Former Teacher takes a sip of coffee: “So you’re teaching saxophone lessons.”
Former Student grins: “100%”
Quizzical Teacher asks: “I wonder, do you know exactly when the word yes was changed to 100%?”
Puzzled Student: “Whaaa?”
Bemused Teacher: “Forget it. Or, um, no worries.”
Teacher shifts position: “Now, how many degrees have you acquired?”
Serious student: “Three.”
Matter-of-Fact Teacher: “So I guess you’ve got all the training you need.”
Hesitant Student: “Yeah. Maybe. The job—it’s kind of meh.”
Inquiring Teacher: “And by meh you mean…”
Discouraged New Teacher: “My students have so many problems! They don’t play well. They don’t practise. They come unprepared. Two of them quit last week.”
Emotionless Teacher: “The landscape is bleak and your prospects are poor.”
Sad New Teacher on the verge of tears look down: “100%”
Former Teacher asks carefully: “Are you serving your students?”
New Teacher looks up: “Serving them? As in: Would you like fries with that?”
Smiling Teacher: “No, no, as in: Are you serving their musical needs? Up until now it’s always been about YOU. Now it has to be about THEM. Maybe you need to transition your mindset. Become a pedagogue. In olden times, the pedagogue was the slave who walked the child to school.”
Former Teacher and Former Student eye each other in silence.
Astonished Student: “You want me to be a slave to my students?!”
Smooth Teacher: “Just a slave to their musical needs. In a figurative sense, you have to take the student’s hand and travel with them along the path of learning.”
Pensive New Teacher: “Wow. That’s big.”
Teacher nods in agreement: “You’ve got to take your teaching seriously.”
Questioning New Teacher: “Is that what you did?”
Wide-Eyed Teacher: “100%!”
Student to teacher can be a tricky pivot. Imagine a helping hand in the shape of a rectangle. If a book has three solid tips it’s worth a read. A Practical Guide For Teaching The Saxophone To Beginners by Lyle Rebbeck has hundreds.
This is a comfortable read, easily accomplished in one afternoon. I flagged several paragraphs for a future revisit. By the end I was wishing that my students could play for Lyle. I’m sure his advice would be fair, comprehensive and refined.
Here are just some of the ways Lyle will help you become Teacher-Of-The-Year:
Use his Easy and Concise Words to Explain Big Concepts.
To breath, “…the shoulders and upper body are relaxed, and air is pulled low into the lungs…” (page 35)
When legato tonguing, “…blow through the notes.” (page 40)
“Describe embouchure as putting on a mask.” (page 42)
Steal his Useful Catchphrases To Drive Your Points Home.
When playing in-tune you are, “…playing at the top of the pitch” (page 56)
To improve difficult passages, “Work outwards from the problem interval.” (page 97)
When you practise scales you are, “…putting patterns into muscle memory…” (page 100)
Let him Clarify Fundamental Yet Under-Discussed Issues.
When positioning the sax make sure you are, “…pushing up with the right-hand thumb so that you feel the mouthpiece held firmly against the top teeth. This helps to avoid biting and undue pressure on the reed.” (page 26)
“The most important thing to remember about the tongue is that its only purpose is to make the beginning of a note sound clean. It does not start the sound.” (page 38)
“Many mistakes—perhaps all mistakes in the early stages with a new piece—are made because the brain doesn’t have sufficient time to process the information about what note to play and then translate it into a fingering. Scanning ahead adds that precious microsecond necessary for this incredible process to take place.” (page 98)
Use his Table of Contents For Quick Answers to Vexing Problems.
“Biting into the Lower Gum” (page 30)
“Rectifying a Glottal Attack” (page 43)
“Warble on the Low C” (page 93)
Absorb his Saxophone Study Expectations Letter.
And then come up with your own. This letter, sent home on the first day of class outlines all the roles and responsibilities of both teacher and student. What an incredible way of getting ahead of potential problems, especially in the cell phone age.
Easy to read. Useful. Well organized. Sincere.
A fabulous resource for any saxophone teacher!
A couple of quibbles…
Some of the advice is a bit old-fashioned. Measurements are in Imperial rather than Metric. The Selmer C*, once the standard classical mouthpiece of choice, has been eclipsed by the Vandoren AL3. And the Rubank Elementary Method for Saxophone, composed in 1934, may not serve the needs of the modern student. (This method is functional, but contains very few actual tunes. Classical music is a second language for all students. They need to learn folk songs and classical themes to develop a sense of melody, and for phrasing and ear training purposes.)
The chapter on reeds it titled, “Reeds: The Bane of Our Existence” which is certainly not my experience. I find that every reed in the Vandoren navy blue box plays well. Using stronger reeds (strength of three or above) and a rotation system allows me and my students to play each reed for months if not years. One reed per month, as suggested, seems costly and wasteful.
I believe that adding a black pad to the top of your mouthpiece will do more harm than good.
And no one in my studio is allowed to slide from B to Bb with the plateau key!
A couple of caveats…
Lyle teaches at Medicine Hat College and the Medicine Hat College Conservatory of Music and Dance. A couple of his suggestions are perhaps born of this experience. He says, “Quartets should be a regular part of the saxophone class experience.” (page 111) Certainly this is true at the college/university level. But high school saxophone quartets are rare in Canada, and definitely not the norm. I love this gold standard recommendation, but it’s difficult to run a quartet outside of an institution.
Testing out two of three professional saxophones in a concert hall would also be a wonderful. But I doubt that Long & McQuade or any other retailer would be willing to loan out instruments worth around $20,000 to a professional let alone a student. And again, access to a concert hall comes with a fee if your teacher isn’t affiliated with the space.
These are both excellent ideas. But neither may be realistic options for the average saxophone teacher. Personal disclaimer—I have had access to a concert hall and have run high school and college quartet programs. One was at a conservatory, and one was at a college. They were absolutely fantastic. But I haven’t been able to replicate this kind of programming on my own. Most cities in Canada lack the kind of musical infrastructure required to allow for these types of experiences.
The chapter, “Caring For the Instrument” is a useful one. Good maintenance is often brushed aside because we are so consumed with making music. But while I found it fascinating to read about how to properly change a pad or adjust a bent octave key, I would never do this myself. The mechanism is delicate and you have to know what you’re doing. (The worst email you can get is from a student who writes, “So my Dad tried fixing my saxophone, and…”) At the very least, proceed with extreme caution and/or practise the repair on a student model first.
Teaching individual lessons can be isolating. It’s just you and the student. And then the next student. And then the one after that. And on it goes, sometimes for years.
As an entrepreneur, you are responsible for your own professional development. If it’s early days, A Practical Guide for Teaching The Saxophone To Beginners provides a tried and true modus operandi; a template to make sure you are covering all bases.
If you’re midway through your career, this book can help you address personal blind-spots, allowing you to tinker with and refine your approach.
And at any point, it’s just great to see how another professional saxophonist makes it work. What a pleasure and honour to be invited into another instructor’s headspace.
It was a treat to learn from you, Lyle. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us!
Buy Lyle’s book here..