On Teaching (and Studying) Effectively


With the first semester of the University of Horn Matters horn pedagogy course nearly complete it seems like a good time to re-post the last remaining article from 2004 in my dwindling archive of articles from the original HTML Horn Notes Blog. Dated 12/27/04, this was very interesting for me to re-read again in the context of this series and the passage of time. I will leave the original text as it is, but since then I have tweaked the lesson plan quite a bit. As a teacher you certainly never want your pedagogical approach to stand still. Also note that for students reading this you ultimately have to focus on doing what it takes to keep on track toward your goals. My study plan as an undergrad (described in the article below) was not at all a typical one, but I did make a lot of progress, which is in fact the goal.

For what should be the last horn note of 2004 at the end of the semester and especially during my drive to Kansas and back I gave a lot of thought to my teaching. I really enjoy teaching and the interaction with students. While I don’t feel that I have done badly by any means, I do have ideas as to how to teach even better in the new year.

Backing up, one of the things driving my interest in the history of the horn is an interest in the history of horn teaching. Printed materials like etude books and horn methods give a clear glimpse into the teaching studios of teachers of the past. Friedrich Gumpert [More here] is particularly interesting to me as from his publications and the remembrances of his students (many of whom went on to major performing careers) you can tell that he must have been a very effective teacher. Gumpert in his teaching used a combination of technical etudes (especially Kopprasch), solo works (especially song-like works), and study of orchestral excerpts. It is the basic model that most teachers in the USA follow generally today at the college level, at least in terms of content.

My own teachers in graduate school whether they realized it or not basically followed the Gumpert plan in hour weekly lessons augmented somewhat by master class and horn ensemble experiences. As an undergrad I however had a little different experience–I took two hours of lessons a week with two different teachers for three of my four years of college, augmented by intense summer festival study. I am not sure that I recommend this model in a way, but I do like that it had more than an hour of lessons a week–this is very helpful for future success on the horn, for the advanced student an hour a week just is not enough.

The first three years I that I taught full time in the USA (at the Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam) I followed the same basic model as my graduate school teachers, an hour lesson and a weekly master class and horn ensemble in the fall. At ASU I for the first time saw some other teaching approaches to make the experience more intense. My neighbor to the right David Hickman in the trumpet studio augments private lessons and a studio class with group lessons of 3-4 students where the students focus on excerpts as sections. My neighbor to the left Sam Pilafian in the tuba/euphonium studio does a lot of interesting stuff, intense group warm-ups nearly daily, tuba ensemble, Octubafest, etc., but above all tuba students receive two lessons a week, either both with him or one with him and one with the TA. A lot of time is invested in each student.

Their studios are very successful and have been for many years, as has been the trombone studio of Gail Wilson as well. There certainly needs to be some intensity to the studio experience without it becoming overwhelming. In the horn studio at ASU I have mostly followed a version of the Hickman plan with groups augmenting weekly hour lessons and studio class on the schedule the school sets, plus optional group warm-ups.

(Studio class does not meet weekly at ASU, it is on on a schedule that alternates the time with a “Brass Area” meeting and a convocation recital. Content wise studio class has combined solo playing, mock auditions, and horn ensemble readings). [UPDATE: Horn studio class does meet weekly at ASU at this time!]

My main changes for next semester are to schedule the studio class and group sessions more tightly (schedule the performers further in advance for more of a master class setting, assign seatings and works for groups more clearly and further in advance) and to teach more lessons. Performance students in particular have a lot of music to learn (see my Orchestral Excerpt Checklist) and in relation to that I would like to see performance students average 90 minutes a week in lessons. This could be in the form of regular 90 minute lessons (the perfect length before auditions, I feel) or in the form of a regular hour lesson that is augmented with a second hour lesson at least every other week. In addition I want the youngest students in the studio to take one lesson with me and one lesson with the TA every week for two full hours of lessons a week. Extra lessons will be encouraged for all students as time and degree programs allow (music education students can get quite busy with other aspects of their program, so they may be excused from the extra lessons, especially in their middle years of study).

No matter where you are though if you are a student it is your job to also learn effectively and to keep focused and on track toward your goals. Take stock of your situation. If this means taking many extra lessons as was the case for me you should look into this. It can begin to feel a bit like boot camp but there is a time that all students must put in the effort if they want to get ahead of the crowd. Even if you are long out of school, there is a benefit to focusing in and using your time effectively.

The preceding semester  (F 2004) was the last one that I attempted to do the group lesson scheme used by my trumpet colleague, it was not a good fit for me or the horn studio. Going forward in years I had to modify some of the ideas above due to clock schedule changes and taking stock of if I felt the time was actually used effectively. With the big picture being there is no perfect way to teach horn. But you have to keep working toward the best use of studio time and materials as possible, toward the goal of teaching effectively. Students likewise have to use their time toward the goal of studying effectively as well.

University of Horn Matters