Children and the saxophone, a message to teachers…

Have you ever noticed that just because we know something is good or important for us it often doesn’t lead to actually doing something about it. Kids are like us but even more so. There is no you that knows what is best for you, this the grand illusion of consciousness. There is what you do and the quiet noise that exists between your ears.

A child wants to play, that’s why they sit there with an instrument in their hands. 

No one is born knowing how to practice. 

Practicing means to be ones own teacher.

With that said, when a child is at home they may have an urge to play w-i-t-h the saxophone. Everything that they actually do with the instrument after they open the case has to do with what they can immediately access from memories created in the lesson. Students don’t think in concepts like “long tones for tone” or “scales” or “arpeggios” or “excerpts” etc. These are names for things that one can already do. Learners need to be able to have at their fingertips a specific activity.

If the teacher works with a student on one thing for the whole lesson then boredom is sure to follow. Bored people don’t learn, they daydream or sleep. I did. Don’t think of it as “a person” learning, think of it as nerves, muscles and brain material learning. Those things learn best in the first few minutes when the activity is most difficult. They (the nerves, muscles and brain material) are no longer learning when it is easier. Repetition at this point is just ego having its moment. It also sends a strong message which is “I am great, don’t need to practice this, It’s practiced”

With memory there is no such thing as “burning it in” through repetition. What actually happens is that the student is burned out through long repetition, making it much harder to start again at home. The “burn in” comes through repeated accessing, which is a process of forgetting and remembering. This is how the brain decides which information should be shifted from short term to long term memory. It is the long term stuff that the child will practice. It is the long term stuff that the adult student will remember and play years later when they want to restart playing.

If you do at least four different things in rotation during the lesson it is actually practicing forgetting/remembering, or repeated accessing of the information. If the information is easier to access (because they have practiced this) then when the student goes home and opens the case (because they like the instrument), the first thing to do is already there as a clear physical/aural memory pulling them to play. No thinking about names or vague concepts that are supposed to be good and important, no reasoning, fighting, thinking, ignoring, just action.

There is a big gulf between a (vague) notion to practice “scales” and having ready access to an actual exercise that the hands and ears remember. These are two very different ways of knowing scales. “Think once, remember many” Your job is to think once and get the student to remember many – many times.

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