Meet Don Jaramillo, You'll be glad you did!

"When we say kids struggle... So do adults. It's important to remember that. Remember, teachers are people too and need understanding and empathy."

- Don Jaramillo

If you don’t know who Don Jaramillo is, you should. The longtime director of the incredible Etiwanda High School Eagle Pride Regiment has found as much success in the admin building as he did on the podium. 

If you want to know what success looks like as a teacher, administrator, and person, take 10 minutes out of your day and watch this video podcast. Don has created a culture of kindness and respect that is truly transforming lives of the student and faculty of Etiwanda High School.

Sudden Savant Syndrome and My Impending Genius



Savant syndrome comes in several different forms.

In Congenital Savant Syndrome the extraordinary ability surfaces in early childhood and is believed to exist from birth. 

Acquired Savant Syndrome appears unexpectedly in ordinary persons after a head injury, or other traumatic incidents and they develop astonishing new abilities, typically in music, art, or math.

In Sudden Savant Syndrome an ordinary person, with no such prior interest, ability, or injury, has an unanticipated, spontaneous epiphany, like moment where they become instantaneously gifted. Because there is no underlying event, sudden savant syndrome would be better termed "sudden genius." 

Those are two words NEVER used to describe me.

If you need proof, I can't draw or sing, and my disdain/dislike for mathematics has been well chronicled in these weekly missives. It doesn’t take a genius to know that I am no savant. 

But, do I possess the potential to become one?

What makes all three forms of “savantness” interesting is the fact that each of the three forms implies that the talent was within all along. Experts believe that in each case the extraordinary abilities were not suddenly “created,” but were always within and were somehow suddenly “unlocked.”

Always within us...

Is it possible that we all have an inner “savantness” waiting to come out? Is it possible that each and every child (and adult) was meant to create music at a high level? Is it possible that the reason music has existed in every known society is because it exists in every known person?
Is every person a musical savant in waiting?

If so…

Then every child was meant to play, sing, and create. Regardless of their physical, emotional, or cognitive obstacles, they were BORN to make music! And as music educators it is our role and responsibility to facilitate, elevate, and provide experiences that allow each and every young person to find their “inner savant.” 

Yes, even students who struggle have enormous unlocked potential. Today’s beginner is tomorrow’s all-stater. Today’s struggle is tomorrow’s victory. Today’s challenge is tomorrow’s triumph because today’s student is tomorrow’s savant.

In short, our role as teachers is to be their savant sherpa.


The average age of a sudden savant event is 47.5 years old. 

So, there’s hope for me yet. Right?

Global Warming, Polar Bears, & My Decreasing Intellect!



I’m baaaacccckkkk!

Well, sort of. Okay, not at all. But next week, I’m baaaaacckkk for sure.

For the past two weeks I have been contemplating restarting the e-zine, but I’m just feeling, well, unmotivated. 

Don’t get me wrong, I cherish this time together and enjoy writing and sharing ideas, honestly, I do. But,I just couldn’t get myself to hunker down and do what needed to be done.

Blame it on a brutal travel schedule, or lack of sleep. Blame it on my other writing commitments or cluttered inbox. Blame it on my 8 year old (a favorite tactic of his sibling), but none of it would be true. The real culprit in my lack of productivity?

It’s global warming. 

Yep, let the blame fall where it belongs, on green house gasses. Seriously, your inability to carpool is killing my productivity so KNOCK IT OFF WOULD YOU?

Sure, everyone is talking about abnormal weather patterns and rising sea levels and I know that watching the plight of the polar bear and our disappearing ice caps is profoundly concerning, but can we all agree that I’m the real victim here! Seriously, my once razor sharp mind and witty sartorial skills are of paramount concern. Will THEY be put on the endangered species list? 

Yes, global warming has made me dumber (and you as well).

In a recent study, scientists from the Harvard Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment observed that students who lived and studied in well air conditioned environments performed better academically than their warmer counterparts. 

Specifically, students who were placed in optimal learning environments (72 degrees) showed greater cognition speed and memory than those who studied in temperatures closer to 80 degrees. It was also discovered that in higher temperatures that test answers were not just more inaccurate, but the answers came slower.

In short, researchers found that cognition efficiency and effectiveness decreased by 10% in sub-optimal temperatures.

The study did not evaluate what happens to students exposed to temperatures in excess of 90 to 100 degrees, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the expected results. So what does this mean?

I think we can all agree that there’s certainly a level of absurdity in this outdoor activity we call marching band. Did marching in the heat make us dumb or were we dumb for even going outside in the first place? Chicken or egg type question, I suppose.

As many of you approach your summer camps in this scorching heat, be mindful of the sacrifice that is made in pursuit of perfection. These kids are not paid to be here. They strive to achieve in the face of obstacles physical, financial, academic, and emotional. They pursue perfection, even at their own peril. 

They do it for love of the activity. They do it for love of their friends. They do it for love of performing. But, they all do it to show their love for you also. And that should make you feel all warm inside, which according to Harvard is making you dumber.

But don’t take my word for it; I’m getting dumber by the second, I live in Phoenix.

Beat the Heat


the following is an article I wrote in 2011.

The summer of 2011 has proven to be one of the hottest and driest ones on record.  Having taught in Phoenix for most of my career,  I am well aware of the obstacles associated with rehearsing in extreme temperatures.  Not only do triple digit temperatures pose health risks, they also provide for a less than desirable learning environment.  Anyone who has ever seen me teach knows that I am not one to advocate the "easy road" but I think we can all agree that working smarter stands along side working harder.  

I know you are already encouraging the students to hydrate and apply lots of sunscreen, but in addition to that, I wanted to share a few tips I learned from teaching marching band in the face of the sun.

    1.  Bon Jovi basics:  I always spent the first week of camp rehearsing basics in a gymnasium to the music of Bon Jovi.  This provides the kids with a respite from the heat and allows for them to focus on technique and style instead of survival.  It also gives the new members a week to acclimate to the demands of marching band.  Plus, they loved watching me rock out to 1980's hair band music.  (Every upbeat tune Bon Jovi has a metronome marking of  quarter note equals 126, which is perfect for basics.)

    2. Rotation run around:  If you have large rehearsal blocks schedule, consider breaking them down into smaller blocks.  Instead of two hours outside and two hours inside, break it down into one hour blocks that alternate.  Yes, you will lose some instructional time to the transition, but you will gain it back with refreshed and re-energized kids.    

    3.  Conceptulaization:  Certain concepts such as spacing and visualization are best taught without yard lines and dots.  Use shaded or interior spaces to teach these concepts so as to maximize student focus in a quiet learning environment.   Consider school hallways, music rooms and the auditorium stage as alternative teaching environments.  Rotate the kids between instruction centers every 45 minutes.

    4.  Create your own water park:  Set up a slip and slide, some sprinklers and a couple of garden hoses for instant relief.  These "water breaks" will refresh the students and quickly help them to lower their body temperature.  Super soakers and water balloons may prove to be too much ammunition against the director but are good for an end of rehearsal laugh.

    5.  Crazy hat day:  Not only does it create a spirited environment, but provides an incentive for wearing sun protection.  Also, ask the kids cover more of their body, and wear light colored tee shirts.

   6.  Lighten the load:  When appropriate, let the kids march/move without their instruments.  This won't be a big deal to the piccolo player, but will make you a hero to a bass drummer.  Twenty extra pounds does make a difference in these temperatures.

    7.  Read, react and respond:  These are not typical conditions, so don't stick to a typical rehearsal schedule.  When you see/feel the kids starting to break down, switch it up and make a change.  

Again, I am not advocating a "softer" approach but a "smarter" approach.  Setting aside the obvious health concerns, extreme environments inhibit student learning and the best bands are the ones who optimize each and every teaching opportunity.

Hope this helps.  If you need a break, my swimming pool is full and I am on the road.  Come on over!

Frenemies and the (Wo)Man in the Mirror!

frienemies .png


You are your own worst critic. Well, you and that tone deaf, jerk faced judge that went all crazy on you last month at contest. UGH! 

Alright, so let’s just say, you're “among” your worst critics. "Go easy on yourself,” has long been the mantra long hailed by self-help gurus and greeting card authors alike. 

Sure, our politicians seem to have no problem with self-affirmation and adulation, but for the rest of us, the most damning assessment of who we are comes not from the person facing you, but the one in the mirror.

As it turns out, this state of self-loathing isn’t just depressing for your emotional state, it can take a toll on your body as well.

In a clinical study published in Psychology Today, scientists studied our “negativity bias,” which is the instinct that makes negative events seems more significant than they actually are. In other words, we are hard wired to give more weight to our flaws and failures than to our strengths and successes. 

So why are we so hard on ourselves? Apparently we can blame evolution.

Dr. Richard Davidson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison states, “ In order to survive and thrive, our brains are equipped with a mechanism which monitors for mistakes so as to be able to correct them. In order to correct them, we must first notice that a mistake has occurred.” 

It’s not the “noticing” of the mistakes that sends you into a self-shame spiral, but their disproportionate weight that makes us more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and pre-mature aging (clearly I am dwelling TOO much as I am not aging well!).

This Darwinian behavior is not helpful, in fact it is hurtful, not just for our health but for our job performance. Yep, reflecting on the bad doesn’t lead to better job performance, it makes it worse. In a 2016 study, scientists noted that “positive reflection of ones actions resulted in improved performance whereas negative reflection resulted in negative performance.”

You see where this is going don’t you?

Music teachers are experts at self-denegration to be sure!

We focus on the wrong notes more than the right ones.
We focus on the tardy students more than the punctual ones.
We focus on the disruptive kids & parents more than the compliant ones.
We focus on the weak performances more than the successful ones.


As the year winds down, for the sake of your health, longevity, and sanity, take a moment and focus on what went right this year. Dwell on the objectives you achieved, the impact you had, and the lives you changed for the better. Try to override the cognitive fall back of finding what you have have done wrong this year, and focus on what you did RIGHT!

You may not be your best advocate, but you can’t be your worst enemy either. As you prepare to retreat and relax, give yourself a break and save the frenemy complex for the cranky judges!

Have a WONDERFUL week and summer break! Let me know if I can help in any way.

Yanny vs. Laurel & the Tritone Paradox!



Unless you’ve been hiding under a mound of purchase orders, or aren't paying attention to your social media obsessed students, you are well aware of the Yanni vs. Laurel debate. My family and I listened to the examples and declared our allegiance. I am proudly and loudly #teamyanny! My boys? #Teamlaurel! My wife heard a mixture of both, and my Golden Retriever only seems to hear the word TREAT!

It turns out that the Yanni vs. Laurel controversy is an example of something known as an auditory anomaly. Recent discoveries surrounding not just HOW we hear, but WHAT we hear, have us rethinking how our brains and ears function in conjunction with one another. The most notable and documented of these anomalies is known the Tritone Paradox.

The Tritone Paradox is an auditory illusion that occurs when a pair of tritones are played sequentially with some people hearing the sequence as ascending while others hearing it as descending. You can hear an example here.

Which way did you hear it?

Once thought to be happenstance, music researcher, Diane Duetsch, discovered that how we hear sounds are impacted not just by our genetics but by our location, language, and even our upbringing. Diana further states that evidence suggests we don't just hear sounds differently, that we also hear music differently.

Nature or nurture? Either way, the result is unambiguous; people HEAR music differently! 

It begs the questions: What do you hear compared to me? What can't I hear that you can? And, how does what we hear or don't impact our teaching?

We have long known the significant impact music has on our physical, mental, and emotional state. What we didn't know what that music is more than a universal love, it is a unique experience that is tailored to each individual person. 

In other words, you and your friends may be listening to the same song, but are hearing different things. 

How does this impact our teaching? Does our auditory style affect the instrument we chose to play or ensembles we join? Does it impact the literature we choose or composers we like? Does it lead us to alter our ensemble size or instrumentation? Does it influence our like or dislike for a type of musical activity (marching band/string quartets/other)? Does it affect how we seat our groups or assess our student(s) progress? Does it mean clinicians hear my ensembles differently than we do?

Most important, does it mean that I am missing out on what others can hear?


What Diane Duetsch and the Tritone Paradox teach us is that music is more than an artful expression. It’s more than a tactile act. It’s more than an aesthetic experience. It’s a summation of who we are and the lives we’ve lived. It says that how we hear music is as unique to us as our fingerprint. 

I am hearing exactly what I am supposed to hear. And you are hearing what YOU are supposed to hear. 

We have always known that creating music was an act of personal expression, but now we understand that it is just as personal going in as it is coming out.

This changes how I see music, unless there is a paradox for sight too! And if there is, please don’t tell me about it, I have heard enough for one day!

Me, MySelfie & I, Part 2


Hey Scott,

Selfies have been a dominant part of the teen landscape for as long as smartphones have existed. It’s hard to go anywhere that teens gather without seeing someone with an extended arm and making a “duck face.” Selfies, usies, groupies, celebfries, and injurfries. Yep, these are all real! (editors note: I’m pretty sure Scott is making this up) and are all a variation of the time old obsession of self-documentation. Today’s teens are merely carrying on an age-old tradition embraced by cavemen, children, and some of our world’s most acclaimed artists (Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Rockwell, etc.)

Is all of this self-capitualization an act of narcissism or a cry for help? The answer is… YES!

As I mentioned last week, recent studies show that Americans are a lonely group of folks, and recent studies indicate that young people are the loneliest of them all. 

Yep, that’s right, that gaggle of teens wandering around your campus snapping pics of themselves and posting them on Instawhatever might not be self-absorbed, they might be lonely.

Loneliness is a blurred state that marries ones personal, mental, and physical health and it’s effects on young people can be tragic. Depression, self-harm, and suicide are on the rise and can be indicators that with greater access comes greater isolation. 

In fact, research published in 2017 by psychologist Jean Twenge at San Diego State University suggests that more screen time and social media may have caused a rise in depression and suicide among American adolescents. The study also found that people who spend less time looking at screens and more time having face-to-face social interactions are less likely to be depressive or suicidal.

How do we address this crisis of connection among our nation’s youth? MUSIC!

In a similar, but unrelated, recent journal article, researchers discovered that it takes approximately 90 hours to make a new friend. Sure, you could become “acquaintances" at 25 hours or eventually develop a "casual friendship" at a mere 50 hours, but to develop a true bond, researchers put the benchmark at 90 hours. The study further noted that the closest bonds of friendship were formed when the individuals were doing something that they enjoy together. 

Ninety hours may seem like an arbitrary mark, but it makes perfect sense to anyone who has ever participated in a school music group.

Think about it, a typical school semester involved approximately 90 hours of instruction. Even more ironic is the fact that a typical marching band season involves roughly 90 days of rehearsals. Don’t believe me? Grab your rehearsal calendar from this year and count. Go ahead, I’ll wait! 

(insert timely pause).

Amazing, isn’t it? This is why music kids have such a bond. This is why friends made through your ensemble often turn out to be life-long friends. This is why we remember students and they remember us, long after our time together has ended. This, among many other reasons, is why this activity matters so much!

Whether this friendship calendar was by design or happenstance is irrelevant. The activity of doing something together that they love (making music) provides students with an opportunity for connection and closeness that is becoming increasing rare in our schools and even rarer in greater society. Through experiences, facilitated by music, kids are making more than melodies, they are making memories! And if you believe these studies, they are doing so in a fashion that can be more than life changing, they can be life saving.

#selfieaware, #selfieassured

Have a great week, 

Me, MySelfie & I, Part 1


A recent NPR report stated "Loneliness isn't just a fleeting feeling, leaving us sad for a few hours to a few days. Research in recent years suggests that for many people, loneliness is more like a chronic ache, affecting their daily lives and sense of well-being." 

About half of all Americans report being lonely. And, as NPR reports, young professionals and teens bear the heaviest burden. 

This is another example of how the internet has turned our professional and personal worlds upside-down. We're more networked than ever, and yet appear more alone than ever. A recent study by Cigna Health, using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, showed that more than half of survey respondents — 54 percent — said they always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well. Fifty-six percent reported they sometimes or always felt that the people around them "are not necessarily with them." And two in five felt that "they lack companionship," that their "relationships aren't meaningful," and that they "are isolated from others.”

As a profession, music educators can be among the most isolated teachers in their school communities. It’s not on purpose, but it might be by design. We teach a curricula (music) which few understand, and often teach in secluded/separated facility away from our non-musical peers. We rise before dawn and rehearse well into the night, making it difficult to unplug, unwind, and nurture relationships outside of our jobs. Our lunch breaks are twenty-two minutes and our departments are the smallest on campus. We are separated from district or community peers by physical geography and space. 

Yes, being a music teacher can be a very lonely existence. But it doesn’t HAVE to be.

I have, in the past, used this e-zine to discuss the problem of professional isolation, but now I am going to use it to help solve the problem. 

As as part of Teacher Appreciation Week, my team has created a way in which you can reach out and connect with a colleague and tell them how much you appreciate them. The button below will take you to a landing page where you can send a colleague a note of support and tell them what you appreciate about them. All you have to do is enter their name, email address, and a brief note about what you appreciate about them. We (and the magic of the inter-webs) will do the rest and deliver it for you! 

Not sure who to send a note to? What about your colleagues (musical & non-musical), administrators, custodians, grounds keepers, school secretary, private lesson teacher, feeder teacher, music store reps, marching staff, booster officers, MEA officers, etc? The list is as long as your creativity and generosity is willing to make it. Come on! Get creative and share some love!

We are asking you to take five minutes to make five peoples day! It will not only make our profession a a little less lonely it will make their world a little more lovely.

It's Teacher Appreciation Week, so take five minutes to appreciate five people!

My Son's Piano is Killing Me


Karl Greenfield is like every other parent on the planet: worried, stressed out, and exhausted. The problem is that his 13 year old daughter is even more so. He would find her pretending to go to sleep only to be doing homework instead. She was skipping out on activities and family time to finish algebra problems and memorize English quotes. 

He wondered whether her extreme study habits was a result of her inefficiency or a burdensome workload and decided to find out. So, for one entire week, he did all of her homework with her. Over a period of seven days, after a long day a work, he sat down and did everything he could, but not everything that was required. 

It turns out that HER workload was more than HIS body could handle, as for seven straight nights; he fell asleep long before his daughter did.

Despite the popular belief that young people are lazy, students today work harder and longer than ever before. As I chronicled a few weeks ago, today’s high schools have an entire extra year of graduation requirements to meet than was the case just twenty-five years ago. In general, today’s students are doing more with less academic time than my generation did.

And our students carry the extra burden of music on top of that.

Students involved in music can spend up to an extra twenty additional hours a week involved in rehearsal, practicing, sectionals, etc. They rise before the sun and go to bed long after the moon has risen and through it all spend their entire days academically engaged with little room for rest or relaxation. And yet, I still constantly hear the phrase, “Kids today aren’t as committed as I was?” 


I remember myself at 16 and I was a bonehead. Even as a teacher wanna-be, I was late, lazy and lack-luster in all things, musical and otherwise. I was slacker personified.

Yes, it's easy to question the work ethic of young people. In fact, it's as old as time itself as Socrates lamented over the same thing. And in that way, and that way alone, Socrates and I are similar.

Just yesterday, for the bazzillionth time, I had to remind my lazy son to practice his trombone and piano. He sharply responded that he had already practiced five days this week and that was enough. Just as I was about ready to lay the hammer down, he screamed, “When was the last time YOU practiced?” I told him that I play every single day. He said, “Playing Billy Joel is NOT practicing! When was the last time you PRACTICED?”

Ummm… Let’s just say it’s been awhile. A VERY long while.

It turned out that I was criticizing him for, well… Being like me: a lazy undisciplined pianist.

So, yesterday I sat down to work on the same piano excerpt he was was working on. As I painfully blundered my way through the excerpt I was reminded that sometimes I am better at talking the talk than walking the walk. 

I guess that’s why I have the job I have and he has the job he does. He does all the walking and I do all the talking.

Being a student isn't the the most difficult thing in the world, but it's not the easiest either. Students deserve credit when they achieve and guidance when they fall short. Through it all, let's remember that in good times and in bad, we're in it together!

You don't have to be Socrates to find the flaws in our youth. But, you don't have to be a genius to find the good in them either.

Have a great week.

p.s The picture above is my son and his piano teacher at their lesson last night. Miss Megan (as we call her) is a saint as she always sees the good in my son. That is why she is his piano teacher and I am not. Well, that and the fact that I am a terrible piano player.

Losing the Steins, Data, and Music Education


A team of researchers at Stanford University recently studied the careers of America’s best and brightest innovators and inventors and concluded that children who come from the top 1% of household wealth are 10X more likely to file for and receive a patent than those coming from lower income households. The children from the lesser affluent areas showed equal aptitude and ability but consistently achieved at a lower level.

What were the difference makers between those who succeeded and those who didn’t? The answer: the access and opportunity that comes with affluence.

The study went on to conclude that, year after year, America loses thousands of potential Einsteins to poverty. These children are capable and willing, but lack the opportunities afforded to their more affluent counterparts.

Yes, we are losing Einsteins, but what about Bernsteins?

A 2013 data study of public school students involved in music education showed that while the disparities of wealth were not as prevalent, there were inequities and trends were worth noting, including:

  • Participation in music among 8th grade students has trended down from 55% in 2004 to 46% in 2013.
  • White students showed higher participation rates than their non-white counterparts. 
  • Females are much more likely to participate in the arts than males
  • Teens whose parents were more educated had a higher rate of participation than those whose parents were less educated. 
  • Students who plan on attending a university showed significantly higher participation rates than students who did not plan on attending college. 

The disparities only grow larger once students leave school. According to Data USA , among music professionals:

  • On average, men earn significantly more money than women. On average both earned below the adjusted federal poverty limit for a family of four, $35,785
  • Men make up 60% of the workforce with women making up 40%. 
  • 76% of the professional world is white, with the remaining 14% being other ethnicities. 
  • Most professionals have college degrees, with the greatest concentration being in music (40%), education (20%), and business (10%). 

I know that we as music educators work hard each and every day to cross the ethic and economic divides. I also know that music represents a great equalizer for many young people as it provides positive life experiences that can provide a pathway out of poverty. But, we can still do more. 

Regardless of our shortcomings, America’s music education system (music instruction contained within the school day) is the largest and most successful system in the world. The data shows that our singular and comprehensive approach exposes young people or all backgrounds to music in ways that places us at the top of the educational mountain top. We are able to achieve all of this because of YOU! YOU are the best of the best and the standard bearers for this incredible activity throughout the world.

But as we stand at the mountaintop, we all know that we have some room too grow in ensuring that ALL students, regardless of gender, race, and socio-economic status can make the climb with us. 

After all, what good is making it to the top if we left behind a generation of Bernsteins Or Einsteins.

Have a great week.