Teaching and Learning: Putting Words to Your Pedagogy

On Friday, I asked followers of my Facebook page to try to succinctly define their teaching and learning philosophies. There were some amazing responses from educators around the country that were truly inspiring to me; some which aligned perfectly with what I believe and others that helped me stretch the boundaries of how I think about learning.

Here’s my initial answer to my own question:

“My teaching philosophy: Form follows function. Everyone is musical, and through developing their musicality, all develop skill. My learning philosophy: Be curious and brave.”

I get “form follows function” from Jan Kagarice, who describes it as a bigger part of natural law. Meaning: whatever it is we need to do, our bodies will develop the skill or adapt however necessary to complete the task. In biology that’s evolution; in instrumental playing, that’s technique developed through musical expression.

I also firmly believe that we all have some level of innate musicality, and the sooner we are encouraged to use it and grow with it, the longer we’ll feel confident and enjoy our participation in music at any level. Not everyone has to be a professional. I am often so discouraged when I hear people say they have no music talent. I translate that as, “I was told I wasn’t good enough to play professionally, so I must be terrible at music.” No, not everyone is going to be a musical genius. But yes, everyone can be musical.

Some of my favorite responses from the thread include:

-“we learn by doing.”

-“Every student is different. If a student isn’t “getting it”, it’s my responsibility to think of as many different exercises and analogies as I can can until one clicks. Also, the teacher does not get to determine what a positive student outcome is. There is no ‘trombone mold.'”

-“I  hope my students learn from me as much as I learn from them. I strive to inspire my students to love the process of learning rather than focus on the end result, to be fearless and tenacious music makers.”

-“we keep what we have by giving it away”

-” I try to strike a balance between giving information and asking questions to get students to think for themselves.”

There are so many good things here. First of all, “we learn by doing” is a direct offshoot of “form follows function.” Jan would say “the body learns by doing” and trial and error is a critical component of our learning process. We too often get discouraged when we fail, as though failure were not the best teaching tool there is. And by focusing on a task, slowly, critically, letting our form develop as we communicate the function we desire, creates neural pathways that lead to better, longer-lasting results.

I also love “there is no ‘trombone mold’.” I would like that tattooed on every trombone instructors arm so they can remember it every day. Often times I tell my students, “there is more than one way to be a musician” and I mean it. A homogenous, restrictive idea of what success looks like has held classical musicians in thrall for far too long, and it’s time we redefine what meaningful music-making looks like.

“Fearless and tenacious music-makers” comes from Sean Reusch, and I love the symmetry of his teaching philosophy with my learning philosophy. It shows  how much his example has guided me into my professional career and personal creed.

What’s your teaching philosophy? How do you approach learning?

The featured image on this post is John Cage’s 10 Rules for Students and Teachers.

Teaching Journal 4.8.18

# of Students Taught: 4

Ages: 1 frosh, 3 juniors

Instrument: 3 trombone, 1 bass trombone

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

Fundamentals covered: working on my new visual of feeling like we are a conduit for our air- we feel it rise up from the floor, through our bodies, and out the bell of the horn. We become a channel for a consistent, constant flow of energy that we turn into sound. Also covered: slow practice techniques, phrasing, interpretation.

Memorable moment: Gosh, all of my lessons today were EXCELLENT. Even my slightly attention-challenged student really did some good work on his own and kept focus throughout the lesson. The bass trombonist was especially sounding great today- best I’ve heard him- and I think it had to do how fun he finds his solo piece (1st mvt of the Haddad Suite for Tuba). We did careful speeding up of each phrase on the second page, channeling the tremendous energy needed to keep it exciting and fiery.

Takeaways: Music that we love to play is fun to play, and we will practice it for the delight of doing so. We’ll imagine ourselves doing well, expressing our joy of performing, and that will lend itself to healthy, focused practicing. It’s often a struggle to find the joy in everything we do, but I think we can learn from the pieces we do like how to find that energy for the things that excite us less.

Teaching Journal 4.6.18

# of Students Taught: 1

Age: college senior

Instrument: baritone

Materials: scales, tunes, & ear training; jury piece (Morceau Symphonique- Guillmant)

Fundamentals covered: theory & chord analysis as it helps us hear a melodic line, carrying intention through the phrase to help with technical delivery, keeping consistent performance of passage while increasing speed.

Memorable moment: In the big con fuoco finale of Morceau, my student, who has a beautiful high range, was struggling to nail the big Eb scale that goes up to a high Bb. He blamed on not finding a place to breathe, but I thought it had more to do with the fact that he was subconsciously stopping his momentum right before the scale. I had him mentally rewrite how he heard that phrase so that he kept his intention moving all the way to the end of the line, and suddenly he didn’t need as much air as he though he did. He then executed it beautifully several times in a row as we sped up the tempo to goal.

Takeaways: As always, intention rules everything we do. If we don’t understand the musical reason for doing what we’re doing, we’ll have trouble executing the phrase. Our tendency then is to blame it on some technical aspect that we don’t feel we’re strong enough at. I love reverse-engineering that moment with students to get them to see how much freer things can become when they shift their perspective to the result they want.




Teaching Journal 4.5.18

# of Students Taught: 8

Ages: 3 frosh, 3 juniors, 2 seniors

Instruments: 1 baritone, 2 bass trombones, 5 trombones

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

Fundamentals covered: air flow, tone production, stamina, musicality, scale memorization

Memorable moment: One student has always struggled with reading music effectively, and from time to time I take away the written piece and teach it to him by ear. It takes a few tries to warm up but he always improves rapidly once he catches on. Then, I put the music back in front of him and instruct him to hear what he just did as he plays from the page. It’s great for his development of skill and reading and I should do it more often with all my students!

Bonus moment: I had to give a lot of post-audition pep talks today. No one felt great about their performance for their band audition and so we talked a lot about expectation and reality, and also how we are much harder on ourselves than we need to be. Plus, some bands really have a culture that stress achieving membership in the top band by one’s senior year, and it puts a lot of stress on the kids who don’t make it.

Takeaways: PLEASE DON’T MAKE BAND STRESSFUL (this goes out to students, directors, and parents alike)




Teaching Journal 4.4.18

# of Students Taught: 8

Ages: 4 frosh, 1 soph, 1 junior, 2 seniors

Instruments: 5 trombones, 1 baritone, 2 tubas

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

Fundamentals covered: high register, rhythmic interpretation & counting, articulation, phrasing

Memorable moment: Last lesson- Hering #14. Student was having trouble with 3/4 in some sections and adding an extra beat to the bar. He was also double slurring instead of slur two tongue two as marked. I pointed it out and demonstrated a few times, but the problems persisted, so I asked him to set up a metronome with a strong downbeat on 1. Immediately he was able to self-correct his rhythmic issue, and started to feel a difference in how to articulate the line as well. Without my having to say anything, he stopped one run through where he made both mistakes and started again, playing correctly.

Takeaways: Giving the student a clear example and then allowing him to take charge of his own trial-and-error process means he’ll listen more carefully for these subtle developments in the future. The use of the metronome to fix rhythmic problems again proves itself a key fix for melodic/interpretation improvement as well.




#TeacherFeature: Trombonist and Pedagogue Sean Reusch

Welcome to the first #TeacherFeature of April! 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.

It’s timely that I featured this first artist, because he just featured me on his site (and I am very humbled and honored to appear there amongst some truly great musicians!). Please welcome to the blog San Diego-based trombonist and educator Sean Reusch!

Sean was my teacher in high school in San Diego in the late 1990s. We had weekly lessons and I remember always feeling like I had his full attention in whatever I said or played. He helped me prepare my college auditions and was ecstatic when I found out I was accepted to the University of Wisconsin, my first choice. We’ve kept in touch ever since, meeting up for beers and good conversations whenever I’m back in Southern California.

A graduate of Penn State and the Manhattan School of Music, Sean performs regularly around the region and the country and was a founding member of the excellent Presidio Brass Quintet. He’s taught at many higher education establishments, including San Diego State and UCSD, but recently told me he wants to focus more on his grade school students, helping prepare the next generation of professional trombonists from the ground up. In 2017 he ran the tremendously successful Junior ITF at the International Trombone Festival in Redlands, CA.

He also manages the website Trombone 101, an “information highway for trombonists” which is chock full of resources, insights, learning tips, and amazing materials. I highly recommend the Daily Routine Songbook, aka the book I wish I had written, which offers players simple tunes for each day of the week that cover the basics in intonation, articulation, phrasing, and musicality.

Sean describes his teaching philosophy as simple: “I try to inspire my students to do their best, to be positive, to dream big, to be creative, to be thoughtful musicians, to learn valuable life lessons through music, and to deepen their love of music.” I want to add that what Sean has taught me most about music has come from his intrinsic accepting, optimistic outlook. We’ve experienced a very similar evolution of our teaching philosophies over the years, and come to the agreement that the most important thing to teach is the outward expression of our musical spirit- the rest, the technical, comes along easily if we’re focused on what we want to happen.

I still have in my possession a large three-ring binder that contains just about every piece of music and resource that Sean ever gave me. It’s copies of orchestral excerpts, solo repertoire, articles about playing and practicing health, duets and chamber music. I’ve opened it many times over the years to find something to give to one of my students or use for myself. It speaks to Sean’s incredibly giving spirit that he never asked for compensation or thanks for these materials. The mentorship that Sean gave me first as a young player and then as a developing professional was so invaluable to me that I promised myself I would pay it forward someday down the line. I would love nothing more than to offer the same friendly, encouraging spirit to my students that Sean gives to me and everyone he teaches. His example was my first experience understanding what the importance of a truly kind and supportive teacher means for the learner.

Do yourself a favor and explore the many wonders of Trombone 101, and if you ever have a chance to meet, study from, or see Sean Reusch perform, don’t miss out! He is truly one of the great pedagogues of the trombone and is building a legacy of students well-balanced in ability and mind.

New Theme for April: Teaching and Learning

Hi all, and welcome to April! It was a blast to spend the first three months of this year focusing on a particular topic and developing my website content around it, and so I’ve decided to carry on the theme!

In April, you’ll be seeing posts, links, and resources dedicated to teaching, teachers, and learning and educational theory. This could include a link to something new in music education, observations from my own lessons or experience, and spotlights on educators who inspire me.

Instead of doing a weekly Monday blog, I’m going to start a teaching ‘journal’, aka I’ll be posting in pseudo-real time about experiences I’ve had in lessons with my students during the week and my thoughts on what that means or what I have learned. I want to dive into my teaching philosophy and start to craft language around what I believe as an educator.

On Wednesdays look for the #TeacherFeature (a la #WomanCrushWednesday), in which I’ll highlight an educator who’s really making me think about best practices and making a difference.

Fridays will still be Challenges, so look for prompts on things related to your own educational and learning experiences.

And, fingers crossed, you should start seeing my new video series on brass tone & sound production, aimed at beginners but useful to all, popping up on YouTube this month!

I hope you enjoy the theme and its content this month! I’m off to start plotting my very first #TCT. 🙂

#WCW: Deep Listening Guru Monique Buzzarté

Welcome back to #wcw (aka Woman Crush Wednesday) on my blog for Women’s History Month! I’m featuring  a musical artist every Wednesday who has inspired me and driven me to expand and develop my own art in new ways.

With my creative brain ever drawing me toward more improvisatory, experimental forms, I’ve been diving into the catalogue of trombonist and composer Monique Buzzarté.


Known not just as a composer and avant-garde performer, Ms Buzzarté is also a champion of works by women composers and an activist fighting for the recognition and fair hiring of women in musical jobs. She maintains a database of new music for trombone by women as well as her own impressive list of compositions for music, dance, and film.

A student of Stuart Dempster and a certified practitioner of Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening technique, Monique draws deeply from the well of broad, ethereal sounds, utilizing tape, electronics, delay, and other instruments to bring out the mystical sounds a trombone can produce in different environments. She has developed an interactive performance interface for the trombone that allows for live processing during her performances.

If you’ve never heard of the technique of Deep Listening before, it’s definitely worth your time to explore. Many composers and performers of DL offer expansive, meditative, multi-disciplinary experiences that are meant to open the mind and the spirit to new ideas and emotions.

There’s more to listening than meets the ear.  Pauline Oliveros herself describes Deep Listening as “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what one is doing.”  Basically Deep Listening, as developed by Oliveros, explores the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary, selective nature – exclusive and inclusive — of listening.  The practice includes bodywork, sonic meditations, interactive performance, listening to the sounds of daily life, nature, one’s own thoughts, imagination and dreams, and listening to listening itself.  It cultivates a heightened awareness of the sonic environment, both external and internal, and promotes experimentation, improvisation, collaboration, playfulness and other creative skills vital to personal and community growth.  Plus it’s a ton of fun.

To hear more of Ms Buzzarté’s work and performances, visit the music streaming store of your choice and search her name, or visit her website for physical copies.

Happy (deep) listening!

Women’s History Month: Mentoring the Next Generation

This month on the blog I’ve talked about communities of musicians that inspire me, methods to address bias you encounter on the job, profiled some of my favorite working musicians (in multiple genres), and ran challenges on my Facebook page asking you to think about your mentors and musical ancestors, and find your next performance repertoire piece from the database of women composers.  It’s been inspiring for me to think through these posts and present them to you, and I hope it’s been inspiring to read and digest.

Today, for the last essay of Women’s History Month, I want to talk about ways in which we, the musicians working and teaching today, can mentor the next generation of performers and educators to find their desire paths and build a diverse and welcoming musical world.

I have about 30 students, and I see countless others in clinics and performances. 10 of them are young women, high school students who in addition to playing trombone, baritone, and tuba, pursue an array of extracurriculars from track & field, hockey, badminton, Irish dance, ultimate frisbee, Nordic skiing, roller derby, and softball. They study languages like Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, and French, participate in debate teams, march for their rights, and have big plans for their future and their communities.

It’s my job as their guide not to make them the best brass players they can be, but help them realize how music affects their lives and how they can use their own gained skills to express themselves in new ways. Even if they wanted to pursue music as a career, the education they received from me would not be just refining their musical and instrumental skills, but how to develop holistic, healthy attitudes and routines toward their chosen goals.

That said, I’ve been thinking a lot lately (and really, over my whole career) about the myriad ways to encourage young women and men to be the best people in music they can be. I focus on amping up my female students because they have been historically given less opportunity and have farther to climb to find recognition and success, but I give no less of my time and expertise to my male students, in hopes that their attitudes, shaped by my teaching style and example, will offer a more welcoming environment for all performers.

Here are some things I challenge myself to do as a mentor to the low brass players of the next generation:

Match attitudes to actions

I am not perfect. I carry around socialized biases about the talents and abilities of women in my brain just like everyone else, and I have to constantly work to make sure I’m not letting certain ideas or opinions shape the way I treat or teach someone. When I meet a new student, I try to establish a good rapport with them that helps them trust me, and make sure I work to understand their particular educational needs. While I hold all my students to the same standard, it’s not what you might think. My standard is: do you enjoy making music, and are you making it as efficiently and effortlessly as you can? There will be differing levels of ability and commitment, but everyone is a musician. Full stop.

Authenticity is something we define for ourselves.

I also try to combat biases that my students may hold, or that they may encounter in their musical environments. Most of my lady students are pretty savvy- they know what’s out there- but I will help them or fight for them when I see an injustice. Sometimes that means showing them how they can address something that was said to them, or helping them prepare to perform like the boss they are to quash all the naysayers.

Encourage opportunities

All of my students are encouraged to pursue extracurricular musical opportunities, if they are interested and have time. I particularly want the girls in my studio to see the different ways they can make music outside of band. This includes, but is not limited to, auditioning for youth symphonies and honor bands, participating in solo and ensemble contests as well as our studio recitals, and forming their own groups and bands in which they can use the improvisational and ear training techniques I’ve taught them to create music they want to play.

Represent and SHOW UP

I’m living representation for my girl students: I perform, practice, educate, and overall walk the walk. I try to incorporate a diverse array of performers and leaders in the field as examples and role models. I  can also try to encourage my colleagues, male and female, to take steps to diversify what and how they teach so that all their students feel empowered and respected.

There are lots of national and local gatherings and conferences for musical performers, and low brass is no exception. These should be held responsible for providing diverse presenters so that all types of people see themselves represented on stage. And I don’t mean diversity just in terms of race and gender identity, either. It’s important to see the broad spectrum of ways people can be successful as musicians, whether it’s in a large symphony orchestra or freelancing gigging in one metropolitan area. Entrepreneurship and creativity should be celebrated as much as winning “the gig.”


Believe what your students say- about their experiences, their feelings, and their motivations. See them as whole, engaged humans with agency. Don’t talk over them or refuse to acknowledge what they say because you know better. Have conversations with them, give them pep talks, tell them it is okay to stumble and sometimes even better to fail. Teach them how to get back up and try again.

I have so much faith in this coming generation to change the world. Let’s all mentor them as best we can so they have all the tools to make the music scene the place it was always meant to be.

#WCW: Mysterious Powerhouse Janelle Monáe Monáe

Welcome back to #wcw (aka Woman Crush Wednesday) on my blog for Women’s History Month! I’m featuring  a musical artist every Wednesday who has inspired me and driven me to expand and develop my own art in new ways.

This week I’m smitten with the enigmatic, colorful, sharply intelligent, Afro-futurist musical icon that is Janelle Monáe.


Ms Monáe first caught the public’s attention in 2010 with the release of her critically acclaimed album The ArchAndroid, the follow-up to 2007’s Metropolis Suite I (The Chase). She revealed a plot line largely inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film Metropolis, in which Monáe, as the android messiah Cindi Mayweather, provides a mirror to the representation of Lang’s android twin Maria. In Monáe Metropolis, Cindi represents the segregated “other.” Monáe was inspired not just by Lang’s film, but by sci-fi classics like Alien and Blade Runner,  in which the android alien was maligned and separated from society. As she says: “I could relate to that, the idea of being the minority within the majority.” (source)

poster for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

Monáe’s signature early look, a fitted tuxedo, has won her the admiration of many for its gender-bending approaching to femininity and style. 

Born in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1985, Janelle Monáe studied drama in New York, and eventually found her way to Atlanta, Georgia, where she and like-minded artists founded the Wondaland Arts Society, bringing innovative pop culture beyond the studio and producer machine. With the release of Metropolis I, Monáe attracted the attention of big name artists like Sean Combs and Big Boi of Outkast. She’s been awarded the Vanguard Award by ASCAP. In 2016 she appeared in both Best Picture Winner Moonlight and nominated film Hidden Figures. 

She released the third album in her Metropolis concept ouevre, The Electric Lady, in 2013, and continues to follow Cindi Mayweather in her quest to liberate Metropolis’s citizens from the suppressive forces controlling their freedom of expression and love.

Her answer to the rising awareness of police brutality is the 2015 anthem Hell You Talmabout: 

Monáe music draws influence from so many genres and styles including classical & orchestral, hip-hop and soul, rockabilly, jazz, and 60s-era pop. Her latest single, Make Me Feel, bears the stamp of Minneapolis Sound legend Prince, and in fact he contributed compositional elements to the finished product before his death in 2016.

definitely NSFW, but still awesome. 

Janelle Monáe strong, unabashed voice and presence in our music scene is a breath of fresh air. She’s empowered and liberated, unconcerned with your opinion of her and willing to take risks to make great art. I eat up just about every new creation of hers, as well as her incredible style and poise. She’s, in  word, goals.