What follows below is an interview and observation of my group lesson structure by Peggy Dees-Moseley (Cornish College of the Arts, Redmond, WA) in 2005. While differently structured than private lessons, this group approach does a superb job of dealing with core issues of technique, tone and ear training. Given that the current pandemic is rewriting our music lesson traditions, however, let’s hope that we can return to our face-to-face and non-masking approaches in the future. There is much to be gained from group interaction dynamics; hopefully those days will be returning soon!
Lesson Observation – Peggy Dees
Each week Professor Klug’s students have a two-hour lesson in groups of three or four, and one thirty-minute private lesson. Professor Klug assigns the lesson groups, established in the beginning of the school year, according to levels of expertise.
The group lesson I observed included four undergraduate students, one on bass clarinet. The students sat in a line facing Professor Klug, the students played together and individually. This group lesson began by tuning: Professor Klug played a note, and the students listened and matched his pitch. They then moved on to chords in a swing style, and then scale patterns. Professor Klug would start a scale pattern in any key and the students responded by playing that key and scale pattern, all by ear. Throughout the semester ear training also included exercises like playing Happy Birthday, Irish Washerwoman, and similar tunes in all twelve keys, by ear. Professor Klug taught this class by modeling and having the students play back what he played in a call and response style. The students practiced with a circle of fifths clock; they played exercises in keys around the clock.
Professor Klug stated that they do not waste a lot of time talking about sound, but by the end of the two hours the students all sound better simply by listening to each other and paying attention. Next, the students continued playing short exercises out of a book called Finger Food by Eric Mandat. This book is filled with short, repetitive technical exercises. As the students played through these exercises as a group, some occasionally dropped out and had to rejoin, the group kept playing. Professor Klug also addressed tuning as they played; by playing a note that was out of tune and having them match pitch. They also played measures by themselves, the next student taking over on the downbeat by repeating that measure, until all four had played it, then the first student started on the next measure, in a continuous manner. When the students came to a passage that a majority had trouble with, he would have them play it at half tempo.
They then moved on to Upper Divisional Exam requirement; a barrier exam at the end of the sophomore year for all music majors. Two students in the class needed to pass the barrier exam, which includes a scale component. During class the students picked which scales and patterns the other students played. After the students played their patterns, they moved onto recital and jury preparations. The students who were not playing studied a score of the piece as the performer was played. This gave the students an opportunity to perform for their peers before their actual performance.
Three students played their solos for about fifteen minutes each. Before the first student began to play, Professor Klug reminded her of the problem of being rushed by her pianist during her recital hearing. He reinforced the idea of being prepared to perform at a variety of tempos, and to be able to communicate the tempo to the accompanist. This student began with the first movement of the Mozart Concerto. After she played the opening, he commented about making ends of phrases softer and perhaps playing more artistically. The second time she performed the opening Professor Klug played part of the accompaniment on his clarinet, and frequently maintained tempos by tapping his foot. He also addressed being aware of the accompaniment when she played and the need to accompany the orchestra at times. In addition to playing the accompaniment on his clarinet, he modeled the solo part when he wanted the student to adjust her style or tone. At one point he said, “When you get older you can finesse the pants off that thing but for right now just get there.”
The next clarinetist played an arrangement of the Mozart Oboe Concerto on bass clarinet while Professor Klug accompanied him with his clarinet. Professor Klug does not believe in limiting the bass clarinet by range or repertoire. This student played almost continuously, more like a performance than the other students who played, with only occasional comments from Professor Klug. His comments concerned the dialog between the clarinet and accompaniment.
The next student performed the Horowitz Sonatina. Professor Klug did not play the accompaniment, except occasionally, but sang it during clarinet rests. He did indicate time by snapping his fingers, and modeled the clarinet part. He also stressed the importance of counting the rests even when there is no accompanist. This student had a difficult time approaching high notes by interval, Professor Klug responded, “High notes which have accents on them, or where you reach up by interval: you are maybe a little scared of them.” He sang to indicate how they should be played. “They aren’t to be rounded off or denied, they need that accent.” And later, “Let the fingers take care of themselves, play the things under the notes, the crescendos. Even if you are lucky enough to get up to the high E, it’s musically unsatisfying, screw up the notes not the music.” It was then time for the lesson to end.