Why Twitter Just Became Indispensable For Music Programs

OK, many of you have been in the following scenarios. What do you do when:

  • You are at Disney with your group, and suddenly there has been a mistake discovered in the itinerary. You need to leave...NOW... but your kids are all over the park. You have a phone tree set up, but it is going to take Who Knows How Long to get the word out, not to mention what will happen to the details during the inevitable telephone tag.
  • Practice starts in 30 minutes, and thunderstorm watch turns in to a tornado warning for your vicinity. People are en route, now what?
  • Snow is accumulating too fast this afternoon, and the principal tells you you need to reschedule the Holiday Concert, and you tell all the students during school. But how do you alert the public?

Now, obviously these are issues that have come up over the years, and we've all figured out ways to deal with them. But yesterday Twitter made a very important upgrade that is going to radically change the speed and efficiency of our communications. People can now use Twitter's Fast Follow feature to get text messages from your Twitter account without themselves having an account. Yep, they simply send a text to 40404. That's it, done, and free.

Fast Follow. Anyone in the US can receive Tweets on their phone even if they haven’t signed up for Twitter. This is a simple way for people to get information they care about in real-time. For example, let’s say you want to get Tweets from New York City’s office of emergency management (@). Just text ‘follow NotifyNYC’to 40404 in the US.

This alleviates alot of the concerns out there about whether or not students can be required to have a Twitter account, or share they mobile number with you, or whether they should have your mobile number. No longer an issue. Just have them Fast Follow your program's Twitter ID. Did I mention this is FREE??

Your excuses for not implementing a music program Twitter account just ran out friends.

Ensemble Community: One and the same

Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra

Recently I was part of a discussion on Twitter that dealt with the idea of building a sense of community into your ensembles. As has been the case for me in some prior Twitter chats, I find the format and pace to be less than conducive for some of the more essential philosophical questions. (UPDATE: Discussion is now easy on the new Facebook groups format) Twitter chats are fine for brainstorming fundraising ideas and so forth, but I get a little concerned when we have topics of such major import flying down that page at 140 characters per second! Anyway, I thought I would say a few things here that might add some clarity to my feelings on the matter of community, because I really don't believe that community is something that is "added in" over the top of an ensemble.

As a starting point, here is an excerpt from my post 25 Things About Teaching Music and Education:

Music performance is one of the only authentically interdependent classes we offer in American education. What is interdependence? A situation where each person relies upon the other. Blue and yellow are interdependent in the endeavor to make green. Musical ensembles are inherently interdependent. Every contribution a student makes to the ensemble changes the the reality for every other student in the room, and reshapes their contributions moving forward. Music teachers need to help students, parents, and administrators to understand this important truth. It is one of the most important benefits of music education, but unfortunately we have not done a very good job of explaining it.

The fact is, performing ensembles are perhaps the most authentic community in the school system, by definition! We often hear the line "there are no bench players in a music ensemble" and this is true...but do we realize the import of that cliché? Everyone in an ensemble is charged with supporting/informing/adjusting constantly in an effort to create meaningful music. Coming together under a common purpose with a desire to do good...isn't that what communities do? As a quick aside (but it's very pertinent) have you been following the El Sistema movement in Venezuela? In places where there is almost no sense of community, hundreds of thousands of children are finding it in the ensemble.

Community isn't something that is added on top of an ensemble experience. It's not something that one "gets around to" after the music is sounding good, or when an administrator is coming for an observation. Community in ensembles is a given...their interdependent nature makes this so. Now, whether teachers keep this in the forefront of their minds, or whether the community is a healthy one, is another matter altogether. But it is a community. If you are feeling a need to "build community" in, then that may be your first sign that you have not been allowing the reality of community to pervade your own philosophy.

"Yeah I've heard the philosophical stuff" I hear some saying, "but if I could just get the students to"

  • Get to know one another
  • Respect one another
  • Help one another

...then we would sound great! We need a motivational speaker...or a trust fall!"

Yet, as teachers, if we put our daily focus upon making sure that:

  • We are getting to know each student, and showing them respect
  • Teaching them to become self-directed musicians, and expecting their best
  • Helping them to discover the music, not just their part within it

...then you will see the vibrant community within the ensemble, because all of those things require students to know, respect, and help each other on a musical level. And guess what? It's pervasive.

Then when you take those trips or do other non-musical activities that you can (and should!) do, the experiences will be all the more special because you're making an existing musical community even stronger. You then have the basis for the elusive upward spiral that teachers want and students deserve.


Reading Music: The Real-Time Magazine for Music Educators

Ever feel overwhelmed by all the music ed. content flying around on Twitter? Great stuff, but we need to organize it. Here is an effort to do so in a way that is highly flexible, meaning the content will come to you in whatever way is most convenient. More details and tips soon, but for now, check out the trailer, visit the website, and be sure to add @reading_music to a fresh Twitter list!

Video: Zero to Sixty with Google Reader in Five Minutes

Here is a screen cast I put together to show you just how easy it is for music educators to start using Google Reader. It literally just takes a few minutes to be up and running with rich content. The key (as you will see) is getting two bookmarklets into your bookmarks bar.

Now just continue to hit the "Subscribe" button when you discover new sites. Next steps include creating your sharing settings, organizing your feeds with tags and folders, and connecting with other Google Reader educators. Find me here: http://www.google.com/reader/shared/scnmusic

Teacher Workflow Part 2: Ubiquity

message for you sir

(This is part 2 in a teacher workflow series. See part one here.)

Camping Out

Teachers are infamous for being in one of two tech camps: (1) Sticking with what works, or (2) never sticking with anything. Both are troublesome. As a hopeless early adopter I naturally find myself in camp (2), busily trying everything under the sun. But slowly I have been solidifying a productive workflow for myself based on the concept of ubiquity. I hope that my ideas will help you no matter which camp you tend to frequent.

The idea behind a ubiquitous workflow is to maximize your actions by making the results readily available in a variety of ways, from a variety of locations, through a variety of tools. It may sound complex, but the beauty of today's technology is that it can be complex to create but simple to use.  As users we don't have to worry about the way things work under the hood. That era has fortunately ended.

Here are some suggestions for increasing your productivity through ubiquity:

Start Using Gmail

Let's just cut to the chase: Google makes too many free tools available to be ignore if you want to be productive. But even beyond that, many teachers are still using isp-provided email addresses that are not only non-extensible, but can create a real hassle if/when you decide to switch to a new provider. Make the move to Gmail! You don't even have to cancel your current email address. Simply open a gmail account and it will happily continue to check your other address(es) so you will never miss a thing during your transition. Include an automatic signature in your response that makes note of your new address and asked people to update. You'll be switched over in no time. And it's free.

Gmail is very flexible, meaning you can tap into it in a variety of ways:

  • It is easily added to your smartphone
  • It has a good browser interface that can be accessed from any computer
  • It can be added to Outlook
  • It has a very powerful search capability

While your isp (or work!) mailbox may be telling you it is full and encouraging you to toss old emails, gmail keeps it all and is lightning quick in its searching ability. I never have to worry about what to save, I save everything. When I can't recall exactly what was said or decided, I can always find the conversation.

As I said initially, you get easy access to many other tools once you have your gmail account, including Google Calendars, Google Voice, and Google Docs. I have written previously on some of these (see link) so I won't go into them now, but each of them has the ability to increase productivity through ubiquity.

Start Using Dropbox

I have been using Dropbox for a little more than a year, and it is a major time saving and productivity-enhancing technology. The power of dropbox is in its simplicity. Once you install it on your computer you don't have to think about it. By storing your documents in the "Dropbox" folder (instead of your traditional docs folder) all of your documents are:

  • backed up to the cloud
  • available from any web browser
  • easily shared with anyone you choose
  • accessible from your smartphone or other mobile device

And it's free.1 Gone are the days of "I'll email that file to you when I get back to my computer." Now I simply take out my iPhone, open the Dropbox app, and send the person the link to obtain the file. Done. When my colleague and I are working on a project, we simply use a shared folder. All updates and changes are immediately reflected wherever we are accessing the folder thanks to Dropbox's background sync. And no more emailing files to yourself so you can work from home. No more flash drives for toting documents. When you get home, the files in your Dropbox folder are identical to what you left at work. Brilliant.

Start Using Toodledo.com

Honestly, I have never found the perfect task manager, and I've tried many. Toodledo.com is the best at the moment because:

  • You can get to your tasks from any computer web-browser
  • You can assign/receive tasks to/from others
  • It is compatible with third party apps that sync with your smart phone (I use Appigo's Todo on the iPhone and iPad, but there are several others)

The most important factor in using task managers is easy access. You have to be able to get to your tasks from any device at any time, or you probably won't stick with it. Toodledo, because it is web-based and provides a third party API is currently the best option in my opinion.

There are many other technologies that I use but will easily overwhelm the spirit of this article. The point is to make your technology decisions using the principal of ubiquity in order to maximize your workflow. The guiding principals:

  • Ease of use
  • Ease of access through many devices
  • Ease of collaboration

Like exercise, the best technologies are the ones you will actually use routinely. Complex or proprietary tools are like owning the health club membership but never working out.


1. Link is to my dropbox referral code. Dropbox spreads the news by awarding extra storage space from referral links, up to 8 gigs max under the free plan. Amazing.

Teacher Workflow Part 1: Beware the Retweet

The little blue wheel keeps following me

(This is the first in a multi-part series on maximizing your online productivity, especially before school gets going this fall)


Let's face it, we all love getting them. They help to broaden our reach/connections/circle of influence. But here is the problem:

After you retweet someone else's great blog post or site, how do you get back to it weeks or months down the road? Will you dig backwards through your Twitter account (do you have that kind of time during the school year)? Retweets alone can be penny wise buy pound foolish. They are great in the moment (especially for real time news) but very inefficient in the future. If you are going to spend time online, you want your activity to be beneficial both now and in the future. That is what workflow is all about.

While I am not going to suggest that we stop using retweets (perish the thought!), I am hopefully going to persuade you to take things a little further for the sake of your own workflow. This is definitely a process you flesh out during the summer months so you are in the routine come fall.

Suggestions for actions to take after you retweet.

"Favorite" the tweet

You (and your followers) can access your favorite tweets at any time. It is a mostly underused feature of Twitter, but it is simple and better than letting important information just float away with an RT. If you do nothing else, at least "favorite" tweets that you may want to refer back to in the future.

Use Instapaper for articles

Instapaper is a great way to save articles for later reading or recall. Instapaper includes a "bookmarklet" that you can drag to your menubar. Anytime you browse to a good article that is worth saving, simply click the bookmarklet (most of the better iPhone and iPad apps have Instapaper support as well). This way, with just one more click, you are creating a valuable library of knowledge instead of merely retweeting to help spread the word.

Use Evernote for saving articles

Evernote is an extremely popular and ubiquitous service for keeping track of articles, sites, tasks, voice memos, and more. Apps are available for most smartphones, OS X, and within web browsers. When you stumble upon an article you like, simply clip it to your Evernote account in addition to retweeting.

Add blog to Google Reader

Great articles are usually a sign of thoughtful bloggers. Whenever I land on a blog with a great article, I add the blog to my Google Reader account. Like Instapaper, there is a bookmarklet that you can click that will instantly add the blog to your Reader. If you value your time, you really need to start using an rss aggregator like Google Reader. Once you get proficient at using it you can begin to easily tweet articles you are finding. This is an important step in becoming a "giver" on Twitter. Now you too will receive retweets!

See the Retweet as the first of two clicks

Teachers continue to flock to Twitter, especially in the summer, and retweeting is a fun and valuable PLN activity. Just remember to make one more click after you retweet in order to maximize your productivity. Think of it like a squirrel storing acorns for winter. You will thank me in February!

Oh, and thanks in advance for the retweet ;-)