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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: pedagogy

A Practice Tip for Students by Chris Castellanos

Andrew Hitz

In Boston Brass master classes I used to hear Chris Castellanos mention a really great tip to get kids to practice more and more frequently.  When he was a student, he was taught to keep his horn out of its case on his bed each day.

He shares that there was only so many times he could walk past his horn lying there, ready to play, without picking it up and at least playing a few notes on it.  He found that he played a lot more if it was staring him in the face than if it was in its case in the corner of his room.  He also has found that it works for his students too.

So leave that horn out where it is very hard to ignore it!

Leonard Bernstein: Monday YouTube Fix

Andrew Hitz

Continuing with Documentary Month, this week's featured documentary is "Leonard Bernstein: Teachers and Teaching", a 1988 documentary about Bernstein's teaching philosophies.  This documentary also features Lukas Foss, Seiji Ozaza, Michael Tilson Thomas, Aaron Copland and others.

What wonderful insight into some of the greatest musical minds of the 20th century.  This video is a much watch for any music teacher of any level and for any classical music fan.


Weeding Out the Unnecessary

Andrew Hitz

This is a good thing for me to remember in the new year.  It is hard to weed out what is unnecessary or distracting for a student when I am using a lot of words.

One of my New Year's resolutions is to say more with fewer words when I'm teaching.

Going Too Far

Andrew Hitz

"The place that you want to get with your playing is to where you are uncomfortable with how far you've gone."
-David Zerkel

The only way to tell if you are playing a passage too loud is to play the passage too loud.  If you are practicing, the only true way to evaluate the sounds you are making is by recording yourself and then listening to the recording.

Whenever students begin studying with me, almost to a person they are uncomfortable at first with how far I ask them to take things like dynamics and accents.  You don't know how much dynamic contrast is too much dynamic contrast until you have captured yourself playing with too much contrast via a recording.

When I first joined Boston Brass I regularly found that I was uncomfortable with what I was hearing on my side of the bell, especially concerning the amount of front to the notes and accents.  But when I listened back, I found that I was simply matching Rich Kelley on the trumpet or JD Shaw on the horn.

The proof was in the recording and it turned out that my comfort level as it related to what I heard on my side of the bell was not only not relevant but had to be actively ignored in my pursuit of simply "making it sound right."

What in your playing do you need to take too far?

David Zerkel Master Class Quotes (Part 3 of 3)

Andrew Hitz

Here is the final installment of quotes from David Zerkel's recent master class for my students at George Mason University.  His wisdom immediately permeated my teaching and practicing.  Good stuff!

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.


  • "Breathing is like investing money. In order to make money, you have to invest money. You have to invest lots of air."
  • "When we're presenting our interpretation, I believe that articulation is one of the most negotiable."
  • "The practice room is the ideal place to try things out."
  • "Can you give me a little more pitch on the double tongue stuff?"
  • "I really recommend doing offline practicing when you're practicing double tonguing."
  • "The lip trill fairy can visit you in a short amount of time if you do a little bit of work. If you practice the Arban's exercise (quarters->eights->16ths->etc) religiously for two weeks, the lip trill fairy will pay you a visit."
  • "As you're working on your double tongue always aim for the 5th note."
  • "As you play music that is less melodically oriented, rhythm becomes more important.  You need to make the rhythmic aspect of this melody important."
  • "What you're selling melodically here is time."
  • "One of the main problems with the tuba as an instrument is clarity. Musical clarity, articulation clarity, pitch clarity."
  • "You sound like a bird singing in a cage that is covered with a blanket."
  • "I need you to be a more active and windy participant so you can play clearer."
  • "We have to work three times as hard as any other brass instrument to play as cleanly as they play. -Dave Bragunier"
  • "You can't evaluate your playing at the bell. You have to evaluate what it sounds like in the hall."
  • "Your best sound is not always the right sound.  You listen to Youngblood Brass Band. If you played in a lesson with the sound that Nat plays with you'd get punched in the throat and told to never come back."
  • "I want you to offend me with how short you play. I want you to make me puke."
  • "The place that you want to get with your playing is to where you are uncomfortable with how far you've gone."
  • "You never know how much is loving someone too much until you've done it. In life, you never know where the edge is until you've stepped off of it."
  • "You need to be closer to the line."
  • "The beginning of Strauss 1 is Belushi jumping into a room."
  • "In the upper register, work on your spin being a little faster, a little more tightly wound.  Move more air with a quicker spin."
  • "The higher you get on the tuba, the darker and less distinct it gets. I call it the Woo Register because it sounds like someone is wooing (with their hands cupped over their mouth.)"
  • "Make sure you can maintain a sense of rhythmic urgency without a metronome going."
  • "Sound is everything. If you don't sound good, nothing else matters."
  • "If it sounds good, it is good. -Duke Ellington"
  • "One of the most compelling things we can do is sell people on rhythm."


Links That Make Me Think - Practicing Edition

Andrew Hitz

Before the summer I was posting a large collection of links each month.  I've decided to post less links more frequently now.  Here are a few from around the internet that I find interesting.  And please send anything along that you'd like to share!


1. "5 Incredibly Effective Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder" 

This article has absolutely nothing to do with music or practicing and is a must read for any musician, performer or educator.


"Measure your results, not your time. The whole idea of working smarter rather than harder stems from the fact that many of us put in more and more hours only to find we don't get more done. That's why we want to find methods to be more productive in less time.

One way to do this is to adjust the way you measure productivity. If you evaluate yourself by what you actually get done rather than the time it takes to get something done, you'll start to notice a difference in how you work."


The rest of Jeff Haden's points are great as well.


2. "12(+) Ways to Practice a Technical Passage"

Bret Pimentel hits the nail on the head with this blog post on how to approach the practicing of a technical passage.  Really well done.


"What is crucial is that you are keeping your brain engaged by varying the material."



3. "The Power of a Practice Schedule"

As usual, Gerald Klickstein of The Musician's Way is right on the money with this short and to the point post:


"Consistent, deep practice is the rocket fuel of musical development.  When we live by regular practice schedules we reap countless benefits."

He then lists six benefits of a regular practice schedule which are all fantastic.


4. Get a Free Copy of Lance LaDuke's "Music Practice Coach" for a limited time!

As I explain in that post, this is the best book on practicing I've ever read and all of my students are required to own it.  Grab it before he changes his mind!

Jascha Heifetz Master Class: Monday YouTube Fix

Andrew Hitz

The internet never ceases to amaze me.  Getting to witness a master class of one of the greatest violinists of all time some 50 years after the fact is pretty remarkable.

Here is a master class in four parts that the great Jascha Heifetz gave at USC in 1962.  The intensity he portrays in this class reminds me of how he played the violin.

My favorite comment from the class: "You're playing it too safe."


The Power of Doing

Andrew Hitz

"You don't learn something when you hear about it.  You learn something when you do it or teach it." - David Cutler (Author of "The Savvy Musician")

These wise words came from my good friend and colleague, Dr. David Cutler, at the beginning of The Savvy Musician In ACTION Retreat back in June.  As another school year begins, these are great words for all teachers to remember, from elementary school to college.  I know I can occasionally fall into the trap of telling my students all about something at great length rather than giving them simply a general idea and then making them try it themselves.

Students learn a little bit about a new concept by listening to an expert speak about it.  But they learn a lot more about it by actually doing it.  That includes succeeding and failing.  The power of our students doing the very skill we as teachers are trying to impart is simply priceless.

And the second half of the above  quote is why all students, no matter what level they are, should be teaching someone something about what they are trying to master.  It's amazing how well you have to know a subject in order to explain it to someone else in a succinct, understandable manner.  I started teaching private lessons when I was a senior in high school.  The experience I had teaching those three students (4th, 8th and 10th graders) was invaluable to my development as a musician.

The power of doing (and teaching) is simply priceless.

The Savvy Musician

Charles Lazarus Master Class Quotes (Part 2 of 3)

Andrew Hitz

Here is part two of quotes from the wonderful master class that trumpet great Charles Lazarus gave at the National Trumpet Competition this year.  In case you missed it, here's part one.  I can't believe how much I learned from this class.  I'm awfully happy that I braved all those trumpet players! I'll post part three on Friday.

  • "As basic human beings, we react to rhythm. Rhythm is a very primal and fundamental thing that humans react to."
  • "Rhythm gives you the framework to coordinate all of the physical things that have to happen in synchronicity when playing the trumpet."
  • "Rhythm, more than anything else when you’re playing, dramatically affects your physical coordination."
  • "Most missed notes are early.  Some are late, very few missed notes are on time."
  • "I subdivide everything I play, all of the time if I’m playing well.  If you hear me kack, I probably am not subdividing."
  • "Why did I biff the E? Because I wasn’t subdividing and I tried to play the E before it was time."
  • "Heldenleiben duh duh-duh splee-ah  - the splee would be before the downbeat."
  • "Every single day you should play with a metronome, especially in your warm-up."
  • "Play with a metronome every single day and then turn it off. Learn to internalize it."
  • "If you are a jazz player and you can’t tap your foot on 2 and 4, that’s a problem."
  • "I ask myself three questions if the sound is terrible and the feel is terrible: 1. How did it sound? What do I want it to sound like? 2. Am I phrasing? Am I taking in air and phrasing with that? 3. How is my time?"
  • "I’ve found that if those three questions are addressed, any technical problem can be solved."
  • "Don’t worry about aligning your wheels if your engine won’t start."
  • "You need to address those three questions before you go looking for the magic mouthpiece. You have to have your priorities straight."