Revealing What’s Hidden
If you hang around trumpet (and other brass instrument) teachers long enough, you will learn that we have a tendency to use a lot of analogies. There is a reason for this. In contrast to instruments like the piano, the violin and percussion instruments, most of what we do physically on a brass instrument happens internally. As teachers, we cannot see what our students are doing any more than we can show them how we do it. Everything from the lips back towards our abdomens is invisible to other players.
Those things are not only invisible to other people, they are also invisible to ourselves. What we “feel” is not always what really happens inside our bodies. The words we use to describe what we do or how we play the trumpet are mostly just guesses based on our interpretations of what it feels like. If I want you to play the trumpet exactly the same way as I do, it does not work for me to say something like “raise your tongue three millimeters.” What feels like three millimeters to me, inside my mouth, is most likely NOT really three millimeters.
One of the ways I like to demonstrate the deception of how things feel inside our mouths is to compare trumpet playing to when we lose a tooth. Usually a tooth will feel huge in our mouth as it comes out. Everything inside our mouths tends to feel bigger than it really is. I remember when I was a child that I marveled at how small the teeth were when they finally came out.
Teaching Brass Instruments
Brass instruction is the same way. How are we to accurately communicate to our students what to do with their mouths when they play a brass instrument? Can we instruct them to raise their tongues two millimeters with confidence, knowing for certain that what we think feels like two millimeters will also feel like two millimeters to them? No, I don’t think so.
We tell analogies to help the students get their heads in the right place so that they can make appropriate internal adjustments on their own. Which, as I’ve pointed out in other blog posts, is the ONLY way they can make those adjustments. Instructions like “open your teeth” can produce all kinds of random responses, and very few of them are musically productive.
When we share analogies, it encourages the students to think a particular way about specific subjects. When it works correctly, the students’ thoughts lead towards better understanding and this understanding gives the students the ability to make their own judgements about how to play the instrument.
When the students no longer require us to dictate their internal actions, and can make the correct adjustments on their own, then we know that we have done our jobs correctly.
A Wealth of Analogies
The best teachers are often the ones who have the most analogies. One of the reasons we learn so many different analogies is because they each work differently with different students. The better we get as teachers, the better we are able to judge which analogies work best for each student. It’s more than just right brain or left brain, feminine or masculine, introvert or extrovert. Each student has his or her own personality and the more analogies we know, the more likely we are to chance upon the key that will unlock each student’s talent.