What Strategies Are You Implementing to Ensure the Success of Your Upcoming Performances?

Four Music Educators Share Their Strategies

This article first appeared in the October 2022 issue of Teaching Music.

Krissi Davis PortraitKrissi Davis, Director, Midtown HS Orchestra, Fine Arts Dept. Co-Chair; APS Arts Resource Teacher, Midtown High School, Atlanta, Georgia

Relationship Building

The first concerts of the year are very important as they can set the tone for the entire year. Preparation for performances starts on day one with relationship building. Students are more likely to have a vested interest in your program when they know that you care about them inside and outside of the music classroom. Within the first month of school, I have a “Welcome Back” social just to get to know my students and for students in different classes to get to know each other. This creates a “we’re in this together” environment that is conducive to successful performances throughout the year. In the past, we have had kickball tournaments or game nights where new students get to meet older students or other orchestra students not in their respective classes. I also have check-in time with my students, usually the first or last 10 minutes of class. I’ll pick one or two students, and we’ll talk about whatever they want to talk about.

cellist in orchestra rehearsal

Photo by Lisa Helfert


Repertoire Selection

When choosing music for concerts, I consider ability level, genres, and student input. I make sure to balance the selections between challenging pieces and easier selections that don’t require as much practice time. The easier selections serve as a way to end each class on a positive note, especially while working on more challenging selections. Considering that the school and community where I teach is racially diverse, I am very intentional in making sure varied genres are represented in every concert. Allowing student input in concert selections gives them ownership in what happens in our program. While you may have standards and concepts you need to teach, you can pick two to three pieces that address these concepts and then have students vote on the piece that they play. I also have one student conductor for every concert cycle. The student conductor and the orchestra work together to select a piece. With my guidance, the student conductor rehearses the orchestra and conducts the piece at the concert.

Allowing student input in concert selections gives them ownership in what happens in our program.

Concert Start Times/Length

I am very mindful of the fact that my students and their families have very busy schedules and are often juggling the activities of multiple children. To that end, it has always been my personal rule that elementary or middle school level performances last no more than 45 minutes, and high school level performances last no more than one hour. Parents appreciate and are more likely to come out and support performances when they know their time is respected. My concerts typically start at 6:30 P.M. and are over by 7:30 P.M., allowing most families a certain amount of family time at the end of the day. The 6:30 start time limits the time between dismissal and concert start time, which helps students who must stay after school to participate in the concert but have transportation challenges. They have a bit of down time where they can get a snack and complete homework before concert call time.

Jam Session Michael Gordon credit Michael GordonMichael S. Gordon, Music Teacher, Middlebrook School; Music I Instructional Leader for Fine Arts & Performing Arts, Middlebrook School, Wilton, Connecticut

Success in any endeavor requires CARE (conversations, access, responsibility, evaluation). Success begins with conversations—exchanging ideas and experiences; sharing knowledge, skills, insights, and feelings; and acknowledging how valuable and precious participants are. Success thrives when everyone can access and apply available resources. Manifesting success requires all affected parties to work toward fulfilling their respective responsibilities. And finally, the efficacy and implementation of each strategy, practice, procedure, and protocol must be evaluated.

The most important strategy is connecting with students on a personal level. I engage students in conversations about their personal goals, outside interests, perceived learning strengths and weaknesses, interesting personal facts, and music they want to perform. “How’s it going?” is my routine for starting each class. I remind students that “together, we can accomplish anything.” To cultivate empathy, I remind students that we all need a little extra help and/or time to “get it.” Some may get it within a few minutes, others may get it after a few days, and others may take a few months—that’s ok! Our focus is on music, but the goal is to leave a little better than when they walked into class. I expect students to simply do their best and help each other complete as much of the task as possible, within the time we have, using every resource.

student percussionists rehearsing

Photo by Lisa Helfert

Access fuels success! I present the information in ways that make learning accessible. Emerging from COVID, students were more hesitant, hypercritical of their skills, and focused on comparing themselves with peers. Keeping expectations simple with room to demonstrate growth is critical. I ask students to identify which of the following characteristics they will consistently demonstrate: confidence, accuracy, or artistic expression. To make the music more accessible for high-need learners, I modify and arrange parts for their level of musicianship.

Increasing students’ and families’ responsibility for monitoring, evaluating, and assessing progress requires me to assume more responsibility for providing support as they use the district learning management system to access instructions and expectations, receive and interpret notifications, review and revise submissions, and engage in conversations with me.

Performances are better when students feel better about themselves and their skills and when they feel seen, heard, and valued.

Evaluating the impact of the strategies, practices, procedures, and protocols is critical. I solicit feedback from students, families, and fellow educators. I use forms and surveys, reflect on my current practices and procedures, and research and read to increase my knowledge, develop my skills, and enhance my abilities. I connect with fellow music educators and colleagues; attend conferences and seek professional learning opportunities; read music publications such as Teaching Music; and watch videos and listen to podcasts. I make revisions to increase student engagement and family involvement. How I engage with students and families, how I present and model, and how I respond and adjust to each student’s individual needs impact how students feel. Performances are better when students feel better about themselves and their skills and when they feel seen, heard, and valued.

Meghan Hickey in classroom with banjoMeghan Hickey, General Music and Choir Teacher, Old Orchard Junior High School, Skokie, Illinois

One of my main goals is to make sure my students leave my classroom feeling fulfilled, confident, supported, and loved. In my experience, successful performances are the product of fulfilling these needs.

For the first several weeks, I spend about half of our time on teambuilding activities. For example, we have three singing positions in choir. Position 1 is standing tall with your feet shoulder length apart; position 2 is sitting tall but relaxed with a straight spine; and position 3 is seated comfortably. I teach these positions by calling out each position number slowly at first, and then quickly so students bounce around to the different positions, getting their blood flowing, and playing around. Social emotional learning (SEL) is hugely important to a successful ensemble and performance, and playing games is an effective way to focus on it. The sooner they learn to trust me and each other and to be vulnerable and encouraging when we make mistakes, the better our final performance will be.

choir performances

Photo by Lisa Helfert

Early in the year, we spend a lot of time on vocal technique and unifying our choral sound. Many students come to choir trying to imitate the singers they hear on YouTube or TikTok. They push their vocal cords past the limit or are so quiet I can barely hear them. I always have a handful of students who have difficulty matching pitch. We address this during warmups with lip trills, vowel practice, and vocal sirens. I might record them and ask them to evaluate their sound, but a lot of this foundational work is done subconsciously when they imitate my vocal models, so I ensure my voice sounds the way I want them to sound, including dynamics, tempo, tone, and vowels.

Successful performances happen when students enjoy the music. Choose repertoire that excites you. If you are enthusiastic about the music, that emotion can be transferred to your students if you have built relationships with them. Challenge students to sing music of varying tempos and genres. I include a decent representation of pop, R&B, and musical theater in our concert. The pop and musical theater songs I choose are unfamiliar, so my singers are still being exposed to new music.

If you are enthusiastic about the music, that emotion can be transferred to your students if you have built relationships with them.

This year, I’ve had to do things differently, as I have not had a choir program since the beginning of the pandemic. During remote learning, I focused on a general music curriculum. I still held Choir Club once a week on Zoom and in person, but because of the pandemic and safety concerns, the choir program temporarily disappeared.

I usually start sixth and seventh grade choirs singing in two-part, while my eighth grade choir sings SSA or SAB music. This year, I started all grade levels with unison to make sure our vocal technique was solid and the students felt successful. I chose more pop and musical theater so recruiting students was easier. While rebuilding the program has been difficult, I am relieved to have choir as part of my day again. I live for the moments when my students leave my classroom singing or seek opportunities to lead sectionals, and I am excited to have it back in my daily routine.

Stephen Pickard with band

Photo courtesy of Central Washington University

Stephen Pickard, Director of Bands, Rogers High School, Dessie Evans Elementary School, Puyallup, Washington
Chair, NAfME Council for Band Education

Here are a few ideas to help create successful concerts this year.

Be smart and know the lit. Avoid getting bogged down by a myriad of program management work. Make time for score study and lesson prep first—it’s the biggest and most important part of your job. Know your students’ strengths and weaknesses, and take a growth-mindset approach. I start out a grade level or two below the students’ ability level to focus on tightness and accuracy, followed by increased difficulty.

Spend time on score study. Score study should be whatever tactics and tools help you know your music well. A Google search brings up countless sessions, books, YouTube videos, and more. Spend time improving your efforts in this area and you’ll surely reap the benefits. Just listening to quality recordings of your program in your car is time well spent. You’ll learn the melody and who plays it, common rhythms, counterlines, and more without sacrificing time on other tasks.

score study

Photo by Lisa Helfert

Record rehearsals. With smartphones, recording is easier than ever. Try this: Set the goal for the week on Monday, rehearse through the week, and do Friday run-throughs to check progress. It helps students track their personal growth and gives them time to listen to recordings and have healthy discussions with their peers. Allow students to help create the next week’s goal to facilitate deeper student buy-in.

Bring people in. Bringing people in to work with your students at multiple stages of the learning process is essential. Don’t wait until they’re “ready” enough. If you live in a secluded area, send recordings to trusted friends and colleagues for review.

Talk with others. NAfME’s Amplify is an incredible resource for discussion and sharing. If you hit a wall or are looking for new lesson ideas, pose these questions on Amplify or get a group of trusted colleagues together and talk shop.

Sing! Find simple melodies or chorales and let students choose to sing open vowel or hum. With encouragement, students will open up and feel better about singing. In his Ted Talk, “The Transformative Power of Classical Music,” Ben Zander shares that “no one is tone deaf,” but people may struggle with pitch matching. Challenge your students to find their vocal center, and partner with your choral colleagues on vocal technique. Everyone improves, and your students get to know their choir teacher.

If students feel heard and valued, they will rise to the occasion, and the performance will be a musical celebration!

Love kids and teach. My lead administrator believes the only motto, mantra, or mission statement you need is “Love kids and teach.” I am reminded that I am the decisive element in the room and that as Haim Ginott said, “(…) as a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.” Even if I fail at these points, I can still ensure a successful performance through positive connections with my students. If students feel heard and valued, they will rise to the occasion, and the performance will be a musical celebration!

What strategies are you implementing to ensure success in upcoming performancesShare ideas with fellow music educators on Amplify today.

Did this blog spur new ideas for your music program? Share them on Amplify! Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

February 1, 2023. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

February 1, 2023


  • Classroom Management
  • Ensembles
  • Repertoire


February 1, 2023. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

April 2024 Teaching Music
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