Thursday, May 27, 2010

SKYPE: Part 1....A tool every music teacher needs in their toolbox.

By Mark T. Burke

Everyone once in a while, a tool comes along that changes our lives.  For me, SKYPE is that tool.  For those that have been living in their instrument cases for the last few years, SKYPE is a small, but incredibly powerful PC based application used for communicating with others.  Since music centers around communication, I think every music teacher needs to know about SKYPE.  For technical information and download, visit their site at

I won't be shy, this is going to sound like an advertisement for SKYPE.  But, let's be honest.  We all use tools that work and eventually, SKYPE will be replaced with some other wiz-bang application that proves itself better. So the real message here is to look at ways SKYPE can benefit the music education process.   So back to SKYPE for a minute, let's look at the features.

First, two people with SKYPE installed on their PC's can:
  • IM
  • Talk
  • Screen Share
  • Video Call
  • Share links
  • Send files
  • Play games
Oh, did I mention you can do all of this for free?  I should have said that earlier.

Now, if you extend SKYPE just a bit, you can do all of the things above...AND...
  • Call Phones and Cell Phones
  • Hold Conference calls (with other SKYPErs and phones or cell phones)
What do I mean by "extend"?  I mean pay as little as $2.95 per month to call other phones AND do all of those other things?  Yes in-deedy!

Now, if you extend it just a bit can...
  • Receive calls (just like any phone) through your own number. 
  • Get voice mail
  • Get voice mail notices sent to your email.
Here's the catch, you have to pay a a bit under $15.00 a year to get those additional services.  That's right, pull out the big bucket of cash for this one...under $15.00 a YEAR! I think the folks at SKYPE have done a great job of providing an extendable tool with a base price of $0.00 and the extensions won't break your bank. 

Now how can all of this help you, the music educator?   I thought this would be a great opportunity to produce a series of posts on how to harness the power of SKYPE. You can determine the value, but my guess is I won't have to twist your arm to admit SKYPE is a must have tool.

Connecting Students with other Professionals
In December, a local private student of mine was starting to work on a new solo. Just a few weeks prior, I had heard a graduate student perform the piece at a conference. I connected with the grad student and arranged a SKYPE session between her, my student and myself. I set the tone for the session so that everyone understood.  The goal was for this to be a mini master class.  The grad student talked about the piece and her preparation process. She even talked about articulation, difficult spots and ... go figure, THE MUSIC.

My student actually came to my studio so that after the session we could work on the piece. Overall, the session was about 30 minutes and proved to be incredibly valuable.

The take away: We all can't be everything to our students. We must look for ways to connect them to others. Using SKYPE creates a truly personal experience with voice, video, sharing of documents and all in real time.  Imagine if each month, you connected your students to another professional, a local or nationally recognized performer. What would the impact be?  With a little organization and the power of SKYPE you get a very powerful tool with quantifiable benefits to students.

In the next Part, we will take a look at a few of the calling features.

viaAcademies uses SKYPE to connect viaAcademies students with viaAcademies teachers. Added to the LiveLessons are our accessible music content, online practice guides, quizzes and interactive learning management system. Our "systems approach" ensures tight integration of all educational components in a flexible learning environment. Learn more today by arranging a demonstration. Email us at  

Monday, May 24, 2010

More Frequent, Small Concerts...Better than Big Concerts?

By Mark T. Burke

Would you rather hold a single concert for 100 attendees, or hold 10 concerts that reached 10 people each?  Forget about the economics of the different events for a minute.  Would a single, large concert or multiple, small concerts offer greater musical impact and social value?

To dive into this topic and share my thoughts, I coined a few new phrases and associated acronyms.

Expansion Of Audience (EOA)
Separate small concerts provide opportunities to reach a broader community. Look at the graphic below.  If a musical organization holds all of its concerts in a single location, the ability to expand the audience is limited.  If we treat every concert as an opportunity to expand our audience, which I believe we should, then it makes sense that we can not do so well if we are firmly grounded in our performance location and hold infrequent, larger scale concerts. The graphic below depicts a concert that may attract 100 people, but notice how the outreach of the event has not reached well into the community. (Please note, I am using a visual diagram to represent the theoretical audience).

Circles of Influence (COI)
Tied to EOA, creating and expanding musical program COI can be incredibly rewarding. Again, with a singular venue/large concert mentality, we limit our ability to harness the power of our COI. COI help us spread the word about how great our musical offerings are by reaching individuals at an intimate level. Performing throughout our communities is really just "bringing the music to the people." To harness COI, musical programs should plan to go on the road, look for a variety of venues in your community, pick different times and days as well as use the talents within the program to provide a wide range of musical experiences.

Social Musical Trends (SMT)
Like many aspects of our lives, Music has been influenced by Social Media. In fact, Social Musical groups have developed over the last 2 years. These groups showcase the real desire of us all to enjoy and share conversations around the music we love.  Think about the large concert venue. These events can be rather impersonal. Most of the organization around the event involves ensuring the audience gets in and out of the concert safely. I can only speak for myself, but the large concerts I've attended have little to do with connecting with peers, performers and musical staff.

Smaller venues provide us the opportunity to add social interaction into the musical event.  By doing so, we increase our COI, which in turn helps us with our EOA efforts.

Summary: As we strive to keep music alive in our schools and in our communities, I believe we have to look closely at our own behavior and move toward innovative approaches to spreading the joy of live music. I believe the days of school programs succeeding by holding 2 concerts a year are past. I see the day of small and large ensembles reaching outward into the community as "here and now," not a vision for the future. I see diverse school programs, giving kids a ton of traditional and non-traditional opportunities as the programs that will thrive and set the trends for us all. Our behaviors including looking at how we can best increase our EOA, harness our COI and use SMT's to ensure music lives on.

viaAcademies provides online instruction for beginning instrumentalist. We can help you build innovative lesson programs, summer school offerings, supplemental programs for struggling students and support for your district's virtual students. Coming this fall, our first "General Music" course called "Exploring Music with GarageBand / MixCraft." Contact us at for additional information and school pricing. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Getting Up Close and Personal...with our online Instrument Courses that is.

By Mark T. Burke

It's easy to take a tour of our online Instrumental Music courses.  Simply follow the video trail below or pick the topics that interest you most.

Part 1:  Course Introduction. Students learn the basics in the Prelude Section of their course.

Part 2: The Units. Students interact with the content arranged by Units and Lessons.

Part 3: Practice Partner Videos. Students can learn great things from other students. We've included many Practice Partner Videos for students to listen to, watch and play along with.  The videos showcase high school and early college aged students playing exercises from the required level 1 lesson book.

Part 4: Quizzes. Quizzes in instrumental music? Absolutely! Students test their understanding of key concepts by taking auto graded quizzes throughout the course.

Part 5: Recorded Assignments. Communication and feedback from live teachers is CRITICAL. Students practice, record and submit 30+ assignments to teachers for specific feedback and advice.

Part 6: Tests and the student Gradebook. Students are assessed in a variety of ways including LiveLessons (online lessons with their teachers), recorded exercises and Unit exams.Their entire gradebook demonstrates their progress and performance throughout their 12 month enrollment period (and beyond if desired).

Interested in enrolling your students? Are you a school teacher or administrator? Contact me for school pricing and enrollment options.

Friday, May 14, 2010

It's What Happens Between Music Lessons that Counts!

By Mark T. Burke

It's 8am and the company you work for is holding it's weekly manager meeting. What do you talk about?

It's time for your bi-annual dentist appointment. What determines how many cavities you have? 

It's Wednesday, your weekly weight management group is meeting.  What's the key to maintaining or loosing weight? 

In all cases, your actions BETWEEN events determines your focus, your current state and your potential for ongoing success. Performing those actions as planned, diligently, ensures you stay on a course of action aimed at achieving your goals. Even though we are all responsible for our actions in-between the meetings, appointments and group sessions, sometimes we need support.  Great organizations have figured out that when they help people stay on track, between "events", they become valued organizations. When organizations are valued, people count on them more and more and everyone benefits.

When managers support staff efforts between weekly operational meetings, they demonstrate compassionate and proactive leadership.  By supporting staff needs, they are not devaluing staff contributions, they are supporting their growth and ensuring the staff's value by aligning all actions to the organizational mission.

When dentists connect patients with products and services to help them maintain dental health between visits, patients become more involved in their own dental health. Appointment reminders, phone calls and post cards raise the level of importance of preparing for the appointment (and showing up).

Weight management groups have learned that peer to peer support between meetings is key to raising the success rate of clients. That support ensures people experience success and keep coming back.

Now lets discuss Music lessons. The question is, "What do we do to support and encourage progress between lessons?"  Most of us have experiences to draw on from organizations that support our needs. I'll toss out a few to get our conversation going.

Ways to support musical growth between lessons.
  • Check in with students between lessons.
  • Distribute supportive, informative and educational information to students between lessons.
  • Create a "support line" to respond to student questions between lessons.
  • Regularly supply information to students and parents regarding beneficial external products and services.
  • Ensure goals are clearly communicated during lessons. 
Now how can we accomplish these tasks?  I believe the better question is "How can we afford NOT to accomplish these tasks?"  I equate these tasks with being customer service oriented. I believe as educators, we should take a service-oriented approach to teaching. When we start to view our jobs as supporting students in their efforts, we start to relate our jobs to the many other professionals we encounter in our lives. We all interact with others who we expect to offer us a high level of service at the time of service and in-between those times. Modeling our approach after our own expectations of others can guide our approach.

How do you ensure student success between lessons?  Do you use the web? Social Media? Online tools? Software? 


Monday, May 10, 2010

Summer Instrumental Workshops...Get Creative!

By Mark T. Burke

"Hornapalooza", "Saxophonia", "Flutopia", call me a marketer, but I believe in giving summer musical events a catchy name.  "Music Camp" or "Summer Lessons" just seems outdated and boring. Along with a great, fun name, organizers have the opportunity to create a memorable music event using a few key focus points for planning the event.  Here's my list of creative ways to help organize creative summer events.

1.  Focus:  As teachers, we all have specialties.  Most likely in your region, if you've been out and about, meeting other teachers, playing in community ensembles and spreading your love for music, your peers will recognize you for your specialty.  The chances of all teachers in your area specializing in the same area of music are actually pretty slim.  Why not harness those specialties to create regional workshops for students that span across school district boundaries?  For example, if you are a mallet percussion expert, create a summer workshop series for mallet percussion students.  Spread the word through your network of peers and recruit kids from all over the region.

2.  Get Out:   Summer is a great time to get outside.  All areas have some type of recreation hot spot, a park or a local College or University that is not as busy during the summer.  Negotiate for the use of space for your camp. Think about the benefits of the environment being "different", refreshing, one that helps you create a desire to grow the event over the years.  The location can really help you attract students.

3.  Think Small: Small Ensemble that is.  Creating an event for individual students can be fun.  Forming a small ensemble of students, scheduling a series of rehearsals and a concert, now that can be powerful (and fun!).  Taking students out of their normal element is the key to attracting them.  If students feel the summer event is just the same old, same old, there will be less interest.  As an example, this year, viaAcademies in cooperation with the Keystone Saxophone Quartet will be hosting the Summer Saxophone Quartet Workshop 2010 (SSQW2010).  After announcing our plans, we quickly filled the 4 spots.  Over the next few years, we believe there is a ton of opportunity to provide this experience to more and more students each year.

4.  Format:  There's no right and wrong answer here, just choices.  Choose whether you want to hold the event over a series of days, like each day for a week, or spread out over the summer.  For our SSQW2010, we decided to have 4 Workshops spread out over the summer, ending with a combo concert in August.  Our model was chosen to adapt to busy summer schedules and to give the students time to practice the pieces in between Workshop days.

5.  Have a Plan:  Remember, you're the expert here.  This is your opportunity to pull out drills, teaching techniques, rehearsal skills, etc. that you may not be able to in your day to day efforts.  Create a plan for what you're going to pass on to the students.  Embrace this opportunity to take students, and yourself, out of the box, be experimental, but have a PLAN!  For example, if you're going to teach a specific breathing technique, have your approach down pat.  You may even want to have some documents for your students.  In the end, the goal of this event is to pass on expert advice, with you as the expert.  Keep that in mind.

6.  Keep Music Central:  Too many events fail when we try to offer too much.  My philosophy is that when getting things rolling, students can swim and play games in other locations, at other times.  For those of you who have created successful events with tons of kids, providing social activities probably makes sense.  For the most of us, when first starting out, keeping the core activities musical and leaving the social planning for years to come can help us get things rolling.  Summer events should be built first and foremost on their musical value for students.

How do you run your summer events?  What do you call them?  How do you market them?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tour Mission 1...Make First Contact

By Mark T. Burke (while on Tour with the Lycoming College Concert Band)

Instrumental Shuttle Pilot's log, star date 201005.04.  Day one of our mission was completed with positive results.  Our goal was to make first contact with several colonies in Lycoming County, PA who have showed early interest in musical endeavors.  The colonies consisted of mostly young students from two schools in the region.

Our first encounter included hearing several inhabitants of Montoursville High School performing music during what they call "homeroom."  The experience included several compositions, 1 being Brazilian in nature while the other a contemporary composition entitled "Choreography."  One of the natives joined our "away team" for a performance, giving me the opportunity to communicate with him directly.  We've agree to continue peaceful, musical conversations to help this particular student further develop his performance skills on an instrument called the Saxophone.

Our second meeting was more diplomatic in nature.  The entire community from St. John Neuman arrived to hear our performance. Our Captain, Dr. William Ciabattari was the universal translator on this mission, ensuring our message was understood, or at least heard through their native tongue.  Their Admiral graciously thanked us for our contribution and encouraged the inhabitants to further their knowledge of the musical offerings of our central office, located at Lycoming College in Williamsport.

End personal log.

This week, the entire viaAcademies team was on tour with Dr. Ciabattari and the Lycoming College Concert Band.  My experience from day 1 helps explain why outreach concerts are so, so important today.  I had the opportunity to connect with a young saxophone student.  Within just a few hours of the performance, the groundwork has been laid for a summer Saxophone Workshop for him and a few other student saxophonists.  We can reach kids in concerts, but having the chance to interact with them ensures music instructors can really make a big difference.  This tour also reminded me that instrumental music teachers should take every opportunity to ensure their students are exposed to music and other musicians.  There are countless examples of students with musical goals that may go unrealized by never having been connected to other resources outside a school.  I believe it is imperative that young musicians understand one person and one school can not supply their total music experience.  This tour has confirmed for me that teaching kids music takes a collaborative village of people, teachers and resources.