Expectations – Failure to Plan Is a Plan to Fail


When you are working with students it is very important to establish your goals and expectations from the start. If you want your students to succeed, you have to communicate what you expect and why.  This can be long term expectations like, “I want you to be able to play all major scales by the end of the year,” or it can be short term goals like, “I want you to be able to play a C# in tune today.”

As a teacher, it is essential that you go into your rehearsals with a plan. As many of us have heard before – failure to plan is a plan to fail.  This is even more important in the rehearsal setting. Establishing what you expect from your musicians and then giving clear cut ideas for how to achieve those goals is essential. If they reach the goals you set for them, be it long or short-term, reward them with positive reinforcement so they continue to strive for excellence day after day.

In my many years of observing conductors, I found they often have goals in mind for their students, like how they want them to sound, what skills they want them to have, etc. The problem occurs when conductors do not communicate to students what their goals and expectations are and fail to hold the students accountable for reaching and achieving these goals. Conductors frequently give up too easily, which causes students to give up and fall short of their potential as well.

Set the tone in rehearsals, especially early in the year. Tell them you expect certain things like being in tune, using good tone, balance, blend, etc. If the students are not giving you what you want, do not lower your standard to them. Instead, make them reach up to the standards you set from the start.  Is it easy? No, it’s hard work day, after day, after day…but don’t give up! If you don’t like how the tuning note sounds, don’t go on until you get the tone you want in tune. You will find stressing fundamentals really is the hard part, but doing it pays big dividends. The music you perform in concert will be the easy part IF they are fundamentally sound, and that can only happen by establishing expectations, working to achieve them, and then rewarding your students for reaching those expectations. As Winston Churchill said “Never, never, never give up!”


Larry Clark is the founder and President of Excelcia Music Publishing. He is a well-known composer, author and clinician for bands and orchestras. His music is some of the most popular and most performed around the world for school ensembles.  He has over 300 publications in print and writes extensively about topics of interest to educators and composers.  For more information, visit his website.