Tales From The Podium

Free Christmas Sheet Music For Beginners

Just a friendly seasonal reminder here that I have dozens of different Christmas carols, children's songs, and patriotic standards all arranged for beginners and all available for free from MusicEdMagic.  Stop by or feel free to share the link below with your students so they can download whatever they want to play during the holiday season.

MusicEdMagic's Free Sheet Music Archive

Apps and More for the Choral Classroom


The number of apps, software, and gadgets available for use in the music classroom continues to grow each year but finding things that can actually be beneficial to your classes grows more and more difficult as well.  We spoke with Dr. Christopher Russell, Director of Choirs at Oltman Middle School in St. Paul Park, Minnesota to get his must-have list of apps.

Buying A Trombone Online- A Guide For Parents

A Slide Trombone

I've been teaching beginning band for over a decade now and I have seen a lot of instruments come through my band room.  For many parents it seems that buying a trombone online or in a brick and mortar store winds up coming down to price and convenience.  I'm here to tell you there is a whole lot more to it than that, or at least there should be, if you want your son or daughter to have a good chance at being successful.  The quality and durability of the trombone you buy will be a very major factor in whether or not they have a positive experience when learning the instrument.  Here are a few tips and things to consider when shopping for and buying a trombone online.

Stick With Traditional Brass Trombones When Buying Online

The music instrument industry has become incredibly competitive in recent years and prices are dropping drastically on student model trombones.  The result is that now there are actually plastic trombones out there that are priced almost the same as some beginner brass models.  I've played on a few of these which come in brand names like pBone and Allora.  While I have actually been impressed that they sound as good as they do (considering they are made of plastic) I still do not recommend buying a plastic trombone of any kind for my beginners.  Aside from the sound and resonance issues I will admit that the reason for this is partly cosmetic on my part. 

Plastic trombones come in a wide variety of colors, and families will sometimes purchase an off color instrument that sticks out like a sore thumb when they play with the large group.  If all of the trombones in the section have brass trombones and one student has a bright pink plastic one it's kind of distracting at the least, but from the student's point of view the novelty of having the pink trombone wears off quickly and they realize that maybe it wasn't the best way to express themselves.  It should be noted as well that you can't really repair a plastic instrument...  Just saying...

Where Is The Trombone Coming From?

If you buy a used trombone off of a site like eBay you need to be aware of who is selling it and pay careful attention to whether or not they will accept returns (as well as who pays for such a return).  While trombones are really pretty safe to buy second hand there is one major issue that literally can make or break your child's ability to play it, the condition of the slide.  Even the smallest of dents in the slide can make the slide slow and difficult to move.  For a trombonist this is one of the most important mechanical issues that must work as cleanly and smoothly as possible.  If you buy a used trombone through an eBay seller or through some other online retailer check it immediately or better yet have your child take it in to their band director and have them examine it before your ability to return the trombone expires.  

Along the same vein of thought you should also consider the manufacturer of any used trombones that you might be thinking of purchasing.  Major brands such as Bach, Blessing, Yamaha (yes, they make trombones...), Conn, and King are time tested, solid instruments.  They tend to be more durable but also tend to be more expensive.  Be aware of the brand name though and check to see if you can get it fixed locally (see the section below for more info on this).

What Are Options Other Than eBay and Amazon for Buying A Trombone Online?

For my students I always recommend that they go to the local music store first and see if they can get something in their price range.  Many local stores now carry their own store brands of instruments that are much lower cost and are competively priced with those found online.  If the student can't find one in their price range though I recommend checking websites like TaylorMusic.com or WWBW.com  I've had good success with WWBW's Allora brass trombones and from over on Amazon I've seen a lot of Mendini trombonesdata:image/svg+xml;base64,PHN2ZyB4bWxucz0iaHR0cDovL3d3dy53My5vcmcvMjAwMC9zdmciIHdpZHRoPSIxIiBoZWlnaHQ9IjEiPjwvc3ZnPg== come through as well.  They aren't bad quality and I'd rather have a student buy one of these new than take a chance on buying used from a garage sale or low reputation eBay seller.

If You Buy A Trombone Online Who Is Going To Repair It?

in recent years there have been a large increase in the number of manufacturers producing very low cost trombones.  Just as China and other eastern countries have grown to supply the world with electronic gadgets they now also supply the world with low cost band instruments. The majority of these vendors do not sell in brick and mortar music stores but only sell online, usually via Amazon or eBay.  While you can get a data:image/svg+xml;base64,PHN2ZyB4bWxucz0iaHR0cDovL3d3dy53My5vcmcvMjAwMC9zdmciIHdpZHRoPSIxIiBoZWlnaHQ9IjEiPjwvc3ZnPg==really good deal on trombonesdata:image/svg+xml;base64,PHN2ZyB4bWxucz0iaHR0cDovL3d3dy53My5vcmcvMjAwMC9zdmciIHdpZHRoPSIxIiBoZWlnaHQ9IjEiPjwvc3ZnPg== such as Mendini, Glory, and others in roughly the same price range you need to consider one major issue before clicking the Buy It Now button.  If it breaks or the slide gets dented where you will get it repaired?

This is a double edged sword in many ways.  For one, trombones can now be purchased brand new online for less than $200, but local music stores almost never provide service on those low end brands of trombone.  Because of this it is most likely that you won't be able to get the trombone repaired at a local music store.  Essentially, if you break it, you'll have to buy a new one, as Amazon isn't likely to take a return on something that has been damaged through normal use.

 The Bottom Line:  Think Before You Buy and Keep Your Options Open

Remember my mantra that the slide is the most important part of the trombone.  If you are buying new then make sure your child knows that it needs to be protected and properly cared for.  If you buy used, check the slide the first thing when you receive it and make sure it slides smooth and fast (add some slide oil to test properly).  If a used (or a new) trombone is rough or if it slows down in one specific place then it probably needs to be looked at.  Start with your band director and move up from there if needed.  The trombone is a great instrument to learn and one that can pay great dividends for your student in pride and enjoyment.  Consider raising your budget a little to get the best instrument you can afford and then watch as your student takes off on a really cool hobby that could follow him for the rest of his life.  

Purchasing the Best Piano Keyboards with Weighted Keys

A Piano Keyboard

piano with hands playing

For individuals or families hoping to improve on or develop a skill for piano playing, few items are as important as a quality keyboard to use for studying and practice. As the rise of online shopping continues to shape the marketplace, the means for discovering the perfect instrument has never been more accessible to musicians.

With technological advancement allowing players of all levels to achieve a professional sound on even the tightest budget, students of music now have a treasure trove of fine products at their disposal to help kickstart their love of playing or to take their music career to new heights. Here are just a few things to consider when looking for the best keyboard for you or your family. 

Online Collaboration Tools For The Music Classroom

Smiling Child In Classroom

One of the many facets of the new national music education standards emphasizes the importance of providing music creation opportunities in our classrooms.  At the same time making the jump from being a consumer of music to actually creating it can be a scary one even for experienced musicians.  This perceived barrier to becoming a composer continues to be made less of an issue thanks to innovative new technology tools and the equally innovative teachers who are finding new ways to encourage friendly, collaborative music creation environments.  We spoke to music teachers and technology vendors alike to find new ways to get kids composing in new collaborative ways in and out of the classroom.

Music Education Labs In The Cloud


If you are familiar with old music education software titles such as Music Ace or MIBAC then you probably also have fond memories of taking your music classes down to a computer lab and having them boot up the machines, only to then battle with the local network or file storage that seemed to always be losing the student’s submitted work.  As technology has progressed over the years many schools have started to do away with dedicated computer labs entirely in favor of one to one computing.  Music teachers can also benefit from this shift in focus by doing away with these old CD based software tools and instead move traditionally lab based projects and activities into the cloud.

Technology Based Assessment In The Music Classroom

Children Singing

Criswell Headshot300Thank you if you attended my session at the Midwest Clinic!  The handout given at the session has been expanded below to include comments and other links not available in the PDF.  Please read the full article and scroll down to get to all the good stuff!

The tools, apps, and software products listed below are recommended for use in the music education classroom to not only assess student knowledge but also to easily store and aggregate the results of those assessments for use in a planning context by the teacher.  All apps and software on this page either stores the assessment data in a form that can be easily exported as a spreadsheet or it incorporates a dedicated learning management system (online gradebook) for storing assessment data.

Hooktheory and Hookpad Online Music Composing Tools


To a beginner or even most experienced musicians the act of composing original music is a daunting task.  Due to the perceived difficulty associated with composing most individuals avoid it completely or limit themselves to very basic, unsatisfying projects.  Enter Hooktheory.  An easy to use tool that when combined with classroom instruction can make the act of composing music fun and engaging.

Using Quizizz In The Classroom


Everyone seems to have a smartphone or tablet with them at all times these days, even in our classrooms, so online assessment tools like Quizizz take advantage of that ubiquity to assess the understanding of a particular concept in a fun, entertaining way.  If you are already familiar with what a Kahoot is then Quizizz will make you feel right at home, but with much less student stress and generally more accurate assessments.

Adaptive Music Technology For Physically Disabled Students

Classroom Desks

Certain physical disabilities or injuries caused by birth defects or traumatic events can lead people to believe that the door to being an instrumental musician is one that has been permanently closed.  How could a person with only hand possibly play a violin?  How can a person with one arm play the saxophone?   Yet these discouraging situations occasionally carry with them inspirational solutions.  Those solutions lie with three interconnected pieces, first in the man or woman who crafts the instrument that allows that musician to flourish, second in the musician who must find the conviction to succeed, and finally in the teacher with the patience and dedication to help guide the student along his or her musical path.

Using Plickers as an Assessment Tool in the Music Education Classroom


Music, band, choir, and orchestra classrooms can be huge and assessing the knowledge and retention of individual students in such a large class can be daunting.  Plickers are one of several solutions that can be adapted to work in large groups, making the act of assessing a student’s understanding a little easier and a whole lot faster.  

Note:  The articles on this site may contain referral links to sites such as Amazon and other online retailers.  The small amount of income received from these links has helped keep MusicEdMagic.com up and running for over ten years now.  Thank you for your support!  

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