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Why Piano Teachers are Safe From AI 

Why Piano Teachers are Safe From AI


AI is eliminating industries so fast it’s making our collective heads spin.  ChatGPT can write in any style (goodbye, professional writers), edit and clean up prose (goodbye, editors), create code (goodbye, programmers), describe a picture that can be rendered with DALL-2 (goodbye, graphic designers).  The only people who will be left are the ones who sell ChatGPT’s services!


Except for piano teachers.

Adam Cole sitting at the piano smiling
How Piano Teaching Actually Works
The Piano Teacher's Dilemma
What's the Alternative for Piano Teachers?
The Third and Best Reason


It’s a terrifying time to try to find work.  The old vision of robots doing the dirty jobs like housecleaning while humans write music and create art has flipped.  Instead we find that robots are writing the music and creating the art, and humans have nothing left to do but the dirty jobs like housecleaning.


Artificial Intelligence is completely reforming the landscape of work, and it’s doing it fast!  Everyone’s industry is at risk, from people who drive cars to people who draw them.  Why would anyone pay a human a living wage when a computer can do it better and for nearly nothing?


But there is one industry that is surprisingly safe from automation, and you’re not going to believe it.


Piano lessons.


I know what you’re saying.  “That’s ridiculous.  Piano lessons have already been replaced by online courses.  It’s only a matter of time before AI creates and hosts even better ways to teach piano.”


How Piano Teaching Actually Works


Let me explain to you how piano teaching actually works.

  • Parents hire a piano teacher to teach their child.
  • The piano teacher offers instruction in the lesson, and then tells the child to practice.
  • The child goes home, and the struggle begins because they don’t want to practice.


Here’s where it gets interesting.  The only way the child will practice is if the parents


  1. help them
  2. make them, or
  3. both.


Most parents don’t feel comfortable helping their child practice, and these days they don’t even feel comfortable making them practice!


That puts the piano teacher in an interesting place.


The Piano Teacher’s Dilemma


Piano teachers work for the parent.  The parent hires the teacher, and the parent is the person who decides when the child will stop. 


But if the piano teacher wants the child to practice, they have to put pressure on the parent because that’s where the impetus for practice will first come from.


But even though parents are the ones who actually have to solve the practice problem, the parents didn’t sign up to be the villain…they hired the piano teacher to take care of everything piano related, and usually they know nothing about music


If you pressure the parent of a child who isn’t practicing, the parent is going to feel bad about themselves, or blame you for your incompetence as a teacher, or both, and either way they’re going to end the lessons.


A smart piano teacher must find a way to navigate this impossible situation:  You need the parents to support the child’s practice without forcing them to do “your” job.  There are lots of solutions to this problem.


  1. Be authoritarian.  This will filter your client base so that you end up with mostly high-pressure parents who are more comfortable pressuring their children.
  2. Make the child’s happiness the highest priority.  This will filter your client base so that you end up with mostly low-maintenance parents with children who are constantly following their own muse, with you playing catch-up.


While either of these solutions may be workable depending on your personality and business model, they both have liabilities.  The first creates a very disciplinarian vibe which will teach the child that their joy will come from making the adults in their life happy.


Any intrinsic enjoyment will be pushed off for years or, in worse cases, indefinitely, resulting in high-level students who do not actually love making music.


The second creates a situation in which the child is in charge.  Unfortunately, children lack the experience to know the benefits of sticking to a plan.  When offered candy or green beans, they’ll pick candy every time. 


Once you start down this road, it’s nearly impossible to convince the child to do what you say.  Following the child’s path may lead you to some wonderful places, musically and otherwise, but it’s unlikely to create a situation where they can gather a set of related music experiences that they can build on.


The result will most likely be that the student will eventually get bored, and the parents will no longer want to pay for your babysitting services since you’re not getting anywhere.


AI can replicate both of these strategies.  Eventually, we’ll have a virtual authoritarian piano instructor whose rules and procedures must be followed or the program will not continue to teach.  We’ll also have a virtual “best friend” piano instructor that will have endless new directions to take the child whenever the child loses interest.



What’s the Alternative for Piano Teachers?


I have a third method that I’ve used successfully for years.  It keeps my students practicing, and keeps them re-enrolling year after year.  The best thing about this strategy is that AI really couldn’t do it.


The great hidden secret of piano instruction that nobody wants you to know is that students can get better week-to-week without practicing.  This is such a terribly subversive truth that many piano teachers will instantly go on the offensive if anyone suggests that such a threat to the idea that practice makes perfect, and no pain no gain, has any merit.


 Let me qualify the statement.


 Students will get better faster if they practice.  A lot faster.  My students who practice six days a week are my studio-stars.


But my students who don’t practice, or who rarely practice, still get better each week, just very slowly.  And if I can keep them in my studio for a year or more, they start to want to practice.


By then they’ve seen the progress they can make over time, they’re hearing themselves read and play music that sounds like something, and it all happened in the absence of any yelling or telling them how bad they are.


All that I have to do is keep them coming back to lessons long enough for that intrinsic love to kick in.


How do I do that?


I make the focus of my students’ practice routines the log.  I tell them from the get-go that how much they practice is up to them, and that I will never yell at them about it.  


On the other hand, I expect a complete log of how much practicing they’ve done that week, including the words “Did not practice” next to the dates they skip (even if that’s all seven days), and I will yell at them if they forget to log.


I make sure the parents hear all this.  What’s wonderful about this method is that parents will put the pressure on their kids to log, or will log for them, because it’s such a neutral thing to keep a journal, and it’s in their skill set. 


I can even browbeat the parents (with a smile) if the log isn’t there, and the teacher-parent relationship remains intact.


The log reflects the student’s work-ethic, but it’s not the work-ethic we’re insisting on.  It’s only the idea that the student and parent must keep track of their work-ethic. 


Whether they’re proud or ashamed of their practicing, all we as teachers will shame them for is failing to keep a record, which keeps them on the hook in a much less stressful manner.


Logging by itself isn’t sufficient.  You have to discuss the log each week, in a neutral, non-judgemental way.


The log provides information to you about the student’s engagement with the material which you can use to tailor your next assignment.


If a student hasn’t practiced, half the time it’s because they were out of town or on a break.  You can let that go, and encourage them to get back on the horse next week.


The other half the time, it’s because the assignment you gave was either too hard or too easy.


So you modify your assignment, make it harder or easier, week-by-week, depending on what the log tells you.  If you’re seeing 2-3 days of practice regularly from a 7 year-old, that’s an indication that they’re reasonably engaged with the material given their age and ability.


If that number goes up or down, you can figure out why and act on that information.


The Third and Best Reason


Best of all, logging forces the child to engage in something called metacognitive thinking.  If you keep their practice neutral, rather than shaming or positively reinforcing the behavior you are seeing, then they begin to understand that they are practicing for themselves and not for you.


They get in the habit of examining their own behavior dispassionately, and they relate the information they are logging with the results they are getting, rather than have you tell them how good or bad they are.


This is what professional musicians do: self-assess.  Professionals have music to learn, and a certain amount of time to learn it, and they decide how much and what to practice each week.  This is the skill that turns your students into real musicians who will partner with you for years.

Young woman holds rectangular magnifying glass up to her left eye facing us


AI is a very smart dummy.  It makes guesses about what someone wants from what they say.


Then it spits out information stored in its endless gut that its algorithm suggests may be useful.


It’s not going to cross the line into understanding the user any time soon.  It’s only going to get better and better at giving us what it thinks we want. 


And given the market-mindset behind its growth, developers are going to push it that way, rather than towards genuine intelligence.


Our logging model requires a constant interaction, a real relationship, with the child and parent.  We decide what to assign the child based on our experience as a player, and our knowledge of human nature. 


Then we revise our knowledge based on what we learn, rather than simply add data to our stack.


So if you’re looking for a safe career, piano teaching may be it!


I’ve written a course for beginning piano teachers that outlines this logging method, plus ways to teach pianists, young and old, how to read music and to improvise.


These approaches are designed to be so easy they can’t fail, and yet generate sophisticated readers and improvisers who never have to be guilt-tripped into practicing.  Want to see more?


Check out my course here!


Want to take piano lessons with me?  You can contact me at or find my number on my website.





Why Am I Anxious About Nothing? 

Why Am I Anxious About Nothing?


by Adam Cole


When we’re trying to determine the scariest thing we can do today, sometimes it’s just “get out of bed.”  Even though I’m a high achiever with daily goals and visible progress, great clients and a supportive community, I can get into a mood where it all just feels wrong.  It’s not so much depression as “stage fright” where all the world’s a stage!


Well, what do you do about that?  Can our approaches to stage fright work on just getting through the day?

Table of Contents

Knowing Your Trigger  
Feeding Trigger  
Fringe Benefits of Thinking About This Stuff  
It’s Going to Be Different For You  




No, I’m not talking about the famous horse.  Imagine you’re walking through a ruined city.  Collapsed buildings everywhere, broken water lines spouting like geysers, cars askew on their sides.  “What could have caused this?” you ask.


Well, an earthquake, right?  But while that answer is correct, it’s not exactly sufficient.  What caused the earthquake?


You can find out from this article from the USGS that earthquakes are triggered by two huge land masses rubbing against one another.  It’s a little like snapping your finger:  the two masses “grip” one another as they try to move in different directions, and once the force of that grip is overcome, the masses are forced to let go, resulting in the release of a lot of energy (the snap, but on a big scale!)


So the most accurate answer to what caused the city’s collapse is the energy released from the release of these plates.  That’s the trigger, and everything you see was a result of the trigger.


That is to say that the trigger can be really specific:  two plates release, and lots of cities are shaken to pieces.


Knowing Your Trigger

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my triggers, and I mean a lot.  Because I’ve learned after years of working on it that once I know my trigger, it puts all the other feelings I have into perspective.  If they’re all a result of the trigger, then the only thing I have to address is the trigger, so I’m putting out one fire instead of dozens.


What’s my trigger?


Glad you asked.  My primary way of dealing with the world is “problem solving.”  It’s a useful skill, but when I come up against anything I perceive as an unsolvable problem, I get very anxious.


That anxiety spills into all my thoughts, making everything feel horrible.  It’s like the way clouds obscure the sun.  Even though they’re blocking a single source of light, everything goes dark.


What kind of problems are “unsolvable?”  


For me, running out of time registers as “unsolvable.”  If I have a performance coming up then I can only prepare so much before the clock runs out.  I can address the problem of time by practicing, but I can’t solve it because at some point I have to move on.


Having a bill to pay that exceeds my current cash flow.  Being in a fight with someone who won’t talk to me anymore.  These are all unsolvable in the moment, and they trigger me.


Feeding Trigger


Knowing the trigger does two things.


  • It allows you to let go of any shame that you’re “not taking care” of every little thing you feel.
  • It provides you the opportunity to prioritize your energy on something important, rather than just obeying your feeling that everything is terribly wrong.


When I know that I’m being triggered by an upcoming performance, I know that most of my doom-and-gloom thoughts are actually bunk.  I’m not really losing my mind about which pair of socks I want to pick today.  I realize that any anxiety around “the perfect socks” is just fallout from my initial trigger of the performance.


Of course, some things do need attention.  I still have to make dinner, and that’s a solvable problem.  What’s funny is the trigger can make me feel like it’s unsolvable.  I’ll get caught up in the feeling of anxiety, when what I really need to do is start problem-solving my meal.


The feeling is so strong that it keeps me from doing the simple steps I need to move forward.  If I know I’m being triggered, I can ignore feelings that don’t belong to the problem I’m solving and go and see what’s in the pantry.  In some cases, just knowing the trigger reduces the anxiety!


Fringe Benefits of Thinking About Your Trigger

Getting good at identifying your triggers can come in handy in situations where you have real problems with real anxiety.


For instance, I do get anxious before I perform.  Just about everybody does.  Knowing my “unsolvable problem” trigger really helps here.


I can identify several unsolvable problems around performance when I am accompanying someone.


  • I am not in control of what piece I am asked to accompany, nor when I must play it.
  • Whatever time I have to practice and rehearse is limited by my health and events in my life.  I am not guaranteed enough practice time.
  • The performer may ask for changes prior to the performance (i.e. “Can we do it faster?”), and may give me very little time to make them happen.  I may be unable to rise to the occasion due to my skill level and the fact that I am human.
  • Anything may happen in the audience during the performance that might throw off the soloist or myself.


Knowing that these problems are, in themselves, unsolvable, I can still address them.


  • In my practice time, I can gain familiarity with the kinds of pieces I am usually asked to perform.
  • I can learn to be efficient in my practicing so that whatever time I have is used as well as possible.
  • I can practice self-compassion with myself for not being perfect.  I can also prepare for “worst-case scenarios” such as practicing above the marked tempo.
  • I can practice “distraction games” at home.


In all cases, I am taking care of the trigger with specific strategies, rather than trying to address the fear with general solutions like “deep breathing.”


It's Going to be Different For You

This is my trigger, and these are my strategies.  You might not have the same sort of issue with unsolvable problems.  For you it might be relationship expectations, planning issues, or any number of other things.


Just like I outline in my “Seven Step Coach Approach” and my book, How to Solve a Big Problem, you start by thinking about who you are.  Then you think about what you want to do.  It’s amazing how many people fail to answer those questions before trying to deal with their anxiety.


It’s also reasonable to recognize that sometimes you need help, someone to guide you through that process.  If I can help you, please reach out to me.







My Eyes Uncover My Hands: A Pianist's Journey 

Mathematics and the Feldenkrais Method: Discovering the Relationship 

Book Review: Several short sentences about writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg) 

Beauty and the Feldenkrais Method 

Sitting (Feldenkrais) 

Reversibility: A More Global Definition (Feldenkrais Journal) 

Integrating the Feldenkrais Method and the Dalcroze Approach: Music, Improvisation and Function 

Integration and Improvisation: A Feldenkrais Practitioner at Longy 

Years of Possibilities, Vol 1: Meditations on Change, Awareness and the Feldenkrais Method 

What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?


What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator? Adam Cole

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

For the student of orchestration, the symphony is a daunting taskmaster. Many more “fancy orchestration tricks” are to be found in the tone-poems of Richard Strauss, the operas of Verdi and Wagner, or the ballets of Tchaikovsky than one will discover in symphonies by Beethoven, Brahms, or even Berlioz. Nevertheless, for the true student of orchestration, one who realizes that writing for the orchestra goes beyond scoring technique and, in fact, is an integral part of the music itself, the symphony must be seen as more worthy of study for the questions it raises on those subjects.

No composer’s symphonies raise more questions than Robert Schumann’s, and for a most unfortunate reason. Alone among 19th century composers of the first rank, he is often denigrated for being inadequate to the task of setting his own music for orchestra. Fortunately for those fans of Schumann’s music, the issue is not so great that it prevents the symphonies from being performed; they are still programmed frequently. But by putting Schumann in the class of amateur orchestrator, the student of orchestration is

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

steered away from the Schumann symphonies towards the greener pastures of Berlioz, Beethoven, and Brahms.

Anyone studying the craft of orchestral composition does themselves a grave disservice by “turning a blind eye” to Schumann’s “faults.” Whether or not one believes these criticisms are warranted, there are many reasons to examine Schumann’s symphonies as a student of orchestral craft. We can quickly discover these reasons by examining the various schools of thought regarding Schumann as composer, orchestrator, conductor and critic.

Those who champion or even question Schumann’s reputation as an orchestrator will find themselves running against current established thinking. Primary sources such as the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians frequently echo the long-established unkind thoughts on the subject: “Tradition has it that Schumann’s understanding of orchestral possibility was rudimentary or flawed.” The prevailing scholarly opinion is that Schumann’s orchestration impedes his symphonic ideas. A number of conductors, Gustav Mahler being the most famous, took it upon themselves to rescore Schumann’s work to make it “performable.” This is not entirely unprecedented. Mussorgsky suffered a similar indignity with his opera, Boris Gudenov, and Handel could never have dreamed of the “updating” of his scoring to fit late nineteenth century Albert-Hall tastes. Even Beethoven did not escape such a rethinking by Wagner. But Schumann’s symphonies have been taken on by more re-scorers than anyone else. The large number of dissertations devoted to the rescoring of Schumann attests to the unusual nature of this particular type of surgery. (See the bibliography for a few examples.)

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

More recently, so-called Schumann “apologists” have taken up the cause, expressing their belief that the orchestration of Schumann’s symphonies does not reflect poorly upon Schumann but simply does not come off for a number of reasons. Many of these are adherents and practitioners of the Historical Performance movement, whose restoration of Classical and Early-Romantic orchestral forces have shed a very revealing light on the possibilities inherent in the works of Schubert, Beethoven, and, of course, Schumann. While this camp is kinder to Schumann, its members are really ducking the question. Beethoven’s symphonies were not seen as flawed when played by a modern orchestra. In relegating Schumann’s orchestration to its time and place, Historical Performers simply show the other side of the coin, implying by default the inability of Schumann’s orchestration to survive in a changing ensemble.

Certain Schumann scholars have attempted to address the question in another way. By examining Schumann’s process of composition in the context of the time and place at which he composed his work, they suggest that it is not Schumann’s orchestration, but our expectations that are at fault. This is an exciting development which preserves Schumann’s reputation and adds a dimension to our perception of “standard” orchestration, casting Schumann in a kind of continuum with Berlioz and Mendelssohn as heir to Beethoven and Schubert in the further development of the symphony.

It is unnecessary for the orchestral student to take a side in this debate. Doing so will not obviate the notion that there is value in studying Schumann’s scoring. While each of these camps has a very different take on the notion of Schumann as symphonist, the one thing everyone agrees on is that Schumann’s orchestration is an issue in itself. It cannot

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

be taken for granted the way Dvorak’s orchestration might be. One must wrestle with these ideas, and the reward for doing so is greater than one would expect.

Let us first assume the correctness of the idea that is most prevalent today, the one a student would most likely assume in the absence of any investigation in the matter, that Schumann is an inadequate orchestrator. Given with the option of studying nearly any score by every major composer, why would a student go out of their way to seek out a Schumann symphony for study?

In the first place, as a direct result of his unorthodox scoring, Schumann’s scores look very different from those of other composers. When one is learning to read and reduce an orchestral score in one’s mind, one gets comfortable as much with standards of orchestration as with the skill of reading the music itself. One is able to hear the instruments in one’s head because one is used to seeing them in their most familiar ranges and combinations. Schumann makes a practice, however, of combining instruments in nonstandard ways and in nonstandard configurations, for example the wide gap between the first violins’ high A and the open A-string played simultaneously in bar 6 of the Symphony No. 1. Seeing the instruments used differently, students of orchestration have an opportunity to ask themselves if they can imagine these combinations in their heads before they hear them. Whereas one might be able to guess at the sound of the opening of Tchaikovsky’s seldom-performed first symphony because of its standard scoring, Schumann’s decisions might make the task a little more difficult. The added challenge will serve as a nice exercise for someone in the process of perfecting this skill.

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

If we decide that these unorthodox combinations are ineffective, as many conductors believe they are, then we have a rare opportunity to critique the scores for ourselves. How often can one take the work of a first rate composer and find ample opportunity to attempt to improve upon some aspect of it? The situation is a kind of a lesson from Schumann, one of which he very well might approve. The opportunities to work within the constraints of his work far exceed similar opportunities in Beethoven. Derryck Cooke’s completion of a performing-version of Mahler’s 10th symphony is a comparable challenge, but in that case, the stakes are much higher, as one is trying to live up to the standard of a master orchestrator. Here, there is nothing to lose, because the symphonies can always be performed as they were written.

If one is unable to muster the courage to walk in Schumann’s footsteps, there are many examples of those who have taken the challenge in hand (some of these, as I have mentioned, are included in the Bibliography). The particularly fascinating thing about such a course of study is that no one interpretation reveals the ultimate “improvement;” these re-orchestrators differ in their choices, and it behooves an orchestration student to determine what those differences are. Doing so will reveal various approaches to orchestral writing by various people that would be harder to spot in their original compositions, much as hearing several playwrights reading a Shakespeare monologue might suggest more about those playwrights’ ideas than their original scripts would.

If one questions the prevailing wisdom of second-guessing one of the great Romantic composers of the 19th Century, one is likely to find allies in high places. A number of scholars have taken issue with the depiction of Schumann as brilliant but quixotic, a man

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

who composed quickly and was thus successful in his miniatures, but hamstrung in the face of more extended work. Of course, this characterization is extended to his approach to orchestration.

One such scholar who has gone to great lengths to defend Schumann’s latter-day reputation is Jon W. Finson, author of Robert Schumann And the Study of Orchestral Composition: The Genesis of the First Symphony. In a review of Finson’s book, Michael Spitzer relates,

...Schumann is not generally thought of as either a self-critical or a symphonic thinker. In the first respect, Professor Finson...[reveals] Schumann to be ‘a painstaking draughtsman, not the popularly conceived romantic composer who penned finished masterpieces in flights of inspiration. (Spitzer, 580)

Finson has examined Schumann’s process for creating his symphonies and has attempted to refute many of the ideas that surround Schumann by making that process known. In a subsequent article on Schumann’s 2nd symphony, Finson says,

Schumann mastered the structural demands of the symphony...He actively revised his melodic writing to promote integration of his themes into the rest of the music. And he also relied more frequently on multiple versions retained on paper to produce concision and coherence. The sketches for the last movement of Op. 61 show beyond any doubt that Schumann had developed the methods of his compositional maturity by winter of 1845. In establishing these methods, he achieved an astonishing ability to bind highly disparate material into a cohesive whole.

Very well. We may decide, then, that Schumann knew what he was doing and composed his symphonies quite carefully. The orchestration remains unchanged; its

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

problems do not disappear with revelations of the composer’s concerted effort. Yet such arguments add some weight to the idea that Schumann’s orchestration is not flawed but simply misrepresented by the modern orchestra.

The art of Historical Performance is a relatively new development in understanding the contribution an orchestral body makes to the potential appreciation of a symphonic work. In short, these groups use period instruments and period orchestral combinations to perform works written in a particular era. For instance, the brass instruments that Schumann would have expected to play his brass parts had greater limitations than their modern counterparts, and when modern brass instruments play these lines it can be argued that the subsequent balance we hear in a modern orchestral setting distorts Schumann’s intention. Perhaps the unusual sonorities of the first violin lines in the opening of the first symphony, practically inaudible in a modern setting, would emerge as a result of having natural horns above them.

Orchestral forces are also affected by Historical Performance. Schumann’s orchestra in Zwickau was a particular size ensemble with a smaller string component than that of a modern orchestra. When the symphony is performed using a matching number of string players, controlled by a conductor in the know, woodwind lines which seem incompetently written may prove to become a contributing factor in the overall blend.

Though there are some who would argue that Historical Performance will make a tremendous difference in all cases, it is probably safer to say that, as Schumann’s orchestration has been problematical with a modern orchestra in a way that Beethoven’s has not, Historical Performance will more radically affect the dissemination and appreciation of Schumann’s work than it will for Beethoven. If this is the case, it is again

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

an advantage for the orchestration student. Here we have an excellent opportunity to study the effect of such forces on the transmission of a work, something that may be taken for granted by a beginning student due to the standardization of the orchestra. In fact, a student may come to discover by hearing the same music in different size ensembles that a particular scoring which would be ineffective in an orchestral work would serve very well in a chamber setting.

Furthermore, Historical Performance provides an ideal opportunity for a student to discover the relevant history of the evolution of the orchestra and of its instruments. While this subject may be pursued solely on its own merit, it has particular relevance here. The study of how composers have changed their approach to writing for the orchestra based on differing types of ensembles and instruments will eliminate a lot of confusion for the student who wishes slavishly to imitate the early Romantics’ technique. Many of the early Romantics were very clever in their strategies for overcoming the limitations of the instruments at their disposal. Beethoven, for instance, in his Overture to Egmont, writes a passage for two horns (E-flat and F), two clarinets, and bassoon in which the voice-leading of the horns seems very awkward; if one is aware that Beethoven’s horns were natural horns and could not play any note they pleased, but were restricted to the harmonics of a certain key, then one will see that they had to be given only the notes in a D-flat major chord which were available to them, leaving the bassoons to fill out the rest. In this way, Beethoven achieves a rich chord which, today, could easily be undertaken by four valve-horns but which, in his time, was not possible. Such strategies will not be recognized for what they are unless one appreciates the difference between the modern orchestra and the one at the turn of the 19th century, and any student

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

who seeks to blindly emulate these procedures may be using an inefficient means to achieve what would today be a straightforward end.

Students of orchestration must come face to face with the realization that the music they write is dependent upon the forces of the orchestra available to them, and Schumann’s music brings the point home more obviously than any other Romantic symphonist. It is unwise to take today’s orchestral forces for granted by thoughtlessly stretching the capabilities of the ensemble. Furthermore, it is useful to understand how music written for forces at hand may or may not translate note-for-note to other types of settings.

Still further defenses can be found for Schumann in the realm of historical context. Keeping current musicological research in mind, one may argue that Schumann’s music is not meant to be heard in the same way that his predecessors’ music was, that he used a particularly “Romantic” approach in which he deliberately scored his symphonies to create an effect of opaqueness. It follows that the clarity which we admire in Beethoven and Berlioz was not a goal of Schumann and that, by expecting such clarity of him, we undercut his overall musical purpose.

To support or refute such a point we must refer to multidisciplinary historical studies of the period. One such essay by Berthold Hoeckner presents the case that the Romantic ideal relied heavily on the idea of “distance”, manifest in literature, painting, and music of the time.

When Schumann took inspiration from Schubert’s Symphony Number Nine, in which the symphony undergoes a transition from the formal structures of Beethoven to its Romantic descendents, he appraised this work with the eye of the flowering Romantic

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

movement. Hoeckner describes the concept of “distance” and its importance to Romanticism in general, and Schumann’s music in particular by refining the connection between novels of the time, landscape paintings, and the type of composition to which Schumann aspired. “Within the larger shift from imitative to expressive aesthetics in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the increasing prestige of instrumental versus vocal music paralleled that of landscape versus history painting. At issue in music was the status of verbal language, in painting, the position of the human subject within the world on the canvas.” (Hoeckner, p. 92) As regards Schumann in particular: “In the distant view of the Viennese landscape, [Schumann] looks for the authorial intention behind Schubert’s symphony, suggesting ‘how such works can be born precisely in these surroundings.’ But by remarking that ‘different times of line choose too differently in the texts and pictures they attribute to music,’ he also admits the possibility that music is open to multiple readings...” (Hoeckner, p. 75)

Hoeckner reminds us that Beethoven’s model, whereby a theme is explored and dissected, only to be rejoined by the end of a movement, has a particular effect upon us so that we come to understand the entire movement of a Beethoven work only at its close. This is a purely intellectual approach to the music, devoid of most external associations. Even in the Pastoral Symphony with its program, its bird-calls and its peasant orchestra, the motivic relationships take precedence; we are invited to think more about the music than the countryside.

Not so in Schumann, argues Hoeckner. Schumann the critic, the literary figure, the appreciator of fine arts, wants to put so much more into his symphonies than his own contrapuntal constructions. “Thus Schumann rehearses and reflects upon various

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

interpretive approaches: the historicist and psychological search ‘behind,’ the phenomenological investigation ‘within,’ and the listener’s response ‘in front of’ the musical text.” (Ibid).

A student of orchestration who is unfamiliar with the idea of listening to music in this way may be lacking the resources with which to fully understand Schumann’s music, and by extension the orchestral methods which he employed in the service of that music in order to communicate it to his audience. One such audience-member, Franz Brendel, described Schumann’s piano music as follows: “Schumann’s compositions can often be compared with landscape paintings in which the foreground gains prominence in sharply delineated clear contours while the background becomes blurred and vanishes in a limitless perspective; they may be compared with a misty landscape, in which only here and there a sunlit object stands out. Thus the compositions contain certain principal passages, then other passages that should by no means stand out clearly, and are intended only to serve as background. (Hoekner, 95)

One might say that because Schumann’s music is substantially different in form and substance from a classical or pre-Romantic symphony it requires a different approach, one which would be rewarded by a greater appreciation of those who know how to listen to it. In fact, Schumann’s audience fully appreciated his efforts.

...contemporary reviews agree overwhelmingly in lining up Schumann’s new symphony of 1846 with Beethoven’s Fifth...The particular evolving pattern of mental states in [these two works] identifies as a ‘principal type of small and large instrumental music in the nineteenth century:...the expression, reinforced by sound symbols, of a psychological evolution, such as suffering followed by healing or redemption.’ Early critics heard Schumann’s second as belonging to this general, even this specific type. This was not just an incidental but an essential part of its meaning...

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

The first of these [reviews], by Alfred Dörffel, praises the symphony as the high point of Schumann’s output...The answering review by E[duard] Krüger, in the Liepziger Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung of 31 May and 7 June, likewise praises the symphony...and gives a particularly rich thematic description of the ‘bold’ and ‘insistently effective’ finale, which Krüger praises for its ‘sharply drawn outlines’...Moscheles’s reaction was set down after his second hearing of the piece, at which point he felt ‘more and more that [Schumann] follows boldly in Beethoven’s footsteps...The young Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann of 14 December 1855 [Brahms 1927, 160]...asserts that ‘the symphony is my favorite of the five (obviously including in that figure the Overture, Scherzo, and Finale, op. 52). (Newcomb, 234-6)

Listeners of the time had no trouble with Schumann’s methods, and it is only later, as the aesthetics changed that Schumann’s reputation as an orchestrator began to change as well.

Bernard Shaw (in a review dated 28 February 1890) and Felix Weingartner (1904, 31) disclaimed interest in Schumann’s symphonies altogether. Abert...sees in the Second the clear intention to imitate the ‘hochpathetischen Beethoven symphony,’ but finds that the realization falls far short of the intention, particularly because of formal problems in the first and last movements...W.H. Hadow (1911, 221) finally takes the typical twentieth-century approach to these movements: he tries to parse them in terms of the formal procedures of circa 1800. He is inevitably puzzled, and puzzlement leads to dissatisfaction. He condemns both the first and last movements of the Second (together with those of the D-Minor symphony) for ‘vagueness of outline,’ thus precisely reversing Krüger’s and Spitta’s judgments.

From here forward, commentators tend either to condemn the Second (and especially its last movement) or to ignore the work altogether...Busoni (letter, 1915), Karl Nef (1921), Olin Downes (1935), Werner Korte (1937), Abraham (1938), and Schauffer (1945) all find the piece weak – or worse. Of these, Abraham’s important survey of nineteenth-century music, often republished, was the most influential.

Of the post-war critics, Mosco Carner’s view of the symphonies, published in a Schumann symposium of 1952 (Carner 1952), has surpassed even Abraham’s in influence...Carner finds the symphony deeply flawed...A number of critics and commentators pick up both Carner’s analysis and his judgment. (Newcomb, 239)

Watching the evolution of critical opinion as it relates to one particular genre of a Schumann’s output, we are struck by the difference the perspective of decades, or

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

centuries, can make. Most of the time, highly praised works by minor composers tend to lose their status while underappreciated works by greater ones gain (or, as in the case of certain composers like Berlioz, wait to be appreciated more fully). In this rare instance, a major portion of the output of a first-rank composer has fallen into controversy even while those works remain in frequent circulation.

It is profoundly instructive to the student composer to understand the contribution of the extra-musical associations of a work and to recognize the extent to which a work’s perception relies upon its context. It is a cautionary lesson, perhaps, to the person who desires to orchestrate “just like Tchaikovsky” or “just like Berlioz” simply because these composers are iconoclasts of orchestral technique. However greatly one might wish to dismiss John Cage’s 4’33’’, in that composition, as in all works of music, the listener plays a role. Without proper understanding of the context in which a work was created and in which it is performed, a listener may fail to get the full benefit of what that work has to offer. The “opaque” orchestration of Robert Schumann may serve as an excellent example. If we go into a performance of one of Schumann’s symphonies with open ears and evaluate the overall effect of what we are hearing, rather than simply finding fault with what we were expecting to hear, we may discover that the medium of orchestral performance, even of a Romantic work, can offer us more experiences than we might have suspected. Among those who will benefit most from this kind of listening are the composers of tomorrow.

Obviously there is plenty of room to argue over Schumann, and this gives his music an added appeal. One must take sides over the symphonic output of Schumann

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

in a way that is absolutely unnecessary with Beethoven (at least today). This necessity of investment in Schumann is in itself a kind of education. Because Schumann’s process is so much more apparent to us, we see his humanity. In Ravel or Brahms, composers who took great pains to hide their process and revealed no human flaws in their works, we must read between the lines to find the person, or invest simply in their biographies. Sharing Schumann’s humanity by witnessing his compositional struggles, even wrestling with them, we may come to share his ideals, be able to participate in his process, have no choice but to live with him and grow with him. In that sense, he becomes a kind of teacher rather than simply a model.

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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?


Cummings, Ronn Thomas, Analysis of the Re-Orchestrations of Robert Schumann’ s 4 Symphonies Employed By Felix Weingartner, DMA from University of North Texas, publ. US 1997, er=toc1&BRSAll&BRSClusterNumber=0&BRSPtf=&BRSStyleFile=&BRSDocStyle=& BRSParaStyle=&BRSHitStyle=LINK&BRSLinkStyle=NONE&BRSLifo=false&BRSCh eck=&BRSOtherParams=&BRSNextPage=/printFromList1.jsp

Finson, Jon W., “The Sketches for the Fourth Movement of Schumann’s Symphony, Opus 61,” Journal of American Musicological Society, vol. 39, pp. 143-168,
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Hoeckner, Berthold, “Schumann and Romantic Distance,” Journal of the American Musilogical Society, Volume 50, No. 1, 55-132, 0139%28199721%2950%3A153C55%3ASARD%3E2.0.CO%3B2-8

Hoy, Patricia Jean, A Comparison of Selected Performance Editions of the Robert Schumann Symphonies, Dissertation Abstracts International, Vol. 52, September 1991, p. 731A, er=toc1&BRSAll&BRSClusterNumber=0&BRSPtf=&BRSStyleFile=&BRSDocStyle=& BRSParaStyle=&BRSHitStyle=LINK&BRSLinkStyle=NONE&BRSLifo=false&BRSCh eck=&BRSOtherParams=&BRSNextPage=/printFromList1.jsp

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians Online,, “Instrumentation and Orchestration”, section 4.

Newcomb, Anthony, “Once More, ‘Between Absolute and Program Music’: Schumann’s Second Symphony”, 19th Century Music, Vol 7, No. 3, Essays for Joseph Kerman, 233- 250, 2076%2819840403%297%3A3%3C233%3AOM%22AAP%3E2.0.CO%3B2-4

The Norton Scores, An Anthology for Listening, vol. 1, ed. Roger Kamien, Fourth Edition Expanded, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, London

Schumann, Robert, The Complete Symphonies in Full Score, ed. Clara Schumann, Dover Publications, Inc., New York

Spitzer, Michael, “Robert Schumann And the Study of Orchestral Composition: The Genesis of the First Symphony (Review)” Music and Letters, Vol. 71, No. 4, pp. 580-582,
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Cole – What Can We Learn From Schumann the Orchestrator?

Zlotnik, Asher George, Orchestral Revisions in the Symphonies of Robert Schumann, PhD, Theory, University of Indiana 1972, 2 Volumes, bin/chmtl/isearchddm?DA T ABASE=ddm&SEARCH_TYPE=BOOLEAN&OPERA TOR =OR&OPERA TOR_2=OR&TERM_1=69orZloA&TERM_2=&TERM_3=




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I Just Can't Be Wrong: An Analysis of the Navajo Fender's Version of "Folsom Prison Blues" 

Choosing the Best Approach for Vocal Pedagogy

Choosing the Best Approach For Vocal Pedagogy

Adam Cole Georgia State University School of Music


This paper explores vocal pedagogy from a cultural, historical and methodological basis in an attempt to ascertain whether one can find common ground on the question of what enables a singer to sing well. The author has found that, despite the controversies about how to achieve good vocal production, there is much agreement on many of the basic tenets. Furthermore, it is not necessary to choose a single approach for all situations when these tenets can be met a variety of ways.


What is good singing?

At present it is possible to divide the singing world into a dizzying array of camps. Rolling Stone recently devoted an issue to “The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.” Among them is not a single classical singer, and only a couple that might be classified as jazz. For their part, the jazz and classical worlds have their own pantheon from which they happily exclude the likes of Bob Dylan and Patti Smith. And then there are the other five continents! Within the countries of India, Zaire, Brazil, and so on, there are a range of ideas about singing so vast and historically established that it is simply easier for us as Americans to close our eyes and pretend they don’t exist than to try to use them to define effective vocal technique.

The average American singer, performing with their school or church choir, is caught in the middle of all this “great singing.” If we as choral educators are to guide them, then our conundrum is even greater. It is no longer possible to pretend that one type of singing is superior to another in every way. The sentiments of classically trained, scientifically aware pedagogues such as Richard Miller that any deviation from a classical ideal, even something as commonplace as the “belting” of the Broadway or gospel singer, will destroy the speaking and singing voice will no longer sway many singers who have seen such techniques employed effectively over full careers.1

Even should we desire to stay safely within the classical camp, relying on the vast number of books and articles published on the subject, we will not avoid confusion. Classical singing itself is neither unified by sound nor technique. There are no less than four distinct schools, emerging from different European geographic regions: Italy, France, Germany and
1 Miller (1970), 134



England. Richard Miller has made an interesting survey of the four schools in his book, English, French, German and Italian Techniques of Singing.

After detailing the various techniques and priorities of the schools for each element of singing, he sums up their differences in terms of intent.

Above all, the Italian singer wants to make beautiful visceral sound which will excite and thrill both the ear and the heart; the French singer wants to present the inherent beauty of the spoken word in sung tone; the German singer wishes to express his or her inner emotions and sentiments to a listening world through poetic insight and the use of illustrative vocal colors; the English singer wishes to perfect the vocal craft itself so that he or she can deal as effectively with musical demands of the literature as can any other instrumentalist.2

To some extent, any singer might wish to do all of these things. Miller’s book clarifies the relationship between a singer’s priorities and the way various techniques address them.

Among the different national schools, the subject of breathing is perhaps the most divisive: How should one breathe in singing? From where should that breath appear to originate? Is breathing a different act for a singer than the average person? Should one learn a special way to breathe, or unlearn habits that interfere with the breath? The two greatest differences in approach come between the Italian and French Schools. The Italians favor an idea called appogio which encompasses the idea of supporting breath with a coordinated musculature, made possible through a certain posture involving a pulled-back head and exposed chest. The French take an entirely different approach, believing in something which they call “natural breathing.”

2 Miller (1970), 194



Miller clearly expresses a preference for the Italian over the French, both on practical and scientific grounds.

Pedagogical perils abound in ignoring the breath process, unless the singer has managed to achieve a coordinated breath technique through individual discovery, which is exceedingly rare. Since what appears to be natural to one singer will not be the same breath approach which comes naturally to another, a number of techniques (or great deficiencies in the applications of the breath) often exist, side by side, within the vocal studio where the so-called natural breathing is taught. Whatever the student habitually has done with the breath then generally continues to be done.3

When viewed with the findings of scientific investigation, it can logically be affirmed that in breath application techniques, singers trained in the tradition of the Italian School do less violation to natural physical function than do singers trained in several other schools.4

Another dispute among vocal pedagogues arises over the question of “register.” That is, into how many separate sections can the voice be reasonably separated? Is there such a thing as falsetto, and is it a legitimate use of the voice to produce a singing tone? Among the most interesting answers to these questions is the approach emerging from the German School called “Voice Rebuilding.” The idea is that the singer must completely differentiate the registers of the voice, in particular the head and chest, before integrating them into a highly coordinated single voice in which the components of each balance perfectly upon any note. Miller makes his opinion known on the ramifications of this idea as well.

3 Miller (1970), 40 4 Miller (1970), 44



Out of such philosophies a number of pedagogies within the German School have emerged which claim to have rediscovered primitive coordinations lost by modern man. These methods often claim to be able to make singers of everybody, to double the size of any voice, or to produce vocal ranges extending far beyond those normally thought to exist in given vocal categories.5

We can see an important pattern emerging in Miller’s criticism that is shared by many vocal pedagogues, a notion that there are certain hard and fast truths about singers and the vocal mechanism which have always been apparent to the sensible teacher, and which are being given new legitimacy by scientific evidence. Any attempt to question these truths by non-scientific means, or by the anecdotal evidence of misguided pedagogues is self-deluding and will only lead to the perpetuation of more fallacies about the subject of singing.6

In this century many books have been published in which a self-described authority on the voice puts forward his or her opinions on the age-old questions of vocal pedagogy. Very often these texts emerge from one of the philosophies of the above schools, although it is rare that the authors will acknowledge the full extent of the source of their methods.

One of the more compelling books that seems almost diametrically opposed to the philosophies of pedagogues like Richard Miller is The Free Voice by Cornelius Reid. Reid is as skeptical of science as Miller is of self-exploration. “Historically, the 'golden age of singing' was a product of empirical teaching, not of teaching influenced in any way by scientifically oriented procedures...It will be the writer's intent in the following pages to reconcile useful scientific

5 Miller (1970), 67 6 Miller (1970), 200



findings with traditional viewpoints so that the strengths of each can be utilized in the training program.”7

Reid suggests that many teachers mistake the “habitual” for the “natural.” In other words, we assume that a “natural” approach is a return to whatever feels most comfortable for the singer in the moment, rather than recognizing that a lifetime of habits can make poor singing feel natural and safe. By remaining in their comfort zone, singers fail to realize their full potential.8 Reid wishes to generate his improvements through a truly natural process, one which is appropriate to the mechanism, but which breaks a student free from habitually harmful or limiting practices.

Reid’s approach can be summed up into two main ideas: The first is to teach a singer to gain voluntary control over the largely involuntary action that occurs in the vocal cords and the shape of the resonators. Rather than attempting what he calls “mechanistic” control over this process, Reid advocates “learning how to permit movement without moving.”9 This involves adjusting more voluntary muscles peripheral to the mechanism according to sound and sensation, generating a reciprocal response in the less voluntary muscles.

The second aspect of his approach is voice-building, though at no point does Reid ever mention the German School as his source of inspiration. Reid advocates an initial separation of the head voice from the chest voice. From there, he proceeds to a method whereby the two different types of muscular action can be unified. This method does not involve attempting a direct manipulation of the muscle groups. Instead, a singer learns to recognize the sensation that

7 Reid (1965), 5
8 Reid (1965), 16
9 Reid 1965), 19-20



indicates an ideal relationship between pitch and intensity and find the balance of registration that has made it possible.

Through the discovery of a parallel between a given pitch-intensity pattern and registration the singer is able to learn to unite all three elements of tone into one comprehensive concept, and, as a consequence, bring into being a very special type of physiological adjustment... Changes in vocal technique are brought about most effectively by means of the action and interaction of vocal registers.10

Reid’s explanations make use of anatomical facts that were inaccessible during the bel canto era, and his description of voice-building, while perhaps used by many singers before him, German, Italian and otherwise, is supported with scientific observations unavailable to previous generations. Yet we can see a distinctly different philosophy at work from a man who has read the same treatises as Richard Miller, and has come to an entirely different conclusion based upon them. Contrast Reid’s attitude toward resonance with that of Miller as stated in his book, The Structure of Singing. “A wise route, it might seem, would be to understand the acoustic principle of resonator coupling in singing, and to find some objective technical language to communicate this information.”11 Both men believe in using historic and scientific principles, as well as a good ear (and a good teacher). Only the specifics of the process seem to differ.

Russel Hammar entertains a slightly more practical take on these ideas. In his book, Singing -- An Extension of Speech, Hammar dives into another of the great controversies of singing – the relationship of the sung word to that of the spoken one and, in particular, the quality of the vowels and consonants that are necessary to produce an exemplary sound.

10 Reid (1965), 29-30 11 Miller (1986), 61



Hammar’s major point is that scientific inquiry has displaced the singer’s conception of the pure vowel as a means for finding good tone. He states that “...malformation of the vowel leads to muscular tension (and vice versa), and...this distortion of the resonator (usually the spreading of the vowel) is the central cause of the singer's poor tone production.”12 By using the modified vowels of speech as a starting point, one can extend the sounds towards a purer expression of the vowel to discover the proper balance needed for a given pitch. This is really just a more specific application of the ideas expounded upon by Reid, without the voice-building component.

Hammar does not believe in the dictation of “proper vowel formation” from above. Like Reid, he sees the experience of each singer as unique.

One of the most preposterous outrages inflicted upon the world of vocal pedagogy is the publishing of pictures of how every individual's lips should be formed on a given vowel. Common sense will refute this notion if one considers that some individual's teeth protrude more than others, some mouths are very large and wide (or some very small and narrow), some persons are thick-lipped and other thin-lipped, etc. (This is one reason so many young singers go astray; they imitate rather than emulate their favorite teacher's or singing idol's facial and mouth mannerisms). Moreover, unification of vowel sounds should come from the recognition that each individual's "architecture" must provide the structure for the formation of the vowel sound which he should accurately produce.
Therefore, unification of vowel sounds should come from the basic concept that each person's most natural lip and mouth formations should be utilized.13

12 Hammar (1978), 84
13 Hammar (1978), 174-5



It is unfortunate, if slightly humorous, that Hammar is unable to recognize the same distinctiveness of a singer’s posture and breath-mechanism. In these arenas he proscribes quite specific techniques with which to achieve his vowel goals.

Berton Coffin is an authority who, like Miller, can easily intimidate a reader with his encyclopedic knowledge of pedagogy past and present as well as with his keen appreciation for science. In his historical survey of teaching-techniques he addresses the question of vowel formation with no less gusto than Reid and Hammar, but he describes the situation in very different terms, citing historical precedent as a warning against undue freedom in experimentation with the vocal mechanism.

Vowel modification came from Italy and according to Tosi (1723) I and U were forbidden in vocalization as well as the close forms of E and O. We should keep this in mind in our coaching. Absolute language coaching in singing is a form of vocal destruction as well as a form of forcing poor intonation and weak resonation on singers. Vibrator and resonator are source and system which have an interrelationship which cannot be disregarded, especially in prolonged high dynamics and in the high registers of voices.14

Yet, far from being a slave to the goals and ideals of the past, Coffin expresses some brilliant insights into the state of singing today. His concern with these challenges extends into every arena, and his observations are remarkably incisive.

Persons who bow their heads have difficulty with high notes because there is not room enough for the depressors to work and the cavity of the throat gives a pitch which is too low...Admittedly, covering places a great pull on the front of the

14 Coffin (1989), 203



neck and is seen in basses on the back row of choruses. If basses and baritones expect to extend their voices upwards, they will need to develop the musculature on the back of the neck and the back itself which will give them the higher pitched vowels for their high notes. If more teachers would listen functionally with their eyes, when hearing operas and concerts, there would be more understanding and less fear of exploring the techniques of singing.15

We cannot fault Coffin for the accuracy of these observations, nor for the authoritative remedies he suggests. We may, however, make an observation that Coffin, like Miller, has far less faith in the capacity of the average teacher, much less the singer, to know how to address these challenges on their own. He advocates a full study of the specific dictates of the past masters of the vocal art, and a true comprehension of the facts illuminated by recent discoveries in functional anatomy and acoustics. Again we note that the goals are always the same, but the process for achieving them differs.

As singers and vocal pedagogues, we are expected to take a stand on one side of the debate or the other. We are not allowed to advocate for science as the determiner of truth and simultaneously place our faith in a higher truth that science cannot describe. Adherence to one approach in the face of contradictory information from another is self-deluding, and limits our ability both to learn and to further the cause of spreading the truth. Yet if we pick and choose from whatever philosophy suits us at the moment, we risk the scorn of our colleagues for offering our students contradictory information, leading them and ourselves on a will-o-the-wisp journey that fills our heads with ideas, but does not provide a unified idea of how to sing. How can we overcome this dilemma?

15 Coffin (1989), 142-3



If one leaps over the details of a particular pedagogue’s method for a moment to examine his or her goals, one begins to see a way out of the labyrinth. While unabashedly expressing a preference for the “best elements of the historical tradition of the Italian School,” Miller does advise the singer of any nationality to look for an “internationalization of technique...which will equip him or her to sing expressively without violating physical function.”16 It is upon this idea of creating art with the voice in a way that is most appropriate for the mechanism that all teachers will agree.

If we believe in the possibility of more than one outlook on this business of teaching singing, then we can spend our time much more profitably looking both historically and contemporarily on things upon which most pedagogues agree rather than upon what they disagree. Brent Monahan has compiled a remarkable concordance of works upon vocal pedagogy, and his observations on the commonalities, as well as the differences, are very valuable.

Monahan makes the observation that a number of opinions on the teaching of singing were not written down during the bel canto era because they were part of the common practice. Unfortunately, the lack of a written record coincided with a vagueness of terminology for various vocal terms which, when interpreted differently by succeeding generations, created a great deal of confusion and opposing methodologies. It became necessary in the late nineteenth century for authors to be more concise in their observations. As the disagreements between these pedagogues are often the result of simple semantic confusion, the subjects upon which they agree become doubly valuable.17

16 Miller (1970), 206
17 Monahan (1978), 45, 228



First, whatever the specifics on breath-support, control or natural breathing, the use of the singer’s breath is not to be taken for granted, nor is the posture of the body that supports it.18 Second, a number of authors agree on the idea that direct control of the muscles of the throat is undesirable and/ or impossible, and that a more generalized use of the body will achieve the best ends.19 Third, as a means of learning to traverse the registers, scale work is overwhelmingly recommended.20

In addition, Monahan makes this observation on the subject of “self-listening” among vocal pedagogues:

The number of authors who recommend self-listening is more than three times those who do not. Those who disagree with the value of self-listening argue that it is impossible to hear oneself accurately, but that the singer can either develop a means of listening through the help of an objective party or can rely on the aid of his teacher in early study until his own sensational judgments are developed. Also, more than three times the number of authors do than do not agree that sensation is a reliable guide to vocal action, and, once again, those who express doubts admit that sensations have at least limited value in tone production.21

Having established a preference among these authors for indirect control of the mechanism and for self-listening as a vital component, it should come as no surprise to us that many of the bel canto teachers and the authors who wrote about them believed in using sound and sensation to regulate and make adjustments in the voice.

18 Monahan (1978), 69-70
19 Monahan (1978), 78, 138-9 20 Monahan (1978), 158
21 Monahan (1978), 184



As a number of authors in this study have remarked, the teachers of the bel canto era no doubt observed a more or less self-regulating range mechanism at work within the singer's vocal apparatus. Teachers learned to associate various vibratory sensations in the local areas of the chest, neck and head with different pitch levels in the singer's compass. 22

Monahan also quickly points out the natural consequence of this admittedly subjective method: “With sensation as the only means for analyzing this phenomenon, the rise of a multiplicity of subjectively derived theories is understandable.”23 Part of the problem was the absence in the 17th and 18th centuries of a clear language for discussing the concept of resonance. It would take the advent of science to provide voice teachers with the vocabulary to adequately discuss this element of singing and its use for the improvement of the vocal sound.24

If we know ahead of time upon which elements the greatest teachers of singing tend to agree, then we can begin to comprehend far more clearly statements such as this by Marchesi: “A singer who has learned how to breathe well, and who has equalized the voice, neatly blended the registers and developed the activity of the larynx and the elasticity of the glottis and resonant tube in a rational manner, so that all possible shades of tone, power and expression can be produced by the vocal organs, would most assuredly be able to sing well, and without fatigue and effort the long and declaimed modern phrases.”25 The same is true of the maxims of G.B. Lamperti : “"If resonance disappears, you have lost the muscular connection between head and chest."26

22 Monahan (1978), 161 23 Monahan (1978), 161 24 Monahan (1978), 126-7 25 Coffin (1989), 36
26 Coffin (1989), 94



Yet, armed with the shining truth about singing, we are faced with our original dilemma: How to teach it. Sbriglia declares that “[t]here is no way to tell people how to use their tongues, their lips, or their mouths in singing. It depends on the formation of those organs...Have proper breath support and posture, enunciate clearly, have no tension above the chest, and these things will come to each singer -- differently, to different ones perhaps."27 Jean di Reszke comes to a similar conclusion, that “no single method of teaching could be effective for all pupils.”28 And the great Enrico Caruso, in his own treatise, stated without reserve that “In general it is better not to stick entirely to one teacher, for it is easy to get into a rut in this way, and someone else may have a quite different and more enlightening way of setting forth his ideas.”29

Perhaps there is no way to truly bridge the gap between the outlook of a scientifically oriented instructor and an empirically minded one. It may be that one approach truly is “correct.” Given the unified goals of all teachers, however, one might suspect that these approaches only seem irreconcilable when one assumes that all singers think alike.

To those of us who have beat our heads upon the altar of science in vain, for whom strict pedagogy has led us to ruin, we rejoice in descriptions in books such as A Soprano On Her Head of artists finding epiphanies from unlikely approaches. The title of this book comes from Ristad’s experience of watching a singer vastly improve her sound just by standing on her head. This is an example of exploration in the extreme, a dismissal of all proscriptions for good singing posture, and it resulted in a newfound awareness in the singer that, momentarily, changed her sound.30 Yet, before we get too arrogant, we would do well to recognize that the artists who

27 Coffin (1989), 100
28 Coffin (1989), 104
29 Caruso (1909), 66
30 Ristad (1982), 5-7, 199-201



benefit from these experiences have all been rigorously trained! An empirical, holistic approach has served merely to allow a person to make better use of the information they have acquired.

Similarly, for those of us who put no stake in the innumerable unverifiable claims of artists and teachers with a book to sell, we find great comfort in the unwavering light that science shines upon previously mysterious aspects of our art. We do not see how we can be misled by peer-reviewed science. Yet, putting aside even the obvious notion that new scientific evidence supplants and even contradicts older scientific “truths,” we should be cautious about any approach to information that can be examined without the benefit of human application. The human experience is neither linear nor strictly logical. However helpful it is to teach according to a carefully sequenced curriculum, we are wise to remember that we learn in leaps and revelations, using mistakes as tools, emotions as guideposts, and the immense cleverness of our nervous system as a means of integrating profoundly complicated tasks.

Approaches such as those advocated by Samuel Nelson and Elizabeth Blaydes-Zeller using the Feldenkrais Method®, can sidestep complicated explanations that include several drawings of the larynx from three angles. The lessons in their book, Singing With the Whole Self, takes advantage of the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, who integrated rigorous scientific understanding with self-exploration. Through a series of lessons involving the entire body, from the feet to the top of the head, the authors enable us to do with the entire body what many pedagogues only ask us to do with our voice: discover the best relationship at any given moment between the many parts of ourselves, so that we can more effectively do what we want. When this type of work is truly understood and not merely glossed over or approximated, we may discover that, despite the skepticism of compelling luminaries such as Miller, anyone can become a singer.


Within the last twenty years, a number of resources have emerged which provide numerous means and perspectives, rather than advocating only one. Books such as Bodymind and Voice contain a wealth of information, historical, scientific and holistic, with which a teacher of singing can enrich his or her repertoire of ideas. Subjects such as the Alexander Technique and the ideas of Moshe Feldenkrais are found side by side with medical articles precise enough to be included in medical journals, and as much attention is given to the language of teaching as to the language of the subject to be taught. By seeing the art of singing as a lifelong endeavor which can evolve and encompass divergent viewpoints over the course of a career, teachers can avoid falling victim to a false choice. Keeping the agreed-upon aspects of the vocal sound in mind, teachers with the desire to go beyond their own self-perceived achievements can discover many paths to the mountain top. They may take any course they choose, keeping the stars above them always in sight.



Coffin, Berton. (1989). Historical Vocal Pedagogy Classics. USA: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Hammar, Russel A. ( 1978). Singing -- An Extension of Speech. USA: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Lethem, Jonathan. ( 2008). The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: What Makes a Great Singer? Rolling Stone, 1066, 67-108.

Miller, Richard. (1977). English, French, German and Italian Techniques of Singing. USA: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Miller, Richard. (1986). The Structure of Singing. New York: Schirmer Books, A Division of Macmillan. Nelson, Samuel and Blades-Zeller, Elizabeth. (2002). Singing With Your Whole Self: The Feldenkrais

Method and Voice. Lanham, MD, USA: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.
Reid, Cornelius L. (1965). Free Voice, The. Coleman-Ross Company Inc., reassigned (1971). New York,

NY: Joseph Patterson Music House.

Ristad, Eloise. (1982). A Soprano On Her Head. Moab, Utah: Real People Press.

Tetrazzini, Luisa and Caruso, Enrico. (1909, renewed 1970). Caruso and Tetrazzini on the Art of Singing. USA: Dover Publications Inc.

Thurman, Leon and Welch, Graham. (2000). Bodymind and Voice: Foundations of Voice Education. USA: The VoiceCare Network.



Jazz: An American Solution to an American Dilemma

Jazz: An American Solution

to an American Dilemma Adam Cole



Abstract: The instruction of jazz in the public schools is the ideal tool with which to address the dilemma of traditional versus radical approaches to music education.

©2011 Adam Cole




Jazz: An American Solution to an American Dilemma

The Difficulties of Teaching Music Today

The challenge of educating the twenty-first century American child in the subject of music in the public schools has become a dilemma. Some insist that was must alter or dispose wholesale of pre-existing pedagogies in favor of new concepts. Others urge the preservation of the traditional conception of pedagogy, not wishing to dispose of that which has previously been of value in education.

Either path has its pitfalls. To create a new pedagogy by focusing solely on what appear to be the immediate interests of the children is to risk following a will-o-the-wisp down a trail that leads nowhere, because short-term fixes invariably fail when they are overtaken by the next round of new interests. Yet traditional approaches often appear no longer sufficient either to educate children or to build support among parents and administrators. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of music.

The struggle to reconcile the two worlds of music education is not simply a philosophical debate held in cloistered halls. The necessity of the argument is apparent when one sees the crisis that, mirroring the rising and falling of the economy, has dogged us in the United States over generations, sometimes improving and sometimes worsening, but never disappearing. It is now at a low point historically and may descend even further as Americans debate not only which arts to teach, but whether to teach them. We find, however, that the answer to the latter question depends heavily on the former.

Libby Larsen on music today

Contemporary composer Libby Larsen has a unique perspective on why, in her opinion, present-day music education is faltering. In an address to the National Association of Schools of Music (Larsen, 1997), Larsen discusses what she calls a second core of music education, one based on produced sound as opposed to acoustic sound. She points to the predominance of opportunities for children to hear produced sound as opposed to acoustic sound, and in doing so she implies that this trend is not merely a consequence of produced sound’s availability and flexibility but a symptom of preference on the part of a younger generation. She wonders out loud why music teachers have not changed the focus of their curricula from music that is presented exclusively in an acoustic format to other, more contemporary means of production.

In a second address Larsen expresses other cautions. She relates the story of her eight- year old daughter’s disenchantment with music as it was presented in school and her subsequent abandonment of the subject. Larsen blames this infuriating result on what she considers the stifling pedagogy of band-instruction. Larsen ponders the wisdom of a system that seems to systematically weed out many musical thinkers while favoring the few who are receptive to the predominant pedagogy. “It does seem odd to me that pre-school and lower school music education prepares children to receive and practice music globally in whatever form it may take. But middle and high school music education starts from the medieval units of rhythm and pitch as found in the central European monastic notational system and explores only very narrow rhythmic and harmonic aspects of these systems.” (Larsen, 1999, Notation section, ¶ 6)


Jazz: An American Solution to an American Dilemma

Larsen, despite her expertise as a contemporary composer, makes these observations from outside pedagogy and might be accused of having an incomplete understanding of the reasons behind it. Yet Randall Everett Allsup and Cathy Benedict, as music educators in the school-band tradition, take even deadlier aim at “band education’s methodological control, perceived lack of self-reflection or inquiry, its insecurity concerning program legitimacy, and the systematic fear that seems to permeate its history...” (Allsup & Benedict, 2008, p. 156). Speaking often from their own experience as educators and students, the authors fearlessly critique the current band methodology, claiming it creates a contrived hierarchy of values within the repertory and among ensembles. Even more damaging is the culture of fear which is “unexamined and out of balance within the band tradition” (Allsup & Benedict, 2008, p. 164). These descriptions go beyond Larsen’s warnings of boredom into a realm where a love of music is not merely diverted but perverted.

Past Reasons to Educate Children in Music

The tradition of band instruction evolved from the needs of a plethora of brass bands that existed across the United States at the end of the 19th century. These military bands, stripped of their primary purpose at the close of the Civil War, had to reinvent themselves in a time of peace. It should come as no surprise that there might at the very least be remnants of a militaristic strain within its pedagogy.

Rationales for the pedagogical direction of Choral/ general and instrumental music are, if anything, less straightforward from an aesthetic point of view. William Woolbridge, one of the founders of the seminal Boston School Music Movement of the 1930’s, cited the philosophy of Plato and Martin Luther, expressing his belief that “arts symbolized the good and were essential to developing a moral person” (see Jorgensen, 1996, p. 2). More than 100 years later, there are many defenders, some might say apologists, of the idea that music points to universal values which could benefit all humanity if understood and respected. Neither example of this viewpoint refers specifically to aesthetic appreciation, or to the elements of music itself, each of which might make up the core of an actual music curriculum.

Jorgensen and Regelski’s Restatement of the Problem

Estelle Jorgensen attempts to reconcile the current challenge for music to include more viewpoints and yet still remain relevant to a specific population. She explains that the arts deserve a place in general education, but only if they are “relevant to the public’s experience, and a part of political, familial, religious, business, athletic, social and cultural life” (Jorgensen, 1996, p. 6). In other words, Jorgensen is seeking a way of teaching music that is not insulated, isolated, or self-absorbed, all of which are charges levied by the aforementioned critics.

How can music education survive with such a demand, to be relevant to all other aspects of our life and yet to provide a reasonably rigorous, even useful knowledge base? Thomas Regelski (2009) highlights the problem, stating that music education is marginalized both in the music world and the education world. Expressing similar sentiments to Jorgensen’s, he claims that music education’s marginal existence in the two worlds to which it should be central stems from its failure to make a “tangible and positive contribution to the musically well-lived life of all students” (Regelski, 2009, p. 70).


Jazz: An American Solution to an American Dilemma

Regelski’s solution is for there to be an emphasis on “what the student is able to do better or newly as a result of instruction” (Regelski, 2009, p. 71). He reminds us that music for most people is used rather than contemplated. It has a function in their lives which, as Jorgensen insists, must be relevant to their experience. The current preference for produced sound highlighted by Larsen is an example of this: produced sound is produced for a reason. It is designed to be listened to in environments other than a concert hall: cars, restaurants, headphones. The produced sound is thus ideal to accompany our driving, our jogging, to our need to be surrounded by familiar comforts in acoustically inconvenient settings.

Regelski does not dwell specifically with the production of sound, but with how it is generated in any circumstance in order to generate tangible results for the people who are creating and or experiencing it. Regelski insists that music education will remain irrelevant unless it can focus on pragmatic results, with the needs of the students as the guiding principle.

Goble on the Function of Music

How do we determine these needs? Why is it not sufficient to trust in the “universal” tendencies of music to satisfy needs we may not know we have? Is it possible to define a more inclusive role for music that accounts for what has been done in the past as well as what is demanded in the present? J. Scott Goble attempts to clarify what music is and does across cultural and socioeconomic lines in a comprehensive analysis of the profession of music educator.

Goble defines music as a tool for restoring humankind to equilibrium in the face of regular disruptions to our worldview, helping us to make sense of our changing mental picture of ourselves, our social environment, or the larger political world. This specific yet inclusive role for music can account for the need of Romantic Era composers to generate musical artifacts whose existence set them apart and established their unique identities. Yet the study and discussion of musical artifacts like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, though central to the current pedagogy in many public schools, is an outdated strategy. Today’s students are living in a world Beethoven could not have conceived, and they do not relate to this manner of music making and study in the way that their great-grandparents did (Goble, 2010). As Larsen, Jorgensen and Regelski have pointed out, their music making reconciles other needs and so manifests itself in ways not covered by traditional music educators.

Instead of relying upon this old model where music is an artifact to be studied for the universal truths it might reveal, Goble argues that music could and should be used to deepen students’ understanding of how the vast array of different cultures come to terms with their reality. Rather than students being asked to appreciate artifacts from one region of the world, students can experience music as a vehicle for understanding the diversity of world-viewpoints among different cultures to which they currently belong and with which they come in frequent contact. A study of different types of music can establish tolerance for different viewpoints, can generate self-awareness on personal, social and environmental levels, and can create bridges through which people can interact with other cultures in a meaningful, necessary way.

Jazz as an Answer

Jazz in the Context of Music Education


Jazz: An American Solution to an American Dilemma

Depending on one’s perspective in light of these game-changing thoughts about music in public education, one might argue that we are either in grave danger of losing music education completely, or that we would be better off losing it. I would suggest however that pessimism and cynicism is uncalled for. We as Americans are perhaps better equipped than anyone to meet the challenges of the world precisely because we are in possession of a musical tool which, if studied and utilized, will serve to answer the charges brought by Larsen, Jorgensen and Regelski, as well as answer the demands of Goble’s curricular goals.

The tool is jazz, valued greatly around the world, though paradoxically perhaps least appreciated by Americans. Seen by many musicians and academics as a once-popular but now esoteric music, it contains within it the seeds of diversity and the power to bridge cultures, not only by dint of its content but by the circumstances of its birth and the manner in which it continues to be played.

The Origins of Jazz

For the purposes of this discussion, we will refer to “America” as the collective culture that has evolved separate from the Native or “Indian” tribes living in the same geographical area. There are many kinds of aboriginal music which were present in what came to become the United States, and which remain today. Yet these indigenous musics have never been incorporated into the mainstream of American life. Jazz on the other hand is an amalgam created by the realities of United States history and which, having been born, transformed the nation that birthed it. By the definition of a complete identification with the current “American Culture,” many argue that jazz is America’s first truly original contribution to the world of music.

Prior to the dispersion of blues and ragtime music, America borrowed nearly all of her musical ideas from Europe, both for the purposes of worship and entertainment. As jazz emerged and developed, going through its different periods at lightning speed, it influenced everything it touched, from the techniques used to generate “serious” compositions of composers like Dvorak and Gunther Schuller, to the manner of expression used in popular and folk music. Today the influence of jazz is so pervasive in the music we hear that we fail to attribute its contributions properly, or even to notice them. We turn our backs upon jazz like headstrong teenagers, convinced we knew everything there was to know long before our parents taught it to us.

No one can with any certainty point to a “birthplace of jazz.” It came out of the soil of the many urban centers of the United States at the turn of the 19th century. But its evolution and dispersion is best documented in New Orleans, perhaps the most cosmopolitan of all American cities in the late 19th century. In the all-too brief flowering of civil rights following the Civil War, New Orleans served as a true mess of races, religions and creeds, interacting with one another socially, sexually, and artistically in ways that scandalized the rest of the country. Before the tragic end of Reconstruction could replace this freedom with the constricting nightmare of Jim Crow, the seeds of jazz had been planted. Ironically it was that same curtailing of civil rights which acted as a hothouse to those seeds, forcing them to go in the only direction left to them.


Jazz: An American Solution to an American Dilemma

Jazz emerged from three separate sources: Ragtime, a style of playing which loosened traditional rhythms prevalent in European Classical music; the Baptist Churches in New Orleans, whose congregational meetings provided an energy and distinct rhythm to the presentation of the service that was absorbed by many attending musicians; and the blues, a secular music propagated by itinerant singers on the subject of worldly virtues and vices. These sources, largely confined to the lower-class African-American world, were brought into direct conflict with the more refined almost-White world of the upper-class Creole when the Reconstruction came to its abrupt end.

The landmark Supreme Court decision known as Plessy v. Fergusion established the notion of “separate but equal” facilities for Blacks and Whites, opening the door to militant segregation reinforced by legal and illegal means. The case made it necessary to establish what “Black” meant, and for 19th Century Americans, what it meant was that one drop of “Black Blood” made one “Black.” This standard forced the formerly aristocratic mixed races to abandon their pretense at social equality with Whites.

Suddenly mostly-White Creole bands which had played at White social functions with impunity were now considered Black, and were forced to retreat to their “separate but equal” facilities with their very-Black brethren. While this must have seemed a tragic blow to those musicians bumped down the social ladder, it had one powerful beneficial effect: it brought almost-White musicians in direct contact with the radically different music of the Black world, integrating rather than segregating it! (Ward & Burns, 2000)

Now Creole musicians had to come to terms with the spirit and virtuosity of the trumpet player Buddy Bolden, whose radical style of phrasing was far more popular than their stiff European offerings. In order to compete and make a living, these musicians had to quickly learn a new way to play. Musicians like Jelly Roll Morton, who hardly considered himself Black, became masters of this integrated style and played it in the bordellos which the “truly White” frequented when they came to New Orleans. Others like Sidney Bechet popularized the style and extended compositional forms on the evolving medium of recorded sound (Williams, 1983).

Within a couple of decades, all-White bands would be taking the jazz-style on the road to a hungry public. Meanwhile, seminal figures like Louis Armstrong emerged from the Black world to further innovate and push the envelope. Armstrong’s life is perhaps the best illustration of the extent to which jazz infiltrated culture in the 20th century. His lifespan extends from the turn of the 19th century to the art-rock-era of the 1970’s, and he passed through all levels of society, musical and otherwise, during his meteoric rise and sustained career. He was raised in a lower-class world of color, helped to survive and thrive by a Jewish family, and established as an ambassador of American culture abroad (Ward & Burns, 2000).

The development of jazz into a wildly popular art-form in the 30’s and 40’s was followed by the Bebop Era of the 1950’s, a general descent into virtuosic exploration for a more discerning audience. This trend continued, bringing jazz into the Avant Garde where it intersected with the classical world. By the 70’s jazz artists, having failed to migrate to the vast arenas of rock and roll, were forced to retreat into a specialized existence dictated by the markets. Today jazz has experienced a revival, but not chiefly as a form of entertainment.


Jazz Today

Jazz: An American Solution to an American Dilemma

Although jazz retains a dedicated audience in America, it has not recovered the kind of manic popularity it once enjoyed. The reasons for this can be explained in terms of the same kinds of criticisms to music pedagogy we have already examined: Jazz music once served as a vehicle for social interaction, specifically dance. As social dance declined as the chief medium of interest for young people in this country, the need for the music went along with it (Hodier, 1962). After the decline of the Big Band, the only people who needed the music were those who desired to contemplate its artifacts in the manner of European Classical music, cultivating appreciation for its recording artists and even more for its recordings, some of which like Kind of Blue and Time Out gained an iconic existence.

Yet as Goble has pointed out, this paradigm of music appreciation belongs to the Romantic Era wherein self-expression is the chief aim of music (Goble, 2010). Such a paradigm was, in a practical sense, in its last throes by the end of the 70’s with the advent of an increasingly hyperstimulated population whose listening habits now placed music in a more utilitarian light.

The revival of jazz therefore has not been in its performances, but in its pedagogical study. Having been accepted as canon by the world of academia, jazz is no longer a subject in conservatories whose study may result in expulsion of its students. Some music institutions or segments of established music schools are now dedicated to the education of jazz musicians, theorists and composers, a development all the more ironic given the vastly diminished career options of these experts upon graduation. Yet I contend that this irony is only half the story, and the least interesting half. In fact, the study of jazz should be of vital interest to us as music educators not in the university, but in the public schools.

Jazz as an Ideal Teaching Tool

Jazz puts European elements of discrete rhythm and pitch into the service of non- European modes of communication. The Africans who were forcibly transported to the United States brought different conceptions of music with them. Music, especially drumming, was a means of communication, though not always of a linguistic kind. White masters, recognizing the function of this music, forbade their slaves to play it. The suppressed desire to communicate through music made its way into the church service and the blues, and the rhythms were incorporated into Ragtime (Tirro, 1977).

These notions of music as a means of communication have not left jazz. The primary goal of jazz musicians is to entertain by communicating with one another. Where Western European music provides a scripted dialogue with which musicians may communicate, jazz only provides the subject matter. Drummers and bass players collaborate to create a given feel and tempo which can sometimes change during a performance. Solo instruments such as the saxophone and trumpet tell a musical story over this foundation, sometimes using an artifact in the manner of a Western-European musician (known as a “tune” or a “standard”) to launch their improvisation, other times expounding ad lib. Pianists, guitarists and mallet-players support the story by generating a unique harmonic support for what they are hearing in the moment, and often contribute their own solo passages. It must be stressed that in the highest levels of jazz performance, these activities are happening in real time where the contributions


Jazz: An American Solution to an American Dilemma

of each musician can radically alter what the others will say and do in the course of the piece. This is unscripted, concurrent conversation (Berliner, 1994).

What do the musicians “talk” about? We can speculate that the slaves who were congregated in churches as their only acceptable outlet had one very important grudge to communicate with God and with each other: they were not free. In every place, they were constrained from discussing their displacement, arguing the virtues of their right to liberty, and even from bemoaning the misery of the abysmal conditions under which they were forced to live, give birth, and die. The church offered spiritual solace with its promise of freedom after death, but the slave population ingeniously adapted this message into something utilitarian and subversive.

Thus Christian ideas could be transformed by context into something akin to secret codes. Consider the words to the spiritual “I Got Shoes”: “I got shoes, you got shoes, all God’s children got shoes. When I get to heaven, gonna put on my shoes, I’m gonna walk all over God’s heaven.” This spiritual, which on the one hand seems a perfectly acceptable expression of a better life in heaven, could also serve as a means for two slaves to discuss, right in front of their masters, the joys of an existence in this life, in which they would have the freedom to leave their positions and the power to go where they wanted.

This utilitarian function of music as a means of communicating great hope and deep sorrow between participants, and the love of freedom in that expression, was bequeathed to jazz as part of its birthright, and may account for its unique take on improvisation. Music was improvised frequently in Europe, most certainly during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and most likely long before. But this was improvisation for the purpose of demonstrating a kind of self-mastery in the field of composition or performance. The concept of simultaneous improvisation, of improvisatory conversation, belongs to the drumming practices of the African nations from which the slaves were brought (Tirro, 1977).

Here jazz takes its place as an astounding achievement, for the concept of communication has now been combined with distinct notions of pitch and strict meter, and the constraints of form, tempo and subject matter has now been made porous by the freedom of improvisation. Suddenly we have a music that is no longer European nor African music, but American in the best sense of the word, a music which is defined by its propensity to innovate and communicate effectively across vast differences of culture.

Jazz in the Schools

The Benefits of Jazz

In jazz we have a partial solution to the dilemma posed by music pedagogy’s staunchest critics. It is a treasure which, in spite of our failure to own or recognize it, belongs to every American by dint of its profound influence on the music we have absorbed even in our discrete and segregated worlds. Rich corporate executives now may be found listening to rock and rap. Musicologists are obliged to teach Gershwin and Bernstein. And gospel music incorporates ever more sophisticated harmonic techniques developed by jazz musicians like Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans.

Jazz is a music which can be both studied and used. It is functional through its participatory nature, yet each performance can be archived as an artifact for study. A soloist’s


Jazz: An American Solution to an American Dilemma

exact notes and articulation can become a subject of discussion for the furtherance of a musician’s ability, yet no jazz musician will be seen as legitimate unless they eventually abandon strict imitation of their models and begin to improvise and communicate.

A study of the history of jazz will provide deep insights into several cultures’ attempts to come to terms with their world, to integrate, assimilate and protest. Students have an opportunity to learn about other functions of music besides that of artifact, while in the process being able to relate that music to their own lives and histories. It is a music which dwells in a kind of paradoxical world, both exotic and familiar, both owned and entirely new.

Because jazz recordings are so integral to the study of the music, they take into account a preference for produced music to which Libby Larsen has called our attention. In fact, it would be quite easy and instructive to compare “live” recordings of jazz to “studio” recordings, both for a discussion of the different resultant products that are created, and of the slightly different processes needed to create fixed documents of improvisation. The comparison would be even more interesting when the recordings are heard alongside live performances.

Preparing Teachers to Teach Jazz

By and large, the population of music educators working today are not equipped to teach jazz. At best, jazz is currently taught as a kind of “moving artifact,” treated either as pop music of a bygone era, or classical music played by experts for connoisseurs. This is a regrettable but understandable consequence of our current educational practices. Currently, only those who aspire to become jazz musicians tend to learn about jazz in any real depth, and if they go on to teach the music, they do so through private instruction. Meanwhile, aspiring music teachers will learn about the music passively by attending concerts or taking a survey course. Only a very few individuals ever gain both types of expertise, and even these few may lack a systematic means of educating young people in a music that seems defined as “too difficult for most people to play or understand.”

This definition is inaccurate. Jazz, like any other music, is difficult to play well, but its inherent difficulties lie not in the skills of improvisation or even in listening, but in the lack of a clearly defined educational experience provided to children sufficiently early. At the elementary stage, good jazz instruction can consist of explaining to children the “rules” of the jazz ensemble, the roles of each player at a given time, the choices made as to the use of a form for improvisation, and so on. Meanwhile, the children can be taught to improvise freely and over forms using mallet instruments and their voices, to trust the sounds they produce, and to make intelligent choices about how to improve their skill. Such instruction would make the experience of listening to jazz an active educational experience rather than a passive one.

At the middle school level, students are often gaining sufficient mastery of their instruments to begin learning the musical vocabulary of jazz: chords, voicings, and “licks.” Such instruction is already occurring for a fortunate few students, but it could be far more systematic and inclusive. The communication aspect of jazz, and the subjects of communication, must be imparted here. The danger at this stage is that jazz players impart the skills of the jazz musician without equally considering the deeper questions of listening, both to the ensemble and to the history of the music. Many performers working today, while possessed of enormous skill playing in the jazz idiom, seem not even to realize that they are more than virtuosos playing in


Jazz: An American Solution to an American Dilemma

front of a backing band. Therefore, bringing in virtuosos for monthly workshops without ascertaining the depth of their understanding is not enough.

By the time students reach high-school, they should be able to demonstrate a minimum proficiency in the art of group improvisation, as well as a good understanding of jazz’s influence on the music they prefer to hear and play. The point is not to create a nation of jazz musicians, but rather to use jazz as a means to teach all forms of music making, from the Classical string quartet to the garage rock band. Jazz is not a medal to be worn, but a shovel with which to dig.

Instigating such a program will require expert supervision on several levels. Obviously there must be some reconsideration of the extent to which jazz is discussed in teacher preparation programs. Everyone graduating from such a program should know as much about jazz as they currently know about Classical music. In other words, they need not be virtuosos, but they should have the ability to give future virtuosos the tools they need to move to the next level.

Those currently teaching within the public schools who have neither received any meaningful training in the teaching of jazz, nor had much substantial instruction in it as children, can be educated through workshops and professional development. For many of these educators, simply learning more about jazz will be an intimidating experience. Many are likely to protest the time involved in absorbing what to most of them is a “secondary” music. Furthermore, many musicians, even virtuosos, are terrified of improvisation, much less conversational improvisation. Supervisors will have to be sensitive to these fears and will have to devote sufficient time with which to gradually build up the skills in their current teachers.

Of course, most if not all of the supervisors will share the same sorts of prejudices and fears as the teachers under their supervision. They will also have to make an active effort, if not to educate themselves, then to know what the teachers need to know and to encourage them to acquire such a background. Everyone must be aware of the emotional component involved in such a shift, and supervisors must use appropriate supervisory techniques. A collaborative strategy might be best in the early stages, when the nascent knowledge of the supervisors is equivalent to that of the teachers. Later, as the supervisors gain in expertise, they may wish to use more directive informational techniques to ensure that newer or resistant teachers are doing what they can to enlarge their repertoire (Glickman, Gordon & Ross-Gordon, 2009).

The effort involved in this undertaking will not be in vain. Although many at first will describe it as an attempt at political correctness or a means of displacing a valued agenda for an inferior one, no one can be swayed by these charges. If we are to believe the critics of music education today, then something must change in our field. That something can be a recognition of the benefits of our own musical legacy and gifts it has to offer, or it can be the wholesale rejection of music education in the public schools by the children and their parents. In order to prevent such a result, we must listen to the voices of change and find solutions that answer their charges. The study of jazz is only one piece of this solution, but it is a vital and central piece and, however difficult it may be to incorporate it, we must begin now. To expect different results by doing the same things we have always done is not only folly, but a tragic waste of time.


Jazz: An American Solution to an American Dilemma

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