Questions & Answers...


Last week I asked for your questions and the response was amazing. I received over 100 questions. I sorted through all of them and choose a few that I thought might have a broad appeal. I hope you enjoy!

Where do you see band in 10 years? - Jonathan

I'm not buying into the doom and gloom naysayers. In fact, I believe music education is experiencing a renaissance. The economic downturn and decreased funding “thinned the academic herd” and left fewer offerings to lots of kids which means an opportunity for growth. If you need evidence, know that instrument manufacturers are reporting higher sales than in recent years and are projecting growing demand for the foreseeable future. Beyond that, it is getting harder to ignore that music also offers a high profile and cost effective (it is cheap, trust me) educational option that helps boost academic performance. 

What’s your best travel tip? - Travis

Don’t! STAY HOME! Seriously, after spending 45 hours in the Denver Airport two weeks ago during the Polar Vortex Bomb, you’ve got a lot of nerve asking that one Travis! Jeesh, show a little sensitivity would ya!

Okay, this might not be the best tip but it’s one most people don’t know about. When booking a trip, look for flight numbers with three digits (Flight #423). Most of the time, this means it is a full jet and is not operated by a regional carrier. Smaller jets/regional carriers have more maintenance issues and fewer people and parts to fix them. So when things go wrong (and they do), you have more chances of getting to where you need to go.

Oh yeah, and don't go through Denver in March!

How do you earn students' trust and get them to buy in when you’re a new director? -Samantha

Director transitions are like elections. There will always be a small faction of students who are happy, a small faction of students who are sad, and the majority who are sitting in the middle and just want to move forward. Don’t play to either extreme. It might make you popular with one group but will make you the villain with the other. Above all, be consistent. Show up every day. Teach every day. Treat kids with respect and smile every day. You fight drama with consistency.

What some of the most successful (profitable/easy ) fundraisers? -James 

James, I have been hearing a lot about a Colombian Cartel that has met with modest success with drug trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion. If that seems too remote, consider putting that color laser printer to good use and just printing the darn money yourself. I am not printing in your state, just in case you decide to pursue these revenue streams.

I think that increased demands on kids' time and safety concerns associated with door to door sales have rendered most individual forms of fundraising to be largely ineffective. I believe in telling the parents up front what all the costs will be and let them choose to pay or fundraise. Honestly, when my own son comes home selling stuff, it frustrates me that I have to buy something I don’t want in order to give 60% of the revenue to someone other than my child’s school.

I am a fan of things that do not involve selling products and have low over head and high margins such a “a-thons, change drives, and donations.” (Ethical disclosure here: I am part of Fundraise Genius, a new startup geared specifically towards crowd sourced fundraising for music groups.

How do you deal with those days when you make great lesson plans, only to have reality set in, or everything fall apart, when the students come to class (way) less enthusiastic than you? This seems to happen more on Mondays. - Richard

Only Mondays? Heck that happened to me four days a week! You must be doing something right. In fact, you ARE doing something right: YOU ARE LESSON PLANNING. Regardless of whether the class goes your way or not, I applaud you for studying your scores and making a plan! Sounds like the kids are not as enthusiastic as you are. Consider mixing some things (or everything) up. Change seats, music, lighting, temperature, warm-ups, testing, rewards, grading, programming, etc.

I am starting out the school year at a middle school 6-8 band program with no music prior at the elementary level. What is the best progression? - Nathaniel

If you want to know how to give a giraffe a bath, you should ask someone who gives giraffes baths. I taught high school my entire career. I would sit down with a successful beginning band teacher, buy them a cup of coffee, and ask for their advice. By the way, when bathing a giraffe, you will need a ladder. 

How do you build a relationship with an administrator that constantly, publicly touts his support of your school's music program when there are awards and accolades to be announced, but not when it comes to the brass tacks of building, running, and supporting the music program? -Anonymous

Keep in mind, you have one administrator and they have 50 different programs. Consider it your job to support him and not the other way around. A bit of a paradigm shift perhaps, but effective. To get him to join your team, you must first join his. I have not yet met an administrator that WANTS to do the wrong thing, but I have met plenty that disagreed with me on what the "right thing" was. Stop by his office every couple of days with a quick hello or question. Let him know that you support him and appreciate him… See if he returns the favor down the road. If not, sign him up for every Kardashian fan mail account you can find.

No question, I just wanted you to know that I think you are wonderful in every way -Mom

Thanks Mom! I love you too. Sorry about choosing percussion, in hindsight that was a mean trick to play on you!

Can we fix music education by adopting a more reasonable method of class scheduling? -Jeremy

In short, NO! It is not about “reasonable methods of scheduling,” it is a question of time. Increased rigor and accountability, coupled with higher graduation requirements only work if there is adequate time to meet those requirements. "A" hour classes and summer school are now the home of any kid wanting to keep music in their day for all four years. This isn’t about reasonable class scheduling so much as it is about needing to extend the school day and or year!

What do you suggest for dealing with a (percussion) section that NEVER listens. - Mike

Scotch! Not for them, for you! Seriously, if I knew the answer to that I would write a book and be rich. As it stands, I have written six books and am not rich, so clearly I am not the guy to ask, plus I am a percussionist, so I am sticking with my answer… SCOTCH!

Hope you enjoyed! Have a great week!

- Scott

p.s. Check out tomorrow's email for something kind of fun.