Date: Mon, 15 Apr 2002 09:09:19 -0400
From: Bryan Edgett <>
Subject: Re: [TPIN] Your own best teacher (long)

In my view, several essential factors comprise a good teacher. While some fundamental concepts will be shared by teachers of all levels, some requirements will vary depending on the level taught. First, at all levels, a good teacher is competent. By that, I mean that s/he knows the instrument well. A good teacher can demonstrate:

a good characteristic sound throughout the horn's range
a fluid technique
a compelling legato
a variety of articulations
knowledge of various musical styles
I consider good performance to be an essential in good teaching. It is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition, to borrow philosophical jargon. A good teacher wears many hats, to paraphrase Mr. Jacobs.

Besides the demonstrator's hat, a good teacher wears an analyst's hat as well. S/he should be able to detect efficient and inefficient mechanics in students' playing. I do not mean that a good teacher shares  the results of all analysis with the student, especially with a young or inexperienced student. Often, the best teachers suggest changes in approach without revealing any of their analysis to the student.

Next, a good teacher will be a good prescriber. Based on the discoveries made in analysis, the teacher will prescribe changes in listening, new exercises (either physical, musical, or both) to produce the desired result.

To that end, let me say a few words about the "physical vs. musical" dilemma. I confess to having some envy for those who are together enough to be able to teach effectively using only a sound  model. Far be it from me to criticize either Arnold Jacobs or Bill Adam. If God granted me 100 more years on the Earth, and if I could apply my mind to the full every day of those years, I would not, at the end of that time, know what Mr. Adam knows today or what Mr. Jacobs knew when he was alive. I know students of both of these fine teachers fairly well. And that methodology is a good one most of the time if the teacher can teach from it.

In support of that view, I contend that far too many music lessons occur today without the aid of an appropriate sound model. That, in my opinion, is a travesty. Nobody can improve his or her sound without a better, more complete, and or more refined sound in the mind. And for that sound to be improved in the mind, it has to be heard. (The child learning to talk analogy is especially appropriate here.) I cannot teach if I cannot play. At least I cannot teach the students I have, most of whom still need maturing in their sound concepts, without playing.

Yet I almost always find it necessary to give some physical instruction to speed up the learning process. It is reported that Mr. Adam said to one of my former teachers "If a student comes in here with an embouchure problem, I just blow that sound at him until it goes away." I cannot do that with sound alone. Perhaps there is some inefficiency in my teaching. I have heard stories of teachers being able to guide students to change physical anomalies in their playing with a sound only model. But I am not skilled enough currently to do that. (And, to be fair, I hold a doctorate in trumpet performance and pedagogy from a major university, and do know a bit about teaching trumpet.)

I do believe that one can become overinvolved in analysis. Moreover, if I understand correctly, one cannot analyze and create at the same time. Thus, the teacher must be able to analyze, but the student should concentrate on creating when s/he plays. Analysis, which comes after the playing, is done by means of a tape recorder. (The tape recorder stands among the 4 best music teachers along with the mirror, the tuner, and the metronome.)

On the other hand, I have discovered the "closed aperture" concept on this forum and it has helped my playing a great deal. And those who "taught" it to me (Jeanne and Pops) never played a note for me. Their explanation was enough.

I see this as a "both-and" instead of an "either-or." (And those of you who know me well know that I am not usually one who adopts middle-of-the-road views.) I wish that I could be better at teaching from sound alone. But I have found some success giving limited physical helps in guiding students out of certain quandries. I never do so without a sound model, but I don't use that model alone.

A good teacher also communicates information in an appropriate sequence. Most of the problems that I have observed from otherwise good teachers derive from not putting first things first. Students must know what good sound is. They must be able to take a free, full breath and blow free, vigorous wind. They must know how to hold their instruments correctly. They must know what correct rhythm and correct intonation is. I wish that I had a nickel for every time that in a lesson or on an adjudication form I've said something similar to "your performance would have been much more compelling if you played with consistent rhythm and intonation." "In tune and in time." Probably my most often repeated words to my wind ensemble as well.

A good teacher also knows how to read people. In my opinion, effective teaching does not merely communicate information, it facilitates learning. Often, it is helpful to assess the student's personality, background, and , at times, "issues" in order to teach most effectively.

A good teacher, especially at the college  or university level, should be honest in evaluation. Respectful, but honest. More frequently than I would like, I find it necessary to give the you have not shown sufficient evidence of improvement for your stage of development" speech. It is not popular in today's self-esteem-driven age to speak like that. I never will win a popularity contest for telling it like it is. But one of the applied teacher's responsibilities is to make every effort to ensure that the student knows where s/he is according to a real standard, and to know where s/he should be according to level of development. And if a student doesn't trust his or her teacher to give that evaluation, that student should study with someone else.

I'm sure that there a dozens of other qualities as well. Thanks for the thread.

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Bryan J. Edgett