A Matter of Scale


Very recently I saw a quote posted that relates very much to a topic on my mind. It read,

When you play your instrument you should always wear the hat of the performer. When you teach you’ll wear the hat of the investigator. Don’t mix those up. —Arnold Jacobs

No teacher is perfect but certainly we aim to be effective, and the best teachers investigate problems using their skills and senses over a period of time. Private teaching is not a performance! It involves exercising problem solving skills with an individual student.

In terms of the problems I hear in lessons often I find myself for example thinking in terms of scale, as in how to scale the dynamics and nuances correctly for the work at hand and the performance space. Having performed virtually every major horn work in professional situations helps me a lot in this regard, as does a good set of ears and a great teaching space.

This gets me to a point I have made elsewhere (for example here) but still concerns me, that of online lessons. On some basic level they are better than nothing. But really you need the ears of a skilled teacher in the room with you; there is just no way to really get at the matter of scale of dynamics and articulations within the limitations of an online connection. Some things you can hear, especially rhythm, but the critical “big picture” is absent.

Mendelssohn-3-snipAn excerpt that comes to mind as a great example is third horn on Mendelssohn 3, the excerpt that begins with this snip being the example. It is marked FF. How loud should it be? An online lesson will never get you to the answer, and someone without significant orchestral experience won’t get you there either, because it is a two part answer. In orchestral context it has to be quite loud. However, for an audition you have to scale it back a bit. How much is a good question and it is a topic again to work with an experienced horn teacher who has actually won an audition.

Then you get to the topic of the articulations and tempo. Many written words won’t do the topic justice, a video won’t do it justice, you need to work on it live in a room with a real horn teacher.

I can’t imagine seriously trying to teach this excerpt (and many others) online. For the teacher many senses are involved to really get things scaled right. As to students considering online lessons realize a teacher needs not only the experience level to teach the excerpt at a high level but also the space to do the teaching. An Internet connection is not that space.

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