Teaching Philosophy

People sometimes ask me about my approach to teaching.  Here are some typical questions and my response:

Q: Other teachers have lots of music education and credentials on their resume.  What about you?

I studied Electrical Engineering and Business Management in college, so that’s how I make a living.  Music and teaching horn are my passion but not my profession.  I can’t imagine life without music, playing and teaching horn.  There are lots of teachers out there who have very full resumes, symphony experience along with past and present positions, university undergrad and graduate music degrees, awards, musical recognition, musical travels,  etc.  Often times these musicians rely on teaching as a profession.  I am the opposite.  I absolutely love teaching – working with young students and helping them to be successful while enjoying playing the horn and building self-confidence.  Playing the horn for over 40 years I know how difficult it can be, especially for the younger students who are just starting.  Enjoying playing the instrument and sharing my passion for music with my students is truly a part of my DNA.

Q: When did you start playing horn?

I started playing horn in the 9th grade, and have been playing continuously since – for over 40 years!  I played throughout high school, college (majored in Electrical Engineering – not music), and for my entire adult life.  My musical studies actually began when I started playing piano at 5 years old.  9 years of piano lessons really helped when I started to learn the horn.

Q: How long have you been teaching horn?

I feel like I’ve been teaching for as long as I’ve played horn, plus always learning from so many talented musicians, colleagues, teachers, band directors and yes, my students.  I started teaching private horn lessons in 2006.

Q: What is your philosophy for effective teaching on the French horn?

In a nutshell, I have 3 primary goals:

1) The student enjoys music and playing the horn

2) The student builds self-confidence

3) The student consistently improves in their ability

When all three of these come together, the result is a happy, successful horn student (and parent) who enjoys lessons and wants to practice to continue improving.

Q: I don’t want my student to become a professional musician and horn player, but instead I want them to be successful with their school band or orchestra, and to enjoy music and playing horn.  Are you the right teacher?

Absolutely.  My goal is to coach your student to learn the fundamentals of playing horn, to reinforce the basics of music theory they learn in school, to help them build self confidence in their playing, to help them feel successful in their band, orchestra and other musical ensembles, and to continue improving while enjoying their lessons.

Q: I do want my student to become a professional musician and horn player.  Are you the right teacher?

That depends.  If your student is willing to put in the many hours required to build a solid foundation in horn performance, necessary to make a living as a performer, I’m willing to help take them to that level.  If you believe you need someone with a focus on preparing students for horn performance as a profession, there are several very qualified university music faculty who specialize in preparing students for this giant leap and I’m happy to help make some recommendations.

Q: Do you teach other instruments?

No.  While I do play piano and know fundamentals of other brass instruments, I specialize in teaching my primary instrument, the French horn.  I believe the most effective teacher is someone who teaches on their primary instrument only.  If you need someone who can teach your student other instruments, I’m happy to provide referrals.  Mellophone is the exception since it is very similar to French horn.  Most of the Northern Colorado High Schools have marching band programs, so they typically perform on mellophone instead of French horns for marching and pep band, and I can help with that.

Q: How much do you charge for lessons?

My fee has always been $20 per half hour because I have no overhead costs when teaching at my house.  Sometimes I teach at the schools, so when I travel the fee is $25 per half hour.

Q: My student is home schooled.  How does that work for lessons and what about performance opportunities?

I’ve had several students who were home schooled.  Although they don’t have the typical experience with playing in a school band, I assign individualized lesson materials to help ensure your student is challenged and improves.  There are various musical outlets for performing, including local church music ensembles, CSU’s Middle School Outreach Ensemble (MSOE), and local community bands and orchestras for the older students.

Q: What expectations do you set with your horn students?

Very simple.  I expect that they will have fun, they want to take horn lessons, and that they put in the necessary effort to continue to enjoy learning music and the French horn.  Other than that, I don’t set expectations.  If a student or parent decides that lessons are not an effective use of time and money, let’s talk.  In that case it may be time to discontinue private lessons.

Q: How much time should a student practice outside of lessons?

I can make suggestions, but practice is really the only way to improve.  The student and parent must mutually agree on the amount of practice time necessary to achieve their goals, and I always support the parent’s decision.  I point the student in the right direction, but it’s up to the parent to set expectations and practice guidelines for their student.  In other words, anything that happens outside of the lessons is the responsibility of the student and the parent.  I take full responsibility (along with the student) for everything that happens during the lessons.

Q: Besides teaching horn, do you play anywhere?

Yes – I love to perform!  I play with several ensembles around town including a brass quintet, woodwind quintet, community band(s), orchestra(s), churches and musical theater.  Occasionally I substitute in area university and professional ensembles when they need extras or substitute horn players for their regular members, but my day job and my private horn students take priority over these other musical activities.

Q: My student has specific challenges with music and horn.  How can you help?

Every student is unique.  A good teacher understands, recognizes and tailors all instruction to the individual.  It’s certainly not a one-size fits all situation – especially with such a difficult instrument as French horn.  My approach is to assess each student, as an individual, and find the best method for your student to improve and succeed in playing horn.  This sometimes requires a set of individualized assignments, focus areas (like music theory, pitch training, basic rhythms, etc) that less experienced teachers may not recognize.

Q: Have you ever removed a student from your studio? 

That’s a great question.  There have been times when the student, parent and I have discussed the student’s lack of progress, declining attitude, and practice habits.  In some cases we agree and implement corrective action and course correction.  In other cases, we decide to defer lessons – either for a while, or permanently.  This doesn’t happen often, but it usually occurs when the parent is the single voice when it comes to lessons.  That is, the student really doesn’t want to take lessons and won’t put in the effort to succeed and therefore doesn’t progress.  On the flip side, I try my best to make sure the student is fully engaged, enjoys lessons enough that they will practice, continue to improve, challenge themselves and looks forward to their next lesson.

Q: I’m not sure if lessons are right for my student.  How can we get started and test the waters?

My studio is generally very full.  If you’re not sure about lessons, reach out to your band director to get their advice, or you can contact me to discuss your student’s situation.  If you want to “try” a lesson to see how it goes, I’m always up for that.  Just contact me, tell me some background about your student, and we can set up a “trial” lesson.  Afterwards you can talk with your student and band director to see what they think and go from there.  I do occasionally have openings, so if you decide you want to start lessons we can discuss schedules.  If you want to try a different teacher, that’s fine too.  You can ask your band director for a list of other horn teachers in the area.  There are several music shops in the community that maintain a list of private teachers that you can also  contact.

Q: What materials will my student use for lessons?

Primarily we will work on band assignments.  Additionally I often create an individualized lesson plan consisting of warmup routines, scales, etudes – all based on your student’s current abilities and growth potential.  During your lessons, I make assignments based on the students’ progress from the previous lesson.  If a student needs to submit a recording (Smart Music, Audio or Video recordings, etc) or class assignments such as playing tests, we will often work on those during the lesson and submit when it’s ready.

Q: My student doesn’t have an instrument, but wants to take lessons.  What can we do?

Local music shops have rental programs.  Check into those, or ask your band director if an instrument is available to rent through the school.  Some parents shop online for used horns.  I caution anyone who wants to do this to check with me first before buying.  There are good instruments out there, but there are also very bad instruments, so I can help in your decision making process.  I have helped lots of students over the years find and purchase both new and pre-owned French horns.

Q: Where do you teach and when?

I work full time from my home in Fort Collins, CO.  I teach lessons at my house, and my lesson schedule generally starts at the end of my work day – typically 4:30 or 5:00 PM – and extends into the evening.  Lessons are back-to-back and my preferred days of teaching are Mondays through Thursdays.  If your student needs a “special lesson”, perhaps to work on a single band piece or to overcome a specific problem area, we can schedule what I call 1-off or “ad-hoc” lessons occasionally outside of those dates and times, but not on a regular basis.  I do teach at a couple of the local schools on pre-scheduled dates, however the rates are higher and availability is much more limited – both days and times.  If you need more information, please reach out to me.

Q: Do you teach elsewhere, outside of your regular lessons schedule?

Occasionally, and at the request of the band directors, I volunteer at all of the Fort Collins middle and high schools.  This is usually in group sessions where I coach several horn players together, as a section.  These “master classes” are usually in preparation for an upcoming band concert where the band director feels some additional coaching time for the French horn players will help them to better prepare for a performance, or to just help reinforce some basic principles of horn playing that they might be missing.  I may also be called in by a band director to help individual students who may not be able to take private lessons.

Q: Do parents attend lessons?

Yes!  I think it’s very important for the parent to attend lessons when they can.  This way, the parent sees and hears everything occurring during the lesson, can ask questions, express concerns and provide additional encouragement and feedback to the student.  Parents are always welcome (and encouraged) to attend.

Q: What about the rest of your family?  Are they musicians?

My wife and I met in high school band – she played bass clarinet.  In college, I studied engineering and she majored in math.  After we married, we continued to play our instruments for fun, in various local community bands and church ensembles.  Our children played in middle school and high school band.  My oldest son, now an adult, continues to play clarinet and bass clarinet in a community band.

Q: Any final thoughts about French horn and lessons?

Horn is one of the hardest instruments to play.  For the younger students, having a good “coach” can go a long way to help the student get over that first year or two of uncertainty.  Often, the beginner starts on horn thinking it will be easy.  Getting into the early part of the school year, the student isn’t always successful and this leads to self-doubt, discouragement, and sometimes dropping band and music entirely – which is unfortunate.  Some band directors can fundamentally play (and teach) the horn along with other instruments but they may not be well trained on horn.  To really help students learn the fundamentals of horn playing, this takes a lot of experience and understanding about the nuances and pitfalls of the French horn – and that’s where I can help.  I’ve seen the struggles of students, parents and band directors in learning to play such a challenging instrument.  My goal is to help your student build a solid foundation, win through successes, and learn an instrument that will bring a lifetime of enjoyment.