Rick Snyder Is Dead Wrong on Right To Work


‎”Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.”

This quote was uttered not by some left-wing union leader, but by one of the idols of the conservative movement, Ronald Reagan. This fundamental freedom, so eloquently defended by Reagan, is under savage attack.

The State of Michigan today fast-tracked Right To Work legislation through the State House and Senate. The bills spent zero time in committee, and Governor Rick Snyder announced his support after months of claiming that Right To Work was “not on the agenda” because it was far too divisive. This act of deceit and cowardice will have a negative impact on the state and its people.

Snyder claims that this legislation is necessary because it will boost Michigan’s economy. Unfortunately the facts do not back that up. Of the 10 states with the highest per-capita income in 2010, only one was a Right To Work state. Of the 10 states with the lowest per-capita income in 2010, seven were Right To Work states. If Snyder’s goal is to help reinvigorate the economy, the numbers say that this is not the way to do it.

Education unions have also been a favorite target of Right To Work proponents. They argue that teachers’ unions are solely about salary and benefits, and their greed is what is sinking the economy. This could not be further from the truth. I wrote a post a year and a half ago explaining just a fraction of what collective bargaining means to teachers. Evaluations, class size, working conditions, working hours, curriculum, etc. All of these things are at stake in a bargaining session. By working to neuter unions, you are taking decisions about the future of our children away from those who passionately and expertly work to shape that future.

A strong teachers’ union helps education. Look no further than the EdWeek state education report cards. Just three of the top ten states in the rankings are Right To Work. By treating education professionals with respect and allowing them a good deal of input on the educational environment, you tend to create a more successful education system. A teacher satisfied at work, who doesn’t have to worry about money or benefits, will tend to be more effective than a stressed-out teacher who isn’t being compensated like a professional.

If the state report cards aren’t enough evidence for you, then examine the Finnish education system. Finland’s schools are outstanding, ranking near the top internationally. This is in no small part thanks to strong unions and a culture who respects educators rather than attacks them. It’s a novel concept, really, treating the person you entrust your child’s education to with a modicum of decency.

This educator has grown weary of the constant attacks on my profession coming from the right wing of US politics. We are passionate, we are caring, and we are qualified. It’s about damn time that we started being treated as such.

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The Trombonist's Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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Music Tech On A Budget


Last spring, I was asked to create an entirely new music offering at my school, something to expand on our current program of band, jazz band and choir. After all of four seconds of deliberation, I decided that I was going to design a music technology class. My principal quickly jumped on board and said something to the effect of, “Oh by the way, we’d like you to do this on the cheap!”

Great, MIDI keyboards, Ableton Live and synthesizer rigs are probably out of the question. What the heck am I going to do?

This was a question that weighed heavily on me during the summer. I was starting a Master’s Degree, and one of the requirements was to design and present a curriculum in the span of five weeks. It was perfect in the sense that I needed to get this done anyway, but difficult in the sense that we were encouraged to pretend like money was no object. So I decided to design essentially two parallel curriculums, one for a school that spent money like a drunken Gordon Gecko, and one for the real world. Here are some of the things that I came up with.

Digital Audio Workstations (Ableton Live: $30/site, Soundation: Free)

In a perfect world, this class would be using Ableton Live. In fact, my colleague struck a deal with the good folks at Ableton which would have given us some dirt-cheap site licenses. Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to find the money so we’ve adapted and started using Soundation as our go-to DAW.

Soundation offers a lot of the features that we were looking for as part of a basic music tech class, like the ability to compose using pre-recorded loops, ability to export saved files in .wav format, and the ability to do MIDI sequencing with a piano roll or virtual keyboard.

The student project using Soundation was the composition of a five-part Rondo. Students had to use three tracks of pre-recorded loops, and one MIDI track that they composed to create a piece in ABACA form.

Audio editing software (Audacity: Free)

Before this class began, I was relatively unfamiliar with Audacity. After two units using the program, I’m hooked. It’s a high-quality, powerful audio editor, and middle school students were able to use it fluently with a minimum of trouble.

Project #1 using Audacity was lifted straight from the pages of Dr. Scott Watson’s book. Students wrote, recorded and edited a podcast about one of their favorite musicians. To create an effective podcast, students had to import an MP3 clip, cut it up, and fade in and out. Students also had to adjust their own vocal recording levels so as not to interfere with their audio clips.

Project #2 involved students creating a piece similar to Lasse Gjertsen’s Hyperactive or PBS’ Garden of Your Mind. Students learn how to cut up and rearrange audio tracks as well as how to apply different audio effects, such as distortion or pitch correction.

Synthesizer rigs (Audiotool: Free)

Synthesizers are easily the most difficult thing to cover on a budget, at least so far. It’s impossible to replicate the tactile nature of programming a drum machine, but Audiotool makes a good go of it. Audiotool is essentially a virtual synthesizer rig, where students can sample, apply effects, sequence drum machines/synthesizers, apply automation curves, do MIDI sequencing, and a whole host of other capabilities. In short, it’s got the potential to be mindblowing deep and complex.

At this point in the semester, students are just learning the basics. It took only one class to show them how to create multiple drum patterns on one of the virtual drum machines, and add the patterns to the timeline (similar to a piano roll). Based on early impressions, it seems like we could spend an entire semester working in just Audiotool and still only scratch the surface.

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The Trombonist's Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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So, You’re About to Start Teaching…


This post was inspired by a tweet from Marcia Neel.

As I prepare to begin my third year of teaching, my very first day on the job still seems like it happened just yesterday. All of the events and emotions associated with that day are still remarkably vivid. As a brand-new crop of educators prepares to enter the classroom for the first time over the next couple of weeks, here are some of the things I’ve learned during my first couple of years that may be beneficial.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. This is something that I let my music students know from day one. They are expected to make mistakes, and learn from them. The same is true for new teachers.

Will you make mistakes? Absolutely. But, your students, colleagues and administrators will be patient with you and help you learn from these mistakes. Everybody you work with will have experienced that “first day of school” at some point, and they want to see you succeed. Don’t be afraid to screw up, you can get a lot out of a mistake.

Show your human side. Walking into your classroom for the first time can be very intimidating, especially if you’re replacing a teacher that was well-liked. Your new students likely don’t know a thing about you, and they’re very curious to find out who you are.

Don’t hide your personality, it can be your biggest asset in the classroom. Lots of new teachers will spend a ton of time focusing on classroom rules and procedures. Relax, there will be plenty of time for that too. Share your sense of humor, your love of sports/movies/books with your students early on. Relationship-building in the classroom starts immediately.

Take a deep breath. It’s very easy to dive in and completely immerse yourself in work as a new teacher. You’re excited to be on the job, you want to have the best classroom possible, you want to be well-prepared, etc. Many days during my first few months were spent working in my classroom until five or six o’clock, hours after the school day officially ended.

If you want to stay sane and healthy, you’ve got to balance work and play. Indulge your hobbies, take time to relax and catch a movie, or grab a beer with friends. Most importantly, don’t feel guilty about doing any of these things. They will help keep you happy even in the face of job-related stress.

And most importantly…

Don’t panic. You’ve been hired because the interview committee likes your personality, trusts your expertise, and knows that you’re a good fit for their school. Self-doubt may creep in during some trying times, but remember that the interviewers WANTED you, they didn’t settle for you.

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The Trombonist's Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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Jiggs Whigham P-Bone, month two


In a previous post, I offered some early impressions of my Jiggs P-Bone. This is month two with the instrument.

The P-Bone hasn’t gotten much use lately, but the reasons for that will definitely factor into my review. I definitely lack the patience necessary to break in the slide, which is a major issue. The slide was tolerable while my Bach 42T was in the shop, but now that the Bach is back, it’s my primary horn once again.

It’s not an issue of sound quality—the P-Bone actually produces good tone—but of build quality. The slide gives the slightest hint of a nails-on-chalkboard feeling, which isn’t pleasant at all. For somebody who isn’t used to a high-quality slide, this might be a non-issue. But, if you’ve spent even a single hour playing on a well-built instrument like a Bach 42 or a Conn 88H, you might have a very difficult time adapting to the P-Bone slide.

The feel of the slide also makes it difficult for a player to be accurate. The fluidity of my Bach slide makes it easy to be accurate and make small adjustments if necessary. There’s a lot of friction with the P-Bone slide, making minute adjustments difficult at best.

Hopefully by the time month three rolls around, I’ll be able to give a report on how a broken-in slide performs.

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The Trombonist's Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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Jiggs Whigham P-Bone, Month One


About a month ago, purely for kicks, I purchased a brand new Jiggs P-Bone. I’m curious to see how it will stand up to the rigors of a middle school music classroom, so I’ll be keeping track of the journey here and sharing feedback.

First impressions

The instrument doesn’t feel as sturdy as I’d like, at least not right out of the case. It seems like a good breeze would reduce it to a pile of smoldering ashes. A lot of this worry comes from the fact that the bell section doesn’t attach to the slide as securely as it does on my Bach 42T. Maybe I’m just being nitpicky.

After playing a few notes, it feels just like a “real” trombone. It plays relatively freely in all registers (except the low register, but we’ll get there in a minute), and it’s easy to keep an even sound through all registers.

I’ve got two complaints though. First, the low register does not speak well, even compared to a typical small-bore trombone. It’s even worse if you use the plastic mouthpiece that comes with the P-Bone (I just gave mine to a student.) As long as you stay above D in the staff, you’re fine. Start getting below that and your tone could suffer.

Lastly, the slide is nowhere near as smooth as I expected. The demo horn I played at a music conference had a good, but not great, slide. According to the flyer tucked into the case that came with the P-Bone, the slide will break in over time. It’s just a little frustrating waiting for that to happen.a

In the next installment, I hope to be able to speak a little bit about the durability of the P-Bone.

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The Trombonist's Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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#musedchat Mock Interview Questions


Interview Practice Questions

1.Tell me a little bit about yourself.

2.What is the role of the teacher in the classroom?

3.Tell me about your student teaching.

4.What was your favorite course in college?

5.What techniques do you use to motivate students?

6.How do you know what you are teaching is really being learned?

7.Where do you want to be 5 years from now?  10 years from now?

8.State a behavioral objective you taught in your last class.

9.What is the most exciting thing happening in music education today?

10.What have you found to be the toughest aspect of discipline?

11.Describe an ideal music curriculum.

12.How do you introduce career education in music?

13.How do you individualize learning in your classes?

14.What are the current curriculum trends in music?

15.What is the ratio of time spent talking to students about music versus time spent making music?

16.Describe independent study projects your students have completed.

17.What’s your favorite musical concept to teach?

18.What rules do you establish in your classroom?

19.What is the most important: content, outcome or process?

20.How do you handle the different ablilty levels in your classes?

21.What made you decide to become a teacher?

22.What are your plans concerning professional development?

23.What is the toughest aspect of teaching today?

24.Describe your most positive teaching experience.  Your most negative.

25.How should music teachers contribute to the development of the total school program?

26.What extracurriculars could you assist with if you are hired for this position?

27.Could a student of low academic ability receive a high grade in your class?

28.What kinds of music would you program on concerts?

29.How do you intend to grade music students?

30.What is your philosophy of music education? What is your philosophy of education in general?

31.Why is music an important in the curriculum?

32.How do you feel about tracking students versus mainstreaming them?

33.What are your weaknesses?  What are your strengths?

34.How do you encourage students who are musically gifted?

35.How would you mainstream special education students in your ensembles?

36.Define a superior music teacher.

37.What are your hobbies and recreational interests?

38.How much practice time do you expect from students?

39.What should schools do for students?

40.What makes your class different from other subjects?

41.How would your peers describe you?

42.How do you develop aesthetic responses in students?

43.Which five words would you use to describe yourself?

44.How would you deal with a student who has a habitual behavior problem?

45.What would you do if a student missed a performance?

46.How do you feel about using detention for managing student behavior?

47.Which units would you include in sixth grade general music?

48.How will you manage and protect the school’s equipment?

49.What are important components of a band method book?  What are the important components of a general music book?

50.What kind of field trips would you be interested in organizing?

51.A student tells you he or she has experimented with drugs.  What would you do?

52.Are you well organized?

53.How do you feel about corporal punishment?

54.How many performances do you expect from your students each year?

55.What do students gain from studying music?

56.How many years should a student participate in ensembles?

57.Will you be using any religious music?

58.What would you like to change about music teaching in the U.S.?

59.What do you like most about being a music teacher?

60.How important is it that students like you?

61.How do you cope with stress?

62.How do you involve parents in the music program?

63.Describe your last teaching day.

64.Name the titles of the last three books you read.

65.Who is your favorite composer for band? Orchestra? Choir?

66.How do you feel about music competitions and festivals?  Show choirs? Strolling strings?

67.How many days of school did you miss last year?

68.Why should we hire you?

69.What questions have I not asked that you were hoping I would?

70.What are three words that describe your teaching style?

71.Who is responsible for discipline in schools?

72.What would you do if a student could not afford to buy a uniform?  An instrument?

73.What is your philosophy concerning fundraising?

74.How will you conrol behavior in large ensembles?

75.Would you ever punish an entire class?  When?

76.How would you respond to a parent complaint about your attendance policy?

77.If you could change one aspect of your personality to help you get along better with people, what would you change?

78.Describe the perfect music student.

79.Why do you want to teach this age level?

80.How will you decide who plays which instruments?

81.How will you make sure that students are challenged in your music class?

82.What would you do if you caught a student cheating?

83.How much input should students contribute to a music program?

84.How can you tell if you’ve had a good rehearsal or class?

85.When you listen to a student who stutters, how do you feel?

86.Should students be allowed to evaluate their teachers?

87.When did you first decide to become a music teacher?

88.How much should a teacher know about the personal lives of his or her students?

89.Do you think that students are capable of self discipline?

90.What do you do when you’re bored?

91.How much travel would you be doing with your groups?

92.Do you think its possible for a teacher to get too close to his or her students?

93.Describe a “failing” student in your class.

94.What do you consider justifiable reasons for being late to work?

95.How much time outside the school day should a music teacher be willing to work?

96.If you weren’t able teach music, what would you do for a living?

97.If you had a forty minute class period, how would you divide that time in a rehearsal setting?

98.Can you play all the instruments in the band?  The orchstra?  How well?

99.How will you incorporate technology into your classroom?

100. How would you handle racial tension in your classroom?

101. Why do you want to work for us?

102. What strategies would you use to help a student with a bad attitude toward music class?

103. What do you consider an adequate budget for your program?

104. What would a student have to do to get “kicked out” of your class or ensemble?

105. How do you feel about students who want to be involved in both music and sports? How would handle scheduling conflicts?

106. Why did you choose to attend your college or university?

107. How often will your marching band rehearse?

108. Can you coach any sports?

109. How do you usually cope with stress and burnout?

110. If you could write a book, what would the title of the book be?  Describe the content.

Questions to ask

1.How often would my classes meet?  For how many minutes?

2.Who are the other music teachers?  What are their responsibilites?

3.Is music required or an elective?

4.How much say will I have in scheduling my classes?

5.Is there an addendum contract for extra duties?

6.How transient is the student population?

7.When would I get to start?

8.What would my budget be?

9.How many students are participating in ensembles now?

10.Are there any special commitments that would be expected of me or my ensembles? Assemblies? Traditions?

11.How successful has the program been recently?

12.What are the facilities like?  Can I see them?

13.What is the district policy on professional leave for conferences, etc.?

14.Could I have a copy of the salary schedule?

15.Does the district reimburse travel expenses if I have to work at more than one bulding?

16.What other duties are expected?  (Lunch monitor, etc.)

17.When will you be making your decision?

18.Is there a music parent organization in place?

19.Have your music students traveled in the past?  How often?

20.How important is muisc competition in this district?  Would this be required?

21.What types of music technology are available?  Will music students have acces to a technology lab?

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The Trombonist’s Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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#Musedchat Music Resource Smackdown


Mobile Apps

  • Thumbjam
  • Cleartune
  • APS MusicMaster Pro
  • Bebot
  • iKaossilator
  • GarageBand
  • MadPad
  • Notion
  • Beatwave

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The Trombonist's Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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Becoming Creators, Not Just Consumers


Nothing makes a student’s eyes light up quite like the chance to independently create. For our students to realize their maximum potential, not just in music but in any subject, we must allow space for creation in our classrooms. Creativity is activity, while merely consuming content is largely passive. Creating content allows students to synthesize the skills learned in a classroom. Creation is relevant. Creation is problem-solving. Creation fosters all the traits that we supposedly desire in a student, yet we may be reluctant to allow those traits to develop.

To have a successful classroom that allows for content creation, a few things must be in place. First, the teacher must be willing to cede a great deal of control. In my classroom, students are encouraged to compose their own original music. Often this involves me saying something along the lines of, “Here is the task, you are free to accomplish this in any way you see fit.” From that point forward, the creative process is largely under the command of the student. If I, as the teacher, am overseeing every step of the process, is it their piece or mine? Relinquishing that control may be a difficult adjustment to make, but without it the students can not truly feel ownership.

Relinquishing control does not mean abandoning students. Far from it. Students will want guidance and feedback during the creative process. Students also benefit when a teacher shares new creative tools. My young composers really took off when I showed them how to use Noteflight and Musescore. They were still in control of their creations, I was merely showing them more options to accomplish their task.

Your classroom also has to be a safe environment. Students not only need to be allowed to make mistakes, it needs to be encouraged. Some of the most musically rewarding moments for our student composers have grown out of mistakes. One student has been composing a saxophone quartet, and struggling to find an ending.

“Mr. Guarr, this doesn’t sound very good.”

“Well, why not?”

“It doesn’t sound complete.” (He wasn’t ending on tonic.)

“What other notes have you tried?”

“Well, none.”

“Go try every note you can think of. Some might sound really bad, but some might sound really good, too. If you do that and still can’t find an ending you like, I’ve got some ideas for you.”

Five minutes later, the student had wrapped up his quartet with a perfect authentic cadence. Not through the study of music theory, but through rigorous trial and error. The student was told to go make mistakes, and the mistakes led to a great musical decision.

Lastly, we need to ensure that the student creations do not live in isolation. Record their creations, post them online, perform them in public. What good is the student’s effort and investment if they never get to share their product? We can distribute student work for FREE with a site like Soundcloud, so take advantage.

Allow your students space to create, and they will become more engaged and involved in your class. They will grow as students, and have a truly memorable experience.

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The Trombonist's Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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The Evolution of a Profession


Tonight’s edition of #musedchat had me in the mood for reflection. I graduated from high school in 2004. I finished my bachelor’s degree in 2009, and I’ve been teaching full-time for nearly two years. In that time, the field of music education has been rapidly evolving. We are capable of doing things now that were unthinkable when I decided to enter the field of music education.

This evolution was possible thanks to advances in music technology, as well as several very creative individuals constantly pushing themselves to find new uses for that technology. Music technology is serving to revitalize our profession and keep it relevant in the modern world.

Think back to just five years ago. There was no GarageBand, no iOS. Audacity was still in its infancy. We could record our students, but not with the ease of GarageBand, Audacity, or the multitude of multitrack recorder iOS apps. Once the recording was done, we couldn’t upload it to Soundcloud or a similar service.

There were a few pieces of music notation software available, but I don’t recall them being as refined as they are today. I used Finale and Noteworthy composer a little bit at the end of my high school career, but most of my composing was done with pencil and paper. Today, I can fire up my interactive whiteboard and have my students collaborate on a composition with MuseScore or Noteflight. That was our favorite project last year, and I plan on repeating it.

The key thing that music technology has done though, is make existing activities easier. With a few clicks, I can connect to another teacher or a clinician via Skype. I can post an audio recording of my groups online for them to check out and evaluate. I can put a group project on our IWB which the students can see grow and evolve. This ease of use is key as we look to draw more adapters to the available technology, and we look to evolve what we currently have.

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Three Days of MMC in the Form of a Tweet


The past few days were spent in Grand Rapids attending the 2012 Michigan Music Conference. It’s always a great way to learn something new, recharge my batteries, and make new connections. What follows are some of the highlights from three days worth of sessions, summarized as tweets (140 characters or less, or your money back.) Bonus points if you caught the Erik Satie reference.

  • Escravos de Jo
  • Engage somebody rather that lecture at them.
  • Encourage play. It’s how kids naturally learn.
  • Using technology you can accelerate artistry and advance music making.
  • The joy of learning overrides all fear. Be child-like.
  • Wouldn’t it be cool if every kid didn’t have “general music”, but just “music”?
  • Feel free to say what you want, but feel free to deal with the consequences as well.
  • Take great care to stay professional on public social media. Know your district policies!
  • Facebookforeducators.org – Educator’s learning guide for do’s and don’t’s on facebook.
  • (Electronic ensembles) offer chance to create your own tradition/standards/literature. Lots of freedom.
  • Musicality is controlled by the musician, not the instrument.
  • Give students a goal and tell them how to get there, don’t just mindlessly dictate.
  • Know your teaching philosophy. It will guide everything you do.
  • Delegate, communicate, network, plan, retain, go the extra mile, stay healthy (7 steps to success)
  • We MUST open the doors for students, people, others. NOT close them. (via @nicholas_hardy)
  • We need to find music that connects to the real musical world.
  • Getting your students to compose/arrange gets them making independent musical decisions.
  • Is it a tool for teaching and learning? If yes, you need it. If not, you don’t.
  • Mozart used all the latest technology to create his music. Are you teaching the next Mozart? Do you provide the tools? (via @johnchurchville)
  • The best musicians need to be teaching the youngest students. (@johnchurchville)
  • You’re either part of the steamroller or you’re part of the road.
  • Electronic ensembles/tech classes are a great way to involve the ‘other 80 percent’.
  • An electronic ensemble can foster student creativity like no other.
  • The Pangea Choir Project
  • Use social media in your classroom because that’s what the kids are doing. Engage them directly.
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