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The West Music Blog
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How to Hold Your Brass Instrument
By Tianna Streeter
6/21/2017 1:19:00 PM  

Tips and Reminders Before You Start

The road to success as a musician begins with learning how to hold your instrument properly. Always remember that the goal is to support your brass (also called brasswind) instrument, not to strangle it. Keep your hands and arms relaxed. Many music teachers speak of “cradling” the instrument, which is a great word because holding an instrument is not unlike holding a baby. 
For specific finger placement, read our beginners how-to guide below and click on any image to see a larger view.

How to Hold Specific Brass Instruments

holding a trumpet
Trumpet & Cornet

It is particularly important to remember to cradle the trumpet since it is small and would be easy to grab too strongly. Place the large pad of your left thumb against the back of the first valve (the one closest to the mouthpiece). Now wrap your hand around so that your index and middle fingers are cradling the far side of the third valve. Your fourth (ring) finger should be placed, appropriately enough, into the ring beyond the third valve. Your left pinky will then rest nearby, wherever it is comfortable. Now place the tip of your right thumb between the first and second valves and slide it up until it is touching the lead pipe. Rest the pads of your index, middle, and ring fingers on top of the valves, with your index finger closest to the mouthpiece. Finally, rest your right pinky on top of the pinky hook, rather than hooking your finger inside it. Hold the trumpet with the valves vertical to avoid wrist strain.

holding a tromboneTrombone

Begin by holding the trombone vertically, with the bell pointing downwards. Wrap your left thumb securely but gently over and around the horizontal bar just above the bell. The middle, ring (fourth), and pinky fingers of your left hand should wrap around underneath the bar just below the mouthpiece. The pad of your index finger should rest against the lead pipe, next to the mouthpiece. Now tilt the trombone upward until it is horizontal, with the mouthpiece near your lips. You should find that the weight of the instrument rests primarily on your left palm, especially on the large muscles just below the base of your thumb. Now gently grasp the slide with your right thumb, index, and middle fingers. Curl your right ring and pinky fingers in toward your palm, that way they will be out of the way when you move the slide.

hold a baritone
Euphonium, Baritone & Tuba

The same techniques are used to hold all three of these large brass instruments. Your left arm should wrap around the instrument as if you’re giving it a gentle hug. Your hand can wrap around any pipe(s), as long as you feel comfortable supporting most of the instrument’s weight with your left hand and arm. Now bring the mouthpiece close to your face so that you can start the proper placement of your right hand. You will see that your instrument either has a thumb hook to the left of the valves or a pipe crossing behind the valves. Hook your relaxed right thumb under either the hook or the pipe, whichever you have. Now place the pad of your index finger on the first valve (closest to the mouthpiece) and your middle and ring fingers on the other two valves. Your pinky will simply float nearby.

how to hold a french horn
French Horn

The French horn is known as the “backward” brass instrument, because it is the one instrument in the family that is traditionally supported by the right hand, while the left hand operates the valves. Begin by resting the horn on your lap with the mouthpiece on your left, pointing straight upward. Place your left pinky under the hook below the valves. The pads of your left index, middle, and ring fingers should rest on the valve levers, with your index finger closest to the mouthpiece. If you have a single-wrap horn, you will place your thumb inside the ring above the valves. Double-wrap horns have a thumb trigger, and you will rest your thumb there. The other odd thing about the French horn is that your right hand goes inside the bell. Don’t stuff your hand in there—its purpose is to hold up the horn, not block the airflow. You should feel like the hand is on the verge of “falling out” of the bell. The knuckles at the base of your thumb and index finger, along with the next knuckle up on your index finger, will bear most of the instrument’s weight as you bring it to your mouth and prepare to play.

Proper Holding Technique Matters!

Remember, using good technique when holding your instrument will make it more fun to play, and will also protect you from injuries. Make sure you’re well supplied with brass accessories so you can give your instrument the loving care it deserves!

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Tags: brass, brasswind, band, beginner, how-to
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Choosing Rosin for Your String Instrument
By West Music Company
6/8/2017 7:07:00 AM  

Rosin plays a significant role in orchestra playing, but it has been given little attention compared to the bow and the instrument. Many players choose to purchase better quality rosin that suits their instrument. Below is valuable information about rosin and tips on how to choose the best for your instrument.

Student rosins are often less expensive and produce more powder when used, and is often preferred by for fiddlers, too. Most classical players prefer professional grade rosins, as they usually produce a smoother and more controlled tone.

The color of the rosin, light or dark, and is occasionally known as summer (light) or winter (dark). For violin or viola, light colored rosins are preferred, as they tend to be harder, denser, and less sticky than their darker counterpart. Dark rosins, being much softer, are used to activate thicker strings — especially bass, and are used more in cool, dry climates, as they will tend to stick in hot and humid conditions.

Prefer a paper copy of this information? Download and print this handy PDF version of the article and keep it with you in your instrument case for reference!

Jade rosinJADE ROSIN

Jade rosin is a famous synthetic rosin made in France. It comes wrapped in a cloth inside of a hard plastic container. The rosin provides a great grip, and hardly produces any dust which is great for players with airborne sensitivities or allergies.

dark and light rosinHILL DARK AND LIGHT ROSIN

Used for violin, viola, and cello, the amber (light) is slightly harder and has moderate powder. The dark (green) is slightly softer and grips better than the amber.


All natural ingredients are combined in a very special process make D’Addario Natural Rosin. This rosin is perfect for either horsehair or synthetic hair bows. The streamline packaging fits nicely in cases and the unique plastic channel provides an easy grip for students. Designed and manufactured in the USA.

magic rosinMAGIC ROSIN

Used by top soloists, professionals, teachers and students, Magic Rosin™ is a premium rosin for violin, viola, cello, and bass. Invented by a professional cellist and teacher, Magic Rosin™ provides excellent resistance and allowance for a clear, complex tone. Formulated from only pine resins and no other ingredients, its appearance is almost clear, presenting a whole new generation of visually appealing rosin.


For advanced and professional players, this hypo-allergenic rosin is made from a synthetic hydrocarbon resin compound that substantially improves the properties of rosin producing a clear string response.


Hidersine is a premium rosin formulated for cello players and made in the UK. This rosin is intended for advanced bowing techniques. Rosin comes in light or dark and can be ordered for violin players, as well.


Pops is the most recommended rosin for beginner to experienced professional bass players. This rosin comes as a large, soft cake for easy storage and application. You can’t go wrong with Pops.


A nice rosin in a nice case, this premium rosin is for violin and viola players. Kaplan rosin produces less dust keeping your instrument and case cleaner.

West Music has a 75-year tradition of helping beginner, intermediate and advanced musicians play their best. Find rosin and other orchestral string accessories designed for beginner and intermediate musicians on our website or at our stores. Professional musicians, orchestra directors and student are encouraged to contact West Music Orchestra directly for the best selection and bulk pricing.

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How to Hold Your Woodwind Instrument
By Tianna Streeter
6/7/2017 10:19:00 AM  

One of the reasons it’s so fun to watch great musicians perform is that they have such a beautiful connection with their instruments. Developing that special relationship with your flute, piccolo, clarinet or oboe begins with learning to hold it the right way. Read our beginners how-to guide below and click on any image to see a larger view.

What Every Woodwind Musician Needs to Know to Hold Their Instrument Properly

You want to hold your instrument, not grab or squeeze it. Keep your hands and arms relaxed, gently supporting the instrument’s weight. Don’t worry—never in the history of music has a flute tried to run away! Place the pads of your fingers on the keys, not your fingertips. This is very important, because you will usually be placing your finger on a key with a hole, and you need to seal that hole. Even if you have a flute with solid keys, imagine there is a hole so you develop good technique.

hold fluteFlute

It is easiest to begin by holding the flute vertically, standing it on a table with the lip piece at the top and the keys facing forward (away from you). Place your left thumb on the B key—the long, narrow key facing you near the top of the flute. Counting downward from the top, place the pads of your left index, middle and fourth (ring) fingers on the second, fourth and fifth round keys on the front of the flute. Your left pinky will “float” off the instrument. Now locate the lowest three round keys on the front of the instrument (not the larger ones farther down that are tilted toward the sides). Place your right index, middle and fourth fingers on those three keys. Let your right pinky rest on the “teardrop” shaped key below your fourth finger. Your right thumb should rest on the back of the flute, opposite your middle finger. Now swing both your arms up and to the right, so that the flute is horizontal, and bring the lip piece to your lower lip. Your right thumb will support most of the instrument’s weight. Pro tip: If keeping track of which key is which is confusing at first, simply pretend your cleaning rod is a flute and hold it up in playing position to get a feel for the basic hand positions.


You hold a piccolo exactly the same way as you hold a flute! The only difference is that a piccolo does not have a foot joint, so your right hand will be at the end of the instrument.

hold the clarinetClarinet

Stand your clarinet up on a table with the keys facing forward (away from you). You will see a thumb hook facing you. Place your right thumb under the hook. On the back of the clarinet near the top, you will see an elongated key, and just below it, a round key. Place the pad of your left thumb on that round key. On the front of the clarinet, counting down from the top, place your index, middle, and fourth fingers on the second, fourth and fifth keys. Your left pinky can either rest on the instrument or hover just off of it. Now place your right index, middle and fourth fingers on the lowest three round keys on the front of the clarinet. Your pinky will eventually be used on the two elongated keys just below your fourth finger, so for now, just let it rest lightly on one of them.

hold the oboeOboe

Start the same way as you would with the clarinet, with the keys facing forward (away from you) and your thumb under the thumb hook. Near the top of the oboe, you will see three round keys with holes, with smaller, solid keys between them. Place the index, middle and fourth fingers of your left hand on the three keys with holes, skipping over the solid ones. Your left thumb should rest on the body of the instrument in back (facing you), tilted upward. Your pinky can rest on any of the three elongated keys below your fourth finger. Farther down, you’ll see another set of three round keys with holes, just like the ones where you placed your left fingers. Place your right index, middle and fourth fingers on those three keys. Let your pinky rest on the lowest of the three elongated keys below your fourth finger. Now simply keep the vertical orientation of your clarinet or oboe and bring it to your mouth.

hold the saxaphone

First, attach your neck strap to the instrument and adjust it so that you will be able to easily bring the instrument to your mouth without hunching over or tilting your head. Locate the thumb hook near the bottom of the instrument and place your right thumb under it. Around the front of the sax, you should see three round keys in the area where you’ve placed your thumb. Rest the pads of your right index, middle, and ring (fourth) fingers on those three keys, with your index finger highest. Your pinky can rest on any of the elongated keys below your ring finger. Now locate the round left thumb pad on the back of the sax, just below the octave key. On many saxophones, it will be black. Place the pad of your left thumb there. Around the front of the sax, find the uppermost round key and place the pad of your left index finger on it. Skip the very small round key and place your middle finger on the next full-sized key, then your ring finger on the round key below that. As with your right hand, your pinky can rest on any of the narrow keys below your ring finger.

Back-to-School Warm Up

If you have been playing a woodwind for a year or two but are reviewing these basics to get ready for school, you may also be interested in our collection of sheet music for woodwinds. For more tips and tricks about band instruments or to see student spotlights, keep reading the West Music blog.

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Tags: woodwind, band, orchestra, beginner, how-to
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Finger Placement for String Instruments
By West Music Company
5/12/2017 10:57:00 AM  

West Music Pro Tip Before You Start

When someone talks about having correct finger placement when playing a stringed instrument, they are typically referring to two things: how you place your fingers on the strings and where you place your fingers on the strings. Building good finger placement habits is extremely important for playing in tune and with ease. West Music has been working with musicians and music teachers for over 75 years. In that time, we’ve learned a few tricks to help you or your student play like a pro. 

One tip we give new players is to use finger tapes. Violins and other orchestral stringed instruments do not have frets like guitars. That means there’s no visual guide to help you determine where your fingers should go.  We’ve found the easiest way to get around this issue is by placing finger tapes on the fingerboard. We like to think of finger tapes like training wheels; eventually they will come off because you will have developed “muscle memory” to recall exactly where to place your fingers.

Violin Finger Placement

As a beginning violin player, the initial hand position you will learn is called first position. First position allows you to play the first five notes on each violin string. 

To get your hand into the right position, turn your left hand towards you and curl your fingers like you are examining your fingernails. Now, slightly spread your fingers apart. As you do this, you will notice that there is a naturally wider gap between your 1st finger and 2nd finger (index and middle) as well as your 3rd and 4th finger (ring and pinky). You will also notice that there isn't a very big space between your 2nd and 3rd finger (middle and ring).

Now pretend that your hand is in this same position, but curl it around the neck of your violin. Place your first finger about two half-steps up from the nut, and there you have it! First position. In this relaxed position, there are two half-steps between your 1st and 2nd finger, one half-step from the 2nd to the 3rd finger, and two half-steps between the 3rd and 4th finger.

Violin Finger Placement
Violin Finger Placement

Viola Finger Placement

If you were looking at the strings on the viola from left to right, the string on the far left would be the thickest as well as the lowest-pitched string (C String). The strings ascend in perfect fifths until reaching the far-right string which is the thinnest and the highest-toned string (A String). 

Keep your right hand relaxed around the fingerboard and your wrist gently rounded. Take care not to rest your wrist on the viola’s neck. Maintain a curved, open space between the thumb and index finger, so that it makes a backwards "C" shape.  From this position your fingers can move easily and hover over the strings comfortably.

viola finger placement
viola finger placement
Cello Finger Placement

To form the proper cello hand and finger position, place your fingers tips on the string. Your thumb should be placed on the back of the neck, directly opposite from your second finger.  By positioning your hand in this way, it should form a curved "C" shape with your fingers.

As with the other string instruments, using finger tape on the fingerboard is a smart way for beginners to memorize the placement of different notes. On the cello, the tape is usually used to mark a regular 1st finger (the E note on the D string), 2nd finger (the F note on the D string), 3rd finger (the F# note on the D string), and the 4th finger (the G note on the D string).

cello finger placement
cello finger placement 

Double Bass Finger Placement

The double bass is the largest instrument in the orchestral string family, correct hand and finger placement is especially important. Similar to the cello, proper hand placement includes your thumb opposite of your 2nd finger on the back of the neck while your hand forms a curved “C” shape.

Your thumb shouldn't squeeze the neck of the bass or fully support the weight of the instrument, and it is advised to have the instrument lean slightly forward. This can help your fingers press down on the strings while preventing your thumb from squeezing at the same time. By keeping your hand balanced and curved into a “C” shape, this also allows the fingers to push down without the support of the thumb.

No matter what string instrument you play, correct finger placement is vital to play in tune and have a clear sound. By learning and practicing the correct technique from the very beginning, you are laying down a good foundation and ensuring future success with your instrument.

West Music Commitment to You!

We at West Music have a motto: Play Now. Play for Life. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to learn to play and enjoy music. As part of this commitment, West Music’s Orchestral Division offers a wide selection of hand-selected, quality stringed instruments for the beginning, intermediate and advanced musician. With options to rent or purchase your instrument, it’s never been easier to play!

If you live in Eastern Iowa or Western Illinois and would like to take lessons with a West Music instructor, visit our Music Lessons & Classes page.

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Tags: beginner, school, orchestra, strings, how-to
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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String Instrument Care Tips
By West Music Company
2/10/2017 9:48:00 AM  

Caring for your string instrument isn’t hard if you understand a few basics! Read what our orchestra instrument experts have to say, or download this handy PDF.

String Care Tips

Remember that your instrument is made of wood and can easily be damaged if not handled with care. Bumping the instrument against another object may damage the wood, cause the bridge to slide out of alignment, or cause the sound post (found inside instrument) to fall down. Bridges and sound posts are not glued in place, but are held by the pressure of the strings, which allows them to be replaced and adjusted as needed. If an accident should happen, bring your instrument to a West Music Repair Shop for service.

The Fittings

Pegs may stick in humid weather and not hold well in dry conditions. Pegs that won’t hold may need to be pushed in gently while tuning
it to the proper pitch. Pegs may slightly back out and loosen if turned without applying this gentle inward pressure.

The Chinrest

Changes in humidity may cause shrinking and swelling of the instrument and may cause the chinrest to become loose. In this event, please take care to tighten the arms of the chinrest in a clockwise motion, to secure the chinrest tighter to the instrument. A little goes a long way, only tighten enough to reduce movement.

Tailpiece/Fine Tuners

Check the fine tuners very closely to ensure there is plenty of screw space height to adjust the pitch. Be aware that the tuning arms located behind the tailpiece are not pushing into the top of your instrument. The tailpiece’s tail gut or wrap should be centered and fastened very securely to the end-pin or end-button of your instrument.


During play, rosin can make its way onto your fingerboard as well as your instruments top. After each practice session, take care to wipe down the fingerboard and strings to remove rosin and dust to prolong the life of your strings.

The Wood

Wood may expand in humid weather and contract as it dries which can affect how your instrument functions. Do not leave your instrument in a car during extreme hot or cold weather as this can damage the instrument and the finish.

The Case

Don’t try to force the case lid shut!Most instrument cases are only large enough to hold the instrument, bow, rosin, and small accessories such as a mute or pitch pipe. Only store objects such as pens and pencil in the accessory compartment of your case, otherwise they may damage the instrument when the case is closed. Shoulder rests are best carried separately unless there is ample room in the case or the case has a compartment to hold it. Papers or music stored in the case may squeeze against the instrument causing the bridge to break or the instrument to crack.

The Bow

Rosin is applied to the bow hair to create friction on the strings and make them vibrate. The bow hair should not be touched because rosin will not stick if oils from your skin get on the bow. Not getting enough rosin on the bow will result in faint and squeaky sounds. If too much rosin is used it will come off the bow and stick to the instrument. Wipe excess rosin off the instrument with a soft cloth.

When putting the bow away, loosen the hair a little so it is not as tight as when you are playing. Leave slight tension to help keep the hair from getting caught on something, but not warp the bow. Cleaning your hands before and after use will help the bow hair last longer.

The Strings

Every time you play and sometimes in the middle of practices and performances your instrument may need to be tuned. Over time the strings will stretch, wear out, and
sometimes break. Strings have a limited lifespan and need to be replaced when they get frayed, damaged, corroded, or have lost their tone. Replace with the same brand for consistent sound. Keeping your hands clean before and during use will help the strings last.

If you should notice a problem with your instrument, bring it in as soon as possible to be serviced. Repairs to string instruments can take just a few minutes, several hours or sometimes several weeks, so don’t wait until it is too late! Contact your local West Music store to schedule a repair or complete our online Instrument Repair Form.

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7 Tips for Practicing
By West Music Company
12/6/2016 7:51:00 AM  
7 Tips to Keep Playing

practice time

Your child was so excited to get their music instrument, you thought they would never put it down! However, a few months in and the instrument is sitting in a corner of the house. As a parent, it's important to get your child motivate to practice regularly. 

Students who practice regularly, even if it’s just for a few minutes every day, retain lessons better and develop new skills quicker. They also often report enjoying music class more.

As parents, it’s hard to keep our kids motivated to practice, but remember it’s practice that makes perfect.  West Music educators have put together this list of their seven best tips to help your child keep playing and keep having fun!

1. Break practice out into 5-10 minutes.
Finding the time to practice is difficult; there’s homework, chores, family time, sports and many other actives that make up the day. By breaking up longer practice sessions into short 5 to 10 minute sprints, you and your child will be more likely to find the time to get it done!

2. Set goals.
With each practice session have a specific goal in mind for your child, even if it’s just practicing one or two cords. Setting small goals will add up to huge accomplishments!

practing at home

3. Keep your child’s instrument out (in a safe place).
Ever heard out of sight, out of mind? That’s exactly what happens when you pack up your child’s instrument in its case and put it into the closet. Instead keep it out somewhere out of the way but where your young musician will see it every day.

4. Let your child pick their practice time, and then stick with it.
One of the many skills music teaches children is self-discipline. Let them choose what time they want to practice, but once a time is chosen have them stick to it as best as possible.  Even if they have to miss a practice session or two because of other commitments, it helps build the habit of practicing regularly.

5. Be excited for your child.
If you see practice time as dull, so will your kids. Be in the room when your child practices and encourage them when they feel like giving up. When they do finally master a song, or even just a new note, show genuine pride and excitement in their accomplishments.

6. Game-ify Practice.
Many music teachers suggest making a game out of difficult passages that could otherwise get frustrating. One of the most popular games involves pennies (but M&Ms or Skittles work just as well). Put 3 to 10 pennies on the left side of their music stand. Each time your kids get the passage right, they can move a penny to the right side. Once they get all the pennies to the other side, they can finish practicing and take their reward!

7. Play with the instrument.
You don’t always need to follow the song book.  Encourage your child to make up their own song. It encourages creativity and makes learning more fun!


Need more advice? West Music is here for you!

Call our music experts at 1-800-397-9378

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Tags: band, orchestra, students, winter, holidays
Categories: Band & Orchestra, Drums & Percussion, Music Education
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Meet Our Repair Team - Jay Ramsey: West Music Cedar Falls
By West Music Company
4/11/2016 2:28:00 PM  

Jay Ramsey works in the Band & Orchestra Repair Department at West Music Cedar Falls. Call Jay at (319) 277-1000 for all your band & orchestra repair needs!

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Categories: Band & Orchestra, West Music Cedar Falls
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Meet Our Repair Team - Andy Taylor: West Music Coralville
By West Music Company
4/1/2016 8:00:00 AM  

Andy Taylor is a Woodwind Instrument Repair Specialist at the West Music Coralville location. He's been with West Music for a little over 17 years as a clarinet, oboe, flute, and piccolo specialist, and is also a graduate of Redwing Technical College. He's had a number of memorable "repair moments," including an emergency repair for the Lincoln Center jazz band.

If you have an instrument in need of repair, contact Andy at West Music Coralville by calling 800.373.2000 or 319.351.2000!

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Tags: andy taylor, repair, maintainance, specialist, woodwind,
Categories: Band & Orchestra, West Music Coralville
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Meet Our Repair Team - Mark Fiagle: West Music Coralville
By West Music Company
3/11/2016 8:43:00 AM  

Mark Fiagle is a Brass and Woodwind Instrument Repair Specialist at the West Music Coralville location. He's been with West Music since 1986, and specializes in saxophone, flute and bassoon repair and is qualified to work on all brands of Woodwind instruments. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1981 with a degree in Music Performance and attended Red Wing Vo-Tech in 1985-86, where he gathered experience working on both woodwind and brass instruments. Mark enjoys traveling with his family, as well as volunteering at his church.

If you have an instrument in need of repair, contact Mark at West Music Coralville by calling 800.373.2000 or 319.351.2000!

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Tags: mark figale, repair, brass, maintenance
Categories: Band & Orchestra, West Music Coralville
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Supporting Music Education: Choose to Teach
By West Music Company
10/15/2015 2:20:00 PM  

Supporting Music Education: Choose to TeachHow do you know if you want to become a music teacher? Some students just know, and others make that decision when considering career options. For many students, sharing the joy of music becomes their passion.

This tip sheet, Supporting Music Education: Choose to Teach presents information that will assist you and your students in making an informed choice. Becoming a music teacher can be an extremely rewarding and challenging career. If you love to make music and enjoy working with others, there is no better way to convey that passion than by sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm as a professional music educator.

Republished with permission of the Music Achievement Council. For more tips on keeping music strong in your schools, visit the site devoted to all things music advocacy:

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Tags: music administration, band director, orchestra director, school music program
Categories: Band & Orchestra, Music Advocacy, Music Education
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The West Music Blog presents articles, press releases and other information of interest to our local and wordwide customers.

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Rhythm For Good

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