Process vs. Product

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How do you get a student to articulate more clearly?

This topic came up in the faculty lounge at a recent workshop (I know- we recorder teachers know how to party).  Clutching our workshop snacks, we began to call out suggestions.  Review oral anatomy!  Shape the desired tongue placement from an /s/!  Cue teeth closed!   Anchor tongue against back teeth!  Think about spitting a watermelon seed and shape from there!

The inquiring teacher had tried a number of these tricks, but he filed away the new ones to bring back at home.  

Then a colleague chimed in with “tell the student you want a clearer sound.”

“Huh,” we said.

“I haven’t tried that,” mused the first teacher.

It was a good reminder for me.  As a teacher, and particularly as a teacher with a strong interest in technique and a detailed knowledge of the anatomy and physiology behind what we do as recorder players, I tend to focus on process- here’s where your tongue placement should be on this particular syllable, here’s how the articulators should move, here’s what you should feel, etc.

And very often, this works.  After all, breaking down particular skills and teaching, step by step, how to acquire and execute them, is the bread and butter of teaching.  

But sometimes, with some students in some situations, you actually get further by emphasizing productmake a clear sound.  Find a beautiful tone.  Make this part smoother

It’s definitely not a panacea- if an emphasis on product were all that was required to learn an instrument, we’d all be instant virtuosi. But occasionally, a student can get so bogged down in the details of process that it is actually better to skip to the goal and then, once achieved, work backward from there to gain a better understanding of the steps required to meet it.

A flexible teacher is able to work from both directions, supporting process while also highlighting product, and toggling between the two as necessary.

Something to take with me as I travel homeward.

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© 2016 Anne Timberlake