Over the past 30 years, I’ve approached my beginning brass classes in a variety of ways. About 15 years ago, I developed a process that has proven to be very successful, particularly with our trumpet students.
Developing successful trumpet players begins on the day the students select the instrument they will play. We hold our instrument interviews in early spring. Our trumpet private teacher screens all students interested in playing the trumpet. Students are only recommended for the trumpet if they can produce a concert F (2nd line G for trumpet) consistently during the 3-4 minute “interview”. This emphasis on Concert F is a thread that continues throughout the year in our beginning brass classes. Of course, the trumpet teacher also evaluates the ease with which each student produces a free buzz and whether or not the student looks comfortable when they buzz. We often preface the interview by saying “we’re watching more than we are listening”.
Fast forward to the first week of the school year. The first few days are spent introducing posture, breathing, embouchure, etc. I teach all of those in great detail. It’s important that the students understand that every detail matters if they want to be successful. If they learn the correct way to do something from the very beginning, it saves them a lot of time later.
Once all students are able to consistently demonstrate posture, correct inhalation, embouchure formation, and make a buzz, we specify which pitch to buzz. I have found the most success when I specify that the “first note” should be F concert. I play a drone on the metronome. We take the time to hear each individual student and provide individualized feedback relating to either/or embouchure firmness and air speed. I use the terms “firmer” & “looser” to adjust the embouchure, which by the way, almost always involves firming the bottom lip (not the top lip) to reach a higher buzz. The terms “faster” & “slower” are used to adjust air speed. In a few cases, we might adjust mouthpiece placement.
Using concert F as the “starting note” is one of the key factors in our success. Everything we play for the next 2 months centers around concert F. Our first rote song, “Hot Cross Buns”, is played G, F, Eb. It is an unusual approach, but it does help the students to more easily advance their upper range later on. (I do the same with my beginning low brass class and the beginning horn students start on concert C… their G) If a beginning trumpet student cannot produce concert F by the end of week 2, then we have made a mistake with their instrument placement and we need to start discussing moving them to baritone or trombone.
Hopefully, by the end of the first week of school, everyone is generally consistent enough in their buzzing of concert F that I feel comfortable adding the instruments. We talk about every detail… how to identify the top of the case so that you do not open it upside down & damage the instrument, always unpack on the floor and not your lap, which part to grip as you lift the instrument out of the case, store the empty case next to your chair, not in front of your chair, hand position, elbow position, etc… (that’s an entirely separate article to write sometime).
The remainder of the first month of the school year involves call & response activities centering around concert F and gradually evolving into our first 3 rote songs.
- Hot Cross Buns
- Mary Had a Little Lamb
- Louie, Louie
Once these are learned, instruments go home for the first time. Students take great pride in sharing their living room performances for their families. After this point, we start reading music. We use the old beginner series “Best in Class” by Pearson. I really like the sequencing & I especially like that the first pages have options to begin on either concert Bb or concert F. Of course, we start with concert F!
Susan Glover has taught band in Texas for thirty years and is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. Under her leadership, the West Ridge Middle School Band (Austin, Tx) was invited to perform for the Midwest Clinic in Chicago, twice performed for the Western International Band Clinic in Seattle, and the 2018 Music For All Concert Band Festival in Indianapolis. The West Ridge Band is the 2012 recipient of the John Phillip Sousa Foundation’s Sudler Silver Cup. Mrs. Glover’s professional affiliations include Texas Music Educators Association, Texas Bandmasters Association, Texas Music Adjudicators’ Association, Music Educators National Conference, and Phi Beta Mu.
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