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Being a teacher and a student

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#1 ten left thumbs

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Posted 18 November 2014 - 17:51

I make my living now as a piano teacher, I also took up trumpet again (had played as a child) within the last year. I've been finding trumpet really challenging and decided to get myself a teacher. I think my brass teacher seriously over-estimates my ability on trumpet and I'm not sure how to deal with it.

 

My problems are (guess what?) upper range and stamina and his position is basically that these aren't problems. He'll assign me something I can't play, I try, I practice, a month later, I still can't play it - and I'm not quite sure where this leaves me. He tries super hard to be encouraging and optimistic - he would rather I go for a note and fluff it than not try. I'm fine with trying. I don't like to say 'I can't' - but I really can't! I can't play a high A. 

 

I'm wondering if it's a known technique among brass teachers - just be super encouraging and optimistic and keep them at it and they'll improve? Or if I'm being particularly hard on myself as I know fine well which note I didn't play (ignorance is bliss). Or if he's confusing me for a much better player on account of the fact I'll play an etude in F#maj and not complain about the E#'s. 

 

Would appreciate thoughts, especially from brass teachers.


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#2 violinlove

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Posted 18 November 2014 - 18:20

 

My problems are (guess what?) upper range and stamina and his position is basically that these aren't problems. He'll assign me something I can't play, I try, I practice, a month later, I still can't play it - and I'm not quite sure where this leaves me. He tries super hard to be encouraging and optimistic - he would rather I go for a note and fluff it than not try. I'm fine with trying. I don't like to say 'I can't' - but I really can't! I can't play a high A. 

 

I'm wondering if it's a known technique among brass teachers - just be super encouraging and optimistic and keep them at it and they'll improve? Or if I'm being particularly hard on myself as I know fine well which note I didn't play (ignorance is bliss). Or if he's confusing me for a much better player on account of the fact I'll play an etude in F#maj and not complain about the E#'s. 

 

 

Try imagining you are teaching a pupil piano and they can't manage a particular technique even after a month of practising. What would you do? Presumably you would first of all try to identify exactly where the difficulty lies and what is causing the problem. Then you would choose a suitable exercise to tackle the problem, demonstrate it to the pupil, have them try it, make corrections where necessary and assign the exercise to be worked on during practice sessions. The pupil would return the following week and you would ask them to play the exercise again to see what progress had been made. You would then continue in this manner until the technique was well on the way to competency.

 

Is this happening in your trumpet lessons? Are you being given appropriate demonstrations and exercises during the lesson? What sort of studies are being provided? Has your range gradually been built up or are you just expected to get there somehow or other?

 

It's hard to tell from what you have written whether the teacher knows full well that these are problems which require a lot of time to be overcome and so is trying to get you to "forget" about them while you gradually improve as a player or whether he maybe doesn't know exactly how to help you to overcome them.

 

I have been learning horn for two years and the teacher has very gradually increased my range through warm up exercises. I have been working through various studies and I have never had a note in a new study which was too high for me to play because he has made sure my range was large enough before the higher notes started to appear in the studies. For example in warm up exercises I am up to a top B flat but studies at the moment are only going up to G. I looked a bit further on in the book and I have 3 more studies to do before A appears.

He has done a lot of work with me on airflow and embouchure so that I know what I should be doing in order to get the higher notes rather than blowing down the horn and hoping for the best. He was also very strict from the first lesson about too much pressure as he said he didn't want me later on having to rely on crazy amounts of pressure to get the notes above top F.

In the last few weeks we have started extending the range downwards so I can expect in the next couple of months to get studies which head down into the depths.

 

I love my lessons and have learnt so much in two years. I have yet to receive a single "piece" from him - only studies! He knows that I play pieces elsewhere and doesn't mind but he said he would much rather work on technique in the lessons and when he thinks the technique is good enough he will go on to some of the advanced horn repertoire. He said he is only using this method for me because he thinks it makes the most sense for me and said he teaches young beginners and adults with no other musical experience completely differently.

He also said he really enjoys teaching me because he can really work on technique as he does not need to teach rhythm or explain any theory and I don't have problems with intonation or hitting the right note on the horn. (I have other problems though - with breathing and tonguing and so on!)

 

I think your trumpet teacher should not be assuming you are a much better player than you are because you know your theory and play piano. He should be able to hear that there is a problem and assign appropriate exercises to deal with it.

Perhaps you could explain that you would like to be able to play the top A reliably and ask for some technical exercises to help you to reach that goal and also make clear that you know it can't happen overnight and are prepared to put the work in. Then see if he comes up with some sensible suggestions for you.

 

What sort of repertoire are you working on? How long have you been playing?


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#3 sbhoa

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Posted 18 November 2014 - 18:57

When I started to take regular lessons on clarinet new things were also approached through teaching the appropriate technique.

When new notes were introduced they generally had some time working on before being included in any repertoire.

If some things sound less than good my teacher always makes me take that step back to remind me exactly how I should be playing.

 

Even though I was a grade 8 pianist I was never expected to just do things on the clarinet. 

It sometimes me who tries to make more than reasonable demands on my playing but i'm reminded that although I'm a Dip. level pianist with Dip. Level musicianship my clarinet playing isn't yet there.


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#4 ten left thumbs

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Posted 18 November 2014 - 20:38

...

 

 

It's hard to tell from what you have written whether the teacher knows full well that these are problems which require a lot of time to be overcome and so is trying to get you to "forget" about them while you gradually improve as a player or whether he maybe doesn't know exactly how to help you to overcome them.

 

...

 

 This is precisely what I'm unsure about myself. Certainly we've gone into how the instrument works, embouchure, buzzing exercises, blowing exercises, etc, etc and I don't expect any of this to work overnight - maybe it will get me there eventually. 

 

I have been playing now for about a year as a re-starter. I played originally right through high school and have Gr 5. I am working mostly on Clark's studies, a few tunes, but mostly studies and scales. Like others here, I'm quite happy with studies and scales, I get enough tunes in my life as it is. 

 

Anyone struggling with a piano technique or exercise, what I would do is break it down into something smaller, easier, slower, etc, or find out where the excess tension is coming from and do something to address that.

 

My teacher's point (back to trumpet) is that I should push into the upper range, not worry what it sounds like or feels like - just keep with it. That the upper register only comes from playing the upper register, so doing it is the only way to get there. It is possible - just possible, that after listening to me, watching me and assessing me, that he is right, and that I am ready to simply push these notes. (He is not the only person to tell me this). 


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#5 Roseau

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Posted 18 November 2014 - 21:39

I have always felt that my oboe teacher has over-estimated my ability because I could read music when I started - a few years ago (when he asked me to buy some music for my daughter who he also taught) he came out with the slightly odd comment that it was a book he had never used with me because even as a beginner I had been too advanced to play from an easy anthology.

 

About eighteen months after I started I asked just to play studies and exercises for a while as I felt that my technique was being left behind and he let me do that for about half a term. There are times when I still think he overestimates my ability and gives me things which are far too difficult but over the years I have learnt to trust his judgement. 

 

A number of things have helped - tutors on summer courses have commented on how good my technique is (so I have come to the conclusion that he knows what he is doing) but I think mainly what helped was seeing him teaching other pupils which helped put my own problems into perspective.

 

I think, in the end, it comes down to whether you trust your teacher or not. Mine often tells me that I spend too much time analysing what I'm doing and that I would be better off just playing; that some things only come with time and that it is counter-productive to want to sound "good" all the time. 


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#6 owainsutton

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Posted 19 November 2014 - 01:07

I really can't! I can't play a high A. 

 

I know a top-notch professional cornet player, who has told me how he finishes his off-stage final preparation before a performance: Play a top A. Play it again. And again. Once he can hit that note repeatedly, he feels ready. The moral of the story: top A is an absolute barsteward! (Dodging the naught-word filter ;) )


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#7 Latin pianist

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Posted 19 November 2014 - 07:18

I don't know anything about brass playing, but I returned to cello playing and my teacher said I was concentrating too much on getting the intonation right, and it was better to keep playing even though it sounded out of tune, to improve my bowing technique. And I can see now she was right. So maybe you have got to trust your teacher.
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#8 Splog

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Posted 19 November 2014 - 08:13

I was told it takes six months of continuous practice to raise the range by a semitone. One day the top A will be solid, and the Bb will be the fluffy one.

 

Not sure I'd like lessons which don't involve playing tunes though. Phrasing, tone quality and musical shaping are just as important as being able to hit high notes.


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#9 ten left thumbs

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Posted 19 November 2014 - 09:46

 

I really can't! I can't play a high A. 

 

I know a top-notch professional cornet player, who has told me how he finishes his off-stage final preparation before a performance: Play a top A. Play it again. And again. Once he can hit that note repeatedly, he feels ready. The moral of the story: top A is an absolute barsteward! (Dodging the naught-word filter ;) )

 

Ha ha - thing is, I used to get that barsteward and several barstewards up from it. 

 

Many thanks for the replies - if I go for 6 months continual practice for a semitone, then that's fine, and by that stick I'm doing OK. It's all about expectations. 

 

I can also cope with this teacher being fallible and perhaps making assumptions about me that aren't true. 


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#10 sbhoa

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Posted 19 November 2014 - 10:28

 

 

I can also cope with this teacher being fallible and perhaps making assumptions about me that aren't true. 

 

If you've not been in the position of learning a second instrument when fairly advanced on the first you may not quite understand some of the limitations.

One thing that I've noticed is the tendency to miss some of the basics like counting and playing simple rhythms accurately.


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#11 superwan

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Posted 19 November 2014 - 10:36

Hi Ten left thumbs,

 

I'm in a similar situation and my teacher has said similar things to me.  I'm a year into my comeback and also did grade 5 at school, 25 years ago my top note was a B (at a push) so maybe if you could manage an A previously your teacher is thinking you can do it again with work. 

 

My teacher says that I should just go for it (when a piece has a high note) and that even if I miss the high notes that my muscle memory and endurance will be strengthening.  His point being that if you never play in the high range then you never will.  What he's also given me is the first exercise out of a book from Caruso which builds your range where you keep playing until you make no sound (he told me to use this on a day where I have no band practice). 

 

Another thing that has helped me is playing 2 octaves scales daily and I begin my warm up by playing a G above the staff for the count of 4 followed by a G# then G again followed by an A then G followed by Bb and if it's going well continue to C!  I found that part of my problem was that I just was not used to hearing where the top notes were and this is helping me (and my lips are fresh at the start of practice).  I had read that pedal tones were a good thing to do to help the high notes but I haven't found that has worked for me at all.  I suppose it's about finding what works for you.

 

The second point you made was endurance.  It's best not to work too much on range as this kills the endurance I've found.  When I want to work on endurance I play easy tunes continuously for 20 mins with no break and build up from there.

 

Hope this helps :)


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#12 ten left thumbs

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Posted 19 November 2014 - 13:43

Yes, it does help, thanks superwan. My teacher say the same thing re high notes - the only way to play them, is to play them. Interesting what you say about pedal notes - it is one of the things out there. It sounds crazy enough to be true - if you want to play high, play low - however I could play low, very low all day, and it hasn't helped so far. Maybe it helped somebody. Maybe they were doing something else too.

 

I just picked up a pdf of Caruso exercises, and will give them a go. One thing my teacher has had me do, is these notes from breathing - that is, without tonguing. I never learned that as a kid.

 

I can't currently hold a G for 4 counts, but could do that starting from lower. Will try tomorrow.


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#13 superwan

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Posted 19 November 2014 - 15:18

I've just remembered something else my teacher said that hit home.  He said to think about how many notes you have play from bottom C to C in the staff (lots right?) and you can easily produce them, you know where they are with your mouth, you can keep them in tune and for a good length of time.  Now think about how many G's and A's above the staff that you've played (no where near as many).  It's hardly surprising that that they don't feel comfortable.  The Caruso exercises are like weight training for the lips, they aren't supposed to sound good, they are just to teach you where the notes are.  I get frustrated that after a year I still can't get the high notes easily but I tell myself to think about the 3 Ps, practice, perserverance and patience.

 

Re Pedal tones, yep I know what you mean, I can play low very well, I think that's due to playing 2nd Cornet in my youth.  Now I'm playing Solo the range should build in theory!

 

Good luck :)


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#14 ten left thumbs

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Posted 19 November 2014 - 20:21

Indeed. I can hear those notes, though, very clearly. I just can't play them. :) 


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#15 RoseRodent

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Posted 19 November 2014 - 21:13

 

My teacher's point (back to trumpet) is that I should push into the upper range, not worry what it sounds like or feels like - just keep with it. That the upper register only comes from playing the upper register, so doing it is the only way to get there. It is possible - just possible, that after listening to me, watching me and assessing me, that he is right, and that I am ready to simply push these notes. (He is not the only person to tell me this). 

 

 

This reminds me very much of one of my adult students who doens't want to play things he cannot get right. I set him exercises and encourage him and he comes back again next week saying he didn't do the double-stopping exercises because they sounded bad when he played them. Then he lists double stopping as his major technical goal for the session! I have tried all ways up to break the exercises down and make it easier, but at some point he has to actually do it!

 

My perspective is that by having a go, you develop the ear and feedback system that tells you that when you do this with your arm it works better than when you do that. Similarly with the trumpet, you will notice that this amount of pressure, this shape, that thing you do with your eyebrows  ;) works better when you do it than when you don't. The teacher can explain to a certain degree, but some things are such a judgement call, such a case of "enough but not too much" that you just have to try the combinations and take a mental note of what improves it and what makes it worse. When your teacher can hear the best you can manage is when they are in a position to make suggestions - a bit more x, a little less y, try it swinging from the lampshade, etc. But until you go out there and keep working at it and show what is the best you can manage, the teacher doesn't have much to work with. 

 

 

Think of it more as a journey where actually hitting the top A is not the short-term goal, it's something you will get to via a long and winding road. You will develop your diaphragm strength, lip strength, [insert relevant brass technique here] towards that top A by practising trying to get it. OK so the actual note doesn't come out but that's not a failure, you succeeded in getting stronger. You succeeded in bringing your goal closer. Try not to worry about the horrible noises which come out when you are trying, which I know isn't always easy when you have neighbours in mind, they are progress noises. 

 

If you try and try and try and you just cannot work out why some times are closer and some times are further away, that's when you can go back to the teacher and say you just have no clue what is helpful, demonstrate what you have tried and the teacher has a chance to be diagnostic and make suggestions. I would start to be concerned if the teacher cannnot help at this stage, but I can totally see why the advice so far is do what you can. If you happen to hit the note one day after weeks of squeaking and squawking, you'll have that physical feedback of what you did, and you'll be able to make it more repeatable. Good luck! 


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