As a musician, I continually recognize the ever-applicable connections between teaching and performance. The core of my pedagogy is to guide students to become their own teachers through problem solving. When students begin the process of analysis and creative problem solving, they become their own teachers thus, becoming autonomous.
My method is grounded in thorough knowledge and practice of fundamentals in brass playing with an emphasis on musical expression. By developing a routine of fundamental components students become more consistent players, develop confidence, and can strive for artistry. When students have particular gaps in their playing, I make a point to bring these gaps up to their strengths. When in the school setting, I run a morning warm-up class where students can work on these exercises in a group setting. The group setting provides context in regards to balance, color, pitch, and function while developing camaraderie.
The problem-solving aspect of my teaching mirrors that of the scientific method. I have my students treat their issues on the horn as a trial where they need to come up with solutions, try them only a few times, and move on or deem it a successful trial. This allows them to compartmentalize aspects of their playing rather than becoming emotional about how they “aren’t good enough.” I prefer to leave the emotions to the character of the music they are playing.
For the development of ideal horn sound, my students learn the specifics of air usage, embouchure, and how the construction of the horn provides options for technique. These nuts-and-bolts aspects are addressed regularly but do not take precedence over sound and phrase.
My teaching seeks to develop the complete musician. In addition to the various facets of horn playing, I make it a point for students to understand the other aspects of being a musician such as applying music theory, understanding the historical background, and social contexts. Music theory and ear-training tend to be the subjects holding music students back if such an issue arises. For this reason, I regularly check in on core musicianship skills (especially scales, key signatures, and matching pitch) and make myself available to work with students outside of lessons so they do not fall behind in these subjects.
Professionalization is another theme in my teaching. I address this topic with my students in lessons but mainly in the studio class setting. Examples include the intricacies of gigging etiquette, compiling professional resumes/CVs, and orchestral auditions are addressed. Regardless of career path, my students learn how to talk about what they are doing and present themselves in a professional manner.
As a mentor, it is my responsibility to understand how my students are working outside of my courses. I make it a point to observe students in large ensembles and chamber ensembles. The group warm-up setting matched with these observations allow for me to tweak my teaching as needed.
Finding my students’ strengths and improving upon their shortcomings allows me to guide them in creating a career unique to them. Discussion and planning for life-after-school will be addressed to provide stability. From practicality to creativity, I consider it a privilege to share my thoughts and experiences with students but ultimately, teaching is about exploiting a students’ strengths, potential, and allowing them to feel successful doing so.
“The true purpose of arts education is not necessarily to create more professional dancers or artists. [It’s] to create more complete human beings who are critical thinkers, who have curious minds, who can lead productive lives.” -Kelly Pollock
Photo by Andy Schwartz of Veritography