Teaching Recreational Players

by Ivan Hunter

As teachers of recreational musicians we need to be aware of their needs. There is considerable difference between the needs of the recreational player and those of the student professional. Two major differences are the student’s time available, and their expectations. Other things to consider are the various pedagogic models, literature and basic teaching psychology.

This essay will briefly address the following:

Prioritizing Time, Student Expectations, Different Pedagogic Models, Etudes and Method Books, Glass Half Full Not Half Empty.

The teacher of the recreational player should have all these categories in mind as well as all the standard techniques such as breathing and note production which must be continually addressed.

Prioritizing time

One major difference is the availability of practice time. A recreational player may have 10 - 30 minutes playing time each day, whereas the student professional should be devoting several hours each day for practice. Indeed, the recreational player cannot afford to spend an hour on a warm-up!

Student Expectations

Also the recreational player will have different expectations as far as repertoire to those of the student professional. This allows us to adopt quite different strategies for the recreational player, and we can develop two quite different streams of pedagogy:

Different Pedagogic Models

The traditional stream is the Achievement Model – in which the teacher sets a predetermined course of studies. This Achievement Model is what is most often taught around the world in Conservatoires and other formal settings. Because it aims for very specific results from a limited, and often prescribed, range of study materials, it is more straightforward (but certainly not easier) to teach.

Unfortunately it is quite possible for the Achievement Model pupil to fail.

Teaching recreational players calls for a quite different strategy which we call the Recreational Model, in which the student drives the lesson (with considerable input from the teacher). The Recreational Model calls on a deeper understanding of music and repertoire by the teacher, and thus can be a much more demanding method to teach.

However, the Recreational student cannot fail.

Etudes and method books

Whilst it is undeniably essential for the student professional to have worked through all the available method books and studies, striving to gain the appropriate muscle memory, the recreational player need not do this.

Technical exercises consist of technically difficult passages being repeated in various permutations. They have no musical merit, and are purely for mindless repetition. Over the course of the last two centuries, teachers have isolated some of these challenging sections and created various combinations and permutations in key, speed, interval etc in order to have the student focus on that particular technique. By design, these are not immediately playable by the student. If they were, they would not need to be set!

What is the obvious result of directing a player to play something beyond their abilities?


This may be well and good for the student professional. After all, they will probably get a lot of setbacks from failed auditions and the like. So they need to get used to feeling bad. But the recreational player does not need this. Our experience is that an instrumentalist may find technically challenging sections in written pieces of (normal) music; working through these pieces is all that is required for them to develop appropriate skills.

Glass Half Full Not Half Empty

Instead of having students focus on what they can’t play, the teacher of the recreational player should work with what they can play. Let them play music. Of course any issues arising from the music they want to play can be dealt with by working through selected studies, although I prefer to stay with the music and help students work through these difficulties by systematically addressing the fundamentals such as singing, slowing down, and fingering. One method for this is The Think System, which I have described in the book My Friend the Trumpet.

Above all, please remember that your ultimate goal as a teacher is to enable your students to -