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Thomas J. West Music

Live webcam private music lessons, music education articles, compositions, clinician services, reviews


All blog entries and featured articles on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License

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All feature articles and blog entries are opinions based on Mr. West's personal experiences as a music educator, composer, adjudicator, and clinician. His comments do not reflect positions of the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School or the Center for Performing and Fine Arts in any way. Mr. West endeavors to express all opinions with the highest degrees of impeccability and integrity.

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In Music Education, Longevity Matters

Posted on September 29, 2016 at 7:05 PM Comments comments (5)

As of this writing, I am entering my nineteenth year as an American public school music educator. My career has taken many unexpected twists and turns, leading me to teach in four different school districts. In my current setting, I teach sixth through twelfth grade band and strings for a small performing and fine arts program attached to a cyber charter school. It is a unique and challenging setting with its own unique fringe benefits and equally unique detriments. Despite those detriments, I have been in this teaching position now for nine years - my longest tenure at any secondary school. It becomes apparent this year that my longevity in this position is finally starting to reap benefits and bear fruit.

My thoughts on this topic are spurred on not only by my experiences this school year, but also by the departure from the profession of one of my colleagues who got his music education degree at the same time I did at Penn State. This friend was a middle school and high school band director who was very successful and was finishing up a sabbatical for a masters degree, then abruptly left the profession permanently. Another classmate from school left the band directing profession a few years back to become a minister. These were good teachers, who did right by their students and fought the good fight, and they gave it all up for their own personal reasons.

I had one year of my nineteen where I was not employed full-time, surviving between subbing, private lesson money, and marching band judging paychecks. It was at that juncture that I considered, just once, leaving the profession for good. I actually did a job interview for a career as a piano tuner. I considered working for Vanguard as well. I was tired of the struggle described by this article from 2013 in The Atlantic and this more recent article about teachers moonlighting as Uber drivers. I had moved through various school districts, teaching in communities where the arts weren't valued, or the tax base was poor, or the arts were valued but "being the best at everything" was all that mattered. Even now, I work for a charter school where our facilities do not meet the program's needs adequately, the teachers salaries are not competitive, and at-will employment gives teachers no effective way to negotiate for better conditions. My wife and I work 1 full-time job and 5 part-time jobs between the two of us in order to make ends meet.

Through all of this trepidation, it comes as a surprise this fall that the small instrumental music program that I have labored to grow for the last eight years is finally showing signs of maturing as a program. This maturation comes because of one thing: longevity.

Students Who Stick With the Program Thrive

Yes, it doesn't hurt that I have been in one place for nine years. However, the program at my school is very atypical, so a nine year investment is apparently the minimum required to start to show some results. There is no elementary feeder program to build on. Instead, students audition to get into the program and come from elementary and high school programs from a five-county area in Southeast PA. Because it is a cyber charter school, the student population tends to be very transient. They try us for a few years, then bounce out and go somewhere else. Or, they bounce in for their last two years of high school to prep to go into the arts as a higher ed career choice. Because of the nature of this transient program and the small size of the instrumental program (I average about 35 students per year over six grades), most band and orchestra students depart for other great local programs with full sized bands and orchestras. This year's high school "orchestra" class is different, however.

I use "orchestra" in quotes because the high school orchestra class is 16 students with an instrumentation of violin, cello, bass, flute, clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and one lone trumpet. However, of those 16 students, 14 of them are returning students, and 12 of them have been in my program for three or more years. They have actually invested in the program and in each other, and as a result, they are performing at a level that is comparable to any of their traditional public school counterparts in our area of the state. They perform well enough now that I can no longer combine them with the middle school students for concerts. They've bought in to the program, and now I'm giving them new challenges to conquer. They are rising to the challenge and as a group are on their way to being the best high school orchestra class we have ever had.

Meanwhile in the middle school, the eighth grade class I have is made up of eight students, seven of which are returning members, and five of which have been in the program for three years. They are prepped to join the high school next year with performing skills that will mesh well with the sixteen I already have (minus three graduating seniors). Again, they have invested in the program, stuck with it, and are enjoying the benefits that experience and achievement extol upon them. If these students stay with it, the high school orchestra class will be at 21 next year - the largest it has ever been. 

Longevity is hard. It takes a lot of work to stick with it and succeed step by step, skill by skill, student by student. I am hopeful that these students continue to invest in the program, and that the new challenges I am placing on them will wow their audiences and get the middle school students fired up to join them. 

This article (c) 2016 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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Why Your Child Should Start Learning an Instrument

Posted on August 29, 2016 at 7:45 AM Comments comments (0)

There may be a reason why musos think they have it all. Studies show that adults with some childhood musical experience perform better on selected cognitive tests than adults who had never studied music, and this advantage seems to become more prominent as we age.


Physical Skills

Try patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. The chances are that your musical friends will have an easier time of it than you. When kids learn to play an instrument, learning a particular physical skill is a given because they move hands, fingers and feet into the position required. The secondary benefits are perhaps more profound in the long run; playing a piano or keyboard means you have to make different movements simultaneously with your left and right hands, similar to when you play an acoustic guitar. It develops ambidexterity, but also improves the ease and range of movement and helps with sport and dancing.


Math and Physics

Once kids understand rhythms or beats, learning math comes easier because they are introduced to counting, fractions, and division in a natural way. It introduces them to pattern recognition which is very helpful for understanding math principles.


Social and Language Skills

Speech processing improves with training in pitch and melody and reading comprehension improves. If they take part in group classes, they quickly learn teamwork as they are encouraged to adjust their playing when they play too fast or slow.


It Refines Discipline and Patience

Some instruments take years to learn to play well, and it teaches your child to persevere to reach his goals. Children can be impatient, so the nature of this activity makes it easy to measure progress. It is quite simple to set attainable goals such as performing a piece correctly before moving on to the next, and if your child is a born performer you can relax about thinking up fresh entertainment ideas for the next family gathering.



Music is fun, and when kids experience success, it increases feelings of self-esteem and confidence. It teaches them to present themselves in public, which is an important life skill for all ages. The emotional release that comes with expressing yourself through music increases feelings of belonging and identity.


What to Consider When Selecting an Instrument

You'll be listening to the sound of your child practicing for the next few years. Do you like the sound of that instrument enough, or can you provide a suitable environment for committed practice in a private area of the house?


Don’t just reach for your credit card and hope this “stage” will blow over. Offer reasonable support in the form of formal or informal classes as soon as your child is ready. Think about combining classes with games to make learning more enjoyable. A game like Guitar Hero requires skill and knowledge of music theory to play well, and it will give you a break from listening to disharmonious strumming or scales repeated endlessly


Listen to your child. If he wants to play the acoustic guitar, don’t make him learn the piano first, because you want him to have a classical music education. He’ll resist practice, and the whole thing will end in tears. At the same time, don’t saddle your 5-year old with a baritone sax larger than himself. Agree to start with the alto, or even a flute which is much easier to play with small hands.


Take her to a sympathetic musical instrument shop where she can try out different instruments, and hold or cradle it to get a feel for it. Playing a too-large instrument will cause frustration and even injury. Stringed and keyboard instruments are highly suitable for younger children, and you can easily find smaller instruments to overcome issues of finger stretch and size.


Woodwind instruments can be tried from around 10 years. Lighter brass instruments can be tried from 8 to 10 years of age as the weight is considerable and fingers need to be long enough to reach positions. Stringed instruments and keyboard instruments are highly suitable for young children, as smaller instruments are readily available. It may take a while to match your child to his perfect instrument, as kids sometimes start with one and move on to another as soon as they discover new possibilities.


Children learn very fast and generally, the younger they start, the faster they learn. If you can match the correct instrument to the child, they tend to throw themselves into the experience completely with the added benefit of keeping them safely occupied and energy levels contained.

Sources and Further Reading

The Right Instrument for Your Child

Finding the Perfect Guitar for Your Kid

Childhood Music Lessons Boost an Aging Brain


About the Author

Colleen has a passion for guitars and ukuleles. She enjoys jamming, teaching, and getting others involved in music. Her website, Coustii, focuses specifically on guitars and ukes.

Thomas J. West Email Updates and RSS

Posted on July 29, 2016 at 9:45 AM Comments comments (0)

I got my first web-based email account on Yahoo in 1998. It is hard to believe that my primary personal email account has been online for almost 20 years! As I have found with many web-based tools, I tend to be on the front edge of things, and the tools and services I use sometimes become outdated. I continue to use them, however, because the monumental task of migrating to a better setup is daunting. I recently, while helping my parents set up a new Gmail account, discovered just how easy it is to forward mail to Gmail. That has made it possible for me to consolidate several email accounts (I actually have six active email accounts at the moment) down to two. The first is for personal emails, the second is for business emails.

CLICK HERE to see an image of my updated email addresses.

As you have probably noticed, I stopped writing regular blog posts and have been hosting a few guest articles. At the peak of my blog writing days, I was still only making a trickle of money. I have doubled-down on the part-time endeavors that actually pay me well. The main one of those is local and online private music lessons. I also get the occasional commission for a cappella arrangements that actually pays well. I am judging regularly now for both Drum Corps International and Cavalcade of Bands, which brings in a decent income as well. 

RSS Feed Is Shutting Down

Because I am no longer writing regular posts, and Lately, the RSS feed for my blog has been pushing out paid promotions from that have nothing to do with my content. I am going to be shutting down the RSS feed until I can figure out how to get those to stop displaying. If you would still like to follow my occasional post, I highly recommend following me on Twitter or liking my Facebook page.

Thanks for staying in touch. I hope to interact with everyone in a number of ways in the future.

5 Steps to Creating a Cool Music Video on a Tight Budget

Posted on July 18, 2016 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Creating good music videos is not an easy thing to do. Making videos on a low budget is even more difficult. One thing remains, no matter how big your budget is – the process of making music videos is always the same. When starting to work in this field, a person needs to learn to get the most out of the resources he or she has, and this rule applies even when you climb higher up the ladder and start making some larger budget videos.

If you are really passionate about doing this, sometimes you will be forced to cut your own paycheck to create a video that you really like. When you are starting off, it’s good to know a couple of tricks so that you can create low budget videos that can stand well against some expensive ones. Here are some things you can do.

1. Take Your Time

One thing that you cannot guarantee at the start of your music video making career is that you will be able to create videos in a short period of time. The first reason why is because you simply won’t be that skilled at first. The second reason is that you simply won’t have all the tools and resources, and it will simply take more time to shoot and edit the footage, as it will have a lot of little imperfections.

The three essentials of making a music video are quality, time and price. In the beginning, it’s best to provide quality and cheaper prices instead of promising that you will finish a video quickly, while cutting down on its quality. Work slowly, and both you and your customers will be satisfied with the end result.

2. Bring Out the “Cool” in Cheap

Although low budget videos don’t have the same quality as those expensive ones, they do have a dose of uniqueness, quirkiness and charm that big budget music videos will never be able to have. Instead of trying to hide those “cheap” aspects of your video, you should look to expose them on purpose and do them with style. In my opinion, this is how some of the best video makers were able to do something special, while they didn’t have any resources available. Basically, the most important thing is to have quality camera equipment, all the rest can be made up with a dose of creativity and outside-the-box thinking.

3. Have a Small Number of People in the Video

When I first started shooting music videos, I tried to keep the crew to a small number of people. Why? Simply because you will have less expenses because, let’s be honest, you can’t give them anything for their efforts. You might think that this will set you back, but in most cases, you can accomplish anything you imagined with less people if you organize yourself (and them) properly. There are a lot of moments where a good portion of your crew just sits around and does nothing; instead, you should organize everyone. Keep them occupied during the whole process.

4. Shoot the Video on Familiar Locations

One of the most expensive things when it comes to making a music video can be the location. To get around this issue, you should stay humble and come up with good locations to which you have access. Not only this, but it’s generally a good practice for beginners to shoot at places they are familiar with. The best scenes are shot with natural lighting, and if you understand how a certain location behaves, you can make top notch scenes. To get this natural light effect though, you will need several expensive reflectors and a big, open space, and this is why I encourage you to choose outdoor locations you are familiar with.

5. Hire Students To Work With You

No matter if we are talking about statists, actors or video assistants, you should look to hire talented students that will do these things for pocket money. You can even find students that will collaborate with you on your project for free, as they might need it for an exam or something like that. The important thing is to find people who are talented and creative and, who knows, you might even end up becoming long-term partners.

As a final piece of advice, I would like to suggest that you think outside the box and get creative. For example, there are many ways you can actually simulate things on the scene, without having to implement special effects or additional people or tools that are expensive. Build your knowledge, one step at a time, and you will find various ways to create great videos without a lot of money.


This article is a guest post.

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A Beginner's Guide to Becoming an Online Album Reviewer

Posted on May 31, 2016 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I’d like to thank Thomas J. West for sharing this information with his great readers. His blog is a great resource within the industry and there are a lot of great resources such as this piece on finding a music career for your personality type.

As an online album reviewer, you will be working with music websites, online blogs, newspapers (online and potentially in print), and even streaming services that may review albums at launch and during performances. While most websites will have their set reviewers, there is such a large rate of music being released that you will never lack for jobs. Yet the only way to get these jobs is to dive in.

As an online album reviewer, you will have to listen to new albums, checking blogs and social media for the hottest trends in music, and doing the research necessary to write the best reviews possible.

Here are a few things you need to know to break into this competitive space:

Prospects for Advancement

The ultimate goal for an online album reviewer is to get a salaried position on a prestigious blog or website so that you don’t need to worry about finding steady work. You should have a game plan in advance to get there, but you should also be flexible with that plan. Start by being well-informed on the changing face of the industry. You could start out reviewing single music pieces and move on to writing full reviews of albums and other more ambitious pieces. Once you make contacts and get your name out there, you just need to pick the right opportunities.

Education and Training

Many music reviewers will have experience or education in either the fields of English or Music, though a degree or previous experience is by no means a prerequisite for the job. Everyone has to start somewhere. Some of the most accomplished online album reviewers do not have music or journalism degrees. Many don’t even have a college education.

The best way to train yourself in the art of album reviewing is to simply practive and throw yourself into the world of music. An even more important aspect of your career is to find your voice and try out different ideas. It is ok to focus on a few genres of music. Practice writing reviews even if it is for free or for your own blog. This will be critical, as you need to write regularly and find a voice for yourself (and hopefully an audience).

Personality and Resilience

You may have to spend late nights at a show and stay up even later meeting deadlines. You need to be confident in your opinions yet also open-minded enough to accpt other ideas and perspectives. You will often find yourself questioning your opinions on why you dislike or like an album. You need to remember to not take yourself too seriously, especially as a beginner. Not allowing readers to move you off your center through either praise or insults is a good attribute that you will need to have.

However, taking into account constructive criticism is not a bad thing as it helps you reflect on aspects of your writing or process that you can change or modify. You will make mistakes when you first start out, and the chorus of detractors will be defeaning. Nevertheless, part of the job is figuring out whether your readership is just being reactionary or providing real constructive criticism.

Getting Started

Most online album reviewers will start working on the lowest rungs of the industry and more likely than not so will you. You may start by reviewing albums on your blog or for websites that accept volunteer reviewers. When you get enough visibility, you can pitch your ideas or apply for a position at more prestigious online publications (yet it might be a good idea to continue your blog). To be successful, you need to work on building your portfolio and reaching out to other professionals until you get to write publications that pay a strong wage. Once you get those opportunities, do you absolute best to make sure that you provide your best work.

Join Associations, Groups, and Unions

Networking with peers is a critical part of the online album reviewer’s job. You need to subscribe to groups and websites where you will find great advice on making it as an online album reviewer. Joining these groups and organizations is also one of the best ways to network and learn about industry trends. You can’t do it alone. Reviewing is often a lonely profession and you’ll appreciate the company online.

The online album reviewer’s job is an engaging one that stimulates creativity. When you combine a passion for the job with a strong personality, hard work, persistence and networking, you can become successful as an online music critic.

How are you preparing yourself for a career in online album reviewing? Do you have any other questions on how to become a successful critic? Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

About the Author: Cassie Philips is a blogger and writer with interests ranging from online security to cultural trends. She has a passion for music, and will often spend her extra hours perusing and critiquing music old and new alike. You can find some of her work on Secure Thoughts.

Building a Community On Patreon: IceRequiem's Halls of the King Soundtrack

Posted on February 18, 2016 at 6:10 PM Comments comments (0)

At the $4 pledge level on my Patreon page, I use my Facebook page (700+ likes), Google Plus profile (400+ followers), Twitter account (2,500+ followers), and my award-winning Music Education Blog to help promote a fellow Patreon creator's creation.

Today, I'd like to feature another cool creation by ‪#‎Patreon‬ creator IceRequiem. This original music will be part of the soundtrack for the "Sun Loves Moon" video game series.

Check out "Halls of the King" on Soundcloud

Check out her other work as well and if you are so inclined, pledge to support more great original music

This article (c) 2016 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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Harness the Power of the Online Learning Community at Musical U

Posted on February 12, 2016 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (0)

I haven't done a review article in about 3 years, but this was a great opportunity that I couldn't pass up. Musical U is an online music theory and ear training website that contains learning and practice materials as well as a vibrant learning community of professional and amateur musicians. The site is designed with the self-taught amateur musician in mind, but it could potentially have implications for public education as well as more and more progressive school districts are turning to online blended learning models to help meet the new National Core Standards in the Arts.

Read my review of Musical U HERE

Please pass this information on to anyone who may be interested in improving their ability to identify and hear scales, intervals, chords, and chord progressions.

This article (c) 2016 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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How to Grow Your Patreon Page, Part 8: DON'T GET SCAMMED!

Posted on February 7, 2016 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)

How to Grow Your Patreon Page


In this video, I share the results of my pledge-for-pledge campaign on Patreon for the month of January 2016 and discuss the new Dashboard feature, the new Referral program, and unfortunately show you how I got scammed out of $25 this month!


You can watch more videos in this series on my Patreon playlist.

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Thomas J. West Joins the Drum Corps International Adjudication Team for the 2016 Season

Posted on February 3, 2016 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Thomas J. West

I am pleased to announce that I have officially been accepted as a new member of the adjudication team for Drum Corps International for the 2016 season.

DCI is the premiere non-profit youth competitive marching arts organization in the world, featuring the top marching brass and percussion ensembles in North America, Europe, and Asia. The DCI competitive season runs from June to August each year, culminating in several World Championship competitions.

I will be judging between 2 and 4 competitions in my inaugural season and am excited to be a part of the drum corps world in a new way this year. I hope to continue to contribute to the marching arts in this way for years to come.

Special thanks to Trial Judging Coordinator Lee Carson and Judge Liason Wayne Dillon for their guidance and expertise in my trial judging shows during the 2015 season.

Music Careers for Your Personality Type

Posted on January 30, 2016 at 7:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Music Careers for Your Personality Type

Music Careers For Your Personality Type


Far from just art for art’s sake, music is business: big business.


$15.6 billion = Recorded music industry revenue 2015[3]

[parts of that 15$ billion][4]

46% physical sales revenue

46% digital sales revenue

6% performing rights (personalized streaming services, broadcasts, venues)

2% Synchronization revenue (adverts, brands, film partners)


In perspective:

That’s double the value of every beer stocked on a store shelf that year [1]


Music is global. And globally appealing.


But the US is the true center of music business


Genres by total consumption in the US:

Rock 29%

R&B/Hip Hop 17.2%

Pop 14.9%

Country 11.2%

Dance / EDM 3.4%

Christian Gospel 3.1%

Holiday / Seasonal 2.6%

Latin 2.6%

Jazz 1.4%

Classical 1.4%

Children 1%


And a perfect place to start a career in music


Such as:


Personal Manager

Booking Agent

Concert Promoter

Music Publisher

Professional Manager

Business Manager

Music Business Accountant

Entertainment Lawyer

Music Educators

Recording Engineers


There are tons of ways to get involved in the music industry. How do you know which is right for you?


It all depends on your interests, education, and personality.


Top Interests for Music Careers:


Music Creation

Sound Engineering









Top Degrees for Music Careers:


Bachelor of Music (BM) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

Bachelor of Music Education (BME)

Bachelor of Arts in Music (BA)

Bachelor of Science in Music (BS)

Bachelor of Science in Music Business (BS)


Top Personality Types for Music Careers:


INTJ – The “Architects” are people who can strategize and plan for any situation








ISTJ – The “Logisticians” are people who are very fact-centered and reliable


ESTJ – The “Executives” are people who excel as administrators and managers of people


ISTP – The “virtuosos” are people who are bold and practical implementors

ISFP – The “adventurers” are people who are flexible and charming, will try anything once

ESTP – The “entrepreneurs” are people who are smart, perceptive, and very energetic

ESFP – The “entertainers” are people who are spontaneous, energetic, and enthusiastic

With a little hard work and a desire to work in a musical field, there’s a role for almost everyone!


Personal Manager


Description: represents a musical group and helps to manage all aspects of their career

Salary: generally 10-50% of an artists earnings

Personality types: INTJ, ENTJ, ESTJ

Education: Associates degree or above, music business


Booking Agent


Description: Secures bookings for musical talent at venues

Salary: $20,000 to +$1,000,000

Personality types: ENTJ, ENTP, ENFP, ESTP

Education: Associates degree or above, music business


Concert Promoter


Description: Hosts musical acts and artists, acts as organizer for musical events.

Salary: $0 to +$1,000,000

Personality types: ENTJ, ENTP, ENFP, ESTJ

Education: Associates degree or above, music business


Music Publisher


Description: Publishes music, negotiates royalties, copyrights music, distributes music

Salary: $20,000 to +$1,000,000

Personality types: INTP, ENTJ, ESTJ,ISTP, ESTP

Education: Associates degree or above, music business


Professional Manager


Description: Pitches music owned by publishing companies to labels and bands for performance and recording

Salary: $20,000 to $64,590

Personality types: INTJ, ENFJ, ENFP, ISFP

Education: Bachelors in Marketing, Music Business, or Other


Music Education


Description: Music educators in private settings, primary, secondary, or college settings

Salary: $32,540 to $128,330

Personality types: ENFJ, ENTP, INFJ, ESFP

Education: Bachelors in education, bachelors in music


Business Manager


Description: Manages musician and entertainer finances

Salary: $25,000 to +$1,000,000

Personality types: ISTJ, ESTJ, ESTP

Education: Bachelors in music business, business, or accounting


Music Business Accountant


Description: Advise and work with musicians and music business companies in financial affairs

Salary: $40,370 to $113,470

Personality types: ESTJ, ISTJ, ENFP, INFJ

Education: Bachelors in accounting


Entertainment Lawyer


Description: Manages legal matters for musicians: contracts, negotiation, advice, and counseling.

Salary: $70,000 to $150,000

Personality types: ENTP, ISTJ, ESTJ, INTJ

Education: Juris Doctor (JD)


Recording Engineers


Description: sets up and operates recording equipment so as to create albums. Oversee artistic and technical elements of the recording session.

Salary: $25,000 to $150,0000

Personality types: INTJ, INTP, ISTP, ISFP

Education: On the job or associates degree