Becoming the Smart Musician, Part II of Series

by Robert Levy – Professor of Music, Lawrence University
Getzen Artist & Clinician

While Part I of this series addressed an approach in practicing by isolating Musical Elements, I’d like to backtrack a moment in Part II to the very beginning of our journey.

When starting out, young players have most likely been drawn to the trumpet for having heard someone play it – maybe a friend or relative. Or, perhaps they attended a concert and heard a soloist and were captivated by the glorious sound ringing throughout the auditorium or concert hall. At any rate, there was something captivating about this instrument for each of us from the very beginning and we made a conscious decision to get one and learn how to play it. Little did we know this would be one long journey!!

After many years I’m still amazed when I see raw beginners taking their very first steps as they learn the fundamentals of good hand and finger position, get their lips buzzing on the mouthpiece, and produce their beginning level tone qualities. They have such boundless enthusiasm and a yearning desire. They just want to get blowing the horn as quickly as possible with little regard for how they might sound. And this is understandable and I believe quite okay in the first few weeks of this learning process. I think the number one priority for teachers is to take advantage of this great enthusiasm that exists. All too often I see young teachers giving detailed lectures on the refined points of embouchure development, the importance of musical notation, and even a theoretical analysis! While all of these things are not only important and essential, I truly believe for a young student, age eleven to thirteen, the priority should be allowing them to play as soon as possible and take advantage of their desire to create a sound. Johnny and Susan don’t get this kind of opportunity in math or English class. We can work on refinement and all the other important concepts later as the long journey continues.

To hold the young student back from actually playing the instrument is like giving a four-year-old a new toy and keeping him/her from playing with it while you tell them all you know about it. He wants to play just as our new young trumpeter is excited about making those first sounds. In most cases, they won’t be very beautiful, but they will be their own.

There is all too often a high attrition rate with young musicians and I believe this occurs because they become bored. If we can capture their excitement and enthusiasm it will get them up and running and many more young students will stay motivated playing their instruments.

Lastly, I believe very strongly in even the youngest students hearing models as early as three or four weeks after they’ve begun. They then have a long-range goal before them. They’ll remember THAT sound and begin to formulate sound concepts. It can be done with the teacher making a point to play with the student (rather than strictly talking), by bringing in guest players, or by regularly playing recordings of outstanding players. Let’s remember the wonderful success with Suzuki teaching where the emphasis is on playing; reading comes later. I think there is a considerable amount to be learned from that technique.

Part III of this series will address the importance of sound concepts. Meanwhile, let’s keep our youngest students turned on to playing their horns!