From the Mailbag: Right Brain, Left Brain, and Connecting with Students


Several years ago a question came in. It was one that I found interesting to ponder at the time and still find interesting to ponder.

The left side of the brain is the seat of language and the right side is related to creativity. Of course it is just pop psychology (and a myth), but the general idea is that a person who is more logical would be “left brained” and more creative would be “right brained.”

scumbag-brainAnalyzeSome teaching styles won’t connect with certain students, and one way to explain the situation would be that your “brain” style is the opposite of the student. Paraphrasing, the question that came in had to do with teaching and connecting with students who were different than you were. The person with the question felt they were naturally left brained but that a number of their younger students were more right brained in their approach.

Turning this to an application in horn teaching, it would seem to me that one of the extremes of horn teachers are the “song and wind” types, inspirational perhaps but focusing on visualizing what you want to play [right brained]. The opposite extreme of teaching would focus on logically breaking down, analyzing, and solving problems to work toward the goals of the student [left brained].

Either style actually can work great with the right student. If you are considering colleges for study in particular, be aware that teachers have different styles and some won’t be a good fit for you.

A good teacher will however be able to flexibly hit some of the middle ground between the two approaches, depending on what is heard in the actual lesson and what seems like the most effective way to get toward solutions with an individual student. Understanding the learning style of a student is part of good horn teaching.

For those teachers that have a style more toward analysis, the one caution I would offer is that for sure teachers have total power to give people complexes instead of helping solve problems. “Paralysis by analysis” can tie some students up in knots; students do at times need to simply imitate good models and aim for a good sound.

For those teachers with a style more toward song and wind, the caution would be to realize that for some of your students the magic won’t happen — visualizing right notes can help, to a point, but you can visualize all day and still not have a low range. There is a point where you will have to analyze and address directly the technical issues behind the problems.

This is the sort of topic that it would be interesting to see expanded out into a real study and is part of what makes teaching the horn such an interesting field.

Image credit: Bruce Hembd