Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 03:04:12 +0000
Subject: Re:Beg.Instr.Mus. - when & how? (long)

Nils Ek wrote:

> I believe that more good brass players might be 'produced' if they
> began  their musical training earlier. Or, let me re-phrase the question
>differently: how many violin virtuosi are there who started playing
> their  instrument at the age of 12? Is not our instrument as demanding as a
> fiddle? Should TPIN (and ITG, for that matter) be promoting trumpet
> instruction at an earlier age than what is currently typical for most
> beginners? Should we be promoting a system whereby many student
> trumpeters end up having to be 're-conditioned' at the college level (or later)
> because they've hit a barrier that is due to the combination of a late
> start, plus less-than-optimal 'instruction'?

Oh Lord above, how true!

UNFORTUNATELY - I'm afraid that nationwide, there is a tendency for instrumental music to be delayed even further!!!

If you'd like a real eye-opener, stop by ARTSEDGE, (Washington DC) the music teachers "list",  and note what kind of philosophical nonsense seems to be the accepted norm in music teacher circles.  And why the "Garage Band" Syndrome reigns supreme.

Here is a synopsis of what I see going on in so many elementary schools - - where "band" has superceded "real" instrumental music instruction. This was originally written in response to a parents query as to 'What are the signs of competent teaching' when I visit my elementary school?

Dear *****,

What an excellent question!

(1) Look for a teacher who / program which stresses the fundamentals of playing the particular instrument in question.  Embouchure - comes first!  Without it, little can be accomplished.  Tone, time, pitch, attack, release, articulation, rhythm - - listening. You should be teaching precisely the same things, in your beginner trumpet class, that you would stress during a private lesson!

(2) Look for a teacher who is capable of competently playing / demonstrating for the class. (Yes, I know, few of us have the luxury of teaching only "our" instrument in the beginning classroom.)

(3)  Look for a program which does not "too soon" dump all of the children into a mixed ensemble situation - because it is expedient from a scheduling standpoint.  Look for a teacher who understands that we are not, primarily, teaching "band" at early levels. "Being in the band, or orchestra, can ONLY become a reality when, or if,  we are successful with our instrumental skills."

(4) Look for a program which does not place great emphasis upon the memorization of little "5 note tunes", to be played in unison, at the end- of- year recital.  Please avoid this "Garage Band" approach!

(5) Look for a program/teacher who understands that primary goal is to teach the child how to "play" the instrument. To "study and get ready" for later ensemble participation.

(7) Look for a teacher who urges, and helps,  the students develop a concept of "playing by ear"! We don't want our young musicians to become a "slave to the page".

(8) And finally - take a good look at "method book" being used. Does it "fight tooth and nail" for nos. 1 and 5, or does it clearly fall into the 3 an 4 category - - a  "Beginning Band" book.

Thanks for listening,

Clyde E. Hunt

Please visit our website at
click-on, especially,  Instrumental Music Teacher's Resource.

The second essay is submitted in support of Mr. Nils Ek's TPIN observations

             When To Start Instrumental Music Instruction?

The obvious answer is, "when the child is ready"!  However, difficulties begin when we attempt to assign a chronological age to this "readiness" stage.

   Recently, there has been a series of posts which would seem to indicate that psychologists and "educators" feel that it is probably useless to begin instruction to 3rd and 4th graders,  because students who are not "started" until the 6th or 7th grade, very quickly "catch-up" to those who began to play in the 3 - 4  grades.  This is alleged to be true because of physiological and psychological differences. Plain old "readiness".

Within the context of the discussion which has taken place thus far,  I find myself to be in agreement.  Having just spent 35 years in instrumental music classrooms,  I can assure you that these are, indeed, the expected "norms".

   But - I fear that there is great danger lurking in wait for a mentality which adopts this kind of thinking.  It is a kind of thinking which is pursued, and easily  ascribed to, simply because it is viewed as being "scientifically valid".  And what could be more rewarding than having one's actions "scientifically validated".

 (1) Implicit within the above framework, is the idea that there is "A" standard which "all", can and should attain. Sounds OK so far?  But I confess to the belief that the goal of education is NOT to see that everyone achieves at the same level - rather, the goal ought to be to have each child achieve to the extent of their God given abilities. Are you really excited about "average",  when it comes to your child's life achievement?

(2) We live in a society which abhors inequality.  And our educational systems TEND (or is it  pretend? ) to presume that we are ALL capable of achieving at the same level.  When it becomes patently clear that this is NOT the case, what happens?  The teachers, the books, and even the entire system are castigated for the inability to "bring everyone up to 'the' standard".  Does anyone need to be enlightened as to what happens next??? Can you spell "dumb-down"?  Anyone who has spent even 5 minutes in a classroom knows that far more time is spent on those who "don't get it", than on those who do.  Take a good look at your child's 'Band Book" !  In many of them you will have a hard time finding a written -out major scale!  Emphasis - the memorization of little tunes - short on technique and skills substance.

(3) We play right into the hands of over-frugal school Board Powers, when they adopt your arguments - as a rationale for drastically cutting the elementary instrumental music budget.

(4)  A couple of people tried to make reference to the (comparatively) astounding success of child prodigies. (sp?)  Little children are capable of AMAZING musical success, when nurtured.  But you'll never know, if you wait until the 6th or 7th grade to reach out to them.  Yes - - it is not possible, in most cases for a third grader to play the clarinet or flute.  BUT - many of them CAN reach that little
shepherd-crook cornet!  Or at least they can buzz the mouthpiece. Or play the recorder?

(5) If it is true that "everything  I needed to know, I learned "by" kindergarten" then It may well be that readiness often comes much sooner than commonly believed.

(6) Don't we now have enough research re. instrumental music , to know that children NEED to be involved in the discipline and neurological benefits of playing an instrument - at an EARLIER age, not at a later age? This is the hottest topic around!  How can we justify "waiting" ? There was a post somewhere along the way,  suggesting the appropriateness of the Suzuki procedure.  What is so fascinating to me , and so germane to the performance levels of these young children, is that they are being taught the physical skill of playing the violin - with little or no reference to "music"!

You want "REAL" results?  Get 'em while they're young!!

Thanks for listening!

Clyde E. Hunt