Ensemble and Program Consultation

Concert and Marching Band Consulting

Why Acquire a Consultant?
First, attempting to prepare an ensemble for competition or an important performance without help is like someone trying to man the air-traffic control tower at a major airport alone.  It can be done, but not well.  There’s simply too much happening in real time for a person’s brain to assimilate everything as it happens and respond to each issue appropriately.

Secondly, when a director is listening from the podium, our visual stimulus tends to override what we hear.  Regardless of how earnestly we try to focus on the aural aspects—the sounds—our brain is still receiving data from our eyes. This is unavoidable—we simply do not hear as much on the podium as when we observe.  Not only miss many opportunities to correct obvious technical and musical problems in our performance but more importantly, we miss the opportunity to teach our students how to perform musically and free from these common mistakes.  We lose the most valuable aspect of our profession—the opportunity to teach young people how to perform well.

We all have the tendency at times to become somewhat “single-minded” regarding what we perceive to be our weaknesses and how to approach them.  We can become hyper-focused on one or two concepts to the point that we become less aware of other perhaps more significant issues that creep into our performance unnoticed.

There are certainly more reasons to justify hiring a consultant than presented here–and there are just as many right and wrong ways to go about using a consultant.

The Wrong Way to Utilize a Consultant
The most common mistake that is made in conjunction with hiring a consultant is the practice of bringing a person in only weeks or even months prior to the competition or performance.  In many cases it will result in the “too little, too late” scenario.  At this stage, the best one can expect is to hope the consultant can help you “plug the biggest leaks” and fix the most glaring concerns.  This can be frustrating for both the director and the consultant.

For most ensembles, it’s not so much problems with notes and rhythms and result in a poor performance.  It’s more of fundamental issues involving the characteristic sounds of the individual performers and the organization’s concept of ensemble sound.

So, what is the most efficient way to utilize a consultant and how do you achieve the greatest benefit for you as a teacher and your students?

The Correct Way to Utilize a Consultant
 Begin early! You should meet with your consultant at least twice during the months prior to the start of the school year to discuss your program’s strengths and limitations.  With schools and directors that I work with, I will also use these meetings to discuss curriculum, goals, and a schedule that will provide the opportunity to hear the ensemble(s) on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

Weekly or bi-weekly visits should begin once all of the traditional “start of school” formalities and campus/district paperwork has been addressed.  It is very important that visits begin as soon as possible.  Developing affective habits and techniques that reinforce and strengthen your students’ individual musical and ensemble skills cannot wait until contest music is given to the students.  When I consult with directors, I will leave a very detailed action plan that is designed for his/her students’ specific needs.

In addition to focusing on the large ensemble, we will also address program planning in regards to section rehearsals, appropriate and productive student assessment methods, and preparing students for region auditions and solo festival.

Fees and Payments
I have never had an established payment expectation.  While the approximate payment for a single-day clinic is usually $150 – $200 for working with two one-hour classes held back to back (1st/2nd Period, 2nd/3rd Period, etc.), when consulting on a consistent schedule (weekly, bi-weekly), I work with each school’s director to determine a monthly fee according to the budget that is available to them.

For example, it would be much more beneficial and productive to attend rehearsals twice a month for $100 per visit than to hear the ensemble only once for a $200 payment.  In all cases, travel expenses will be added to the monthly invoice and are based on the mileage expense rate established by the State of Texas.

The first summer meeting is considered to be a free consultation session.  The fee for the second pre-school meeting would be based on the fee schedule agreed upon by the director and consultant.

Payment is expected during the first week of the month follow the month services are performed.

For more information, contact me using either method listed below.

Imagine what can be accomplished when you make consulting a consistent part of your professional growth. 


Middle School Band:

Click to Hear Examples of My Middle School Bands

High School Concert Band:

Click to Hear Examples of My High School Bands

High School Concert Band:

Click to Watch Videos of My Marching Bands

“Are We Developing Musicians or Directing the Band?”
 6 Survival Tactics for the Middle School Band Director

“Traps” in the Daily Life of a Middle School Band Director
You may be familiar with the adage, “He couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” If we were to reverse the wording of that expression, we have an accurate description of what happens to many middle school band directors.

Middle school band directors are often responsible for as many as 300 or more students each day—sometimes with little or no assistance.  It is easy to understand how being surrounded by dozens of middle school students can cause our mind to be automatically thrown into the “crowd control” mode, which can often us to overlook the needs of the students in regards to the development of their individual musical growth

Directors are often forced into a mode of focusing all their attention is focused on “the forest.”  I see this often as I visit middle school band rooms in Texas. This scenario often keeps many directors from accomplishing perhaps the most important responsibility of any music educator—that being the development of the individual students as musicians.

The chaos that comes with a room full of 12 and 13-year olds create demands the director’s immediate attention and we forget that the individual members of the group are each at different skill levels.  The technical and musical growth of the individual takes a back seat to the necessities of crowd control as our day devolves into a game of “whack-a-mole” as we resolve one problem after another.

6 Common Reasons or Excuses for Not Taking Action
There are so many reasons why so many become frustrated, discouraged, and for some to leave the profession.

  1. “I’m all by myself. I have no help.”
  2. “We don’t have the budget to hire the number of people we need to come in and listen and help.”
  3. “We don’t have private lessons.”
  4. “Our kids don’t have the money, financial means.”
  5. “My students simply don’t practice!”
  6. “If I ask for help my principal will tell me that I complain too much.”

6 Survival Tactics That Can Give YOU the Advantage!

Whatever the reason, if we allow any of these issues to stifle our desire to grow and help our students develop musically, the result for the middle school band director is the failure to establish the individual musical skills and concepts necessary for their success.

The following list contains six suggestions that can provide opportunities for the middle school band director to become a more affective educator, gain confidence in the classroom, and experience immense growth as an educator:

  1. Seek out a Mentor: Regardless of your situation, there are options available. You may have to spend time asking questions and making phone calls but, chances are, there is more than one older director—perhaps in retirement—who was successful and willing to spend the time to I found that most of the “older set” of directors felt honored to be asked for advice and viewed my request as a sign of respect—which it was! Being a trumpet player, I can remember taking weekly clarinet and flute lessons from two former band directors. I learned a great deal and it only cost me a six-pack of their favorite beverage.
  2. Develop a Relationship with a Consultant: this can bring about the greatest growth for a director at any level of experience because the consultant will come to your school, observe you, your students, and your rehearsal. Notice the wording of this step — “Develop a Relationship with a Consultant,” rather than “hire” a consultant. It is important to find someone with a successful track record as an educator that you feel comfortable with and tap in to that person’s experience on a consistent schedule
  3. Visit and Observe Successful Director: Ask your campus administrator for permission to take a day to visit a successful band program. Call the director and ask if you can come observe him or her and, most importantly, ask the director to allow you to stay long enough to ask questions. Pick his/her brain!  Take along a legal pad and list what you see in the rehearsal as well as notes taken during your discussion.
  4. Don’t Allow Yourself to Become Discouraged: This is another reason to bring in a consultant on a regular schedule. It can be easy to become discouraged when observing successful programs or attending feature performances at state conventions. Aspiring music educators who have a strong, heart-felt desire for their students to achieve can easily become discouraged after hearing a middle school band perform at a level that is obviously well beyond their years. A consultant who offers consistent encouragement will help you keep your emotional “wheels” on the tracks.
  5. Learn to Enjoy the Days of Growth: keep in mind that there are only two scenarios when a music educator stops learning: 1) becoming completely overwhelmed with frustration; and 2) being hit by a bus!  Try to view challenges in terms of improving your skill set-what you are learning rather than criticizing yourself for not knowing what to do. Although the successful educator never stops learning, there is something uniquely special about the moments of realization that instantly expand your level of awareness as a musician and an educator. Placing yourself around more experienced directors can be encouraging and help you maintain a healthy outlook towards yourself, your job, and your role as a teacher.
  6. Develop Your Support Systems: Again, this is where a lasting relationship with a consultant you trust can be most beneficial. Chances are, if they have reached the place professionally where they are being sought after for guidance, then they have had to develop their own systems to depend on. Make time for a detailed discussion with your mentor or consultant to pick their brain about systems, that can operate without your immediate supervision, yet can help you address the areas of your program are often overlooked.Ask your mentor or consultant to observe you once or twice and then ask what he or she perceives to be your most significant areas of concern.  Developing a plan or a management system can help in many situations.  Two major areas of responsibility are:

Managing the “Behind the Scenes” Aspects of Your Band Program:

› Student Assessment & Accountability
› Grading Practices
› Developing Affective Daily Drills
› Developing Student Expectations that You Can Defend
› Program Planning
› Affective Section Rehearsal Planning
› Appropriate Rehearsal Goals
› Creating a System to Develop Sighteading Skills
› Designing an Affective Student Handbook
› Efficient Parent & Student Communication Practices
› Aligning Your Program Policies with Your Campus Policies
› Dealing with Conflict

Managing Aspects of Your Band Program that Are “Visible to Others:
› Monitoring a Private Lesson Program
› Monitoring Your Inventory
› Implementing a Budget
› Percussion Development (oh yes, they are unique!):
› Marketing / Promoting Your Program
› Developing Student Incentives
› Preparing for Contest
› Affective Recruiting Practices

Where to Begin

While reading over this material, you may be thinking, “I simply don’t have time for this.”  I asked myself the same question. Stop…breathe…relax.  Take one or two afternoons, leave school as soon as possible, and ask that more experienced person you trust (the old guy) to meet with you in a comfortable setting away from school to ask questions.My journey began at a time in my career when I felt overwhelmed and frustrated.  I was fortunate to have a wonderful assistant director.  We were ambitious and very arduous workers, but we felt as if we were operating in “frantic” mode every day.

One afternoon, instead of remaining in the bandhall completing our never-ending to-do list, we left as soon as the last student left the room.  We got away from the bandhall and met at a nearby coffee shop to clear our mind and try to come up with a solution.  As we began discussing our frustrations, we quickly realized that we were involved with several major projects at the same time.  Our frantic attempt to “keep the plates spinning”, was frustrating, not only for us, but agreed that it was affecting our students as well. 

Time, or the lack thereof, was the common denominator connecting all of our frustration.

We redesigned the band calendar and scheduled made it a priority to schedule major activities such as recruiting, solo festival, and auditions at reasonable intervals throughout the semester.  That simple change made unimaginable improvements in our ability to focus on our students’ individual progress as musicians.  We felt more successful as directors and the changes relieved a great deal of stress in our work day.  Our students were also obviously much less frazzled as well.

6 Practices, or Survival Tactics, We Should All Adopt

You may think, “I simply don’t have the time or financial resources for this.”  If so, try this–ask one the more experienced educators that you know and trust to meet with you in a comfortable setting away from school to brainstorm. Take just one afternoon and leave your campus as soon as your students have left.  I look back on when I did this and, many years later, I find it interesting that what I learned from my “Starbucks” experience was not so much about rehearsal tactics or pedagogical ideas as it was about learning more about myself and how to maintain a healthy mental outlook.  So, consider the following 6 concepts that I learned during my journey.  I remember each of these by associating them with one of my favorite quotes by Theodore Roosevelt.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

  1. Don’t waste your time by wishing you were somewhere else-somewhere better. Most of the “icon’s” of our profession started out in places you have never heard of or perhaps no longer on the map.

Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

  1. You do more than direct the band. You are the person who ultimately establishes the culture for your students and for your program. They will be more likely to “buy in” to your standards if they see you determined and committed to their success

“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.

  1. Remember the importance of consistency—not giving up when discouraged. Discouragement comes along with the job—its unavoidable at times.  Always remember, “this too shall pass!”  Never give up.

“The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.”

  1. Be willing to go outside of your personal comfort zone and do not fear mistakes. If you are truly working to improve yourself, you will occasionally do both.

“It is far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

  1. Be courageous. Be willing to try new ways of doing things.  When you discover what works for you, it’s yours—and your students will reap the benefits.

“Nine-tenths of wisdom is being wise in time.”

  1. Don’t ask for or expect a quick fix. There are no magic pills to produce instant wisdom.  You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t experience frustration from time to time.

Remember that your two enemies are often FEAR and SELF-DOUBT.  “Steel sharpens steel,” so make it your goal bring in someone you can learn from—regularly.  And finally, be prepared for the question, “why do you create so much work for yourself?” The following brief passage reflects one such question that was posed to me by other directors on several occasions during my career.  It doesn’t seem as if it would be a major issue, but it represents something that I believe is crucial for success:

I remember directors asking, “why do you waste time with practice records? Most students, and evens their parents, will not be honest in reporting practice time.”  

I truly felt that most of my students and parents were honest with their practice records.  I also believed that, when my students noticed the serious commitment I demonstrated each week with their practice cards and the value that I placed on daily practice, it would a positive influence on their attitude.  The change didn’t take place overnight, but it happened.

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