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!).

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.