A Silent Strategy for Peak Performance on Contest Day

competition contest performing technology tips travel Mar 05, 2024
A Silent Strategy for Peak Performance on Contest Day

By Rob Chilton

I used to hate bus rides to contest with my students.  It always seemed that while I was seated up front stressing over difficult passages, my students were goofing off and sometimes even misbehaving in the seats behind me.  The last thing I wanted to do was fuss at them before a big performance.

It’s Not Coincidence–It’s Science

Over time, I began to notice my bus rides worsening.  It seemed to coincide with the introduction and acceptance of smartphones in schools.  Kids were texting, playing games, and engaging in high-speed digital play that was ramping up their behavior and making them more difficult to corral upon arriving at our destination.  I wondered–were the phones the issue?  As it turns out, they are partly to blame.  To understand how smartphones and other digital devices affect behavior, let’s establish an understanding of the five basic types of brain waves:

The most common waking brain waves are beta and alpha.  There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that smartphones–and the apps included therein such as texting, social media, and video games–trigger beta waves in the brain.  Beta waves are responsible for alertness and engagement, but can also be associated with anxiety and fear.  When the conditions are right, beta waves can also initiate the “fight or flight” response.

Consider this–our students are likely to enter the beta or even gamma states while performing.  Do we really want them sitting in a prolonged state of alertness or even hyperactivity just before stepping on stage?

The “Beta Battery”

I believe we all have a “beta battery.”  That is to say, our brains can only stay in the beta state for so long before they need rest and recharging. I found that when I allowed my students to engage in overstimulating activity before performing, they had less focus when it came time for the downbeat.

To combat this issue, in 2015, my assistant at the time–Brittany Yanniello–and I adapted a travel procedure she’d experienced while in her high school band in Plymouth, Michigan under the direction of David McGrath.  We called our adaptation “Silent Travel.”

The Two Rules of Silent Travel

Silent travel is simple–no talking and no devices. Our aim was to create an environment conducive for rest and recharging where our students could slip into the alpha state. Explained more thoroughly, here are the two rules:

  1. From the moment we step on the bus until the performance is complete, there's no talking except in the event of an emergency–medical, musical, or other–and when receiving instruction from a director or chaperone.

  2. From the moment we step on the bus until the performance is complete, no smartphones, tablets, or smartwatches are to be used.  Additionally, we required our students to power off their devices and place them in large clear storage bins–one for each bus–that would be safeguarded by a director or chaperone.  This would ensure that no one was “cheating.”  Students could also choose to leave their devices on campus in their lockers or backpacks.

Enjoying this article?  Check out our music literacy program!

Getting Buy-in

These rules might sound strict, if not authoritarian.  But remember, the goal is to get our students calm and recharged for the performance, because the performance is the reason they’re traveling in the first place!  I also believe there's value in teaching children to be present in the moment.  We don't need to be connected at all times.  Some things are meant to be experienced IRL–in real life.  Over the years, we found students buy-in the most when we’re honest and provide clear reasoning.  Make sure to do the following:

  • Emphasize the significance of the performance.  They may have been preparing for it for weeks or even months!  Silent travel is about ensuring that nothing takes away from that preparation and significance.

  • Discuss the difference between beta and alpha brain waves and how technology affects the brain.

  • Ensure them that their technology will be safe and that they will be given access as soon as they are done performing–or at whatever predetermined time you deem appropriate.  (Just make sure to define that for them!)

Without Technology, How Does One Entertain Oneself?

The question the kids always ask is, “if we can’t talk and we can’t have our devices, what can we do?”  I usually tell them they can look out the window, close their eyes and rest, or quietly study their music without their instrument.  Sometimes we weave humor into the conversation by saying something like this:

Final Travel Considerations

If your travel time exceeds 60 minutes and you’re considering silent travel, you may give thought to allowing certain activities until a pre-established time.  For example, in 2018, my varsity band made a five-hour trip from Dallas to San Antonio to perform.  We allowed reasonable talking and device usage for the first four hours.  Then, at the start of the last hour, we announced “silent travel” and asked the chaperones to collect devices.

Over the years, we observed most our students chose to rest during silent travel.  In fact, many fell asleep!  Keep in mind that we don’t want them to be drowsy during the performance.  For that reason, we always made a “wake-up” announcement 10-15 minutes prior to arriving on site.

We also observed our students followed the rules best when we–both the directors and chaperones–also followed the rules.  It’s only fair!  Though we did tell our students that all adults would keep their phones so we could communicate about procedures and take action in the event of an emergency.

Finally, it’s a good idea to let your students’ parents/guardians know about your silent travel procedures.  We included a note about it in our itineraries and reminded our students to talk about it at home.  You want to avoid creating unnecessary worry in a world where everyone is almost always accessible.


Schools everywhere are wrestling with the role of smartphones and devices in the classroom–a topic for another conversation–but one thing we know for sure is they aren’t going anywhere.  Silent travel may or may not be for you, but it's worth evaluating your technology-use rules and travel procedures in hopes of improving their big day!

Best wishes for a stellar performance!

Never miss a new posting!

Check out this short video!

About the author:

Rob Chilton is the creator and owner of Readymade Music, LLC and its content. Previously, Chilton was a middle school band director from 2007-2021. His most recent teaching position was the Head Band Director at Killian Middle School in Lewisville, Texas from 2014-2021.

Under his direction, the Killian Honors Band was named the 2018 Texas Music Educators Association CC Honor Band and performed at the annual 2018 TMEA Clinic/Convention. In 2019, the Killian Honors Band was invited to and performed at The Midwest Clinic in Chicago. Additionally, the Killian Honors Band was named a National Winner in the Mark of Excellence National Wind Band Honors Project in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Chilton is a graduate of Southern Methodist University where he had the opportunity to study music education under the tutelage of Lynne Jackson and Brian Merrill. During his years as a middle school band director, Chilton continued his professional growth under the guidance of his primary clinicians, John Benzer and Brian Merrill.

Chilton’s mission for Readymade Music is to promote the overall well-being of music education and support school music teachers by providing solutions to help make teaching music more efficient and inspirational while increasing engagement for 21st century learners.

© 2024 Readymade Music, LLC
All rights reserved.
The unauthorized distribution and/or reproduction of this work is illegal.