Music Teachers: Private Teachers vs. Band Directors

I’m sure you have heard the expression “If you can, you do. If you can’t, you teach.” While that might be true in some cases, in music there can be a multitude of reasons for teaching.

Some literally can’t do, so they do teach. Look at Bill Belichick. He was not good enough to play professional football but you know the rest of the story. The scenario is interchangeable. You don’t have to be a great performer, but your personality fits the teaching profession. Your musical knowledge along with your organizational skills might far outweigh your playing abilities. This could be a recipe for dynamic high school band directors.

Here’s the bad news. Unfortunately egos sometimes get in the way.

Here’s an example: In college we all had to take a semester of brass class, percussion class, string and woodwind classes. Also extensive piano lessons.
Now you have a director’s position. The first thing you do in a band rehearsal is tune up! Let’s tune the flutes. Your ears are trained and qualified to recognize even slightly sharp or flat pitches. If a flute is flat, let’s say on third line Bb (the most common tuning note), you probably would tell your student to push in the head joint a little. While you apparently diagnosed and solved the problem, you just created a new problem. When the band plays and the flutes hit fourth line above the staff “E” you start cringing. That “E” sounds thin and sharp. Who’s fault is that? Don’t let your ego get in the way. It is your fault.

As a professional flautist and retired elementary band teacher, I could draw from my doer and teacher positions.

Here’s the solution to tuning those flat flutes that you didn’t learn about in college. First always set the flute head joint about 3/8’s of an inch out from all the way in. Now if the flute sounds flat, have your student roll the lip plate out and down on their bottom lip. It will sound (with practice) fuller and the pitch will be higher. Also, the third octave will play more in tune and fuller without blowing harder, (another issue). Pitch wise the technique will take time to become consistent.

There is a hidden message in all this. Band directors, many times you think you are “all knowing” because you took those introductory classes in college. All you learned were the basics on each instrument. Me thinks it’s time to suggest private lessons for your students. If there is something wrong with your car, you have a qualified mechanic fix it……..Same concept. Every director knows the broad spectrum of music elements, but not always how to apply them to specific individual instruments.

Private teachers can be a whole other can of worms as well. Some aspiring young high school band players decide to put themselves out there as private teachers. They start out teaching beginner students, passing on the bad habits they learned from their own private teachers. Yes they know more than the 5th graders. This is where the egos start.

Many students learn and develop bad habits from their private teachers that get them by in school band. Since they became first chair in band in spite of those bad habits, it’s time to pass them on to a younger group…….Kind of incestuous don’t you think?

There is an expression: “Students learn in spite of their teachers.”.. HOW TRUE. I found that if it took me personally one hour to learn an incorrect technique, but it took me fifty hours of practice and experience to undo the damage and re-learn it correctly and feel natural playing the proper way or at least a better way.

Here comes the dilemma for serious band students. If they take private lessons from a truly qualified teacher, the band director might demand they use a more basic fingering which is sometimes more difficult to implement. I have literally had this situation, so I first rolled my eyes then told her to keep the peace and do what the director tells her to do in band.

One time tho’ one of my students was playing C B C G, C B C G, C B C G on the saxophone using the right hand middle side key C in “Sleigh Ride”. The Jr. High director stopped the band and ask him how he was playing the notes so fast and clean. He showed her the technique, she then proceeded to share it with the other sax students. No ego there. At his next private lesson I promptly made a copy of that example and to this day I have my current students play C B C in context both ways to see the value for themselves instead of me telling them. The one thing I can’t do is share this with other educators. Ego steps in.

When someone is doing something wrong and doesn’t even know it, they might become aggressive or defensive. The clinical term is: “They are IN DENIAL”

Band directors, with all your directing skills, don’t let your ego get in the way. You don’t necessarily know proper embouchures for winds, or alternate fingerings, or tonguing and breathing techniques. Leave that to the PRIVATE TEACHER!

Private teachers, don’t claim to play fifteen different instruments well. As that expression goes, you are a “Jack of all trades, Ace of NONE”

In short, band directors and private teachers should work together, know that you don’t know everything and leave your egos in the trunk of your car!