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Teaching

Strategies
THAT WORK

By Christopher Hayes ^-^'^
None of the ideas that follow are particularly new, and many come from my long time teacher Richard Cryder, and
have been refined during the last eighteen years I have spent teaching trombone at the college level. In this time, I
have worked with a wide range of experience and talent levels, from students who never had a private lesson before
college to some of the most talented students in the nation, and everything in between. Teaching provides a unique
challenge as well as an exciting opportunity to challenge and motivate a student to become the best musician they
can be. The following ideas and suggestions are based on ideas that have developed over my teaching career.

Sound is Number One
I often tell students, "It doesn't matter how high you can play, or
how fast you can longue. If you do it wilh a bad sound, no one
will want to hear it". I'm nor sure who was the lirsi lo say it, buy
1 say it 50 often my students know it by heart. Everything we
do with students should be based on sound. Students should tie
reminded that tlie audience can't see ihe music, but they know
It il sounds good. Sound is more importani ihan ihe dynamic or
ihe articulation, but students often sacrifice sound for both. In
general, longer note values sound better, and students need to start
with a comfortable dynamic and work up or down from there.

What Do You Hear?
There are some common sense techniques one can use to develop
a student's sound. The most important of these is pushing the
students to hear themselves more accurately. In lessons, have
them play a phrase or two then ask 'what did you hear?" Often
the hrst answer will be something they think you want to hear,
but is obviously not based on their listening. Other limes the
answer is "! don't know". They play the phrase again and then
ask the same question. I will ask ihal question 10-20 times in an
hour lesson, and encourage the students to ask the same question

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International Trombone Association Journal / www.trombone.net

of themselves when practicing; in fact I tell them to say it out
loud. It is much easier to ignore a voice in your head than a voice
in the room. Students get used to assessing their playing by how
it feels or note accuracy only. The more we accurately perceive the
product, the better we play.
If it sounds good, you are probably doing ii right. Sometimes
teachers give too much information to young players. It is
imporlanl to simplify the process of playing wilh a good sound.
The best exercise for improving sound is simply blowing.
Without the horn, we blow ihrough the phrase, trying to get
the best sound possible with the air alone. When the air sounds
good, the student should then go back to the horn, and the tone is
always better.

Technique Comes From Slow Practice
This concept is easy to believe, but diffieuh lo get students to put
into practice. Get them playing with better technique and sound
by assigning slower rather than faster tempos. Students' tendency
is to play the passage as fast as they can manage the notes, rather
than play only as fast as they can with their best sound. Using
Kopprasch, Bieger, or even scale patterns, the student slows the
tempo to the extent of even playing one note at a titne, until the

::iarity and resonance of each note is evident. Many
players try lo build technique on a weak foundation,
unable lo consistently produce noies thai speak with
clarity and crispness. At some point, almost all of
my students go through the exercise of playing one
note al a lime, as this exposes their inability to
move the air quickly and consistently. Attempting
to play at the given tempo only makes the
problem worse, resulting in a muddy sound and
poor articulation.

PTactice SmaTter
Every lesson is a discussion about practice
techniques. If a student bas made great
progress, we talk ahout what worked, and of
eourse more often we talk about what can he
done 10 achieve better results. Have student's
maintain practice logs from time to time.
The lüg is no! simply a record of minutes
practiced each day; it is an itemized list of
assigned material, in which ihe student
records the amouni of lime each piece or
exercise is practiced. I find that constant
use of logs is not always ellective, but in
many cases it reveals a students utilization
of practice time.
Once a player discovers a problem,
the next step is to address it. It is
important to come up with clear,
concise ideas to solve playing issues.
Many of the concepts in this article and others
contribute to a student's understanding of bow to practice. These
ideas become the vocabulary ihal the student lakes wiih them
and can pull out ol their "tnolbox" when praL:Ucing. These are
ihe same tools thai uill be used later when lhe>' arc teaching.
Since many of my students are music education majors, I stress
tbe importance of hearing and solving problems as the key to
later teaching success. This is the answer to the question we
oiten get from music education majors about why it is important
to work hard on their instruments.

Develop Musicianship
There are two basic parts to smart practice; hearing, and
responding to what is heard. Developing aural skills is essential
to musical playing and successful practice. Playing simple tunes
hy ear in many keys, transcribing solos or songs, and singing are
great ways to develop these skills. 1 also recommend recording
short pieces oí practice sessions and playing lor others as a way
to improve. Any way to get feedback will reinforce concepts
being practiced.
All teachers encourage students to play musically, and
the students usually understand the importance of that goal.
However, if teachers don't support the idea with specific
strategies about how to play musically, players are often not able
to take the next step. There are many facets to being a musical
player, bul a lew important ideas include dynamics, phrasing,
articulation, time, and style. I iry to make sure thai each of those
concepts are addressed in every lesson.
The easiest of these is dynamics. We hear about them from a
very young age, but often players ignore, or do not make enough
of the dynamics written in the music. Of course true musicality
includes playing even more than is on the page. Getting the
studeiu out of the box and exaggerating loud and soft is a key to
finding musical expression.
Phrasing involves the ability lo know whai you want the
music to sound like. This is a step often overlooked. Asking

students to sing a passage can be very helpful. Students almost
always can sing with more expression ihcn they just played
with. Getting ihein lo be musical wiih their voice is a good start
to translating it to the instrument. Also, if the teacher imitates
the student's non musical playing on ihe instrument, it is a
good way to illustrate what is happening. After singing, and or
demonstrating with the student, discuss how it sounds. Have
them tell you what they should do differently to get the sound
ihey want. The combination of discussion and demonstration
has an immediate impact on ideas of phrasing. Knowing what
you want the music lo sound like and getting to that point is the
foundation of musicianship.
Articulation is a deficiency for most students. Many of my
freshmen and high school students have one default articulation.
Some always play long and some always short, but incorporating
the range of articulations can be a ehallenge. Poor use of
articulation makes musicalily difficult if not impossible. I have
the student spend time playing with the articulalion opposite of
iheir comfort zone lo expand their range. Bringing this to iheir
attention over time will help develop a sense of how mu,sicalil\- in
large part comes from expressive and varied use of articulation.
Good rhythm is also critical hecause it is consistently a
problem area. Using a metronome is an obvious and important
aid lo improving time. You can also get good results having
students march in place or conduct while singing. A problem is
much easier to solve if the player can hear it for themselves, and
both icchniques expose the issue.
Style is fundamental to musicianship because playing with
poor or incorrect style shows a lack ol understanding of the
music. This concept is dependenl on the teacher more than any
other because young musicians have litik- experience to draw
from, and rely on us to tell them how to sound. 1 think it is best
to give students a standard approach, while exposing them lo
other options as well. Listening to as much music as possible,
both live and recorded is ihe best way to develop a feel for style.
Musicality will only grow as far as a student can hear style.

TuTTiiTig Weakness into Strength
There are many concepts that must come together to make us
better players, it is human nature to want to spend more lime
practicing our strengths, while ignoring the more frustrating work
of addressing our weaknesses. Trying everyday to balance time
with all of ihc important issues creates improvement. Challenging
students to face iheir playing problems and setting goals for
improvement is critical to keeping the process moving forward.
It is easy to forget lo praise students and make them aware
of their progress. Teachers are in a nuich better position to see
iniprovemeni over a period of time. Students are likely to face
the challenges wilh ihcir head down, not able to look back and
see how far they have come. Balancing the demands of constant
progress with the reward of improvement is something I always
have to remind myself to do with my students, hut it is an
essential part of motivating them to continue.

Achieving Success
The most exciting moment in teaching is the first time a student
"gets it", when the hard work is rewarded and every minute
spent practicing pays off. Usually this success does not last,
and more patient work and repetition is necessary to make it
a habit. By focusing on core strategies that help students, and
consistently addressing those issues, teachers guide students to
make changes that arc both immediately apparent, and a basis
for long term success.
Chris Hayes is Associate Director for Academic Affairs as well as
Associate Professor of Trombone at Ohio University.

International Trombone Association Journal / www.trombone.net

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