Randall Ruback Musician, Educator, Composer, Writer
Frequently Asked Questions
I’ve seen your resume of student achievements. How is it that a trombonist can so successfully teach all of the other brasswinds? Aren’t people supposed to study with someone who primarily specializes on their instrument?
I’ve been asked this question on many occasions. Here are some thoughts to consider:
Fortunately, the laws of nature do not discriminate. The physics of playing a brass instrument do not change from one brass instrument to another. The fundamentals of brass playing (breath, establishing vibration, and principles of embouchure) are the same regardless of which brass instrument one plays.
While it seems common to our way of thinking to see a specialist on one's particular instrument, we must also remember that the goal of the finest brass playing is not to sound like a trombone, trumpet, or tuba - but to sound like a great singer. Great playing and musicianship leave instrumental considerations behind. The value of a fine music teacher is to encourage and evolve the student beyond rote learning, to becoming the artist musician. That's the whole idea of it all, to move beyond the instrument, to move beyond the parts, to perceive the whole. This is why we call music 'music' as opposed to random sounds without sense of relationship, meaning, and connectivity.
Former non-trombone students have candidly shared that studying with me was actually an advantage over a conventional tuba or trumpet teacher. Not only was my approach musical and tailored to the individual's playing and learning strengths, the training did not impose, either verbally or non-verbally, certain instrument-specific prejudices upon the training (Whoa! This piece is going to be hard!). I simply brought students to the doorstep of great solo works long before someone told them that those works would be hard to play!
As for instrument-specific minutia, I believe that this is only one component of what comprises the complete and total musician. However, all things being equal, if you do find a teacher who specializes on your instrument, and offers something akin to the Artisan to Artist Approach, by all means study with them. The idea is to study with a teacher who will show you or your child how to most naturally, efficiently, and effectively analyze, problem-solve, and implement playing improvements in both practice and performance, for the most musical result possible.
Is an audition required to study with you?
I do not audition students. I believe that an audition defeats the whole purpose of what I am here to do - to teach and help. To my way of thinking, it makes no sense to audition students as though I were expecting them to already be finished players - on the contrary; I'm here to help them on their journey.
How much should students practice?
While believing more is always better, at a minimum, practice an amount of time equal to the length of the lesson you are taking. For example, if you take a thirty-minute lesson, practice thirty minutes each day. For a forty-five-minute lesson, practice forty-five minutes a day, and so on. Rather than being an enforcer, I take a different approach, finding out what interests the student and expanding upon it. If they love jazz, for example, then we’ll learn to play the instrument and become musicians through jazz. I believe that learning follows inspiration.
Do you believe in talent?
I have been asked this many, many times. It has also been commented to me by people upon hearing of my students' successes, "Wow, such a great and natural talent! Weren’t you lucky!" - almost as though the students' progress and abilities had nothing to do with the instruction and may have even come in spite of it! Well, if it looks and sounds that way, then I have succeeded!
I can’t tell you how many students who were average or below have come to my studio and, five or six years later, went on to study at the top music schools in the country. Most children arrive at my studio because of a school requirement or to earn extra credit, and some with the desire to learn to become better on their instruments. Others are there because they are experiencing playing difficulties and are falling behind in band, and lessons are a last resort for keeping them involved in band. So no, I do not believe in innate talent or playing ability. Short of having severe mental or physical impairments that make breathing or coordination nearly impossible, most individuals are on an even playing field from day one, as far as musical study is concerned. I have personally witnessed students who, being a bit above average, are later surpassed by students of less than average beginning abilities who applied themselves.
The primary factor is this: those who achieve do so as the result of doing everything that I asked them to do. So, if there be any ‘talents’ that I could refer to, I would say that two qualities would be most prominent among my top achievers: openness to instruction, and follow-through. With these two qualities, a student will go very far, and I remind all of my students and their parents of this. Because I do not believe in innate physical talent, my teaching is unbiased, and the sky is the limit for all, only, as my teaching implies: you are the sky, and you are the limit. And to those who do not begin on a level playing field in the sense of being more naturally open and receptive to instruction, then these two qualities become the process of the lessons themselves - striving toward these talents through having musical experiences, until the student has reached the realization of that moment of receptivity - which is where ALL true life-learning begins. In this sense, music lessons go beyond instrumental instruction, to the greater music of living a harmonious and fulfilling life. And while I do not actively push my students to becoming professional musicians, a large percentage of them do go on to becoming professionals. I am most happy to succeed at having influenced them in some positive way, hoping to have given them some better awareness of the tools necessary to developing and bettering themselves as people and as musicians throughout their life journey. And all of this through the discipline of music.
Are parents invited to sit in on lessons?
Yes. While the nature of private lessons should ultimately be ‘private’ lessons - a place to develop confidence and trust between teacher and student, a space to expose vulnerabilities as people so that we can get beyond the blocks of learning - parents should feel comfortable asking to sit in on lessons on an occasional basis. Parents should know what they are paying for, and know what their child is receiving as a product of their son's or daughter’s lessons. In addition, parents are invited to regularly inquire as to how their son or daughter is doing. I also encourage them to share with me what challenges the child is facing in school and in life in general, so that I may help to foster and incorporate the parents' goals into lessons.
What do you expect of parents and clients?
The value of music to our every day lives so often goes unspoken, and in many quarters has gone unappreciated. In a time of fiscal and budgetary crisis in our country, funding for the arts is being reduced exponentially. Of course, to you, my clients, bemoaning this fact is like preaching to the choir. What I ask of you is to ask questions. Take those few moments between lessons to pick my brain on what I'm working on with your son or daughter. It's always something so much more important than what meets the eye. A resistance, a success, they all mean something when they involve music, because in music we experience being more alive, being more connected, and that's important, highly important, to us, to culture, to society. So take a moment to consider what music is all about.
Lastly, thank you for appreciating that music is what I do for a living. Your timely payment, adherence to policies, keeping the lines of communication open, and expressing your needs and expectations to me so that I can respond most effectively to you as my client, make the work your child is doing that much more effective.