Motivation & Motivators

an article printed by

Tennessee Musician magazine
October 2008


 Tom Hay
Director of Bands
Chester Co. High School & Middle School
Henderson, Tennessee


            An actor creating a role for a play or movie must consider the motivation for their characterís actions. Like actors, teachers will begin a new school year of instruction motivated by a variety of factors.  We are motivated by different things, and all of us have areas in which we can improve. If you have ever been observed by an administrator, you know that he or she usually lists something in which you were deficient. However, something always encourages us to keep going. For many of us, motivation could come from the fact that we are one year closer to retirement. My teenage daughter is my motivation to keep working! The following ideas have been successful motivators for me over the years, and might work for you.

            The obvious motivation for high school band directors is band camp and the new fall show. We canít wait to set the show with the students and see the reaction from the parents. For high school band directors, itís a much awaited event. However, for middle school band directors, the motivational aspects are not as easy. I benefited from attending the Tennessee Arts Academy; there is nothing else like it in the United States. Due to scheduling conflicts, some high school band directors could not attend, but this is perfect for middle school directors. There is much to be absorbed from the national instructors, and a wealth of information is passed from music teacher to music teacher. The camaraderie is great, and you should make plans to attend it in 2009.

           Other resources for teacher motivation include countless books, videos, and of course, the internet. My favorite book about balancing the band is Effective Performance of Band Music by Francis MacBeth. Also, a great video on improvisation is Jazz Anyone Can Improvise by Jimmy Aebersold. For students, Down Beat magazine will send enough magazines for all of your jazz band students if you request them. Also, Drum Corp International will sometimes send a free DVD of the National Championships.   

          A scrapbook is a very important item for a band. If you donít have one for your band, you should start one immediately. No matter how unimportant a performance or event may seem, keeping a record of it is very important. Newspaper articles about your students should be clipped out and put in your scrapbook (no arrest records please). If you have a student who placed 3rd in the FFA Land Judging Contest, cut the article out and put it in your scrapbook. These types of articles go on the bulletin board before I put them permanently in the scrapbook.

            If your band room is equipped with a bulletin board, donít limit it to newspaper articles. Post band cartoons or different items that will catch your studentsí attention. (But donít leave it up there all year! Change it regularly.) Digital cameras can be a great asset.  Designate someone to be the band photographer. At every event or just a simple practice, take pictures and use them for your board and scrapbook. Pictures, old and new, can be a source of motivation. Students will remember and take pride in the hard work captured by the photographs.  This technology can also be useful if you put it on a disk. I like to show these pictures on the DVD player as the students enter the band room. Take it one step further and add music to the disc as it plays.

            These pictures are also utilized at concerts. Each concert, I have a power point of pictures projected on both walls of the auditorium as we perform one of our selections. During the Christmas concert, I use pictures of our contests and football games. During the spring concert, I use pictures of our spring trip. All that is needed to project these power point presentations is a DVD player and two projectors. Most schools provide the projectors. Your audience and students will look forward to seeing these slideshows.

            Technology being what it is today, there are many things that you can do in your very own band room.  My band room is set up to record at anytime. The music recorded is interesting to play back for students. The reaction is always, ďAre we really that bad?!Ē During marching rehearsals, a mini disk player is used with which each set is recorded by count and phrase. We can practice any set at any time. (Sure beats a cassette recorder!)  Homemade DVDs can be both useful and entertaining. Using a DVD camcorder, you can record your practices. Also, DVDs with all your contest shows are popular and can be given away or sold at concerts. During recruitment, they can be shown to elementary and middle school students. These useful pieces of technology are not all that expensive, and I would be glad to discuss this with anyone through e-mail.

             Some of you have done this, but I strongly recommend creating your own web page. It does not have to be a brag page about the 100 contests you have won. It can simply list a practice schedule, band booster meetings, concert dates, and other relevant details.

            During the summer, the Division II Drum and Bugle Corps perform in many places in Tennessee. This sounds like a high school band activity, but there are other lessons to be learned by watching these groups perform. Many of the groups are small, and this would show your students that excellent performing groups come in all sizes. Every time we return from one of these performances, my students seem much more aware of the discipline and hard work that is required. These performances should be motivating for a small group with discipline problems.

            Writing out annual goals is a practice I firmly believe in. Have your high school students do this on a piece of paper or a 3x5 index card. I would suggest no more than 10 goals. Then, put the paper/card in a sealed envelope and keep them until the following year. My own band does this in the spring, including the incoming freshmen. Most of our graduating seniors do this as well and take the envelope with them. If I were to do this activity with middle school or Jr. High students, I would have them do it during early fall and have them open the letters at the end of the school year. You should not take goal setting lightly for your students or yourself. I explain to my own students that these goals do not just have to be about band; it can relate to family, school, behavior, church, or anything of significance. For each goal, you should create a plan of action to achieve it. Each goal should be attainable and something that takes hard work. Do not list things that are completely absurd. Take time to explain all of this to your students.

            Most students are motivated by any chance to perform. Our band loves to play for the student body, and I donít mean concerts. Ask your administrator for permission to perform before assemblies or anything that the student body attends. Black History programs are a great place to perform. Our jazz band presented four performances for Black History this past year, and I include a short talk about the development and significance of  jazz in Black History.

There are many opportunities to play or sing in the community at nursing homes, Lionsí Club, Rotary Club, Exchange Clubóanything that might be community service. Chester County requires all groups that have a fund-raising project do a community service project.

The holiday season is a great time to perform for groups. Break your large ensembles into smaller groups and go caroling or play. We perform free concerts for all elementary schools in Chester County. This is a perfect reason to create a jazz band, Jr. High and Middle school directors. Donít worry about instrumentation; there is literature out there now for any kind of instrumentation. You can use flutes, oboes, clarinets, French horns, baritones, or any other instrument you have. I  guarantee  that this will improve the reading ability of your entire group. Plus, itís a lot better than marching in a Christmas parade when itís 20į.

Any performance you can plan for your band in the spring  would  be great. Arrangement of a spring trip would be perfect. If this is not possible, any spring activity you can plan just for fun would boost your bandís morale. Planning trips and activities is also a great recruiting tool. If you have something to shoot for, it will definitely help any fund-raising activities. There are lots of activities you can do which are inexpensive. Plan a picnic at a park. Invite another band or group. Have a volley ball match, or play kickball or horse shoes. Back in the old days, Joe Sills and I arranged for some friendly competition between our bands. My band is undefeated in softball.

Have you ever written a band cheer? All sections can participate (not just the drummers). This is not hard, especially if you are playing at football games or basketball games. It doesnít matter if it is in unison. Gather a few of your leaders and see what they can do. You might have to give them a few guidelines if words are included. Chorus teachers, have your students write a warm up. My own daughter enjoyed this in her high school chorus.

Your local radio, newspaper, and TV media can be very important to your programs. If you  simply contact them anytime you have a performance of interest, even if it does not get covered, they will appreciate your contacting them. Even in a larger market, you never know what will interest the news reporters. Our local newspaper is great about supporting our band (The Chester County Independent). The Jackson Sun is also very supportive of our programs. This year, our local TV station, WBBJ, contacted us to get a story on Band Camp and the heat. Talk Radio 101.5 sponsors a family oriented Mardi Gras parade. The Chester County Band performs in it every year. (Weíre the only band who takes part in it.) Itís a strolling parade, and we get a lot of media attention. We throw beads to the crowd and just have fun. Every activity does not have to be competitive. Loosen up! The media can get you plenty of support from your community. Your studentsí parents appreciate hearing, watching, and reading about their children.

One final idea that has worked well for me in our band, school, and community is T-shirts. I have shirts that have a hand print on the back and say, ďA Pat on the Back from Coach HayĒ (thatís me). When a student does something extraordinary in any way, I give them a t-shirt. I also give them to other teachers, administrators, and dignitaries in town.

If I could give every young teacher advice, it would this: Donít be afraid to use your imagination, donít be afraid to experiment, whether it be with the music, drill design, seating arrangements, or rearranging your room. Everyone will not like what you do, and I know this is hard to believe. Just ask a mature teacher.

An old teacher of mine once told me to save all my thank you notes and positive letters. Sometimes, when youíre playing or singing the blues, reach in that drawer, pull out those notes, and read them again. This was great advice that I have followed throughout the years. I even have a letter from a band parent thanking me for bailing her out of jail! These letters are a great source of inspiration and help chase the blues away.

Motivating your students will keep you motivated. If you try innovative ideas that motivate your students, it will help you keep a fresh outlook and not get burned out. Sometimes you will try things that just donít work, but if you keep trying, you will find the things that best suit you. List your strengths and weaknesses, and play toward your strengths. Get out of the same old doldrums and bring new life to your program. March to the beat of different drummer (yes, I know some of you are drummers.)

My e-mail and office phone number are listed if you would like to contact me. Have a great year!


            Tom Hay is in his seventeenth year as Director of Bands for the Chester County School System in Henderson, Tennessee.  He was the first instrumental music graduate from The University of Tennessee at Martin and attended graduate school at Louisiana Tech University.  He is a member of the Music Educators National Conference, West Tennessee School Band and Orchestra Association, Tennessee Bandmasters Association, and Phi Beta Mu.  He has served as President of the WTSBOA , as well as the West Tennessee Jazz Band representative for All-State.  Tom was named Teacher of the Year for the Chester County School System, received an Outstanding Teacher Award from the Governorís School for the Arts, and was selected for the Honor Roll of Tennessee Artists by the Tennessee Arts Academy.  He has been featured in Whoís Who Among Americaís Teachers, Marquis Whoís Who in America, and International Whoís Who.  Tom and his wife Lisa both serve as Choir Directors for Lambuth Memorial United Methodist Church in Jackson, Tennessee, where Tom also teaches an adult Sunday school class.  Tomís articles have been published in the Tennessee Musician, The Phi Beta Mu Journal, and other regional and national publications.  Tom has been an adjudicator and clinician throughout the Southeast and Midwest.