Learning a brass instrument online: a blessing or a poison chalice?

Can you really Learn Online?

Looking through a Google search on learning to play the trumpet, I am alarmed at how many websites claim that you can learn to play the trumpet (or in fact any of the brass instruments) in just 11 easy steps, or those that claim to provide the top ten tips on learning to play a tuba.

what-brass-players-want-computer-mouseI personally believe that for you to achieve this effectively you need to have had a few lessons face-to-face with a real live teacher.  I have seen lots of videos and tutorials on the Internet and I know that there are lots of demonstration videos on YouTube.

I am going to offer a small word of advice on these, and talk about their true place.

This blog will assume that you have an instrument, that you are aware of how to produce a good sounding buzz and that you can make a clear, natural sound on the instrument that you play.

Free lessons – the hook

The lure of free beginner instrumental lessons is great as paying for a good quality teacher can be fairly expensive.  The fact that you can do the lessons on your own, in your own home whenever you feel like it is a real bonus.  The possibility of having a tutorial, or effectively the teacher, at your beck and call 24/7 is also extremely appealing as you can rewind, replay or re-read the information provided.  These are all very good benefits to the online tutorials that are available.

However, the downsides that can be encountered could completely outweigh the benefits described above. Let’s deal with the benefits listed above and think about these in more detail.

The Benefits

In terms of instrumental lessons being on your own and in your own home, it is of course possible to have a private instrumental teacher to do this for you.  There are hundreds of very good teachers that are currently able to offer instrumental lessons and it may be just a click or two away from you on the internet.  There could also be a number of teachers on the registers at any of your local music shops.

What to be Aware of

Naturally, there are a few things to be aware of.  Do make sure you get references for any of the teachers you are interested in having lessons with, and definitely shop around.  The teachers that you will find may well have a variety of qualifications, and an array of letters attached to their surname.  This can sometimes be good, and sometimes not.  What truly matters is that you make a good connection with the teacher you choose.  The letters you may well see could include:

  • PhD / EdD – This is a doctorate level qualification and is considered to be the highest academic qualification.   This qualification could be in anything, and will very likely be in something very specific!
  • MA / MPhil – This is a Master’s Degree and is a Post Graduate qualification in which there is the chance to specialize in a particular area or field and complete some original research on a chosen topic
  • PGCE – This is a Post Graduate Certificate in Education, and is generally the accepted qualification for classroom teachers.  There are a number of instrumental teachers who also have this qualification but have decided to work outside of the classroom environment.  Many instrumental or peripatetic teachers may have an equivalent qualification which is known as a CTABRSM
  • BA/BA(Hons)/BMus – There are a number of varieties of these, and they are all variations of an undergraduate degree.  These are generally broader in terms of what is learned, with the option of researching into specific areas or fields.
  • Information on diplomas from Trinity (including Associate, Licentiate and Fellowship) can be found on the Trinity College Website here. http://www.trinitycollege.co.uk/site/?id=230
  • Information on diplomas from the Associated Board, Royal School of Music (ABRSM) (including the Diploma, Licentiate and Fellowship) can be found on the ABRSM Website here.  http://gb.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/diplomas/

Some teachers may also charge additional fees if you wish them to travel to you, on the number of qualifications they have or the level at which you wish to study so make sure you check this out before committing to any lessons.

It is still possible to have notes or written information when you have a private visiting teacher.  Insist on using a Practice Diary in which important technical information or explanations can be recorded, or record/video a particular technique or phrase as an example that you can refer to.  This will provide the information for you whenever you need it and you will have had the opportunity to have someone check that you understand the concept or idea, and that the way in which you understand it will not cause you any physical damage!

Playing a brass instrument is a physical activity and requires the combination of many different muscles that can be easily damaged or bruised.  Learning a technique or method of playing that is incorrect could lead to you having to stop playing because you have caused yourself damage.  It could lead to you getting to a point which you will never be able to pass, without needing to go back and re-learn new habits – this can be a soul destroying and lengthy process.

A visiting teacher will be able to make sure that the correct technical things are in place and guide you when things are not quite as they should be.  This will allow you to progress much more quickly and also make sure that bad habits are not allowed to creep in.

Should you go for lessons Online?

what-brass-players-want-music-notationOnline video tutorials can work, and for some people they are very useful, but please do be cautious.

This is very important as no two people are the same, teeth alignments are wildly different, and it may even be that you may well be suited (in a physical sense) to a different instrument.

Some instruments are more suited to this way of learning, and it can be very effective for guitar or piano.  Remember that you cannot ask these videos or written tutorials what they mean exactly, or how it will really feel and look on you.


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