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Survey Results: Duets in the Applied Lesson
Richard Human, Jr.

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Introduction

Numerous books, articles, and methods have been written concerning important skills for the trombonist such as technique, embouchure, and sight-reading. Another important skill for any musician is the ability to effectively perform with other musicians. In the applied lesson, this skill can be practiced by the study and performance of duets. There is a wide variety of duet literature available to the trombonist in musical styles ranging from the baroque to the twentieth century and in difficulty levels ranging from beginner to artist-level.

While many teachers agree that duets are effective in improving solo and ensemble playing, no significant research has been done to measure the effectiveness of duet playing on improving musicians' skills. H. Voxman, in the preface to his volumes of selected duets, wrote:

Duet playing affords the student the most intimate form of ensemble experience. The problems of technique, tone quality, intonation, and ensemble balance are brought into the sharpest relief. Careful attention must be given to style as indicated by the printed page and as demanded by the intangibles of good taste. Mastery of the art of duet playing leads easily and naturally to competent performance in the larger ensembles.

This preliminary study is intended to discover if trombone teachers use duets within their program of study and to rate, based on their opinion, the effectiveness of duet playing on twenty specific areas of trombone playing.

Survey Construction

The data-gathering instrument used in this study was a two-page, twenty-eight question survey. The survey, accompanied by a cover letter explaining the purpose of the study, was mailed on February 15, 1994 to seventeen college trombone teachers in twelve states and the District of Columbia. These teachers were selected according to the author's knowledge of their reputation and by referral from Dr. Paul Hunt, Professor of Trombone at Bowling Green State University. A list of participating teachers can be found in Appendix B.

The survey was organized into three separate sections. The first section consisted of questions regarding each teacher's program of study and applied lesson teaching. The teachers were asked to indicate whether or not they included duets in their program of study and in their applied lessons. If they did include duet playing in the applied lesson, the teachers were asked to specify where in the lesson the duets were played. In addition, teachers were asked to indicate whether or not they taught group lessons or coached small like-instrument ensembles.

In the second section, teachers were asked to rate the effectiveness of duet playing in improving twenty specific areas of trombone performance. The areas included in the survey are: intonation, rhythmic accuracy, sight-reading, dynamics, giving/following physical cues, tone, style, range, recognizing melodic vs. accompanying figures, alternate positions, setting/following tempo and tempo changes, articulation, vibrato, breath support, slide technique, instrument position, clef reading, embouchure, use of F-attachment, and intervals.

These areas were to be rated on a scale from one to five, one being not effective and five being highly effective. The twenty areas, derived those discussed in trombone methods and texts, cover a wide array of techniques. These techniques fall into two general areas: solo techniques and ensemble techniques. Solo technique would include sight-reading, tone, and clef-reading. Some examples of ensemble technique would be giving/following cues, setting/following tempi and tempo changes, balance, and intonation. Some questions included in this section apply to both areas, e.g. dynamics, intonation, and articulation.

The third section of the survey asked the subjects to list the title, author or editor, and publisher of five duets or duet collection that they had found to be effective in the applied lesson setting. Also, teachers were invited to add any comments or suggestions they had concerning duet playing or the survey in general.

Survey Results

Section 1
Question 1. Are duets included in your program of study?
Question 2. Do you use duets regularly in your applied lessons?

The first section of the survey was designed to assess the respondent's use of duets. The first two questions were used to discover if duets are included in the program of study and/or used in the applied lesson. Of the fourteen respondents, only three indicated that they did not include duets in their program of study. Of those three, however, only one did not use duets in the applied lesson itself.

Of the respondents who indicated that duets were included in the program of study, two did not include them in the lesson itself. Both of these respondents assigned duets to be played with other members of the trombone studio. Only one respondent did not include duets in the program of study and did not use duets in the applied lesson. This respondent noted, however, that he did encourage students to get together on their own to play duets.

Question 3. If yes, do you have a preference where in the lesson duets are placed?

Three respondents did not respond to this question. Of the eleven responses, four did not have a preference as to where duets were placed in the lesson.

Question 4. Are duets performed regularly on studio or seminar recitals?

The responses to question four indicate that the majority of respondents surveyed did not use duets as a performance outlet. Only four of the fourteen respondents had duets performed on studio or seminar recitals on a regular basis.

Question 5. Do you teach group lessons?
Question 6. Do you coach small, like-instrument ensembles?

Questions five and six were included in the event that a respondent indicated that he or she did not use duets in the lesson and did not include them in the program of study. The rationale being that concepts applicable to duet study could be approached in a group lesson or a like-instrument ensemble, such as the trombone choir. The one respondent who answered no for both questions one and two indicated that he did teach group lessons and coached small like-instrument ensembles. Of all responses, only four taught group lessons and nine indicated that they coach small, like-instrument ensembles. It is interesting to note that the three respondents who did not include duets in their program of study did indicate that they coach small, like-instrument ensembles. The three respondents who did not include duets in the applied lesson also did not teach group lessons and did not coach small like-instrument ensembles.

Section 2

In the second section the respondents were to rate the effectiveness of duet playing in improving twenty specific areas of trombone playing. These were to be rated on a scale from one to five, one being not effective and five being highly effective. All averages were rounded to one decimal place. The average responses for each of the twenty areas are listed in figure 1.

Figure 1. Average responses for section 2

The mean response was 3.8. Those areas whose average response scored higher than the mean were intonation, rhythmic accuracy, sight- reading, dynamics, giving and following cues, tone, style, recognizing melodic vs. accompanying figures, setting and following tempo and tempo changes, articulation, and clef reading. A ranking of all areas in order of highest average can be found in Appendix C.

Correlation of Sections 1 and 2.

In the first section of the survey, twenty-one percent of the respondents indicated they did not include duets in their program of study. These respondents' average response for section 2 was 3.4, well below the mean response. The average response of those who did include duets in their program of study was 4.0. The seventy-nine percent of respondents who indicated they included duets in the applied lesson had an average response of 3.9. Those who did not had a response rate of 3.4.

Looking at both questions one and two, those respondents who both included duets in their program of study and included them in the applied lesson had an average response rate of 4.1, while the average response for those who did one or the other was 3.3.

In the first section, thirty-six percent of the respondents indicated that duets were performed on seminar or studio recitals. The average response for this group in section 2 was 4.3. The average responses for those who did not have duets performed on seminar or studio recitals was 4.4.

Four of the fourteen respondents indicated they teach group lessons. Their average response for section 2 was 4.3. Those who indicated they do not teach group lessons had an average response of 3.5. The seventy-one percent of teachers who indicated they coach small, like-instrument ensembles had an average response rate of 3.8. Of the teachers who indicated they teach group lessons and coach like-instrument ensembles, the average response rate was 4.6. Those who did neither had an average response rate of 3.6.

Section 3.

From the fourteen surveys returned, twenty-eight duet collections were recommended by the respondents. A list of all the duets recommended can be found in Appendix D. The five duets that received the highest number of recommendations are listed in Table 1.

Title of CollectionAuthor/EditorRecommendations
Concert DuetsBlazhevich
12
Twelve 2-part InventionsBach/Miller
6
20 Counterparts to the Bordogni EtudesErvin
5
Six Canonic SonatasTelemann/Brown
5
Selected Duets (2 vols.)Various/Voxman
4
Table 1. List of five most recommended duet collections.

In Appendix E the above five duet collections will be annotated. Each annotation will contain the upper and lower range requirements, clefs used, whether or not an f-attachment is required, level of the collection, and a short discussion.

Twelve of the fourteen teachers also included comments concerning their use of duets, additional uses of duets, or the survey in general. Several teachers took this space to specify just how and why they use duet playing to help their students. One teacher stated, "I use duets primarily for tone matching, style matching, and pitch." Another teacher stated, "Selecting the proper duet is critical. The teacher must decide what element to emphasize. . . .if intonation is the 'topic du jour', then half and whole notes are more appropriate than fast sixteenths." All of the comments received are included in Appendix F.

Conclusions

The purpose of the study was to determine how duets were used in the applied trombone lesson, in what areas of trombone playing were duets most effective in improving, and what duet literature is favored by trombone teachers for use in the applied lesson. Ninety-three percent of the teachers surveyed included duets in their program of study or in the applied lesson itself. All teachers surveyed indicated that duets were a valuable resource in musical development.

Those teachers who used duets in the applied lesson had a twelve percent higher average response than those who did not. Those teachers who actually used duets on a regular basis felt more strongly about the positive effects of duet playing on their students' playing than those who did not use duets as often. Also, the average response of those teachers who used duets in the applied lesson, taught group lessons, and coached small ensembles was thirty percent higher than those who did not do all three. This would seem to indicate a strong belief that using duets in the applied lesson helped the student to improve not only as a solo performer, but also as an ensemble musician.

According to the information received from this study, duets are used in a variety of ways in the trombone studio. They are played in the applied lesson as a method of improving students' performing skills. Skills such as intonation, giving and following cues, and sight-reading scored very high in the survey. Duets are also assigned to the studio as a whole. Younger students are assigned a duet to play with older students, helping the students to become familiar with the duet literature and, at the same time, giving the older students teaching experience. The resulting product of this arrangement is both better players and better teachers.

While the information gathered in this study is important in understanding the significance of duet playing, further research is needed. An empirical study should be done in order to determine what areas of trombone playing are actually improved by duet playing as opposed to other methods of practice or instruction.


Dr. Richard Human is the Assistant Professor of Trombone and Low Brass at Mississippi State University and the publisher of the Online Trombone Journal.

Articles by Richard Human, Jr. Other Surveys and Polls Articles