Versions of the HP-1 (including the YH-1000, YH-100 and HP-1A) were released all the way into the mid-1980s.


An array of wired headphones.
EPH-50 wired earbuds.

The EPH Series wired earbuds released in 2010 were designed to be used with the MP3 players and iPods of the era, as well as with home stereos. There were three models: the EPH-20, EPH-30 and EPH-50, all of which featured a dynamic driver and delivered an impressive frequency range of 20 Hz to 21 kHz. Driver size and maximum Sound Pressure Level (SPL) differed from model to model, with the EPH-50 having the largest driver (.53″) and the EPH-30 delivering the highest SPL (110 dB). The EPH-30 and EPH-50 came in both black and white, while the EPH-20 was available in five different colors, including “Hot Pants” Pink.


Blue over the head headphones with Yamaha logo visible.
PRO500 wired headphones.

The wired PRO Series consumer headphones introduced in 2012 delivered high quality sound in a low-profile style. All three models — the on-ear PRO300 and over-ear PRO400 and PRO500 — incorporated a newly-developed Yamaha-proprietary driver design with neodymium magnets for maximum efficiency when used with mobile devices. In addition, they had an adjustable reinforced headband with textured padding, allowing for long listening sessions, and their detachable tangle-resistant cable was made from a material that was designed to reduce “touch noise” transfer effects. The cable included an in-line microphone optimized for use with iPod, iPhone and iPad devices, and provided a “+/-“ volume control as well as a dedicated button that allowed the user to play/pause music, skip to the next/previous song, or answer/end phone calls. All control buttons had a tactile click-response for intuitive operation without need for visual reference.


Man with cap in profile with earbud in left ear.
TW-E5B True Wireless earbuds.
Man seen in profile wearing over head headphones.
YH-E700B wireless noise-cancelling headphones.

In 2020, Yamaha headphones and earbuds transitioned from wired to wireless technology with the release of a wide range of products that currently includes these models:

  • TW-E7B True Wireless noise-cancelling earbuds
  • TW-E5B True Wireless earbuds
  • TW-ES5A True Wireless sports earbuds
  • TW-E3C True Wireless earbuds
  • YH-L700A wireless noise-cancelling headphones with 3D sound
  • YH-E700B wireless noise-cancelling headphones
  • YH-E700A wireless noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones
  • YH-E500A wireless noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones

All incorporate the very latest innovations in personal listening, such as Qualcomm® cVc (Clear Voice Capture) technology and Qualcomm TrueWireless Mirroring for stable wireless connectivity, and all deliver Yamaha True Sound that vividly depicts the texture and tonal balance of the sound of each musical instrument. Various models also provide an array of Yamaha-exclusive features, including Advanced ANC (Active Noise-Cancelling) technology that leaves your music pure and untouched; a Listening Optimizer that corrects the sound in real time, adapting to you and your environment; Ambient Sound that lets you choose when you need to be aware of your surroundings; Listening Care intelligent equalization for full-range sound at low listening volumes; and 3D Sound Field, which enables you to enjoy an immersive theater-like listening experience wherever you go.


Man wearing over the head headphones.
YH-5000SE audiophile-grade headphones.

In a great example of things coming full circle, the recently released audiophile-grade YH-5000SE headphone rekindles the Orthodynamic legacy of the HP-1 with 21st century advancements in materials and technologies. Central to the YH-5000SE is a Yamaha Orthodynamic driver with an ultra-lightweight thin-film diaphragm that faithfully recreates every nuance of musical dynamics for sonic accuracy and extremely responsive performance. Other features include a Japanese-made, rolled plain Dutch weave stainless steel filter and an arch-shaped protrusion, housed within a large yet lightweight magnesium body that has outstanding rigidity. The two-layer headband and smooth stepless slider provide maximum comfort, and two types of earpads are included (leather and suede), as well as two types of silver-coated cables and a dedicated aluminum headphone stand.

Yes, it may be difficult to predict the future of headphone design, but the legacy of these great Yamaha products has clearly made a lasting impact, with the YH-5000SE truly representing the state of the art in personal listening today.


Experience Yamaha headphones here.

15 Ways to Navigate Imposter Syndrome

Congratulations, you’re a professional! Armed with a degree, student teaching experience and a broad range of skills, you’re well-equipped for your role as a music teacher. However, when you stand before your class or speak with parents, that nagging feeling of being an imposter creeps in.

“What if people discover that I’m a fraud? I can’t even talk to parents without feeling nervous.”

You’re not alone — welcome to the self-doubt club. There’s a seat waiting for you next to my colleagues and me.

Imposter syndrome affects people in many professions, but the spotlight can be especially harsh for music teachers. You’re responsible not only for educating students but also for inspiring a love of music in them, which amplifies the pressure you might feel. Take comfort in knowing that many educators grapple with these same anxieties, even years into their career. Below, you’ll find strategies to help overcome imposter syndrome.

frustrated woman with hands on her face

1. Recognize the Syndrome for What it Is

Imposter syndrome is common. You fear being exposed as a “fraud” despite evidence of your competence. Remember, these feelings are an internal struggle about perception, not reality.

If you have self-doubt as you lead your students in their first concert, know that many skilled musicians and teachers have felt the same way. You belong here.

2. Reality Check Your Experience

When doubt creeps in about your qualifications, take a moment to reflect on the foundation of your career. Consider your credentials, hands-on experience and positive feedback you’ve received. Tangible reminders like your degree on the wall or thank-you notes from students and parents can reinforce your competence. As you set up music stands before class, remind yourself of your achievements ­— your music education degree, years mastering your instrument and successful student-teaching experiences. You’ve earned your position through hard work.

three people looking at paper and smiling

3. Team Up on High-Stakes Projects

If the mere thought of leading a big project like a concert or overnight trip fills you with dread, team up with a more experienced colleague. This collaboration not only eases the workload, but it also assures you that you’re on the right path.

Imagine you’re tasked with organizing the annual spring music festival, and it feels like an impossible task. Don’t be shy about tapping into the wisdom of a seasoned colleague or even a music teacher from another school. Working together provides the opportunity to learn valuable insight from someone with more experience. If you want to earn trust and enhance your reputation, volunteer for high-stakes projects beyond your usual role, like prom planning or travel coordination. And if any mistakes happen, well, that colleague should have known better than to entrust this to an imposter, right? Jokes aside, the real benefit lies in shared responsibility and personal growth.

4. Develop a Character

“I’m not a music teacher, but I play one on T.V.”

When self-doubt arises, employ a performance strategy. In other words, play a character to navigate through tough situations. Visualize the most confident version of yourself and channel that persona when imposter syndrome strikes. If you’re anxious about talking to parents about their student’s progress, imagine how a seasoned educator would handle the situation and emulate that character. This act of “playing the part” can boost your confidence.

For example, when I faced a challenging phone call to a parent, I initially felt like Don, the relatively inexperienced music teacher. However, in that moment, I chose to act as a different version of me — the one who is composed, confident and focused on what’s best for the student.

If assuming a different persona feels disingenuous, remember that we all adapt our behavior in the various roles of our life — work, personal life, parenting and more. And, you’re a musician. Chances are you had to play some sad music when you were happy and vice versa, but ultimately you got the job done.

mirror with self-affirming notes on Post-Its

5. Pep Talks

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!” — Stuart Smalley

Boosting your confidence through self-talk or support from others is invaluable. When facing a daunting moment like your first solo performance at a teacher’s conference, take a breather backstage or in a quiet spot. Whisper affirmations: “You’re well-prepared, and you’ve got this.” These words act as your shield against self-doubt.

Additionally, seek support from someone you trust. A quick text or call for a pep talk can make a world of difference. Hearing reassurance from someone else validates your own affirmations.

Verbalizing positive thoughts can transform your mental state, drowning out doubts. Whether it’s that solo performance, a challenging meeting or any situation that triggers imposter syndrome, a timely pep talk can be the boost you need to succeed.

6. Take the Plunge

man diving into pool

The best teacher is experience, so don’t overthink and take calculated risks. If you want to tackle a more challenging musical piece, do your research, weigh the pros and cons, then take that leap and put it in the folders for sightreading.

Regardless of the outcome, every risk enriches your professional journey. Lessons from challenges are as valuable as successes. Each challenge builds your experience, chips away at imposter syndrome and informs future decisions. So, when the opportunity arises, seize it, take that calculated risk and grow from whatever comes next.

7. Honesty is the Best Policy

Honesty builds trust, so don’t exaggerate your qualifications. If you’re unsure about something, admit it and promise to follow up with the needed information. This straightforward approach increases trust.

If a student asks about a bassoon fingering that you’re not familiar with, don’t bluff and say, “Mumble, mumble, pancake key.” Be honest and say that you don’t know but commit to researching it. Such forthrightness maintains and often enhances trust.

I once faced an unexpected question during trip planning about medication. I didn’t have an answer, but I assured the parents that I would consult the school nurse and policies, promising a response by the week’s end. It’s OK to not know everything. What matters is your commitment to finding out.

8. Seek Feedback from Trusted Colleagues or Mentors

Before important events or meetings, rehearse your presentation or discuss your plans with an experienced colleague. Seek constructive feedback and, to make the practice more authentic, ask them to pose challenging questions that you might actually face. Offer to return the favor by doing the same for them in the future. This preparation sharpens your material and boosts your confidence for when it really counts.

9. Engage Parents and Students as Partners

Seek input from parents and long-standing community members — their insights are invaluable. A collaborative atmosphere creates opportunities for diverse perspectives and fosters shared responsibility.

Imagine you’re introducing a challenging piece of music with complex rhythms or unfamiliar cultural elements to your percussion class. Instead of avoiding it, say to your class, “This is intricate, and it’s new to me, too. Let’s explore it together.”

Invite students to share how they learn tough rhythms. Transparency about not knowing everything creates a learning environment, turning vulnerabilities into opportunities for communal growth.

What about parents? Many are more than willing to offer help for odd jobs like stuffing envelopes to helping to organize travel. Yes, we’re the musical experts, but don’t shy away from asking parents what they think your program needs. You’ll be surprised at some of their insights.

woman jumping up for joy with confetti around her

10. Celebrate Your Achievements No Matter How Small

Remember that complicated rhythm you were initially hesitant to introduce to your percussion section? The one you asked students to help you master? After weeks of collective effort and learning, your students finally nailed it during rehearsal. Don’t gloss over this achievement — celebrate it! Give your students kudos, maybe even bring in a small treat the next day. (I use imaginary points based on our school mascot and tell the kids they are redeemable for nothing, and they still fight over who gets more points!) Don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back, too.

Acknowledging and celebrating these milestones, however small they may seem, not only boosts your students’ morale, it also helps you construct a more realistic and positive self-image over time. It’s a way to counteract the imposter syndrome by recognizing that, yes, you do have the skills and the right to be in your role.

11. Document Your Successes

After a challenging semester with a new curriculum or innovative teaching method, receiving applause and accolades at the final concert is rewarding. Capture these moments. Take photos, save emails and jot down compliments. Create a digital or physical “feel-good file” and add items to it regularly, including your updated resume, not for job hunting but as a self-affirmation tool.

When imposter syndrome strikes, open that folder. Revisit your accomplishments and positive feedback to ground yourself in your competencies. Acknowledging your capabilities is a powerful antidote to self-doubt. I often look at my feel-good folder; I still have thank you notes from over 15 years ago to remind me of how far I’ve come.

12. Set Realistic Expectations and Goals

Setting achievable goals is crucial, especially for music teachers stepping into successful programs. The weight of expectations, internal and external, can fuel imposter syndrome.

Imagine teaching beginners, dreaming of them mastering a complex piece by year-end. You can achieve this goal by breaking it down. Set attainable milestones like basic scales and rhythms first, then simple ensemble pieces and progress gradually. Celebrate victories at each step because they build confidence.

Reality Check: It’s natural to want to emulate successful programs or directors. Keep in mind that they didn’t achieve their status overnight. It’s easy to set our sights on the cosmos — making it to district festivals, then state, national and maybe even international competitions. But such a fast track to the stars can set you up for failure, or at the very least, unnecessary stress. Start with engaging and enjoyable concerts as a foundation. Set challenging yet realistic objectives. Don’t reinforce imposter syndrome with unrealistic expectations. Build your legacy — not someone else’s — step by step.

three women talking and laughing

13. Establish a Support Network

Feeling isolated intensifies self-doubt. Build a network of colleagues, mentors and online teacher forums for support and growth. Chances are, some go-getter has already created a Facebook group for your discipline and grade. They offer advice, fresh perspectives and a safe space for questions and insecurities.

If you know about a veteran music teacher in your district, reach out. Invite them for a coffee or virtual chat. Be open about your triumphs and challenges. Seasoned teachers often faced similar uncertainties and fears, offering both practical advice and emotional reassurance. You’re not alone.

14. Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

Mindfulness combats imposter syndrome, so be aware of negative thoughts and emotions. Show self-compassion as you would to a friend.

If you’re preparing for a high-stakes event, pause, practice deep breathing or mindfulness exercises. Catch negative self-doubt in its early stages. Ask yourself, “What advice would you give a colleague or student?” It’s likely not harsh, but it is reassuring. Extend that same courtesy to yourself.

15. Share Your Experience

Once you’ve had a successful semester or school year in dealing with imposter syndrome, offer guidance to others facing similar challenges. Whether they are student teachers, recent graduates, or new department members, share your wisdom through regular meetings. This not only benefits them but also boosts your self-confidence and skills as you share your journey and effective strategies.

crowd clapping

You Can Do It!

Battling imposter syndrome is a long-term endeavor, not a one-time fix. Whether you’re a seasoned music teacher or new to the field, it’s natural to feel self-doubt at times. The key is to break down your journey into manageable goals and celebrate your victories along the way. Keeping a “feel-good folder” can serve as a powerful antidote during moments of doubt, as can the practice of mindfulness.

So next time you find yourself questioning your right to stand in front of your music class or nervously preparing for a parent-teacher meeting, pause and remind yourself that you’ve earned your place. In those moments of doubt, remember to be both your toughest critic and your biggest supporter. You are more capable than you think, and each day offers a new opportunity to prove that — not just to others, but to yourself.

Teaching Music in High Need Schools: Building Rapport

Building rapport with students, parents, the school and the local community is one of the most important, yet often overlooked, aspects of a successful music program. If you teach at a Title I school that has a majority of students whose families live at or below the poverty line, establishing these relationships is even more critical.

Understanding Student and Community Needs

happy parent with thumbs up

Many of us are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as outlined by Saul Mcleod, and we understand why it is essential for us to know what we may need to provide to students so they can be successful in school and in our program. If our students’ physiological (food, water, clothes, etc.), safety, social and esteem needs are not adequately met each day, we must be ready to address these issues to mitigate any barriers to the learning process. As highlighted by Jessica Minahan’s article, “Trauma-Informed Teaching Strategies,” it can be difficult for a student to maximize their learning potential when they are hungry, feel they are in danger or do not have the support needed to fully express themselves.

As a teacher in Title I schools throughout my K-12 career, I can reflect back to times when I saw my students struggling to have these needs met. At first, I leaned on my educational training, which taught me that teachers have a specific role, and if we have students who need support in other ways, we must be aware of the people and available services to share with them and their families. We should not, however, wear the many hats of counselor, surrogate, life coach, etc. This kind of thinking, however, unintentionally built barriers that prevented my students from opening up to me.

Next, I tried to assess what I thought the needs of my students were and provide the resources they needed in the classroom. Students, however, would feel embarrassed or ashamed and not take advantage out of fear of judgment by me or their peers. Then, as I was taking notes at a conference session on building rapport with students, I realized I was missing a key component to my intentions. I was not connecting with my students as people — I was still viewing them as a type of “stakeholder,” and they were viewing me as just a music teacher. When I started to connect with my students on a human level, share more about myself and my background, and learn more about them and their interests, it made it so much easier to build a strong rapport with them. Alice Pendlebury’s dissertation, “Building Positive Relationships in Title I Schools,” highlights the importance of developing strong bonds with your students as a gateway to trust and success. The following passages will share in greater detail how to establish meaningful connections with students, parents, colleagues and community partners.

Build Trust with Students

Students seem to have a radar for when adults are being authentic. Whether it is smiling and greeting students at the door as they enter class or chatting with a few students on their way out of class, it is vital that we are genuine in expressing ourselves. If we come across as contrived, forced or obligatory with our actions, these practices can be perceived by our students as being “fake” or inauthentic.

teacher pointing to student in classroom

Some of the key connections that I found to be most important with my students coincide with Leslie Wooten-Blanks’ article, “Building Rapport with Students by Sharing a Piece of Yourself,” and include:

  1. Knowing how to pronounce their full name correctly.
  2. Constant encouragement and an open-door policy.
  3. Talking to students during downtime (before school, between classes, etc.) and sharing more about yourself in a casual, but still professional, way.

I made it a priority to have at least one informal conversation with each of my students before the end of the first two weeks of the school year. This helped me get to know my students, start building trust, and help them understand that I see them not just as student musicians, but as people too.

Finally, learn not only about your students’ musical interests, learn more about their lives outside of music. There are many wonderful things our students have going on in their lives that, because we only see them within the context of our class, we do not get to see fully expressed. If you ever have the chance, attend an event or a sport that some of your students may be involved in at school. It will build lots of goodwill with your students, and their parents will appreciate it as well.

Connect with Parents

teacher-parent conference
Photo by Adobe Stock/Mangostock

Getting to know parents is also very important to build a strong and sustainable music program in any setting, but it is particularly critical for success in a high-need school. Because of the economic stressors that families can face, it may be difficult for a parent or guardian to balance their family responsibilities, work schedule and involvement with the program. Before I would ask parents to fundraise, chaperone or serve on a committee, I would carve out time early in the school year to introduce myself to as many parents as possible, get to know them and share the volunteer opportunities with our program.

Next, I would invite parents to come sit in on either a class or an after-school rehearsal whenever they had any free time so they could see what it is we do in music class. I had a completely open-door policy and let parents know that they could come as often as they liked. Once parents saw how much their child was learning in music class, it was easy to reach out to them for support and assistance. Using a method of giving first and asking second made it simple for me to ask parents to step up when we needed them for fundraising, chaperoning or supervising students.

Collaborate with Colleagues, Administrators and Community Partners

The colleagues and administrators at my schools were always supportive of our programs, not because it was the norm at the school, but because I was intentional and authentic in garnering their support. One example of this can be found in how I approached them. We’re all very busy, so I would find the parts of the day when a colleague or the principal may have less on their plate and schedule a brief meeting. For some, the best time was before school, for a few it was during morning or afternoon duty, and for others it was after school. I would make it a point to learn more about what they have going on professionally and how the music program could support them. Investing in this way helped me to have a very open and approachable relationship with my colleagues, which helped us greatly when we needed extra teachers for field trips or managing crowds at concerts and other events.

Community partners were such a joy to work with. We built strong partnerships with local small businesses, as well as many restaurants and big box stores in town. Schools and districts usually have a list of their official partners in education, and I would use it to start my outreach. I would also ask parents if they were small business owners or worked for a company that would be interested in partnering with us. Once I introduced myself and gave them a little information about the program, I would offer my program’s support of their business. I would ask them to share any events or activities they have upcoming and how either I, our students or our parent volunteers could help support them. Companies are accustomed to having organizations ask for monetary gifts or free goods, but I wanted them to see that a partnership with our program would be mutually beneficial. This always led to a massive outpouring of support from our community partners. Whether it was sending our jazz band to perform at a local board meeting or bringing student and parent volunteers to our community partners’ events, our ability to show how we could support them in reaching their goals was a great benefit to the music program as well.

Strong Rapport Leads to Success

happy elementary student during percussion lesson
Photo by Adobe Stock/Mustafa

Building rapport with students offers a multitude of benefits. It fosters a positive and supportive learning environment where students feel valued, seen and understood. This connection can really boost a student’s sense of self, motivation and overall engagement in our program. Also, by establishing trust and rapport, we can gain insights into students’ unique backgrounds and needs. This allows us to tailor our instruction and provide more targeted and personalized academic support.

Strong professional relationships with parents, colleagues, administrators and community partners can provide the resources and funds necessary to help our programs thrive. When the community coalesces around a music program in this way, it often results in improved attendance rates, reduced disciplinary issues and better academic outcomes.

This series attempts to show ways that we can mitigate disparities in access and opportunity by providing a high-quality educational experience for our students who may face socio-economic challenges. Building rapport with our students, their families, the school, and the local community can go far toward developing a thriving music program.

Read Part 1 of this series on recruitment.



Expert Tips for Navigating Your First Festival

Staging your first major concert or festival is a landmark event in an early music educator’s career. It is a journey full of excitement, learning and certainly a few nerves. Being well-prepared is a must for this adventure. To aid you on this pathway, we present some tips and insights grounded in real experiences to help you keep your cool on performance day, even if the brass section left half their equipment back home, 20 miles away!

Meticulous Preparation is Required

Performance Selection: The mantra “under program and overperform” should be your guiding principle. Choose pieces that resonate well with your group’s competency rather than gravitating toward the most challenging compositions. Strive to excel in your chosen pieces, creating a performance that stands tall in its own right. If anyone who isn’t a clinician criticizes you for your program selections, either don’t engage or ask them what they would have programmed instead. Remember, we’re always learning. If a clinician suggests something, it’s worth considering … heavily.

Clinician’s Assistance: Engaging a clinician early on in your preparation is a wise strategy. Their experience can be a guiding light and will help shape a performance that resonates with professionalism and excellence. Many experienced directors who were apprehensive to have a clinician visit their school often confess that they wish they had done this sooner.

Dress Rehearsal: This is exactly what it sounds like — a rehearsal of the big day, which will help identify kinks and iron them out. It also ensures that the performance is as seamless as possible. Some groups do a dress rehearsal without uniforms, but we recommend replicating the festival experience as closely as possible. Fixing a concert uniform issue the night before is significantly less stressful than dealing with it the day of (and hours before) the performance.

THE YAMAHA EDUCATOR NEWSLETTER: Energize your creativity as you build your music program!

Attend to the Minutiae

Parent Volunteers: The assistance of parent volunteers can be a cornerstone in efficiently handling various logistics. From supervising uniformity to chaperoning buses and helping with folders, their aid can be indispensable. We have no qualms about leaning on our chaperones. There are too many things for us to remember during the day, and parent help is much appreciated.

Essential Repair Kit: An emergency repair kit complete with reeds, valve oil and small screwdrivers can be a true savior in addressing instrument mishaps promptly. We typically pack at least three reeds per instrument.

Health and Safety: Advocating for student welfare, especially during marching band events on hot days, is imperative. Guide them to prioritize their wellbeing above all.

outdoor concert performance

Multiple Directors: Some schools only have one director, who handles everything. If you work with another director, don’t be afraid to cover details and ask questions. In our time as a co-director or assistant, we would rather annoy our colleagues with too many questions than frustrate them with emergencies on the day of the event.

Remember, it’s just music! If there is an option to register for comments only, or exhibition performance in marching band, consider taking it. This will alleviate quite a bit of stress for you, and the educational process will still hold firm.

Transportation Rules

Bus Delays: This is completely out of your control, so just roll with it. This may be your first time at a major event, but trust in the experience of the festival organizers to manage such issues with care. We have never had festival organizers say, “Sorry, you can’t perform because your buses were late.”
Also, don’t blame the drivers. We are experiencing bus driver shortages everywhere and added stress does not help anyone.
Permission slips: Have copies of these with you. If they have parent contact information, make sure they are in alphabetical order, and don’t forget to shred them at the school afterward.

Same Seats Both Ways: Some directors like to be nice and let kids change buses or sit anywhere they want. We have found that this just makes things more difficult for attendance. We stand firm on the same-seats, same-bus method for getting to and from the event. Our flexibility is that once attendance is taken for the return trip, the kids can change seats on the same bus, but only before the bus starts moving.

D-Day Strategies


Eat and Drink: We’re talking to you, directors. We often hit the ground running as soon as we arrive at school and don’t take a break until we get home 12 hours later. You can’t do this on festival day. Pack some healthy food options and set an alarm to eat and drink (just make sure that your alarm doesn’t go off during the performance!).

Sheet Music: The first order of business is to ensure the availability and organization of sheet music. Rely on original, numbered scores, and steer clear of photocopies. Always have a spare set to circumvent unforeseen circumstances. Many of us have attended performances and have forgotten the sheet music. It was stressful at the time, but we’re still here! In some cases, we borrowed a set from the school, and in other extreme cases, we simply had to skip the pieces that we did not have on hand.

Communication: Make sure to have the phone number of at least one administrator in your phone. We have had to use these contacts quite a bit, especially during trips right after we returned from remote learning.

Stage Setup: Give time for kids to adjust to being on stage. Some directors feel like they have to rush, which results in kids playing with music stands that are at an incorrect height, or they are seated incorrectly. It may feel like an eternity but take a few seconds to ensure that everyone is comfortable and seated in positions where they are normally seated.

Weather: If the event is an outdoor performance, monitor the weather and use your best judgment. If your group has to wait to enter the parade because your kids look like they need water, then your priority goes to the students’ wellbeing.

Footwear: You are going to be walking a lot. We learned the hard way that our concert shoes, whether they are winged-tip dress shoes or heels, are not good choices for schlepping equipment back and forth and running between warm-up and performance areas. Pack a set of comfortable shoes to ensure ease of movement and comfort during the hustle and bustle of the day.

Stress + Stress = More Stress

Kids will forget things or mishaps will occur. These things are unavoidable. Do not react with frustration and stress. Look at these situations as opportunities to solve a problem together. If you are stressed, it’s OK to tell a student, “I need a minute.” This can save face and allow you to return to the student calmly, so you can both find a replacement trombone slide.

conductor and concert orchestra

Concert Etiquette: Prep your students on being a good audience — they should be excited to listen to other groups! However, we suggest that if your group is new to major performances or festivals, avoid listening to other groups before their own performance. Other groups can certainly be inspiring, but your students can become intimidated by other ensembles, which will affect their performance. Try to schedule time to listen afterward, if possible.

Percussion Specifics

Percussion has its own set of rules and intricacies. Ensure that you have all percussion items accounted for and that specific students are responsible for these items. On the day of the event, particularly with younger bands, have students open their cases and show you the instruments they are responsible for.

The Ready Sign: Before we begin a piece, every percussionist must acknowledge us before we start. The easiest way is a thumbs up.

Pedal to the Metal: Check the timpani ahead of time. More than a few times, our kids have had to adjust to a pedal system that they weren’t used to.

Bringing it Home

Being Present: Make sure to at least enjoy a few moments on stage with your students. I often tell my kids that many people in this world never get the chance to share their hard work with others and receive applause. Your first festival will be over in a flash, but if you can be in the moment for at least a minute or two, you will reap the benefits.

Acknowledgments: Say thank you to everyone involved: parents, bus drivers, colleagues and especially the students. This can help create a nurturing and appreciative atmosphere that everyone will want to continue participating in. We have had many parents experience some crazy festival days, but they continue to come back because they feel appreciated.

The Perfect Bow: We also must remember to say thank you to our audience. Remember to bow and acknowledge those who came out to listen to your group. How long should you bow? Here’s what we tell our students: As long as it takes to say “peanut butter and jelly sandwiches” in your head.

outdoor concert performance

Pre- and Post-Performance Analyses: Encourage students to reflect on their performance, which fosters a culture of continuous learning and growth. Sharing constructive feedback and celebrating the success can be a great learning experience. Some kids will state how much they enjoyed the performances, while other kids will complain that the pizza wasn’t good. It’s all part of the process.

Other Believe-it-Not Tips for Success

Here are a few other tips to ensure success. Or, at the very least, avoid some embarrassment. If this advice sounds oddly specific, it’s because we’ve been there. Trust us!

  • Have good relationships with other directors. Help whenever asked. You never know when you might need to borrow a concert snare 10 minutes before your performance. (Thanks, Mark!)
  • Let chaperones know that the buses should not leave without the director! If you go inside to get “one more thing,” make sure you have the head chaperone’s number so you can get the buses to turn back around to get you! Or, you may give up after 20 minutes and drive yourself to the event, which steals invaluable bonding time with your students or time for last-minute planning with your fellow directors.
Don Stinson
Author Don Stinson is the Band Director at Joliet Central High School in Illinois.
  • Check your concert programs, then check them again. Have the kids sign off on their names, and then check them again. Don’t be surprised when you have to apologize to the parents for leaving the baritones off the program.
  • When bowing from the podium, be mindful of the safety rail. If you happen to hit your head on said safety rail, ignore it. The kids will think that your watering eyes are because of their stellar performance, not your excruciating pain.
  • “Bobby, do you have your folder?” “Yeah, Jeff says he’s taking it.” Jeff didn’t even show up that morning, and he’s definitely not bringing Bobby’s folder. Make students be responsible for their own items. The most common reason we have left items behind was because kids relied on someone else.
  • Tell kids ahead of time that when they’re in the audience they should not hum along with pieces they know.
  • If you lose grip of your baton and it flies out of your hand and onto the floor, or worse yet, into the hair of the flute player in front of you, just let it go. It’s gone.
Jessica Corry
Author Jessica Corry is the Band Director at Plank Jr. High School in Oswego, Illinois.
  • Avoid scheduling a time-sensitive event, such as a dinner, movie or show, after your performance. An event that runs late coupled with students who still need to be picked up may deter any plans you have.
  • If your background is band and you end up taking a job that has a choir element, be prepared for a choral performance where the surprise guest speaker just happens to be Julie Andrews. Yes, that Julie Andrews. No pressure.

Remember, the road to a successful performance is paved with detailed planning paired with a spirit of adaptability to embrace the spontaneity of the live performances.

We are cheering you on as you take this significant step in your musical career, wishing you a journey filled with success, learning and sharing in musical experiences!

5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Flute

The flute is one of the most common instruments in the world, and it has been found in nearly every culture in existence. The flute has made quite a name for itself since ancient times. But did you know these five flute facts?

1. The First Flute Was Probably Made by Neanderthals

The oldest flute historians have found dates back to approximately 60,000 years ago. The ancient flute I’m referring to was found by archaeologists in Slovenia. Name after the cave in which it was found, the Divje Babe flute was discovered in 1995 and is the only Neanderthal flute to be uncovered so far. It is currently housed in the National Museum of Slovenia.

This find was monumental to historians because it proved that Neanderthals created music. Not only is it the oldest flute, it is also the oldest instrument in the world.

ancient flute
Aurignacian flute made from bone. (Photo by Jose-Manuel Benito Alvarez via Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike 2.5 Generic license)

Other very old flutes include the Hohle Fels flute (from over 30,000 years ago) and the Geißenklösterle cave flutes (over 40,000 years ago). But the Divje Babe flute still takes the cake for being the oldest as the carbon dating estimates it to be an astonishing 60,000 years old.

2. Flutes Were Made of Surprising Materials

You might be shocked about the variety of materials used to make flutes. The Divje Babe flute was made from the femur of a cave bear. Other animal bones used to make flutes include swans and woolly mammoths! The Hohle Fels flute (also called the Aurignacian flute) was carved from a griffon vulture.

Some ancient flutes that are still played today have interesting materials and accessories. The Chinese dizi, for example, requires a thin paper membrane that is attached to the instrument with the juice of a garlic clove. The result is a one-of-a-kind woodwind with a unique buzzing timbre.

3. It has Versatile Historical Uses

Flutes have been used for:

  • Spiritual purposes
  • War
  • Artistic performances
  • Celebrations
  • To profess love
Japanese artwork feature woman playing flute
Artwork in Kyoto shows woman playing the flute.

I once played the solo to a German piece where the flute represented death, which I thought was pretty unique, but using the flute to represent death has been done since ancient times. The Aztec death whistle might be the spookiest of all of the flutes used for spiritual reasons. This orb-shaped ocarina-like flute creates a haunting screaming/whistling sound. It was traditionally used to aid the sacrificed dead in their travel to the afterlife.

By the time the fife was created around the 1300s, flutes were often used for war. During the Crusades, transverse flutes were commonly used in the military. But flutes were used for artistic expression, too. In Indonesia, an end-blown flute called the suling was used alongside a bronze percussion ensemble (collectively called gamelan) in order to accompany shadow-puppetry (Wayang kulit).

In some Native American tribes, flutes were traditionally played by young men to confess their love for a woman. According to the Smithsonian, Native American flutes were common in Southwestern tribes and were most often made of red cedar. In India, flutes are associated with Krishna, the god of love. If you think about it, using the flute as a romantic instrument at weddings is in some ways, historically accurate!

4. The Instrument Can Create a Near-Perfect Sine Wave

flute student and teacher

Waveforms are the basis of all sound, and there are four main types: sine, square, triangle and sawtooth. A sawtooth wave gives the violin that buzzy undertone. The triangle wave gives flute-like woodwinds their crystalline clarity in the lower register. A square wave gives a clarinet its richness, and a sine wave is what makes pure sounds with fewer partials.

You can hear them all isolated on the Perfect Circuit website. Interestingly enough, when a Western flute is played in its upper register, it creates a waveform that is close to that of a pure sine wave.

5. They’re Woven into Mythology

There are books that focus on the mythical stories of the flute. It seems that the instrument has been associated with many cultures’ gods. As mentioned earlier, the Indian god of love and compassion, Krishna, was associated with flute, which also represents nature, and all that is divine.

The Greeks had multiple flute myths. The flute was created by Athena, the goddess of war, wisdom and reason. A nymph named Syrinx was transformed into a flute after she drowned, and she was then played by the god Pan.

There are many variations of the creation of the flute woven into Native American lore. For example, the Comanche believe that the flute was created to help a man express his sorrows (according to Flutopedia), and the Sioux tell a tale of how a man played the flageolet (a small end-blown 5-holed flute) in order to find a woman to marry.

statue of Pan holding pan pipe
Statue of Pan holding a panpipe.

But the significance of the flute in the context of mythology is not lost to time. For example, the Debussy piece “Syrinx,” which references the pursuit of the Greek nymph by Pan, is still one of the most popular musical works for solo flute today. Similarly, Mouquet’s “Pan et Les Berges” (Pan and his shepherds) is another piece flutists play around the world.

It seems that the flute is constantly associated with myths. This, by extension, has led composers such as Reineke to base one of his most well-known pieces, “Undine,” on the idea of a Greek water nymph.



How Mariachi Changed 3 Las Vegas Families

Latin music is very popular in the United States, and mariachi is especially prevalent among Mexican families. Mariachi musicians across the U.S. perform at events honoring the rich culture of Mexico, as well as other Latin American countries. Because of the music’s popularity, mariachi education is a sweeping movement that started in the Southwest but is now offered at many schools in the U.S. Incorporating mariachi into a formal music education program has made all the difference to many students of Hispanic descent who may not have otherwise become involved in music.

Mariachi by Accident

Daniel, a member of LVHS Mariachi Joya

Daniel is a graduate of Las Vegas High School and its mariachi group, Mariachi Joya, and current member of Mariachi Plata at The College of Southern Nevada. Before he joined mariachi, he was not involved in any music courses although he always wanted to be a musician. He joined mariachi on violin during his freshman year and loved being in music class with his friends. Toward the end of the year, COVID-19 sent everyone to virtual learning.

Daniel took advantage of online music theory courses offered at LVHS and used his time at home to learn even more about mariachi. He decided that he wanted to switch to the guitarron, which is a bass-guitar-like instrument that carries the bassline in the mariachi ensemble. He took the initiative to practice every day, and when we returned to school the following year, he was named the guitarron player of Mariachi Joya!, which has been recognized as the “Nation’s Premier Mariachi Ensemble” by SBO magazine. Daniel’s grades improved and he even had straight As during some semesters of his junior and senior years.

“For me, mariachi was an accident,” he says. “I was going down one path, and my love for mariachi took me to even new heights. I just thought I was going to play the violin, but through the last few years I have gotten to share the stage with famous musicians, meet my heroes, and even bring music back into my parents’ lives.”

His mother, Flor, echoes his passion and says, “I am very proud of my son. I am happy that out of all my kids that one of them has the same love for mariachi music as I do. My relationship with my son is closer because he started to play mariachi music and it fills my soul to see him doing what he loves”.

Now, Daniel is slated to become one of the first-ever mariachi students in a new university program and is excited to bring this beautiful music to new generations as a mariachi teacher after he graduates.

A Family of Musicians

Jennilee, a member of LVHS Mariachi Joya

Jennilee is another example of how mariachi changed a student’s life. Jenni was not involved in after-school activities before mariachi came along. She was a very shy young woman who followed in her older brother’s footsteps when she joined mariachi. She is now a senior at Las Vegas High and regularly auditions at vocal competitions across the country.

“Mariachi has made me believe in myself more than ever,” she says. “We really love this music and this community we have created. I do not know where I would be without my school’s mariachi program”.

Her younger sister is now in mariachi, and their mother is proud to have three musicians in the family who make people smile with every performance.

Brothers in Mariachi

Axel is the current student director of Mariachi Joya. He started playing the violin in beginning mariachi two years ago and practiced for hours every day to get into the school’s top ensemble. His younger brother, Irvin, is a mariachi student at Keller Middle School, which has a thriving program under Ms. Miriam Vazquez, who does a great job at preparing her students to become “Joyas.”

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto with Axel, a member of LVHS Mariachi Joya
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada with Axel, a member of Mariachi Joya.

Irvin really loves playing beautiful music with his friends, and he says, “I am really proud of my big brother Axel. He is a role model for me and has inspired me to work hard in school. Mariachi has bonded us. Now we have something special to talk about every day. I hope I can be in Joya one day, too.”

Axel has a 4.0 GPA and says that mariachi greatly contributes to his academic success. “Mariachi has motivated me to do well in school,” he says. “It taught me that I can get results with hard work, so if I put hard work into other classes, I can do well in those just like mariachi.”

Being a part of Mariachi Joya has changed his outlook on what he wants to do in life. Axel says that he wants to teach mariachi so he can help students “bring their communities together just like we did here on the east side.”

Axel and Irvin are just one of many examples of how mariachi education has brought families together. It also prepares students for life outside of music.

The cultural power of mariachi is strong. It rings families together, creates opportunities for students that they wouldn’t otherwise have, and it creates strong community engagement.

Five Reasons to Take Guitar Lessons

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that learning music theory will ruin your “feel.”

Not true! In fact, learning music theory will only enhance it. That’s because it expands your knowledge, provides more options for composition, and improves your ability to translate ideas to other musicians.

I know phenomenal musicians who have zero formal training and play strictly by ear. I also know some players who have a master’s degree in music but struggle to improvise, or even get through the simplest song without sheet music. I think the best approach is to have a well-rounded ability in every aspect of your craft.

But how do you go about it? Sure, there are some amazing guitar tutorials online. Great players break down the parts to your favorite songs, and some even give you the theory and analysis behind the notes. Unfortunately, this method of learning is a one-way street. You can’t ask the teacher questions or receive feedback on posture, fingering or technique.

That’s why I suggest you instead consider taking real, in-person guitar lessons from a qualified instructor (your local music retailer can suggest someone in your area), as opposed to just learning nuggets of wisdom from a friend or a few riffs from some songs on YouTube.

Here are five reasons why.

1. Fresh Fingers

Learning anything from a book or video may give you the necessary tools to accomplish a certain task, but an instructor can guide you and add the elements of finesse that a one-way platform just can’t do.

As much as I love using Google search or YouTube for musical resources, the fact of the matter is that not everything on the internet is accurate. (Shock, horror!) Without the discerning eye and ear of a professional to give you instant feedback, you may end up learning techniques that will ultimately impair your abilities down the line. Sadly, I’ve seen this all too many times … and breaking muscle memory is way harder than learning something with fresh fingers.

2. Logical Progression

I’d say that most of us learn how to play the guitar “somewhere in the middle.” We can play a few chord progressions and a handful of riffs and Pentatonic licks … but without knowing the “how and why” it all works together.

As an educator, I’ve always been an advocate of logical progression. Start with the basics. Learn the correct fingerings for chords and scales, a few simple rhythmic values and the theory behind the notes, then gradually add techniques and musical expression to play songs with musicality. I also believe that you can develop musical sensibilities and feel by practicing stylistic grooves and developing your phrasing chops with melodic and rhythmic displacement techniques.

So look for a guitar teacher that builds you up from the beginning, or fills in the gaps to what you already know. With a solid foundation in all aspects of music, you can build a house in which creativity can flourish. A good instructor will push you to build a mansion, or help you renovate your existing structures into a beautiful new home.

3. The Inquisitive Mind

When I learn something, I want to know both the “how” and the “why.” If you don’t have a naturally inquisitive mind, you need to develop one in order to expedite your musical journey. For that reason, be sure to ask lots of questions of your instructor, so you can gather a full understanding of any topic.

Sometimes the answers require further questioning … and that’s just how it should be. Sometimes the information needs to be delivered in multiple ways in order for the concept to “stick.” Again, this is perfectly normal.

A good teacher will recognize whether or not the student fully comprehends the information being conveyed. I always confirm this with my students by asking them questions until I am sure they understand every aspect of the material we’re working on.

4. Setting Sail

Embarking on a journey of discovery often requires a road map. Structured courses that are curated by a professional educator often keep you on track.

If you know what your big picture goals are, you can take small steps towards that destination. For example, learning how the seven major scale modes work, one mode at a time. Adding a deadline is often a good idea too. Nothing motivates me better than a deadline. It’s the procrastinators’ kryptonite.

5. The Jam Factor

When you learn from a real-life instructor, you have the opportunity to hear how they play, and how they integrate the same information you’re working on.

So many professional guitar players cite their instructor as the driving force behind the musical storm they finally became, and there’s a good reason why. Jamming with your mentor will give you a growth perspective. You’ll be able to actually hear how well you’re doing through comparison, then make small corrections and implement their suggestions in real time.

Virtual Learning

If you can’t find a good local instructor, you may be able to work with a qualified guitar teacher via video chat online. However, I suggest you take some time to determine what you’re trying to achieve in advance of taking those kinds of lessons. Audio quality is improving radically on online platforms such as Zoom, but latency and bandwidth compression often negate the ability to jam online.

So make a list, and work through the list by asking lots of questions. You can always record your video lessons, enabling you to watch them again for reference. Maximize your time and get your instructor to demonstrate ideas, concepts and examples while you’re online with them.

As you are probably aware, guitar courses are also available for subscription, streaming or download. This is where my personal legacy as an instructor primarily resides.

Author with title of "Chord Moves Grooves".

These courses are a great way to work with your favorite players and discover specifically what they have to offer you. Just make sure you find someone who fills in any gaps in your knowledge and nurtures your creativity through real-world musical examples.

The Video

The harmonic structure of the progression I’m playing in this video takes you through three different keys within the context of a four-bar phrase. Having the knowledge to analyze, play and improvise over this kind of progression generally comes from having some kind of formal training, so I thought this would provide a good example of what it might take to handle this kind of musical challenge without the guidance of an instructor.

I’m using a Yamaha CSF-TA TransAcoustic guitar and layering its tones into the mix with a subtle strumming part. I’ve double-tracked this guitar part, adding small amounts of the onboard reverb and chorus, panning the two hard-left and hard-right for extra width. The arpeggiated overdub defines the harmonic structure of this progression by following the upper voices in the strummed guitar part.

The melodic phrases are being played on a Yamaha SA2200 semi-hollow body electric through a Line 6 Helix processor. I’m targeting chord tones of the five chords to establish their tonality within the framework, but I’m also making sure you can hear the characteristic tones you’ll find in some of those tasty chord voicings too!

The Guitars

The CSF-TA is the parlor-sized powerhouse in the TransAcoustic range. Like all TA guitars, it features two onboard reverb types (Room/Hall) as well as chorus, all without the need for external amplification. All effects can be dialed in to taste with a sweepable mix control.

Acoustic guitar on leather couch.
Yamaha CSF-TA.

TransAcoustics also feature an excellent undersaddle piezo pickup and a preamp that works beautifully for recording directly to DAWs or for plugging into the mixing console at a live gig. These versatile acoustic-electric guitars are excellent for young beginners due to their short scale length and small body size, and the solid Sitka spruce top will only get better with age.

Guitar on a chair.
Yamaha SA2200.

The SA2200 semi-acoustic guitar may be one of the best sounding electrics on the market. These amazing guitars resonate like a piano, play like a dream, sit beautifully in the mix, and look like a million bucks on camera.

The Wrap-Up

When we take intentional steps towards our goals, we get closer to them.

Working with a professional guitar teacher can guide your steps around the pitfalls, keep you moving towards your destination, and perhaps most importantly, inspire you to reach the same high level of proficiency. Lofty goals indeed, but the right instructor can help you achieve them!


Check out Robbie’s other postings.

The 12 Best 12-Inch Vinyl Singles

The 12-inch single (or “maxi” single, as it was called back in the ’70s and ’80s) tends to be synonymous with DJs, conjuring up visions of dual turntables. Yet there is so much more to this form of media! When vinyl records ruled the radio waves as well as the dance floors, the 12-inch was a great way for record companies to get a new release out to the public immediately, and there were sonic benefits as well. Putting an entire song or two on one side of a large slab of vinyl like this means big grooves, along with the potential for tons of bass and incredible dynamic range.

Today, 12-inch singles still exist, but they tend to be more biased towards electronica, house and the occasional Record Store Day release. Here are a dozen — some new and some old — that I think you’ll enjoy.

1. All of a Sudden – The Chemical Brothers

“All of a Sudden” is the latest single drop from the Chemical Brothers, which is actually the B-side of their song “No Reason.” Their signature heavy driving beats (on both sides) deliver a solid bottom end that you might not be used to, even with vinyl. Hang up that disco ball and turn up the volume!

2. 1999 – Prince

Prince may just be the undisputed king of the 12-inch, in part because so much of his music was being played in clubs, but also because he had such a prodigious output. All his singles deliver the maximum level of dynamics the medium is capable of, but if this one happens to be your first purchase, you’ll be hooked for life.

3. Paranoimia – The Art of Noise

Released in 1986, the three versions of the title track and a bonus edit of “Dragnet 89” have Max Headroom nodding in approval. All are full of fun electronic sounds that fly all over the room, weaving in and out of the signature synth backing track that anchors it all. Though many 12-inch singles are 45 rpm. with one track on each side, this one is meant to be spun at 33, so you can dance for about 10 minutes before you have to flip it over.

4. It’s Tricky – RUN-D.M.C

Nothing says hip-hop to me like RUN-D.M.C. This 33 rpm 12-inch features five versions of “It’s Tricky”: Club Mix, Uptempo version, the album version, “scratchapella” version, and the “Tricky Reprise.” “Proud to be Black” is a bonus track at the very end.

5. Cruel Summer – Bananarama

Considering it’s been a warmer than normal summer and big hair is starting to make a comeback, this one seems totally appropriate to make the list. The title track delivers a more solid beat than the LP version (which is very compressed), and the three vocalists come through with much more presence.

6. High and Dry – Radiohead

This eclectic group has released a wide range of 12-inch singles for nearly 15 years now. “High and Dry,” from their second album, The Bends, accentuates the atmospheric aspect of their music perfectly, creating a massive sonic landscape in your listening room (or in your headphones). Most 12-inchers deliver more overall level, but this one does a particularly good job of revealing the intimate vocals and the separation of the three guitars that are the foundation of the Radiohead sound.

7. Prime Time – The Tubes

The ’70s art band The Tubes were well known for attracting top studio engineers to assemble their albums, and this track from Remote Control was produced by Todd Rundgren. As with most 12-inch singles, the wide grooves produce additional sonic nuggets that even the well-crafted LP hides — like backup singer Re Styles, who sounds much more present in this release.

8. Become – Beach House

Here’s a 12-inch that blurs the line between maxi single and EP. There are five new Beach House tracks here, and the group’s dreamy sound really comes to life on vinyl, with a Twin Peaks-like feel. In addition to the ethereal vocals, there are some heavy synth bass grooves to rattle your walls.

9. Peek-a-Boo! – DEVO

The alternative DEVO anthem “Peek-a-Boo!” is another great example of taking a fairly dense track and achieving greatness by spreading it all out on one album side. The jumble of grungy, distorted guitars and synthesizers all have their own voice here. Keep this one at the front of your record crate on party night.

10. The Look of Love – Dusty Springfield

This is one of the few 12-inch single releases pressed by an audiophile label, the now defunct Classic Records. Good as the standard album sounds, this version really shows off just how great your Hi-Fi system can sound. The only thing that did a better job at capturing Dusty’s slinky voice is the master tape!

11. I Scare Myself – Thomas Dolby

Here’s another track that sounds absolutely brilliant with all the extra groove space, and again, it’s not just about slamming bass, but about inner detail. “I Scare Myself” was recorded with such a huge feel, you’ll swear there are surround sound speakers hidden somewhere in your room.

12. Fight The Power – Public Enemy

The theme song from Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing demands the forcefulness that only a 12-inch single can provide. There are a few options out there, but I suggest the extended version, with the full unedited 6:45 rendition from the theatrical release, and the sanitized radio version on the flip side.

Music Tech Series, Part 2: Elementary Music Technology

Children have an innate desire to improvise and create. Without any expectations, they begin life moving, singing and playing music in imaginative and newfound ways. As students begin learning formal music in elementary school, the urgency for mastering literacy and vocabulary skills can sometimes take the place of learning improvisatory or creative music skills. As a way to counter this, the National Coalition for Arts Standards (NCAS) reorganized music learning goals into the universal domains of creating, performing, responding and connecting. The hope was that by re-emphasizing these domains, the focus could shift to foster students’ convergent and divergent thinking. Exercising these enabling skills helps prepare students for the multiple roles found in the music industry as well as promoting student autonomy. The national standards are very extensive, so for brevity, here are the four major disciplines with summarized anchor standards.

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student playing fluteCreating:

  • Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard 2: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard 3: Refine and complete artistic work.


  • Anchor Standard 4: Analyze, interpret, and select artistic work for presentation.
  • Anchor Standard 5: Develop and refine artistic work for presentation.
  • Anchor Standard 6: Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.


  • Anchor Standard 7: Percieve and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.


  • Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  • Anchor Standard 11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

David Brian Williams, author of “Reaching the Other 80%,” defined 80% of students who do not currently participate in music education ensembles as “non-traditional musicians” (NTM). NTMs are determined to be between 6th and 12th grade and may have a music life independent of school. They may also not read music notation but aspire to a career in the music recording or the music industry. A later article written alongside Peter R. Webster titled “NTM Skills as a Future College Music Student” defines specific music technology skills as “essential for the undergraduate music major.” The following skills are outlined below:

  1. young girl sitting in front of open laptop and wearing headphonesEdit in notation software (like Dorico).
  2. Understand and edit digital audio.
  3. Record and mix a performance.
  4. Understand copyright and fair use.
  5. Create music with production software.
  6. Create a streaming audio file.
  7. Understand MIDI and applications with instruments.
  8. Set up/problem solve a computer music workstation.
  9. Understand basics of acoustics.
  10. Create/edit a music video.
  11. Manage social media music-sharing tools.

It’s important that we refer to these competencies as overarching goals for our growing students and find ways to cleverly integrate them into our lessons. Giving students the opportunity to compose music, whether it be in notation software or in a digital audio workstation (DAW) is a great way to accomplish the national standards, while also allowing students time to practice these music technology competencies. Using web applications that bridge music with other interdisciplinary topics like science or math can be a fun and new way for students to make connections to music. MIDI instruments are very customizable and can be a great addition to the classroom for students with disabilities. As a music stand is to sheet music, technology is to music education. Let it be a tool for supporting students in their music learning experiences.

Elementary Music Curriculum with Technologies and Web Apps

Assuming that Chromebooks, iPads or desktop computers are available to you in your classroom, the next step would be to invest in decent quality headphones like the Yamaha HPH-50B. A little more expensive than the average headphones, these have much better sound quality and will be more durable for classroom use. Headphone splitters are also a great investment for collaborative projects that require more than one student listening from the same device. These are relatively inexpensive and can include a range of two to five headphone ports for sharing audio.

Optionally, having a few MIDI controllers can be great for small group projects or classroom stations. MIDI keyboards are the most common choice for DAW composition and can come in a variety of sizes. For classroom use, 25-key MIDI keyboards are more suitable for portable independent use, whereas 49-key keyboards are great for two-player fixed stations. Other controllers like the ARTinoise re.corder (based on the recorder) or the Joué J-Play Keys (based on the xylophone) can be fantastic for students who struggle performing on their traditional counterparts due to a disability. STEAM-based kits are also great for connecting music to other disciplines. Useful for classroom activity stations, these kits are often self-guided and include apps that introduce skills like coding or instrument making. Lastly, microphones can be a worthwhile investment for older and more advanced music technology students. Microphones requiring a separate interface and XLR cable are more professional (like the Focusrite Scarlett Studio 3 bundle), though there are many USB microphones that require less set-up (like the FIFINE USB Microphone).

A few general music curriculums that specifically integrate music technology include “Teaching Music Through Composition” by Barbara Freedman, “Using Technology with Elementary Music Approaches” by Amy M. Burns, “Integrating STEM with Music” by Shawna Longo and Zachary Gates. These resources are great for introducing digital composition or for STEAM-based/interdisciplinary learning. Web applications (web apps) are also be a great way to engage students. Below are a few of my top recommendations, as well as a few others that are fun for kids to explore music with.

elementary web-apps chart

Download this elementary web-apps chart.

Creating lessons that give students time to explore is key. This semi-structured “play” time allows them to make stronger connections to each new concept by utilizing it within their own art. Here are some of my favorite elementary music lessons that apply students’ new musical knowledge in an engaging and creative way. Enjoy!

Lesson 1: Soundwaves and The Science of Sound (STEAM)


  • Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard 6: Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  • Anchor Standard 11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

Technology Competency Goals:

  • 9. Understand basics of acoustics
  • 5. Create music with production software (web-app version)

Objective: Students will understand sound waves and how humans hear sound. Using Chrome Music Lab, students will use the visualizer to experience how pitch affects soundwaves and the movement of air particles. Students will also learn a song and participate in a movement activity reinforcing these learned concepts on soundwaves.

Level: Grade 3 (can be modified for other grade levels)


  • Chrome-accessible devices (Chromebooks, laptops, tablets etc.)
  • Headphones
  • Slideshow Presentation (optional)
  • Piano or high-pitched/low-pitched instrument (e.g., triangle and hand drum)
  • Chrome Music Lab link


young students jumping1) Begin with the question, “what is sound?” As students guess, slowly navigate them toward the answer: “vibrations in the air.” Next ask, “What is actually vibrating when we hear sound?” The answer should be “air molecules.” Feel free to use the following explanations below alongside diagrams or photos in a slideshow presentation.

“All sound is made up of vibrations. Vibrations through the air.”

“What is actually vibrating? Air molecules! Molecules are tiny particles that make up everything around us. Even you are made of molecules! Molecules are also invisible, meaning we can’t see them. Air molecules help us to hear sounds.

“When a bell rings, the air particles around it start grouping together and spreading out. This movement looks like a wave. We call these sound waves!”

2) Demonstrate the movement of soundwaves using Chrome Music Lab. Navigate to the Soundwaves window and ask students, “What do the blue dots represent? What instrument is at the bottom of the screen?” Tell students to observe how air particles move differently based on each note’s pitch. Define pitch and clarify that “the higher the pitch, the faster the movement of the air particles; the lower the pitch, the slower the movement of the air particles.” Have student volunteers play a note from the demo computer. Use the magnify glass on-screen to zoom in on the horizontal waveform. (*This demo will prepare students for a follow-up lesson on soundwave shapes)

3) Give students 10-15 minutes to explore Chrome Music Lab’s Soundwaves window as well as the other music windows.

4) Transition students to begin learning the accompanying “Johnny Was a Molecule” song and movement activity. Have students listen and echo each line one line at a time. Introduce the Sally verse in a follow-up lesson or as an extension.

Johnny Was a Molecule sheet music

Download Johnny Was a Molecule sheet music.

Sally Verse:

Sally was a molecule, floating in the air

When the bass would play, she’d move slower than a bear

Crawl, crawl, crawl, and wobble to and fro

And now you’re like a molecule, ready, set go!

Movement Game:

On the Johnny verse, have students jump to the beat.

On the Sally verse, have students crawl to the beat.

After the verse is sung, the teacher alternates playing a high-pitched and low-pitched sound. Students respond by either moving slowly (low pitch) or fast (high pitch). Specific locomotor movements may also be picked in advance (e.g., fast: running, skipping, jumping or slow: crawling, tip toeing, walking). Teacher may give individual students a turn to play instrument(s) as well.

Lesson 2: Four Basic Sound Waves (STEAM)


  • students during soundwaves lessons
    A group of 5th-grade students learn about sound waves.

    Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.

  • Anchor Standard 6: Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  • Anchor Standard 11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.

Technology Competency Goals:

  • 9. Understand basics of acoustics
  • 5. Create music with production software (web-app version)

Objective: Students will learn about the four primary wave shapes and recreate them using manipulative (popsicle sticks). Using Soundbreaking, students will use the visualizer and sound generator to identify the differences in timbre between soundwaves and the movement of air particles. Students will play a competitive popsicle stick game by listening and identifying the different soundwaves.

Level: Grade 3 (can be modified for other grade levels)


  • Chrome-accessible devices (Chromebooks, laptops, tablets etc.)
  • Headphones
  • Slideshow Presentation (optional)
  • Soundbreaking link


1) Start by reviewing what sound is (e.g., vibrations through the air). Show a visual of a transverse wave and explain that the reason it is horizontal is that it’s simpler to see. Ask students, “What shapes do these soundwaves look like?” Have them guess the triangle and square shapes. Introduce all four basic sound waves (sine, square, triangle and sawtooth) along with their visuals.

2) Use the Soundbreaking app to play back each soundwave’s unique timbre. Have two students volunteer to play a guessing game. One student plays a soundwave while the other guesses. See if they can listen for the differences in sound.

3) Allow students 5 to 10 minutes to explore the Soundbreaking app on their devices.

4) Transition students and provide a group demonstration of how to create each soundwave with popsicle sticks.

5) Distribute eight popsicle sticks to each student and have them re-create each soundwave shape.
To begin the competition, have students hold onto their own popsicle sticks and split the room into two groups. Next, play a tone, display the name and/or show the visual of either of the four sound waves (sine, square, triangle or sawtooth). Students must work together to make a giant soundwave from one side of the room to the other. The first team to use all their popsicle sticks wins!

students working on creating soundwaves with popsicle sticks
A group of 4th and 5th graders work together to create the four basic wave shapes.

sawtooth soundwave made of popsicle sticks

square soundwave made of popsicle sticks triangle soundwave made of popsicle sticks

Lesson 3: Introduction to Audio in Songwriting (STEAM)


  • Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard 2: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard 5: Develop and refine artistic work for presentation.
  • Anchor Standard 6: Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  • Anchor Standard 11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.

Technology Competency Goals:

  • A 3rd-grade student uses an online DAW to create their first song.

    2. Understand and edit digital audio

  • 8. Set-up/problem-solve a computer music workstation
  • 5. Create music with production software (web-app version)

Objective: Students will learn about digital audio and the transfer for sound from a microphone to a digital audio workstation (DAW). Students will also write their first song using an online DAW and apply their knowledge of audio in the creating process. Students will share their projects with peers and discuss aspects to refine for the next song.

Level: Grade 3 (can be modified for other grade levels)


  • Chrome-accessible devices (Chromebooks, laptops, tablets etc.)
  • Headphones
  • Slideshow Presentation (optional)
  • Digital Audio Workstation (e.g., Cubase, Soundtrap, Garageband)


1) Begin by asking, “When you talk on the phone with someone, how are you able to hear them and how are they able to hear you?” Begin the conversation by guiding students toward the term “microphone.” Use the visuals to display a picture of a stage microphone, a studio microphone and a computer microphone. Next, explain the process of how sound is recorded onto a computer.

“When sound vibrations reach the microphone they are made into an electric signal. That signal then becomes a series of numbers known as binary code (the language of the computer). In the computer, this data represents a digital sound or “audio.”

DAW chart2) Have a project open in your DAW and encourage students to view the sample browser/loop browser. From here, differentiate audio loops by their “audio icon” (see below) and drag and drop one into the timeline. See some examples below for reference.

3) Have students begin a project in which they drag and drop four audio loops into their blank project. Give students 10 to 15 minutes to complete this task.

4) Once most students are done, have them transition to “Musical Museum,” an activity where students will simultaneously stand up, walk around the room and listen to two random student songs. Allot about 4 to 5 minutes for this activity. Afterward, have students return to their seats and begin a discussion on what they heard. Some appropriate questions to ask include:

  • “What did you like about the songs you heard?”
  • “What would you want to hear more of?”
  • “What instrument sounds did you recognize/like in songs?”
  • “What’s one thing you heard that you might add to your own song?”

In the next few articles, we’ll discover why beginning with these technology goals and interdisciplinary lessons provides a strong foundation for middle school and high school music learning. We’ll also look at showcase opportunities, trademark stages of learning with the DAW, audio engineering fundamentals, and project-based learning activities. In the meantime, enjoy and lookout for more coming soon!

Read the first article in this series, “Music Tech Series, Part 1: Getting Started Teaching the DAW.”

40 Under 40 — Nominate a Deserving Music Educator Today!

The nomination period for the 2024 Yamaha “40 Under 40” is closed.  Please come back in October 2024 to nominate an innovative young music educator who might be chosen to be part of the 2025 class of “40 Under 40.”

Do you know a young music educator who inspires students, colleagues and the community? Someone who oversees a program that is continually growing and improving?  

Nominate them to be recognized and celebrated as one of the top 40 music educators under the age of 40!

Yamaha is an active advocate for music education, and we want to empower music educators and help them strengthen their programs in any way we can.

“40 Under 40” is the latest part of this advocacy. This program will recognize and celebrate innovative and impactful music teachers under the age of 40 who are doing extraordinary things in their classrooms or programs. These music education leaders will be the ones to watch in 2023 and beyond.

Eligibility Requirements

Music educators — any grade level, public or private schools, private music instructors — can be nominated by students, parents, other teachers or administrators, and mentors. No self-nominations are allowed.

Nominations will be accepted from October 1 to November 1, 2023.

Nominated educators should have the following characteristics:

  • Action — anticipate what needs to be done and proactively take the necessary steps that lead to a stronger music program
  • Courage — propose and implement new or bold ideas
  • Creativity — show innovation and imagination in achieving plans and objectives
  • Growth — establish, grow or improve music education in their schools and communities
  • Must be under 40 years old on March 31, 2023.

Please click here for the nomination form. In addition to providing information about the nominee, you must tell us in 500 words how the nominee embodies the characteristics above.

Benefits to 40 Under 40 Educators

Music educators who are selected for the “40 Under 40” program will receive national recognition for the positive impact their work has on their schools and communities.

Key Dates and Deadlines

  • October 1: nominating period opens
  • November 1: nominating period closes
  • December: selected educators will be notified
  • February 2024: The 2024 “40 Under 40” educators will be announced


For information or questions about the Yamaha “40 Under 40” program, please email

The nomination form can be found here.

Meet the 2023 Yamaha “40 Under 40” educators here.

Meet the 2022 Yamaha “40 Under 40” educators here.

Meet the 2021 Yamaha “40 Under 40” educators here.

Sign up for the Yamaha Educator Newsletter to stay informed about the “40 Under 40” program and other music education advocacy news and information from Yamaha.   

Bass Soloing 101

Imagine that you’ve just seen a great movie with your friends. Everyone’s taking turns remembering the highlights, and when it’s your turn, you quote your favorite lines, compare it to other movies you’ve seen, and maybe even share a detail or two your friends might’ve missed. When you’re done, someone else pipes up and shares their experience of the film.

This, in essence, is what a bass solo is: your contribution to a conversation between you and the rest of the band. You and your bandmates are having a shared sonic experience, and each solo is a remark on the song that’s currently the topic of conversation. Just as your thoughts on a movie are informed by how well you know the genre, actors and director, your solo will reveal how comfortable you are with the song, your instrument and the type of music you’re playing.

Here are a few tips and techniques for crafting effective and compelling bass solos.


It’s much easier to develop a concept of soloing if you enjoy listening to good bass solos. There are many ways to approach a solo and a wide variety of styles, from Paul Denman’s cool feature on Sade’s “Smooth Operator” to Jaco Pastorius’ impeccable turn on Ian Hunter’s “All American Alien Boy” to Billy Sheehan’s insane chops on Mr. Big’s “Addicted to That Rush.” (played on his Yamaha Attitude Limited 3 signature bass). If you’re new to this adventure, enjoy learning what kind of solo you like, and ask yourself what each occasion calls for.


If you’re nervous about soloing on a particular song, get familiar with its harmony and melody. Knowing the scales and chords you’ll be soloing over is like reading a book before writing a book report — it’s not just helpful, it’s necessary. Get inside the song by playing arpeggios of each chord, which will help you develop phrases to have under your fingers. Think about tempo too: a sweet ballad, a head-nodding hip-hop groove and a techno track all require different approaches. Some musicians learn to hear spontaneous melodies and play them in real time; others use arpeggios or chord tones; others base their solos on transcriptions of other people’s solos. Most solos combine several techniques that have been honed in the practice room so they’re ready to be used on the bandstand. No matter what, build a roadmap.


Once you know how long your solo will be (in most contexts, four, eight or 16 bars), pick an approach. The song or style may ask you to be as fluid as a saxophone, chordal or driving like a guitar, or thumpy and percussive like an upright bass or drum. An easy way to start is to take a short phrase, state it clearly, repeat it and develop it. When it comes time to solo, many bass players go up the neck for articulation and a change of tone, but you don’t have to. Willie Weeks’ solo on “Voices Inside/Everything is Everything” is a great example of a bass solo that grooves, starts low, tells a story, and has a satisfying arc.


It might seem natural to play fewer notes on slower songs, but this melodic Tal Wilkenfeld solo on Jeff Beck’s “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” proves that that’s not always the case. Some solos are spacious, while others are busy. Listen to David Hood’s relaxed eight-bar solo on the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There,” then check out Rancid’s “Maxwell Murder” to hear Matt Freeman go wild. Both solos fit their respective songs like a glove.


If you solo on a particular song often, consider developing something you can refine over time. In the ’70s, an epic Suzi Quatro bass solo helped make her famous, and four decades later, she’s doing it again. “It’s physically demanding and requires immense concentration, but I’m playing it better than ever, which is a real surprise at 73,” she said in a recent Bass Magazine interview. “I have been practicing my bass solo, and I can’t practice it enough!”


It seems obvious yet contradictory: Your solo is only as good as your bandmates’ support. When we stop playing, the bottom (quite literally) drops out, and how the rest of the band reacts in that moment makes all the difference. Chic’s “Good Times” keeps the dance floor packed during the bass solo because Bernard Edwards never loses the groove. Sometimes the bass solo is a call and response with the rest of the band, like John Entwistle’s big moment on The Who’s “My Generation.” Others are duets, like this one between Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and guitarist John Frusciante. Your bandmates are part of your solo, and so is the audience. Listen to how the audience cheers on a Joe Dart bass solo straight into a tight arrangement of the Eagles’ “One of These Nights.”


Whether you’re playing a solo that’s meticulously planned or simply winging it, stay open to unexpected moments and the thrill of improvising, an art taught by many teachers, including Victor Wooten. Watching him not get thrown off when he breaks a string during a marathon solo is simply inspiring.

At the end of the day, the best way to learn is to listen to great solos, figure out what makes them work and spend lots of time with your bass so that when the time comes, you can step into the spotlight with confidence and let the magic flow.


Check out E.E.’s other postings.

Teaching Music in High-Need Schools: Recruitment

This article serves as the first in a series of discussions related to teaching music in today’s school environment. A growing majority of music educators in the United States work in public schools that are increasingly diverse and categorized as high-need. A high-need school, also known as a Title I school, is defined as any public pre K-12 school that is “located in an area where at least 30% of students come from families with incomes below the poverty line” (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, p. 173).

My goal through this series of articles is to share my experiences as a music teacher in high-need schools, as well as how I help prepare future educators in my current role as an associate professor and coordinator of the music education program at Tennessee State University. These are the strategies and beliefs that I believe are essential for success in these settings.

Through teacher training while at university or in professional development settings after we become educators, experts in the field often share best practices for music education through a lens of optimal circumstances. Abundant resources, teacher autonomy, and strong administrative and parental support for the arts usually serve as the foundation for these conversations. However, many of us find or will find ourselves leading programs that may not yet have such strong infrastructure, according to Jennifer Doyle in her research article, “Music Teacher Perceptions of Issues and Problems in Urban Elementary Schools.” It is my hope that this series will provide effective strategies for future and current teachers in high-need schools.

Use Data Effectively

desktop with computer papers showing bar graphsI would like to begin this series by sharing what is one of the core tenets of building and sustaining school music programs: recruitment. As a music educator in the age of data-driven decision making, I have tried to leverage administrator demands for data by providing evidence of how students, parents and staff make the program shine, as outlined in Roger Mantie’s “The Philosophy of Assessment in Music Education.”

Whether it is tracking attendance for concerts and events, increasing followers to our social media platforms, analyzing student and ensemble performance outcomes or sharing enrollment data with administrators and community partners, I believe that the ways in which we integrate data can help drive our recruitment activities. The following are what I believe to be three essential practices to excel at recruiting for your music program.

1. Recruitment Is a Year-Round Process

two male music students, one playing the flute, the other the oboeRecruitment has no real beginning or end. It is a continuous process fueled by active recruiting strategies, culturally relevant curricula and student ownership of the process, according to Daniel J. Albert’s “Strategies for the Recruitment and Retention of Band Students in Low Socioeconomic School Districts.” In addition to your planned recruitment activities at the beginning and end of the academic year, look for ways to recruit students into the program throughout the year. When I taught middle and high school band, I made it a priority to develop rapport with the staff responsible for student schedules. I made sure they knew that I was flexible and open to receiving new students throughout the year.

At the beginning of each semester, I would make brief in-classroom visits to each homeroom and give my quick 30-second “elevator pitch” to each class. I would sometimes bring current students in the program with me. It was important for students to know that they did not need prior experience, just a love for music, to be a part of our program. I also made sure that the students were at the center during all our fundraisers, concerts and community events. They would lead, organize and oversee much of the planning and execution for our activities. This allowed their peers, parents, administration and community see just how awesome being in the music program was. This continuous process of year-round recruitment with student ownership at the center helped us significantly to enroll students in our music program.

For the purpose of data collection and analysis, I would use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of how many potential recruits we contacted at our recruitment events and performances, feeder school visits, and in-classroom visits at the beginning of each semester. I would then convert the data into bar graphs that compared the current term’s activities to the previous term to show recruitment gains and program growth to my administration and parent boosters.

2. Anything Can Be a Recruitment Opportunity

marching band on football fieldPerformance is a great way to showcase your students’ abilities, and it also serves as a chance to connect with potential recruits. Whether we performed at a sporting event, seasonal concert, performance assessment or a community event, I always made sure to provide space for recruiting. Students shared their experiences in the music program, and I had flyers, handouts and contact information ready to give out to students and parents who might be interested in signing up.

At every performance and event we would keep track of selections performed, estimates of audience in attendance, and number of students who expressed an interest in wanting to join our organization. We would also track the number of views, likes, shares and followers on each of our social media sites. These would be compared monthly through line graphs generated in Excel and posted in the classroom to show our growing social media presence. Because it was mandatory for teachers at my school to post data on the walls, I always looked for creative ways to involve our students and present data that was fun for them to engage in and meaningful for our program’s growth.

We also had a student-led social media team that helped us share everything that was happening in the program and posted information on how to join. At every fundraiser and community event, our parent boosters and student leaders would also use those opportunities to share about the program’s successes. These moments helped generate great “buzz” around the program and helped attract even more students to us.

3. Setting Enrollment Goals

female teacher standing in front of classThere are several ways to look at and set your enrollment targets. Some look at what percentage of the total school population is enrolled in a particular program, while others look at numbers of new recruits versus retention of prior classes. And there are still others who look at historic trends and set targets based on those.

We know that COVID set many school music programs back as it pertains to enrollment, and it can be demoralizing to see a program that was once thriving be so severely impacted. But, if we establish a new baseline and redefine how we measure success, we can ensure that our strategies align to our teaching philosophy and with the mission and vision of the school and community. Thomas Rinn’s article, “Research-to-Resource: Persistence and Recruitment in Elective Choral Music During the Pandemic Recovery,” speaks to the importance of instruction that is student-centered, recruitment practices that are more inclusive, and alignment of program goals with those of the communities that we serve

Goals for this Series of Articles

Teaching music in a high-need school has its challenges, but the rewards that come with seeing the positive impact your program can have on students, parents, school and the community is immeasurable. While this article and this series might be helpful for music teachers in any setting, it has been prepared specifically with music teachers in high-need schools in mind. I hope that these strategies are helpful to you as you build a thriving and sustainable music organization in your school.

In subsequent articles, we will cover key issues that music teachers in high-need schools face, including building rapport with stakeholders, defining program success, student empowerment and more.

Thank you for being a part of this journey with us throughout the school year!

Read Part 2 of this series on rapport.


Basic Piano Chords for Beginners, Part 2

After you’ve practiced playing and hearing the four basic chord types described in Part 1 of this article, the next step is to listen to your favorite songs and try to identify which of these chord types they are using. Here are some examples to get you started.

Major Chords

Hey Jude – The Beatles

This classic starts out with four easily recognizable major chords (the third one has a dominant 7th added, as discussed in Part 1).

Musical annotation.

Here’s how they are played:

Keyboard diagram.
F major.
Keyboard diagram.
C major.
Keyboard diagram.
C7 (dominant seventh).
Keyboard diagram.
F major.

Your Song – Elton John

The intro uses three major chords, all played over a constant E-flat octave in the left hand.

Musical annotation.
Keyboard diagram.
Eb major.
Keyboard diagram.
Ab major over Eb.
Keyboard diagram.
Bb major over Eb.
Keyboard diagram.
Ab major over Eb.

Minor Chords

Fallin’ – Alicia Keys

This tune is sung over only two chords, both of them minor, repeated ad infinitum in a “broken chord” (arpeggiated) style.

Musical annotation.
Keyboard diagram.
E minor.
Keyboard diagram.
B minor seventh.

All Of Me – John Legend

This power ballad opens with a clear minor triad. Notice the use of inversions to keep the notes close from chord to chord.

Musical annotation.
Keyboard diagram.
F minor.
Keyboard diagram.
Db major.
Keyboard diagram.
Ab major.
Keyboard diagram.
Eb major.

Augmented Chords

Oh! Darling – The Beatles

A strong augmented triad opens this song before the main figure comes in.

Musical annotation.
Keyboard diagram.
E augmented.
Keyboard diagram.
A major.

Diminished Chords

If I Ain’t Got You – Alicia Keys

This classic chord progression (starting in bar 5) uses a diminished chord to move from the first chord (G major seventh with the ninth added) into the third chord (A minor seventh).

Musical annotation.
Keyboard diagram.
G major ninth.
Keyboard diagram.
G diminished seventh.
Keyboard diagram.
A minor seventh.
Keyboard diagram.
D7 (dominant seventh).

Looking for even more guidance and help in learning the chords in your favorite songs? Be sure to read this series of postings and check out our free Chord Tracker app, available for iOS and Android devices.


Check out our other Well-Rounded Keyboardist postings.


Click here for more information about Yamaha keyboard instruments.

20 Ways to Set the Tempo for a Great School Year

When you’ve been in the trenches, such as teaching in urban classrooms or underfunded rural programs, you pick up a thing or two about education, and more specifically, the art of teaching music. One of the first things you learn is that this isn’t a one-person show. So, accept help and advice whenever you can — mentors and colleagues, from you own experiences and through trial and error (the hardest way).

I’m sharing these foundational ideas, insights, practical tips and philosophies because they have guided me through a journey of highs, lows and everything in between. While you will develop your own style, there are some common things that every educator, regardless of their instrument or discipline, can incorporate into their lessons. That’s what I tried to focus on here.

My main concern is that the list below captures only what I remember — I know that there is so much more that I have forgotten!

1. Things Just Take Time

watchYou can’t rush the good stuff. Whether you’re waiting for the ensemble to gel or for that one kid to finally get it — patience is key. Many of my mentors echoed this sentiment. And trust me, those seeds you’re planting? They will grow. You just have to give them time.

Time is like a good brass polish — it reveals the shine that’s always been there. The virtue of patience can be especially hard when you’re bursting with energy and vision. Always remember that every note played and every mistake corrected accumulate into something extraordinary over time. Patience is not passive; it’s a strategic investment.

2. An Ensemble Is a Direct Reflection of its Conductor

This was the first bit of advice I received from my high school band director, Mr. Ted Lega. He received it from his mentor, Dr. Harry Begian, director of bands at the University of Illinois from 1970-1984. So, I guess you could say it’s “grand” advice that’s been handed down from generation to generation.

If your group sounds disjointed, it might be time to look in the mirror. Just as a composer leaves an imprint on every composition, your energy, mood and skills are mirrored by your ensemble. Your approach sets the stage for either harmony or discord.

3. There’s Always Money Somewhere

desktop with computer, calculator, papers and cashThis was a quote that my college band director, Dr. Charles Menghini, said in passing that I’ve never forgotten. “Sometimes the money’s not in the budget, but that doesn’t mean it’s not out there.”

Here’s something that you learn when working with budgets that could make a shoestring look generous — there’s always money somewhere. Sometimes, you have to get a bit creative to find it. In my years of teaching, I’ve witnessed remarkable things happen through grants, community donations and good old-fashioned spaghetti dinners. Read my article on “Financial Tips for Music Educators.”

4. Kids Love Being in on the Process

small group sharing a group high fiveGive your students some skin in the game by letting them help select pieces or lead warm-ups. When I started incorporating student input, the atmosphere shifted from “us vs. them” to “we’re in this together.” And the best part was that performances were better for it. Besides, I’m the only director at my school, and I need the help!

5. Multitasking Can Be Disrespectful

This was a hard lesson for me. You think you’re being efficient, but you’re actually sending a message that what’s happening in front of you isn’t worth your full attention. In a digital age, this is even truer.

There’s nothing like looking out into a sea of smartphone screens to make you question your life choices. Your full attention signals to your students that they’re worth it, something I wish I’d grasped earlier in my career.

6. The Brain Is for Creating

Organization is key. Clipboards, sticky notes, digital apps — whatever helps you keep your tasks in check, use it. There’s freedom in structure that liberates you to be more inventive and responsive in your teaching. I’ve always been a pen-and-paper kind of guy, jotting down notes, to-dos and observations. Free up mental space for what your brain does best: creating and solving problems. Thinking all the time gets pretty tiring!

7. Literature Selection Matters

sheet music on music standsWhat you choose to play shapes not just the musical experience for your students, but also their emotional and intellectual development. What we play may be the most important curricular decision we make. And sometimes it’s also OK to program things that the kids like! Keep an ear out for what your kids warm-up on before rehearsal begins, and you instantly will know what works.

8. Music Theory Matters

You can’t fix a flat note if you don’t understand why it’s flat. When you and your students understand the mechanics of music, you are armed with the tools to refine, adjust and excel. I’ve had the privilege of learning from some of the most theoretically sound minds in the field, and the knowledge has been invaluable.

9. Teaching Just Feels Good

There’s not much that can compare to the look on a kid’s face when they nail that tough passage for the first time. The joy of teaching is its own reward, and it’s what keeps me coming back year after year. When you see that aha moment in a student, it’s like hitting the jackpot. I’ve been lucky to experience this thrill many times, and let me tell you, it never gets old.

10. Act Like You Belong

Sure, some days the music stands are missing, the tuba has a dent and the second clarinets are revolting — figuratively, of course. Even on those days, especially on those days, you must put on your game face. You chose this path for a reason, so find ways to remind yourself on why you do what you do.

11. The Complain-Twice Rule is in Effect 24/7

frustrated female teacherThis is an original: Complain about something twice, and you either need to fix it or let it go. It’s a principle that has served me well and has kept the rehearsal room positive and proactive.

Moral of the story: Either change it or change your attitude about it. Students are like sponges; they’ll soak up the positive vibes or the griping, so choose carefully. Being able to focus on solutions rather than problems is a skill I’ve honed over time, but it does it make a difference.

12. The Cost of Saying “Yes”

Remember that your time and energy are finite resources. When you commit to something, make sure it aligns with your goals for the ensemble and yourself. Sometimes turning down a side gig or additional responsibility is the best thing you can do for your students. In more practical approaches, saying yes to one student may mean saying no to everyone else.

13. Caring Comes in Many Forms

Whether it’s tough love or a listening ear, caring isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some days it’s a high-five, other days it’s a hard conversation about missed notes or missed opportunities. Your students are as diverse as the instruments they play, and they require different forms of caring. This is a teaching philosophy I’ve developed over the years, and it’s one that serves me well.

14. The Weight of “Should”

frustrated male teacher with head in his handsI catch myself with this one. If you’re using the word “should” too much, you’re not in the moment, and that’s a problem. Or, you have not accepted either what your situation is or where your control may be. I learned early on to adapt, reassess and keep it moving. “We shouldn’t have to invite the principal to our concert — they should just attend!” This, and other items, are not always how things work.

15. We Are Never 100% Without Control

It’s easy to feel swamped, but one of the most empowering lessons I’ve learned is that there’s always something you can control. Whether it’s your reaction, your mindset or your next move, seize it. No matter how chaotic things get, remember that you’re never without options. I’ve faced numerous challenges that seemed insurmountable at the time, but there’s always a lever to pull, always a button to push.

16. Self-Judgment vs. Other-Judgment

It’s easy to hold yourself to one standard and your students to another. This disparity is something I’ve worked hard to reconcile over the years, aiming for a more equitable view that fosters mutual respect and understanding. Kids respond positively to teachers who walk the walk.

17. The Ultimate Conformists’ Activity

My former colleague Dan Moore, a retired music educator and author of “Important Ingredients” method book, often spoke about band being the ultimate conformists’ activity. Yes, the individual is important, but continuing to promote collective success helps our students understand that we can’t do this alone. I’m not always one who enjoyed group projects, but there was something special about performance music and the way it showcases the individual, the smaller sections and the larger group. Each member has a role to play, and it’s rewarding for everyone when all these roles align.

18. Insistence, Consistence, Persistence

Another invaluable piece of advice from Mr. Lega and Dr. Harry Begian: A great program has a director that is insistent, consistent and persistent. If I had to sum up my teaching philosophy, it would be these three words. They serve as the foundation upon which I try to build a fulfilling and impactful career.

19. Every Day Is a Reset

happy female teacherGood or bad, tomorrow is another chance. Each new day presents a clean slate to try again, to be better, to make music. Embrace it.

20. I’m Just Happy to Be Here

I have a Post-it note near my desk that says, “You’re in your dream job. Act like it.”

I often pause to remember my early ambitions and appreciate the journey that has led me to where I am today. Whenever I find myself in a tough situation, I remind myself of this simple truth: There was a time when all I wanted was exactly what I have now.


Over the years, mentors, colleagues and above all, experiences, have contributed to these insights. Take these lessons as you will, tweak them to fit your own style, but always remember that teaching is a balancing act. You’re not just sharing information; you’re influencing the next generation. Sure, there are challenges — budget constraints, restless students, administrative tasks — but keep your eye on the bigger picture. Collect wisdom from others, be consistent in your approach and make room for growth. Every day offers a fresh start. Just take it one step at a time and remember: You’re making a difference!



An Afro-Centric Curriculum Promotes Excellence

Girls who excel in math and science get into Grace M. James Academy of Excellence, a middle school for girls in Louisville, Kentucky. The magnet school’s STEAM-focus curriculum for girls of color doesn’t negate the need for arts education, and Orchestra Director Gabriella Burdette is committed to developing the right side of her students’ brains with an Afro-centric emphasis that isn’t typical for mainstream music classes.

Grace James, which is part of Jefferson County Public Schools, invests in music, dance and theater classes along with its STEAM courses to offer a more well-rounded education. Students are required to take some kind of arts class, and they indicate first and second choices when filling out the survey for incoming students.

Challenge the Left and Right Side of the Brain

five female students perform at the Nutcracker pre-show
Students performing at a Nutcracker pre-show.

“We actually have a lot of arts in the school; it’s a very strong department,” Burdette says about her school, which just extended its grade levels to include high school. “I think we come in with that other side that everybody needs… that creativity side. We need to come in and help develop the whole brain. I think it works well because of that.”

Some particularly left-brained students who excel in the STEAM environment may struggle with the right-brained nature of music and other arts, but Burdette helps them by letting students take home instruments for extra practice, and making instruction videos the girls can use to practice at home.

Working with pre-teens and young teens — an age group many teachers avoid — gives Burdette a great opportunity to introduce a passion for music.

“I love that they are open to new things,” she says. “I love that they are not already with their mind set into one thing one style or trying just one thing for their whole life. They want a challenge. If it’s not a challenge for them, they are bored.”

group photo of orchestra students

African American Music Roots

While Burdette, who started at Grace James three years ago, still covers the classical composers like Bach and Beethoven, she focuses on Black composers in the six orchestra classes she teaches. Her students, about 90 percent of whom are Black, see themselves and can relate to composers like Florence Price, who was born in 1887 and was the first Black female composer to gain national status.

“Music is part of our history,” says Burdette, a native of Brazil who moved to Kentucky in 2012. “We are performing music that isn’t usually performed. What I want for my program is for the community to see the excellence in these girls.”

Another way Burdette incorporates the school’s Afro-centric focus in her orchestra classes is to ask questions. “If I’m going to include classics and talk about Beethoven or Bach … we have a discussion about the other side, and I ask things like: Were there Black composers from the same era? We always push into the Afro-centric, no matter what I show them.”

Investigate Intersectionality

students learning from musician Brooke Alford
Orchestra students at Grace M. James Academy learn from guest speaker, musician Brooke Alford.

Burdette and her students also talk about intersectionality, which describes the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender, and how they overlap. This complexity applies to the lessons about Price, who wrote symphonies and concertos and pieces for the violin and piano.

“Florence is one that we focus on because she was female and Black and a composer,” Burdette says. “There are a bunch of layers to her story so we include her in not only our discussion and project, but in our repertoire. We not only read about her, but we really discuss the intersectionality of her life.”

Burdette, who was recognized as a 2023 Yamaha “40 Under 40” music educator, explains, “It’s not: ‘Let’s play music by a Black composer and move on.’ It’s deeper than that.”

Through this Afro-centric approach, students are getting a more complete and meaningful music education. “I think they’re experiencing more in getting way deeper experiences,” she says. “This curriculum was challenging at first because I’d never done it. I had no idea what it was or what it looks like. I think the students enjoy learning about and playing composers who look like them.”

strings students playing instruments
Students perform “Adoration,” a piece written by Black composer Florence Price.

One favorite Price piece Burdette’s class plays is “Adoration,” which is a slow, beautiful, thoughtful and serene song. “It’s a song that you can meditate to, a song for you to just close your eyes and listen to,” Burdette says.

It’s not just music by Black artists from the early 20th century, like Price. Burdette and her students also play songs by more contemporary pop artists like Bruno Mars and Brooke Alford.

Learn from Professionals

strings students learning from a member of the Louiville Orchestra
Grace M. James Academy’s orchestra in a masterclass with a member of the Louisville Orchestra.

Periodically, Burdette brings in professional musicians from the Louisville Orchestra to work with students on the violin, viola and cello. The school received a grant to host a masterclass with the orchestra musicians. The girls benefit tremendously from meeting and hearing these talented and accomplished people. “The kids think: ‘Wow, I’m impressed. Maybe I can sound like that, too,’” Burdette says.

“I feel like there’s a lot of spaces for Black students to shine in not only the classical world but in the string world,” she says. “We don’t see many students like mine represented in orchestras. I hope my program will change that in the future.”

Grace James strives for excellence, not mediocrity. Students can sense that both in Burdette’s music classroom and elsewhere in the school.

“The most important thing for my girls to see is that I’m investing in them,” Burdette says. “I bring in professionals to show them what they can sound like. They see that I’m trying to give them a high-quality education. I want them here to play their instrument, but I also want them to play with excellence. We’re not going to do average. I think that excites them.”

Strive for Excellence

group shot after spring 2023 concertTeaching music, for Burdette, is not just a job. It’s her passion. It’s her calling.

“I have the excitement and the desire to give them an above-average experience,” Burdette says. “Since I joined Grace James, I felt that the school always pushes students to be more than above average. I want the same thing for orchestra. I tell them that a lot: I want you to experience the above average in my class.”

Burdette loves what she does. “I come to school every day wanting to see them, wanting to play music with them, wanting to hear them play and wanting to teach them,” she says enthusiastically. “I think they feel that, and they want to do well because it’s a two-way street

Discover the Sonic Possibilities of Your Drums, Part 2

In Part 1 of this two-part article, we discovered how the sound of a drum is affected by various tonewoods, drum heads and muffling. This time, we’ll see how different tunings, hoops and bearing edges impact on tonality.

Tune Up!

One of the easiest ways to give your drums a new personality is by changing the tuning. Good tuning takes a bit of practice, but the results are well worth the effort.

Here’s how to tune snare drums and toms:

1. Start by evaluating the condition of the drum heads. Heads that are torn, stretched or have pock marks will be difficult to tune and should be replaced.

2. Whether you’re replacing the heads or not, take them off before you begin the tuning process and use a clean, dry cloth to remove debris from the heads, the metal hoops and the bearing edges (the thin edge of a drum shell that directly contacts the head; more below). Take care not to damage the bearing edges because a dent or crack in the edge can make tuning difficult.

3. Next, stretch the head to make tuning easier. Set the drum down on a flat, dry surface with an old towel underneath, and seat the head on the shell by making sure that the “flesh hoop” (the hoop of the head) surrounds the shell and that the head lies flat on the bearing edge. Then gently press down a few times on the middle of the head with your palm, as shown below. You may hear a cracking noise when you push down on new heads; this is the sound of the glue separating from the flesh hoop and is completely normal.

Man's hand holding down a tympanic membrane from a drum.
New heads should be gently stretched before tuning.

4. The next step is to check the tension rods, washers and metal hoop. If any of these parts are bent or damaged, they should be replaced. Bent tension rods can be spotted by rolling them along the edge of a table, and you can check a metal hoop by laying it on a piece of glass or a stone countertop. It should lay flat and not rock back and forth. If necessary, you can add a a small dab of viscous lithium grease to each tension rod, but don’t overdo it or they’ll loosen too easily. (Yamaha drums use a special lubricant for tension rods that lasts a very long time — sometimes even for the life of the drum.) Finger-tighten each tension rod until the washer comes in contact with the metal hoop.

5. Pick a tension rod (call it “number 1”) and tighten it a half-turn using a drum key. Do the same to the tension rod opposite, then all the others, following the tuning patterns show below. These patterns help create equal tension across the head, which reduces unwanted overtones and ensures consistent pitch throughout the entire drum head. Even tension also helps prevent rims from bending and shells from going out of round.

Left to right: tuning patterns for six-lug, eight-lug, and ten-lug drums.

6. Once there’s tension on the head, you can use quarter-turns for finer adjustment. Depending upon the size of the drum, the weight of the head and the desired pitch, you’ll need between two and five half-turns — but snare side heads usually require more tension to achieve the high sensitivity required for ghost notes, drags and buzz rolls.

7. As you work your way through a tuning pattern, you may notice that some of the tension rods become loose. That’s because the metal hoop is being pulled down by the tension rods you’ve already tightened, so finger-tighten as you go if necessary.

8. Once the head has enough tension to produce a note, tap it near each tension rod and listen for consistent pitch. Adjust the rods where the pitch varies significantly, then strike the head in the center with a stick and listen for a pure note without any weird overtones.

9. When done, tune the bottom head in the same manner, being careful not to break snare side heads by overtightening. For toms and kick drum, start with the resonant head tuned to the same pitch as the batter head; this will maximize sustain. From there you can experiment by tuning the resonant head higher (less sustain, slight pitch bend up) or lower (less sustain, slight pitch bend down). As you get to know your drums, you’ll learn the range of pitches where they “speak” best. Tuning too high will choke the drum, while tuning too low can make a drum sound dull and muddy, like a cardboard box.

Contemporary drummers who typically tune their kits high include Stewart Copeland and Bill Bruford. The great Buddy Rich also utilized a signature high tuning. Drummers that favor a low tuning include Dave Grohl and Lars Ulrich, as did Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.

Here are some videos that show Yamaha Artists playing in different tunings:

Dario Panza on a Live Custom Hybrid Oak kit with the toms tuned low.

Joshua Johnson on a Stage Custom Birch kit with medium tuning.

Steve Gadd on a Recording Custom kit with the snare tuned medium and the toms tuned high.

Tuning a Bass Drum

Follow the same steps for tuning a bass drum, keeping in mind that there are a few important differences. Most bass drums use straight wood hoops with T-rods and claws, so take extra care when aligning the wood hoop with the flesh hoop of the head. One to two turns on each tension rod for the batter head should be enough to create the low-pitched “whump” heard in most contemporary music genres, but jazz drummers may want to tune a little higher to create a longer, more defined note. If the batter hoop has a hoop protector (shown below) to prevent damage from the foot pedal clamp, be sure it’s positioned at the bottom where the pedal will be attached.

Closeup on metal plate.
Bass drum hoop protector.

Before you seat the resonant head, consider whether or not you’ll add a pillow, blanket or other device designed to dampen a bass drum. Internal damping may not be needed if the heads already have built-in damping. To get maximum “woof,” tune the resonant head low (one to two turns), but make sure that none of the tension rods are loose enough to rattle. If you’re looking for a pure tone with more sustain, tune the resonant head higher (two to four turns).

An Alternative Tuning Method

Here’s an alternative tuning technique that works very well for some drummers:

1. Finger-tighten the tension rods, then place your palm in the center of the head and push down. The head will wrinkle.

2. Using a drum key, tighten one tension rod until the wrinkle near that rod disappears.

3. Then move clockwise to the next tension rod and repeat the process until you have completed a circle and there are no wrinkles.

4. Finally, do a tap test to check the pitch near each tension rod and adjust if necessary.

Snare Wire Tension

The tension on snare wires can have a big impact too, so be sure to check it as part of the tuning process.

Here’s how: With the snares switched on, tap the drum at the center of the head very lightly. If it sounds like a tom, the snares are too tight and the drum is choking. Loosen the throw off so that the snares rattle slightly when struck at a low volume. If they rattle too long, tighten the throw off.

Overtightened snares can choke a drum.

You may encounter a situation where hitting a tom causes the snare to buzz. This is called “sympathetic vibration” and can usually be cured by making sure that the toms and snare are not tuned close to one another in pitch.

Bearing Edges

As mentioned previously, the bearing edge is the part of a drum shell that directly contacts the head. It significantly impacts the tone and articulation of the drum, with different shapes producing different tones. The bearing edges for Yamaha PHX Series drums, for example, are cut at 30 degrees, but each type of shell (tom, floor tom or bass drum) has a different radius (R). The radius is the area at the top of the bearing edge where the head touches the wood, and it determines the amount of vibration transferred from the head to the shell. The edge for the PHX bass drum (R1.5) produces a clear, sharp sound, while the tom edges (R2 and R4) produce a fatter, more rounded sound.

PHX Series bearing edges.

Yamaha Recording Custom Series drums use a R1.5/30-degree bearing edge to deliver a sharp response and a wide tuning range with a variety of head choices.

Recording Custom series bearing edge.

Yamaha Tour Custom drums feature 45-degree bearing edges that add tonal depth and quick response while providing the perfect amount of sustain.


Drum hoops can be made of steel, brass, aluminum or wood, and each has a unique sound. Yamaha Live Custom Hybrid Oak Series drums, for example, use 2.3 mm steel hoops for a tighter sound and sharp response, while the company’s PHX Series drums feature 3 mm die-cast aluminum hoops that are manufactured using a proprietary process developed by Yamaha. These hoops provide precision tuning due to their rigidity but — unlike zinc die-cast hoops, which are heavy and reduce head vibration — produce a rich, melodic tone and moderate attack without suppressing head vibration.

PHX Series die-cast aluminum hoop.

Yamaha Tour Custom Series drums utilize a unique 2.3 mm inverse DynaHoop that controls overtones and focuses the fundamental tone of the shell.

Tour Custom 2.3mm inverse DynaHoop.

Listen to Yamaha Artist Shoji Hirakawa play a Yamaha Tour Custom drum kit.

All of these elements — tonewoods, heads, muffling, tuning, bearing edges and hoops — are part of a formula that you can use to create your ultimate drum sound. Time to roll up your sleeves and get started!

Photographs courtesy of the author.

Yamaha at The Met

New York’s world-famous Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) recently added an interactive learning space for children at their 81st Street Studio facility, with Yamaha playing a major role.

The musical station at the space was conceived and designed by the Yamaha Design Laboratory, using a variety of materials to introduce children to unique sound experiences and demonstrate how different materials influence sound. The first-of-their-kind instruments include standing guitars, a bird chime, a castanet wall, a marimba window, sound surfboards and an 11-note bellows pipe organ.

Ready to learn more? Read on …

Standing String

Two children playing with standing guitars.

This consists of two guitars, one large and one small, each with a single string on a tree trunk-like body rising vertically. The position of the finger on the string alters the string’s length, while pressing the pedal changes the tightness of the string, both resulting in a change in pitch. Using their whole body, the player can experience and understand the principles of one of the most basic musical instruments: a string, which produces sound by vibration.

Woodpecker Chime

Young girl playing with chimes.

By pulling a string and releasing it, a hammer strikes a chime, imitating the way a woodpecker taps on wood. An array of wooden birds are scattered across the ceiling, with each playing a different scale, allowing the child to enjoy the various sounds and movements of the birds spread throughout the space as if they were in a forest.

Wall Castanet

Young child playing with wall musical instrument.

This large interactive sound-making wall is filled with dozens of castanets, designed to spark children’s curiosity. The sound varies depending on the type of wood used for each castanet, as does the pitch, which changes depending on the size of the ring cut out from the wall.

Marimba Woods

Young child playing a percussion instrument.

Photo by Paula Lobo, courtesy of The Met.

This is a collection of sound boards made of various types of wood, lined up against a glass window. Each board is tuned to make the correct scale, but when the child taps it, they will notice that, depending on the wood type, the sound characteristics and the relationship between their size (length) and scale vary. This shows that each wood type has different and unique properties, such as hardness and density.

Sound Surfboard

Two children playing on circular balance items.

These balance board-style toys play the sound of waves when ridden. Small steel balls inside move and rub against the form, producing white noise-like sounds. From strong waves to quiet ripples, the sound changes depending on how the child moves their body, allowing them to naturally enjoy making sound through play.

Bellows Pipe Organ

Child playing with organ pipes.

The first musical instrument crafted by Yamaha company founder Torakusu Yamaha, way back in 1887, was a reed organ. Similarly, the pipe-like organ created for The Met’s interactive learning space makes sound by pushing air through orderly arranged tubes. Air is pumped out by bellows on the base, and sound is produced from the resulting vibration of air coming from the tubes. As they play, the child learns how the pitch changes depending on the length of the tubes and will experience the overlap of notes played by pumping air into multiple tubes simultaneously. This allows the player to better understand the sound-making principles of a pipe similar to a recorder, and to appreciate the sound of multi-note chords.

The Heart and Soul of Yamaha

“Music education is at the heart and soul of Yamaha,” says Kip Washio, design R&D department manager, Yamaha Corporation of America. “With this musical learning station, we aimed to create out-of-the box musical instruments — ones that are experiential in nature and distinct from traditional instruments — to fuel children’s curiosity for exploration. This is a first for Yamaha to create inspiring and interactive musical instruments as long-term installations.”

With each of the instruments on display, children will uncover the principles of music-making. This includes being able to use their whole bodies to generate sound, emphasizing a tactile experience, in addition to the marimba boards along the windows allowing multiple children to simultaneously explore the diverse tonal qualities of various wood types and materials.

“The six featured pieces are designed to allow people to experience the joy and wonder of creating different sounds using a diverse range of materials,” adds Mr. Manabu Kawada, senior general manager, Yamaha Design Laboratory. “Visitors can immerse themselves in the sounds of the natural world and everyday life as they strike, pluck, and even ride on these creations. Because they are installed in a learning center in a world-renowned museum where curious children are free to roam, we dedicated ourselves to offering people the chance to experience real sound phenomena firsthand. In an age of convenience, we wanted children to discover ways of enjoying themselves with sound by touching things with their hands, listening carefully to the sounds created, and experimenting in their way.”

About the Yamaha Design Laboratory

Established in 1963, the Yamaha Design Laboratory is the company’s in-house design division, overseeing a wide variety of products, ranging from acoustic and digital musical instruments to audio equipment, furniture, golf products and more.

Throughout the years, Yamaha has accumulated numerous awards and recognition for products developed by the laboratory, including the flagship wireless YH-L700A headphones and the saxophone-like Venova casual wind instrument created for beginners, as well as the YDS-150 digital saxophone and the line of THR-II desktop guitar amplifiers. The laboratory also created the experimental “wall piano” that was one of the highlights of the 2022 NAMM show.

About the 81st Street Studio

The 81st Street Studio is a renovated 3,500-square-foot science and art play space in the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education at The Met. Created for children ages 3 to 11, the Studio offers dynamic digital and analog experiences that stimulate and encourage making, investigation, critical thinking, problem-solving and appreciation for the diverse dimensions of materials and their properties.


Learn more about The Met’s 81st Street Studio.

All-Day Energy Hacks for Music Teachers

We all know someone with seemingly boundless energy. They have so much vigor and stamina, the Energizer Bunny would be jealous. But what about the rest of us normal people, whose energy levels dip during the day? These dips usually happen at the most inconvenient times, like during a schoolwide staff training or before the last music class of the day. Well, fade out no more. Here are some clever and more unusual ways of boosting your energy, and no, none of them are “chug coffee.” (You’re a teacher. We assume you’re already chugging coffee.)

shower5:45 a.m.

You’ve hauled your tush out of bed, so enjoy a little treat. Maybe that means a special mug, a super soft robe, fancy slippers or extra-soft bath towels. Life’s little luxuries mean an awful lot at the crack of dawn and can be helpful in starting the day off feeling more energized.

6:00 a.m.

Turn your shower into a stimulating spa steam room. Try a shower mist spray or a shower steamer with essential oils like orange, peppermint, lemongrass or rosemary. Finish the shower by standing under cold water — see if you can gradually work up to about 30 seconds. According to cold therapy proponent Wim Hof, cold showers induce a state of alertness and focus by decreasing the amount of CO2 throughout the body. He claims you’ll eventually start to look forward to this icy blast. Hmm, we’ll see.

kiwi6:30 a.m.

Eat a couple of kiwi fruit as part of breakfast. Kiwi is high in vitamin C, which is essential for the body’s energy powerhouses — mitochondria — to work optimally, according to research published in the journal Nutrients. One kiwi fruit has more vitamin C than two oranges, and has fiber and potassium to boot. Other energy-boosting breakfast foods include steel-cut oatmeal, Greek yogurt, eggs or whole grain toast with a nut butter.

7:15 a.m.

On the way to school, sing in your car. In addition to being just plain fun — and a great way to entertain your fellow commuters as you zoom by performing Queen’s greatest hits — singing reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Research from the University of Oxford shows that singing also boosts positive neurological effects, reduces muscle tension and may boost the immune system. So, what song boosts your swagger?

yellow flower8:30 a.m.

Promote energetic vibes with yellow, a highly stimulating color. Try putting yellow flowers on your desk, or a pot with a yellow indoor plant such as kalanchoe or an orchid. If you’re allowed, paint a wall in your classroom or office yellow. Other options: a yellow sweater or shawl for chilly spaces, or a bright yellow water bottle.

9:45 a.m.

Speaking of water, dehydration is one of the most common causes of fatigue and even mild dehydration can leave you feeling droopy. According to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, adult women need 9 cups of water each day (72 ounces) while adult men need 10 cups (80 ounces), so sip throughout the day. If you’re not a big fan of plain water, add fresh mint, cucumber, berries or citrus fruits to your water bottle to make the beverage more enticing.

11:00 a.m.

Keep to-do lists to a minimum: Three specific goals for today — that’s it. For example, “send out permission slips for field trip, call for dentist appointment, plan lesson on music mind maps.” Longer to-do lists sap your energy and make you feel stressed and overwhelmed. Short lists like this help you stay energized and focused, rather than feeling discouraged and ready to curl up into a ball on the carpet.

male teacher walkingNoon

Can you slip out for a 10 minute walk around the school campus or even up and down some stairs? A low- to moderate-effort walk is as effective in boosting energy as consuming 50 mg of caffeine, or about the same as a can of Coke or Diet Coke. That’s according to a study published in the Journal of Physiology & Behavior. That study also found that cognitive performance increased after the short walk. And unlike caffeine, a walk won’t boomerang back to keep you awake at 3 a.m.

Bonus points: Pair your walk with chewing gum — yes, you can walk and chew gum at the same time — because chewing gum boosts alertness, according to research. Cinnamon and peppermint flavors are both energizing options.

1:30 p.m.

Time for a healthy snack. Almonds are high in manganese, copper and magnesium, all of which are important to the body’s energy production. Plus, almonds have protein and fiber to keep you feeling full. A serving is 23 almonds, or a small handful.

2:30 p.m.

The dreaded midday slump approaches, but you are ready to banish it. It’s time to have a little afternoon dance party with your students. “I like to move it move it…” Little kids love to learn dances like the “Cha Cha Slide,” while older students can take turns DJ-ing their current favorites for their classmates to groove to.

man rubbing ear4 p.m.

Your workday is hopefully coming to a close, but busy music educators like you probably have plenty of tasks left to accomplish. Beat late-day lethargy by rubbing your ears. The ears have energy points, according to traditional Chinese medicine and yoga philosophies, and stimulating these by massaging the ears can release tension and boost energy. Massage therapist Rachel Richards has a video with instructions.

An Introduction to Immersive Sound Bars

Both stylish and functional, sound bars offer home theater enthusiasts a great way to enjoy action-packed movies and bass-thumping music with little to no setup. And with the ever-increasing amount of films and music being released in the Dolby Atmos® format, they provide a fully immersive audio experience, literally taking sound to new heights.

Ready to find out more? Read on …

What Is Dolby Atmos?

First introduced in 2012, Dolby Atmos provides object-based surround sound. Unlike standard 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound, where the sounds are “fixed” to each speaker in the array, object-based multichannel technology can produce up to 118 sound objects simultaneously, feeding up to 64 speakers! This allows for those mixing audio in the production process to place individual sounds with pinpoint accuracy … and without being limited to certain speakers in the system. What’s more, these sounds offer additional width, depth and height over conventional surround, and can be set to fixed locations or moved with the action, creating a more fluid listening experience with full sonic envelopment.

Up until recently, this technology was mostly used for film releases, but these days, it’s not just for movies. Dolby Atmos Music offers thousands of specially mixed music tracks in the Atmos format, created in studios around the world by top producers and audio engineers. These tracks can be streamed via services like Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited and Tidal. Game publishers are offering an ever-increasing universe of titles in the Dolby Atmos format too.

Atmos-Compatible Sound Bars

These are exciting times for home theater enthusiasts who love surround sound! And with the wide array of Atmos-compatible sound bars now available, you no longer need a full Hi-Fi setup with ceiling speakers to enjoy a fully enveloping listening experience.

How does a sound bar handle Dolby Atmos technology? While models vary, depending on cost and options, a basic Atmos-compatible sound bar will generally utilize a single center unit outfitted with a combination of full-range front-firing speakers and built-in subwoofer speakers to fortify the low end. It may also include speakers designed to fire upwards, off the ceiling, adding an element of height. More advanced models may include a separate wireless subwoofer, helping to take the load of bass off the sound bar, or even a set of rear speakers for additional envelopment.

“Sound bars were born out of necessity, as users needed an easy and affordable way to get acceptable sound for their TV viewing,” says Phil Shea, Marketing Communications Manager of Consumer Audio at Yamaha Corporation of America. “The common thought, a few years ago, was that a great sound needed a receiver and 5.1 speaker package for starters. With the recent integrations of Dolby Atmos into sound bars, the performance gap between entry level component systems and sound bars has narrowed.”

Yamaha Offerings

Yamaha has long offered sound bars with Dolby Atmos capabilities, the latest of which include the entry-level SR-B30A and SR-B40A. In addition to being able to play back Dolby Atmos soundtracks and music, both models have built-in Bluetooth® so you can stream music directly to them without the need for any additional gear. The SR-B30A includes dual built-in subwoofers, while the SR-B40A adds a 100-watt wireless subwoofer that can be placed anywhere in the room to get maximum bottom end.

Long thin speaker.
Yamaha SR-B30A.
Long thin speaker.
Yamaha SR-B40A.

In addition, there are two new high-end Atmos-compatible sound bars: the True X Bar 40A and True X Bar 50A. The True X Bar 40A has dual built-in subwoofers, while the True X Bar 50A comes with both dual built-in subwoofers and a separate wireless sub. Both feature Alexa compatibility for voice control.

Long thin speaker.
Yamaha True X Bar 40A.
Long thin speaker.
Yamaha True X Bar 50A.

As shown in the cutaway illustration below, both models incorporate upward-firing drivers, designed to bounce sound off the ceiling. “That will get you a much bigger sound with much a more enveloping presentation, giving you a more realistic 3D sound from Dolby Atmos mixes,” says Shea.

Interior view of long thin speaker.

In addition, you can pair True X Bar sound bars with wireless Yamaha True X Speaker 1A portable speakers, allowing you to place your surround speakers anywhere in your room. The 1A is a true dual-purpose speaker. With a push of a button, it can be switched into Solo mode, which converts it to a standalone Bluetooth speaker that you can take into your backyard in order to listen to a podcast or some music. When you’re ready to sit down and enjoy immersive audio again, just take the speaker back into the living room and switch it into Surround mode to instantly reintegrate it into your home Atmos setup.

Small speaker.
Yamaha True X Speaker 1A.

“Everything is wireless in the whole system,” Shea explains. “You simply plug in the sound bar, then use an HDMI cable or optical cable to connect it to your TV. The True X Speaker 1As are wireless and have rechargeable batteries in them; when fully charged up, they provide to 12 hours of power. They can be placed wherever it’s convenient — on a coffee table or bookshelf, anywhere in the room.”

From action-packed movies to high energy gaming and all styles of music, immersive sound bars can cover it all. It’s like having a full performance audio system that just happens to be packaged into one easy-to-setup, fully flexible device.

Interdisciplinary Development Between the Arts

When the pandemic of 2020 caused schools across America to close their doors, West Covina High School in California was in the midst of developing a new program that had been years in the making: the Performing Arts Academy, which provides additional learning opportunities for students studying instrumental music, voice, dance, acting and theater tech. Before COVID hit, West Covina had already started the process of taking student applications and scheduling auditions for the academy. As a result, the administration said they should begin the program virtually. “That was our soft opening,” says Tyler Wigglesworth, choral director at West Covina and director of the vocal discipline (which is referred to as a pillar) for the academy.

Now that school has been back to in-person instruction for nearly three years, the Performing Arts Academy is finally evolving into the program that Wigglesworth and others had envisioned. West Covina already had thriving music, dance and theater departments — but the academy gave the school a place where these departments could come together. “Our idea was to bring an academy where students could select a major when they audition,” Wigglesworth says.

The academy, which is publicly funded as part of the public school system, is open to auditions from incoming 9th and 10th graders within the West Covina Unified School District — or any other school district, though acceptance into the academy would require an outside student to go through a transfer process. During the past four years, the academy has grown substantially, beginning with only six students in 2020 and now with 36 students for the 2023-2024 school year. “Our hope is that in the next five years, we will surpass the 100-student mark … with 25 students in each pillar,” Wigglesworth says.

West Covina High School choir performing

Inspired by Alumni

Wigglesworth says that West Covina’s alumni were a major source of inspiration for building the program. During his first couple of years of teaching at the school, he noticed how collaborative the students could be when putting on a production. As the music director for the school musical that year, Wigglesworth worked alongside the choreographer/dance director and the theater director, and he realized how crucial it was for vocalists, actors and dancers to work together. “It’s this collaborative experience,” he says. “We had students sharing in all our disciplines pretty rigorously. Students who in their senior year, would take a dance class, a choir class, a theater class and marching band.”

female singer at West Covina High SchoolWigglesworth says that taking all these classes together was making the students not just better performers and musicians, but also better overall learners. Though these students have now graduated, their legacy includes their inspiration for the Performing Arts Academy. “These alumni, they were hungry, they wanted this,” Wigglesworth says. “They started to paint a picture of what could be a reality — and that was the academy.”

These overachieving students inspired Wigglesworth and other faculty at West Covina to turn this interdisciplinary approach into an officially structured program. “This formality of creating a structure where you’re developing the whole performer was happening very organically, but now we [were] going to give it a bit more structure, and through that structure, provide even more opportunities,” Wigglesworth says.

These additional opportunities came in the form of scheduled private lessons, workshops with teaching artists, visits from industry professionals and so much more. According to Wigglesworth, industry professionals and trained educators each have something unique to offer. “We are firm believers that the development of these performers cannot be done without a trained educator,” he says. “Teaching artists may not be educators … they’re professionals who have worked in the performance arts industry. Through that, we’re asking them to bring their wealth of experience into the academy and add another layer to the pedagogy.”

A Busy Schedule

male singer at West Covina High SchoolStudents involved in the Performing Arts Academy must fit all their private lessons and extra performances into their existing school schedules, which include all traditional school requirements. “Their schedules are pretty jam-packed,” Wigglesworth says.

While working as the director of the academy’s vocal pillar, Wigglesworth, who was recognized as a 2023 Yamaha “40 Under 40” music educator, also serves as the program’s coordinator. Each year, he meets with all academy students and their academic counselors to work out an efficient schedule. “They need to meet all graduation requirements for high school [and] be eligible to apply to any college of their choosing,” Wigglesworth says.

In addition, all academy students must take an ensemble class within their discipline: a vocalist must take a choir class, for example. During seventh period on Mondays and Wednesdays, academy students take a “professional practices” class, which could include workshops from professional teaching artists, lessons on how to professionally audition, and more. Mondays and Wednesdays are also when academy students take their private lessons. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, academy students meet for the school musical; all academy students are required to participate in the musical in some capacity.

Outside of school-day classes and musical rehearsals, Performing Arts Academy students also put on a plethora of performances. Each school year includes two academy-only showcases, at the end of the fall and spring semesters. These showcases include both solo recitals and group performances.

Additionally, academy students perform with their ensemble classes. For example, students in the vocal pillar must perform with the choir department in its seven yearly shows. Beyond those shows, students are also expected to perform in more professional, outside-of-school settings as well.

Professional Performances

female singer at West Covina High SchoolBecause West Covina is located in Southern California, faculty have developed working relationships with professionals from The Walt Disney Company, which provides students with additional workshop opportunities.

For example, Wigglesworth has brought choir students onto Disney’s Imagination Campus. “We’ve been test choirs for them,” he says. “These types of performances [are] looking at how we can push into the industry as much as possible. I don’t believe the West Covina High choral department should exist in just the four walls of any given classroom; it needs to be out in the community, us working with industry professionals, so our students are getting a well-rounded experience.”

By securing performance opportunities within the West Covina community, including in collaboration with big companies like Disney, Wigglesworth aims to introduce choral department and academy students to the variety of career paths available to them. “There are so many niches in the performing arts industry,” Wigglesworth says. “You can find that niche and have a great career, be fulfilled as an artist and also make money.”

Interdisciplinary Development

While Performing Arts Academy students focus their studies in a specific major, they are also required to take classes in the other pillars, or disciplines. According to Wigglesworth, an interdisciplinary approach helps them become a more well-rounded performer. “There’s something for an instrumentalist to learn from taking a vocal or dance class,” he says. “The skills a vocalist can get from an acting class will make them a better vocalist.”

When auditioning for the academy, students apply solely for their intended discipline. Even if they aren’t skilled in the other pillars, learning the basics will help them gain stage presence, more overall performing experience, and a better understanding of the skills their classmates are developing.

The yearly school musical is where all academy pillars come together. The theater teacher directs and leads the production, the dance teacher choreographs, the instrumental music instructor plays with the instrumentalists in the pit, and Wigglesworth musically directs the show.

“No matter what role you are playing or intending to play, every goes through the audition process,,” Wigglesworth says.

Building Toward the Future

Tyler Wigglesworth, choral director at West Covina High School, conducting
Tyler Wigglesworth

As the Performing Arts Academy grows, Wigglesworth and the rest of the faculty have big plans for the future, and some of those plans are starting this academic year. Because the 2023-24 school year will include the academy’s first class of graduating seniors, this coming year will welcome the first senior jury process. “Seniors present solo or small-group works before a panel,” says Wigglesworth. “We bring some teaching artists into that senior jury to give feedback. They’re presenting in front of people who might hire them at some point in their career. [We’re] trying to bring the industry into the academy and bring the academy to the industry.”

Building a future for the academy has also included some literal building. Construction is underway for a Performing Arts Center, which will include a main theater with a full stage, orchestra pit and about 630 seats. “We’re pushing the boundaries of what’s expected at the high school level,” says Wigglesworth, noting that the new Performing Arts Center will “rival most colleges.”

Because West Covina sits in between Orange County and Los Angeles, Wigglesworth hopes that this new building can attract some professional musicians, actors and dancers to perform in town.

The Performing Arts Center will also include a black box theater, a scene shop for building props and sets, a full dance studio and an acoustically tuned choir room that can double as a recording space. Through the ClearCom and Dante systems, this new building will fully sync with the instrumental music building across campus.

Previously, many performances at West Covina took place outdoors, in the cafetorium or in rented facilities. “Now we’re going to have this space that mirrors [our] quality,” Wigglesworth says.

Outside of hosting new performances, Wigglesworth notes that he’s especially excited for West Covina alumni to come back for a visit and stand on the new stage. He wants to tell them, “It’s because of you.”

A Guide to Electric Guitar Pickups

We’ve discussed previously how multiple factors affect the tone produced by an electric guitar, from the soul of the player to the tonewoods used in the instrument’s construction … and everything in-between.

But probably none has more impact than the pickups on the instrument. Here’s a guide to the many pickup options available, how they differ and why you should familiarize yourself with the various tonalities they provide.

What Is a Pickup?

An electric guitar pickup is simply a magnet (or, more typically, a set of six magnets — one for each string) inserted into a bobbin and wrapped in copper wire. Its function is to sense (“pick up”) the vibrational movement of the strings on your guitar and convert it into electrical energy that can be sent to an amplifier and speakers.

Interestingly, coils and magnets can be used to convert sound to electricity even without electrical power. This is because an electric current flows through a coil whenever a nearby magnetic body (such as a steel string on an electric guitar) is moved. A correlating change occurs in the resultant current depending on the frequency at which the strings vibrate.


Most electric guitar pickups are “passive” — that is, they don’t require external power — though there are also some instruments outfitted with “active” pickups, which are powered by a battery housed in the guitar. These provide a juiced-up signal that appeals to shredders and heavy metal enthusiasts … though, of course, the battery needs to be replaced when it dies.

Regardless of whether it is passive or active, the type of magnets used in any guitar pickup, as well as their proximity to the strings and position along the string length, along with the amount and direction of copper windings, are all contributing factors to the resulting tonality. Although winding the coil more will increase the volume of the sound, if wound too much, the sound will become muffled. In addition, the size of the gap between windings has a major effect on tonality. It’s a complicated formula with multiple interactions, which is why constructing an effective guitar pickup is as much an art as it is a science.

Here are the most common electric guitar pickup types you’ll encounter:


As their name implies, these types of pickups utilize one coil of wire wound around a magnet. They are the simplest of all the pickup types, but because they are also the smallest, they capture the smallest surface area of the string vibration, thus somewhat limiting their tonal range. However, their reduced footprint enables them to be angled slightly for variation in the bass and treble response, in addition to allowing placement anywhere between the bridge and the fretboard. The height of the pole pieces is often staggered too, to compensate for the natural variation in string volumes. Some modern versions of the single-coil pickup increase the output volumes for contemporary playing styles, but in my opinion, something gets lost in that extra output.

Closeup of electric guitar body.
The Yamaha Pacifica PAC612VIIFM utilizes single-coil neck and middle pickups.

Because they reproduce high frequencies (treble) better than low frequencies (bass), single-coil pickups have a characteristically bright and well-defined sound that easily cuts through any mix. They are also very sensitive to subtleties in a player’s technique, making them eminently suitable for pop, country and funk music. However, single-coils can be noisier than other pickup types (they can actually act like small microphones) and are susceptible in particular to 60 Hz (60-cycle) electrical system hum. This can make them tricky to capture in a quiet recording, but some say that the trade-off in tone is worth the extra effort gating out the noise. I’d agree. After all, once the band kicks in, no one hears the hum anyway.

For a long time, I’d only play guitars fitted with single-coils because I felt that the artistic voice and personality of a guitarist comes through best on an instrument fitted with this type of pickup. Maybe it’s the slower response to the attack that I like — it’s almost as if the notes have air around them … a hollow aspect that envelops the sound.


The P90 is a variation on the basic single-coil pickup, but it has a wider bobbin, giving it more string area to sense, thus creating a sound that’s a little more aggressive and not as cutting as a standard single-coil, with a higher output and fewer humming issues when you crank up the gain. They’re sometimes referred to as “soapbar” pickups because they’re usually sealed in cream-colored or black enamel, which gives them a distinctive look that’s quite different from that of standard single-coils. The Yamaha Revstar RSS02T and RSP02T (shown below) comes with dual cream-colored P90s.

Closeup of guitar body.
The Yamaha Revstar RSP02T features dual P90 pickups.

The P90 voice purrs or growls depending on the dynamic of the player. There’s a sweet, gritty dirt that flows like syrup when using a guitar fitted with this kind of pickup, making them perfect for kicking out the jams or playing the blues.


Filter’Tron-style pickups are also single-coil in nature, but with an improved signal-to-noise ratio (to “Filter” out the elec”Tron”ic noise). These iconic black and chrome pickups are often associated with retro-styled guitars that emulate those manufactured in the 1950s, sometimes paired with a Bigsby tremolo “whammy bar” system, as in the (now-discontinued) Yamaha Revstar RS720B shown below.

Electric guitar.
The Yamaha Revstar RS720B offered dual Filter’Tron-style pickups.

Similar in width to the P90, but with a less aggressive sound, Filter’Trons have a cleaner, chime-like and somewhat jangly tone, making them excellent for rockabilly, rock ’n’ roll chordal playing and single-note arpeggios.


Humbucking pickups, often called “humbuckers,” are essentially two single-coil pickups mounted side-by-side and wired together. This not only gives them a thick, powerful sound with a hotter output, but also enables them to greatly reduce (“buck”) any hum or buzzing.


Some guitars with humbuckers feature a switch (usually called a coil split or tap) to turn off one coil and make it work and sound like a single-coil pickup.

Humbuckers are sometimes used in the bridge position, paired with two single-coil pickups in the neck and middle positions — a combination used by Yamaha Pacifica 600 Series, 200 Series and 012/100 Series guitars.

Electric guitar.
The Yamaha Pacifica 012 provides two single-coil pickups and a humbucker.

But perhaps the most common configuration is that of dual humbuckers in both the bridge and neck positions, as in the Yamaha Revstar RSS20 solid-body and SA2200 semi-hollow body models. Due to their positioning, the bridge humbucker delivers a brighter, punchier sound, while the neck humbucker adds warmth and a smoother tone, especially when playing in the upper register. When paired this way, humbuckers deliver versatility galore and are suitable for every kind of genre, from jazz to blues to hard rock.

Sometimes humbuckers simply look like two single-coils next to each other, as in the Yamaha Pacifica 012 shown above, and sometimes they are placed in a metal casing to look like one large pickup, as in the SA2200 (shown below).

Electric guitar.
The Yamaha SA2200 offers dual humbuckers.

Pickup Selector Switches

Unless your guitar has only one pickup, it will offer a pickup selector switch and individual volume control knobs (often supplemented by tone control knobs) that let you blend various combinations of the pickups onboard.

All Yamaha Revstar Professional and Revstar Standard electric guitars feature a five-way pickup selector switch, along with a pull-pot on the tone control called a “focus” switch. This adds a passive mid-boost tonal variation to any of the five pickup selections … giving Revstar players ten pickup tones on a guitar with only two pickups! These models also come with your choice of P90 or humbucking pickups.

How to Choose Your Pickups

Should you choose your guitar based on its pickups? To some degree, yes, but first and foremost you should always look for an instrument that feels comfortable and fits your personality and style. If you can find a guitar that has all those things in one beautiful package, then you should definitely consider buying it.

But what if you fall in love with a particular guitar but find that its pickups lack the tone, punch or pizzazz you’ve been searching for? No problem: There are a million options for replacement pickups on the market these days. In fact, most pickups can be retrofitted to most guitars without the need for expensive modifications, provided you choose the correct replacement sizes.

Even semi-acoustic and hollow body guitars can have a new set of pickups installed, though it’s best to opt for a qualified luthier or repair technician to make any significant change to your guitar, regardless of how simple it may appear to be.

The Videos

Describing pickup tone is like trying to describe color. The tints and shades they produce depend on the environment we see and hear them in.

For that reason, I thought it would be helpful for you to hear each of these pickup types in action, so here are three videos that do just that.

1. Single-Coil

Here, I’m playing a Yamaha Pacifica 612VIIFM, which, as mentioned previously, features two single-coil pickups (one in the neck position and one in the middle position) and a humbucker (which can be coil-tapped into one single-coil) in the bridge position. In this video, I’m using the single-coils exclusively.

2. Filter’Tron/P90

This video allows you to compare and contrast the sound of P90 pickups and Filter’Trons within the context of a rock’n’roll vibe. The Yamaha Revstar RS720B I’m using for the rhythm (and some of the lead) parts comes with dual chrome Filter’Tron-style pickups. As you can hear, they deliver a clean, clear, punchy sound ideal for rock rhythm. The RS502T I’m using for the arpeggio and lead parts is outfitted with dual P90s for a grittier rock and blues tone.

3. Humbucker

The Yamaha Revstar RSS20 features two humbucking pickups. In this video, I’m also demonstrating the sound of the instrument’s Focus Switch and how it affects the tone of the pickup selections.

The Wrap-Up

There’s a reason why electric guitar pickups are often referred to as “the heart of a guitar.” They certainly bring life to the resonance of the music we play on our instruments.

If your favorite artist favors a certain pickup type, that may be a good place to start when looking for the instrument that delivers the tonality you want to achieve in your own music … and of course there are a ton of video demos online that can help you find exactly what you’re looking for. But there’s no substitute for actually plugging an electric guitar into the amp of your choice and listening carefully as you play to determine what’s right for you.

Photographs courtesy of the author.


Check out Robbie’s other postings.

Five Simple Steps for Maintaining Your Piano

Owning an acoustic piano is a big step in your musical journey, and you’ll want to keep your investment in perfect performance shape. Here the top five tips for maintaining your piano so it can deliver years of enjoyment.

1. Keep It In Tune

There’s nothing better than playing on a well-tuned piano: the music just sparkles and sounds wonderful. On an out-of-tune instrument? Not so much. It’s important to keep up a regular schedule of tuning to keep your piano sounding great because if you let it go for too long, it can be hard to bring it back to perfect condition … which means more time spent by the technician and more cost for you. As a rule of thumb, you should have your piano tuned at least once a year, though instruments that are played often or are brand new should be tuned twice a year or more. The bottom line is, use your ears. If your piano is starting to sound less than pristine, or the tuning bothers you, call in a technician.

That’s a must, because tuning is something that you absolutely should not attempt to do yourself, as you can potentially cause damage to your instrument. Instead, find a good professionally trained piano tuner, then stick with them so they get to know your instrument and your home. “A well-trained and conscientious technician can actually help to lengthen the lifespan of a piano,” says Ryan Ellison, Yamaha Supervisor of Piano Services. “The person who will fill this function for you should be carefully chosen for his or her ability to perform the needed tuning and maintenance tasks, and should also be someone who can effectively communicate with you so they can meet your needs efficiently.”

2. Adjust the Pedals

While the technician is working on your piano, you should also always ask them to check the performance of the instrument’s pedals. (Grand and baby grand pianos have three pedals instead of the two you’ll find on upright models.) If they are not working optimally, there may be too much “play” in the range, which means they might not respond as quickly as they should. You can find more information about the functionality of piano pedals here.

Closeup of piano pedals.
The three pedals of a grand piano.

If your piano has a squeaky pedal, you may be tempted to fix it yourself by spraying some lubricant into various locations. Don’t do it! Instead, have your technician investigate in order to find the actual location of the problem; they will know how to best address and fix the issue.

3. Regulate the Action As Necessary

An acoustic piano has upwards of 10,000 moving parts, and they need to be set to exacting specifications for the instrument to feel good and perform at its best. One area of particular focus  is the piano’s action — the mechanism that causes hammers to strike the strings when a key is pressed.

Two settings are critical here: The point at which the hammer mechanism slips free of the key (called let-off) and the small distance that the key still travels downward afterwards (called aftertouch). Too little aftertouch and the keyboard action will feel hard and bottom out abruptly. Too much aftertouch and the action will feel mushy, and the keys will be slow to respond when releasing notes.

How often your piano is played, along with the room environment and other factors, can cause these settings to change over time, so it’s important to have your technician check them occasionally — Ellison suggests during every other tuning — and make any necessary adjustments. This work is called regulation. It doesn’t take long to do, but is an important part of regular piano maintenance.

4. Control the Humidity

Many people think that heat or cold is the enemy of the piano, but Ryan Ellison states that it is humidity issues that are the real culprit, and the likely cause of stuck or squeaky keys. Common advice for where to place a piano includes staying away from direct vents/radiators, etc. that cause warm or cool air to be blown near or on the piano. But focusing on the general humidity of the room in which the piano lives is an equally important factor in caring for your instrument.

Yamaha recommends a range of 35-55% humidity, with 45% being optimal. This can be regulated if you have an HVAC system with a humidistat control built-in, or you can buy a simple digital thermometer with a reading for the humidity percentage, and place it near your piano.

Digital thermometer.
Most digital thermometers show humidity percentage too.

If necessary, you can purchase a small room dehumidifier/humidifier and place it near (but not too close to) the piano to help regulate the moisture.

5. Keep It Clean

Just like any piece of furniture in your home, you will want to keep your piano looking good, free of dust and fingerprints. But a piano is more than a piece of furniture — it’s a highly complex device that must be kept in optimal working condition.

As a rule, it’s best to keep the lid of your grand piano down when it is not being played; this will serve to protect the insides from dust, dirt and other contaminants. The same goes for the keyboard: keep the key cover closed when not in use. To dust the case, use a simple cotton cloth or T-shirt: do not use microfiber rags, as they tend to hold onto the dust and just push it around — in fact, they can actually charge the surface to attract more dust. Avoid using furniture polish to remove fingerprints or smudges from the wood finish; instead, use a small amount of window cleaner sprayed onto the cloth.

To clean the keys, use a diluted solution of dishwashing liquid and water on a soft rag, followed by a clean, slightly damp one, as described here. Do not use any type of alcohol-based cleaner, as it can cause the keys to discolor and/or crack over time.


Follow these five simple tips to get a lifetime of playing enjoyment from your piano!

Mono: A Look Back

Years ago, comedian Steve Martin remarked that he had bought a new stereo system and referred to it as a “googlephonic — the maximum number of speakers nearest to infinity.” Today’s multichannel and Dolby Atmos systems aren’t far from this, but when LP records first appeared in the late 1940s, they were mono: a single channel, meant to be played through just one speaker.

Despite all the technological innovations that followed, mono is still a “thing.” Mono is not just limited to vinyl, either; today, most major streaming services offer popular music from classic rock bands like the Stones, The Beatles, and others in mono as well as stereo formats, so you can make some quick comparisons of your own.

The most obsessed vinyl enthusiasts have a separate phono cartridge for their mono discs, so as with all things audiophile, you can take this as far as you like. The difference is minor, but mono records often have better fidelity and deliver a louder signal with less surface noise since they utilize a slightly wider groove and are best played back using a stylus with a 1 mil (thousandth of an inch) width, whereas stereo records use a 0.7 mil stylus. In fact, many stereo records in the ’60s and very early ’70s were marked “for use with a stereo phono cartridge only,” as the larger 1 mil stylus would have destroyed the grooves rather quickly.

Why Mono Today?

There are a few good reasons for seeking out a mono recording. In the case of many early rock records — those of The Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones, to name a few —the mono release was the original work, as the artist intended. It’s well known that as stereo became more popular during the mid to late 1960s, the stereo mix from the master tape was not always given the same attention as the original mono. Often, those early stereo mixes consisted of nothing more than moving the drums to one side and the guitars to the other. (Thankfully, the bass and the vocals usually stayed in the middle.) This was often referred to as “reprocessed” or “rechanneled” stereo. And however it was done, the results were often bad.

Even some contemporary artists like John Mellencamp and Jack White have done records in mono. Mellencamp’s 2019 album No Better Than This was recorded with a single microphone and a ’50s-era mono tape machine. Even when played back digitally, the big, fat, warm sound is incredible. “The idea was to get as far away from technology and get back to the origins of how music was recorded,” Mellencamp explained in one interview.

A number of rock and jazz remasters have also been released in mono, utilizing the original mono tapes to stay true to the music. If you’re on the quest to get to the source of the music, mono mixes are worth seeking out.

The Original Argument

Joe Nino-Hernes, a mastering engineer at Sterling Sound/Nashville, looks back on mono as being the most accurate rendition at the time. “In the early days of stereo, many of the mono versions were better than their stereo counterparts,” he says. “The engineers and producers of the day had decades of experience with mono. It was highly refined and very well understood at that point. Stereo was new and didn’t have the benefit of that accumulated knowledge and experience.”

Legendary Beatles recording engineer Geoff Emerick certainly preferred it. “The mono mixes … were the real mixes as far as we were concerned,” he wrote in his memoir Here, There and Everywhere. “True Beatles fans would do well to avail themselves of the mono versions of Sgt. Pepper and Revolver because far more time and effort went into those mixes than into the stereo mixes. … In contrast to the way they carefully oversaw the original mono mixes, the group had no interest in even being present when we did the [stereo mixes]; that’s how little thought we all gave stereo in those days.”

When stereo recording was first released, the claim was that using two microphones instead of one would capture more spatial information than a single mic was capable of. However, if you listen to a mono recording on a quality audio system, you might just be surprised at how much spatial information there is and how instruments still have specific placement in the mix (i.e., soundstage) as they do in a stereo recording. Part of this may be due simply to the amount of hard work that went into some mono releases. Looking back on his days recording The Beatles, Geoff Emerick recalled that “It was tough trying to separate out John [Lennon] and George [Harrison]’s guitars, because they were usually recorded on the same track, in mono, so they were both coming out of the same speaker — it wasn’t a simple matter of placing one in the left speaker and the other in the right speaker. Sometimes I’d spend two hours or more on each guitar, trying to differentiate between the instruments; I had to do a lot of equalization work and record each with its own echo so it would sound distinctive.”

Classical music lovers will note that when listening to a full symphony in a concert hall, there really is no “pinpoint imaging.” The instruments blend together with some sense of placement, but not like a modern rock recording.

You can get a taste of the differences between the mono and stereo versions when streaming, which as a bonus allows you to bounce back and forth between the two from the comfort of your listening chair and decide what you prefer before you make the investment in the original vinyl versions. A cursory search on the internet will lead you to the countless debates that have been going on for years.

The bottom line is this: Many iconic recordings were originally recorded and/or mixed in mono, and regardless of whether or not you prefer it to stereo, there’s no question that you can get a lot of enjoyment out of the listening comparison. If you investigate some of your favorite artists from the ’50s and ’60s, you’ll discover there’s a lot to choose from!

Here are three tracks to get you started, all of which sound their best when the original vinyl LP is played with a mono cartridge installed.

The Beatles – “Paperback Writer” (from the American release of Revolver)

It’s intriguing to hear the differing sonic presentations when you compare the mono and stereo versions of this track, recorded and mixed by Emerick. Immediately you’ll hear a more solid bass line, better delineation of backing vocals and a somewhat fatter sound overall in the mono mix. Go back to the stereo version and it sounds considerably thinner, with less dynamics.

The Rolling Stones – “Sympathy For The Devil” (from Beggars Banquet)

As with “Paperback Writer,” this track really comes alive in mono, even when streamed. The blend is better, Mick Jagger’s voice is much more solid and organic, and the whole song has considerably more energy. This is even more pronounced when comparing vinyl versions. Interestingly, the mono mix has more of a stereo imaging effect!

The Beach Boys – “Sloop John B” (from Pet Sounds, Mono & Stereo)

For group leader, producer and songwriter Brian Wilson, mono was not just a preference, it was a necessity because he was virtually deaf in one ear. For that reason, all the classic Beach Boys tracks were recorded and mixed in mono. One standout is “Sloop John B.” This is another great example of that wider groove delivering a bigger, fatter bassline. Slightly anemic on the stereo mix, it rumbles on the mono mix, and those harmonies that the Beach Boys are famous for are absolutely massive in mono.

Discover the Sonic Possibilities of Your Drums, Part 1

Getting a great drum sound is a little like creating a great recipe: All of the ingredients add to the flavor, and changing even one of them can have a significant effect on the end result. Let’s take a look at what formulates the sonic identity of a drum.

The Shell Game

Two main components have a huge influence on the sound of your drums: the material used in the construction of the drum shells, and the drum heads. Wood is by far the most common material used for drum shells, and the woods used for this purpose are known as tonewoods. Each tonewood has unique properties that contribute to the sound.

Maple, for example, produces an articulate tone, balanced mids and highs, and a slightly warm low end. The shells used for Yamaha Absolute Hybrid Maple Series drums are constructed from three plies of maple on each side of a single ply of wenge, an extremely dense wood that produces a relatively bright tone with a resonant low end. Check out Yamaha Artist Wale Adeyemi playing an Absolute Hybrid Maple drum kit.

Closeup of inside.
Absolute Hybrid Maple shell.

Another popular tonewood used in the manufacture of drum shells is birch. Yamaha Recording Custom Series drums feature birch shells that minimize unwanted overtones and produce a bright timbre with plenty of power in the bottom end to cut through heavy instrumentation. Listen to Yamaha Artist Larnell Lewis playing a Recording Custom kit.

Other tonewoods utilized for making drums include oak (used for Yamaha Live Custom Hybrid Oak Series drums), mahogany, poplar (which you’ll find in Yamaha Rydeen Series drums) and jatoba, an extremely hard wood that serves as the center ply in Yamaha PHX Series drums, helping increase projection and strengthening the fundamental tone.

PHX shell construction.

Listen to Yamaha Artist Moses Boyd playing a PHX Series drum kit.

Here’s Yamaha Artist Satoshi Bandoh playing a Live Custom Hybrid Oak kit.

You can hear a comparison of tonewoods in this video.

Snare Drum Shells

Snare drum shells can be made from the tonewoods mentioned above, or from metals such as steel, aluminum, brass, copper or bronze, each of which has a unique sonic signature. Aluminum snare drums like Yamaha Recording Custom Aluminum snares produce a bright, crisp, dry sound with a short sustain that may not need damping (see below). Brass is the most responsive metal used for the construction of snare drum shells, and gives Yamaha Recording Custom Brass snares a dry, articulate sound with dark overtones, a sharp crack and more low end than other metals.

Closeup of metal snare drum.
Yamaha Recording Custom Aluminum snare drum.

Steel shells like those used in Yamaha Recording Custom Stainless Steel and Stage Custom Steel snare drums accentuate the mid and high frequencies, and generally produce more ring so they may require damping.

For a comparison of Yamaha Recording Custom snare drums, check out this video.

Mind Your Head(s)

The other major influence on the sound of your drums is the drum heads. Most drummers use different types of heads for the top and bottom: a batter head for the top (the one you hit), and a resonant head for the bottom. Resonant heads are generally thinner than batter heads. This is especially true when it comes to snare drums, which use very thin (2 to 5 “mil,” or thousandths of an inch) bottom heads for quick response and high sensitivity to the vibrating snare wires.

While there are no hard rules about using a resonant head for the batter or vice-versa, using a standard resonant head on the bottom of a snare drum will drastically reduce the sensitivity and playability of the drum. On the other hand, using a bottom snare head as a batter will inevitably result in breakage because those kinds of heads are not designed to be hit with a drumstick.

Inside of drum.
Bottom snare heads are much thinner than batter heads.

Drumheads are constructed from one or two plies of material, most often a plastic film which ensures consistency and durability (though heads made from calfskin are still available). Batter heads can be one- or two-ply but resonant heads tend to be one-ply. The thickness of a one-ply batter head is around 10 mil; each ply of a two-ply head can have a thickness between 7 and 10 mil, and there are two-ply heads manufactured with plies of different thickness. Resonant heads tend to be one-ply with a thickness varying between 7 and 12 mil. Thicker resonant heads produce deeper tone and longer sustain, while thinner ones produce a brighter tone with less sustain.

As you’d expect, a two-ply head will last longer under a heavy hitter but two-ply heads rebound slower than one-ply heads. One-ply heads produce a brighter timbre with more sustain and overtones than two-ply heads, which is why many jazz drummers prefer one-ply heads on both sides. The reduced sustain and deeper tone characteristics of two-ply heads, however, makes them an excellent choice for playing rock, pop, funk, R&B or metal.

One- and two-ply heads are also available in coated varieties, where a textured coating is sprayed onto the head. The coating provides a damping effect, resulting in a warmer, darker tone and a reduction of overtones compared to a non-coated head. Coated heads are a must for jazz drummers who play with brushes because the coating provides the “swish” when a brush is dragged across the head. The coating also shortens the sustain of the drum, enabling you to create a wide variety of tonalities by mixing and matching clear and coated heads on the top and bottom of a drum. Coated heads are also a good choice when you’re looking for a vintage vibe for playing rock, traditional country or R&B.

Mixing and Matching

When you consider the variety of tonewoods and metals used for the construction of drum shells, plus the wide assortment of drumheads available on the market, the sonic possibilities are endless — and provide you with a way to “fine-tune” the tonality of your drums. If, for example, you find that birch shells are a bit too bright for your taste, you can dial the brightness down by using coated heads on top and bottom. On the other hand, if you feel your drums sound too dark, you can try one-ply clear heads on top. A steel snare drum that has too much ring can be tamed with a two-ply head, even more if it’s a coated two-ply head. Feel free to experiment until you find your unique drumming voice!

Getting Rid of Ring

Controlling the overtones and sustain of a drum can be tricky business, and that’s why some batter heads are offered in versions with a “dot” in the center of the head, either on the playing surface or on the underside of the head (the latter is known as a “reverse dot”). The dot is a separate layer approximately 3 to 5 mil thick, bonded to the head. Along with making the head more durable, it helps control some of the ring.

Another type of head designed to control overtones utilizes a “control ring” underneath the edges of the head — an extra ply that’s only about an inch or two wide. Usually found on snare drum heads, a control ring also reduces sustain.

The control ring on the underside of a snare batter head.

A similar effect can be achieved by using an external clip-on muffler or “O-ring” mufflers that lay on top of any batter head. Stick-on gel dampers can also be applied, as shown below.

A gel damper on a snare drum head.

In Part 2 we’ll look at how tuning, bearing edges and hoops affect the sound of your drums.

Photographs courtesy of the author.

Incorporate Jazz in Your Classroom Daily

Jazz is an American treasure that is considered by many to be the most significant contribution to music. Historians have traced its roots back to Congo Square in New Orleans. Located at the mouth of the Mississippi River, the Port of New Orleans was a prime location for goods to be shipped in and out of the city. Travelers from across the globe were constantly coming and going from here.

There is no place like New Orleans. The music created in the city is organic and constantly evolving. It’s not a style that can be stamped, pressed and rolled off a cookie-cutter assembly line. With the constant influx of travelers during the city’s early history, New Orleans became the perfect melting pot to brew up the musical gumbo now known as jazz.

Schools, districts and band programs have evolved dramatically in recent years. Many band programs took a massive hit during the pandemic that set them back years due to the temporary pause caused by restrictions and outbreaks. In many cases, jazz bands have been one of the harder-hit components of school band programs. With fewer jazz bands in school programs, fewer young musicians are exposed to jazz, which is sad because kids who are introduced to it love it.

To keep a band program moving forward, you must capture the attention of young people. One way I have generated interest and increased retention in my program is by incorporating jazz into the curricula.

Make Connections with Jazz Repertoire

jazz band horn section
The Next Generation Jazz Band of New Orleans. Photo by Christopher Broome.

Keeping jazz alive in band rooms across the country is a vital piece of our American identity. I teach at Marrero Middle School, which is located just outside of New Orleans, where jazz is deeply rooted in the culture and daily life of young and old alike. Jazz incorporates improvisation, which offers young people a unique form of critical thinking and self-expression.

Make selecting jazz repertoire simple. For example, the musical notes used in Count Basie‘s tune “Splanky” are the same ones used in Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” The chords on Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album were composed like those in one of Bach’s fugues. The point is that all styles of music have similar threads. Some of the characteristics that make different styles of music sound so different from each other are the feel, context and the way the phrases lay in correlation to the beat.

“Hey Pocky A-Way” by the New Orleans band The Meters has a totally different feel than anything else you will ever hear. It’s often described as having a very “New Orleans sound.” The rhythm section’s use of polyrhythms create a distinctive “language of rhythm” that is indigenous to New Orleans. Locals learn this unique rhythm the same way they learn to speak through continuous listening. In truth, jazz is like a language that requires exposure to fully understand.

Listen to Jazz Every Day

jazz band with two saxophone players standing and performing
The Next Generation Jazz Band of New Orleans with soloists Aidan Schwarz (left) and Sam Korn. Photo by Christopher Broome.

In order to encourage students’ interest in jazz, they must first be exposed to it. If we want our band to play jazz, they need to listen to it. A simple way to incorporate some jazz into the class setting every day is to turn on some jazz while students are setting up and packing up during each class period. Always pick high-interest songs.

Many younger kids like brass bands like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Rebirth Brass Band. Modern brass bands play music associated with parades or other fun experiences, which helps capture students’ interest.

Whatever you choose, use music that grabs your kids’ attention. Once you have their attention, you can mix it up in any direction you want and expand their listening even further.

jazz band group photo
The Next Generation Jazz Band of New Orleans with guests (far left) Tim Barnes and Preservation Hall musicians Caroline Brunious, Wendell Brunious and Craig Klein. Photo by Jorge Schwarz.

Introduce the Blues

Harmonically, so much of jazz is rooted in the blues, so I recommend introducing basic blues to your students. Make sure they know what notes make up the blues scale and the basic blues chord progression (which is standard progression). Teach them what notes they should use and which ones to avoid for improvisation purposes. Identify the patterns of a blues form and explain how these harmonic patterns are the same for so many songs. This will open up a young musician’s ears and understanding, which will eventually help them feel more comfortable with improvisation.

The long-term objective is to have students apply the information they are learning to any song. For example, you may get a new song written in a different key signature than the one the band has been practicing in class. Though the key signature may differ from song to song, the harmonic structure will likely be composed around the same blues form. Once the harmonic structure of the blues form is understood, students will be able to identify when there are minor deviations which, in many cases, are just examples of a slightly altered blues form.

Many jazz standards are composed entirely around the blues form, which makes the blues the perfect springboard to introduce students to improvisation. Eventually, when students begin to apply the knowledge they acquire, the transition to improvisation will be easier.

Know the Repertoire

jazz band guitars, piano
The Next Generation Jazz Band of New Orleans with special guests from Preservation Hall Mari Watanabe (on piano) and Kevin Louis (tambourine). Photo by Christopher Broome.

Studying and knowing age- and level-appropriate jazz repertoire is vital to your group’s success. Are you looking to make an addition to a program with a new jazz band or do you have a well-developed, experienced jazz band? In either case, there are many suitable arrangements that are age- and level-appropriate.

For a young band that needs exposure to jazz, I recommend a simple melody like “C-Jam Blues.” This Duke Ellington tune is composed in a simple 12-bar blues form in the key of C. It provides students an excellent harmonic framework to work within.

If you think your band is still building toward a traditional big band arrangement, have the horns play only the melody at first. Focus on the band playing stylistically and accurately, and tell students to exaggerate those simple little phrases so they swing hard. This melody could be the foundation that the group builds on for the whole school year. Start with the entire band playing the melody and eventually move to a more traditional arrangement.

I also recommend opening up tunes like this to everyone even though jazz bands may not traditionally include some concert band instruments. Eventually, anyone can convert to a second instrument for jazz band purposes. When played correctly, someone can swing just as hard on a trombone as on a flute or clarinet.

Ear Training

To get buy-in from students, pick a melody of high interest to the band for ear training or have the band suggest a popular melody. One successful ear training method is to have the band learn the melody by ear collectively. Or give the band half the melody written out, then work together to figure out the rest of the tune’s melody. Both lessons work well, but one may fit your particular group of kids better.

Songs that I have used for this are “C-Jam Blues,” “Watermelon Man,” “Chameleon” and “Do Whatcha Wanna.” The melodies for these songs are simple enough that even young students can figure them out.

After the band learns the head, they typically dig into the charts because these are all such cool tunes. Even if you have a very young band, there are so many musical possibilities with these charts to expose young players to the possibilities of jazz.

After the head feels tight, explore transcribing a solo or a part of a solo, which can be done individually or as a group. The transcribing process forces students to open their ears.

Find a Mentor

jazz pros performing trumpet with jazz band
The legendary Wendell Brunious (left) and Kevin Louis from Preservation Hall perform “What a Wonderful World” with The Next Generation Jazz Band of New Orleans. Photo by Christopher Broome.

Students who show interest in jazz must find a mentor who can help guide and mold them. All music students should have a mentor they look to for inspiration and guidance. Learning the many nuances of jazz from experienced musicians who have played it is the best tool any student can have. Getting a private instructor is always an excellent first choice, but this depends on the student’s home and financial situation.

If a private instructor is not possible, there is still a lot a student can take in from listening to old recordings and imitating the sounds of one of the many greats. There are also many free online resources that make it easier for students to find an excellent musician to model.

Exposure is the Goal

Remember that the overall goal is to expose students to jazz. The only way to preserve jazz is to introduce more young musicians to the art form. Even if you have a limited background in jazz, there are still plenty of possibilities to explore. Suppose you are just beginning to incorporate jazz into your curricula. Remember that whether you are playing a tune with a funky New Orleans street beat or watching a video of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing “When The Saint Go Marching In,” it is still exposure to jazz.

jazz band saxophones
The Next Generation Jazz Band of New Orleans. Photo by Christopher Broome.

Draw from what you already know to get where you want to be. If your program does not currently have a full jazz band, you can begin by incorporating jazz into the curricula where possible. When you’re ready, start a smaller jazz band or combo, or form a more contemporary group that plays rock and brass band tunes. With time, add a standard jazz tune.

At the end of the day, music directors should play music that interests our students. That said, it is also our job to expose young musicians to music they aren’t familiar with. You can start by playing a classic rock tune that the kids know. Then begin to incorporate some arrangements from the more traditional big band repertoire, such as some Basie and Ellington standards.

Online Resources

There has been a tremendous increase in the use of technology in classrooms, especially since COVID forced just about every school into virtual learning. Here are two very thorough online resources that I have used to incorporate jazz education into my daily curricula:

  1. Preservation Hall Lessons: These online lessons are very well put together and include many musical elders. They allow anyone to learn the music directly from the original source of New Orleans jazz.
  2. New Orleans Jazz Museum Educator Resources: This is a great resource where you can learn about the history of New Orleans jazz through online virtual tours of the New Orleans Jazz Museum.

I would love to hear how you have built interest in jazz in your band programs or which jazz repertoire selections have worked for your band. If you’re looking for ideas to get a jazz program off the ground or are interested in jazz repertoire ideas, please contact me at or email

In addition to teaching and performing, I run a student jazz band called The Next Generation Jazz Band of New Orleans. Check us out on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Watch this video of the band performing “That’s It!”

Top photo by Christopher Broome