I am happy to have finally released my student horn book, this book took me about a year of work. I was fortunate to get to "test run" the project with several schools, and a wide variety of settings/skills. In the end I feel I was able to get things to a place where it would serve as a positive tool for students in developing the fundamental aspects of their playing.
Now, for this post, if there was one lesson I could share it is as follows:
In my time teaching and working with students I always liked to listen to how students warmed up (as well as professionals, of course) and the biggest difference I noticed is how fast people jump into "hard for them" stuff, and how much time is spent on the basics of tone production. Younger players, in general tended to grab their horns and just jump right into it, trying to play through scales, etc. and generally running into problems, then going back and forth over them.
Let's take a moment and break down an example of this. Let's consider the following scenario: you are/you have/you are teaching a student that is having a hard time getting all the pitches in a C major (F concert scale). Here is how it manifests itself. The player starts playing, they get success on the first few notes, then as the ascend the scale (usually tonguing) the pitches start to get away from them, the sound starts to diffuse, and the ability to get the right pitches, at the right time goes away. Sound familiar? This is a very common scenario I see, I usually show up and am told that the student can't play pitches above a certain note, and has a hard time pitching. My first step when this happens to me, or to someone/a group I am teaching is the first question, what do you usually do to warm up. This is based on a presumption that scales form a large part of band method (which it usually does). The usual answer I get is along these lines:
I start buzzing a bit, then play some scales, and get to music. Sounds good right? So I ask the students to go through this process, take their time, etc. Generally this means a few seconds of a buzz, scrambling around a scale (trying to play it really fast) and that's it... all done in under a minute. Now we have to assume the teachers presence will cause them to rush things, so I give the benefit of the doubt and try to get them to repeat it, and just slow down and take more time, slur their scales (just a few notes at a time), and find a nice sound. I was always surprised to be met with the following responses.
1. We never practice sluring.
2. We have to play our scales at 8th notes at 100bpm (usually in grade 7 or so)
For consistency, I generally observed these same things when observing large groups of students warming up: fast, tongued, and random (not in a "wow! they are improvising a scale exercise" or something similar)
The take away from this is as follows, SLOW DOWN, slur things, focus on a narrow range of comfortable pitches to start, and allow it to expand from that core. Band method can force people into the extremes pretty quickly, so the duty to teach simple and effective exercises that don't overwhelm the students can end up falling to us, the teacher. Finally, practice slurs, just between two notes... it can open up the entire world.
In my experience professionals, and students that are achieving more consistent results start their day out slow. Single tones, relaxed, efficient, and focused on getting the simple stuff in order. After that those positive habits are stretched out into the other areas of playing.
If you have seen my student horn book you will notice right away that one of the key approaches is to create a simple sound, and then reach out with it. As the exercises move forward, this approach is expanded in several ways. At the end of the day, in my experience, if we want results, we need to make sure we SLOW DOWN and make sure the sounds we make are the ones we mean to, and want to.