O.J.'s Trumpet Page Interview

Update on Kristian Steenstrup

Kristian Steenstrup

Kristian Steenstrup is a name that readers of The Brass Herald will know. Jonathan Rees interviewed him in the magazine five years ago. In 2010, Kristian wrote three articles for the magazine called Getting Technical (see issue 32, 33 and 34).

Many brass teachers all over the world now uses his book from 2004, Teaching Brass (available at amazon.co.uk). Thanks to that book and his growing reputation as a master teacher, Kristian has been invited to give masterclasses all around the world. When he is not travelling, he is working as Professor of Trumpet at The Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, Denmark.

Kristian, welcome back to The Brass Herald!

Thank you very much! It is always a pleasure to talk to The Brass Herald.

What have you been doing since the interview that Jonathan Rees had with you?
More of the same. Teaching a lot, both at home and abroad. I became Professor at The Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus last year and I have become even busier giving masterclasses, especially in Europe, and have recently been in Brazil, Japan and Taiwan. 

At a recent masterclass in Oslo, you said that you had been studying new discoveries in brain science and educational psychology that you could use in your teaching. Tell us about that!
Yes, there are some interesting studies giving us a clearer picture of how learning occurs in the brain and the importance of how we approach practicing. It is particularly interesting how physical connections between neurons are strengthened through repetition of physical skills like playing a musical instrument. This really emphasizes and provides us with an understanding of the importance of practicing healthy habits.
Neuroscience has also found physical evidence of the efficiency of mental practice, which just a few decades ago belonged in the mumbo-jumbo department and furthermore educational psychology is currently turning around lots of our established truths about practice scheduling and strategies.

In the masterclass, you used a concept that you described as three different zones, The Comfort Zone, The Flow Zone and The Panic Zone. Could you elaborate on that concept?
This comes from the theories of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who argues that humans tend to work (practice) in different zones or mental states. In the comfort zone we are on top of things, we master everything and make few mistakes, but we easily get a bit bored and practice mindlessly. In the panic zone we are much stressed, tense and make many mistakes. In the flow zone, however, we are just being challenged enough so we have to be stretching ourselves and be totally engrossed in the task at hand. This is presumably also the zone where we are focused and learn the most efficiently.   

Thanks to new technology, wind players; both brass and woodwind can take part in your teaching. I am thinking of the video series called "Play with a Pro», available at playwithapro.com (other teachers include Radovan Vlatkovic, Reinhold Friedrich, David Bilger and Stefan Schultz)
Do you see changes in the brass teaching when you travel around the world?
I think in general brass teaching is going in a direction of more research-based methodologies, which is taking students away from looking in the darkness for the truth and into more practicality in how to approach learning to play a brass instrument. The world is getting more and more open to nonconventional learning strategies and I see that the level of playing is improving all over the world.

Speaking of changes in teaching. I have for many years tried to find a person that completed the infamous course “Double high C in 37 weeks”. So far, no one has confirmed that he or she did. Still I see people in forums on the Internet asking for this method. What is your thought on this?
I have not studied this particular course so my knowledge on it is limited, but for a trumpet player range is just one of many aspects of performance and technique and it seems a little one-dimensional to keep a lot of focus in a range that at least for the classical trumpet player is rarely used. I wonder if applying this method is consistent with keeping a beautiful sound in the midrange, good intonation, flexibility etc. Not having sufficient range to play the standard repertoire is frustrating for a trumpet player, though, so it is tempting to trying to improve this aspect, but I think it is wise to balance it with beauty of sound, and other artistic facets. These days we have many performers who are able to do that, and it could be interesting to know if they achieved this through this course or using other strategies.

Trombone player and teacher Michael Mulcahy was asked - “What makes a good teacher?” About his own teaching, he said he was a very observant person. What about you?
I think there are many things that go into being a good teacher and today we are blessed with a whole range of great teachers that seems to augment each other synergistically. You need to be fairly knowledgeable about playing the instrument, then there are certain psychological aspects of working with people and you have to be able to analyze a student both physiologically as well as mentally. You also need to be musically stimulating. Arnold Jacobs seemed to embrace all that and furthermore he possessed one feature that I always admired with him: He was very curious about a lot of areas involved in brass teaching and in music in general even in his eighties. This is something I try to keep striving for: The ability to stay curious.

What are your plans? Any new book in the making?
I am planning to write a new book, more practically oriented than the first one, and exploring some of the new discoveries in neuroscience and educational psychology.

o.j. 2015 - This interview will be published in The Brass Herald