Information for Prospective Students
My horn teachers and chamber music coaches taught me
a principle that I have retained as a mainstay of my own teaching: the
style of the music dictates the technique, and not the other way
around. In 25 years of teaching, I have thought every day about how to
apply this principle in the way that best prepares my students to
create musical beauty at a high level. This has led me to a simple idea
that I feel has enormous power to help students: all musicians must
first create, in their imagination, the sound of the music they are to
play. Then, they must play, following the model. Then, they must
assess: did they succeed, did their playing match their model? And if
not, in what ways? Then, try again.
While this may seem like an obvious idea, in my
experience many students do not engage their imagination when they
play. They pick up the instrument and begin a series of body movements
that make it sound, but without a coherent plan of exactly what they
are trying to accomplish. The result is that progress is not only hard
won, but relies largely on the physical body rather than the mind.
how does this new strategy work in real life?
The first step is the creation of a model: how should each phrase
sound? Often, a student has difficulty creating
a model because he (or she) simply does not know how the piece should
go. He therefore must listen to recordings and study the score. When he
begins to understand the style of the piece, he can think about how it
should sound, in detail. What is the tone? What should the articulation
of each note sound like? What is the dynamic flow? Where do the phrases
crest and ebb? How should the releases of notes sound? The best way to
answer all these questions is to sing the music with the voice. Rarely
have I found students who sing their pieces unmusically, and most
students sing much more intuitively than they play. The role of the
teacher in this step is to guide and challenge: are you sure you sang
the phrases clearly and musically? Is the style correct for that
composer? I often sing back to my students, either amplifying their
ideas or suggesting other ideas.
Next comes the playing. At this point, the student
is imitating the sound of his (or her, or my) voice. Is he producing
kind of tone he wants to produce? Is he articulating in the way he
and shaping the phrases in the way he imagined? Is he releasing the
the way he wants to? The student who follows his musical imagination is
empowered: he develops the ability to hear how closely his performance
mirrors his own ideals. If the student cannot achieve the desired
effects, it is time
to devise drills that help – hence, the physicality of horn playing
derives from musical demands. I often will look for etudes that address
a particular issue, or create my own. The overarching desire is not to
master a technique just for this particular phrase, but for every such phrase.
In this way, a student gains a skill that is global rather than local.
In discussing technical solutions, I favor the language of singing over muscular instruction. For example, the typical
technical instruction “bring the corners of your mouth in” becomes "say
the vowel oo” or “create more resonance in your mouth.” In this way,
playing is more organic to the body (and more closely related to
Finally, the player assesses. He is constantly
comparing what he just played to what he heard in his head (or what he
sang). This is hard. Having the focus to play an instrument, keep a
model in one’s head, and listen at the same time requires practice. But
as students gain experience, they begin to notice that they are not
creating the sounds that they wish to create. At that point, the
instruction begins to come directly from the student rather than from
the teacher. In this way, I teach students to teach themselves.
When students work in this fashion, they develop
their imagination, sense of style, sense of line, self-direction,
musical voice, ability to both play and listen at the same time, and an
attitude that involves creative exploration and problem solving. Rote
mechanical drilling is required, but it is motivated by the need to
create certain sounds that originate in the student’s head.