Teaching Journal 4.26.18

# of Students Taught: 8

Ages: 3 frosh, 3 juniors, 2 seniors

Instrument:  6 tenor trombones, 2 bass trombones

Materials: scales, tunes, & ear training; etudes, recital repertoire, jazz etudes and lead sheets

Fundamentals covered: clean, fluid articulation that matches shape of line and doesn’t halt airflow, tuning with drones, improvisation.

Memorable moment: Been musing about how best to redirect a student’s attention away from ‘how do I tongue properly’. Other teachers have called attention to the technical problems they perceive her having, and thus she’s been hyper focused on the ‘how’ and it’s getting in her way even more. Tonight I directed her attention back to the ‘what’- clean, fluid articulation is a product of a clear intention, good airflow, and solid time. We worked on her solo (which has lots of sixteenth notes) by just playing the rhythm on one note, hearing the direction of the line and delivery of the phrase, and then went back to the written notes.

Takeaways: She noticed a feel difference, and I noticed a sound difference. On her end, it felt easier to communicate the line when the air was moving freely and she didn’t hear as many cracks or need to take as many breaths. On my end I heard a much crisper phrase, with good musical direction and improved articulation to boot! A good reminder, again, that putting focus on a student’s technical challenges will only cause them to overanalyze and struggle to move past. Teaching requires us to distract them from this and put their focus back on the solution.

Teaching Journal 4.24.18 & 4.25.18

# of Students Taught: 9

Ages: 2 6th graders, 4 frosh, 1 junior, 1 senior, 1 adult learner

Instrument:  7 tenor trombones, 1 baritone, 1 tuba

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

Fundamentals covered: playing as a chamber group, composition, stylistic interpretation of non-western music written in a western context, rhythms

Memorable moment: I coached a little chamber group today of frosh low brass players. They were working on a Schubert piece that they hadn’t really dived into yet. We started playing and while the first couple of notes were all unison, once it changed to chords it became a bit mushy (‘well, that was a hot mess’- one of the students). We worked on hearing what the composer and arranger had intended for that moment, and why it was so effective coming out of a unison line. We tuned up the chords and identified the important voices (all of them, in this case, but the first part lead the motion). By the end of the period we had a good little group going!

Takeaways: Chamber music is an important tool for developing not only our ability to play together but to refine our ears as well. We need to be ready to hear how our part fits into a smaller group, and not get lost or timid about making sure all the pieces fit together. It can be easy to hide in a big ensemble, but chamber music means you have to bring confidence to the table.

#TeacherFeature: Northside Advocate Teresa Campbell

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

Today I want to shout-out one my close friends, and someone I’ve known for a long time as a inspired, dedicated educator and musician. She’s turned her generous, compassionate heart to helping the underserved kids of North Minneapolis grow community and self-confidence through music. Please welcome to the blog Ms Teresa Campbell!

Teresa and I met at the University of Wisconsin when I was a freshman in 1999. I admired her ability to take on all styles of music, and in particular, her compositional bent. It was unthinkable to me that I would be able to present something that I wrote as musical viable, and watching Teresa perform her own music was part of a big change in my mindset. We lost touch over the years and reconnected in Minneapolis, sharing a common love of music and social justice education.

These days, Teresa performs regularly around the Cities as a violinist, including in the Stone Arch Collective (oboe, violin, viola, and cello), which was one of MPR’s ClassNotes Artists in AY1516. But her career really centers around the work she does as an El Sistema educator for MacPhail in the North Minneapolis schools Harvest Prep, Ascension Catholic, and the MacPhail Northside Youth Orchestra.

What I love about Teresa’s teaching is that it’s not about making her young string players flawless musicians, but rather, about building safe, inclusive communities in her programs and then encouraging her students to explore musical journeys they might not otherwise have access to. Her posts on social media frequently display her deep care and concern for the wellbeing of these kids, many of whom face poverty, broken family structures, and violence as part of their daily lives. Her orchestras offer a haven from these stressors, a place for kids to be themselves and grow as young, vibrant people.

Teresa and some of her students at Ascension 

In addition to her work in Minneapolis’ North Minneapolis neighborhoods, Teresa recently earned a second masters in English as  Second Language, and is an advocate for homeless youth through the work of Covenant House. I am beyond proud to call her a friend and a colleague and I know she is creating a lifelong legacy of compassionate music education that will touch many youth for years to come.

Teaching and Learning: Staying Relevant

Last week I wrote about how I learned to teach- not just by discovering a talent for teaching but by understanding the journey I had to take to be effective and earnest in my skills. This week I want to talk about the exciting process of lifelong learning: applying what I know about helping folks learn to my own educational opportunities.

I may dive more into this next month (the theme is all picked out: Music & Mental Health!), but over the years I’ve had some struggles not just with working to be an effective educator, but with managing the burnout and stress that can come with it. Not only is teaching music privately a career high in emotional labor and investment, it’s often thankless and frustrating financially.   It takes perseverance and dedication to make it all work, and an adaptability that can often be hard-won.

Even as I reflect on the last five years of private teaching, I’m looking forward to the next chapter. I know I can’t just maintain a private studio for the rest of my working life. There need to be new challenges and created opportunities that keep my mind and inspiration fresh. Here are some of the ways I work to keep my career energizing:

Be a student, too

This can mean taking lessons, classes, seminars, anything- but staying in the mindset of being a learning can help you understand how others are learning, and create better teaching moments for you. I’m not currently in lessons or otherwise, but I am working with amazing instructional learning designer Suzi Hunn (new website coming soon!) to put together my new clinic program and getting a big lesson in how course work is effectively and inclusively designed.

Observe other teachers/educational situations

I get some of my best ideas from watching other folks teach. Not only that, I can observe their language, interaction with the students, and strategies without having to be ‘on’ myself.

Stay in touch with mentors

Staying fresh on my teaching philosophy and connection to my own educational past means keeping relationships with my mentors and teacher open and healthy.

Get social

I love talking with other teachers, whether we’re kvetching, swapping ideas or stories, or just having a normal adult conversation without the added level of having to be an example and role model. Private teaching can be very lonely and isolating, and there have been days where I realized I didn’t talk to anyone over 18- not a terrible thing, but sometimes you need peer-to-peer chit chat to let your brain process its day and recharge your batteries.

Be Interdisciplinary

I often feel that some of the best inspiration I get is from sectors other than music. Books on entrepreneurship, philosophy, relationships, psychology, and science have all been extremely enlightening and motivating for me over the years. On top of that, it makes you a more interesting teacher- you can reference a broad range of topics that can either help you build rapport with a student or send them in a new direction.

Attend conferences, events, festivals, etc

Your state probably has a music educator’s conference. There’s the illustrious Midwest Clinic. Your instrument’s organization is probably getting ready to host a  festival this summer. A Trombone Day just happened in the Twin Cities last week. Or maybe it’s not music-related, per se, like the excellent Giant Steps  which happens in the Cities in October. If something interests you, go to it. Sure, you can network, but you can also listen, and get new ideas.

Strike a balance

I loooove teaching. There are days when I’m tired and worn out but after a few lessons I actually feel more awake and relaxed. There are also other days when I’m worn out no matter who I teach, and I struggle to stay on my game for the lessons. I’ve started to make sure that there is at least one day, preferably two, a week, where I don’t teach. It gives me a chance to recharge my spoons and feel like the next time lessons come around, I’ll be ready to offer my best educational experience.

Keep inventing

As I mentioned above, I’m in the process of developing a new clinic I can market. I’m thinking I’ll limit my studio population slightly in the next year and save some time for mini clinician tours and performances, starting with Minnesota. There will be more information about that soon, but in the meantime, planning for that is making me look forward, develop new strategies, and keep myself evolving and reaching as a teacher.

What kinds of things do you do to stay relevant and inspired as a teacher and learner? What’s worked and what hasn’t? What will you do next?

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!