Update on Kristian Steenstrup
Kristian Steenstrup is a name that readers of The Brass Herald
will know. Jonathan Rees interviewed him in the magazine five
years ago. In 2010, Kristian wrote three articles for the
magazine called Getting Technical (see issue 32, 33 and 34).
Many brass teachers all over the world now uses his book from
2004, Teaching Brass (available at amazon.co.uk).
Thanks to that book and his growing reputation as a master
teacher, Kristian has been invited to give masterclasses all
around the world. When he is not travelling, he is working as
Professor of Trumpet at The Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus,
Kristian, welcome back to The Brass Herald!
Thank you very much! It is always a pleasure to talk to The Brass
What have you been doing since the interview that Jonathan Rees
had with you?
More of the same. Teaching a lot, both at home and abroad. I
became Professor at The Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus last year
and I have become even busier giving masterclasses, especially in
Europe, and have recently been in Brazil, Japan and Taiwan.
At a recent masterclass in Oslo, you said that you had been
studying new discoveries in brain science and educational
psychology that you could use in your teaching. Tell us about
Yes, there are some interesting studies giving us a clearer
picture of how learning occurs in the brain and the importance of
how we approach practicing. It is particularly interesting how
physical connections between neurons are strengthened through
repetition of physical skills like playing a musical instrument.
This really emphasizes and provides us with an understanding of
the importance of practicing healthy habits.
Neuroscience has also found physical evidence of the efficiency of
mental practice, which just a few decades ago belonged in the
mumbo-jumbo department and furthermore educational psychology is
currently turning around lots of our established truths about
practice scheduling and strategies.
In the masterclass, you used a concept that you described as
three different zones, The Comfort Zone, The Flow Zone and The
Panic Zone. Could you elaborate on that concept?
This comes from the theories of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who argues
that humans tend to work (practice) in different zones or mental
states. In the comfort zone we are on top of things, we master
everything and make few mistakes, but we easily get a bit bored
and practice mindlessly. In the panic zone we are much stressed,
tense and make many mistakes. In the flow zone, however, we are
just being challenged enough so we have to be stretching ourselves
and be totally engrossed in the task at hand. This is presumably
also the zone where we are focused and learn the most
Thanks to new technology, wind players; both brass and woodwind
can take part in your teaching. I am thinking of the video
series called "Play with a Pro», available at playwithapro.com
(other teachers include Radovan Vlatkovic, Reinhold Friedrich,
David Bilger and Stefan Schultz)
Do you see changes in the brass teaching when you travel around
I think in general brass teaching is going in a direction of more
research-based methodologies, which is taking students away from
looking in the darkness for the truth and into more practicality
in how to approach learning to play a brass instrument. The world
is getting more and more open to nonconventional learning
strategies and I see that the level of playing is improving all
over the world.
Speaking of changes in teaching. I have for many years tried to
find a person that completed the infamous course “Double high C
in 37 weeks”. So far, no one has confirmed that he or she did.
Still I see people in forums on the Internet asking for this
method. What is your thought on this?
I have not studied this particular course so my knowledge on it is
limited, but for a trumpet player range is just one of many
aspects of performance and technique and it seems a little
one-dimensional to keep a lot of focus in a range that at least
for the classical trumpet player is rarely used. I wonder if
applying this method is consistent with keeping a beautiful sound
in the midrange, good intonation, flexibility etc. Not having
sufficient range to play the standard repertoire is frustrating
for a trumpet player, though, so it is tempting to trying to
improve this aspect, but I think it is wise to balance it with
beauty of sound, and other artistic facets. These days we have
many performers who are able to do that, and it could be
interesting to know if they achieved this through this course or
using other strategies.
Trombone player and teacher Michael Mulcahy was asked - “What
makes a good teacher?” About his own teaching, he said he was a
very observant person. What about you?
I think there are many things that go into being a good teacher
and today we are blessed with a whole range of great teachers that
seems to augment each other synergistically. You need to be fairly
knowledgeable about playing the instrument, then there are certain
psychological aspects of working with people and you have to be
able to analyze a student both physiologically as well as
mentally. You also need to be musically stimulating. Arnold Jacobs
seemed to embrace all that and furthermore he possessed one
feature that I always admired with him: He was very curious about
a lot of areas involved in brass teaching and in music in general
even in his eighties. This is something I try to keep striving
for: The ability to stay curious.
What are your plans? Any new book in the making?
I am planning to write a new book, more practically oriented than
the first one, and exploring some of the new discoveries in
neuroscience and educational psychology.
o.j. 2015 - This
interview will be published in The Brass Herald