THE LIMITS OF LEAN AND MEAN

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THE LIMITS OF “LEAN AND MEAN”

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.

 

 

 

 

 

System Blue Brass “Wraps” Explained by Top Designer John Meehan

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How we developed the “wraps” of our horns

When designing the System Blue Professional Brass series, we tried to take everything into consideration. One of the big concerns for us, was the way the horn felt in the performers hand. As we went from the initial prototypes through all of the iterations leading to the versions available now, we not only focused on the way the horn played, but the ergonomics of how it felt to the performer.

Marching band and drum corps performers practice a lot, and the horns are almost always in their hands. The instrument is essentially an extension of the performer, so it needs to feel like it’s part of the performer. By slightly moving the valve casing, or the first valve U-hook, or where we bent the tubing on the Hybrid-Euphonium near the left hand, it all played a part in making the instruments look like they do, and how they feel in the performers hands.

Another consideration with how a brass instrument is “wrapped” is the length of tubing.  Many times, instruments will have a long tube, but it is then bent back and forth once, or several times, for myriad of different reasons. You’ll find with the a lot of the System Blue Professional Brass instruments, the tubing is more of a “pure shot,” the actual length of the tube. We do this because, the air then travels in a more singular direction, versus constantly changing directions. As instrument designers, we always try to keep the air moving from the receiver to the bell with the most limited amount of “detours” as possible.

BE THE KIND OF LEADER OTHERS WANT TO FOLLOW

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BE THE KIND OF LEADER OTHERS WANT TO FOLLOW

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

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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.

What Are GTG’s And How Can They Help Me?

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System Blue brass instruments have Graduated Tuning Guides.  The guides themselves do not affect the horn while you are playing and performing.  The GTG’s come into play after you’ve started to learn your tendencies in different temperatures and playing environments.

When you are in your practice room, and you have gotten yourself in tune and centered, jot down where the tuning slide is for future reference.

Doing this in every playing environment will get you “in the ball park,” closer to being in tune and centered, so you can get on your way to practicing and performing sooner.

Three Aspects Of Your Leadership Effectiveness

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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.

Does The Mouthpiece Really Matter?

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The System Blue mouthpieces were designed to specifically accompany the System Blue brass instruments, but also work on their own with any set of instruments.

Using a matched set of mouthpieces, even if the instruments aren’t matched, can greatly improve consistency in tone, timbre, and intonation on the marching field.

The System Blue mouthpieces were designed to give clear articulation from close and far distances, help performers endurance during long rehearsal sessions, and be somewhat forgiving while marching around a football field.

The System Blue TR1 is more of a lead mouthpiece, while the TR2 is more of a section mouthpiece.

Selection Of Student Leaders

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System Blue Band Director Tips and Strategies

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

TIP #1: SELECTION OF STUDENT LEADERS

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.

What is Bore Size, and Why Does It Matter?

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SB10 (.459 bore) vesus SB12 (.464 bore)

Trumpets have what is called cylindrical bore, which is when the bore diameter is consistent throughout the instrument until you get towards the bell section when the flare begins.

Cylindrical bores give a well projected and direct sound. Typically, a medium bore (the SB10) may be a little easier to play from an air standpoint, have a slightly sweeter sound, and can benefit younger players. A larger bore (the SB12) may have a broader sound, have less resistance through range and volume, and benefit lead type players.

One is NOT a beginning horn while the other a professional, as many professionals play on medium size bores.

A sports analogy would be size and weight of a baseball bat… One player may like a smaller lighter bat to increase bat speed, while another may prefer a larger heavier bat to increase power.

Preparing for Leadership Tryouts

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It’s that time of year when we start thinking about marching band for next fall! That means it’s also time for leadership tryouts. If you’re hoping to earn a position on your band’s leadership team, let your skills do your talking rather than your mouth! Consider the following thoughts on leadership and excellence:

  • Be a musical leader first! Play your instrument well! This is the most challenging part of being a great leader because HARD WORK is the common ground for all great leaders.
  • If you have to march as part of your leadership tryout, be the finest example of a marcher you can imagine. No one learns how to march (or ride a bike, or swim, or ski) by being TOLD how to do it. We’re SHOWN how to do it. The best things a student leader brings to the position is the ability to demonstrate! If you want to distinguish yourself in the marching audition, NAIL YOUR TECHNIQUE AND HIT YOUR DOTS!
  • If your leadership tryout includes an interview, figure out what your directors are looking for and anticipate their questions. You might be asked something like…

    Who in the band, past or present, do you admire and why? What did you like about last year’s leaders and what would you do differently? What is the most difficult or unappealing part of being a student leader?

  • Avoid phrases like, “I think” and “I feel.” Rather, use strong statements like “I would,” “I will,” “I am,” and “I can.” They sound decisive and confident and create a strong contrast with those who are less self-assured.
  • If the interview questions don’t allow you to discuss everything you’d like the directors to know about you, it’s perfectly ok to say, “Before we wrap up, may I share a few things with you?”

Let your skills do the talking for you. Practice, prepare, and go after it. But remember, any leadership candidate who quits or becomes resistant because he/she didn’t get selected only reinforces the good decision the directors made NOT to select you! If you’re not selected, dedicate yourself to being the best example, the best attitude, and the best performer you can imagine. That’s the kind of person you WANT to be anyway, right?