Another teaching problem - cornet

Di B

In my short time teaching I think I have come across the most challenging thing to correct now!! Any help or advice with this is appreciated.

I have an 8 year old who has been playing cornet for 6 months. In truth, they have made little progression, but recently been given a gentle kick up the bum and they are now working again.

However, there are a few problems with how he plays that I am struggling to find a way of correcting and I want to address this before it becomes 'the norm'

As he goes up the scale from (bottom C to middle G - nothing more) his pysical playing position changes. He starts leaning back as he goes up the scale, and if I stop him doing this by getting him to sit upright on a hard wooden chair his head still tilts back considerably. In addition to this, I have found that he is so tense it is frightening. His head, shoulders and arms are all rigid when he plays - it can't be doing him any good at all. The higher he does the worse it is.

I didn't see this coming on at all and it seems to be a more recent thing (at least I think thats the case) and I have tried everything I can think of... but I know if he carries on like this he will probably damage his throat quite badly. The problem is there wether he is standing or sitting and how he breathes is fine. I have tried to get him to smile to go up the scale rather than crane his head back and this has reduced it a little, but it isn't helping the tenseness.

He is the sort of boy that takes it all quite seriously and the only thing I can think of is that he is doing this as a side effect of trying too hard and worrying about it too much.

An instrument change has been discussed, but as he wants to play cornet I have given him a reprieve for now... but I can see this being an ongoing problem with whatever instrument he picks up.

Any thoughts or ideas much appreciated.


Staff member
An old trick... try to get him doing two unrelated things at the same time...

e.g. play C up to G a couple of times. Then give him a piece of paper and a pen, and get him to write some text while he plays C up to G. Basic theory is to try to get him to concentrate on something completely unrelated, and just let the notes happen. If he has any degree of success with this, it should calm him down a bit.

With an older player you can try to explain things. With youngsters sometimes you just have to distract them so they cop on when they;re not looking (so to speak)
Good luck!

Di B

Thats a good (and novel, pardon the pun!) idea! Only thing is he may revert back to his old ways when you take his pen away.... but it is certainly worth a try!

Any other ideas? I have a lesson with him tonight



Staff member
is always possible, but as you've diagnosed already, tension is probably the cause. Simply knowing that he can do it is vital to the "hey, this is easy" breakthrough - leading to a bit more relaxation. As I say, sometimes you've got to trick them into realising that it's not as hard as they think it is.

another (similar) trick is to get him to hold 2 fat cushions under his arms while playing. Has the added bonus of demonstrating posture.

If his head is way way back you could try a tennis ball under his chin...

I suggest that it's tension and nerves and trying too hard though!


Active Member
you could try giving him a shoulder massage while he plays... might distract him slightly from the playing, makes everything a bit less serious and so hopefully less tense...

oh, and if anyone wants to try this technique on me, they are most welcome... :wink:


My 9 year old has just started playing. She's been playing for a fortnight and can do C - C now. However when she is standing up she tips hereself backwards so that her belly is sticking out. How would you remedy this? Is it the same problem? Have you tried standing him against a wall so that his back is aligned correctly and if he tilts back will hurt his head on the wall?


Keep noticing your efforts regarding teaching players - have you thought of entering the contest in Kirkby this summer which has a class for non registered training bands.

The juniors will just be required to play a march and one other piece not longer than 10 minutes.

10% of the players can be registered players from the senior band if required.

Anyway give it a go if you can - I am sure they would enjoy it. Everyone taking part in this section receives a medal to mark the occassion.

Of course your senior band are more than welcome to enter the open class. Excellent prize money and a beer festival on site, what more could you ask. No registration cards required, so deps are not a problem either.

Melanie Cooper
Newstead Band

Dave Euph

I think the simple thing to do is to tell them to relax, many people have already come up with good things to help this, but if a player is tense, the best way they can practise is by doing this scale but at the same time remaining as relaxed as possible ... well, OK not so relaxed so their lip just droops! :D

Seriously, I find that sometimes I get too tense playing high notes; when I remedy this by relaxing and not being so tense, the notes are much clearer and I'm not doing myself as much damage.
Hi Di

I am by no means a teacher, but I think that I can visualise the prob that this boy has........I have a young grandson...

If you think about youngsters like this singing......when they have to sing higher - their heads and neck seem to be trying to stretch if stretching to be taller/higher, will help. (Try and remember those nativity plays etc)

This seems to be a normal (ish) thing for a child to do. As others have already stated - it's about tension. He needs to relax in the upper body area (keep the head and shoulders down, and relaxed).

Hope that you succeed with this pupil......I can remember when I was 11, and got my first instrument. I can't really ever remember being more determined to do anything..........I havn't done it yet, but 38 years on, am still as determined.

Di B

Hi all, thanks for your responses. I knew the root of the problem (trying too hard!) and what I needed to stop him doing, but it was how to stop an 8 year old from doing this that I had the problem with!

Last night I tried the mad idea of him drawing a house while playing and built it into a 'challenge' game :lol: When I told him I wanted a door, a chimney, a garden etc you started to see his back and shoulders rounding off as he concentrated on two tasks. (A man multi tasking!!!)

I have left him for now as playing with rounded shoulders in (if anything) a slumped style of position.... two weeks of this and I will ask him to sit up again but hopefully doing this will stop/reduce his problem of tensing so much as it is difficult to tense up when slumped! :wink: It is still a bad havit, but at least it can't do as much damage as being as tense as he was!

So thanks Keppler - they are mad, but your theories work! :p

Melanie, thanks for the invite to the contest - I had already thought about entering after a chat with SatchmoShaz, but I have 16 players (17 soon!) and 4 of them are with the senior band plus helpers for the beginners so even with the offer of senior band members helping my band is not currently eligible to enter.

However, if the same contest is held next year..... thats will hopefully be a different story! :wink:


Staff member
Di B said:
So thanks Keppler - they are mad, but your theories work! :p

You wouldn't believe how often I hear the first part of this comment ;) Can I quote you on the latter bit though ;)

hehe - there you have it folks... Commendation from in the field. Certain parties be warned :twisted:

Di B

I tend to use fairly unusual ideas myself Keppler - anything that works will do! :lol:

This one I was stumped with though - and am grateful enough that you can use my quote under one condition.. please make it anonymous! :twisted: :twisted:

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