Working with Incoming College Music Students
by Dr. Michael Fischer
I have been a music educator for 25 years and have found that most students struggle with setting up a regular practice routine along with knowing what and how to practice. Before I go any further I want to thank two of my former teachers, Donald Little and Daniel Perantoni, for their help and guidance and to share recognition to them for the exercises you will find later in this article. Due to space limitations for this article I have provided exercises only for the tuba. However, taken up an octave, these exercises work equally well for euphonium players.
SETTING UP A PRACTICE SCHEDULE
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for my students to overcome is setting up and sticking with a practice schedule. They tell me that once they start practicing they tend to get quite a bit accomplished! To help my students get their practice times scheduled, I provide them with two copies of a daily schedule sheet (see below) and require them to complete both copies. They give a copy to me, and the other they keep for their own reference. On the schedule sheets they write in their classes and when they will practice. Then, we go over it together and discuss their proposed schedule and sometimes make adjustments to include more practicing or to alter their practice times. The minimum amount of daily practice time I require of my students varies depending on the degree they are pursuing: Music Performance (3-4 hours); Music Education (1½-2 hours); or Music Minor (45 mins-1 hour). Some incoming students are not psychologically or physically ready to practice the required amounts of time when they first begin lessons and trying to force them to begin with these amounts can be detrimental to their embouchure and mental attitude. I inform the students about the requirement but have them start with shorter practice times and we gradually increase those times over the first few weeks until they are meeting my expectations.
I encourage my students to divide up their practice times into two or perhaps three practice sessions instead of one long session. Dividing up the practice sessions throughout the day and evening is better for their embouchure and helps to prevent mental fatigue. As the weeks go on I encourage, or I should say, “nag” them to stick to their schedule and not use that time to do other things. I stress to them that this is their time to work on their playing techniques and to make music, and to not let anything or anyone interrupt their time. For some students it mentally helps that they think of their practice times as a job or class and that they are on the clock to get a certain amount of work done during their practice times.
During the first semester I introduce the students to the following concepts (see sample exercises provided below): breathing, mouthpiece performance, tone production, ear training, long tones, lip slurs, low range extension, high range extension, major scales and articulations. Introducing all of these concepts at once is too much for most students. I’ve learned that I need to begin with a few concepts and add more as they develop their technique and embouchure endurance.
• Inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 4 counts (change the counts to make it interesting)
• Blow at imaginary candles on an imaginary birthday cake
• Superhero breath: the student imagines there is a poisonous gas in the room and that only the student can save the world by filtering the poison through their respiratory system (deep inhalation and exhalation usually results from this exercise)
• Stay relaxed during all breathing exercises
Mouthpiece Performance Melodies:
• A Hunting We Will Go
• America the Beautiful
• Happy Birthday
• Mary Had A Little Lamb
• Michael Row Your Boat Ashore
Low Range Extension:
High Range Extension:
I believe it is important for students to sight-read as much as possible because many contractors hire the players who can show up and read the book without any rehearsal. I encourage them to sight-read through etude books, solos and excerpts on a regular basis and we also sight-read duets and/or etudes during their lesson. It’s also important for the student to prepare etudes for each lesson because the efforts involved develops their embouchure and knowledge of different musical styles, which improves their sight-reading abilities. During the first lesson I evaluate their playing levels and select etude books that will satisfy their current abilities but also will provide them with technical and musical challenges. My current teaching position provides me the opportunity to work with students with a wide range of abilities and the list of study books reflects those ranges. Many of these study books are available in euphonium, trombone and tuba versions.
Tunes for Tuba Technic , Level One, by Fred Weber
First Book of Practical Studies for Tuba by Robert Getchell
Method for the BB-flat Tuba , Book 1, by Walter Beeler
Tunes for Tuba Technic , Level Two, by Fred Weber
Second Book of Practical Studies for Tuba by Robert Getchell
Method for the BB-flat Tuba , Book 2, by Walter Beeler
Legato Etudes for Tuba by Giuseppe Concone/John Shoemaker
Legato Etudes for Tuba , Book 1, by Marco Bordogni/Wesley Jacobs
70 Studies for BB-flat Tuba , 2 vols., by Vladislav Blazhevich
40 Advanced Studies for BB-flat Tuba by H.W. Tyrell
24 Melodious Etudes for Tuba by S. Vasiliev
60 Selected Studies for BB-flat Tuba by C. Kopprasch
Melodious Etudes for Trombone , Book 1, by Marco Bordogni/Johannes Rochut
Arban’s Famous Method for Trombone by Randall & Mantia
Arban Complete Method for Tuba by Young & Jacobs
I believe it’s important and beneficial for students to perform solos in front of an audience because it mentally prepares them for juries and senior recitals. During the fall semester my students perform on Octubafest recitals and during the spring I organize two student recitals – one in early March and the other in late April – where my students perform different solos on both recitals. It’s typical for my students to learn and perform four different solos throughout a school year. In order for the students to be properly prepared I help them select the solos they will play far in advance of the performance dates. For incoming freshmen we use the first two lessons of the semester to select solos and for continuing students we select the solos at the end of the spring semester for the upcoming year. This allows them to have the entire summer to secure the solos and beginning practicing them.
THE METRONOME IS YOUR FRIEND
The metronome is a very important tool for developing a strong internal pulse, playing rhythmically accurate and for developing fast technique. I require my students to own a metronome that provides the division of the beat (eighths, triplets and sixteenths). When sight-reading a new piece I encourage my students to play it as close as possible to the suggested tempo to get a feel for the entire piece. Sight-reading at tempo shows them the challenges that await them in their practice sessions. After this initial introduction to the music, I have them do the following:
1. Begin very slowly and learn the notes, BUT USE THE METRONOME! I have the students practice at least half-tempo so they have the opportunity to concentrate on good breaths, rhythms, pitches, tone, articulations, dynamics and style.
2. Practice the difficult passages away from the instrument by fingering the notes, blowing air and tonguing the rhythms, BUT USE THE METRONOME !
3. Perform the music on the mouthpiece while playing the music at the piano to check pitch accuracy.
4. AFTER the student can play the passage three times in a row without any mistakes increase the tempo by two to three beats. Work on the passage again until it’s performed correctly three times in a row without any mistakes. Continue this method until the passage can be performed 10-15 beats faster than the desired speed, which will make the desired speed easy.
5. At the end of the practice session perform the music from beginning to end without stopping to fix mistakes. This technique will build the physical endurance required for playing that particular piece and to help the student to not hesitate during a performance when a mistake occurs.
Dr. Michael Fischer
serves on the ITEA Journal staff as editorial advisor for pedagogical topics. He lives in Boise, Idaho where he teaches at Boise State University and performs as principal tuba in the Boise Philharmonic. During the summers he performs as principal tuba in the New Hampshire Music Festival.