It’s a documented fact that children respond better to structure and consistency. By knowing what to expect, a student is able to practice in a successful way for the next lesson. Music teachers don’t really talk about their methods very much and musicians aren’t taught how to teach. But we all remember our favorite teachers, how they helped us improve, and how they did it.
When I first started teaching, it was in Los Angeles and I was still in high school. I was teaching middle school low brass players (I was a tuba player at the time) and I had no idea what to do. I was self taught and just “got it” so to help kids who were starting from the beginning was frustrating. I needed to find a way to relate to them without sounding belittling or that I was talking down to them. This came down to developing the demeanor that I have when I teach. When you are starting with a new student, you may have to remind them that C major starts C-D. Which seems basic to many players but is a new concept for them.
I began to notice holes in their education, they would sound good in their solo piece and then couldn’t play scales. Or that the pieces they played in band sounded fine but they wouldn’t work on music outside of required pieces. So I started a lesson structure that uses the entire hour in a useful way, without any dead time.
1) Major Scales to start, C major is a non threatening warmup. Students play the circle of fifths at the tempo they are able to, and the tempo bumps up one notch every other week. Depending on the level of the student scales might take more than half of the lesson. But scales are so important in being a woodwind player that it’s worth taking the time to fix any bad note connections or bad embouchure habits when going into different registers.
2) Required music is something I touch on quickly if they have a difficult passage for an upcoming band or orchestra concert. Students play this music everyday in band so most of it get sorted out by itself. Working out any problems in this is an easy way to show results to any music program that you are employed by. They hire you to make their students play well in the concert, so you need to make sure that they can play their parts.
3) Etudes and solo literature is the real hurdle in the lesson, this divides my good students from my bad students. Good students play through their piece everyday and I hear improvement. Bad students just say that they do! The real defining element to make a good student is the interest in playing. Which sounds obvious but some people think that they like playing bassoon, when they really just like blasting low notes. It is hard to engage younger students in more stylized pieces from the baroque. But the trick for young players with short attention spans is to play something in minor key, very fast, and loud. So Vivaldi Bassoon Concertos have been a nice way to teach standard repertoire but cater to young players. They want to show off fast notes and runs when they warm up in band class, so they learn the notes themselves, then all I have to do is tell them where the emphasis of the phrase is.
It can be helpful to use a Lesson Journal if, like me, you have a poor memory and your students’ lessons blur together. Basic things to keep track of are the tempo that they are playing scales that week, so that you can increase it accordingly. What they played that week, and how many weeks they have been on it. Who got a reed that week.
Here are some things that I have noticed over the years, mostly from trial and error…
There is no need to yell or be nasty. Bassoon is difficult and scary and some people suffer from stage nerves especially in an exposed one-on-one setting, so don’t make it worse.
Don’t let students know that a note is a “high note” act as if every note that you teach them is in the standard range and they are responsible for playing it.
They are responsible for their own reeds.
It’s impossible not to have favorites in your studio. Just don’t show any favoritism.