Music education has changed drastically over the past few years, and is a topic upon which instrumental teachers have often lamented. In the UK in particular we had a sudden shift to whole-class and group instrumental tuition 12 years ago, which has taken a long time to establish itself as anything more than a musical experience for children. Now that teachers are getting more accustomed to this setting and scenario, approaches to teaching beginner students are having to change with the focus particularly in the early weeks and months on having fun, rather than a technical grounding.
From my experience, I felt ill-equipped with suitable resources moving into group teaching (2005-2010), so found that I was primarily relying on writing and creating my own. I know that this is a similar story that I have heard from many other brass teachers too. In many respects this is a good thing as you do not become bound to a ‘method’ and any materials that you do use are purely as a resource rather than a learning guide. In this setting particularly, improvisation (both from students and teachers!), singing, general musicianship and listening become even more important tools.
As we have all adjusted to these changes, many of the available teaching materials and ‘tutor books’ have now changed as well. Here I have given a run-down of many of the methods and resources that can be useful for teaching beginning students in a group situation.
Trumpet Basics – John Miller (pub. Faber)
This is a great step-by-step method, with a nice mix of different styles too. The ensemble pieces included here are well-arranged and work really well. The layout is clear and is engaging for learners of all ages. The only negative aspect is that there are not many pieces that are suitable for a mixed ability group, and it does rely on everyone progressing at a pretty similar rate.
Standard of Excellence – Bruce Pearson (pub. Kjos)
The variety of exercises and tunes here is great, and the ensemble stuff, particularly mixing with the other brass instruments is well thought out and fun. The layout though could probably do with being updated as younger children particularly seem much more engaged by an open layout with pictures and diagrams as well as the notation. Some of the repertoire could also do with a facelift.
Team Brass – Richard Duckett (pub. Faber)
I really like the step-by-step nature of this method as each page introduces new elements while also consolidating the previous page. This alongside the nice ensemble arrangements makes this a good resource particularly for mixed instruments. The repertoire and the layout though are a little outdated now and perhaps is not as engaging for younger children as some of the other options available.
Essential Elements (pub. Hal Leonard)
This has good varied content and works well with combinations of all brass and woodwind. The ensembles work nicely, although involves some adaptation to work with mixed abilities. The online resources are also really well integrated, with apps available for phone and tablet.
The Boosey Brass Method (pub. Boosey & Hawkes)
This has a lovely, clear and engaging layout. It is full of great games and activities that are good for at home as well as in the lesson. A particular feature that I really like is visualising of notes as ‘building blocks’ to help encourage controlled air flow. This tutor book is however aimed more at individual or small group tuition with lots of nice mixed ability duets, but no arrangements ‘ready to go’ for larger ensembles.
ABRSM Music Medals (pub. ABRSM)
The Music Medals offer good targets and in-class assessment for children learning in a group, and there are a number of good resources too. The ensemble book has a nice selection, but it is very narrow in style. The ‘musicianship’ side of the syllabus seems a little dry and is also quite hard to teach to groups of younger children in an engaging manner.
Trinity College London – Small Group Tests, & First Access Tests for whole classes (pub. Trinity)
As with the Music Medals, this is a way of setting targets and offering individual assessment (and certificates) to children learning in groups. There is a nice variety of repertoire with many different styles represented. There is also a real emphasis on ear work and improvisation, and all of the tunes have lyrics to encourage aural development.
There are obviously a lot of other resources both in print, as audio, video and online that I have not covered here, and I am very interested to hear of teachers’ experiences with the materials above, or indeed any others that have been useful to readers.
You can see our full range of teaching materials and resources at http://www.alangregory.co.uk