11 Ways to Lose (and Keep) a Band Student

11 Ways To Lose (and Keep) A Band Student

Nobody wants to lose a band student. Sometimes it’s inevitable – you get a student who doesn’t want to work at all for example. Other times it may be our own fault.

Here are 11 ways to lose a band student for sure (and 11 ways to keep them).

1. Have Roving Eyes

Instead of focusing on the here and now and what students you do have, always look for the next Miles Davis. Never be content with who you have.

Make the best of who and what you have. Develop them to their fullest ability. Miles Davis could be weird at times anyway.

2. Don’t Answer Calls and Emails

Answering these takes time, time away from preparing the music. Just delete/erase these before they clutter up your inbox.

If a student takes the time to call or email you, it is generally because he wants to do well and improve. If you don’t respond in a timely manner, you are showing lack of concern for them. Many times students have told me I’m the only teacher who responds to their emails.

3. Don’t listen to feedback

Some of my directors growing up were “My way or the highway” types who really were not interested in becoming better people. Ignoring the feedback from your students means you won’t have as great of an opportunity to improve.

Listen to student feedback, even if you disagree. Maybe there is a compromise in there somewhere. Listen carefully if it’s coming from your leaders.

4. Don’t Get To Know Your Students

After all, music is the most important thing, so why would we ever ask them about their families, future plans or other activities. (Caveat…I DO make sure my students understand that our short rehearsal together is going to be focused on music).

Before, after and during breaks in rehearsal, get to know about your students’ families, jobs, dreams, interests and hobbies.

5. Focus only on your wants and needs

Who cares what songs the students want to play. It’s all about winning the competition and making me look good.

Isn’t it ok to play a Disney song once in awhile? Let the students pick some of the repertoire. I usually ask them to send me a www.jwpepper.com link so I can review it. If it’s not suited to our group, I tell them why.

6. Argue over little things

After all, what type of tread is on the bottom of the marching shoe has won and lost championships, right?

After 16 years of teaching, I quit being so strict about footwear at concerts. Do I want the kids to look nice? You bet. Does a percussionist wearing black sneakers instead of black dress shoes affect anyone’s enjoyment of the music? Not really.

7. Ignore The Little Things

I know Sally doesn’t have music yet, but there’s just no time for such trivial things. I’ll update the grades at the end of the semester. I know Brian took a retest weeks ago, but I don’t think he will mind having a D as long as I change it before the end of the semester.

The little things add up to big things. I am not perfect in this, so I write EVERYTHING down. I don’t want to forget the small details.

8. Don’t show appreciation

The students have the privilege of being in my class.

The students have the option not to be in your class. It’s your privilege to get to teach the best and brightest in the school.

9. Don’t Apologize

Rule #1: The director is always right.

Rule #2: When the director is wrong, refer to rule #1.

Saying “sorry” when called for is one of the best things you can do. I’ve lost my temper at a kid. I’ve said something that humiliated them or done something I shouldn’t have. I ALWAYS apologize. It makes an impact on the students.

10. Poor care of facilities

Hey, the music is the most important thing, so why do the room and instruments need to be taken care of.

Put away piles of stuff. Organize. Throw away. Make the facility look the best you can with what you have.

11. Don’t care

Look at the players as people who fill a need for an instrument rather than as people.

Show concern. Call when a student is away for extended illness. When they return, tell them how much you missed them.

A student doesn’t care how much you KNOW until they know how much you CARE.

4 Steps to Being a Better Band Director Using the Acronym BAND

4 Tips To Be A Better Band Director using the acronym BAND

There are four key areas that – if you focus on these and make them a priority – they can help you be a better band director. None of them have anything to do with music, but the word “BAND” does fall nicely into place to help you remember them.


Watch what you eat! When life gets busy, it can be very easy to grab something to go. I once was 30 pounds heavier than I am right now, all due to poor eating choices and failure to plan. Plan ahead what you are going to eat. Buy some healthy snacks. Keep them in a fridge at work, in your glove compartment, wherever. Pack a healthy lunch. Watch the pizza. I once ate 8 slices at a football game and regretted it for the next day and a half. I could do that when I was 18, but I’m in my 40s now.


Move your body. Exercise is important, not only to your physical self, but your emotional and mental health too. Pick something you like. Jogging, hiking, swimming, biking, walking. Put more ing in your life. You should strive for a minimum of 20-30 minutes 4-5x a week. It will lengthen your career and leave you feeling like you have more energy. Warning: When I was 30 pounds heavier and first embarked on exercising and eating better, I initially felt worse. This is normal.


Get plenty of sleep. The amount is different for each person. I need 7 hours a night, so I try to make sure I get that at least 6 nights a week. Try napping. The floor of my office becomes a 10 minute nap area during marching season. Students have posted hundreds of pictures of me sleeping on the bus on a trip.


Have a life outside of band. I heard of a band director who does not allow himself to read anything unless it is something that will help his band. I think this is unhealthy. Take up a hobby. It might even be music related, but not be something you need to do for a living. I had to quit giving lessons for the most part because I felt like my day was never ending, but I perform, record and compose simply because I like to and it’s an outlet for me. I also hike, bike and meet with friends (and spend time with my family of course).

When life gets off track and you’re not sure what to do, think B.A.N.D.

Episode 101 – Posting Audition Results

Do you ever just want to RUN AWAY after posting audition results? Hope these tips help to make it less uncomfortable. Try posting this and sending an email to parents…

STUDENTS STOP! Before you discover your placement, remember:

1. We care about you.

2. Sometimes, the lessons we don’t want to hear are the ones we must learn. They prepare us for life.

3. Life is hard. I’m sorry, but it is at times.

4. Reactions should be professional. Celebrate or mourn away from the band hall.

5. Do not tell anyone their placement. Do not take pictures and send them. Everyone deserves the chance to discover the results just as you do.

6. Both the number of auditioning students and the quality of the players within the program have been increasing. This is making it increasingly more competitive to get into the wind ensemble.

7. If you did your best, that is all you can do. You can only control your level of effort.

8. If you have questions, you can come talk to us in a composed manner. No emails will be addressed unless you have spoken with us personally. We will be honest with you because…

9. We care about you.

PARENTS – I would ask for the following considerations upon learning your child’s’ placement. Having a discussion with your child BEFORE results are posted often helps what can be a valuable learning experience.

1. We are all here for the betterment of your students. We care about them deeply.

2. We are hired to give them the best musical advice and experience we can possibly give. We must assess them as best we can.

3. Many are working hard and taking private lessons.

4. Emotions can cloud judgment.

5. Students’ careers in music are always in a state of flux. We must take a snapshot through auditions to capture their progress in that moment. We are considering many factors in addition to the audition including our prior experience with them in rehearsals. Seniority in the program is not a factor in our decision. We are selecting the best 9th through 11th grade musicians to fill out the Wind Ensemble for 2018/19.

6. More students will NOT be accepted than will be accepted. For that, it is important to have the conversation with students regarding the best reaction to news that may not be the news you wanted.

Parents, we would ask that you allow students to advocate for themselves with face-to-face contact with us should there be any questions. If after that direct communication, parents would like further information please feel free to contact us.

The Story Project – Funny stories of growing up Italian

On April 1 at 6:00 pm, the story I shared at The Story Project in March aired on KRCC at 6pm. This is my recording of that.

I share funny stories of growing up Italian, including:

  • How garlic permeates everything when you’re Italian
  • Why I speak SO LOUDLY
  • The uncle who inspired me to get into music
  • The secret to a successful marriage
  • Why I was terrified of the wooden spoon my mom used to cook with
  • Funny stories of the language barrier

Deutschland – The experience of a lifetime

In 1996, I was in the Army Band stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. After ten years in the Army, I was planning on getting out when I suddenly found myself with orders for Heidelberg, Germany! It was so tempting to stay in so we could go. There were many reasons why I decided to turn down the orders, get out of the Army and stay in Colorado. However, the dream to visit Germany never died! This dream was finally fulfilled for me and my beautiful wife Susan in December 2017.

(you can tell this is before we leave because we look rested, cheerful and young)


(our plane on the tarmac at DIA…it’s big!)

Germany is magical in December. There are Christmas markets everywhere. We saw our first one after we recovered our luggage and exited the München airport, right there in the courtyard. This is what went through our heads…

Go to the Christmas market…

Must get to our hotel…

Go to the Christmas market…

Long train ride to our hotel…

Go to the Christmas market…

It’s getting late…

The need to find our way to our hotel won out over the desire to visit the market, but only because we knew there would be many more to see.

We got a little lost trying to find the trains, but so many locals were willing to help. The train was easy to find and board. We enjoyed watching the countryside slowly give way to the city until we reached our stop, Marienplatz, just two stops away from the main station in München (Munich to you Americans).

As we exited the station, THIS IS WHAT WE SAW!

(München’s famous Gothic cathedral)

A very impressive site. I don’t think I could ever tire of looking at it. It’s not just architecture, but a work of art (“art”-itecture maybe).

Our guide book said the hotel was just a 5 minute walk from the station. We got lost! I don’t know if it was the flood of people (a huge Christmas market was right there on the plaza), our tiredness, or the lack of signs, but we couldn’t seem to find our way. Even when we asked for help, nobody seemed to be able to help us. They were from out of town too! We finally found a nice policeman who pointed us in the right direction. We found Pension am Jakobsplatz, our hotel for three nights. Kristoff welcomed us, gave us our keys and offered many helpful tips and suggestions after he inquired as to what we would like to do. Our room was very small, but cozy, comfortable, just a 2 minute walk to major attractions and shopping and within a 30-45 minute walk of anything we would want to see or do in the city. We didn’t come to Germany to hang out in our room anyway.

(our cozy room at Pension am Jakobsplatz – a pension is sort of like a bed and breakfast)

(out exploring after we dumped our bags…Christmas market)

You may think I’m crazy, but I love to get out for an early morning jog wherever I am at. Big cities have a different atmosphere in the morning. Much quieter. Slower paced. And I love how the morning light makes the scenery and architecture different. Plus, even though I had been up for many hours traveling, my body still woke up at 2:00 am due to jet lag. I read a bit, snoozed some, but finally got out of bed and went for a run. I knew I would be eating a lot. I had a goal to lose weight on the trip (it didn’t happen, but I kept the weight gain to just four pounds).

Here are some of the scenes I saw.

(the cathedral in early morning light)

(the entrance to the courtyard of the cathedral)

(part of an old section of the palace…looks almost Roman to me)

(the English Gardens; love it when cities include natural beauty that has been set-aside for people to enjoy)

(the Palace)

You’ve heard the song, “I heard the bells on Christmas Day.”

I heard them on a Sunday in Münich, and they were loud! Maybe we can get more people to go to church in the US if we had bells like this.

After Susan woke up, we spent the rest of that day exploring the great city of Münich. We walked everywhere, probably walked 10 miles that day. Spent some time touring the Palace and also went to a couple of art museums. Admission on Sundays is only 1 Euro.



Susan took way more pictures than me. I’ll tell you a secret. We make a great team! This is just one example in our own life, but she takes a lot of pictures and misses the real thing happening sometimes. I take less pictures and capture the moment in my brain. But when we are reminiscing about past memories, she is able to whip out hundreds of beautiful pictures that jog my memory. We are a team. King Solomon said “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” God + Susan and James is our cord of three strands!

There were many street musicians throughout Münich, despite the temperature hovering slightly over freezing. I even saw a street pianist. He was smart enough to be under cover. It reminded me of my favorite pianist, who is kind to all she encounters.

The following day, we went south and toured Neuschwanstein Castle. It was beautiful! The views were tremendous. I think I prefer the indoor plumbing we have today, and also central heat and hot showers, but I would stay at the castle for a week if they let me.

(the main castle)

(we took a carriage ride DOWN; we would have taken it up but there was a long line)

(this item enrobed in red that I found was the most beautiful of anything at the site)

(a view of the castle from the “summer cottage” below)

After returning to our hotel late that night, we took the train the next day to Heidelberg! Can you believe I turned down orders to come here in 1996? God rarely speaks to people in a loud voice.


“Who’s there?”


“Who is that?”


No, it’s more like we know something only 80%, and God expects us to use our reasoning, and then the last 20% is on faith. I call it the 80/20 rule. And that’s how we felt about turning down Heidelberg. It sometimes seemed we had made the wrong decision, but when you look at it with 22 years hindsight, it was definitely the right decision.

We were so excited to see the room we got for just $125. It was an entire apartment with a bedroom, living room and kitchen. We wished we were staying for a few more days. Here are some pictures of the apartment and the view from the apartment.

A short, one hour walk and we made it to Heidelberg Castle

The hike up stole our breath, and then so did the view from the top.

And of course, I had to get out the next morning for a run while my wife caught up on her sleep. I sometimes wish I could sleep in, but my body always says “no.” Plus, I liked to visit the Bäckerein in Germany; I was determined not to gain weight. Here’s the castle shrouded in fog the next morning.

I also jogged by Heidelberg University, which is a hodgepodge of buildings situated on the hill overlooking the water. Did not get any good pictures as it was still dark. HU is the oldest university in Germany, established in 1386.

The river seems loud in the morning!

Back on the train, next stop Cologne.

This was our view when we stepped outside the train station!

Our first night we went out exploring…

Went to the Lindt Chocolate Factory

And saw even more street musicians…

Perhaps I could make a living as a musician if I lived in Germany, or maybe that would just be in December! I wouldn’t mind spending every December in Germany.

The next morning we toured the inside of the cathedral. It was cold. It was beautiful. Some 700+ years later it’s still not complete. The original architect left plenty of plans to keep adding to it. Talk about a vision for the future. Here are some pictures from inside.

Afterwards we went to the famous lover’s bridge, where couples pledge their undying love to each other by clasping a lock onto the bridge. They say the German government had to take some of the locks off due to the weight. Some looked like they had been there a long time. We considered adding our own lock, but the locks sold locally were about 50 euros so we decided our true heart-felt commitment was more important than any symbol that might represent it 🙂

We also visited my uncle Giorgio who is living there, my cousin Pepe and his beautiful wife Carla, who is from South America. We communicated with a combination of English, broken English, Italian, broken Italian, Spanish, broken Spanish and very limited German. It was so much fun. I wish I could see them all more often. For some reason I lost those photos.

We got to spend several days with Jill’s family, including Christmas day. Jill is a German exchange student who was with us the 2015-2016 school year. She became like our daughter. Her family was so nice to us! Jill, we love you and your family! And we miss you!

Jill and her family in front of their house in Ubach-Palenberg


Jill’s school


Another picture of Jill’s school


School again. I love visiting schools – especially old ones with cool architecture. Many US schools look like prisons!

The following day, Jill’s family took us to the town of Aachen, which is about 30-45 minutes from their home. The town is known for the university of the same name and also hot springs. Jill’s family hired an English speaking tour guide to take us around. It was fun and informative.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were spent visiting with Jill’s family, including her sweet grandmother. Her grandmother made a ton of cookies, which I was really enjoying. At the end of Christmas dinner, there were still a lot of cookies left. Since her grandmother noticed how much I liked them, she bagged up ALL of them for me to take with me! Reminds me of my Italian mama.

After the holidays, we spent one more day touring a very quaint touristy, very old town. Susan was as tall as some of the doorways. And we got to meet Jill’s boyfriend Dean. He’s a very nice young man whose grandfather is American.

The next day it was back on the train to head to Münich, where we would be flying back home. It is hard to make out, but we passed so many castles while in the train and snapped some pictures. When we arrived in Münich it was the first time we had seen the sun in ten days! We spent a little more time exploring close to our hotel. The markets had closed, so there were a lot less of the crowds.

I had a super great time, but what made it fantastic is that I got to spend it with my best friend and soul mate, Susan Divine. We get to go to Germany again this summer to hopefully see our first grandson (already have three granddaughters) born to our daughter. Not sure if we will get to tour much, but it’s really about the people more than anything else. We met so many kind people in Germany and will carry those memories with us forever. It was so nice to see some members of my family and to get to spend Christmas with Jill and her family. We loved every minute of the experience!













Launch of Tuesday Lunch & Learn

Every Tuesday, I will host a Live Teaching on various subjects. I’m calling it the Lunch and Learn. You bring your lunch…I promise not to eat mine on the air…and together we will learn something. These will be right at about 7 minutes in length. That’s about the length of my attention span.

You won’t find the Lunch and Learn here. Go to my facebook page to find it.

James’ FB Page


Episode 99 – Jazz Band Warm-ups


If your jazz band is like mine, it’s filled with some of the most creative and ENERGETIC students in the school. They never get in serious trouble, but if I don’t keep them occupied and doing something, they can tend to get in a little bit of “teen goofy” trouble. I like to start class with one of these warm-ups to get them focused right away.

Episode 98 – Are Practice Sheets Worthwhile


I started my career utilizing practice sheets, but dropped them shortly after arriving at my current position. Are they useful? Are they a waste of time? In this podcast, I share some thoughts from fellow band directors on both sides of the debate. Ultimately you have to decide what’s best for your program.

Episode 97 – Thoughts on Marching Band Philosophy


We all know directors who have burned out teaching marching band. Some flee from the thought of ever teaching it again. However, I think with a few changes in our philosophy, we can have successful marching bands that don’t destroy our life. I share a few of those thoughts in this podcast.

Episode 96 – 5 Tips for Dealing with Bullying Colleagues

It’s bad enough when we are bullied by a boss or superior, but what do we do if a fellow teacher is bullying us? This is a difficult situation to deal with, especially if you are a young teacher and the one doing the bullying is more experienced. Here are 5 tips to help you deal with the situation. Also check out Henry Cloud’s book Boundaries

Episode 94 – 8 Tips to Consider on Overnight Trips


Trips can be fun and educational. The secret is to over plan and plan early. Follow these 8 tips to make your overnight band trip more successful and reduce the risk of something going wrong.

trip behavior agreement

Parent Educational Leader Guide

Link to Travel 101 by Andrew Yaracs




Episode 92 – Dealing With “I Quit”

I’m not talking about you the teacher, but the student. I personally want to quit at least once a month, despite having spent 20 years in this wonderful field. If we have this desire (and get over it), don’t you think the same can apply to students? You do have to learn to develop a hard shell. Here are some strategies that will make it easier – but to be honest – the pain never completely goes away.