There is only one kind of discipline – SELF-DISCIPLINE! “Group Discipline” is nothing more than everyone in a group being self-disciplined together. You may share similar goals and values, but ultimately it is YOU taking charge of yourself to achieve those goals and live by those values.


Postponing the things you would rather do in favor of the things that need to be done.

This requires that you set priorities and decide what needs immediate action and what does not. Delayed gratification requires that you keep focused on the end result (your goal) and make choices that lead to that end regardless of whether you feel like it at the moment.


Before a problem can be solved, you must accept responsibility for finding the solution.

You don’t have to do everything by yourself. Get help when you need it, but see the problem through to its resolution. Even if the circumstance was brought upon by others or by something outside your immediate influence, OWN THE PROBLEM AND FIND THE SOLUTION.


The more accurately you view yourself, the better equipped you are to deal appropriately with the world.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines discipline as “training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior.” How would you define character? The truth may be static or dynamic – it may change as circumstances change. Just as maps have to be updated to reflect the changing landscape, your personal MAP OF THE TRUTH will require revision from time to time.

True discipline is never at the mercy of your emotions. In essence, discipline is a contract between you and your values. And like a contract, if you put your goals and values in writing, you’ll be more likely to honor the promise you make to yourself. Then share your goals with others. This will help keep you accountable for achieving them.

For more insight into the notion of DISCIPLINE, I highly recommend the book, “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck. It’s great summer reading and may help launch you toward becoming the leader you dream of being.





Something that continues to frustrate me as a teacher is the reluctance students often reveal when called upon to respond to a question or offer an opinion. I know they have answers, and as soon as they’re out of the room, there’ll be no shortage of opinions! There are times when I’ve asked a very simple question—one I know they can all answer, yet they sit in silence and stillness. Are the social pressures really that great? Have I done something to make them afraid to respond? Regardless of the reason, I refuse to accept this complacency, especially among the student leaders whom I count on to set the example.

A culture of commitment

I want to instill in my students not just a culture of excellence, but a culture of commitment. This starts with something as simple as how they raise their hands. So, on that first day of summer band, we have hand-raising practice! With all the incoming freshman gathered with the upperclassmen, I say, “Upperclassmen, show our new members how we raise our hands around here.” Instantly, 200 hands shoot skyward, elbows extended as if reaching for some invisible prize. Then I say, “Now, everyone, show me how we raise our hands.” All the new members raise their hands just as enthusiastically along with the vets. Why? They’re just copying what the “big kids” do. Now, I’m working the social pressures in favor of that culture of commitment. “From now on, that’s how we raise our hands. All the way, or not at all.” Then I follow up with a few simply questions to which everyone can respond in the affirmative, and we’re practicing this simple skill. But how powerful it is in influencing that culture of commitment!

So what’s the big deal?

Much is communicated nonverbally when people interact. Near the end of a long marching band rehearsal—when everyone is hot, tired, maybe frustrated—I might say, “Raise your hand if you’re working hard tonight.” If those hands are raised high and with enthusiasm, not only have we acknowledged as a group that we’re working hard, but we’ve shown enthusiasm for hard work. The WAY they raise their hands sends a powerful message.

When we return to the previous set, an urgent “jog” or “hustle” back to the start communicates enthusiasm (whether they’re really enthusiastic or not!). When kids move slowly and lethargically, a much different message is sent, and these complacent behaviors can often contribute to a tedious rehearsal.

Why “beware the bystander?”

Bystanders can be very influential because their non-involvement strengthens the prevailing attitude. When they choose not to respond, or they respond reluctantly, others can interpret this as disagreement, apathy, or even contempt. But when there are strong behavioral procedures in place, it mitigates the effects of fatigue, frustration, and even apathy. The behavior itself influences the mind and we redefine “fun” in the context of commitment! So we must beware the bystander because of his subtle but powerful influence. His lack of commitment allows others to see what they want to see to feel better about their own complacency.

A couple of recommendations

There is a wonderful Ted Talk that illustrates the power of body language in influencing attitude. The speaker is Amy Cuddy, and the talk is entitled, “Your body language shapes who you are.” Click here to see the video.

If you’d like to delve more deeply into the subject of bystanders and their influence, I’d like to recommend a book entitled, “Followership,” by Dr. Barbara Kellerman. In her book she identifies five types of followers: Isolates, Bystanders, Participants, Activists, and Diehards, and she discusses how individuals move from one level to another. Fascinating reading for those of us leading so many!

These and other topics will be the subject of future weekly System Blue tips. As always, if you have questions or would like more information, contact Frank Troyka at frank@systemblue.org.

Video Link




They recognize that they are just ONE on the TEAM.

Even among the other members of your leadership team, you will assume the role of both leader and follower. You have to learn when it’s appropriate to assume which role. Seek help from your fellow leaders when you need it. Knowing when help is needed is a sign of intelligence, awareness, and the mark of a strong leader. It is not an admission of weakness or inadequacy. Support each other by applying expectations consistently and by showing respect for ALL members of the leadership team.

They never complain to anyone who can’t help them solve their problem.

Complaining about ANYTHING to those unable to effect a positive change, no matter what the situation, undermines your credibility as a leader and you instantly become part of the problem.

They know that if they’re not part of the solution, they’re part of the problem.

As corny as this might sound, it’s true. You can’t be a leader by default. You must take a decisive stance on every issue, even when it means setting aside your own feelings for the good of the group.

They never give up.

Any leader will face opposition, contempt, ridicule, and frustration on the way to realizing his true potential. You must be far-sighted in your goal setting and be resilient enough to get beyond the immediate setbacks. Remember: Effort fully releases its reward only after one refuses to quit.

They know that there are no guarantees.

You can do all the “right” things, and still not get the results you’re hoping for. That’s because people always have the power of choice and they can choose the wrong path without reason. STICK WITH IT! Even the worthiest causes meet resistance from time to time. Resolve to let every experience show you its lesson.

Check back each week for more System Blue leadership tips. If you have any questions or if you’d like to brainstorm a particular idea, contact Frank Troyka at frank@systemblue.org.





Very soon, we’ll be in the midst of a new marching band season and there will be an overwhelming number of things pressing down on us. There’s a good chance that last year you thought of some things you’d like to do differently next year with regard to rehearsal procedures, show design, and maybe the timeline for learning the show. You may not be thinking of them right now, but it’s guaranteed that when the season begins, those changes you wish you’d made will haunt you for another season. This is the time to think through what you want to do differently and come up with a plan for change and action. Here are a few suggestions….

Involve others on the staff.

Get together with the others you work with and brainstorm ideas. You might do this in a social setting rather than at school so there’s a more relaxed, peer relationship. Involvement creates ownership, and when others on the staff feel like they have a part in developing a successful program, you build loyalty. Encourage even the wildest ideas! You never know which one will lead to a breakthrough.

Involve your student leaders.

As connected and aware of our students as we might like to think we are, there’s a dynamic at work within the band that only the students are privy to. You can create the same kind of ownership within the students that you do for the staff by listening and acting on their ideas. BEWARE! If your students have “concerns,” do your best to listen to what they’re actually trying to say rather than HOW they say it! Emotions run high when you’re a teenager (remember?) and they don’t always see themselves they way adults see them. SUGGESTION: When you invite the leaders to share their ideas, any concern should be accompanied by a solution. They’ll discover that solutions are much more challenging to come up with that problems, and this teaches them how to think through a problem rather than just amplifying it.

Have your own list of changes you’d like to make.

Rather than just list your ideas, consider discussing the scenarios that brought those ideas about. Then you can gently guide them to the conclusion you may already have reached. Then give them the credit! If you lead your staff and students without regard to who gets the credit, you’ll create even more loyalty and ownership in every stakeholder in the organization.

A few of the things I wanted to improve over the years were…

  • Better rehearsal pacing
  • Consistent attendance and punctuality
  • Higher individual accountability without seeming oppressive
  • Greater social responsibility

These and other topics will be the subject of future weekly System Blue tips. As always, if you have questions or would like more information, contact Frank Troyka at frank@systemblue.org.




A big misconception is that great leaders are just born that way. Sure, there are some who just have charisma. Others seem to gravitate to them because of their personality. But personality can be developed, just like your intellect and your skill.

They don’t have to be genetic!

Many years ago, and many times since, I asked my own students to identify the characteristics of the leaders in our band they thought were the most effective.

Here’s what they came up with…

They are strong performers.

The great leaders weren’t always first chair. We had some of our best leaders come from outside the top band. But they worked hard and they worked smart, and that earned them the respect of their peers.

MAKE NOTE! Sometimes it’s easy to think that great performers are born that way. Great performers HATE this perception! Talent only goes so far and the rest is hard work! One of the best ways you can show your commitment is to PRACTICE PUBLICLY. Practice where others can see you so they know that the path to excellence is through effort.

They are approachable and humble.

Make time for everyone, especially those outside your social circle. The better you get, the more distant you may seem to those who want to be acknowledged by you and to be more like you. Something as simple as saying hi to a freshman in the hall might seem like nothing to you, but it could mean a lot to someone who looks up to you. Offer help. Be friendly.

Praise effort.

Give thanks. Remember, gratitude is free to the person giving it and priceless to the person receiving it.

They are good communicators and teachers.

They’ve thought about what they want to say, and they say it with confidence. This doesn’t mean you pound your fist, or shout your beliefs. (Sometimes, those who shout the loudest are trying to convince themselves!)

Good communication starts with simple things. Start by eliminating things like “um,” “like,” “ok,” and other filler words. When you’re in a position of authority, these weaken your presence. You can practice being a better communicator without anyone knowing! Start by eliminating those unnecessary words and phrased in casual settings. No one will know you’re actually practicing to be a better leader!

Check back each week for more System Blue leadership tips. If you have any questions or if you’d like to brainstorm a particular idea, contact Frank Troyka at frank@systemblue.org.




Most bands have different categories of student leadership opportunities. These may include:

·       Instructional leaders (drum majors; section or squad leaders; brass, woodwind, percussion, and color guard captains)

·       Logistical leaders (loading crew, field set-up crew, electronics crew, librarians)

·       Elected leaders (president, vice-president, secretary, historian)

For those programs that send their students to leadership camp, or who host their own leadership camp or retreat, it’s common to require instructional leaders to attend because they are most directly involved in the rehearsal process itself. I was one of those directors. Early in my career, I sent only the core leaders—the instruction leaders—to camp in order to develop their teaching, communication, and performance skills. My thought was to go “lean and mean” so we could focus more on the individuals and thereby develop their potential more fully. But there were always kids who tried out for instructional leadership positions who were strong in many ways, but who were not selected because there may not have been a need for additional section leaders, or perhaps they were strong marchers but not strong enough as players. These students were often encouraged to pursue positions as logistical or elected leaders instead, but I stopped short of including them in the leadership camp. I missed a great opportunity!

Then it dawned on me. If I send ALL the leaders—instructional, logistical, and elected—to camp, then I would have three times the number of students who received advanced training. I would encourage the non-instructional leaders to participate in the teaching and communication activities which gave everyone a greater insight and, more importantly, greater empathy for what it takes to be an effective student leader. And the additional students became a larger group of marchers for the instructional leaders to practice the teaching skills in a more realistic situation. Rather than return to summer band with only 20-25 well-trained instructional leaders spread across a 270 to 300-member band, now I had 60-70 students who had gone through the leadership training, forming a much larger core of kids who “got it.” Their influence by example transformed the effectiveness of the instructional leaders and, in effect, transformed the entire band into better leaders.

“Lean and mean” may have its advantages. But for me and my circumstances, being more inclusive helped develop a more pervasive culture—a culture of leadership.

If you have questions or would like more information, contact Frank Troyka at frank@systemblue.org.









Being a good leader is not about titles. In fact, if you have to remind everyone what your title is, you’re probably not very effective. You’re using your title as a substitute for authentic leadership. Here are a few tips to help you become the leader others will want to follow.

1. Create success for others and help them feel important. Everyone has something to offer. Recognize every single person in an appropriate manner, especially those students who aren’t always on your side. BE SINCERE! False praise undermines your credibility and expertise.

2. When you teach them, tell them SPECIFICALLY what it is you want them to do. Begin by asking yourself these three questions:

“WHAT is the task at hand?”

“WHY do we do it this way?”

“HOW am I going to accomplish it?”

3. Be accessible outside of rehearsal. When you take the time to offer extra help or just be friendly and approachable, you will be regarded as someone who truly cares about the individuals you lead rather than as someone who merely has a job to do. Reach out to everyone, not just those with whom you might ordinarily associate.

4. Take responsibility when things go wrong and give credit when things go well. Assigning blame wastes time and results in anger, hurt feelings, discouragement, contempt, and defensiveness. Model the discipline it takes to be successful by accepting responsibility and finding a solution to the problem. Participate in accepting consequences when they are assigned.

5. Admit your errors. If you make a mistake, just say so! This shows everyone that you’re human and may actually strengthen the connection between you and those you lead. If you try to hide your mistakes, people will resent you and regard you as phony.

Don’t Tell Them What You’re Going to Teach Them


As a young teacher, I was told that when in doubt, default to this three-step teaching strategy:

  1. Tell them what you’re going to teach them.
  2. Teach them.
  3. Tell them what you taught them.

This was good advice for a young teacher because it was concise, it was manageable, and it was effective for someone who hadn’t yet found his own voice and his own method. By and large, this strategy worked. But in retrospect, it was more about me finding MY way than finding a way for THE KIDS. To give an example using this method, allow me this fictitious narrative that I might have used in my early years as a teacher:

  1. Tell them what you’re going to teach them.
    Today we’re going to learn about Hector Berlioz. Berlioz was a composer who is best known for his “Symphonie Fantastique,” written in 1830. It’s a five-movement work subtitled, “An Episode in the Life of an Artist.” A unique feature of this symphony is the recurring use of a five-note motive that would become known as the “idee fixe,” or fixed idea. Berlioz used it to represent his beloved. (Not very engaging, even to this writer!)
  2. Teach them.
    At this point, I might have elaborated on the five movements, played examples of the idee fixe as they are presented in each movement, and then asked the kids how they thought each version of the motive applied to that particular movement. All of this is well within the scope of “good teaching.” (Still not very engaging, but at least there’s action.)
  3. Tell them what you taught them.
    Also known as “closure,” this is when I might have summarized the content of the lesson and referenced my “anticipatory set”. (My “tell them what you’re going to teach them” introduction).

There’s nothing wrong with this approach technically, but it doesn’t genuinely engage the student the way it’s intend to. By telling them up front what I plan to teach them, I allow them to formulate an opinion about the subject matter. And unless I get to the “good stuff” right away, the non-verbal cues are likely to spread rapidly and my lesson is sunk before it even launches.

How about we eliminate Step 1 and go right to a modified Step 2? Our new Step 2 is, “Go where the student is and employ SNEAK-ATTACK TEACHING!” Our new lesson might sound like this…

Have you every been so passionate about someone or something that you thought about it all the time? Maybe it was a car you dreamed of owning, or taking a trip somewhere exotic, or maybe it was someone you really liked but didn’t know just how to express it. Have any of you ever felt like that? Me, too! You might express your feelings in a blog, or maybe a diary (if you know what that is!), or maybe you’d write a poem or a song.

Now imagine you’re so deeply attached to someone that you think about — even dream about — him or her all the time. And in your dreams, you’re found to be so uncommonly passionate that a judge and jury find you guilty of a new crime, of being criminally ‘In Love.’ In your dream, it’s 19th Century France, and the punishment for your crime is to face the guillotine. Well, it just so happens that such a person existed. He was never actually executed for his obsession over this woman, but his passion haunted him so greatly that he imagined it to be a criminal act. In an effort to reveal his emotions, he set his feelings to music and, if you listen closely to what he wrote, you can hear his footsteps as he marches down the street to the scaffold. Then you hear the music build as he ascends to what will be his final living moment on this earth. Now, you hear a musical depiction of his final thought of this woman, interrupted by the swoosh-slam of the blade racing downward. And next — as morbid as this is — you hear his head bounce into the basket as the crowd cheers this ultimate act of atonement. This man was Hector Berlioz and his composition is entitled, “Symphony Fantastique.”

I think you’ll agree, by going through the back door and using a “sneak attack” approach, the lesson becomes engaging and, perhaps, even relevant. This approach doesn’t diminish our lesson. It capitalizes on the very thing that music does so well: it tells a story. And if a story doesn’t exist, then we, the teachers, might have to create one!

As a young teacher, I often thought I had to bring the kids to me for them to learn. Now I know that I must start by going to them, and then lead them gently and persuasively in my direction.

Three Aspects Of Your Leadership Effectiveness


Student Leadership Tips from System Blue

 Three Aspects Of Your Leadership Effectiveness

Most of us would agree that a good leader inspires and helps bring out the best in others. But how does a leader do this? What is it that makes a leader effective?

Truly effective leaders in music possess at least three common attributes. They are strong performers; they are humble followers; they are capable teachers.

The Leader as a Strong Performer

The example you set as a musician and as a student of your instrument is the foundation of your leadership effectiveness. Skill on your instrument and as a marcher enhances your credibility as a leader among your peers. Skill is something that cannot be taken away by someone else, however it can go away by neglect. You will have to work every day to become a better musician and performer; someone worthy of the respect of other strong performers. You can’t lead unless you are going somewhere, so always look for ways to improve.

The Leader as a Humble Follower

Humility is a quality that actually empowers your authority. When you defer to the actions and judgment of adults and other leaders, especially when you disagree, you model the respect you want from others. Sometimes the motives of others may not be clear to you immediately, just as yours may not be clear to them. You will have to work every day to become a more humble, patient, and empathetic follower; someone who relentlessly and consistently demonstrates his loyalty through his respect for others.

The Leader as a Capable Teacher

Success is synonymous with accomplishment. You create success for others by helping them develop their skills and confidence, and by modeling the skills of a strong performer and the respect of a humble follower. You will have to work every day to become a better teacher so that others can learn from you and realize their own potential for success.

Keep in mind that no article, lecture, class, workshop, camp, or book will “make” you a great leader. When it comes down to the reality of getting the job done, you’ll need more than just words and ideas—you’ll need skills, step-by-step procedures, contingency plans, and you’ll need to have all of this organized in a way that makes sense to you. You’ll need practical solutions to problems you encounter and you’ll need strategies for building on your accomplishments.

System Blue Leadership focuses on these very things. We begin by raising your self-awareness of these qualities and then we work to empower you to become a stronger performer, a more humble follower, and a more capable teacher. System Blue Leadership helps you become more the leader you want to be.

Selection Of Student Leaders


System Blue Band Director Tips and Strategies

by Frank Troyka, Band Director of 30 years & System Blue Director of Education


March 2016

As you start your selection process for next year’s student leaders, System Blue would like to offer the following for your consideration:

  • Let the audition reflect the duties of the position.
  • Be sensitive to the other demands on students’ time.
  • Make the audition transparent.
  • If your student leaders help teach marching, then consider having a marching component to the audition. Similarly, it’s seems only logical that student leaders should have to demonstrate musical competency as leaders of a musical organization. Consider an achievable playing audition as part of the screening process.

Training student leader candidates may take several weeks. When designing your training schedule, keep in mind that the spring is often a very stressful time for high schoolers with AP exams, term papers, and other big projects on the horizon. Rather than post a “mandatory” schedule of training sessions, consider offering a “pick one” approach. That is, offer 2 identical training sessions (or even 3) per week and allow the students to select the one that works best with their schedules. This keeps them from being so stressed and shows your sensitivity to their lives outside of band. You’ll be surprised at how many kids show up to the duplicate sessions to hone their skills.

The more skill-based the audition, the more likely everyone will be ok with the outcome. I used a three-phase audition: Phase 1, playing and marching; Phase 2, teaching; Phase 3, conducting (not every student participated in all three phases.

For more detailed info, contact frank@systemblue.org). Be specific with your expectations and be certain the student understand those expectations clearly.

This will help them see themselves more objectively. When the audition is too subjective, it can appear that the directors are “playing favorites” rather than selecting the “best” leaders.

SIDE NOTE: I once had a student say to me, many years ago, “Why do we even have a tryout? You’re just going to pick who you want.” My response was, “Of course we’re going to pick who we want! Why would we pick who we don’t want?” This actually validates the student’s question! The answer is, “So that each student, by way of the training and tryout process, has a chance to reveal his potential and his worthiness in ways that may not be obvious in any other context.”

A good training and selection process will almost always select the best leaders, but only if the tryout is congruent with the job itself. Here’s another strategy to consider as you design your tryout. In the words of author Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.” That is, ask yourself what you want in a student leader, and design training and tryouts to identify and reveal those individuals.