Music Education and a Panoply of Methodologies

My webpage describes the inclusion of the Psychology of Music in my methodology.

By what established method does the psychology of music enter the mainstream of music education? This and a few other things may create cautious or hesitant prospective students. Here are a few thoughts on the variety of methodologies I use and why.

The subject Psychology of Music is not newly added to the curriculum, what is new is the evidence by way of replicated research of what was talked about and often regarded as myth, wishful thinking, hyperbole and excuses a teacher makes to motivate practice. We know now that our ability to focus wanes after 5-20 minutes, depending upon age. We know there are 21 areas of the brain we use to process music. If you focus on one of them, your brain will cut off other processes, as we are built to focus on one thing at a time. We know that it takes time to build repeating firings of synapses, to build constellations, then networks in our brain, which form the image of our activity. It take six weeks for muscles to learn patterns, nine -12 months for ligaments, tendons.

Teachers implore their students to daily practice, achievement by discipline, determination, perseverance, and attitude of not perfection, nonetheless excellence. The real effect and benefit of making music as evidenced now with the pleasure causing, healthy chemicals increased by way of making music now grounds prior claims by music teachers that practice and participation will cause a student a measure of lifelong happiness. Even links to transferable skills developed through the practice of music made their way anecdotally in lessons for centuries, perhaps longer. These, too, are being confirmed by research.

Music teachers also pass down anecdotal evidence of what is now grounded researched materials for music education, and have for centuries. The psychology of music is not new to us. Some teachers offer strict adherence to a particular methodology, thus excluding some of what is available to us, now. Though there remains common ground!

A great influence at The Eastman School for me was reading Carl Rogers. I teach to the student, for the individual student. There is so much room for misunderstanding, I try to use whatever I can from my background to teach in the moment using what is best for the student. There are times this has either been objected to from a student’s perspective that the technique, or method is wrong, because it is not exactly like they have heard it before, or considered careless by some. However, I prefer seeing a student becoming their own musician. We have no other choice, really.

To put this humorously:

The players/teachers do what they do; they tell the student what they think they do; the students think they heard what the teachers said about what they think they do; the students then try to do what they think the teachers said about what they think they do.

-Denis Wick, Retired Principle Trombonist, London Symphony Orchestra

Perfectionists lose out, for they are the only ones who know what perfection they seek. Good musicians work together, for the musical outcome, and without taking sides, or espousing one way to do things, or by putting even the least talented among us down. I once learned more about making music in five minutes than I had for years sitting in front of a man who could not for the life of him hold a tune in church. Ultimately, the musical outcomes I recall best in my life stemmed from organic, cooperative playing and players.

With this cumulative methodology including the Psychology of Music, there can be unfortunate moments. With a responsibility to report adverse things, I speak to appropriate authorities allowing safe measure for the child. There can be confusion over the use of the term “psychology”. This confusion is understandable. However, there is a difference between the material in the psychology of music and understanding our psychology: these are not one in the same. Nor, is the later a qualification of my education.

Further separate is my personal journey, understanding how traumas effect a person. I have wonderful memories of musical instruction during my very early years, through eighth grade. Substantiation of any experiences I may speak of are impossible: those involved are deceased. Records of my education and copies of any creative efforts of my own hand were burned. Trauma followed, obscuring my memory. Losing memory of the music lessons was traumatic. However, the nature of traumatic memory is not the same as normal memory. We lose 60% of normal memory, anyway. We retain traumatic memory to insure safe choices. At this point, what helps trauma is changing how one feels about it: the musical journey was fun.

My interest in this subject of the psychology of music started somewhere around Junior High School ( I date myself) when Carl Seashore’s book The Psychology of Music, 1936, somehow crossed my desk and I felt intrigued. Perhaps, I thought this fodder may improve my performance, as well it did in general terms by effecting my attitudes regarding music.

When Dr. Donald Shelter of the Eastman School of Music taught his class on Psychological and Philosophical Foundations of Musical Behavior, his inspiration created in me a lifetime of interest and pursuit of research when possible. The amount of understanding since that course has exploded.

So, I introduce this material in lessons by way of story telling, in small doses and when the time is right: to help the student make better their investment in music making.

Another great source of illustrations of psychologies of music comes from the wonderful teachers it has been my privilege to study with and learn from, including my own teachers and the many players at International Trombone Association, New York Conference on Brass Scholarships, and International Brass Congress workshops. Their stories and their education provides me with a variety of methodologies, and techniques, instead of one to believe in, or one to follow.

More recently, the effect of this childhood trauma left me with debilitating pain centered around the diaphragm for about 15 years. After a while, I had to stop playing or risk exacerbation of the pain. Performance and activities were curtailed. Fortunately, the pain has responded successfully to a variety of efforts and treatments and not long ago, I returned to playing: trumpet first, to center the breath, then trombone.

I am reminded that on a bus trip from Luxembourg to Monteaux, Switzerland, where passengers included both students and renowned professionals, for one almost two hour opportunity, I sat next to Philip Farkas, author of The Art of Brass Playing, a staple for the brass player’s library, and the Principal Hornist for the Cleveland, Chicago, and other Symphony Orchestras. Boy, did he have stories! Once, to change seating of the horn section from in front of the loud tympanist, he commandeered George Szell, the conductor, after a Cleveland Orchestra rehearsal, to listen and watch the effect of tympani in back of a French horn player. He sat himself in front of the tympani as Szell had designed, then took a drag of smoke off a cigarette, and let it waft into the horn. When the tympanist played, the smoke came puffing out of the horn: the horn section was moved at the next rehearsal. He was determined and found creative ways to convey his message.

I asked him a rather obvious question: how does one learn to play and learn to handle switching brass instruments of such varying bore sizes as a French horn and trombone? His first answer was, “Don’t”. Then, he proceeded to talk for about 20-30 minutes on the subject, giving valuable information on how to from his experience.

So, I’ll start with the trumpet, a smaller bore for more concentration on the diaphragm, breathing, embouchure, with less effort filling a horn with air! When the time comes, I’ll return to the trombone.

A 1983 film from Woody Allen, Zelig, has the main character act as a chameleon ingratiating many and fitting into the worlds of famous people. In the course of my life, I’ve been, myself, put in situations, a bit like Zelig. As a freshman during my undergraduate years, over a summer, I worked at the Dunelawn Inn, Ogunquit, Maine. They hosted the leads for the Ogunquit Playhouse Productions. During that summer, I met George Gobels, Kitty Carlile, Alan Jones, and when Shirley Booth, of the TV Series Hazel, met me, she asked for my company on the porch every morning she was there for about 1.5 hours. We talked, I learned much about Hollywood from her point of view, we laughed and enjoyed each other’s company so, that she passed word of me along to Mrs. Robert Stack (wife of the lead in The Untouchables and Unsolved Mysteries,) who also asked for my company. Again, an enjoyable daily experience. I’ve had the fortune to sit in the Green Room with Eugene Ormandy, Arron Copland, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, (with his sons) Christian Lindberg (trombonist), and others.

Each of these experiences colors my methodology. I must say, I found each individual, no matter where our paths crossed, to be grounded, genuine and congenial. They exhibited kindness, patience, and focus while they worked. They always intended excellence; both in discourse and in produced works or performance, and I could not circumvent excellence.

Here are former students of mine, all who excelled when a student, and a few comments on such diverse methodologies as I offer:

Ben Smeltzer, Josh Bruneau (now a professional player), Paul Ackerman (now a professional player,) Ben Willis, David Whitman, Joe Dupuis, Kevin Canada, Alex Bliss, Forest Elliott, Cole Guerriere, Mitch Logan. and many others:

“…such an amazing mentor” The Logans.

”Lessons were productive and helped me learn to play at a more mature level.”

”Stuart effectively coached me to take a deep well supported breath. This really helped me achieve a high school love of tuba playing. Thank you. Benjamin Joslin.”

“Stuart showed me the fundamental secret of how to become a trombone player. “ Paul Ackerman, student 1976-1980.

“Stuart Carter helped nurture our son from Middle School to All State Jazz Band, and he did it with grace and humanity as well as skill and knowledge.” Drs. Dawn and Russell Willis, Ben Willis.

“Encouraging while assertively guiding, Stuart is a mentor of the highest standards. He teaches creatively, while carefully paying attention to necessary details. He enthusiastically seeks out opportunities for his students in the community. Teaching is his passion.” Joe Dupuis.

There is some research, mostly anecdotal, regarding personality types and instruments these types may gravitate to. Most authorities I have spoken with suggest this ignores the actual reasons for playing an instrument — to make music. So, I’ll be the same “full of tales,” teacher of music, not one to step in the way, but one to step out of the way, once a student grasps the knowledge needed for independent, participatory, excellent music making.

I look forward to meeting new students and continuing with the wonderful ones I am honored to teach now. I’ve perhaps a couple of openings for trombone, trumpet, piano or voice students.

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