Tom Ashworth Teaching Philosophy

Music: Art and Craft

As musicians, we are involved in an intensely creative and personal Art form. By studying the Art of music through lessons, diligent and efficient practice, research and listening to great
instrumentalists and vocalists, you will develop your own unique musical identity. The ability to express your thoughts and emotions through your instrument is in part dependent on the
Craft of brass playing, which includes posture, air, embouchure, sound concept, intonation, articulation, dynamic range, rhythmic accuracy and slide/valve technique. Continually strive for a high level of efficiency in all aspects of your Craft, attaining the desired results with a minimum level of physical effort. Ideally, the Craft will become transparent and secondary to the Art, with musical decisions never being influenced by technical limitations. Trombonists should commit to the same high musical and technical standards expected of all other musicians. Settle for nothing less than your best sound on every note and commit to creating music every time you play your instrument.

The Studio: Creating and maintaining a productive learning environment

Since joining the faculty in 1990, I have worked with numerous talented, inquisitive and dedicated students. I am very pleased and proud that many of them are now creating their own legacies of teaching and mentoring young musicians. Other alumni work in school administration, business, chemistry and law, with many remaining involved in music as avocational performers, band parents, and/or supporters of the arts. Regardless of their chosen field, I derive great satisfaction from their success.

Recruiting new students is a time consuming process, and one that I truly enjoy. A day rarely passes without phone, email, text or Facebook contact with a prospective student, and I schedule an average of forty meetings per year with these students and their parents. I also strive to maintain a professional profile that will attract the finest students to the U of M. The Twin Cities has provided me with a great variety of performance opportunities, and I am able to share that knowledge of diverse musical styles and professional decorum with my students.

In order to foster an environment of collegiality and motivation within the studio, I strive to maintain a healthy number and balance of talented undergraduate and graduate students. I also prefer to have a blend of undergraduate Music majors (BM in Performance, Music Education and Music Therapy), students pursuing the BA-Applied degree or the Music minor and elective students. Throughout the years, many students (and their parents) have chosen the University of Minnesota due to these important factors:

  • All undergraduate BM and BA majors will study with an experienced professional faculty member and not a graduate teaching assistant.
  • Courses and ensembles are taught and conducted by faculty with international reputations as scholars in their fields
  • The healthy balance of undergraduate and graduate Music majors in the School and Studio
  • There will be room in our ensembles for every Music major
  • Music majors won’t be over-committed in ensembles, leaving time to study and practice
  • Undergraduate and graduate students often play in the same ensembles, creating a healthy peer mentoring environment
  • Living and learning in a metropolitan area with a thriving arts environment 
  • The School of Music’s impressive facilities, including Ted Mann Concert Hall

Lessons: Structure and Content

During a student’s first semester of lessons, I begin by their assessing musical and technical abilities. In all cases, the priorities in are:

  •        Musical expression
  • ·      Sound quality
  • ·      Intonation
  • ·      Rhythmic pulse
  • ·      Technical clarity


To provide clarity in lessons, I emphasize the following four-tier teaching philosophy:

  • ·      What: Creating weekly assignments appropriate for each student’s needs and abilities
  • ·      How: Providing guidance and frequent modeling of efficient and healthy practice techniques and strategies
  • ·      Why: Establishing short and long-term goals reinforced through modeling, listening and public performance in our weekly Studio Class and on recitals and semester juries
  • ·      When: Instilling habits of consistent and productive personal practice and guiding students towards becoming responsible stewards of their talent and time

I also employ technology in my teaching, including:

  • ·      MIDI piano accompaniments for solos, to encourage students to understand and appreciate the entire score and to be better prepared for rehearsals with their pianists
  • ·      Digital Audio recording with playback at full speed and half-speed, to assess sound and musical expression, and to address articulation, note shape and length, rhythm and pitch
  • ·      Creating rhythm section background tracks with band in a Box, for use in teaching jazz improvisation and coaching chamber music
  • ·      Digital video recording, to provide visual feedback on posture, breathing, embouchure and slide technique


Lesson begin with me modeling posture, breathing, tone production and intonation while playing long tones with the student along with drones. We progress to melodic improvisation in various keys and modes, developing musical spontaneity and creativity. Lip slur and flexibility exercises are employed to assist the student in the development of an efficient use and balance of air and embouchure,  A Romantic vocalise then encourages the development of a beautiful sound and musical phrasing in various clefs and ranges. Assigned etudes and solo works follow, broadening the student's understanding of diverse musical styles while polishing related technical aspects of performance. Orchestral excerpts and audition preparation are the focus of some lessons, as students prepare for auditions for summer festivals, graduate school, orchestras and service bands. Lessons assignments often incude a duet, with me modeling sound, pitch, rhythm, technique and style. Some lessons include jazz improvisation, with me and the student playing the chord progression on piano.

Trombone Choir and quartets provide my students with essential chamber music experience, further developing their aural, rhythmic, musical, technical and personal skills. The Choir is similar to a string orchestra, with alto trombone serving as the violin, tenor trombone the viola and cello, and bass trombone the contrabass violin. The same analogy applies to string and trombone quartets, with the bass trombone serving as the cello. I program contemporary music with both ensembles, but always include string, woodwind, organ and choral transcriptions. The transcriptions exploit the ensembles’ breadth of range, dynamics, and tonal colors and cast my students in demanding melodic roles rarely encountered in standard ensemble music.

Students need to experience multiple teaching and performance styles, and mine benefit from participating in guest master classes and symposia. I have arranged master classes and recitals by many of the world’s most respected brass artists and have hosted two international symposia and numerous regional symposia.

I believe that outreach and public engagement should be integrated into my students’ learning experience, fostering a commitment to sharing their love of music with community members of all ages. It is imperative that they realize we cannot remain in our offices and concert halls and assume that students, audiences and potential donors will come to us. The UM Trombone Choir and quartets have performed at University events, high schools, hospitals and senior centers, as well as numerous regional, national and international symposia.