We Have Moved

Posted by admin on March 20, 2015 under Uncategorized | Be the First to Comment

Hello Visitor,

Cognitive Conductor is now a part of a new and exciting venture.  We are now a subsidiary of Music Mentors International.

You can find us at: www.mmiachieve.com

We will continue to offer the same great services, but now with far more resources available to you and all of our clients.

Please visit our new website to see how we might be of assistance to you.

Best wishes,

Dale Lonis   

The Cognitive Conductor

Announcing MMI Rehearsal Workshop and Community Band Workshop – Seneca Lake 2015

Posted by admin on October 18, 2012 under Uncategorized | Be the First to Comment

MMI Rehearsal Workshop and Community Band Workshop – Seneca Lake, New York

Sunday, July 26 – Saturday, August 1, 2015

Visit our new website for details at www.mmiachieve.com 


“a group of people working on a creative project, discussing a topic, or studying a subject.

It is a pleasure to invite you to the second Cognitive Conductor – Seneca Lake Workshop where we will continue exploring how we move instrumental music programs from good to great. This workshop provides an opportunity for you to develop a personal growth strategy for becoming a better mentor, teacher and conductor within your current teaching situation. After a very successful inaugural workshop this past July we have made improvements based on participant feedback including adding an extra day to the workshop length.

The Cognitive Conductor – Seneca Lake Workshop is held in the beautiful lake and wine country of upstate New York on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. The classrooms, on-campus dining, residence hall, and lakeside location are all terrific. The Geneva, NY area also offers reasonably priced accommodations should participants choose not to stay on campus and bring their family for the week. It is also very accessible to Canadians (4-hours drive from Toronto and 6-hours drive from Montreal).

Over many years of leading conducting programs, I have been most impressed with what happens “off the podium” and “outside the classroom” when dedicated and talented teachers get together to discuss their challenges and passions. In this Workshop, your time will be spent on your own professional development and preparing for your year to come. As in the past, we will continue to focus on the cognitive, affective, psychomotor and pedagogical tenets of teaching and learning in a non-threatening and non-competitive environment. Prior to arriving at the workshop, all participants will have the opportunity to tell us what they hope to accomplish during the week so we can tailor the workshop for each individual’s needs.

In this inspirational setting the agenda emphasizes think-tank opportunities, individual lessons and rehearsal pedagogy through sessions where we conduct or rehearse ourselves.  New this year – we will offer rehearsal time with a local band to give participants more opportunities for growth on the podium. Topics will include curriculum development, rehearsal approach, community building, selecting repertoire, preparing your ensemble for festival, and other topics participants wish to bring to the week.

We will continue to take no more than 26 participants and Graduate Credit is available for an additional fee.  If you think you can join us, please contact me personally to indicate your interest and ask any questions – seriously – any questions at all.


Dale Lonis, Ed.D.

President and Founder, Cognitive Conductor Inc.

Providing Leadership Through Music

Dale Lonis



Rehearsing for Musical Value

Posted by admin on September 19, 2012 under Teaching | Be the First to Comment

The following is a paper I presented at the MENC National Conference in Kansas City in 1996.  I continue to use this paper as a basis for introducing the concept of getting students to value the learning process.  By doing so, they begin to take more ownership of what they desire to learn.

The Cognitive Conductor:

Rehearsing for Musical Value


By making the decision to teach a music class using the precepts of cognitive psychology as opposed to only those of the behavioral approach, we choose to involve our students’ minds beyond a simple observable demonstration of the response they believe the teacher to desire.



The cognitive conductor determines the success of each rehearsal as well as the eventual performance by:

  • The successful understanding of concepts by the student during each class hour.
  • The success of the interaction between the student and conductor – composer – potential listener.
  • The intrinsic valuing of the concepts by the students as introduced by the conductor. If successful interaction has occurred, then the student will take with him/her a better understanding of all the processes involved in the various aspects of working toward an affective experience.


If cognition and the resulting affect has occurred due to the learning environment, then the student will have gained the knowledge and the skills necessary to transfer that experience to other experiences and learning situations. They will also have learned to value the process of learning if the conductor has been effective. This is the fundamental goal to which the cognitive conductor strives. Once the student is involved in the process, the product (knowledge and performance) is dramatically enhanced and the learning curve is accelerated.



In the traditional model the learning moves from specific to general. The learning will begin with a ‘play or sing through’ followed by ‘note chasing’ until a satisfactory performance level is reached. Quite often time simply does not allow the conductor to get to the point of teaching the student how to bring out the emotion in the music or other intrinsic aspects, so the emotional/affective elements of the work being performed are dictated by the conductor. Phrases such as “this is the climax,” “give it everything here,” “save it a little here so we can peak later,” “please play louder here” or “crescendo to the climax” are typically used to indicate (dictate) where the music is to become ‘emotional’.


As the students are taught the details of the specific work, they generally learn in the following sequence:

  • Learn the notes and rhythms of the specific work (if not in the practice room, then in rehearsal).
  • Learn the hardest technical or musical sections through drill and repetition (again, if not in the practice room, then in rehearsal).
  • Learn ‘work-specific’ balance and ‘note-specific’ intonation.
  • Learn dynamics.
  • Learn general phrasing tendencies (usually where to crescendo or where to breathe).
  • Finally, add the emotional aspects of the work to the performance (as time allows).


If the definite sequence is not exactly the same every time, it is close; with item #6 usually being the last thing considered after all else has been accomplished. If the rehearsal schedule stalls, the student may never get a good grasp of how the conductor came to the understanding of the particular interpretation of the music being performed. The student quite literally plays/sings softly or loudly when told, plays/sings short or long when told, plays/sings fast or slow when told, and crescendos and decrescendos when told. Any other element that is emphasized or brought out by individuals is often a matter of individual ability or private instruction. Thus, the next period of performance preparation (and every successive preparation) becomes a repetition of the previous ‘work-specific’ note chasing or drill. Furthermore, the student knows that if he/she does not work outside of class, it does not matter because everything will be taught, drilled and practiced during the class hour.


In the cognitive model the learning goes from general to specific with the rehearsals closest to a performance given to refining the details and ‘drilling’ any specific problem areas that have simply not come together. The gist of this technique is that the concepts are taught first and the students are then held responsible for knowing and practicing fundamental information and skills prior to and following the conceptual learning phase. The first rehearsal toward a subsequent performance becomes an opportunity for the student and conductor to take inventory of the concepts and skills they currently ‘own’. Then, as new music is introduced, they make note of which new concepts and skills will be required for the new work and which known skills and concepts require further attention or fine tuning. Effective activities include: discussing the composer and the composer’s intent for writing the selected work; asking the members of the ensemble to identify the concepts and skills involved in selecting peak moments in the work; being sure that every individual in the ensemble has the ability to interpret the meter changes effectively; discussing the style of the period in which the work was written and how the composer was typical or atypical of that style; listening to a recording of the work and discussing the emotional elements from the listener’s point of view; asking the members of the ensemble to comment on whether or not they agree with the interpretation they heard in the recording and how they might perform it in a different or more effective manner. These discussions can then be referred to throughout the preparation period as the conductor and the student work together to bring about an emotionally charged performance of the work.


Once the process is started and the students share in the responsibility of the emotional outcome (performance) beyond simply ‘playing or singing the notes’, they will work to develop in the other areas they believe to be important. The conductor will continue to guide them in areas of intonation, group articulation, balance etc., but the value of preparing such things as rhythm, good tone, technique, range and other fundamentals outside of the class period will be better realized by the students. The students will prefer not to have to stop and ‘drill’ and will work to have the daily opportunity to take a principal role in the ‘fine tuning’ of the emotional aspects of the music. Anyone who has ever sat through a rehearsal and not played or sang for fifteen minutes while the conductor drilled another section on notes or rhythms can attest to the truth of this statement.


As the ensemble moves closer to the performance, more attention to details can be given as required. Doing the detail work or solving any serious ‘disagreements’ between sections of the ensemble in regards to pitch, rhythm, articulation etc. directly prior to a performance is part of a successful learning situation to help prepare the individuals to enjoy performing. Quite often, a performance is perceived to be unsuccessful by the students due to only a few tentative moments. If a few minutes of drill just prior to that performance will solve or soften the negative effect of these ‘moments’, then it is time well spent.


Finally, experience shows that time often passes more quickly in rehearsals than one would like. One benefit of going from general to specific is that if the rehearsal schedule stalls somewhere along the learning curve, the students will at least have the concepts to take along to their next performance preparation. If they do not quite get to the level of detail that they would have hoped, the performance is still likely to be ‘musical’ if not note perfect.


The second concept is that in the cognitive model, students are responsible for knowing many of the specifics which would otherwise be drilled or practiced in rehearsal when using the traditional model. Quite often in the traditional rehearsal, little or no distinction is made between conceptual learning and skill development. In fact, the same teaching strategies are regularly interchanged to introduce both of these aspects of learning to the students. An illustration of this is when the conductor drills a particular phrase over and over until satisfied that the students ‘understand’ the problem and can perform the passage ‘satisfactorily’. Unfortunately, the flaw in this method is that the proof of whether or not the students truly understand is if they can transfer what they learned to a new situation. If the problem was of a conceptual nature and the teacher/conductor chose a drill-based strategy without teaching the underlying concept, the only benefit will be that the students will be able to perform that particular passage the way they have memorized it through drill. The next time they run into a passage which calls for their understanding of the same underlying concept, they will again falter. Drill is perhaps the least effective strategy to solve a conceptually-based problem, yet it is often perceived to be the easiest and ‘quickest’ solution for conductors who have not themselves identified the underlying conceptual concern for a particular performance problem. Typically, the primary example of this problem is drilling rhythms over and over. If time were spent teaching the student the fundamental concepts involved in the recognition and performance of rhythms as generally notated in current music literature, less rehearsal time would be required drilling the same rhythm in every new selection.


To take the first step in solving the problem of what should be drilled (either in rehearsal or during individual practice) and what should be introduced conceptually, each conductor should take inventory of his/ her own understanding of which information or skills are required to perform the music being passed out to their students. The more information the conductor can share conceptually in rehearsal, the more students can be expected to drill outside of class when the teacher is not there to help. Likewise, the more responsibility that can be placed upon the student to develop skills outside of class, the more time there will be to teach conceptually during class time. And finally, when cognitive learning techniques are applied, greater transfer of information and skill development will occur.


To assist the reader in developing an awareness of his/her knowledge of which music fundamentals are conceptually-based and which are more skill-oriented, a list is provided below of fundamentals which are often identified as important to the successful performance of a selection of music. This author will not provide the ‘answer’ to which are conceptually-based and which are skill-oriented because the desired outcome of asking the readers to participate in the exercise is not to define which are which. The purpose of the exercise is to engage the readers’ minds in determining whether or not they have ever considered which are conceptually-based and which are skill-oriented and subsequently to determine if the readers have been as effective as they might have been if they had simply identified the difference. Analogous to this might be in determining not what question was asked, but rather, was the right question asked ?












tonal center



























The above list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it should be useful to establish an awareness of the great number of skills and concepts every conductor uses on a daily basis. It should further suggest to the reader whether or not he/she has a clear grasp of the difference between which of these words represent skills which can be practiced and developed by a student, and which represent concepts which can be applied to a number of situations by the student. Again, if the conductor can identify the difference between skills and concepts, then a better strategy for teaching musical stills and concepts can be developed.


The third concept is the key word, interaction. Do not simply tell the students what to do. Give the concept on which the concern being addressed is based. Follow it with examples outside the immediate context or examples within the context performed by individuals within the ensemble. Then let the students react. Their reaction might be as fundamental as a ‘look’ or a ‘group sigh’ or ‘arghh’. It may be a moment of discussion. The critical part of this is that students are encouraged to not only react and respond, but to interact. Once the atmosphere is developed to allow ownership by the students of the musical and emotional development of each selection, they will have a greater reason to not only participate in class, but to prepare more outside of class.


Another important concept is to set up an expectation for the next rehearsal. Not only give the students good reason to want to return, but good reason to return prepared. At the end of each class ask them to give a short recap of the concepts learned during the class hour (with examples), and how these concepts might be used to enhance their individual practice that evening as well. Ask them to consider how they might apply the new information to the next rehearsal or another selection of music. Then set up an expectation for the next rehearsal by telling them what was good and what was not so good about the current rehearsal. The use of an advanced organized is also recommended to set up the concepts being addressed in the next rehearsal. Give the students something to think about or reflect upon which relates to the concept being taught during the next rehearsal.


Arguably the most important concept is that the conductor must provide an environment which stimulates the students to develop a sense of value of the intrinsic components of the music. When the students value these affective elements of music, their desire to develop the individual performance skills required to reach higher levels of performance is greatly enhanced. They wish to learn because of their own internal discipline as much as because they wish to either please the conductor or avoid angering that person. This internal discipline then stays with them as they continue beyond the influence of a particular conductor.


If one were to identify the best performers in the world or those individual s who have reached the greatest heights of achievement in any profession, a common theme is discovered. This theme generally includes the person going through three phases in reaching the pinnacle of his/ her profession. The first phase is that they started out when they were young, absolutely enjoying the work required to excel in a particular field. The second phase that most successful people share is when personal discipline is established through individual drill and attention to the fundamentals and details required for later success in a particular area. The final stage is when the successful person takes the knowledge and skills obtained and valued and begins to create a highly polished or even new product based on their experiences. In every phase the common thread is the valuing of the learning of the knowledge and skills which are required to make successful progress. As long as an individual values the experience, he/she will continue to see the need to work effectively toward a perceived goal.



The success of the cognitive model lies in the ability of the conductor to hold the students accountable for preparing for each rehearsal . In order to do this effectively the conductor must consider the following:

  • Take inventory of the fundamental music skills and concepts the students know and which ones they do not know. Then determine what is required for the performance of a musical work being considered. This requires the conductor to understand which musical problems are skill-based and which are concept-based.


  • Use warm-up time at each rehearsal to address fundamental concepts and skills which are required to perform at the level desired. Use an interactive technique to teach and discuss concepts and strive to find ways to get students to value musically intrinsic learning so they want to work on individual skills outside of the rehearsal.


  • Remember the learning curve and hold the students accountable for knowing what is expected of them prior to each rehearsal. Give them advance notice of what is expected prior to each rehearsal. When they do come unprepared, do not give in to ‘drilling’ them. Instead, move on to another example of the particular concept that you are trying to illustrate and inform them of your expectation for the next time and the consequences for their failure to comply.


  • Promote interaction, cognitive and affective participation throughout each rehearsal to encourage the valuing of the conceptual learning by the students.


  • Place thinking about doing, feeling above responding, and interacting above reacting; above all, place valuing at the top of all that is desirable in the rehearsal situation.


The above discussion is by no means an exhaustive step-by-step menu for success for becoming a cognitive conductor. It is meant only to give an overview of the possible applications of a cognitive learning model to the rehearsal setting. The ultimate success of this method relies on the presence of many of the same conditions which are important for all other teaching methods. Not only must the conductor be committed to the method but he/she must be as well informed as possible about the fundamental information required by the method. If the conductor combines these two qualities with enthusiasm and care for each and every student, then success is sure to follow.




Adams, J.S. The Care and Feeding of Ideas: A Guide to Encouraging Creativity. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company Inc., 1986.


Bloom, B.S. “The hands and feet of genius.” Educational Leadership (Feb 1986): 70-76.


—, ed. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1956.


—, J.T. Hastings and G.F. Madaus. Handbook on Formative and Summative Evaluation of Student Learning. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1971.


Boardman, E. Dimensions of Musical Thinking. Reston, VA: MENC, 1989.


Brandt, R.S. Dimensions of Thinking: A Framework for Curriculum and Instruction. Alexandia, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1988.


Colwell, R. Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning. New York, NY: Schirmer Books, 1992.


Dowling, W.J. and D.L. Harwood. Music Cognition. Orlando, FL: Academic Press inc., 1986.


Gardner, H. Art, Mind and Brain. New York, NY: Basic Books Inc., 1982.


—. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York, NY: Basic Books Inc., 1983.


—. Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York, NY: Basic Books Inc., 1993.


Herrman, N. The Creative Brain. Lake Lure, NC: The Ned Herrmann Group, 1993.


Krathwohl, D.R., B.S. Bloom and B.B. Masia. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. Handbook II: Affective Domain. New York, NY: David McKay, 1964.


Sloboda, J.A. The Musical Mind: The Cognitive Psychology of Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.


Sternberg, R.J. Handbook of Human Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.


Assisting students to take more responsibility

Posted by admin on under Teaching | Be the First to Comment

Hello everyone,

In an education group I follow, a question came up about a teacher wanting to develop more independence in their students and for them to work in small groups.

I posted the following comments and thought you might be interested as well.

I believe success begins with the teacher not only asking students to take responsibility, but also mentoring them in how to be successful peer tutors. The single most common mistake many teachers make when beginning to ask students to take responsibility is giving them far too many things for which to be responsible. My wonderful mentor Benjamin Bloom (Bloom’s taxonomy) based his teaching on the tenets of mastery learning, automaticity, and developing talent in young people. Those ideas clearly support the premise of breaking all learning down into smaller units. Once that is accomplished building blocks can be created that support the concept of “transferring” what they know about peer tutoring to their own learning.

The other aspect of this that I sincerely believe (as did Dr. Bloom) is that every student will have some strength whether it is social, intellectual, musical or other. Identify the students’ strengths (and challenges) first and then mentor them in how to share their own strengths (or even values). The greatest predictor of success is “previous or early success” so give them something to do that will be instantly successful for them. Once they have had some success, you can begin to expand what they will take responsibility to learn and share as peer tutors giving every student the encouragement to offer a strength to the learning cohort.

Do not expect instant success from your students in this. It will take longer for the students to learn content in the beginning, but think of it as the content amount initially being reduced by the amount of time it will take to teach them the leadership/peer mentoring skills (think of it as new content). Once they have started to master those, the content/concept/skill/transfer balance increases quickly.

We all know the saying which speaks of the difference between “giving a man a fish. . . or . . .teaching a man to fish. . .” This is the same premise.

If anyone is interested I can share some more thoughts and articles on student responsibility and breaking music teaching into smaller “chunks.”

Best of luck to you all as we begin another year of influencing and mentoring students by sharing our own passion for music.

Welcome to the Cognitive Conductor Website

Posted by admin on September 1, 2012 under Leadership | Be the First to Comment

In the arts we are currently in an amazing state of self-evaluation, creativity and opportunity. We have been forced to create new business models that are self-sustaining and do not rely on hopes of monetary support that may not become available.  We have learned that those who are unwilling to shed the ways or expectations of the past will be unsuccessful.  We have become more aware of the need to become advocates for creating beauty and that doing so is more important than ever in our world.

As I launch into the next stage of my own career by offering Leadership Through Music, the prospects of sharing my passions and experiences seem more important than ever. I have been fortunate to hold leadership roles and to make a difference in the professional world of orchestra management and education at all levels.  These successful experiences were based upon what I learned by leading and growing high school and university music programs, as well as travelling, conducting and teaching on six continents over the past 30 years. With this new venture I hope to continue to honor the mentors I have been so fortunate to have had and pass on their knowledge base and core values in fresh new ways while sustaining those tenets for future generations.

My greatest passion remains to inspire, teach and mentor young minds and emerging professionals. The work I have created in educational and artistic planning with professional orchestras, youth orchestras and bands, has served and inspired thousands of children and adults. I am honored to have served and mentored  literally hundreds of conductors and teachers either in their masters and doctoral programs or through the workshops I have presented internationally. It brings me great joy that I am still professionally connected with the vast majority of them and that many of them reflect the teachings of my mentors in their own lives.

An important mentor to me, Benjamin Bloom, believed in the tenets of what was later to become known as “Cognitive Pyschology.”  He spent his life finding the best ways to teach.  It is upon his tenets that “The Cognitive Conductor” is based: Cognitive, Affective, and Psychomotor Domains  - – - Thinking – Feeling – Doing. His work on the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook I: Cognitive Domain remains to this day a benchmark for the way we learn.

The understanding of the three domains and how they influence our behavior combined with the concepts from Dr. Bloom’s theories of mastery learning and automaticity are the foundation upon which this venture is built.  In my own work and experience I have discovered over time that when we find a balance between the three domains and an awareness or recognition of where those around us are in terms of their own balance, we will be most successful and joyful.

Thus, as I stated in the beginning of this essay, we are in the midst of a time of tremendous creativity and opportunity.  I hope you will join me in exploring the possibilities of what we can accomplish together to ensure a beautiful world for the next generation.

Dale Lonis Ed.D.
President and Founder
Cognitive Conductor Inc.