Episode 79: 14 Tips on How To Get Better At Fixing The Music

The main thing we do…fixing the music! How do we get better at that?

In this episode, I share 14 tips that I have learned over the years, including an acronym from the Army Band (DIAC) and what NOT to use as a rehearsal technique, a technique used frequently by one of my band commanders.

Also listen to Episode 40 to find out more about the function chorales mentioned in this podcast.

Episode 78: Answers to Listener’s Questions

I take a slight turn in this podcast and answer a few listener questions. I hope to do more of these. If you would like to submit a question, please go to the contact page at www.jamesdivine.net and send your question.

  1. Joel writes…I’ve been teaching awhile with the program growing stagnant. Do I need to move on? If not, how do I pull it out of the rut? Or can a program only become “so good.”
  2. An anonymous listener writes…What do you do if there is a school culture of AP classes and no time for band?

Submit your question

Episode 77: How and Why You Should Start a Tri-M Chapter

Like me you probably think you don’t have time to run a Tri-M chapter. I’m here to tell you you don’t not have time! A 2-hour investment per month can yield hundreds of hours of influence. It’s simple and not expensive.

Go to the Nafme website to find out how to start a chapter in three easy steps. They have a ton of resources for you:

http://www.nafme.org/programs/tri-m-music-honor-society/

Episode 75: Student Led Rehearsal

What is a teacher to do when he has to be gone and the sub knows nothing about music! Have the students lead the rehearsal…after all, they probably know more than the sub.

A student led rehearsal is different than having a student conduct. Nobody conducts in a student led rehearsal. The students collaborate.

I stole this idea from Dr. Menghini of Vandercook College of Music, who presented a session using his own students. I have used it with much success almost every time I have a sub.

Episode 74 – Teaching Guitar Effectively: Interview with Bill Swick

Join me as I interview Bill Swick – master guitar teacher. We dig into several strategies for how to effectively teach guitar, especially if you are a band teacher.

When I started at my current school 12 years ago, I had no experience as a guitar teacher. I must confess that in the back of my mind I planned on getting rid of the guitar class as soon as I could. How dumb I was! Guitar draws in a whole different group of students who may not be drawn in by band, orchestra or choir. It doesn’t take away from the other classes…it adds to it.

Out of 18,000 teachers in Clark County, Nevada, Bill was selected as the 2013-2014 Teacher of the Year. He has developed a year-long lesson plan that follows and covers his state’s curriculum. Find out the biggest mistake guitar teachers make. Pick up several strategies for how to teach guitar more effectively, including some discussion of Prodigy software for assessment.

You can sign up for Bill’s free newsletter, which includes free resources, by sending him an email with “Free Newsletter” in the subject. Send that request to: billswick at msn.com. Find out more about Bill and order his materials at www.billswick.com.

Also see Episode 33: You CAN teach guitar and orchestra

Don’t Waste Your Time On New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time! Most of the resolutions don’t last beyond the end of January. They are bound to fail. Resolutions are often not thought out, have no action steps and are rarely written down. They often lack specificity.

I want to lose 20 pounds by summer
NOT I want to lose weight

I want to earn $12,000 more each year by December
NOT I want to earn more

I will spend every Friday on a date night with my wife
NOT I want to spend more time with my wife

Did you know many gyms sell about 30% more memberships than the capacity of the gym? They know many people are not going to follow through on their desire for fitness.

There is – however – a way to achieve and exceed your goals.

Write them down

When I was young, I had goals and dreams like everybody else, but I didn’t write them down. For some reason, when we write our goals and take actionable steps, we are more likely to achieve them. I have goals in seven areas of my life:

Spiritual

Physical

Financial

Intellectual

Work/Career

Family

Social

Goals give you a starting point and destination. They are going to change as you grow and as you figure out what’s important in your life.

John Acuff, in his book Start, talks about how he has been able to write several books and also help build two schools in Vietnam. He didn’t write that down on a whiteboard several years ago, but as he progressed through his goals those opportunities became available.

Five years ago, I would have never believed I could be writing my fourth book.

What are some of your goals? Would you like to schedule 20 gigs in the next year? Would you like to finish your master’s degree in the next three years? Do you want to find a spouse and be married with kids in a couple of years? Do you want to move to a better job that fits your skills and talents? These are attainable and will be different for everyone.

EVERYTHING you’ve done – even things you didn’t like – have made you who you are today. For me, the military band was a great experience. It is where I developed my chops. It was my music education. Being self-employed was difficult, but it helped make me who I am today. I learned a lot about marketing, about pricing, about what my audience needs and wants…all things that help me even in teaching.

There are many good books about setting goals. One of my favorites is Dan Miller’s 48 Days to the Work You Love. My seven goals are adapted from his book. Get a copy of Dan’s book and work through the goal-setting process. Also read anything you can find by Zig Ziglar on goals.

In late November or early December, I create my goals for the following year. These big but specific and measurable goals are then translated into action items. I create a to-do list on my iPad mini and prioritize the items – always remembering to leave margin in my life.

Most people use a daily to do list. I am a much more global, big-picture thinker and find that a weekly list works better for me. On the iPad, I am able to reprioritize the items quickly each morning as needs and urgency change. Some people like to write their items on a list. Others use their phones. Whatever system you use, find something that works for you.

EVEN WHEN I DON’T FEEL LIKE IT, I begin to tackle items on my list. Sometimes just starting a task is the hardest part. Sometimes just getting started practicing is the hardest part. Sometimes starting a resume’ is the hardest part.

JUST START!

Put away all distractions. Turn off your email notification. Turn off your phone so you are not distracted by every text message that comes in.

Multi-Tasking

Did you know that multi-tasking is a myth? We work at only 80% of capacity or less when trying to multi-task. When it’s time to book some gigs, write some music, practice, prepare my lessons or another important task, I turn off my cell phone, close my internet browser, shut down my email, get off of social media and get some focused work in. My rhythm – maybe because I am a public school teacher – seems to be about 45 minutes; then I need to take a short break and stretch or get some water. Others find that two-hour blocks work for them. Others prefer to work in intense 20-minute bursts. Find your rhythm.

Think of the short and long term goals as being a plan for your life. For example, if you want to lose 6 pounds in six months, that’s the big goal. The to-do list becomes the action steps necessary to meet that goal. In this example, you might get up thirty minutes earlier to exercise, prepare your lunch before you go to work so you’re not tempted to eat out, and buy some exercise shoes. Those are your action steps.

The goals that work best are:

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Realistic

Timely

If you can’t reach the goal, you will only become discouraged. If you are 200 pounds overweight, to lose that much weight in one year is probably not attainable. If you had zero gigs this year, deciding you want 300 in the next year is probably not attainable. If you have no college education, setting a goal of finishing your master’s in 18 months is probably not attainable. Here are some examples of good goals:

  • I want to lose five pounds in the next six months.
  • I will call five venues this week and every week.
  • I will book five events this summer paying $200 each.
  • I will save $2,000 this year by saving $200 per month.
  • I will save $50 a month to purchase that new instrument in 20 months.

What are your three-month goals? Six months? One year? Five year? Spend some time writing them down. Sometimes I set aside a half day Thanksgiving weekend to develop my goals for the next year. When I have acquired an early start, sometimes I have accomplished 10% or more of my goals before the New Year even begins.

I’m Glad My Marching Band Didn’t Make State

This was the best marching band season to date. Our scores were some of the highest we have ever achieved. Our show was the most difficult we have ever attempted. My students were the most committed they have ever been (with lots of room for improvement).

As my students attained higher and higher scores, we all thought for sure we would make it to state. When we competed at regionals and beat a few bands that normally beat us, we thought it was in the bag!

But we didn’t make it.

And we were disappointed.

And I’m glad.

When I told my students I was glad we didn’t make state, they looked at me like I was crazy. Some responses were…

“Don’t you care about us?”

“Why are you glad?”

“Don’t you have confidence in us?”

I DO care for my students. They are like my family.

I DO have confidence in them. They had achieved higher than they ever have.

But I was glad we didn’t make it.

We missed making it to state by one band. One band! You could say we almost made it to state. With being that close, the students are determined to work harder, smarter and achieve more next season. Their talk afterwards included “if we had done this a little better”, and “if we had been a little more focused at rehearsal we might have made it.” Their ideas for how to make the band better started to pour forth.

If we had made state…and if it had been barely, by only one band…you could have said we almost didn’t make state. The students may have gotten cocky,

“We made state, we made state, now we don’t have to work as hard next year.”

Oh, they wouldn’t have said this out loud, but it would have come across in their actions. I know my students well, and I know that for this band for this season, I’m glad they didn’t make state.

I’m proud of them. I know they will start next season with more dedication and more commitment, and I know they will achieve higher next year.

And if we make it to state, great… but if we don’t, we will take pride in having done our best. Ultimately that’s all any of us can do.

Episode 70: Interview with Greg Martin, author of “Marching Band Techniques”

Order the book on amazon

This book can be used as an accompanying text for the collegiate marching band techniques course and to help build a successful marching band program at a high school. Topics include everything from developing a program handbook to student leadership and adult staffing, budgets, rehearsal techniques, sample forms, and basic information regarding the development process of a marching band show, as well as basic drill design techniques. It also addresses typical mistakes made by young teachers and offers suggestions on how to avoid/handle those mistakes. Finally, workbook-style activities at the end of each chapter help support and reinforce the material presented.

Follow these 7 tips for an extra 7 hours this week

About 5 years ago, my son was on the wrestling team at the school I teach at. Practice ran until 6:30 every night. Since we lived a half hour away, I thought I could get a lot done and catch up on my to-do list. Even though I was spending an extra four hours a day working, I still didn’t get everything done. It’s not about time spent, but spending the time you do have wisely, and spending it on the right things!

Here are some tips to help you save seven hours each week.

1. Limit Media Time

Many people spend hours upon hours mindlessly researching things on the web or scrolling through their facebook feed. I’m not saying to eliminate those things…just be more deliberate in how and when you do them. Set a time limit on web research. Have a specific goal in mind. Want to watch tv? DVR the show. You’ll save 20 minutes in a one hour show. Set a certain time to look at facebook rather than letting the ding of the notification control you.

2. Touch email messages once

I once had a coworker who had over 1200 email messages in her inbox. They were there to remind her of things she needed to get done. Guess what? She never got any of them done and spent much time scrolling through the emails to find the information she needed.

I read an email one time and strive to keep my inbox empty. I have created many folders in my email program. Some examples are: Save, Admin, Reservations, Kudos, Bookings. When I read an email, if it’s something I can do or answer quickly, I do it and delete it. If it’s some important info I need to keep, I file it in the appropriate folder. If it’s meant for someone else (something I have to delegate), I immediately send it to the person who can do it, or I respond that I am not the one who handles that. Have set times to check email. Many people have notifications on and are checking email 50+ times a day. Some people need to be this accessible, but most of us just need to check it 2-3x a day.

3. Follow the 2-minute rule

If you can complete a task in 2 minutes, do it! I can’t tell you the number of times I have been in charge of a music event and needed info from other directors. All I need to know is how many students someone is bringing because I am responsible for ordering pizza. No response! It takes 3 seconds to respond! Do it and get it over with.

Don’t even add the item to your to do list if it takes less than 2 minutes. At school, the lady in charge of IEPs often needs a feedback form from a student’s teachers reporting on how they are doing. When I see the form in my inbox, I fill it out right away and return it.

4. Control your meetings if possible

Do you need to disseminate some information at a meeting but are otherwise not involved? Ask to be at the beginning of the meeting so you don’t have to wait through it all. I taught at a school where I was responsible for renting the sound system at graduation. I sat through two years of meetings where when it came to be my turn, the headmaster asked “Do you have the sound system rented and details taken care of?” I quickly learned that was the only reason I was at the meeting. I began to contact the headmaster a few days before, let him know I had the details taken care of, including the time and expense. I would then ask “Do you need me to be at the meeting?” He always answered “No.”

5. Schedule time to get work done

I was finding myself continually being interrupted during my plan time as a teacher by students who needed help, or sometimes they were just hanging out because they had a free period. I love my students, but I have a lot to get done if I want to be an effective teacher. I started being more deliberate about that time. That time is for lesson prep. I kindly ask the students to leave (even having them around being quiet is a distraction, and they often ask just a “quick” question, which gets me off task). I get a lot more done this way.

6. Consider your mission

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Focus on your strengths! Know when to say no (I call that my Know No rule). If you are a helping person, you naturally want to help everyone, but you shouldn’t if something isn’t your mission. For me to help the football coach would be a “good” thing, but I would be missing out on the “great.”

7. Look at the big picture

Often our schedule revolves around “Well, I don’t have anything else going on, so sure I’ll do such and such.” This attitude is not deliberate enough. What if we take a look at our calendar for a year and “fill in” things that are important to us before other things crowd the important things out? For example, I’ve already filled in my anniversary weekend, so if someone calls me with a speaking or performing opportunity, I will answer that I already have something scheduled.

I do have some flexibility. If the person calling me were to offer a great honorarium, I would present the opportunity to my wife and say “How about if I take this and we celebrate the following weekend, but instead of a weekend in Denver we get to take a cruise?”

Plan each week, month and year of your life so trivial things don’t fill your schedule. Make sure to include off time too. If you are teaching a 2 week class, block off four days or even a week afterwards so you can relax, hike, visit the grandkids, whatever you like to do.

If each of these tips saved you one hour a week, you would have seven extra hours a week to exercise, cook, hike, read, practice, sew, take karate or whatever you like to do, maybe even sleep!

James is a music educator, musician, speaker and podcaster. He enjoys hiking, biking, and spending time with his wife and family. He also enjoys long walks on the beach, but these are usually either solitary or with his wife. He is the author of “Forgive: One man’s story of being molested” and “40 Ways To Make Money In Music.”

Frank Meacham – Colorado Springs, Colorado

I recently invited James Divine to my school to talk to my students. He talked about his old beat-up saxophone, how even though it is scratched, dented, bent and painted gray in parts, it still sounds great and does its job well. James then related how he has been through some tough times in his life, and although those events have left dents and scratches on him, he can still look ahead to a bright future.

James captured the attention of the students with his humor and seriousness, and kept their attention throughout the presentation. As I talked with the students over the next few days, many of them were still talking about the impact he had on them. Thank you James for reaching out to my students and making a difference in their lives!

Frank Meacham
Director of Band and Choir
Sierra High School

Episode 68: Successful Differentiation In The Music Classroom

Many of us have learned to differentiate for special needs students, but did you know gifted students also need differentiation? In this episode, experienced music educator and music supervisor shares a few strategies for differentiation.

Does this whet your appetite for more? Earn college credit and learn more this summer when Samantha teaches a 4-day seminar of the same title. Find out more and register HERE for the course at Colorado College.

Episode 67: 5 Tips For More Efficient Rehearsals

Have you ever felt like you stunk as a teacher? I have 18 years experience and recently I felt this way. One of my colleagues came for a visit. He gave me some tips afterwards and pointed out some things that I should know better about! I was embarrassed (but glad he pointed these things out).


I took a good look in the mirror and immediately implemented some changes. Rehearsals have been more efficient and productive. These were things I knew – I had even implemented them and taught others to – but I had let things slide gradually.

Hope this reminder helps you as much as it has me. 

4 Tips to Help you be a Better Band Director using the Acronym BAND.

4 Tips to Help you 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.

B-Bread

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.

A-Activity

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.

N-Night

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.

D-Diversion

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 66: The Joy of Teaching in a Rural School 2; interview with Karen Gregg

Where can three degrees in bassoon performance take you? Sometimes to exciting and unexpected places like teaching music in a rural public school. Join me as I have a conversation with Karen Gregg about the joy of teaching in a rural school, where Karen has a ton of community involvement, more flexibility, gets to know her students and has 40-45% of students in band.

Also check out Episode 41: The Joy of Teaching in a Rural School; interview with Kevin Beaber.

Episode 65: How To Properly Use Festival Warm Up Time

When I was a young director, I thought the thirty minutes they gave us to warm up was too long. I just didn’t know what to do. Now I fill those thirty minutes quickly and wish I had more. I share my warm up process for festival and for most days in band.

Link to the Breathing Gym Materials

Link to Function Chorales by Stephen Melillo

Episode 63: 11 Ways To Lose A Band Student (and 11 Ways To Keep Them)

It’s the little things that make the difference. In this podcast I share 11 things we sometimes do (or fail to do) that cause us to lose a student.


We often get the music right, but fail at the relationship. Incorporate these ideas and you will find yourself keeping more of your students. 

Sleeping Underneath A Piano

Guest Post by Steven Kristopher. Check out links to his albums at the end of this post.

 

It was the fall of 2007, and I had been on the road full time (10 months out

of each year) for two years. On the road as a musician in a band was great, and

difficult, and amazing and painful, all at the same time. I had an hour or two

before our gig that night. I was in Little Rock, Arkansas on the road with

Midnight to Twelve and before a gig we had some downtime.  I decided to go

on a walk and clear my head so I could focus on music. I saw a piano store a

few blocks away from the club we were playing.  I went in knowing I couldn’t

afford any of the beautiful pieces that sat before me.  It was a small store and the

pianos were almost flush against one another.  I side-stepped toward one I’d

never played before.  I sat down to a Bechstein Grand Piano.

 

I played the first couple of chords of a song I was writing at the time and I could not believe the

amazing tone of this beast.  It was the most beautiful sounding piano I’d ever

played.  I played it for a few minutes and the owner of the store walked over and

asked if I had any questions.  I did.  I asked him, how much for the one I was

sitting at.  He said, “the smaller one next to you goes for 85, and the one you’re

sitting goes for 110.”  Inside, I was astonished at the price.  He meant $85,000

and $110,000.  I was so blown away and tried my best to restrain myself to make

it look like I knew that’s what the price would be.  The owner was very kind.  He

gave me his business card, which I still have to this day on my desk.  Its a

reminder of the experience and hopefully one day I can afford a Bechstein piano

for my home.  Back then I was playing keyboards in a rock band touring the

country opening for bigger bands, playing clubs theaters, festivals, etc., so to

own a piano like that was a big dream.

 

When I was a kid, I started playing drums in my church and I knew I

eventually wanted to play an instrument that would allow me to write songs.  I

wasn’t sure on guitar or piano until my friend played a song for me.  Create in

Me a Clean Heart by Keith Green, was a song that had a 3 minute piano

prelude that I was very impressed with.  So much so, that when the song

finished, I said the words, “I want to play piano like that.”  Not six months later, I

was playing a Casio Keyboard and an upright piano my Mother had in the living

room as much as I could with a chord book in hand.  I learned as many songs of

artists I loved that I could.  I would put on a C.D. and play along, learning songs

by ear and figuring out how songs were written.  A couple of years later, I was

writing my own songs.  I sincerely love the piano very much.  It calms me down

to sit and play.  It brings me joy to play.  It shows me parts of myself I didn’t know

existed.  It helps me grow as an individual in many ways.  I told my Father one

day that I would trade my bed and all the things in my room for a piano.  He

asked me, “Where would you sleep?”  I said, “I’d sleep underneath the piano,

where else?!”

 

I currently live in a house to small for a piano and use two keyboards that

are great.  But there is nothing like playing an amazing sounding piano, feeling at

my fingertips the craftsmanship and the artistry of something that is so perfect to

me.  I am hoping that one day, I will be able to walk into that shop in Little Rock,

Arkansas and buy a Bechstein Concert Grand Piano for my home.  That would

be a pretty great day, to say the least.

Steven Kristopher

 

www.StevenKristopher.com

www.facebook.com/stevenkristopher

www.iTunes.com/stevenkristopher

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPYM8dgXVL0 – Psalm 23 Official Video

With Abandon (New Album) Itunes Link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/with-abandon/id1063836099

Episode 62: What To Do If You Don’t Have A Bass Player For Jazz Band

A Bass Player and Percussionist are absolutely essential to making a jazz band or combo sound good. You can make almost any combination of instruments work. There are good percussionists almost everywhere, but what do you do if you don’t have a bass player?


In this podcast I share several strategies for obtaining a decent bass player.

Episode 60: Proper Eating and Fitness for Band Directors

Soy-whey-protein-diet

If you’re like me, you have often struggled with eating properly while teaching.

About 10 years ago, I weighed 30 pounds more than I do right now. Did the two packages of M&Ms every day have anything to do with it?

In this episode, I share tips that helped me maintain my weight, which enables me to be a better band teacher. Also check out the MyFitnessPal app (it’s free) and for some healthy recipes, check out www.tasteofdivine.com.