The Pedagogy of Arnold Jacobs: Part 3 of 5

Another concern of Arnold Jacobs’ pedagogy is to rid the student of acute self-analysis and concern for machine activity (process) while playing.  Instead, he prefers that students concentrate upon the musical message they wish to convey, or the desired sound of performance (product).  Mr. Jacobs contends that the conscious, analytical faculties of the brain are meant to deal with the challenges of our external environment, or the world around us.  While this rational though process is meant to help us deal with external factors, subconscious thought processes are meant to govern our internal processes, just as they regulate our heart and breathing twenty-four hours a day without conscious control.  This subconscious is equally effective whether used in maintaining balance, speaking, driving, or playing the tuba.  It is when students try to dictate function, rather than simply providing the proper stimulus to achieve the desired result, that they get into trouble.

Mr. Jacobs simplifies this concept by comparing the body to a brand new car with a full tank of gas.  In order to utilize the car, one does not have to get under the hood, fire the pistons, and circulate coolant and lubricants: these are already set up and taken care of by the controls.  One must merely get in and tell the machine where to go. In fact, Mr. Jacobs contends that it is impossible for the conscious mind successfully to control the millions of cells, complex muscle fibers and neurons that set our body in motion. Therefore, one should de-emphasize the mechanics of self-analysis and simply play, using the stimulus of the desired result to elicit the proper response.  “It is a matter of simplicity,” according to Jake, “not complexity.”

An interesting aspect of the early musical experience of Mr. Jacobs is that (to a large extent) he learned to play by ear, and made a study of solfege and voice.  He also experienced a protracted hospital stay in his youth, during which time buzzing on the Jacobs #2mouthpiece was his only contact with the instrument.  These experiences helped to foster his advocacy of developing ones “inner ear”-the ability to hear music inside ones head-and focus upon sound. The first step to developing this inner ear is “post hearing”-the ability to hear a note after it has ceased vibrating. Mr. Jacobs develops this ability by playing a note on the piano, and allowing silence after it; not requiring the student to match it but merely letting it sink in.

Eventually this leads to the “pre-hearing” of notes before one plays them, as well as the ability to focus upon ones goal of excellence rather than ones own performance.  By combining this with an active, creative imagination and past models of excellence, one is able to project an outstanding goal mentally. Post-hearing complements the effects of hearing a song in your head as you perform.  It allows you to rewind the tape and hear how your rendition matched your musical goal, all while keeping distracting self-analysis from cluttering the mind during performance.  By imagining the best sound, one will be aided in finding the best way of reaching it.  In the words of Mr. Jacobs, “stabilize the music, and the muscle will follow.”

“Bad sound can be made into good sound,” encourages Mr. Jacobs, “no sound cannot.” This comment is typical of professor Jacobs’ encouraging, charming and clever demeanor.  He starts many clinics by complimenting the player and saying how little there is to fix.  Constantly providing them with positive reinforcement, keeping visual contact, and occasionally tapping them to refocus their attention, Mr. Jacobs clearly shows his total absorption with teaching.  His dedication to students and to the process of teaching and learning is enormous.  Mr. Jacobs believes that one should not set limits upon what the wonderful computer of the human brain can do.  As a result, he has successfully transformed many students who were regarded as hopeless by other teachers.  He tells students to be positive when they project their musical message, and to think that it will go right rather than wrong.  Most of his new students were referred by one of his older students, and that powerful endorsement can be attributed as much to this “doctor’s” manners as to his results.

Part 4 of Song and Wind: The Pedagogy of Arnold Jacobs, by David William Brubeck

“When David Brubeck’s ‘The Pedagogy of Arnold Jacobs’ first came out, I was at Mr. Jacobs’ home.  He was very impressed about it and had me read it on the spot.  As usual, Mr. Jacobs was correct, it was an outstanding article that I eventually quoted half a dozen times in ‘Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind’.  David Brubeck did a fantastic job and this is a must-read for anyone interested in the teachings of Arnold Jacobs.”             Brian Frederiksen

TUBA Journal Jacobs018Originally published in the TUBA Journal, Fall 1991 Volume 19, Number 1.

Photo of Arnold Jacobs courtesy of

C. 1991 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved.

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