Reading Comprehension

I suspect that almost every music teacher would tell you that they spend the majority of their time in lessons working on things that are already clearly written in the score.  “Why didn’t you play that crescendo?”  “There are accents above these notes.” “No, that’s an F-sharp, not F-natural.”  “This phrase should be ‘piano,’ right?”  Why don’t students just follow the directions on the page?  Sometimes they look so incredibly shocked to see a dynamic marking or articulation, it’s as if it magically appeared on the page when they walked into the lesson.  That couldn’t have been there before, could it?

Lately, this has been a focus of my teaching.  I want my students to be self-sufficient, and I think that this idea is a huge part of it.  First of all, eventually they’re not going to HAVE a teacher, they’re going to BE the teacher.  That means that there won’t be anyone to stand over their shoulder and point out the things that they are missing.  They need to hold themselves (and their own students) accountable when they’re at that point.  The other reason is that the more prepared a student is, and the more of these details that they’ve already incorporated into their performance, the faster we can move on to talking about the more in-depth, advanced levels of playing.  Artists aren’t just worried about notes and rhythms.  We need to get past that point, too.

What I’ve been encouraging my students to do is to make sure that they are familiar with every single word and marking on the page of music that they’re working on.  After all, when the composer started, the page was completely blank.  Everything that’s on there was put there for a reason.  That reason is simple, it’s to help the performer realize the piece in the way that the composer intended.  They’re trying to help you!  About the only thing that the performer can’t gain something from is the publishing information.  But, pretty much everything else can tell us something useful.  For example, here’s a page out of the Goldenberg keyboard book that I was working on with a few students recently.

goldenberg

Putting aside the actual music, let’s see what information we can get from text on the page, starting from the top…

“Melodies in 6/8 Rhythm” – I see two useful things in this title.  First, the world “melodies.”  That automatically implies that these short etudes are not meant to simply be technique builders.  This isn’t an exercise in accuracy.  There are lots of things that make something melodic: appropriate articulation, subtle phrasing/inflection, having a clear sense of direction that ends with some type of cadence, etc.  All of these should be present as we work on this page.  The second useful idea in the title is “6/8 Rhythm.”  Obviously with six eighth notes in each bar, Mr. Goldenberg could have written in either 3/4 or 6/8, but he chose the latter for a reason.  6/8 is a compound meter, meaning two groups of three beats.  It has an inherent light, dancing quality to it.  The emphasis/pulse should be on the bigger two-feel, not spread equally among all six eighth notes in each bar.  So, from just the first line of text, we can see that there is a lot of information to be had.  Without even looking at the music we now know that these should be light, dancing melodies with clearly defined phrases emphasized through articulation and dynamic shading.  Now onto the next line of text…

“With lower neighbor” – So, from our music theory training (yes, that stuff does come in handy sometimes) we know that a lower neighbor tone is a half step below a given pitch.  It serves as a sort of leading tone.  This is going to help us in two ways…  First, from purely technical perspective, it can help us as we sight-read this page, knowing that many of the notes on strong beats (the first and fourth eighth notes in the bar) will be directly preceded by a note that is a half-step below can give us confidence and allow us to anticipate what is coming when reading.  If you see an E on the downbeat, there’s a good chance there’s a D# pickup.  The other way that this line of text can be helpful is in knowing the function of a half-step.  Half-steps usually mean a cadence or some other form of resolution.  Once again, if you skim over the page, you’ll notice that the lower neighbor tones tend to precede strong beats.  That’s for a reason.  This type of tension and resolution helps to reinforce the compound, 6/8 meter that we were discussing above.

At this point we haven’t even looked at the first measure of music on the page, but we already have a clear idea about what these four melodies should sound like.  Obviously, we also want to incorporate the markings that are attached to the staff, as well, such as the dynamic markings and ritard in the third and fourth etudes.

Doing this type of work with students has led to another important discussion.  It is incredibly important for students to build their musical vocabulary.  Some terms we know better than others (allegro, crescendo, ritardando, etc.), but there are plenty of things that we are still unfamiliar with.  Obviously, knowing what all of the instructions on the music mean can be helpful, as we saw above with the Goldenberg example, but first we need to know the definition of all the words on the page.  Here’s an example out of Cirone’s Portraits in Rhythm:

cirone

I love doing this etude with students because it forces them to know the terminology, as he goes through a number of different styles.  In case you’re not sure about what each marking means, I’ll help you out…

Maestoso – stately, dignified, majestic

Allegro con brio – fast, with spirit

Waltz – fast triple meter, with one beat per measure

Largo e molto pesante – slow and solemn, very heavy

Vivo – lively, animated, brisk

If you’ve read the paragraph above the etude, and you’re familiar with the performance instructions throughout the page, you’ll be well on your way to a successful and insightful performance.  If not, you won’t have any idea how the piece should sound.  It’s really that simple.

Does that mean we all need to start memorizing lists of musical terms?  No.  Well, that would be helpful, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  I tell my students to learn musical terms the same way that they buy mallets.  Memorizing hundreds of terms is like going on Steve Weiss and buying every single stick and mallet that they have, hoping some day you’ll need it.  The more logical, and cost-effective, method is to buy mallets as you need them.  You got a part in wind ensemble that needs swizzle sticks?  Buy them.  Your percussion ensemble music requires you to use brass glock mallets?  Get a pair.  You build your collection over time, and with things you’ll actually use.  The next time you need swizzle sticks or brass mallets, you’ll have them, and you won’t have had to spend $10,000 equipping yourself with every mallet made.  Do the same with musical terms.  When you get a new piece, scan through it and look for terms that you are unfamiliar with.  If you find something you don’t know, take 30 seconds to look it up online.  Almost everyone has a smartphone, so put it to use.  Then you’ll forever know what “meno mosso” or “cantabile” means.

I hope that some of these ideas help you and your students.   And to the experienced players/teachers, we’re not off the hook either.  I have to constantly remind myself to do the same things that I tell my students to do.  If we make an effort to make use of all the information we’re given, we’ll be that much closer to giving the great performances that we all strive for!

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The talk.

One of the things that I feel most fortunate about is the candor with which my teachers over the years have discussed the prospects for a career in music.  Unfortunately, not all aspiring musicians have been given a realistic view of what the music world looks like after graduation.  I have been thinking about writing this post for a while now, and this week I saw a friend post a great article on Facebook that convinced me now was the time to do it.  With that said, here’s what I wish every music teacher would tell their students:

Being a musician is hard.  Not just a little hard…  Extremely hard.  I know people for whom the desire to be a professional musician has meant sacrificing relationships with family and friends, taking on huge, crippling amounts of debt, and going through extended periods of deep depression.  Quite frankly, for some people it’s not pretty.  That’s not to say that nobody achieves their goals.  Many musicians do find themselves in rewarding positions playing or teaching or whatever else their passion may be.  But it’s not always a journey that takes a straight-line path from start to finish, or even ends at the intended destination.  And, this is the case for almost every musical career.  Public school teaching, symphony orchestra, university teaching, record industry, freelance performing, and many more musical job markets are oversaturated with qualified candidates.  Look at the number of open jobs compared to the people graduating from college with music degrees each year.  The math doesn’t even come close to adding up.  Sometimes it seems like a miracle that anyone makes a living in music.

So why the gloom and doom?  Well, as musicians we’re taught to think in ideals.  We spend countless hours, days, weeks, and years working on ways to help our audiences escape their daily lives and explore special and unique musical places.  Our training is all about developing and refining our art form, and it should be.  But, by not talking about how difficult a life in music can be, are we setting students up for a rude awakening when they face an ultra-competitive job market after graduation?

I’m not here to offer practical suggestions to make yourself a more viable candidate for whatever job you may be pursuing.  We’ve all heard and read enough of the “do every summer festival, build your resume, take every audition you can, play for free if you have to, etc.” stuff.  And don’t get me wrong, that’s important.  But, what happens when you do all the right things, and nothing goes your way?  What if you have degrees from great schools, studied with amazing teachers, have highly-respected recommenders, played with orchestras, took freelance gigs playing musicals, church, and jazz gigs, have maintained a steady stream of private lesson students (both through established schools/programs, as well as privately), commissioned new pieces, made a great website, recorded a professional quality CD, and have a resume filled with page after page of additional accomplishments, but nothing is going your way?  Then what?

To be perfectly honest, I’m not completely sure.  But, here’s a link to that post I was talking about earlier.  It’s actually about being a ballet dancer, but it’s absolutely applicable to music.  In this case, I think that #10 on the list is where we have to look for some answers.  The musical world is a crazy place.  Nothing is ever certain.  Sometimes the people that do it all right have the most trouble, while others seem to have opportunity after opportunity fall right into their laps.  That’s just how it is.  There will be ups and downs.  Through my ten years in higher education, I’ve had at least two points where I seriously considered changing my major or giving up music altogether (once during my undergrad, and again in the summer between finishing my Masters and starting DMA).  That’s not even counting all of the smaller periods of uncertainty and anxiety along the way about how my career would play out, or if there would be a job waiting for me at the end of my time as a student.

Whenever I’d think about doing something besides music, it never seemed right.  I just can’t imagine not being a musician.  But the times when I feel the most content are when my musical life is in balance with my personal life.  That’s what #10 is all about.  You have to find satisfaction and happiness in ways that are not dependent on meeting your career goals. Even though it may not seem like it, there’s more to life than your job.  That’s hard for musicians to understand because very few careers require the melding of your personality and profession that music does.  When you perform, you’re putting yourself and your ideas on display.  If you’re an accountant who makes a mistake, it’s a miscalculation.  If you’re a businessman that doesn’t land an account, you can still go home and sleep at night.  But, if you’re a musician who pours all of your energy and passion into your performance and it doesn’t go well, that’s on you.  Each performance seems like, for better or worse, a direct reflection of your talent, preparation, and potential.  There’s nobody to shoulder the blame with you if it goes wrong.  And something always goes wrong.  That’s hard.

All of this isn’t to discourage you from being a musician.  Most of us are here because we feel like we have to be.  This is what we were meant to do.  That said, it’s not always a pretty process, and sometimes that catches idealistic students off-guard.  If nobody ever told them it would be a struggle, how would they have been able to prepare for it?  So here it is, for those of you who haven’t heard it yet:

There will be ups and downs.  There will be significant challenges, and, hopefully, rewards that make it all worthwhile.  But, we have to acknowledge the music world for what it is so that there are no surprises.  Music can be one of the most incredible experiences in our lives, but it can also be cold and cruel.  We aren’t guaranteed anything, or entitled to anything because of the degrees or experiences that we have.  All that we can do is keep our heads down and our noses to the grindstone.  Most importantly, your career goals cannot dictate your self-worth.  If the time comes that your professional goals are keeping you from emotional stability and personal happiness, then you have to work to rebalance your life.  I hope that none of you experience that, and if you do, I hope that you can recover from it and continue to pursue your musical ambitions later on.  A career in music is hard, but it’s worth it.

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Say “Cheese!”

It’s early in the spring semester, which means one thing to those of you who are studying percussion… Auditions and recitals.  As you’re preparing for your upcoming events, I’d like to offer some suggestions for self-evaluation and improvement.  A while ago I wrote this blog post.  In the same way that your technical and musical development is largely up to you, rather than your teacher, your preparation for a performance is also dependent upon your ability to self-diagnose and correct.  For many of us, the best way to do that diagnosis, not counting your teacher, is through the use of recordings.  It seems simple enough.  Get a recorder, play, record, listen back, and make everything better.  Done.

Well, not really…  In order to get the most out of your recording you have to know how you’re going to use it.  There are already plenty of articles and blogs about the steps to go through when listening to your own recordings, and I’d encourage you to search for them to find the method that best suits you.  However, what I want to focus on in this post is a less common way to use recordings, specifically your video recordings.

A student recently asked if it was better to do audio or video recordings.  I’m sure most would say video, given its ability to show technical issues, stage presence, etc.  However, sometimes we tend to “listen with our eyes,” and that can give us a false sense of what’s happening from an aural perspective.  I think it’s important to acknowledge the benefits and disadvantages of teach method of recording, and to use them in tandem to maximize their effectiveness.  With that in mind, here’s the process that I encourage my students to go through when recording themselves.

 

1) Record yourself. – Pretty straightforward.  You learned a piece, and now it’s time to play it.  Make sure the camera is on.

2) Wait at least 24 hours. – You want to forget the details of your performance and approach it with fresh ears and eyes.  Even better is enlisting a trusted colleague or teacher to watch it with you.

3) Watch the video with the volume turned off. – Get some paper and take note of your general demeanor throughout the performance.  If you had to guess what the character of the music was, based only on your physical motions and mallet movement, what would you say?  Angry?  Happy?  Resolute?  Another important aspect of this step… Are you doing anything that is visually distracting?  Write that down too.

4) Listen to the audio without video. – Music is an aural tradition. There is something to be said for JUST listening.  Do it in a quiet place, free from distractions.  Listen to the nuances of your playing.  Phrasing, dynamics, touch, articulation, etc.  Does it sound how you intend it to?  If not, what can you improve?

5) Watch the video with the volume on. – Time to see how the audio and visual elements come together.  Do the comments that you made about the two individual elements lead you to any conclusions?  If you thought you looked angry in a section of music, but the sounds you heard were lush and tranquil, what can you do to make them consistent with one another?

 

I feel like this method keeps the performer honest.  We evaluate each part of our performance individually (physical gestures vs. sound), as well as in tandem.  Recording technology has never been more accessible to young artists than it is now.  It is a wonderful blessing.  However, we have to know how to use it, just like any other tool.  An electric drill is an invaluable piece of equipment for a contractor, but a job can still only be done right if the person using it understands what it can do and how to operate it.  Use your recording tools to help build a strong musical performance!

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Where did I go?

Hey everyone,

Well, it seems that it’s been a while since I updated my blog. It hasn’t been for a lack of inspiration or thoughts, though! Things have been incredibly busy since my last post. I spent three amazing weeks in North Adams, MA at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA. There are so many things that I could, and probably should, write about from that experience, but life hasn’t slowed down enough since then to allow me to get any of them down in this blog. Other big developments include my acceptance of a teaching position at Texas A&M University – Kingsville, where I’m teaching a number of the percussion majors. I also started my last year here at UT-Austin, and rather than gently coasting across the finish line, it has turned into a sprint… with my hair on fire… being chased by an angry bear. Our percussion ensemble was fortunate enough to win the PAS call for tapes, which means we’ll be performing a showcase concert at PASIC here in Austin in two weeks. Great news, but lots of work! I also recently premiered a new work for vibraphone and electronics by my good friend Ethan Greene, and I’m in the middle of putting together a premiere of a new piece by Bruce Pennycook for voice, percussion, and electronics. Of course, I’m also maintaining a healthy gigging schedule, private teaching studio, and fulfilling my duties as percussion studio TA at UT. Oh… I also have comprehensive exams in a couple weeks. So, there’s that.

Anyway… I have so many thoughts to share that have come from so many great experiences lately, but just haven’t had the time to sit down and write them out. I promise that as soon as I get a chance, I’ll start writing again. Although, at this rate, that might not come until Christmas break… Hopefully not, though!

Hopefully all of my dedicated followers are having an equally enriching semester!

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Look Good on Paper: Amendment 1 – Statistics

I thought this series was over, but apparently it’s not…  Since writing my post on resumes and CVs, I’ve actually gone back through my own CV looking for improvements.  While minor tweaks are to be expected, and even though I appreciate my blog followers, I don’t think it’s especially crucial to make sure you all have the latest draft of my CV, my recent edits included some helpful commentary that I wanted to share.  I’m calling it “Amendment 1 – Statistics” so that it has a cool-sounding title.  Also, I think this is pertinent given the recent sharing of my post on DrumChattr (thanks again for all the free publicity, guys!).  Speaking of DrumChattr, I have to give due credit to my good friend Shane Griffin, who gave me the following advice when I asked him to review my CV a few days ago.  Thanks buddy!  Onto the post…

For those of you who don’t know, Shane recently transitioned from being a music graduate student to working full time in the business world.  As such, he has a slightly different perspective than most when it comes to resumes etc.  After looking over my CV, his main suggestion was to include more quantifiable measurements.  What exactly does that mean, you ask?  Well, because musicians live in a world where few things are objective, we have to find ways to measure ourselves in order to determine our success or failure.  How does this apply to your resume?  Well, Shane suggested finding subtle ways to include some statistics or achievements that would help set my CV apart from others (which, as you may remember from reading my series of posts, is one of our major goals).

As I began thinking about this, I realized, other career fields do it too.  The most obvious example that I could think of was the NFL Draft Combine.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, I’ll explain…  Over the course of one week, every college player who is attempting to be drafted into the NFL converges on one city for a series of tests, both physical and mental, as well as other meetings with prospective teams etc.  Why this is important is because there is no impartial, universal comparison of all the prospects.  The best way to find out who the fastest running back prospect is is to get them on the same field, with the same timing system, and let them run on the same day, in the same conditions (thank you, scientific method).  It’s much more efficient and conclusive than having 50 players submit their own times from testing at their universities.  The combine tests strength, speed, and other physical attributes that are deemed to be indicators of potential football skill.  There are still subjective evaluations that need to be done before a prospect is chosen (such as reviewing game tape to see how they perform in a competitive situation), but at least the NFL teams have a way to objectively measure the prospects against one another.  We don’t have anything like that for music.  So, how is a potential employer supposed to evaluate you without any data?  They can, but it’s hard, so let’s give them some data.

Now, I’m not talking about going overboard here.  As you may remember from my first resume post, avoid giving too much information.  You don’t need to submit transcripts of every student you’ve ever taught, showing how high their combined average GPA is.  If you’re a teacher, especially at the college level, you know that administrators love tracking statistics like retention rate, size of your studio (indicative of your recruiting), graduation rate, etc.  So, say you’ve got a college teaching position on your resume…  You’ll probably list the normal bullet points underneath of it, such as: taught applied lessons, conducted percussion ensemble, oversaw recital preparation, etc.  But consider adding some of those valuable statistics, especially if they make you look good.  For example, you could say “Increased studio size from 6 to 15 percussion majors over 3 year period.”  Better yet, show that your students are achieving things after graduation, such as “100% of Percussion Music Education majors offered teaching positions immediately following graduation” or “90% of Percussion students who go onto graduate school are awarded full-tuition scholarships or assistantship positions.”  Basically, find the statistics to back up your work.  Anyone can say “I ran a great percussion program,” but what does that mean?  If you’ve got numbers to prove it, that’s going to set you apart.

Now, not everyone has a studio teaching position to be able to get statistics from, so where else can you find measurable statistics to help your cause?  Well, if you’ve taught a high school marching band, consider adding a couple bullet points underneath of it.  You could say “North Dakota 3A State Marching Band Champions (2009-2011),” for example. If you want to highlight your group’s achievements without listing every competition you attended (which I don’t recommend doing), say something like “Awarded ‘Outstanding Percussion’ award at 12 competitions over 3 year period.”  You can do the same for private lessons instructions, referencing things like number of students selected to All-Region or All-State ensembles, or your student’s successes at auditions for university percussion programs.  If you’re looking for things about yourself to point out, as opposed to your student’s/ensemble’s successes, consider things like concerto competitions, competitive scholarships, auditions, or music festival positions that you’ve won, etc.  The key is to find subtle ways to incorporate quantitative data to support your achievements.  Obviously, you don’t need to do this for ever item on your resume, but a few strategically-placed items can really help set you apart from the rest of the applicants.

Hope this helps all of you, and thanks again to Shane!

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Look Good on Paper: Digital Correspondence

The last installment of the “Look Good on Paper” series is going to be a short one.  I mentioned this in a previous post, but digital correspondence has become a huge part of our society.  I’m talking about email, social media, text messages, etc. here. I’m going to divide this post into two categories, which I think will help organize my thoughts about corresponding in the digital age.

Part 1: Intentional Correspondence

What do I mean by intentional correspondence?  Well, exactly what I said, correspondence with people that you are choosing to engage in.  For example, you want to email the percussion teacher at one of the programs you are considering for graduate school.  You are making the conscious decision to compose a message.  The same is the case when you follow-up after submitting your materials for a job application.  The reason this is an important distinction is because you should have flipped that invisible switch in your head that makes you write in a more formal, professional manner.  Which leads me to the point…

When you’re corresponding with someone via email, or any other medium, keep in mind that even though this isn’t part of your “official” application, it can have a huge impact on how you are perceived.  Many of us are used to sending quick, informal emails to our friends, family, and colleagues that we already have a rapport with.  While that can be an effective way to communicate with those people, it usually results in messages that aren’t suitable for addressing a potential employer or teacher.  I’m not going to break down proper grammar, how to compose a letter, how to formally address an individual, etc, but I will say, keep in mind how your message may be perceived.  When in doubt, err on the side of too formal.  For example, address someone as Dr., Mr., or Mrs., even if you know their colleagues call them by their first name.  I think it goes without saying, but leave out the expletives, inappropriate humor, etc. as well.  Also, don’t forget about your actual email address or Twitter name…  An email address like “satanicdeathmetal666@whatever.com,” or a Twitter name like “Ikillinnocentpuppies,” may not convey the professional nature of your messages.  Consider something like your name.  Just a suggestion…

Part 2: Unintentional Correspondence

This section doesn’t necessarily refer to an errant text message, or an email that’s accidentally copied to an unintended recipient, but I suppose they would fit in here as well.  As Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites have taken over our lives, the lines between personal and professional life have become blurred, or even completely demolished.  What does this have to do with how you present yourself on paper in your professional endeavors?  Well, frankly, everything that you post on your page becomes subject to review.  Public school teachers have lost their jobs because of pictures or comments made on social media.  I’m all for Freedom of Speech, but is any Tweet or message board post really worth not getting a job?  Your friends might find your posts to be hilarious, or at least not offensive, but a potential employer may feel differently.  I can’t tell you what to post or not post on your Facebook of Twitter, but you may want to pause for a moment before going on your profanity-laden political rant.

You may also want to consider what you’re willing to put into writing.  Many states have laws that require all emails related to public organizations (like, say…  your university email address) to be catalogued.  That means that there is a possibility of your “private” emails becoming very public.  If you’re about to compose an email to your friend that rips your teacher, colleague, or anyone else, think about whether you’d like that message preserved for eternity.  Let alone the possibility of accidentally copying your target on such an email…  A good rule to follow is this: If my message got read by my teacher/boss/spouse/mother/etc,, would I have anything to be ashamed of?  Some conversations are better had over drinks, or not at all.  Be smart about what you write.

Over the course of this series we’ve talked about almost every type of document or correspondence that you will encounter.  Hopefully I’ve been able to offer some suggestions that will help as you apply for opportunities that present themselves.  Happy writing and editing!

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Look Good on Paper: Cover Letters

At this point we’ve talked about two important types of documents (CV/resume and bio) that you will have to prepare for your musical career.  The next document that I want to talk about is used specifically in applications for jobs or other competitive opportunities.  Cover letters (sometimes also called “personal statements”) are used to introduce yourself to a potential employer or selection committee.  They clearly state what you are applying for, as well as why you believe you would be an excellent candidate.  However, a cover letter is not simply a written-out resume.  It is simply a chance for you to introduce yourself and encourage someone to take a closer look at your actual resume.

A cover letter is one type of document that needs to follow a fairly specific format.  A quick internet search will show you plenty of templates so that you can accurately craft your letter.  Aside from the details relating to format, a cover letter is usually divided into four paragraphs.  I’ll provide a quick summary of each paragraph below.

Paragraph 1: Introduce yourself (name, title, degrees earned, etc) and state the position that you are pursuing, how you found out about it, as well as why you are interested in the position.  If you were referred by someone, or you have a particular connection to the organization worth noting, you can do so here.

Paragraph 2: Talk about skills that are suited to the position for which you are applying.  If you have previous experiences that align with the position, mention how that will be beneficial.  Mention things from your resume that you want to draw special attention to, or you feel set you apart from other candidates.

Paragraph 3: Show that you have genuine interest by mentioning research you have done about the position.  Demonstrate a familiarity with the organization or where it is located by referencing specific things that may relate to the position (“Seattle has a vibrant artistic culture, and your school is always mentioned in conjunction with it” or “I saw your percussion ensemble’s fantastic performance at PASIC last year and was so impressed!”).  Don’t go overboard, but make it obvious that this isn’t simply a form letter that you use for all of your applications.

Paragraph 4: Make it clear that you would be open to an interview to discuss the position.  Mention anything on your resume that needs to be clarified, and finish by thanking them for their time and consideration.

Aside from following the format listed above and adhering to the proper way to address/format your letter, a cover letter should be fairly simple.  Be sure to avoid the same type of things that were discussed in the previous posts…  Be confident without being arrogant.  Keep your letter on topic, focused, and short (no more than one page).  Make sure that your letter is formal and respectful.  Because of the function of a cover letter, there are a few specific things to watch out for when writing yours…

Do not talk about what the organization will do for you.  Despite the benefits that this position may afford you, you are being hired to provide a service for them, not vice versa.  Avoid meaningless compliments/statements like “you have a great reputation,” “you’re at the forefront of your field/industry,” or “I see many opportunities for growth.”  Be specific and leave out the fluff.  Don’t sell yourself short.  If you have an obvious strength/advantage, make sure to mention it (again, without being cocky).  Don’t assume that they’ll find it on your resume and conclude you’re the best candidate.  Avoid being “cute” or using humor/sarcasm to make a point.  Have a mature tone and avoid any awkward moments as a result of misinterpreting the tone of a sentence.  Lastly, be specific.  Don’t just say “I have a great deal of teaching experience.”  Instead, say “My current position as Percussion Instructor at the University of Hawaii, combined with three previous university teaching appointments, have given me the necessary skills to be successful in this position.”

Almost all of us will, at some point, have to write a cover letter for a job, music festival, graduate school, or some other type of application.  Following the format and knowing how to present yourself can make a significant difference in how much consideration your materials are given.  Even if your resume and references are great, if your cover letter isn’t compelling, the committee will never give you the time that you deserve.

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