Collaborating and Building Community

Students are set up with their instruments and ready to go for a Wednesday Program Meeting. These kids take their learning seriously and actively share with each other and participate. As a result, they have dramatically expanded their learning during this time.

This is part 3 of 3 in my series focused on the new paradigm in music education.

Check out the entire class on YouTube!

Check out part 1 here

Check out part 2 here

Hope for the best but move forward with the spirit of innovation and the attitude of adaptability. Waiting things out is not a strategy. 

Things are changing. If you've taken on the challenge of continuing your learning during this time, you are now experiencing true success. This will be something that you carry with you for the rest of your life. Adaptation is changing this business. Adaptation will change your business. You will never be the same.

If you're not onboard yet it's not too late. It's never too late but it's always a choice. If you make the choice to proceed despite the circumstances you will find that what you learn will make you a much better musician. The students presenting in this class are living proof of that. The Simon Boyar School of Drums and Percussion is living proof of that.

Last week we talked about content creation. This week we will talk about building community and collaborating online.

Technology has changed the way we live. It has the power to keep us connected. It's here to stay. It's important not to make the mistake of assuming that all of this helpful information exists in a bubble and that once things return to "normal" all of this information will cease to be relevant. Just the opposite is true. The ground has shifted. THIS is the new normal and much of this will be added to music education for the foreseeable future. A dynamic and resourceful world awaits.

Building Community 

Music is all about people. It's about playing together and the relationships we build while doing it. While you must work diligently to personally improve, in many ways you will rise and fall with the people that you surround yourself with. In order to generate positive learning outcomes for yourself online, you must work to build community.

Without ensemble rehearsals it may initially be challenging to see how we can work together in the current environment. The irony is that in a time when we are all apart, we are able to fill the void like never before. We have the tools to not only work together but to flourish together. In doing so, we can create a very powerful musical experience. There are numerous ways to proceed and so many possible outcomes. Doing any or all of the things in this post will definitely help you create community.

What is Collaboration?

Collaboration can be any joint effort, share, participate, and work together. I've been a professional musician for decades. Whether growing up as a drummer and playing in bands or studying classical percussion at Juilliard, collaboration was always about playing music with others. As a result, I spent a considerable amount of time forming an ensemble program at the SB School. I felt it was important and I would constantly promote the activity. However, there are many other ways to collaborate now that we are online and believe it or not, many of the things I'll be discussing in this post/class are nothing new. The circumstances have simply made these things your primary tools and even when ensembles begin meeting again, these things will remain a part of the new reality. This on the whole is a good thing for music education and a great thing for you.

Responsiveness plays a very important role online. Without it, it's almost impossible to collaborate and build a shared sense of community. 

Collaboration and community building requires engagement and responsiveness. There is no sugar coating it. If you are unable to answer an email or participate in an online meeting or class with thoughtful engagement, you are going to have trouble attaining positive outcomes online. Communication is crucial on all levels. Students who actively participate and engage with clear communication are having much better outcomes. Students who are responsive are having much better outcomes. These are facts. I see it every day.

Meetings - Participation Determines Outcomes

Collaboration can simply be students participating in an online meeting to make it dynamic and interesting. Participation is a very simple and true form of collaboration. Our Ensemble Program meetings (pictured above) have without a doubt been a highlight and a fantastic example of this. When there is extraordinary participation and engagement, students can work together, play off of their strengths and weaknesses, and support each other to create a powerful environment for learning. Without everyone's participation and sharing there can be no meeting. It may seem obvious but I've definitely learned that obvious is not always so obvious :) We are in a world where although we are often separated by distance, participation is more important than ever before to get results.

I think it's a great idea to get creative and come up with new ways to meet and learn. Listening parties are great but as a learning tool they are even better when the music shared can be further explored and followed up on. We make it a point to do this in all of our meetings. It takes a little bit of effort but the students are hooked because they know that they have the power to determine their outcomes. A powerful and substantial life lesson. Additionally, their sense of community and shared experience is strong. This has always been important and in the current environment, this is more important than ever before!

The same Weds program meeting group regularly listens to music together and discusses. 

Arranging - A DAW is your best friend in this environment 

Last class we talked about using a DAW and arranging. It's imperative that you get this basic skill going because in most forms of music it's quite common to pass tracks back and forth between musicians in order to collaborate. I've been doing this for years both when I worked as a producer and even for performances. I would often be hired to create an arrangement as part of a performance. I would lay down my idea and send it along to other artists on the program. They would then follow suit. I am now asking many students to do the same when working together and many are engaged in multiple projects with each other. The results have been stellar. Like so many things with our current predicament, what used to be "value added" has now become necessity. In this case necessity is not the mother of invention but rather, the catalyst for acceleration.

One of the best parts about this is that it takes all of the previously discussed items from the past two classes and rolls them into something extremely potent. When 2 or more students get together to do this, they will improve in ways that simply aren't possible alone. It's truly amazing!

Always remember that arranging in this environment doesn't always have mean a gigantic project. It can be something simple. For example, if two students are working on a similar assignment they can try to play it together and create an interesting new way of working on it. Another idea is to put together dueling drum set grooves or mallet riffs. Many of my students are also finding success in putting together songs that they love. They play off of each other's strengths and weaknesses and learn a tremendous amount while having a blast doing it! The possibilities are endless!


I've always maintained that basic composition should be a part of every well-rounded musician's education. This doesn't mean that every student and musician needs to be Beethoven. Rather, it means that a basic working knowledge of the building blocks of music will aid a musician dramatically on their journey. Composition is the key to unlocking this knowledge and in the current environment, there has never been a better time to experiment and create. It's almost impossible to overstate the powerful tools we have at our disposal and if a student is willing put in the effort, the rewards are immense (to say the least).

Each student has a unique musical voice and when students work together to combine these voices and create music that is where the "real learning" begins. It takes some effort and perhaps for some of you even courage but you will grow from it.

Once again I want to remind everyone that composition can be something as simple as writing yourself an exercise, sharing it with one of your colleagues, and having them either write something to go along with it or just play over it. It doesn't have to be complicated. Remember, a starting point is always an extremely positive thing no matter how small. Your attitude will in many cases determine your outcomes especially with basic composition.

The more the merrier

I've been consistently encouraging my students to seek out their musician friends and add them to projects. Every time you include someone new you will learn something new. Each person you know is and can be a musical resource. You are literally creating a music scene for yourself and learning along the way. Students often underestimate the fact that some of the most successful people actively seek our people to collaborate with. It won't happen by itself. You have to be willing to put in the time and effort but it's absolutely worth it.

Two is always better than one. 


Everything in this series will help you. Don't make the mistake of assuming that this is only a temporary series of steps you should take to "make it through this time." Many of these things were here before and now they will be here to stay thanks to the acceleration of trends caused by COVID-19. It doesn't mean that one day we won't meet in person and things won't in many ways go back to the way that they were. It simply means that when this period of time passes, many of these items will be added to the way that we learn and do things, making for ultimately a much richer experience.

We study music because we love it and being motivated to do the things needed to improve is part of the job. Your energy, commitment, and willingness to venture outside of your comfort zone to grow will not only serve you well in music but in life. It's a brave new world. The next generation will have to succeed regardless of the circumstances. Use the tools available to you including each other and you will!


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