What is Success?
As the end of my first academic year out of school comes to a close, I've found myself considering what defines success. Is success something that is defined compared to peers? Are some people successful and others not, or can everyone achieve success? Is success defined within determined confines for a situation or profession?
I do not aim to answer these questions, but merely illustrate scenarios that my students, and I, have or will encounter, and consider the different types and angles of success.
I pursued an undergraduate degree in Music Education, which many use to become public school music teachers, or more specifically for my field: band directors.
I am not a band director.
As a graduate student, I pursued a master's degree in Trombone Performance, which most use to become professional trombonists, performing as a freelancer or in a stable group, such as an orchestra, military band, etc.
I am not performing trombonist.
Sure, I've chosen a route that utilizes both my performance and educational skills, in a completely legitimate capacity. But how does straying from the norm impact my level of success? As a private instructor, I'm a freelancer. I operate as a small business, not a teacher. Many of peers are actively performing, taking auditions, and striving to win full time playing jobs. While I want to play as much as I can, I prefer to focus on my teaching, and thusly my personal playing is not always on par.
Am I a less successful trombonist as a result of my personal goals?
In many ways, I share more in common with the full time educators I work for. I focus on working with the students, creating new opportunities for them to perform, and developing new materials and techniques to reach higher goals. I do not share the burden of public educators, though, as I'm not confined by grades, testing, state standards, lesson plans, faculty meetings, lunch duty, and the list could go on. My teaching is not supervised, evaluated, and often not planned that far in advance. I do not prepare for rehearsals the same way I would if I held a true teaching job, and I can tell my teaching suffers compared to when I properly prepare. I do always try my best, however, and put in 100% in the moment for the benefit of the students.
Am I a less successful educator as a result of the nature of my position?
So, what about the students? The school culture fixates on developing successful students based on grades, standardized testing, and competition. Is a student who receives a C on a test less successful even though their hard work led to their first grade above an F? If a student makes the top band simply because no one else auditioned more successful than the sophomore that for beat out by four seniors?
Competition isn't any better because it's either relative or arbitrary. I'll never forget winning a state championship with my high school marching band despite an awful performance: the judge simply sneezed and missed our mistakes, so they were left with the impression we had done well. Our performance certainly wasn't successful, but if the others were also subpar we could still come out on top. Competition that isn't judged by comparison uses standards that may not reflect student's level of achievement or work, however, which I've seen through high marks for mediocre performance. This method clearly is counterproductive to motivation for higher achievement and work ethic.
So how do we measure success? To avoid arbitrary evaluation, our society uses competition and comparison to create criteria for success. Those who reach highest are successful, and those who follow must attain the same achievement in order to be deemed a success. This is great in theory, as we all end up competing in the real world for jobs and enjoyment, but it doesn't hold up for educational philosophy.
We're told every child is different, and that each require an education tailored to fit them. Educators develop multiple strategies to teach the same concept in an effort to reach every student. Teachers differentiate instruction in their classroom, and create multiple scenarios for projects for students to demonstrate their learning.
But testing is standardized.
Success is still measured by comparing a product to criteria created by levels of achievement of those who came before us. We're all given opportunity to choose our own path, but the image of "successful" people is constantly reinforced by standards of CEOs, A's on tests, and constantly being on top.
Are there other versions of success?
As I reflect upon my year I reach the following conclusion: I have experienced success, and a great deal of it. My studio has grown tremendously in size. A culture of high expectations and hard work is developing. My students were accepted into Region Band, performed well at their Solo and Ensemble contests, put on a great studio recital, and have made leaps and bounds of progress in their playing.
These are parameters that I have self-imposed though. As a freelancer, no one observes my teaching for evaluation. I suppose if things were truly awful, my students would want to quit, but if they haven't had many private teachers before, they may not know the difference. There are no awards for my line of teaching, and no standards to be judged by. How do I measure success?
That leads to the final question:
Is there a point where one can determine his or her own success based on intrinsic feeling and self-evaluation, and how does that impact long term growth?
The Benefits of Buzzing
It's been a while! Today's post is about buzzing - the where, when, why and how!
Buzzing should be a part of everyone's daily routine, but it must be done effectively and safely. Every brass player should keep these in mind when buzzing:
Buzzing should take place at the start of every practice session, as well as during the practice time. Buzzing sirens or "roller coasters" is a great way to warm up our lips and get our air moving for the day! After that, buzz some simple songs, like Mary Had A Little Lamb - this will help our lips and brain work together to buzz accurate pitches.
During the practice session, buzz parts of the etude/solo/music that give you trouble - this could be faster passages, or perhaps a note you keep missing. By buzzing the accurate rhythm and pitches (without tongue), you'll find it easier to produce on your instrument.
Beginning students: Can't take your big instrument home? Buzzing is a great way to practice at home without the horn. Buzz only 5 minutes at a time, with breaks in between. You can even sit down to watch TV and just buzz during the commercials! Just don't forget to use that great posture you use in school!
So what are the benefits of buzzing? By buzzing in tune and in time, our body is trained to produce the music we want without the extra aid of the instrument. Because of that, the instrument will ring more and produce a more beautiful and resonant sound and it will be easier too! This will improve legato playing as well as technical playing, and you will find that over time the intonation will improve as well! The benefits are endless!
Remember to buzz every day and talk to me in lessons if you experience success, pain, difficulty, or want more buzzing tools! Happy Practicing!
The Ins and Outs of Practicing
It's been a while! Thanks to all who have made my journey to Houston successful and enjoyable during the past few weeks. It's been a pleasure to get things going in Tomball and I look forward to the success we'll have during this year.
Now on to the big one: the school year has just begun and already the math, science, history, and other homework is piling on! So, with all of these commitments, how do we find the time to practice? And how do we practice anyway!?
First, let's talk about organizing our practice time. The key is always efficiency and effectiveness in practice. When you sit down to practice, you should know exactly what you're going to work on, and have a game plan for how to use your time. Then at the end of the session, evaluate if you accomplished your goal! If you just play your instrument for an hour, that doesn't necessarily count as practice (but make time for just playing your instrument too!)
Make time every day to practice, but it doesn't have to be long! If you're just starting out (6th grade), perhaps this will only be 15-20 minutes a day. By the time you're in junior high, aim for around 30-45 minutes, and high school students can handle 45-60 minutes. The key is always consistency though - if you only have 10 minutes one day, still get your horn out and use that time wisely! 15 minutes a day every day during the week is much more effective than practicing for 2 hours one day a week!
Next, let's talk about our practice space and materials: make sure to create a space for yourself that is quite and free from distractions! Leave your homework, pets, television, etc. somewhere else and focus 100% on your instrument. Close out of your messaging apps, Facebook, Twitter, and the like! Your friends will still be there when you've finished. Technology is the toughest part for us modern musicians - it can truly hinder our practicing if we're not focused, but it can also be a very helpful tool! Make sure you have these important items when you practice:
Now you're ready to practice! Again, always have a goal in mind and address specific problems. You should always make changes during your session: no two practice sessions will be the same! When practicing, ask yourself about the 3 T's:
Ask yourself these questions while playing as a way to guide your practice. When you're feeling confident in your product, record yourself playing (here's the useful technology!) and listen back, asking the same three questions. Free programs like Audacity and even the Voice Memos App on iPhones work well! And as always, feel free to check in with me with any questions, problems, or struggles you have concerning practicing!
Good luck during the first week of school, and happy practicing!
Finding High Quality Recordings
Listening is an important part of our musical development, but we're not always fortunate enough to hear each piece we work on live. Especially when it comes to solo literature for low brass instruments, there is a lot of great music that is under performed, but recordings allow us to continually access a performance so that we can learn from it.
High quality recordings have the following characteristics:
When looking for a recording, ask yourself if it fits these three characteristics. The resources below are by no means a complete list of places to find great recordings, but should have accessible recordings that are suitable:
The cons - only streaming, and not every recording is a good one! Listening to other students can be helpful, but try to stick to professionals to use as your model. If you don't know who the performer is, search for them online to try to find their bio, or look them up on the Trombone Page of the World or on David Werden's website (euphonium).
The cons - you have to pay for it (which is good for the music business anyway!), and similarly to YouTube, not every recording will be worth the cost. Check out the performers BEFORE you buy.
The cons - Naxos is a subscription service, so it is expensive to buy as an individual. Generally, institutions like schools and libraries pay for subscriptions for their students/patrons. See if your school has it, or convince them to subscribe!
The cons - probably a limited selection, making our low brass specific music unlikely.
The cons - may not be as accessible to someone not affiliated with the school.
The cons - this is a very specific resource, and contains only short clips. For the bigger picture, you'll need to find full parts and full length recordings.
Check back soon for information about the Region Band/All-State audition material and more! Happy listening!
With the summer in full swing, we've all had some time to relax after the school year, get back in shape, and revisit some of the music we've worked on before. But, the Region/All-State Band audition music will be posted soon and that means it's time to dive into some new etudes and solos!
So, where do we begin on this new journey? Should we just dive right in and start practicing, or are there other steps first? Here's a couple ideas:
Keep checking the TMEA website for their postings on the audition music. It should be posted around July 25th for the TBA conference. Next week, I'll have information here about high quality recordings, as well as upcoming posts about online resources, practice tips, and more.
Also, please "Like" my Facebook page and follow me on Google+ to receive updates on this blog as well as other information! I am available beginning August 4th for lessons in Tomball, so please contact me or submit the "New Student Information Form" to set up your first lesson!
Check out this video about the Eastman School of Music's Jazz Department created by the University of Rochester! The video features clips from both the New Jazz Ensemble and Eastman Jazz Ensemble, regarding our concert last April. We had the great challenge and privilege of learning our music and performing our portion of the concert entirely from memory, which was not only very fun but eye opening as well! Check out some amazing musicians and some interesting discussion, and there's even a brief clip of the trombone soli around 4:45! Enjoy!
So, now you're back in shape after some time off, and you're in the middle of summer. Schools out, and the next school year is still more than a month away. Perhaps you have a summer job, or some camps to attend, but this doesn't mean you should pack up your trombone, baritone, or euphonium until August! The summer is a great time to experiment, get a leg up before school starts, or just play for fun! Here's some options to explore:
And of course, there are plenty of other ways to stay active during the summer months, so find any music that excites you and get to playing! Use the same beautiful sound you make during the school year, and play your new music for your friends and family. And please share your music with me! I'd love to hear a performance in our next lesson, or a recording you made!
The best thing you can do is find music you enjoy and play it! Play with your friends, or play along with a recording. A quick search on YouTube might bring up some backing tracks that can let YOU play the melody too! Happy practicing!
As students, all of our teachers always tell us to practice as much as we can. Some provide practice logs, while some give us those scathing looks in rehearsals when they can tell we didn't go over that tricky passage last night. But what most teachers don't tell you to do is take a break and put the horn away for a while, or how to get yourself back in shape after a summer vacation.
Taking a break from playing can actually be a very healthy aspect of developing our musical skills and honing our instrumental technique as brass players. I have consistently found summers to be the best time to make large changes in my own playing, especially after taking some time off. The break allows our body to literally forget our old habits, and provides us the opportunity to retrain our bodies in a new way. We can REPLACE our habits with new ones, rather than trying to change our technique.
When dealing with breaks and post-break practicing, keep a few things in mind:
Remember: taking time off is a good thing, and the summer is a great time to enjoy it! During the school year, you'll be busy with marching band competitions, band rehearsals, Solo and Ensemble contests, and more. Take some time to rest now, but return to the instrument with a newfound sense of ambition and goals to reach the next level. Play simple tunes and technically easy music when you pick up your instrument again, and feed the buzz consistent and copious air!
And now after almost a week of traveling without playing, it is my turn to brush the dust off my trombone and get to practicing again! Enjoy your summer breaks and happy practicing!
Jeff Dunn, trombone
An avid educator, performer, and advocate for music.