Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Home School Music Class -- a nontraditional path to music education.

Band is an important part of America’s collective grade school nostalgia.  Many of my memories about school involve band, recitals, and hours of practice.  I had to practice on our apartment balcony sometimes, and frankly I enjoyed that much more than my neighbors.  Band is part of our grade school tradition.

But what happens when traditional schools no long fit you or your student?  Unsatisfied with the curriculum and disappointed at the political failures that are hurting schools all over the country, we’ve opted give it a go.  This year we are making the move to a virtual school – a home school.

Our home school curriculum, from K12, offers music as an elective in some areas.  This means that the nontraditional route doesn’t require abandoning all of our traditions.  It is very liberating.  The music course offered through our virtual school requires additional fees.  But we feel those fees will be well worth the smaller class size, even one on one sometimes.  The true drawback is that these classes require the student to provide their own instrument. 

Rent an instrument or buy one?  It is true that we could buy a used instrument.  But not a very good one, and who knows how it was treated or if it was even cleaned before being sold again.  And who knows how long our student will be interested? What if he’s a natural?  Could we afford to step up?  Renting was our choice.

So tell us, is your student enrolled in traditional school or home school?

By J. True Anderson
read my blog at JTrueAnderson.com or follow me on Twitter @Justinwrites

Monday, August 8, 2011

Music Helped my Son, Can it Help You?

Music has a definite impact on us from a very early age.  Every parent has used music to soothe the savage infant, hoping to help them drift off to sleep – so we can sneak in some sleep ourselves.  So it isn’t much of stretch to think of music affecting the way we think and learn.

Successful Sounds is one organization in Kansas that is putting that to use helping children who face challenges in learning.  They use music to achieve non-musical goals.  Their website says that music is ”extremely influential on the neurological processes that are responsible for organizing and managing behavior, communication, emotion, sensory, motor and cognitive functioning."

In kindergarten our son was assigned an Individualized Education Plan that made various adaptations to his day in school.  He was given a wobble seat to help him sit right, a tilted desk, specially shaped pencils, and music therapy.  And as he grew older many of those adaptations were no longer necessary.

But music helped him get past a few hurdles that were a source of great frustration for his regular classroom teachers and prevented him from falling behind.  By the end of the second grade he no longer received music therapy.  We were fortunate enough to live in a school district that made such a service available.  Now he is heading into the fifth grade and soon we'll be picking out his first instrument.

So if music is therapeutic and can help us overcome obstacles to learning then shouldn’t we consider it a priority for the students in our own families?  Play an instrument, even if you play it badly – I did.

by J. True Anderson
follow me @Justinwrites
check out my blog at www.jtrueanderson.com

Friday, August 5, 2011

Band Nightmare in the 5th Grade

Back to school shopping is in full swing folks.  Unless you’re like me and you haven’t even started yet.  No stress…  Really.  Ok, not really.

Shopping is my least favorite thing to do (my son and I share this).  We were cruising through our local Wally World with my son’s 5th grade supply list.  We quickly gathered the basics.  Number two pencils, glue sticks, Rose Art markers (why so specific?) – you know the drill.  We had finally moved on to the fun stuff; backpacks, shoes, jeans, and whatever else a hip and happening 10 year old needs when my wife spoke up.

“He’ll be starting band this year,” my wife says to me.  “We both were in band, did you know that,” she asked our son.

“Cool, what instrument did you play?”


“What about you dad?”

“Clarinet.  What do you want to play,” I asked.

“I don’t know.  Tuba, flute.  Something like that.”

“I can see how the choice could be hard.”  I cocked an eyebrow at my wife and she just shook her head.

Enter my flashback.  It’s a warm September afternoon, cafeteria lunch still hot on our breath, and the band teacher calls each student over one at a time.  Amid the cacophony of children talking amongst themselves he asks each student to offer him his or her hands for inspection.  Mentally he measures them against various instruments.  He scrutinizes each facial structure for compatibility.  And before he’s finished he instructs each student to make the “ok” sign with his or her hand and place it against their lips – then motor-boat.

We all took our turn blowing duck-like sounds through our hands.  And none of us really suspected that this provided a measurement adequate to determine our musical destiny.  For many of us it not only led to an imperfect match, but an impermanent one too.  I wanted to play Saxophone, but I was given a trumpet.  It came in a scarred black case with “Volker Elementary” spray painted across the outside.  The fake velvet lining reeked of some bizarre combination of Brasso and garlic.

Trumpet eventually proved impossible for me.  After a few weeks of lousy playing the teacher decided to try me on woodwinds.  Alas my hands were still too small for the sax.  But the clarinet was just the ticket.  Or so I thought.

Music is not what you would call what it is I produced.  I had trouble from the get go.  The instrument fit together poorly.  The wrappings at the unions were old and half rotted.  One key didn’t function smoothly.  I did more squeaking than playing.

Let me tell ya, I feel sorry for the pain I caused my three-story walk up.  And I hope I have the patience to survive that time with my son.  But I know something my mother didn’t.

Instruments of poor quality or condition can hamper a student’s progress, diminish the experience, and turn a child away from the joys of music forever.  Who knows, maybe my son is the next Mozart, but I hesitate to buy him a high-end instrument when he may be like me and decide by the end of the 5th grade that he’s really more of a listener than a player.  I just don’t want the instrument to decide for him.

That’s why we’re going to rent one until we know.  What’s your band experience like?

by J. True Anderson
follow me on Twitter @Justinwrites
and check out my blog at www.jtrueanderson.com

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Top 5 Best Marching Band Movies

1.  Drumline.
Surprised? We weren’t either. The 2002 film highlighted what most band members already knew; that participating in the marching band was cool. The main storyline is about a freshman drummer, played by Nick Cannon, who attends a fictional Atlanta A&T University. During his journey, he joins the schools drum line, however, feuds with the leader, and eventually exposes his darkest secret. Of course, along the way, Cannon finds love, conflict, and success, yet, that is not why this movie has reached number one on our list.

We love this movie because it was the first, and one of the only, movies to truly draw attention to the marching band. Another reason that this movie has reached number one is because of its use of high school and college marching band students across the country.

2. From the 50 Yard Line

Not our conventional movie, but documentaries deserve a little credit too, especially From the 50 Yard Line. This documentary tells the stories of two high schools marching bands, one out of Ohio and one out of Los Angeles. We see each life-changing event, through band camp, the marching season, and the 2006 competitions. Viewers are thrown into the lives of each student, showing off their disciplined practice, as well as their technical artistry.

The realness and emotion of this movie is what lands it at our number two spot.

3. Mr. Holland’s Opus.
The 1995 movie is presented in a video biography style of Mr. Glenn Holland, who is a talented musician and composer. After performing as a professional musical for many years, exhausted Mr. Holland wants to spend more time with his young wife, and decides to accept a teaching position. Many conflicts arise, however, the most difficult being when Mr. Holland finds out that his son is severely hearing impaired, making his dream of teaching him music, impossible. As Mr. Holland grows further and further apart from his family, he throws himself into his work, changing the lives of hundreds of students.

The emotional tale of Mr. Holland is why this movie is our number three on our list.

4. The Music Man.
The 1962 musical film is a classic in American history. Set in 1912, Harold Hill posts as a traveling band instructor, only with the intention to scam the River City, Iowa residents out of money. The town pays Hill to create a boys marching band, complete with instruments, uniforms, and musical instruction. Throughout the musical, Hill finds love, friendship, and eventually conflict when his plan is revealed. Yet, when the boys come to Hill’s defense, with a new found musical talent, all is forgiven, and Harold Hill is a changed man.

The classic film impressed then and now, making it our number four best marching band movie, as well as preserved in the United States National Film Registry.
5. American Pie.
The 1999 movie used sex, drugs, and alcohol, all involving high school students, easily creating controversy heard around the nation. However, it’s most remembered scandal was the one involving band camp, making it our number five top best marching band movie. American Pie’s sexual references towards band camps set the reputation of marching bands on fire, creating scandal and humor.

Written by: Patricia Freeman @rentmyinstrum

Monday, June 27, 2011

"The Spirit of Troy"

In our high school and college days, we often are introduced to many stereotypes and titles. There are the athletes, the cheerleaders, the preppies, the goths, the nerds, drama club, and of course, the band members. Many times those band members receive poor reputations because instead of choosing to throw a football down the field, they choose to lug around 70lb sousaphone, all while blowing more air out than a hot-air balloon, in order to entertain a crowd. But they’re the weak geeks, right?

Well, not at the University of Southern California, where their marching band, “The Spirit of Troy,” is self-described as the “The greatest marching band in the history of the universe.”

“The Spirit of Troy” was founded in 1880, the same year as USC, but it wasn’t until 1918, when World War 1 ended, that they truly made a name for themselves by leading a victory parade in New York City. Since then, the Troy Marching Band (TMB) has been in more than eight movies, ten television shows, and featured with multiple recording artists during the Academy Awards and Grammy Awards.

The TMB features over 300 students in over 350 performances each year. Out of these performances, the most important for the TMB are the USC football games, where they have not missed a game, home or on the road, since 1987.

Over the last 131 years, the TMB has only had five band directors, with the current one, Dr. Arthur C. Bartner, being there for more than forty years.

With the “Spirit of Troy” only becoming more popular, by appearing on television shows like American Idol, Glee, and House, one must wonder, are those stereotypes ever going to be washed away? If being a band member is such an honor at one of our nation’s top schools, could it be everywhere else?

I suppose only time will tell. Our advice? Keep on marching band geeks because a sousaphone will always be heavier than a football!

Written by Patricia Freeman - @rentmyinstrum

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Top 5 Musical Instruments for Beginners

As teachers, students, and parents prepare for beginner band and orchestra season, it seems vital that rentmyinstrument.com highlights the top 5 musical instruments for beginning band and orchestra students. It is important for those interested to know that no instrument, aside from perhaps the triangle, wood block, bass drum, and tambourine, are "easy" to learn. But if you are looking for the easy way to get started, then you have to the right place.

1. Violin:
Violins are reasonably easy to learn, but only with an adequate amount of practice and a deep passion for the instrument. Unlike the guitar, the violin does not have frets, making it vital for violin beginners to have superior eye-ear coordination.

The violin is suitable for children of all ages because they come in a variety of sizes, from 1/16th to full size, depending on the size of the learner. When choosing a violin, opt for the non-electric version, making the learning process simpler and more convenient.

For practice, it is best to choose an area that is quiet and free from distractions.

Not only are violins not too complex to learn, but they are also the most popular of music instruments, making violin rental an easy solution (try renting at rentmyinstrument.com).

2. Cello:
Another instrument that is fairly easy to learn, and suitable for children six and older is the cello. The cello resembles the violin, however, has a much larger and thicker body.

The playing technique of the cello, somewhat similar to the violin, begins with moving the bow across the string. However, where you can play the violin standing up, the cello is played sitting down, holding it between your legs.

One of the cello playing challenges is that your fingers have to exactly on the right place for it to be in tune. Yet, with practice and concentration on the scales and arpeggios, the new cellist should pick it up in no time.

3. Double Bass:
Just like the violin and cello, moving the bow across the strings plays this instrument. Another way musicians play is by plucking or striking the strings, which evokes a deeper tone.

The double bass can be played standing up or sitting on a tall stool and comes in various size, ranging from full size to half and smaller. More difficult to handle due to its size than both the violin and cello, the double bass is typically suitable for children 11 years and older.

Because of its size, the double bass is not as popular as the other string instruments but is essential in most orchestras, especially jazz bands.

4. Flute:
Flutes are very popular in the band world, and due to the popularity, there will be much competition for those who decide to continue professionally. But if you don't let this fact scare you away, the flute is one of the easier instruments to learn, transport, and not hard on the budget (especially when you rent from rentmyinstrument.com!).

The flute is suitable for 4th graders and up and even has different style types to accommodate smaller students.

5. Clarinet:
Similar to the flute, the clarinet is very popular. The clarinet is often a beginning instrument and students can easily transition to the saxophone with few problems since the instrument playing techniques are so similar.

The clarinet is played by blowing wind directly into the instrument's mouthpiece and changing the pitch by covering the tone holes with the fingers. This instrument is ideal for children 10 years and older.

Now that you know the top 5 instruments for beginners, it is time to get out there and start renting or buying. Band season may still be a few months away but if you choose the right instrument and practice, you may find yourself in the top spot at your tryouts this fall.

Written by Patricia Freeman. @RentMyInstrum