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Educational Philosophies for Marching Percussion (and life)

by Matt Savage

After teaching marching percussion at the high school, college, and top 12 D.C.I. levels as well as band directing at the junior high and college levels, there are a number of teaching philosophies that I have found to be extremely valuable. For the most part, these ideas can be useful to the student as well as the teacher and can pertain not only to music and marching percussion but to a full and successful life and career in general.

A phrase that I had heard from a band director in California six years ago, has stuck with me since the day I heard it. Mrs. LidaBeasely said, “We as music educators teach not only music but more importantly we teach about life through music.” Thinking back on all of the teachers who have made an impact on me, I clearly see they indeed taught me much more than music. As a music educator now I daily remind myself of a number of philosophies that have helped me find success in many different situations. This article will share some of these for your own use. First, the topic of leadership…

“Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do what you want done because they want to do it.”… Dwight D. Esienhower An effective educator is an effective leader. What makes people want to follow you as a leader? First of all you must have good “people skills.” John D. Rockefeller once said, “I will pay more for the ability to deal with people than any other ability under the sun.” In dealing with people, receiving cooperation is the utmost requirement. A person in a leadership position may be the most brilliant, all knowing human on Earth but in order to be an effective leader he must be able to gain willing cooperation from those around him. This is accomplished by making sure that your goals are consistent with the students goals so that both parties are working for and obtaining what they want.

I have also discovered in my years of teaching that people you lead don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care about them. Commitment, dedication and sincere caring for a group of people can be the strongest elements that enable a leader to bond a group together and mold them to his or her specifications.

A leader must be able to see situations from the other person’s perspective. Being sensitive to others and realizing that you probably don’t have all the facts or feelings about any situation will win support and cooperation from your group. It is important to realize that you as a leader have some of all the qualities needed to be a successful leader. It is your challenge to further develop these qualities they have because they too have some of all the qualities needed to be successful in whatever they desire. The challenge of developing these qualities in you begins with feeding your mind. Attend workshops, observe successful teachers, and especially, read. Two books which have had a major influence on my teaching and thinking are: Top Performance by ZigZiglar and Causing Others to Want Your Leadership by Robert De Bruyn.

Search for the Good Stuff

Too many times as educators we dwell on looking for mistakes, gossiping about students, parents, administrators and generally griping about problems. Andrew Carnegie once said, “When you work with people it’s like mining for gold… you must literally move tons of dirt to find a single ounce of gold. However you do not search for the dirt, you search for the gold.” In working with people we must remember to look for the gold (the good stuff) and work with them to develop and mature that gold. A wise man once said: “The greatest good we can do for others is not to share our riches, but to reveal their own to them.”

In the book The One Minute Manager authors Blanchard and Lorber use the phrase “catch them doing something right.” I have used this concept to save many a rehearsal going in the wrong direction. Instead of pounding on the negatives, look for a positive, any positive. Another technique is the sandwich technique. If you need to give criticism, sandwich it between two positive comments. For example, a bass drummer carrying a 32 inch drum in marching band executes a difficult drill move very well but in the process gets his feet out of step momentarily. You yell, “Johnny you are so thick, how many times do I have to tell you not to get out of step, can’t you feel the tempo, do you have any rhythm in that body of yours?” Well, after hearing “Johnny you are so thick”, Johnny probably tuned you right out as well as resented you for embarrassing him in front of the whole group. On the other hand imagine if you said, “Johnny that was a great execution of that drill move and a good recovery when you got out of step. Now just concentrate on those feet and we’ll be on the right track for some great marching sores.” I guarantee Johnny would try much harder to please you and himself if you used the second approach!

Expect the best

When I reminisce back to my junior high teaching days, I have many fond memories. While I was in college I would never have dreamed I’d ever say that. In college, junior high was the last thing I wanted to teach. We’ve all heard the horror stories about junior high band. I think those stories must have come from all the negative thinkers in the teachers room at lunch time. I call these people “The Daughters of Doom.” These are the teachers that love to complain about all the horrible, disrespectful students, parents, administrators etc… I learned quickly to steer clear of the “daughters” in order to stay in a healthy, positive state of mind.

You can keep your frustrations to a minimum and keep ahead of the game if when times get tough you remember this simple phrase. “Every obnoxious act is a cry for help.” This phrase is from the book You and Your Network by Fred Smith. Mr. Smith concedes that when others treat us in a mean or disrespectful manner, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they really want you to feel bad. It could mean, and usually does, that they are acting that way because they themselves have problems and express these problems through their actions toward others. At this point after a group member has done something obnoxious or defiant, it is up to you to make the choice; 1) Do I attack back at that person and flex my authority muscles giving this person more and more attention, raising my stress level and escalating the problem; or 2) Remember that this was probably not a personal attack but actually a cry for help.

Obviously you can not simply ignore the situation. There are times when you must “lower the boom.” I offer these guidelines when action is needed.

  • Give criticism in private, people do not respond well to public humiliation.
  • Talk about the specific action in question, making sure to criticize the performance not the performer.
  • Initiate this meeting as soon as possible after the situation takes place.
  • Ask question and listen to answers. Don’t rush to judgment. Use the meeting to obtain the individuals point of view. Ask the question: “how do you think I feel about this meeting,” followed by, “how do you feel about this meeting.” The answers will often surprise you and give you a feeling for how the meeting has gone.
  • Make sure you set up a plan of action that both parties agree to and understand what the desired outcome will be. This gives a feeling of ownership to all in the plan.
  • Make sure to setup a specific follow up meeting to assess how things are going. This will give both parties a sense of urgency to fix the problem.
  • Be sure to praise the person whenever possible throughout the meeting. It is important that people leave this meeting with a sense of hope and encouragement.

It is not easy to always be in total control of yourself and to always be “positive thinker”. It is a mindset that must become habit. If a person can have a habit of seeing things from a negative perspective than he or she can develop habits to see things from a positive perspective. I believe that once you see the instantaneous effects of positive leadership, looking for the good stuff and expecting the best, you will develop positive habits quickly!

Matt Savage has been playing drums for more than 31 years and currently serves as the director of marching percussion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.. He received his Bachelor of Music Education degree from the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York at Potsdam and his Masters degree in Percussion Performance from USC. He has taught at every level of public education, from elementary to the college level. Additionally, he has played snare drum with the legendary Bayonne Bridgemen and served as percussion director and arranger for drum and bugle corps such as The Anaheim Velvet Knights, The Dutchboy of Kitchener, Ontario and The Canton Bluecoats.

In addition to being a marching percussion specialist, Savage is heavily involved with indoor percussion activity as an adjudicator for Winter Guard International. Matt is also the author of “Savage Rudimental Workshop” published by Warner Bros. Music along with being a drum circle facilitator and the creator of the Matt Savage line of marching percussion sticks by Pro-Mark Drumstick Company.

Matt is an artist/endorser for ProMark Drumsticks, Yamaha Percussion, Sabian Cymbals and Remo Inc.

For more information on the Matt Savage Marching Percussion Camp Click Here