Taking on a new task or skill in life requires adjustment. This can be applied to our journey early in our life when we first learn to walk, or first learning to ride a bike. These skills take time to learn the correct approach to give our bodies the correct sequence of instructions for movement, but also to learn the balance needed for success. That same learning curve can also be applied to teaching. When we first begin to teach, we begin by taking what we know and try to communicate it back to our students.
Over time this regurgitation of information from our personal experiences and learned pedagogy becomes more developed. This allows us to present our ideas to students in the most efficient ways as we grow as teachers. What if it a student has difficulty learning? What if a student is physically not capable of processing what you are telling them? These kind of questions are ones that I recently had to address when taking on a student with special needs.
My student was one who had been diagnosed with Autism. This disorder effects people in different ways depending on the severity of their diagnosis. What I noticed in my student's disability was that she lacked an ability to retain information from week to week, and often applying what we were addressing in each lesson. A secondary issue was that she had difficulty creating expressive ideas beyond what was on the page. Until this time, I had never had instruction on how to deal with a student who was diagnosed with a mental disorder, but I wanted to provide the best instruction I could for her. So I began to do research.
In the beginning, I started by giving her simple instructions and creating small phrases such as "Big Belly Breath" and "Blow out the Candle." These phrases began to slowly work their way into her responses to many of my questions and I began to see progress in her air support and connection. I utilized the basic progressions of note to note movement that James Thompson's Buzzing Basics presents. This enabled us to begin tackling a decent majority of the register from week to week. The main issue of information retention from lesson to lesson was still a problem.
I reached out to Dr. Ryan Gardener, Professor of Trumpet at Oklahoma State University. Dr. Gardener is an artist coordinator for the Music For Autism Program that presents musical concerts and events for students with autism all over the country. He also is a fellow Eastman School of Music alumni that I have had the pleasure of knowing for several years. His guidance was pivotal in helping to create a lasting instructional method that my student could slowly begin retaining and building upon from lesson to lesson. The main aspect he presented in his work with students with autism was that movement played a large part in musical instruction retention. So, I began to develop a new way of teaching just for my student while using many of my traditional methods I had used in the past.
I first began to incorporate hand movements and directional leaning into our work in the Stamp and Thompson books. This allowed her to get a sense as to when and how to move her air depending on what part of the register she was playing. This addition to instruction allowed her to make huge progress in just the first lesson, but quickly expand upon from lesson to lesson. My next step was to begin talking about dynamics and style through literal dancing. I used many of the Bordogni etudes to show her various types of styles physically on the page as well as how to dance to them. Staccato styles were presented walking around on her tip toes, while a more majestic or heroic theme was presented with a stately march around the room while showing off our muscles. With each different style, I developed or showed a new way of moving so that when we saw that same style again I just mentioned the dance or movement and she was able to play in a way that matched our movement. Not ever movement was easily transferred back to performance, but overall this gave her a huge advantage in playing in a more emotional way than before.
The step we are currently working on is to begin transferring feelings into her performance. I am showing her clips on Youtube from movies that evoke various emotions and asking her how they make her feel. Then once an emotion is established, we begin to find ways of moving that relate to those emotions. This way we can connect those movements and emotions in the same manner that the styles are connected to the music.
Overall, this has been a fantastic music journey for myself both as a teacher, and performer. Being able to see joy in a student when they know they have done something great is an awesome achievement. Finding a way for a student to perform on a level that many thought would not be achieved is a milestone for myself. Since our first lesson together, my student has placed in the top 3 best students in her All-County Band, but also in the top 5 of her All-District Band. We are currently preparing for her All-State audition next week, and with the progress she is showing now I have all the confidence she will continue to show others how amazing she really is!
*If you have any advice on how I can further help my student - Please leave a comment below or contact me directly. I am always looking for more way to help my student acheive their goals.
The Virginia Tech Trumpet Festival was originally designed to continue the legacy of Professor Emeritus, Alan Bachelder, and his trumpet scholarship. This scholarship is used to help standout trumpet students at Virginia Tech met their academic goals through additional financial support. After this past weekend, I believe that this scholarship will continue to provide that support for generations to come.
Since this past weekend, I have been reminded how much I love teaching and performing in this setting. Getting the opportunity to help shape young performer's musical lives is truly a powerful feeling. Watching their eyes light up when they see an immediate change in their performance is the sole reason I made the decision to pursue this career. Not only does teaching provide that positive feeling, but also sharing repertoire with students through live performance. Being able to teach through live modeling what these students can accomplish provides the same feeling. Finding new works that students may not have been exposed to allows them to make their own choices on musical interpretation.
In addition to having the opportunity do my own teaching and performing, I was lucky to see Vincent DiMartino and Gabriel DiMartino do the same. I had never met either Vince or Gabriel before, but I was blown away by their ability to diagnose and address issues each student was facing with a simple statement. They provided quick descriptions of what they were hearing, but then gave each student several paths to fix each issue. Along with their description of the diagnosis, they modeled for them their remedies. Each had their own way of presenting the information, whether it be with more or less information in words. No matter, they each resulted back to modeling their findings and solutions to the students. This type of teaching is something that I value the most. It not only allows the students to hear what is wrong and how to fix it, but the teacher presents an aural example of the correct performance style for the student to model. This allows the student to then compare and contrast their own music products, both during the lesson and later in practice room.
The weekend culminated with a solo performance of Kevin McKee's Centennial Horizon and a featured performance with Dr. Jason Crafton and the Virginia Tech Wind Ensemble of Kevin Mckee's Under Western Skies. Both performances went fantastically and the students seemed very receptive to both pieces. Having the opportunity to do things like this make my time spent in school (and paying back the student loan debt) worth it! Finding ways to shape young musical minds creates a lasting love for the art of teaching and performing that no other outlet can accomplish. It was truly a magical weekend that created lifelong memories and new friendships.
*Below is the handout I created for my warm-up session. It is based on exercises that I have performed with previous teachers and trumpet performers. Each exercises is a duplicate of their instructions or a slight variation. Be sure to only move to the next exercise once you have become familiar and somewhat proficient at the preceding exercise. This will prevent injury and enable you to add to the knowledge learned from exercise to exercise. Take each exercise with an open mind and focus on the instructions given to each. After, you may begin to pick and choose which exercise works best for your issues and personal playing style. Feel free to contact me for more information on the exercises. I am always happy to help or redesign these exercises to better suit what you need in your own practice. *
I love to travel! Getting the opportunity to see the world, especially when I get to do it with my wife, is one of the things I have dreamed of doing since I was younger. Experiencing new places, cultures and sharing experiences is something that I would encourage everyone to do since it allows us to broaden our visions of the world we live in. I also love to make music. The only difficulty is that playing trumpet and traveling does not always work well when you are on the road. Many times I am able to take my horns with me and find a place to practice so that my abilities the next day or day after our travels are unnoticed. The issue is only when I am not able to take my trumpet with me and I am forced to either travel with only a mouthpiece or I am not able to find time where I can buzz without disturbing others around me.
I have often found that going away for a weekend trip showcases noticeable deficiencies when I come back home to practice. I often see a lack in endurance, an unfocused aperture, and sometimes a spreading in my aperture that does not allow for strict control at softer dynamics. Coming back to practice after a short time away and being frustrated forced me to create a regiment in my routine to get back what I am use to in my performance. This routine took several trips to experiment in what worked best for me, but for those who are reading this - this same routine may not work for you. I strongly encourage you to experiment the same way I did so that you can find something that works best for you.
My routine revolves around a TWO day recovery:
-Long Tones with hairpin dynamic exploration ( p<ff >pp)
-Two Octave Lip Bends (Low C down to Low G then ascending to G about the staff)
-Attack Practice (Breath - Poo - Tongue)
-Spend time playing Bordogni or Concone Etudes
(Listen to your face! Do not push yourself and force results - you can hurt yourself!)
-Long Tones with Lip Bends
-Clarke Scale Studies with Extensions
-Goldman Articulation Etudes (#1 and #2) as well as James Thompson's *$%&#$* Exercises
-Lyrical Etudes and Solo Repertoire
-Upper Register Slurs and Articulation
-Practice resumes to normal performance!!
Again, this routine did not always look this way. I came to finding this specific regiment through trial-and-error. I experimented with several exercises and studies that allowed me to finally hone in on what really worked for me. Do not get discouraged in this experimentation. Figuring out what works best for you to get back to the way you were before your time off is an adventure! So, get out there and see the world, but don't be worried about coming back to your horns - there will be another adventure waiting at home when you return!
This past week has been one heck of a week in terms of achieving personal victories in auditions for potential employment in playing positions. On Tuesday of this past week I auditioned for an ensemble that will remain nameless. I had auditioned for this ensemble before in the past, but did not find any luck advancing even through the first round. This last time however, I was fortunate to advance to the finals to be told unofficially that I had would have been offered a position with that ensemble, but due to circumstances of miscommunication and personal difficulties in timing, they were not able to offer me that position at that time. Overall it was a sad moment and upsetting in many ways for me, but one thing that I can take from this is that I took a level of my playing and transformed it to something that now has the ability to win positions in prestigious ensembles in the United States. This focus in my practice had never truly be on the forefront in what I worked on as a performer. Most of my time was spent focusing on the pedagogical aspects of the trumpet and examining and performing solo literature.
I am taking a particular piece of advice away from all of what happened this week, and that element is that you should always be willing to ask for help and seek guidance from others who either work in that particular environment you are auditioning for, or around it. What I mean by that, is that one should not be afraid to play and perform for individuals who know about the literature you are performing, either through first hand experience of playing them themselves in an ensemble, or work around that literature in a different section. Having first hand experiential knowledge and insight provided to someone working on excerpts from the certain literature, it is easy to gain tips-and-tricks as to what conductors expect when they hear it and, what they others in a section are hoping to hear beside them in performances. This bit of knowledge may seem really obvious when it comes to trumpeters preparing for auditions, but in all of my times preparing for auditions I didn't take the time to seek out every one who was willing to listen to me. This past time, I reached out to every contact I had in that particular realm of performance and asked if they could take time to provide their personal insights into what they thought of my preparation at that particular point.
The act of activity seeking out and aggressively heeding the advice of that what others provided to my performance helped shape what I was able to provide to the "nameless" ensemble that for whom I was auditioning. Having unofficially been told the news of my unofficial success will be regarded as one of my biggest successes in my personal study on the trumpet. The knowledge that I was able to transform myself into a player that, before wasn't able to advance out of a first round, to player that was unanimously voted on by the committee as being their "choice or no one" has provided me with the confidence that I can make it in this field. Having personal confidence in one's self is almost as important as being able to play the trumpet. Believing in yourself and knowing that you have what it takes keeps you motivated, and it enables you to continue even though some times are tough. This was not my first audition and I had not advanced in many before, but this victory has enabled me to place my confidence on a new level to push me even further than before.
So, in the TL:DR version of what I am rambling on about you should not be afraid to seek out the help and insights any and everyone you know that can help you. Every bit of information they can provide is a small bit of insight into what the committee could be thinking when you perform a certain excerpt for them at the audition.
Happy Practicing and don't be afraid to reach out once and a while to ask for help.
Over the past several months I have been thinking more and more about the idea of equating learning a musical instrument - especially a brass instrument, to that of learning a foreign language. While developing and discussing this concept in depth with James Thompson during one of my recent lesson he mentioned an article by Dr. Aaron Witek, Instructor of Trumpet at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where he addressed a similar idea of utilizing Active Listening to improve a player's playing. In this article, he addressed the idea for a player to improve all aspects of their playing by focusing on these categories: Tone, Vibrato, Phrasing and Dynamics, Style, and Rhythm. This is exactly the idea that I was addressing in my personal study with James Thompson with my students.
Dr. Witek addressed wonderful ideas and, in my opinion, he hit the "nail on the head" with a break down of how a player should address these ideas of using Active Listening. Although, if I may add one detail to what he may have left out in his article. When we approach the idea of Active Listening, a young player is often very impressionable on what they hear and where they get their information. Dr. Witek does address getting information from various sources, but in many ways younger players will process what information comes to them first. In my application of this idea I like to equate this to the idea of learning a foreign language. If you were to study a foreign language, you would want to learn that language from someone who has spent either years utilizing that language in their lives or grew up around that language. I personally grew up in Southwest Virginia, so I would assume no one would want to learn second-hand french from me. I grew up in a household where the word Y'all and Yonder were apart of the everyday vernacular. If I were to teach someone a foreign language - lets take french for this example - they would learn to pronounce things in that new language in the same manner I did.
In terms of applying this concept to learning a foreign language and brass playing, a student would want to learn from a teacher whom has established him or herself as someone who has shown they have somewhat mastered a particular language in a real world application. This means that a brass student should draw examples in Active Listening from performers who have proven themselves in the professional performances. I understand that this statement of implied "professional performances" is very loose in its implication, but as a student we have to find a way of defining a level of performance that establishes a performer as being able to provide examples of the brass "language" at a high enough level that allows us to gain the in's and out's of this new language.
Once we have established the appropriately level of the performer, then the student should begin to pick out aspects of a particular performer that really stand out to them of being exemplary and aspects they personally need development. Examples of these aspects could be the way a player moves in and out of various registers, or even the way a player articulates. These nuances of the "language" allow for the development of personality in each player. Once a student has found several of these elements, they should being to try and replicate these idiosyncrasies in their own practice. They should record themselves and consistently switch from their practice recordings to the established professional exhibiting that selected aspect. This "trial and error" process will also allow the student to listen and tweak their application of this selected aspect. This is so similar to the way language lessons do "listen and repeat" sessions for their students.
This process should be monitored by a teacher so that the student continues to gain basic fundamentals during this process. As a growing player, students need to be refocused during their earlier years before being left to their own devices. This is to ensure that they are practicing in a safe manner and not engraining poor habits during this "listen and repeat" process. As students begin to engrain and accomplish these selected performer aspects, they are metaphorically adding these "tools" to their performance "tool box" so that they can be used in direct application of their performances. As the player progresses their "tool box" begins to gain more and more refinement and professional aspects in their playing. Think of a young student gradually growing from a small tool box to one of the larger multi-drawer tool chests that professional mechanics have in their garage. Even professional players, still find ways to get new tools added to their performance tool boxes.
Source: Witek, Aaron. "The Use of Active Listening to Help Improve Your Playing." International Trumpet Guild. 39.4 (2015): 58. Print
This year has been one crazy and exciting adventure! Throughout the past several months I have: finished my doctoral coursework, performed solos with two wind bands, gotten married, moved away from Rochester, and started to find new musical outlets and performance opportunities in the Greater Washington D.C. and Baltimore areas. These events are both really exciting and a little scary. I know for a musician moving away from where you have established roots to begin a new life, especially if you have no connections in the area, can be very scary. My wife has been working here for the past year performing in a premiere military ensemble, but for me, that stability in region is very unknown and daunting.
It has not been bad moving to the area. I have had the opportunity to make new friends in the music community around here - primarily in the premiere bands of the U.S. Army. The members of that ensemble (U.S. Army Field Band and Soldier's Chorus) are wonderful people, not just in the trumpet section, but the whole ensemble. They have reached out to get to know me and where I come from just as fast as students are when starting a new collegiate experience. Getting to know and play for them has been a great treat the first several weeks in my new home. The next step is to find new outlets to perform and teach in the area. It is always so easy in school because universities serve as a "go-to" when local ensembles are trying to find extra musicians. Being here, and not being attached to any established ensemble makes the hunt for performances that much harder. I have applied to be a music substitute teacher in my area so that I may continue to work with students and help them make music. If anything, I want to continue to be able to work in my field of study as much as possible so as to continue working on my instructional skills and keeping myself on my pedagogical toes!
My musical transplantation from Rochester to D.C./Baltimore is just beginning and with the start of a new year it also makes it much harder to step into any collegiate teaching. The only thing I can do at the present is study for my upcoming comprehensive exams to complete my degree, but also practice my butt off and find ways to present my playing to local musicians for critique and feedback. It will be a long road to travel, but keeping my head up and going for every opportunity is something that any musician in a new area must do! The adage of "good things come to those who wait" will come true!
Until next time, back to the practice room!