peer guidance

When starting students on instruments, within a heterogeneous setting, do you work in small peer groups? I have found that students like to work on – say a finger pattern/position – while also helping others. It gives each the opportunity to develop self and group capacity, lending to layered learning and community-building. Peer tutoring, “think pair share”, and similar strategies are used in general academic classes; why not in band, too?

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Fall 2022

Clearly, I have put this as a no priority endeavor. It seems I refer back to the blog in times of personal change and when there is a lack of ongoing engagement. I was quite surprised that 4 years have passed since my last entry. FOUR YEARS.

What is all of this about? How does one simply (or not so simply) jump into the roles of music educator, administrator, coordinator, performer — and give it the dedication (we think) it deserves?

Recently, from an unexpected turn of events, I found myself perusing the open music teacher positions in my region. What in the world is going on? One high school, nearby, has been open since July. When I finally got a reply from a school district representative about the position, I was informed that the assignment is “several piano labs, advanced band, and a percussion class”. No wonder it is still open. That is hodgepodge at best. I decided to contact the school site administration to get details – sometimes the district personnel really do not know – and I have yet to get a response.

I spent over two month inquiring about another recruiting post, this for a private school, with no response. I made attempts at the school headquarters and the school site. Finally, I just decided to apply to see if there was any response to the application; voila! “Can you interview tomorrow?” The interview was weird, as there were the typical questions — how to differentiate for different ability levels, how to accommodate for special education students, what does a “lesson” look like. After all of that, I was asked if I had any questions for them. At this stage in my life, I believe people need some honest feedback, so I politely said that I had been trying to get information about this posting and the program for over two months. No one from either office responded. “Honestly, I don’t even know what I’m interviewing for, but I thought that sending the application might result in a response.” They don’t even know what they want or how to get there. Another hodgepodge, at best. Throw everyone into a room and have a music class; not really, but close. No thank you.

I am going through my own reflection period, as I do, and am trying to grasp the importance of it all. We need enthusiastic people in these roles. We need to consider diversifying what and how we offer music classes. Perhaps we are in that transition space, and I am simply feeling the stupidity of these efforts; or, my own struggle with the reality of change implementation; or, perhaps the offerings are unthoughtful ways to offer someone a job. Whatever these things are, I understand, clearly, why it is mid September and these, along with other, music programs at all levels are still unfilled.

Whatever it may be, including a combination of these and others, I am struggling to find opportunities to best utilize my skills. Will it, after all, include reeds and water keys and rosin? I don’t know.

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One more once…

Sometimes we end up in familiar circumstances, even when we believe we have moved on. In my role as a public school music teacher, I have decided to accept an offer and will continue serving in that capacity.

Unfortunately, I am following, yet another, ridiculously rude and unprofessional situation in the class.  Musicians – and, specifically, music teachers – get it together.

On my year 20, I walked into a classroom with parts of instruments lying around the room. A clarinet bell over here, a flute head joint on the floor, mouthpieces of various types all around.  Piles and piles of papers on every surface. Stacks of unsorted music just lying around.  Filer drawers of former students’ music from two or more years ago.

This simply is unacceptable, and it is not the first time I have inherited this type of setting. The gig is overwhelming; I get that. But, there are basic organizational skills we simply must learn. The chaotic condition not only is unsafe from a pedestrian perspective within the room, but it contributes to an overall unhealthy environment. I don’t want to hear how much x, y, or z is needed when the equipment that is available is not cared for. Seriously, parts of instruments lying all over the place, some with no case to be found.

Pass the word — music teachers, band/orchestra directors — clean it up; sort into score order and file away. Teach kids to sort — work it into the class period. It is a great skill that transfers to a broader perspective. Reduce the ‘stuff’ in the room; keep it safe and open.

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This past weekend, many of my acquaintances, along with their clients and proteges, performed in the Drum Corps International (@DCI) championships. I have been out of the loop for some time now, but I must acknowledge that my work now is part of the continuum of my time with both the Blue Devils and the Cadets. Having gotten interested in the activity when I was just too old, I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had to work within both organizations at such intimate levels.

I did not witness the extreme spectacles in person, but I did watch through live stream. And, my goodness…the levels of proficiency — levels — are indescribable. Furthermore, and equally important, the ways each group was able to connect with the audience was unlike I have seen before. BRAVO

I have soft spots for both the Blue Devils and the Cadets because of my direct involvement in years past; however, all groups were stellar!

The Blue Devils on Twitter
The Blue Devils Performing Arts
The Cadets on Twitter
The Cadets/Youth Education in the Arts

And, congrats to the Vanguard organization for their successes this year!

Santa Clara Vanguard on Twitter
Vanguard Music and Performing Arts

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Getting into a practice

Well, I cannot believe it has been a full year since my last post. I had every intention of developing the blog practice with my new move; clearly, the practice needs developing. Nonetheless, I want to continue my (occasional) contribution to the topics of music education, music as a part of a community, the integration of these ideas, and, of course, the notion of engagement.

This spring 2018, my “notes from the field” type of article was published in the Academic Exchange Quarterly. It is a compact description of ways to engage in a changed and changing focus on school, schooling, student development, and music.

Reviewing Engagement in the Middle School Band


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Still more on ‘engagement’ & band

I have thought that students who participate in their school band are inherently engaged in learning. That is not necessarily so. As established through various agreements around engagement, it is more than just doing. In a traditional band setting, students sit in their sections and rehearse as a full ensemble, with various levels of enthusiasm and attentiveness, for the duration of the rehearsal, which also vary from school to school. The expectations and demands of teachers and students have changed, including the way content is delivered and received. The band, often long standing institutions within the institutions, should also be addressed in ways that encourage greater participation from the school population, and that means that the content delivery may look different, as well.

My evolving position on music education and the way I structure my classes for heightened student engagement have been shaped by professional experiences, conflicting philosophies of music education, and by pragmatic necessity for program existence within the school. I suggest that a particular axiology is inherent to the program design; for me, placing importance on new strategies for a changing sociology, and including student reflections on ways engagement strategies are implemented in the band class.

Schewe (2016) reminds us that phenomena, like engagement, are changing states of being and are affected by various environments. She continues that the development of engagement strategies should be goals toward the motivation of students. Marzano (2007) encourages action steps to promote physical activity, to challenge students’ thinking, and to stimulate attention. The large ensemble is not the only means of teaching and learning, and in some scholarly writing, it is now suggested that the focus of large ensemble instruction is detrimental to individual musicianship and growth, hence to the music education profession (Wiggins, in Kooistra, 2016; Mantie, 2012). This article is not going to defend or deny such position; however, this may be an example of the unsettling condition suggested by music scholars, Elliott and Silverman (2012).

Over the years, different words have been used when referring to students’ on task behaviors. I like to think of our current trend toward engagement to mean not only that students are task-doing, but that they are fully and actively engaged with their own learning. Having been in the profession for a good amount of time, I have encountered time and time again colleagues who opine that strategies of the day are not intended for or useful in the band room. I encourage any colleague who feels this way to acknowledge everyone’s evolution, including ours in the band room, and try reaching students in ways that may seem different; in most cases, that will be the point. As Reeve (in Marzano, 2007) suggested 10 years ago, “when engagement is characterized by the full range of on-task behavior, positive emotions, invested cognition, and personal voice, it functions as the engine for learning and development” (p.99).


Kooistra, L. (2016). Information music education: The nature of a young child’s engagement in an individual piano lesson setting. Research Studies in Music Education, Vol. 38(1), pp. 115-129. DOI: 10.1177/1321103X15609800

Elliott, D., and Silverman, M. (2012). Rethinking philosophy, re-viewing musical-emotional experiences. In W. Bowman and A. Frega (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in Music Education, pp. 37-62. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mantie, R. (2012). Striking up the band: Music education through a Foucaultian lens. Action, Criticism, & Theory for Music Education, 11(1), 99–123.

Marzano, R. (2007). The art and science of teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Schewe, A. (2016). Making Student Engagement Visible: Using Self-Determination Theory to Examine How Two Social Studies Teachers Support Students’ Needs for Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness. Dissertation, Georgia State University.

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3 years later

Sometimes, you need to step away; and, I stepped away for nearly three years. Here is what I’m currently working on:


For decades, it has been widely agreed that engagement in schools refers to students’ behaviors with which they intensely apply themselves to learning. Attributes of students’ willingness and desire to participate play a role, but contemporary perspectives on engagement in school include students’ ability to persevere through challenges and for sustained periods of time (Fletcher, 2015; Loveless, 2015; NSSE, 2013; Strong, Silver, & Robinson, 1995). Fletcher (2015) adds that successful educators are the ones who create conditions within classrooms that allow opportunities for students to engage. Through academic challenges, or rigor, collaborative activities, and meaningful relationships and interactions with the teacher and adults, students are more likely to feel supported and will participate willingly in the learning activities.

Importance of engagement

The National Survey of Student Engagement (2013) results in mathematics suggest that self-reported high engagement is not an indicator for high achievement; however, high engagement is an indicator for school connection. Students who are engaged in the school process are more likely to stay in school, are more likely to learn skills around problem solving, and are more likely to acknowledge a sense of belonging to the school community. These positive factors contribute to higher graduation rates and generally higher grades. Low engagement tends to be prevalent in higher poverty communities, increasingly evident as students move through the system and into higher grade levels (Fredricks et al, 2011).

Relevance of engagement to music education at the middle school level

I am a middle school instrumental music teacher with over 18 years of experience in music education. I have come to support the position that visual and performing arts classes, including the school bands, must coexist as both an artistic experience, with a focus on aesthetics and musicianship, and as a utilitarian, academic support experience. The classes cannot exist – dare I say should not exist —  as only one or the other, but as both, simultaneously.

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continuing the thought…

I am drawn toward a pluralist perspective on the purpose, importance, and placement of music in our public and private lives. Music education sits at an intersection of interpretive and critical epistemologies. I understand music to be an opportunity that goes beyond the task of rudimentary mechanics of operating a manipulative (instrument). Isolated, that is a mechanistic task. Music is a process-oriented experience, not to be solely defined by its measured outcome; in fact, in some cases, the outcome is irrelevant. Eisner (1991) asks whether or not everything can be measured, and suggests that researchers who are looking for a true measurement mistake the measurement for adequate subject matter; or, that the outcome is greater than the process.



Eisner, E. (1991). The enlightened eye. New York: MacMillan.

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incomplete justification

It is the school band, comprised of a plurality of students – amateurs – who are participating for many different reasons. Kaplan (1966) refers to Reimer and says that we weaken the position of music education when we provide unnecessary rationale for it. He continues that the uniqueness of the aesthetic is what provides a contribution, not words; we are involved with subjective experiences. I know this, I support this, and yet, I still get sidetracked with the notion of justifying our time together, progressing, and pushing students to more and more.

An importance of music education is that it needs renewed affirmation. Kaplan identifies an example of incomplete justification for music education through specific outlined objectives. They include such things as “unify and stimulate group morale”, “stimulate general interest in musical activity”, “encourage and stimulate some form of music for every child”. He calls these justifications byproducts to a appease administrators and school boards and the like. They are used because they are measurable by instruments of social sciences, and therefore, are used as unnecessary rhetoric.

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whew! yes to the dialogue

After my Jan. 6 posting, my concern about presenting to/with peers in a forum to confront v. being confrontational, I feel that I accomplished what I hoped I would – healthy, thoughtful engagement of individuals around a professional concern, dilemma, and possible opportunities.  No confrontation. Validation of multiple perspectives. Now, onward to finish writing it up and getting through the next phase…

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