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Have you noticed that











As I prepare my bands for the UIL Concert & Sight Reading contest that is now less than a month away, I have noticed that they seem to have a big problem with rests. For the uninitiated, rests in music represent silence.


If I reduce the amount of noise that I make, my students will be more likely to hear the important things I tell them

As I was talking with one of the classes on Friday about the incredible importance of the rests, I made a correlation about how we don’t like rests because people really don’t like silence.

In the visual arts, typography, and graphic design fields, whitespace (also called negative space) is visual silence and can be the difference between cluttered and uncluttered presentations.

Take a look at this outstanding slideshow for some examples to get an idea:


So what does this have to do with anything?
Well, I personally try to apply the whitespace concept to a few areas of my life.


  1. Blog design
    When I first set up So You Want To Teach? and when I redesigned it, I made sure to add quite a bit of whitespace from the default theme. This gives the site a comfortable feel. Whitespace is not always white, as can be clearly seen by the bright colors I have on the blog. The key is that there is visual breathing room. I have space between characters (kerning) and between lines (leading). I also have added some space between elements. I also added some sweet pull quotes (what are those?).
  2. Blogging
    I spend less time responding to emails, responding to comments, and writing articles for the blog than I used to. Ya know what? The blog continues to grow. I don’t know every one of my readers. I want to know more about you, but a lot of you never contact me. That’s okay! Some of you do contact me. That’s even better! Hopefully you understand that I will get back to you sooner or later. I do try to respond to as many comments as I can, but sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming. What I have found that really interests me is that the less often I post, the better the conversations tend to be in the comments.
  3. My desk
    I try to maintain a clear desk at work. It doesn’t happen all the time, but the goal is always there. At the end of each day, I do everything I can to clear the desk off. If I leave anything on there, it is something that I will be using first period the next day.
  4. My media life
    I have unplugged my cable from my television. I keep the TV around just on the rare occasion I want to watch a DVD. I frequently purge RSS feeds from my Google Reader list. It’s not that there is not a lot of great information, but the more voices I have coming at me, the less productive I find myself. Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook all seem to have the capacity to waste my time too. Gotta be really careful!
  5. My stuff
    I tend to like getting lots of cool things. I have been learning over recent years to become more content with the stuff I have and less envious of others who have cooler stuff. My current cell phone is far less advanced than most of the people around me. Kids have some of the craziest toys these days! But I’m cool with that. I have intentionally been spending this year getting rid of stuff, and it really makes those things I have more valuable to me. Of course, I say that and have determined that if my band earns Sweepstakes at UIL, I will buy myself a 16GB iPhone. If they get first divisions on stage, but not sight reading (or the other way around), I will buy an 8GB iPhone. If they don’t get first division ratings, I am stuck with the same dumb phone for another year. Haha.
  6. My teaching
    This is the biggest challenge for me. I like to talk. I really wish I could just and listen to myself, because the information that I spew out is just awesome stuff. My students might disagree, though. If I reduce the amount of noise that I make, my students will be more likely to hear the important things I tell them. As a side note, I find that the misbehaviors in my class seem to happen when I am talking or the students are otherwise disengaged. So the less I talk and the more I work, the better!

So now it’s your turn. What are some other ways that you use the concept of whitespace (negative space, visual silence, rests, etc.) in your own teaching. What are some other areas of your life you can think of where whitespace can really be applied more directly.

Joel Wagner
Joel Wagner (<strong><a href="">@sywtt</a></strong>) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. <strong><a href="">So You Want To Teach?</a></strong> is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

6 thoughts on “Whitespace

  1. I’ve heard similar concepts described as “life with margins.” The idea being if you don’t have margins in life, how are you ever going to have time or energy to deal with the unscheduled events that occur throughout the day that are really what make life special?

    For a more literal response to your situation, have you used the book “101 Rhythmic Rest Patterns” by Grover Yaus/Alfred? Unlike most rhythm studies, this one focuses on rests.

  2. Carter: Thanks for the link. Glad to hear that Twitter is beginning to bring more people in. I have subscribed to your blog feeds and will begin to dig through them some more as time allows.

    Stengel99: It’s interesting that you noted the “life with margins” concept. This morning, I came across Trent’s review of the book Margin on The Simple Dollar this morning. It appears to address some of these key concepts.

  3. I guess my “white space” is on the weekends. I do not post on my blog on the weekends and use that time to catch up on blog reading, and getting inspiration from others. I also take time to put balance in my life by gardening, hiking, crocheting, and reading so that I’m not all consumed with the computer (which I can do very easily!). When I’m on the computer, I am on twitter a lot and gaining inspiration from all the other educators around the world. I am also exploring other tools on the wb such as Second Life.

  4. Pat: I’ve noticed that you seem to use Twitter a lot. I tend to get that way with MySpace and Facebook, keeping up with my real life friends. I messed with Second Life a little bit, but saw that it could really suck me in. How are people using it educationally?

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