Teaching a beginners’ brass group
Group teaching is often thought of as the poor relation to individual music tuition. And that can certainly be the case if you try to teach groups in exactly the same way as you teach individuals. If approached properly, however, group teaching can give students an excellent start to their musical journeys.
There are many practical reasons why we teach in groups. Your teaching may be part of a Whole Class Ensemble Teaching (WCET) programme, also known as Wider Opportunities, which might have been organised by a music hub or service. Group teaching is generally a cheaper option than individual
lessons, so it’s attractive to those on tighter budgets.
Benefits of individual teaching
Of course, there are many joys to be experienced when teaching one to one. You have an opportunity to tailor your teaching to each student. You spend time searching for what makes each student tick, and how you can help them improve, and when they make a breakthrough or suddenly grow in self confidence – not just in their playing, perhaps, but also in other facets of their life – the payoff is truly worthwhile. When teaching in a group, while remembering that each student has their own personality, we inevitably have to be a little more formulaic and systematic in our teaching methods.
Benefits of group teaching
Many children prefer sharing the experience of instrumental learning with their friends. Confidence can be built as students work as a team, and as they get used to playing in front of others in an unpressurised environment. Most importantly, however, group lessons can be great fun. Young learners in particular find it much easier to relax and have fun with their peers than they do with a teacher, one to one – which can lead to really spirited lessons. As a result, students can immediately associate music with something joyful, rather than as a chore.
Making group teaching work
It’s imperative that group lessons are both fun and engaging. To achieve this, it’s crucial that you keep the focus of the whole group for the entire lesson.
You’ll generally need a higher level of energy to teach groups than to teach individuals, and there is certainly no opportunity to ‘rest your eyes’ while a student plays a piece. You therefore need to be armed with a selection of exercises, drills, games and pieces (more on which later), and be able to move quickly between them to maintain a seamless lesson.
This needs practice and, most importantly, preparation. However, with the correct tools, and the confidence to use them, you should be happy working with any size group, from two to 32.
Why first lessons are so important
When teaching individually, you have the opportunity to tweak elements of a student’s playing as they go along, as all students find certain aspects of playing easier than others. As the size of your teaching group increases, however, you have less time to give students individual help.
If, for example, in week five of lessons, you’re having to spend time giving one student help to form his embouchure, another help holding her instrument correctly, and a third student constant reminders to breathe in before they play, all other members of the group will quickly lose their focus. That’s when group teaching becomes more challenging.
It’s vital that you spend time in the first few lessons setting students up correctly, in terms of breathing, embouchure, playing positions, and so on. If it’s really necessary, set aside specific lesson time – maybe call it your ‘five-minute clinic’ – to deal with individual issues.
Problems with learning brass
The main problem with learning a brass instrument is that a lot of the work we do is unseen. Students find it easy to make a pitch change when it’s initiated by pressing a valve or moving a slide, because they can clearly see what’s being done. They find it much more difficult, however, to make changes when they can’t see the work – such as with a change of airspeed or tongue level. This is where the teacher needs to be creative in using imagery, games and kinaesthetic and aural awareness to help their students.
Benefits of learning brass
Brass instruments are generally very easy to hold. (Plastic instruments, particularly trombones, should be considered for smaller beginners.) The finger work required is fairly straightforward, so students can generally manage a simple tune relatively quickly.
Personally, I find the greatest benefit in teaching beginner brass players is that even the youngest students can make a great sound very quickly if they have a good setup.
Author: Richard Steggall
‘Curriculum’ is a real buzzword in today’s educational landscape. Ofsted’s new framework makes a big deal of it; school leaders are making a big thing of it; and many teachers are being forced to do some serious thinking about ‘curriculum’.
But isn’t our curriculum just ‘what we teach the kids’? Well, yes, but of course it is a little more complicated that that. This resource is an attempt to navigate the ‘white noise’ of curriculum currently dominating the educational narrative, and offer music teachers some insight into curriculum planning, and how to ensure you are designing the best possible offer for your students. Naturally, since KS4 and 5 are dominated by exam content, the focus here is on KS3 curriculum design.
Setting the scene
Middle leaders in my school are fortunate to be trusted with their own curriculum. We are empowered as subject specialists, encouraged to make ambitious yet informed decisions about what we teach. We are currently in the middle of a long-term re-evaluation of our whole-school curriculum, and are being ably guided through the process by one of our deputy heads. Personally, I’m carefully interrogating my music curriculum, looking at the value and effectiveness its content. It’s a challenging yet important journey, and what follows is an attempt to distil my thinking on this huge issue.
Author: David Guinane
AQA AoS4: Orchestral music of Copland
Picture the following Hollywood scene: a hero has fallen, and a faded Stars and Stripes flutters in the breeze as we remember their act of sacrifice for their country. What underscore do you hear? Most probably a muted trumpet sounding a distant fanfare accompanied by lean-scored strings and transparent wind, something that connotes noble acts and a vast, open landscape. This iconic ‘American sound’ has its roots in Copland’s orchestral works and ballet scores, in particular from his populist phase in the late 1930s and 40s. Together with his contemporaries Virgil Thomson, William Schuman and Roy Harris, he set out to find a classical sound that encapsulated the traditions and aspirations of his country as the new century broke. They succeeded, to the point of being typecast. That sound has since been enshrined in film scores and orchestral works ever since as a symbol of American identity.
This is the sound that AQA has chosen to explore as part of its GCSE Area of Study 4 (Western classical tradition since 1910). Copland’s music offers an accessible introduction to the world of 20th century orchestral music, whatever the specification. A previous resource (Music Teacher, June 2017) set the context for Copland’s style and looked at the ballets in particular, with an analysis of some of the dances from the set work Rodeo. This resource throws the net wider to place those ballets in the context of his other popular orchestral works, including:
- El salón México
- Appalachian Spring
- Fanfare for the Common Man
- Third Symphony
Author: Jonathan James