Teaching Journal 4.22.18

# of Students Taught: 4

Ages: 1 frosh, 1 soph, 2 juniors

Instrument:  3 tenor trombones, 1 baritone

Materials: scales, tunes, & ear training; audition music, etudes, recital repertoire

Fundamentals covered: polishing an audition piece, good time & rhythm, direction of lines

Memorable moment: I have a student who’s attendance at MN All State makes him eligible to audition for the All National honor groups, and we’ve been working on his etude for a few weeks now. He’s getting ready to record this week and send in his tape, and so today we really dug in on the finer points of a good performance. What I found most interesting was that, for as much musical flair as he gave the piece, his time was not ideal- a tendency to rush- and he didn’t seem to notice the places where it held him back. We spent the lesson with the metronome going, getting very accurate rhythm and tempo delivery in ever section. By the end he was playing so fabulously- all of the musical work he’d done now had room to breathe and remain under his control.

Takeaways: Good time is not an innate skill that everyone is born into. Although some might have an easier time keeping strict tempo or matching the beat, most of us work very hard to develop our timekeeping skills and must maintain adherence to that practice for our whole musical lives. I’m working on a theory that most of our musical problems stem from a tempo or rhythmic error. Music is an art that moves forward in time, and without accurate delivery, we change the meaning of the piece we’re performing. We also totally destabilize our brain’s ability to connect phrase to rhythm if our time is bad, and our brain can’t control the result if it’s uncertain where the line has gone. Lesson: put that metronome on. Listen to it. Count, clap, sing, before playing. Take it slow to decipher trickier rhythms. Make sure everything you hear is communicated in a musical fashion that makes sense to you.

Teaching Journal 4.19.18

# of Students Taught: 8

Ages: 2 frosh, 1 soph, 4 juniors, 1 senior

Instrument: 7 trombones, 1 bass trombone

Materials: scales, tunes, & ear training; jazz reading & improv, contest pieces, duets

Fundamentals covered: clean articulation of phrases, tuning with drones, sight-reading

Memorable moment: Never let it be said that I think I’m a flawless teacher. Today I realized in the moment that I was giving a student misguided advice and had to point out the error and help him get back on the right track (which he was on fine before I meddled). We were playing a jazz etude with some scoops in the middle of the phrase and every so often the amount of scoop he was giving it was putting him behind on the next part, so I said ‘start that scoop closer to the slide position you’re going to’, which is fine, I guess, if you haven’t just spent 5 minutes speeding up the whole phrase and are still at the slow tempo you started at. But introducing a new idea, particularly a technical change, at a faster tempo, goofs up your brain. He had trouble with the notes again and was frustrated.


Takeaways: I immediately apologized and explained where I went wrong. We went backward a few metronome speeds and tried again, this time listening for the correct timing with scoop so his technical delivery could match the music he wanted to make.

I’ve been kicking myself all day though! I should know better by now. Bloop.


#TeacherFeature: Master Educator Sarah Minette

Welcome back to #TeacherFeature! Every Wednesday this month I’ll be highlight the work and career of one of my favorite educators and talking about how they’ve influenced my career and teaching philosophy.

Today I am really pleased to be able to feature a local educator and academic who is truly using her passion for music and music learning to make all voices in our community visible and valued. Please welcome to the blog Ms Sarah Minette!

As I was developing my own philosophy of teaching and starting to promote the image I wanted to have on the scene, many people said, ‘you need to meet Sarah Minette.’ We’ve since connected, and I can’t say when collective advice has ever been so spot on. Sarah is a kind, compassionate, committed music educator with an eye for finding pathways into the most vulnerable students’ hearts and minds.

Sarah teaches several classes at South High School in Minneapolis. South is a big, diverse school in an urban location that pulls students from many different facets of the Minneapolis community. Three of my own students attend and participate in their band program (hi, Henry, Genevieve, and Ellie!), Leading class guitar, beginning band, and Jazz II, and offering a course on popular music in America, Sarah brings her own thoughtful teaching philosophy to each.

You can read the whole statement in the link above, but here’s my favorite part (seriously though, it’s all excellent):

There must be a sense of safety so that the students and myself, in our vulnerable states can take intellectual and personal risks. However, this can only occur if the content is relevant to the students, their lives, their diverse backgrounds, and the learning community. I consider what prior knowledge and understanding the students with whom I work, as well as future students, may bring with them to the classroom. Relinquishing the title “expert” and instead, considering myself a “co-learner” has augmented the teaching and learning experience for not only myself, but the students with whom I work.

-From “Teaching and Learning Statement”, Sarah Minette’s website.

Sarah has numerous anecdotes and experiences on the blog portion of her website, and I encourage you to explore her fine writing on the subject of her teaching. My particular favorite is her musings on the million dollar question: “What does it mean to be successful?”

Discussing a recent article in which the author proscribed a particular brand of achievement to what a successful guitar class would look like, Sarah questions why numbers and rankings have become so important for music teachers, and wonders what we may have lost sight of.

From the post:

As educators, we have goals for our students and hopefully, we share these goals and involve the students in the goal-making. Ideally, the goals should come from the students first and we help them get there. But if this is what it means to see success, for the students to succeed, why are we not reading about their accomplishments? Why am I reading more about the teachers’ accomplishments? This is not to dismiss the hard work that teachers do, we work our asses off, no doubt about that. But why? Do we work our butts off to receive awards, or do we work our butts off to watch the students struggle with a musical problem, only to work through the problem themselves and possibly others, and come out with a better understanding on the other side?

She goes on to describe her guitar class’s trip to the recording studios at McNally-Smith College of Music (R.I.P.) and how they managed the creative, technical, and marketing processes all on their own with minimal guidance from her. At the end they had a product, yes, but the product was bonus material when considering the overall lessons and growth these students undertook for their own musical benefit.

An academic also, Sarah is working on her doctorate in music education, with a dissertation in the works exploring how LGBTQ music educators navigate their personal and professional lives. It’s another example of her commitment to bringing diverse voices into music education and the broader sphere of learning communities.

Thinking about the myriad examples of inclusion, empathy, and risk-taking Sarah Minette takes as an educator and academic every day inspires me to do more for my students and my community. There are so many voices to be heard, and all we need is the patience and care to listen to them.

Teaching Journal 4.17.18

# of Students Taught: 7

Ages: 1 6th grader, 2 frosh, 2 soph, 2 seniors

Instrument: 2 baritones, 4 tenor trombones, 1 bass trombone

Materials: scales, tunes, & ear training; audition repertoire, composition and improvisation, etudes

Fundamentals covered: direction of phrase- ‘ear on the prize’; loud volumes in all registers, making more out of musical ideas, airflow

Memorable moment: Today I had a student ‘make a match’, as Jan would say, in such an immediate and gratifying way that I’m not sure we’ll being going backwards anytime soon. His tune for major scales is Ode to Joy, and I’ve been trying to get him to hear the phrase go all the way through the line, instead of playing every note somewhat vertically and then taking a breath before the last 2 notes. He gets it, but he’s never quite executed it.

Instead of telling him not to take a breath there, I used the example of someone driving in a car and hitting the gas pedal in little bursts. It’s annoying for the passenger and other drivers, and incredibly inefficient for the engine’s gas usage. If the driver instead gently kept even pressure on the gas pedal, the car would run smoothly and reach its destination more efficiently. Our air works the same way: we’ll have more of it utilize and shape the music with if our intention is to keep the line directing forward. 

Takeaways: Telling a student simply where to or not to take a breath does not communicate phrase structure to them, it just gives them a technical instruction that becomes all they can focus on. Telling them where the phrase wants to go helps them breathe naturally and in time with the music.

(Coincidentally, during the last phrase of the song he took a breath in the middle of it but his direction and intention were so good it not only occurred in a natural place, but was barely audible and did not interrupt the music at all:

And that’s the magic of a proper focus of attention.)

Teaching and Learning: Developing Your Skills

I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had in recent years, when, upon describing that I teach music lessons for a living, have involved some version of the phrase “You must really have a gift for teaching.”

It’s usually at that point that I explain a little bit about my past as a teacher and player to illustrate that no, I didn’t have any particular innate talent for it, but I did and do work very hard to develop my skill as an educator. Like anything else we go about doing in life, teaching is a learned art.

My first life as a private music teacher was a crash course in being effective that I can’t say I ever truly took to heart. I was 24, living in Dallas, TX, and managing my first ever studio of 20-30 kids who mostly had ZERO interest in private lessons. They were mandated by the band program and the band program had nearly impossibly high standards to maintain. On top of that, I was inexperienced, and uncertain about my own future as a professional player. Once I started grad school at UNT, I steadily decreased the number of lessons I taught and told myself that it wasn’t for me. I was going to focus on performing and just accept that I didn’t have the necessary qualities to teach young musicians.

I told myself that for years.

Some time after moving to Minnesota, another musician I had met at a gig called me up and asked if I would teach his grandson trombone. He was in 8th grade and really struggling. A bit strapped for cash, I agreed, even though I felt a pit in my stomach wondering if I could make this work and not screw this poor kid up. I was 30, had done a few cruise ships, and was finally starting to see the path forward for myself as a professional. On top of that I’d had a quality pedagogue as my professor at UNT (Jan Kagarice) and was starting to develop my own version of her method for my use.

The time was right. Kyle flourished as a trombone player and later a doubler- he now plays sousaphone in the University of Minnesota marching band- and I started to see what fun it could be to guide students to musical proficiency. I got hip to new materials, starting talking shop with my fellow educators, and eventually began to add more and more students. With performance not making me the money I needed to subsist, and tired of working part time jobs, I put myself to the task of becoming a full time educator.

So what, besides a little maturity (both emotional and trombone-al), changed for me? The biggest thing was what I said above: I had to realized that I had to LEARN to teach. I had to apply myself to testing strategies, doing research, and being patient for experience and inspiration to kick in. I had to take time to find the right materials for each student, and correct course when they weren’t working. I had to stop getting frustrated because kids weren’t practicing, and ask myself what I could do to change that reality. I had to stop talking, and listen.

It’s important to acknowledge educating as a learned skill. In the US, we undervalue our teachers, in any capacity, at any level, both financially and as professionals. Much like with performing musicians, treating education as an innate capacity can lead people to expect those ‘blessed’ with it to offer up their services as though they could do nothing else. If we gave teachers and artists credit for the long, arduous work they’ve done in becoming their best professional selves, we would not treat them so poorly in our society.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned about teaching music:

-Be accessible. Build rapport with your students, and respect them as human beings.

-The student will tell you what’s working for them. Maybe not with words, but with their attitude or their level of practice. Maybe they’ll really smoke some phrase and you’ll think, aha! they like this.

-Spend less time talking, more time listening and demonstrating. My overarching philosophy here is that I can’t teach technique. I can teach musical ideation with a goal of adding technical skill to the process, but I can’t sit with a student and tell them a bunch of jargon and then expect them to be successful at it. They need a demo, and that’s easy enough. If it was something I couldn’t do, I’d find an example of someone who could. Remember: “The body learns by doing.”

-Keep your own skills sharp. If you’re playing well, and invested in your own development, you can share that energy with your students. Sometimes if I don’t have much on the stand I need to work on, I’ll practice what my students are learning.

-Sometimes it’s going to be frustrating.

-But it will get better, if you’re patient.

-Make time for yourself, to recharge your spoons. Teaching is high in emotional labor cost, and it will wear you down. Make sure you have a day or two each week when you don’t teach, and pamper yourself.

What have been the most valuable lessons for you as an educator or learner? How do you incorporate those into your pedagogy?

Teaching Journal 4.13.18

# of Students Taught: 6

Ages: 2 frosh, 2 soph, 1 junior, 1 college senior

Instrument: 2 baritones, 3 tenor trombones, 1 bass trombone

Materials: scales, tunes, & ear training; jazz, etudes, jury repertoire

Fundamentals covered: airflow & breath control (intention through the phrase), tone production

Memorable moment: One of my freshman students is a dedicated kid with a great ear, but his tone is still in need of development. It’s quiet and airy. Today I thought, ‘why not go over why the Bernoulli Effect is important again’, and did a demo of the paper magic trick.

the principle holds true for balloons too!

I used this as a way to remind him that our aural cavity and lips need to be OPEN in order for our embouchure to form when we put the horn on our face and blow through it. I had him try again, thinking about leaving space for the air to move through, and lo and behold, his tone was much improved! He noticed it too, describing it as ‘louder, more efficient’.

Takeaways: If I could put myself in every trombone fundamentals seminar and every beginner band classroom from now until the end of time I would undo this faulty notion that we need to physically set our lips together in order to ‘form an embouchure.’ In truth, we need to trust the science- by moving air past our open lips, the low pressure inside the horn creates suction moving backward that then pulls our lips together and allows them to vibrate and produce sound. It’s easy!

Teaching Journal 4.12.18

# of Students Taught: 8

Ages: 2 frosh, 1 soph, 3 juniors, 2 seniors

Instrument: 6 tenor, 2 bass trombones

Materials: scales, tunes, & ear training; solo contest music, audition music,

Fundamentals covered: playing with piano accompaniment, intonation, articulation

Memorable moment: I had one lesson where the pianist for my student’s contest solo joined us, and I listened to them play through. It wasn’t perfect, but I thought for a first run it went decently! It was after that I found out she had never played anything with piano before, and I really wouldn’t have guessed that. She kept good time, stuck to her musical guns, and they finished the piece together. We spent the next half hour working out the kinks and getting the piece performance ready, and by the end of the lesson it was really sounding good.

Takeaways: Chamber music is such an essential skill for musicians. Being able to coordinate with other players develops so many good musical habits. And being the featured or solo voice means you have to learn how to take charge of the direction, and be confident in your performance.

#TeacherFeature: Equity Engineer Roque Diaz

Welcome back to #TeacherFeature! Every Wednesday this month I’ll be highlight the work and career of one of my favorite educators and talking about how they’ve influenced my career and teaching philosophy.

Please welcome to the blog my good friend, colleague, sometime boss, trumpet maverick, composer, and overall champion for equity in the arts, Roque Diaz!

he hasn’t won an Oscar yet but stay tuned

I met Roque in 2016 when we were both starting our doctoral programs at the U (he’s still there, about to take his exams, as he has more academic fortitude than I). Over the course of our friendship we’ve collaborated on musical projects (The Satellites), administered free lessons programs (MN Brass’s educational grant for the students of Brooklyn Center High School), and talked  tangible ways to make our big dreams of creating arts learning and community that provides resources for all.

From his bio:

Roque Diaz is an avid scholar, educator, musician, composer, creator, music director, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Music Education and Creative Studies and Media at the University of Minnesota. Roque recently presented “Policies that Matter: Creating a Voice through Policy Awareness for Music Teacher Educators”, at the 2017 Society for Music Teacher Educators Conference in Minneapolis, MN. He will be presenting his next research “Embedding Diversity: A Case Study of the Artistic Citizenship Practices of a Regional Arts Council”, at the 2018 Reflective Conservatoire Conference in London, England. Roque’s research interests are in creating a body movement and awareness curriculum for the marching arts, arts education policy, and embedding diversity and strengthening equity and inclusion into the arts.

Roque is in the process of forming an international arts organization that is dedicated to making the arts a viable career choice whose mission is to provide consistent and sustainable employment to all diverse artists.

What I love about Roque the educator is his commitment to seeing arts establishments and academic institutions rapidly evolve for a future of inclusive, representational learning and performance. He wants to see everyone have access, and see themselves and their culture reflected in the art they are experiencing.

This often means tough conversations in collegiate and non-profit settings where Western European, white, and male viewpoints have long dominated, but Roque is not one to back down from a challenge. Together we worked very hard to get POC and/or women in the teaching positions at BCHS. He’ll begin work at MacPhail Center for Music in June of this year, directing and developing their diversity initiatives to bring more of the Cities within range of accessible music education.

I’ve learned so much from Roque. He’s given me the language I need to describe my educational goals, supplied me with resources that further my work, and frequently been a friendly ear for my frustrations and concerns about the music industry. I know that his future as an arts entrepreneur and innovate educator is just beginning, so I’m excited to see what he can do…and what we can all do together.

Check out Roque’s academic writing and join his conversation about the future of creative artistry and stay tuned for more.

Teaching Journal 4.11.18

# of Students Taught: 4

Ages: 2 juniors, 2 frosh

Instrument: 1 trombone, 2 baritones, 1 tuba

Materials: scales, tunes, & ear training; band music

Fundamentals covered: 7tuplets (Al-ex-an-der-Ham-il-ton), articulation, low range

Memorable moment: I have a student who has claimed repeatedly that he is tone deaf, and doesn’t know what he’s doing on baritone. But, repeatedly, he matches pitch, self-corrects errors, and retains all his learned music from lesson to lesson. Today I asked him to pick a note to start a scale on and he picked B (!). Without telling him the key, we worked our way up and down the scale using our aural knowledge of how a major scale is built. He did great- the sharps didn’t phase him- but he kept saying, ‘this would be easier if I could see the notes’. I told him if he could actually see this scale he’d either quit in protest or play all the wrong notes a la a Bb major scale. After we’d played it successfully a few times I told him the number of #s and he smiled.

Takeaways: Little by little I’m just going to build up this kid’s confidence so that he sees that making mistakes from time to time =/= tone deafness. He just needs patience and time to develop his ears so that his natural inclination to hearing music can come through and be under his control. Plus, teaching a complicated scale like B without giving away the key is a great way to take the fear out of #s.

Teaching Journal 4.10.18

# of Students Taught: 3

Ages: 1 adult, 1 junior, 1 6th grader

Instrument: 3 trombones

Materials: scales, tunes, & ear training; etudes, composition

Fundamentals covered: low range exercises, warm-up routines, articulation, tempo changes

Memorable moment: I really struggle with middle school/beginner students- I definitely skew toward older, more focused kids- but every now and then I make a breakthrough. This 6th grader and I work a lot on composition and improvisation, because I sensed early on that learning the technical rigors of reading music was a little too much for him. So I’m trying to build a foundation wherein he can hear what he’s seeing, and to do so we are creating a lot of brand new melodies and learning how to transcribe them. The biggest discovery I’ve made is that he’s fascinated by the piano, and today we went over to it to see if he could figure out what the interval Bb-D sounded like. Immediately he started picking out “When the Saints”, a tune we learned by ear a while back.

Takeaways: The piano is a good tool for all students, but it’s especially laid out in a good way for younger musicians. It’s tactile, it makes sense, and it allows them to experiment easily without getting frustrated they way they might get frustrated on a brass instrument (too many things to do at once!).