Principles for teaching woodwind methods

a flutist checking her musical instrument

If you are teaching a woodwind methods course, you might be interested in my book.

I teach a woodwind methods course at my university. This class (sometimes known as “woodwind techniques” or “class woodwinds”) is for music education majors. It’s a kind of crash course in the woodwind instruments (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone) in preparation for careers in school band directing. Here are some things I try to keep in mind when teaching it.

  • It’s a pedagogy course, not a performance course. Since my background is in performance, not music education, it’s tempting to veer off into the finer points of playing. But while hands-on experience with the instruments is crucial, the real goal here is that they are able to effectively teach beginning and intermediate students, which is a (somewhat) separate skill. Give your students lots of chances to practice their teaching.
  • Keep it concept-based. While some time needs to be spent on the quirks of each instrument, it’s more efficient to teach underlying principles like breath support, voicing, embouchure, and finger movement, which vary from woodwind to woodwind less than many educators think. Help your students make connections between how the instruments are played, rather than walling the concepts off into a flute unit, an oboe unit, etc.
  • Keep it mission-critical. Mine is a one-semester course; some schools offer the luxury of spreading the woodwinds over several semesters. But even a semester for each instrument wouldn’t be nearly enough. Be disciplined about sticking to the most central, useful concepts. Knowing the early history and development of the oboe isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not critical to this course. Ditto for show-and-tell with the alto flute or sopranino saxophone, discussion of circular breathing and double-lip clarinet embouchure, and reedmaking. Be ruthless about cutting what are probably your favorite lectures—the more advanced, obscure ones.
  • Expect your students to forget everything. They can probably learn just enough clarinet fingerings to get through the test, but they will almost certainly forget them as soon as you hand them a bassoon. Gear your woodwind methods course activities toward broader skills like the ability to read a fingering chart, rather than short-term memorization of specifics.

Give your students their best chance at becoming successful woodwind teachers!

Observing woodwind playing objectively

If you are teaching a woodwind methods course, you might be interested in my book. I have my woodwind methods classes do a lot of observing of woodwind playing. They comment on each other’s woodwind playing in class, write concert/recital reports, and make written comments on each other’s playing exams (for my eyes only). This … Read more

Sample woodwind methods syllabus

If you are teaching a woodwind methods course, you might be interested in my book. Shortly before the beginning of fall and spring semesters, I usually get a few emails from new university professors and adjuncts looking for advice and resources on teaching woodwind methods courses. I’m happy to hear from folks, but thought it … Read more

Connecting observations to techniques

For instrumental music teachers’ feedback to be useful, it needs to connect an observation to a technique.

New book! Woodwind Basics: Core concepts for playing and teaching flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone

I’m pleased to announce the release of my book, Woodwind Basics: Core concepts for playing and teaching flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone. I wrote it with woodwind methods/techniques classes in mind, but I think it also works well as a reference for private teachers at any level, or for woodwind players, especially woodwind doublers.

Concept-based woodwind methods

If you are teaching a woodwind methods course, you might be interested in my book. Most college students studying instrumental music educationĀ have to take a woodwind “methods” course, a sort of crash course in teaching the woodwind instruments. I have taught woodwind methods classes for about the past ten years. A typical approach is to … Read more

Student-selected online woodwind pedagogy articles, 2016 edition

What I want my class to get from the assignment is a sense of how to sift through the information (“information”) available online, taking into account the author’s credentials or sources, a common-sense evaluation of ideas, and applicability to a particular teaching situation. Be careful out there.

Things you need to cover in woodwind methods class

If you are teaching a woodwind methods course, you might be interested in my book. A few years back I posted a rant about non-mission-critical information in woodwind methods textbooks. This is a course primarily for instrumental music majors, who will go on to become school band or orchestra directors, and who need a crash … Read more

Student-selected online woodwind pedagogy articles

To be clear, I’m a lover of libraries, and for me there’s no question that there are tremendously valuable resources there that are not available online (yet?). But it seemed like time to experiment with embracing an online approach to the assignment.