The Instant Gratification Culture: Use it to Your Advantage!

The Instant Gratification Culture: Use it to Your Advantage!

By NAfME Member Chad Nicholson, Director of Bands, University of Arizona


“Put away your phone.”




We hear this at movie theaters, at concerts, and on airplanes. How often do you see everyone around you actually put away their phones after the pre-recorded announcement?

“Put away your phone.”

Ensemble music educators say the same four words.  We are unable to rehearse with constant message notifications beeping and buzzing around the room. Yet, we face a daily barrage of students who cannot help themselves, if only to see one more “like” on the picture they posted at lunch.

“Put away YOUR phone.”

Have you ever checked your phone during class or during a concert? You do not have to answer that out loud…

Our phones, tablets, and laptops are here to stay.  To be clear, ensemble directors should insist upon a rehearsal atmosphere that is focused and productive. However, our students and  audiences have been indoctrinated into the “bite-sized” society. We expect our favorite songs, video clips, and online shopping to be available immediately. We also want to interact with everything, from new Virtual Reality technology to the latest texting app.

Unfortunately, this cultural sensibility works against many of the traditional methods of rehearsing and performing music. Formal concert attire, bans on clapping between movements, and a general lack of audience interaction common to modern concerts was derived from traditions of the late 1800s. Conductors such as Theodore Thomas felt that symphonic music could be understood only by the “most cultivated persons,” and he consequently developed many traditions we employ today.

What if movies, Broadway shows, or popular music retained 19th-Century performance traditions? Presumably, general audiences would dwindle, leaving only a niche audience of academic design.

Sound familiar?

By reconsidering what we play, where we play, and how we perform, it is possible to re-connect with modern audiences. Interactive experiences, both in concerts and rehearsals, can capitalize upon the cultural expectations for social connections. Interactive approaches can play a role in daily rehearsals when applied with pedagogical focus, and concerts can provide experiences for audiences that increase a sense of connection with the music.

These ideas are not intended to distract from the critical elements of what we do: excellent teaching, enhancing student growth, and connecting high-quality music with our audiences. When used thoughtfully, implementing new new ideas such as these can create new avenues for audience and student connections.


Think like Sousa-perform where the people are!

  • Malls, parks, sporting events: Not just marching band! Try jazz, chamber groups, concert bands/orchestras, or vocalists
  • Flea markets, fairs, annual festivals: Not just parades!  Set up a small group (in costume) at the Renaissance Faire or the full band at the Annual Barbecue Festival
  • Perform at conventions unrelated to music: comic book shows, anime conventions, science fiction, academic conferences (science, journalism, car shows, boat shows)
  • The DMV! There is always a captive audience in serious need of entertainment
  • Movie Theaters (work with theater manager to perform a sci-fi concert before a big sci-fi movie release)

Have special concerts directed specific generations of music-lovers (but, you must know your audience!)

  • A younger crowd of children? Video Game music, pop/R&B/Country, movie soundtracks
  • College-aged audiences: Some movie music, consider pop/R&B/Country music from the 80s and 90s, and add in a transcription of a well-known “classical” composer (keep to the best-known composers)
  • Adult audiences: Older movie music, 60s-70s rock, feature a vocal soloist or a few more classical transcriptions they would recognize.
  • A more mature crowd? Consider swing music, 50s rock, some movie music of the most recognizable variety, more soloists, and more recognizable “classical” music
  • All ages: SOUSA concerts!  I can personally vouch for the massive appeal of an outdoor Sousa concert. It can be spectacular, with a wide range of audience members and a great community investment.

When performing outreach concerts, consider how you might use them as a gateway to draw in all audience types for the music that is standard repertoire for your ensemble. For example, a Sousa concert with excellent soloists can be highlighted to entice audiences to come to symphonic or jazz concerts, also with excellent soloists!


Fig 3
Photo of Rod Miller by Mike Keesey, used with permission



Can we adapt the way in which we rehearse and perform music?

  • Many voting apps can allow for real-time interaction during concerts or classes.
  • Audiences could reflect the mood of the piece and see a collective and ever-changing emoji projected on a screen. Students can have designated times to “vote” during class.
  • Audiences could answer questions as the music is being performed with prizes given at the end of the concert, such as free tickets to another concert!
  • Audiences could follow a specific Facebook page or Twitter app with continuous updates throughout the performance: composer information, photos of rehearsals, images of the score (with proper permission acquired), and information about the orchestration, form, melody, or texture.
  • Use a concept from the 1990s television show, “Pop-Up Video,” and project interesting or humorous snippets of information on a big screen during classes or concerts.
  • Allow for audiences questions to be answered after each piece.
  • Designate “selfie zones” at the edges of the ensemble where audience members can take a photo during specified times during performance. Make sure to test this out with you students and get necessary administrative approval first. Encourage specific Facebook or Twitter feeds for audiences to post their pictures!


Fig 1


This is only the beginning. Try out a few new ideas, and your audiences and students may find a new connection with ensemble music!


Connect with Chad on Twitter, @chadnicholson, or on Facebook!


About the author:

Chad Nicholson
2016 publicity photo of Chad Nicholson, director of the UD Wind Ensemble. – (Evan Krape / University of Delaware)

Dr. Chad R. Nicholson is the newly appointed Director of Bands at the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music, where he will conduct the University of Arizona Wind Ensemble, the Chamber Winds, and the undergraduate and graduate wind conducting students. Dr. Nicholson is an active author and pedagogue; he has published a book designed to aid conductors in repertoire selection and concert programming entitled Great Music for Wind Band, and he is a contributing author for the recently published sourcebook for music educators, Engaging Musical Practices. Additionally, he has published articles in The Instrumentalist and in eight volumes of Teaching Music through Performance in Band. He has presented clinics and conducted honor band across the United States and internationally, and he frequently works with students and directors at the public school and university levels.


Chad Nicholson will be presenting on his topic “The Instant Gratification Culture: Connect With Today’s Performers and Audiences by Adapting Rehearsal and Performance Traditions” at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference this November in Grapevine, TX! Register today! 

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Join us for more than 100 innovative professional development sessions, nightly entertainment, extraordinary performances from across the country, and tons of networking opportunities with over 3,000+ other music educators! Learn more and register today: And follow the hashtag #NAfME2016!

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