First Lessons: Tips for Teachers (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at some general guidelines to consider when starting a student on the trumpet. The next few posts will explore the content of those lessons, and how you might want to present it. I’ve discovered that my delivery depends largely on the individual I’m teaching, so today I’d like to describe a few of the personalities I most frequently encounter and explain how I start with each. In particular, this post will discuss when and how I teach them to move their air.

Most instructors begin their lessons with light conversation. With a first-time beginner, this step is especially important, because the student’s interactions will affect the pacing of the entire lesson. I usually ask why the student picked the trumpet, and whether s/he has already played some notes on it. When the student answers, I’m more interested in his or her demeanor than in what s/he tells me. Is the student talkative? Shrugging? Sullen? Shy? Outgoing? Using advanced vocabulary? With first-time beginners, I’m hoping to cultivate enthusiasm, because enthusiasm usually translates to practice time. But I’m also looking for evidence of discipline, so that that practice time is productive. If either quality appears to be lacking, I need to adjust accordingly.

So what happens after I ask those first few questions? Here are some common scenarios:

Shy Sarah: Sarah is very quiet. She answers questions softly and spends a lot of time looking at the floor, making it difficult to forge a connection. She may be afraid to make mistakes. With this type of student, I always move to breathing first. If I go straight to buzzing, she’ll probably be so timid that she won’t move any air through the horn. Instead, I ask her to stand up. Together we do some breathing exercises, such as those in The Breathing Gym (my favorite warmups from this collection are “trunk twists”). I’ll make sure to do these enthusiastically, with thick (usually audible) streams of air, so that she doesn’t feel so self-conscious. One teacher (José Cháfer Mompó) showed me some breathing exercises that involve deep breathing while standing on one foot at a time, with the thigh parallel to the ground and the knee at a right angle. These are a great icebreaker for a student like Sarah, so we might do those next. If she starts giggling and seems to be loosening up, I’ll finish by jumping up and down (another Mompó technique) while breathing in and out every four jumps. By this point, Sarah has usually relaxed and learned to move lots of air. Now we are ready to buzz.

Enthusiastic Eric: Eric is high on energy, low on attention span. He is the opposite of Sarah, so jumping up and down in his lesson would be a disaster–I’d never get him to re-focus! (If I have a student for whom hyperactivity is a consistent problem, I’ll often encourage Mom to take him to the park before his lesson so he can burn off some of the energy.) With Eric, my priority is to focus his limited attention on the trumpet, so I’ll start by teaching him to make a buzz (we’ll talk about buzzing in Part 3). At some point after he learns to make a sound, his attention is likely to waver again, so at that point I’ll change the subject and talk about breathing. We won’t stand up; instead I’ll get him to sit very straight in his chair with his ribcage elevated (what David Krauss calls the “Super Hero Pose”). Then we’ll practice taking a deep breath together, listening for the type of vowel sound he makes with his air to ensure that he is staying relaxed instead of constricting his neck or chest. In a first lesson with a student like Eric, I find myself changing gears constantly to keep up with him. Eventually, I want this balance to shift so that he learns to focus his attention on a single concept for extended periods of time.

Inquisitve Ian: Ian is a thinker. When I asked why he picked the trumpet, he answered in full sentences and looked me in the eye. With Ian, I can be systematic. We’ll do some of the same breathing exercises as I would use with Sarah (probably without the jumping), then move on to buzzing. Ian will appreciate knowing how things work, so I encourage him to ask lots of questions as we go. As you will see in the next installment of this series, the biggest challenge with a student like Ian is knowing when NOT to give him information!

Bored Bradley: Bradley is ambivalent about the trumpet. He prefers Little League, church camp, Minecraft–you name it. He’s in band because his friends are in band, his parents were in band, his brother is in band, etc. Teachers encounter this student all the time, and most of us dread these lessons. But you must remember one important thing: if it’s his very first lesson, Bored Bradley is most likely a figment of your imagination. A first-time beginner doesn’t really know what he thinks of the trumpet. It’s easy to read this personality type into a student who seems reserved or distracted–but resist the urge and keep looking for ways to unlock his enthusiasm. I try to give beginning students a year before I let myself put them in this category, and I talk to the parent at the end of that time if I really think that the student isn’t interested in the trumpet. We’ll come back to Bradley in the last installment of this series, but for now, assume that he isn’t on your roster.

Most students fall somewhere in between these extremes, so keep an open mind and be ready to change tactics if something isn’t working. In Part 3, we’ll take a look at how each of these personality types might respond when you begin to talk about buzzing and making a sound.



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