How to Impress Your Teacher
29 Wednesday Jul 2009
Impressing your teacher (horn or otherwise) is easy – just go beyond what you are assigned or expected to do. You will have to struggle a bit against the usual paradigm of education, what I call the Baby Bird model: baby birds cheep in the nest, throats open, waiting for the worm. Parent bird (teacher) brings worm (bits of knowledge), stuffs down their throats. It’s a passive approach, and it’s largely the basis for our current educational system. Another metaphor for this model is the empty vessel, waiting to be filled up. In one sense, it’s a comfortable model: everyone knows their role and does it. The student doesn’t have to think original thoughts or experiment or explore, just memorize and follow orders. The teacher doesn’t have to deal with creativity or ambiguity – s/he asks for the “one right answer” back, and it’s either right or it’s not (see the post on The Easy Way Out…).
But, among other things, this approach does breed or instill passivity in students. You can impress your teacher by breaking free of this mold and being active. Most don’t. It’s not familiar. It’s extra work. It’s not… comfortable. The good news is, since most don’t do it, you will have a relatively easy time looking good.
How to do it? There are lots of ways. Pick a task at hand, perhaps an aspect of technique you’re working on, and go out and find solutions on your own. Go to the (music) library. Rummage through any materials you can find on the subject. There are lots of books and methods that touch on nearly all aspects of horn technique. As long as you’re rummaging and being active, go a step further and take a look outside the box. What do other instruments do to solve the same, similar, or analogous technical problems? Start with the brass. Go to woodwinds. Depending on the topic, you might even go farther afield than this and examine texts for piano, percussion, vocalists, strings. How about guitars? Organists? You might even jump ship altogether and see what athletes do – perhaps there are solutions lurking in texts on modern athletic training, or perhaps something from psychology on mental aspects. Or music therapy. Or Alexander technique. Or yoga. Or an interesting combination of a number of these.
Your teacher and horn tradition contain a lot of knowledge and procedures, but they don’t know everything. There is still plenty left to discover. You just might discover some magic combination that streamlines a traditional procedure so that you can get twice as proficient in half the time. Since hornists often have very narrow viewpoints (a problem associated with such an excellent tradition), with some research and thinking and trying stuff you may come up with something that recombines or rearranges things to yield a highly useful result.
You can do this at different levels; it could be just a little bit of going beyond basic expectations, or it could be a project that takes a year or two. Or both. Start with some problem you have, something that doesn’t work well for you, and start looking for solutions and trying things. Obstacles are great breeding grounds for new solutions.
To finish up, here’s a specific example of a garden variety bit of “extra” that you can (and should) do before every new solo you study.
•Translate all foreign language expression markings that you don’t know. You probably know a good bit of musical Italian (it probably hardly seems like Italian any more), but you may be less familiar with French or German expression markings. If you are playing any Hindemith, Strauss, or Mahler (for instance), get ready to translate. The quickest solution is to use the available online dictionaries. To translate German to English, I like The LEO dictionary is good for German-English translations. For French, you might try this French-English dictionary.
•Look up biographical information on the composer. When did he live? What style is this piece in? Did the composer write it for a particular hornist? If so, learn about this hornist. Was it written for a specific occasion? When was it written?
•Listen to multiple recordings of the solo. Note (i.e. write down) the differences in the performances. What aspects of which performance appealed to you. Listen a number of times, so that you can practically whistle the whole thing, and the details of rhythm and pitch are clear in your mind’s ear.
Do this before your first lesson on the solo. Although this kind of preparation should be standard, a lot of players just don’t get around to it. Do it, and do it regularly, and you will impress your teacher.