When we examine the character attributes of the most successful educators, conductors, bandmasters, etc., we quickly realize they all reach a similar destination, but via many different pathways.  There are those who, time-and-time again, predictably create and manifest wonderful band/music programs within their schools and their communities, and – more importantly – they achieve this goal regardless of the various circumstances concerning budget, facilities, staff, demographics, schedule, etc.  What’s their secret?  What do they know and do that guarantees an environment of quality music-learning and artistic music-making?  Is it WHAT they do, or is it the WAY they do WHAT they do?  Or both?

The following sub-chapters address several of these non-musical (but closely related) aspects of the ever-changing world of music education. 


“When the National Science Foundation asked the breakthrough scientists what they felt was the most favorable factor in their education, the answer was: An intimate association with a great, inspiring teacher.”

The above quote is attributed to Buckminster Fuller,  (July 12, 1895 – July 1, 1983).  Dr. Fuller was an American systems theorist, architect, engineer, author, designer, inventor, and futurist.  American MASTERS pay tribute to him as the most forward-thinking genius of modern times.

In the cognitive world of academic TESTING, MEASUREMENTS, etc., the above wisdom is not always recognized, but rather the emphasis is focused (for the most part) on cognitive learning…and yet, the proof is in the pudding.  It is THE TEACHER who is the key component to the success of the growing, learning, and becoming equation.

This is not to sidestep the importance of the rigors of curriculum or data-exchange, quite the contrary.  However, it is to address the important link of taking the given information and integrating it into something that drives this world to be more civil, more appreciative, and more encouraging.  It is NOT shallow self-appreciating, but digging in the depths of INDIVIDUAL CREATIVE VISION.

“He who has such little knowledge of human value as to seek happiness by changing anything but his disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove.” – Samuel Johnson

As music educators, what IS our goal, our purpose, our vision, our “reason-to-do,” and – ultimately – our “reason to be.”  It’s not about being better than someone; it’s not about winning a huge amount of awards, or monopolizing the first chair position time-and-again, but it is about creating THE HARMONY OF COLLECTIVE FORWARD MOTION.

All else could well be a deception-of-sorts, and until we (as teachers and as role models) are charged with the responsibility of communicating the intrinsic value of music-learning and music-making in a language that  resonates boldly with those who choose to be a part of our artistic environment.

“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”  -Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

CONTENT: What we teach.
CONTEXT: The way we teach what we teach.

By evaluating the components of our teaching contexts, we can adapt our roles as necessary and enhance our communication approach to maximize our invested efforts-and-energies, and – above all – connect with our students so they understand the priceless value of THE ARTS as a cornerstone of their tapestry-of-success.


Because we are “survival creatures,” the fight-or-flight syndrome is always dominant in all behavior patterns.  Dr. Abraham’s classic “Hierarchy of Needs” suggests the basic drive of the human is to perpetuate survival, and – secondly – to defend-our-turf, whatever the given “turf” may be.  When we threaten-or-attack another person, the response is generally a defensive stance or even an assertive posturing.  With this knowledge, it is obvious WHY people are instinctively “on guard,” and why they will be hesitant to put themselves in any situation that is not perceived as SAFE.

As music educators, we must be keenly aware of the power of our words, for they serve as guideposts to our students.  While one should never extend false praise, the notion of using any kind of fear-motivation (to put one in a state-of-peril) to encourage forward motion must be judiciously considered.  The ultimate self-inquiry is, “Does the end justify the means?”

The age of, “It’s my way or the highway,” may have come-and-gone.  Master teachers are eager to trigger intrinsic motivation by focusing on the WHY of their instructional methodology.  There are countless ways to offer the same message without demeaning the receiver of the message.


The educational community has long emphasized the cognitive domain; this focus helps measure/assess WHAT the students are learning.  However we know the affective domain can significantly enhance the learning process through self-motivation, creative thinking, visionary planning, and an enthusiastic approach to the rigors of learning, growing, becoming. To ignore the power of the contextual aspect of brain-based learning is to sidestep a key component to all higher-level achievement.

A “willing mind” is THE GATEWAY to all learning, and it is fueled by the accepting attitude of the learner.  Simply adding more CONTENT is pointless unless the proper context (acceptance of the curriculum) is first established.

Just how important is attitude?  Reverend Charles Swindoll addresses the subject in this often-quoted insight:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it – And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.”

A positive attitude is often misinterpreted as viewing the world through rose-colored glasses, being unrealistic, avoiding responsibility, sidestepping the difficult challenges, etc.  In truth, it is just the opposite; a healthy attitude affords the opportunity to embrace the various challenges with a sense of optimism and hope fueled by a hopeful state of mind.  It is driven by constructive thinking, expectations of success, personal persistence, inspired motivation, self-confidence, solution-oriented planning, and a willingness to reach the given goals.  A positive (just like a negative) attitude is contagious and it has extended implications to students, colleagues, and all.

William James, the father of modern-day psychology wrote:

“The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings by changing the inner attitude of their minds can change the outer aspect of their lives.”

Simply put:  WE ARE IN CHARGE OF OUR ATTITUDES, thus – in countless ways – we can determine so many facets of our professional (and personal) lives.

Simply put, let us embrace the challenges we know will be a part of the highway of teaching success.  PERSISTENCE is our most reliable and most trusted partner.

As a band director, the question isn’t:  CAN ONE PERSON MAKE A DIFFERENCE?  The real question is:  WHAT KIND OF DIFFERENCE WILL ONE PERSON MAKE?  To that end, the remainder of this chapter is focused on many of the off-the-podium approaches discovered in thriving music cultures, driven by master teachers who are keenly aware of their influence on each and every student who chooses to be a music maker.



(Author’s note:  Music advocacy is not, in itself, a particularly compelling subject.   As music educators we often feel burdened we have to “justify” our existence in the curriculum-of-the-day, and – while we know it is a critically important to the overall growth and development of every arts program – it certainly does not offer the same immediate gratification as a meaningful music rehearsal, or a great concert, or an bountiful recruiting venture, etc.  With that said, it is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle; it is THE SLEEPING GIANT of every program, and once awakened, it WILL make a positive impact beyond compare.  Be encouraged to embrace this mini-chapter with a perspective of THE BIG PICTURE, and the crucial role YOU play in embracing the significant role of being THE SHEPHERD OF THE ARTS in your school and your community.)

The term “music advocacy” continues to be a key phrase for music educators throughout the county.  Since the early 90’s groundbreaking research continues to spotlight the importance of music education for EVERY child.  Everyone from civic leaders to political candidates has jumped on the arts bandwagon shouting (and touting) the benefits of music/arts education.  It has certainly awakened the public, shifted the thinking of many school administrators, and created a long-overdue conversation about the educational, economical, and emotional value of music as it relates to enhancing mind-development.

It seems ludicrous to “defend music in our schools.” However, if we want our thoughts and beliefs to reach the decision-makers, we must “frame the outreach communication” using a vocabulary that highlights the value of music in their language, in their forum, and supporting their agenda.

Schools, by design, are created to prepare young people to assume the responsibilities of adulthood and become positive contributors to society, literally to create a better world for their generation and generations-to-come.  As our globe shrinks (via technology, travel, international relations, etc.), it is imperative we understand and share our cultural differences in a peaceful fashion creating a planet of mutual existence.  Simply put; music is the universal language that enhances the awareness of others and supports the freedom of expressive differences; music encourages (even demands) creative visioning, critical thinking, self-expression, problem-solving, risk-taking, and it requires a high level of cooperation.  Cooperation becomes the gateway to a higher level of aesthetic awareness and group achievement.

Music makes *the* difference.  The discipline of music reaches many students who often struggle in other areas of school.

  • It is built on a platform that requires students to work together for a common goal.
  • Music is a subject of self-discovery; the learning pattern is both impressionistic and expressionistic.
  • It is a place for everyone, from the most talented performer to the beginner; all levels of skill are accommodated in music class.
  • It crosses all socioeconomic borders; music is inclusive.  Above all it connects to the musician in a unique way allowing the student/performer to witness and acknowledge his/her self-worth, yet another bridge to the understanding of one’s unlimited potential.

Unfortunately, we often tend to sidestep the value of music learning as it relates to anything other than “music or the sake of music.”  However, if we are truly music advocates let us embrace all growth benefits, especially when they are often the “common denominators of reason” to those who are creating, designing, and implementing the curricular blueprints for our schools.

In the words of Rolf Jensen, Director of the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies,

“We are in the twilight of a society based on data.  As information and intelligence become the domain of computers, society will place a new value on the one human ability that cannot be automated:  EMOTION.”

We are in the business of “making better people, and making people better.”  While raising test scores is one means of accomplishing this goal, the experience of music-making will afford the student the opportunity to integrate the given data in a meaningful way that makes life worth living.  With that theme in mind let us pledge our efforts to the ongoing task of sharing the good news about the value of music for EVERY child.

As we continue our evolutionary exploration along the educational pathway, the importance of music/arts in the school curriculum becomes ever-apparent.   In fact, it is no longer a convenient hypothesis based on personal experiences, but we have scientific proof:  Music amplifies the human mental capacity (along with other identified benefits).  Simply put, music is an essential element in the learning process. Neurological research evidences the positive impact of music study as it relates to the system-wide development of the mind’s capacity and efficiency.


As music teachers we champion the theme, “Music for the sake of music,” Let us never abandon this plea in defense of our artistic philosophies and goals, however, we must be wise and not turn our backs on the empirical research highlighting the multiple benefits of the arts (music); it is a discipline that fuels all areas of educational development.  The study of music/arts links traditional learning styles to the creative possibilities of the human potential.  Music can and does make the difference as it unleashes imagination, or – simply put – curious mind.  It brings meaning to measurements and feelings to facts; it is worthwhile and worth-our-while.


Typically we reach for the music research materials during a curriculum or scheduling crisis involving threatened staff cutbacks, loss of classes, or dropping various music programs within the school day.  All-too-often it is a last-minute attempt to salvage the music/arts program; usually, it is too little, too late.  We must tout the value of music learning every opportunity we have.  We cannot start soon enough and we must communicate the “good news” at all times and especially to those who need to hear the message LOUD and CLEAR; administrators, parents, colleagues, civic leaders, and (above all) the music makers themselves, OUR STUDENTS.  The time for music advocacy is now…and always.


  • Music-making contributes to basic learning systems including reasoning, creativity, cognitive thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving.  This is the foundation-blueprint for success in every aspect of life.
  • There is a measurable connection between music study and academic achievement.  Those who are involved in music are at the top of their class standings within their given school.  The effect of music study has an influence on the mind-mapping.   Students can transfer to various disciplines within the school day and increase their productivity in every area of their educational landscape.
  • Music serves as the catalyst in the creation of emotions allowing the students to better understand themselves and relate to a world of complex social structure.  Music students demonstrate a stability in their personal lives that helps them focus their efforts and energies in accomplishing their goals.


In the words of noted school author, Eric Jensen, “The message with music education is, start early, make it mandatory, provide instruction, add choices, and support it throughout a child’s education.”



Music advocacy is a key component of every successful music program.  As music educators, we have an ongoing responsibility to share the latest research findings with all those who are directly involved with scheduling, curriculum, academic choices, and administrative blueprints.  We all have a vested interest in making certain every decision-maker is up-to-date on the important arts advocacy data that will have a direct impact on every child.

We must be able to articulate the value of music to the policy-makers.  With the constraints on every student’s time, we are obliged to explain the incomparable value of music-learning, both the direct benefits as well as the indirect brain development benefits; combined they are building blocks of our leaders of tomorrow.

Unlike other areas of academia (math, science, history, etc.) music teachers are postured to insure that music is offered as part of the curriculum docket.  Whether this extra recruiting duty is right-or-wrong is not the issue, we simply must be proactive with parents administrators, students, and community leaders; it is a matter of standing up for what we KNOW and BELIEVE.


SHARE the four basic music advocacy premises with those who determine the future of your program:

  • Music learning is central to all learning.  Music develops multiple brain systems; these learning patterns transfer to every area of the academic community. Music learning continues to be linked to high academic achievement.  The correlation of the top test scores and musical studies is one of the key areas of neurological research.
  • Music learning embellishes both cognitive and affective learning.  From emotional expression to appreciation of diversity, music touches the human soul.  When we analyze the assessment results of both affective and cognitive learning, the music students rest solidly at the front of the pack.
  • Music learning enhances life skills.  It contributes to reasoning, problem solving, thinking, creating, decision-making; the tools needed to negotiate a successful life.
  • Music learning continues to be linked to high academic achievement.  The correlation of the top test scores and musical studies is one of the key areas of neurological research.


We know most parents are not aware of the overall importance of the study of music, nor the way it maps the mind in all areas of understanding.  They often see music class as an additional responsibility or an “add-on” to the regular class schedule rather than an academic cornerstone.  Those who create the school mandates may not have access to this valuable information, nor will they unless we continue to bring it to their attention.  With the increased emphasis on testing, assessment, higher standards in math and science, it is often convenient to overlook the significance of music in favor of a more rigorous focus on developing higher test scores.  Ironically, the study of music is proven to support this goal as a by-product of the development of the creative arts mind.

The time is NOW.  Music advocacy is no longer an option, but rather a necessity.  We know it is a powerful message, that is NOT questionable,  The question is, are we (as music educators) powerful messengers?

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)


We are a society that thrives on competition.  We compete in school for grades, we compete in our professional lives to achieve positions and titles, we compete in our daily life-patterns for everything from a faster lane on the freeway to a winning number in the local lottery.  We like to win, to get ahead, to maneuver ourselves to a better vantage point.  Perhaps Darwin’s proposed theory in his popular writing, Survival of the Fittest, clearly evidences our competitive spirit; our ongoing, ever-present, striving to get to the front of the pack.  It is powerful motivational fuel for the human, but like any energy force, competition can be used in a positive and/or negative fashion.

The athletic community has very successfully embraced competition as a traditional outgrowth of the physical education curriculum.  Football games, basketball tournaments, track and field meets, etc., have become main stays of every institution.  School themes are built around a string-of-victories or a state championship; the winning team often becomes the flagship of community pride.  Though it is a gross generalization, we see winning as good, and not-winning as not-so-good.

Observing the enthusiasm generated by competition, other disciplines have quickly jumped on the bandwagon.  Our schools now have; science fairs, 4-H shows, debate clubs, essay contests, and music festivals that recognize the achievements of an array of talents ranging from a flute solo to a 400-piece marching band.

All of these organized competitive forums have created much excitement; however, we must be clearly aware there can be a downside to the win-at-all-costs attitude.  As responsible teachers, the cautionary responsibility rests directly on our shoulders.  Take heed, for the instant gratification of first place, can become a haunting detriment when it alone is the only measure of accomplishment.

When we ask students to “go the extra mile” by committing their valuable time to the art-of-making-music, we must focus on the intrinsic benefits they will gain as a result of their investment, rather than the extrinsic rewards that come as a by-product of their dedication.  If “getting first place” is more important than the joy of an inspired performance, (regardless of the outcome of the adjudication) then it is time to do some philosophical re-prioritizing.  Is the goal to add more trophies-of-achievement to the shelves in the rehearsal room or is the goal to stretch the students to a new level of artistic communication?  The musical growth of the student/s must stand as the top priority in every instance.

Over the years the ongoing debate about the value-of-competition (in our musical world) has caused many music educators to avoid any aspect of adjudication/evaluation.  Much like the ostrich with its head-in-the-sand this may be an over-reaction or escape; it may also be an unrealistic approach to preparing our students to address the realities of life.  At the same time if everything from chair-placement to a solo audition is couched in a competitive framework, the need to overtake the fellow musician takes precedence over the personal growth and development gained by a solid practice-program of healthy self-discipline.  The key to a successful balance is achieved through the careful guidance of the teacher, the band director, YOU.  Instead of dangling the proverbial competitive carrot in front of the student/s, we might be better served if we rewarded and recognized their success habits/patterns.

For example:

  1. Resolving a problem.  Many students are quick to recognize or identify problems, but there are few who will come up with a resolution.  Those who do should be put in the spotlight and given responsibilities within the program.
  2. Being a quiet, innovative student leader.  Identify those silent few who are always finding ways to make things better.  Discover the student who, without a hint of fanfare, is willing to help others and requires little or no personal attention for his/her efforts.  This is a role model worth his/her weight in gold.
  3. Making decisions and taking action.  There are many who “wait to be told what to do,” then do it remarkably well.  Look for those who go one step beyond and are willing to take a stand, make a choice, and follow through on their decision/s; herein lies the leader of tomorrow.
  4. Loyalty.  In today’s world loyalty is a treasured attribute.  Competition is the test of one’s loyalty, not when we win, but when we lose.  To avoid the, “If we can’t win, I quit!” attitude, reinforces the character strength of loyalty.  Together we stand, divided we fall.
  5. Cooperation.  Nothing is impossible when a group of individuals chooses to make cooperation the theme of their working atmosphere.  Alternatively, it is almost impossible to move any group forward when they are constantly competing to gain the upper hand on their fellow performers.  

It is apparent we needn’t beat another person (or persons) to WIN, we simply need to improve ourselves to experience the intrinsic victory that is a result of; learning, growing, and becoming.  To this end, we must strive to support one another in the ongoing exploration of artistic expression and realize the value of competition is merely a stepping-stone for our students to witness others who share a similar passion.  When all is said and done, we must band together if we ever hope to attain TRUE VICTORY.