I’ll admit that I’m a bit reluctant to write about this topic but I’m going to do so anyway. Perhaps its a good thing I don’t use Twitter because I’d be one of those idiots that says something stupid (or at least write something that gets totally misconstrued by other idiots) and then get slayed by the trolls.
The subject of this post is about a new student of mine who had their second lesson today. I’m never going to ask their parents directly but I don’t think the kid is “all there.”
Ideally I like to have students blowing and tonguing notes by the end of their first lesson as a bare minimum. Usually we get the first three fingers doing some work so that by the second week, they’ve practised Merrily (Mary had a little lamb) and are well on their way. Sometimes they forget the tonguing by the second lesson but it’s a simple matter of going through the usual drills and we’re back on track.
Not this time though.
My new student’s first lesson resulted in a lone sax note being blown. A single fingered B. Even that was a mission. Their left hand just couldn’t seem to find the keys, my words went straight through them as if I was speaking a totally different language (although, English was their second language) and the right hand just seemed to perpetually hit all the other keys. “Don’t let the right hand touch the instrument” I pleaded. Nah, those words fell on deaf ears.
The first class achieved very little. Perhaps they learnt enough to work some of it out at home.
The second class today was an equal disaster. One could argue that it was actually a lot worse as communication started to break down quite dramatically as I, in an attempt to make things as simple as possible, started to actually sound condescending. Not a very good thing to happen.
The usual tonguing drills didn’t work. Try as I might, the student just did not comprehend the idea of making the tongue touch the reed. Using words like too, doo, tah; all the consonants that make the tongue do work, served only to confuse the student as they interpreted those consonants literally as if they were speaking into the instrument. “This makes no sense” the student proclaimed, and yes, it makes no sense if taken out of context.
So I tried the next best tonguing drill by doing the snake-like hiss sound where the tongue is used to tssssss, tsssss the air. This was a bit more successful in isolation but didn’t translate well to the saxophone as yet again, the student seemed to completely refuse to put their tongue on the reed.
I almost spelled it out for them. I showed where the tongue goes by putting the mouth piece is my mouth and showing where my tongue would go.
I tried the drill where you push the tongue against the reed, blow (nothing happens) then release the tongue to make sound, then put the tongue down to stop the air; then repeat. Didn’t work. All this student did was play a long B.
Twenty minutes in and my language deteriorated and the student responded smarmingly (if that’s even a word). I said to him.
“Think!! What is your tongue doing? Where is it? Think. Make it touch the reed. Concentrate”
Arrgh, what a disaster.
The lesson went 15 minutes late as the dad came in (I wish he was there at the start to sit in on the lesson) who was then able to use his native language to translate me. I explained the drills again. I got a hint from the exchange with his son that the son is very, very slow. The exchange was made worse with it being evident the father had saxophone experience. The son just couldn’t process anything that was said as if he was living in a parallel lesson where he was trying to teach himself rather than just following the instructions.
Then there was the dexterity (or lack of it). Youngsters (and I mean 6-8 year olds) have developing dexterities and often look clumsy putting their instruments together but this much older student took it too a new level. Opening the case wrong so that the sax would fall out (he’s had it for 2 weeks), completely flummoxed by how the reed goes in (he was trying to insert the reed into the mouthpiece?), putting the sax neck into the bottom back to front an upside down.
The student is articulate enough to give lip, so this will be one of the greatest tests of my patience.