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!