36 Course Overview

This book is designed to support the first of two semesters of a heterogenous undergraduate brass techniques course and was created to specifically meet the needs of ME 291 Brass Techniques I at Butler University in Indianapolis. The course is 14 weeks long (with a finals week to follow), meeting twice a week for 50 minutes. Each unit is 7 class meetings. During each unit, all five band/orchestral brass instruments are presented through heterogenous grouping: trumpet, horn, trombone, euphonium, and tuba. The intention of this first semester is to be a crash course on each of the brass instruments with a focus on the similarities and differences that exist in the techniques and pedagogies of the instruments, rather than developing a specific performance benchmark on each instrument by the end of each unit. In addition to teaching brass specific techniques and pedagogies, this semester of the course also emphasizes strategies for working with instrumental beginners on all instruments with attention to musician health, development of multiple music literacy (especially aural, oral, kinesthetic, and visual), and student-centered instructional practices with and without class method books.

The students from this class head into a second semester brass techniques course where they spend the semester developing one of the five brass instruments as a secondary instrument with a focus on the use of brass instruments in small group settings. In this way, students develop the greater familiarity with one brass instrument in such a way that it hopefully is retained into their teaching in ways that can be applied across the brass family.

Details for the syllabus and sequence of instruction for both semesters can be found in the following chapters of this section, along with links to Canvas pages for each class.

Guiding Philosophies

This text is written with a few guiding philosophies regarding how instruments are learned and how they are best taught.

  • As future music educators, students need to have extended experiences in both how to play and how to teach instruments. Being able to play an instrument does not necessarily mean that one can teach it, particularly at the beginner level.
  • As there are many similarities within instruments (and especially brass instruments), the ability to effectively teach many concepts will precede the ability to perform and demonstrate those concepts on a specific instrument for music educators with a non-brass primary instrument.
  • Beginning instrument instruction should teach students (at all levels) skills for performing, creating, analyzing, diagnosing, and discussing musical growth on an instrument. For future music teacher educators, their performance experiences in brass techniques should mirror the sorts of activities that are experienced by a beginner in a elementary or middle school program, coupled with explicit pedagogical instruction.
  • Instrument techniques courses serve as a point for disrupting music education by providing alternative methods for teaching beginning students that are not limited to group method book instruction. Composition, improvisation, and student-directed learning are critically important for pre-service teachers and their future grade school/middle school students.

Instructional Overview

The onus for the creation of this text was to allow for a flipped classroom model of instruction for techniques courses at Butler University. Prior to each class, students should read assigned sections of the book and view videos that provide first phase instruction on key concepts. The Guided Practice Lessons are designed as a tool for helping students to understand how to develop and maintain their technical abilities on brass instruments, starting with mouthpiece buzzing, long tone exercises, and then flexibility and dexterity etudes. Class time is then used for experiential learning experiences that:

  • clarify points of confusion
  • address specific student challenges in new techniques
  • provide teacher modeling of instructional strategies
  • engage in peer teaching, learning, and guided reflection

As the course progresses, the instructor’s role migrates from one of teaching and modeling to one of mentoring and moderating. As each unit progresses, the instructor spends less time doing direct instruction and more time facilitating student-led instruction. By the fourth unit, the goal is that students are doing all or nearly all the instruction with their peers using materials they have identified or created, while the instructor observes peer teaching and provides guidance when necessary.

In addition to introducing students to a new instrument, each unit also provides a different perspective on beginning instrument instruction.

  • Unit 1-Tone production on brass instruments. Class time is entirely experiential, with an emphasis on experimentation so that students experience what is “correct” and what is “wrong” in brass playing. The emphasis is placed on learning to play with proper tone rather than playing a specific pitch, allowing proper tone production to precede “playing the music”. Because of this, many of the activities are focused on experimentation and improvisation where individual student performance differences are less obvious. The goal is to produce a good sound rather than figure out how to play a concert F with forced tone or concert Bb without proper support. While there is some work at the end of the unit specific to the instrument students are currently on, the focus of the first unit remains on concepts of tone production and manipulation on brass instruments and strategies for supporting students in creating their first sounds.
  • Unit 2-Pedagogical fundamentals of brass development. Again, this unit is extremely experiential and focuses on the use of basic exercises for developing proficiency on brass instruments. While the first unit emphasized tone production and minimized finding specific pitches, this unit emphasizes the manipulation of the instrument for controlled pitch, especially between harmonic partials. Concepts of proper warm up and warm down are at the center of this unit along with an emphasis on self-care and musician wellness. As a teaching assignment, they create a video warm up, similar to the Guided Practice Lessons, that focuses on specific concepts and explicit activities for beginners.
  • Unit 3-Critical use of group method books. This unit focuses in on critical uses of group method books. Recognizing that most beginning instrumental music classrooms utilize method books, we discuss how to use them to support student learning of musical concepts, as opposed to preparation of music pieces. While this course focuses on brass playing, we discuss the use of group method books across band and orchestral settings. Utilizing a variety of method books, students create beginner lessons. Importantly, students begin by identifying the core objectives they want to teach, and then go to group method books to identify materials that support instruction of those objectives. As a teaching assignment, they then teach this lesson to their peers.
  • Unit 4-Creative activities in beginning instrument instruction. This unit focuses on how improvisation and composition can be incorporated into beginning instrument instruction, both to allow teachers more resources and approaches for instructing a broader range of students and to help maintain creative musicianship in grade school aged beginning instrumentalists. Students again lead one another in improvisation activities focused on the development of specific musical skills. The course concludes with students writing short melodies that are developmentally appropriate for themselves and their peers, providing them with the opportunity to compose music for educational purposes.

Instructional Strategies

Out of Class Activities

Flipped Classroom

The textbook is designed with the intention that students read/view material prior to attending class, so that class time is not an introduction but a further exploration of techniques and pedagogy. Most materials are presented in both written and video format so that students with different learning preferences can engage with the text differently. With this said, there are elements that are addressed in the book that are not present in video and vice versa, dependent on the limitations of the format.

Guided Practice Lessons

The guided practice lessons are designed to provide the beginning brass player with a sequence of activities that supports technical growth and development while also adhering to student wellness. While each of the lessons is different, they each start with mouthpiece and long tone exercises to promote relaxed embouchure, sustained air support, and solid fundamentals; transition to lip slur focused activities that emphasize flexibility and range development; and conclude with technical exercises to develop agility and familiarity with the instrument. Intentionally, melodic activities are not included in these lessons, not because they are not important or necessary, but because the guided lessons provide a foundation for warm ups and maintenance activities that allow for healthy brass playing within repertoire study and across a lifetime. They may be practiced on their own from the written descriptions or as play alongs with the accompanying video recordings.

In Class Activities

In addition to more traditional approaches to techniques class instruction that are led by the instructor, including direct instruction and modeling, instructors are encouraged to utilize student centered activities that highlight student creativity and critical thinking.


From the first day of class, improvisation activities are integrated into each lesson. The role of improvisation in beginning techniques is two fold. First, it allows future educators to see how creative activities can be integrated into beginning music classrooms so that beginners see themselves as creative musicians. Second, improvisation allows for a focus on what students can do in terms of range and technique, as opposed to pushing all students toward a single set of expectations. These activities can include a range of different approaches of varying levels of difficulty and independence. A few approaches that are easy to first integrate include the following:
Call and response. Using a call created either by the instructor or by other students, students will use aural skills to replicate pitch and rhythm patterns. This also promotes attention to concepts such as tone, dynamics, and articulation that are often absent in beginning instruction. The first day’s instruction includes call and response activities that focus on correct and incorrect tone production (e.g., playing and imitating an undersupported tone, an overblown tone, variations of attack, variations of release). In these first lessons, the focus is on tone quality and articulation as opposed to specific pitch, allowing different students to play in registers that are comfortable to develop a concept of characteristic tone.
Drone improvisation. While other students perform a basic drone (it can also include an ostinato pattern once students are comfortable with tone control), students individually or in small groups improvise over the drone. This improvisation can be solely rhythmic, include specific parameters of pitch, rhythm, or technique, or be left completely open. By having everyone drone, students are provided with a backdrop for their improvisation with less pressure of performing in front of everyone, as well as have the ability to perform in a range and with techniques that they feel comfortable. When brought into a beginner classroom, this sort of drone approach allows students to feel that they are creating real ensemble music in a low risk setting.
Conversation. In pairs, trios, or quartets, students can perform short phrases, trading off with one another. This allows students to again perform with parameters with which they are comfortable while also developing aural skills for listening and responding to others improvisation.
Melodic variations. Using melodies that are being studied in class, students create their own variations. These can range from simple alterations to rhythm, duration, or step/skip motion through extensive variation upon the original melody. This sort of activity serves as a great entry point into more formal, thematically based improvisation as it builds off of familiar material. This sort of activity can be done in small groups or as a passing activity around the room utilizing background drones, vamps, or other accompaniment figures.

Peer teaching

Throughout the course, involving students in the diagnosis and correction of errors of their peers provides a critical opportunity to develop and practice key pedagogical skills. While there are many ways to include peer teaching, the following have been used in conjunction with this class to build skills in planning and executing effective instruction. Cognitive apprenticeship modeling is used throughout the class, in which the instructor first models effective teaching, then coaches students in providing effective instruction, and eventually fades out to allow students to assume the primary teaching responsibilities of the class.

IDDS. Using the IDDS approach can help with the development of these skills. IDDS stands for:

  • Identity the error–Recognizing that there is a problem in technique or execution is the first step to fixing student problems.
  • Describe the error–By describing the error that is occurring, students gain the ability to understand what characteristic problems sound or look like that can be used as part of their own teaching.
  • Diagnose the error–Once the traits of the error are described, students can develop understanding of the external and internal factors of performance that contribute to the described issue.
  • Strategize a solution–Only once the causes of an error are known can students identify appropriate strategies for correcting those issues. Trial and error is a very appropriate method along with the use of modeled strategies from the instructor or others. Students should be encouraged to think about their primary instruments as well to consider inter-instrument solutions for common issues.

Instructional videos. Similar to the videos created for this book, students create a concept focused video targeted at instruction of a single concept (for example, effective warmup) for a beginning, middle school brass player. The intention is that this is a video that could be placed on a classroom management system for students to practice along with at home. By approaching instruction asynchronously, brass techniques students are able to consider concept-based instruction with appropriate engagement and sequencing without needing to address issues of classroom management in real time.
Instrument introductions. After the first rotation, students are responsible for introducing the fundamental concepts of their previous instruments to new students on these instruments. The delivery of this instruction can vary, including small group team teaching, one-on-one pairings, or full class instruction. In this way, students have three experiences throughout the class to introduce a brass instrument to a new student with support and supervision from the instructor.
Peer teaching demonstrations
. Using a common group method book, students create a lesson to teach to their peers centered on a single concept. Students are required to use the group method book flexibly and to include at least one activity that is not based on written notation, encouraging students to make use of non-visual music literacies.

Instrument Assignment

Students with prior brass experience will play tuba in place of one of the other instruments (for logistical reasons–we have two tubas available for the course). All other students will do a rotation on trumpet, horn, trombone, and euphonium. Instrument assignments seek to create a balance of brass and non-brass players within each instrument group per rotation. This design for instrument assignments is done for two reasons:

  1. Initially, logistical reasons. Butler’s instrument inventory is able to support heterogenous assignments more readily than homogenous assignments with fewer sections of Brass Techniques. This also helps to maintain our instrument inventory more effectively as instruments continue to be in use all year.
  2. More importantly, pedagogical reasons. Throughout the course of the class, students develop proficiency in teaching brass instruments before they develop proficiency in playing brass instruments. A core precept of the course’s design is that as capable musicians on an instrument (including non-brass instruments), students have already developed an extensive understanding of how to teach instrument technique to others. As the course progresses, the heterogenous assignments within the class allow for multiple levels of peer mentoring to form. These pairings include brass musicians mentoring non-brass musicians, more experienced teachers mentoring less experienced teachers, and students from the previous rotation mentoring new students on their new instrument. As students move through instruments relatively quickly, they become aware of the similarities across brass instruments (e.g., foundational concepts of buzzing, fingering patterns, air usage) as well as the peculiarities of each instrument (e.g., subtle differences in embouchure, instrument specific manipulations [right hand in the horn, slide positions on trombone, adjustable slides on trumpet, 4th valve on euphonium/tuba). The heterogenous grouping of the class more closely resembles what these students are likely to encounter in their own teaching practices, and this class provides a model upon which they can build their practices.


One of the benefits of open educational resources is the ability to revise them in real time. If you have found this text to be helpful for your class, please let me know! Similarly, if you have recommendations for improving this text or additions that you have used in your classroom you would like to share with others, please reach out! I can be reached at bweidner@butler.edu.



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Brass Techniques and Pedagogy by Brian N. Weidner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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