My Best Teaching Aid – Bonnie the dog

It’s all over You’ve Been Framed. Little Johnny gets out his recorder and the dog goes nuts. Or little Suzie picks up her violin and the cat runs a mile. I am, predominantly, a saxophone teacher which means that ever year I get new students who need to be taught which way to hold the thing and which end to blow in. Like everyone else (you and I included) the first few lessons tend to be evil honking affairs about as musical as a stepped on frog.  Through it all, though, Bonnie will sit in the corner of the music room and have a nice kip.

She’s not a small dog, being half Labrador and half Alsatian. I had worried that she would intimidate my students but, bless her, she’s so happy to see each and every one of them that she instantly puts them at ease. For the kids that don’t practice this must be great because they can come and see their teacher and get a big hug from Bonnie before confessing that they didn’t actually learn D minor this week.

One thing always confused me though. Bonnie kept silent all the time I was teaching but as soon as I started to practice she’d begin to sing. What the hell?? Is she self conscious of her singing ability? Does she not like my sax? Is she respecting my students? All these things and more were running through my head as I tried to play Harlem Nocturne – The Woof Chorus.

Then came Gustav. A mature student who’d been teaching himself for about two years and came to me to work out theory as much as anything. He had a nice tone, full range and a good feel for the music. Bonnie thought he was great but still sat in her corner watching the lesson, not a single howl escaping her furry muzzle.

Three months later Gustav had a break through. He arrived at the lesson keen to show me what he had achieved that week. I was impressed, he’d broadened his tone considerably in that time.

 Then Bonnie joined in. Gustav’s face fell a mile, “I thought I was doing so well,” he said “but now the dog is singing it must be awful.” But for me it all clicked into place. “No,” I said, “she only sings when she likes it.”

From then on that became a bench mark. Every student asks the same question; “when will I be able to play well?” and thanks to Bonnie I always had an answer. “When Bonnie sings you know you’re doing well.”

Sadly Bonnie has retired from teaching and gone to live on a farm with my parents (that’s not a metaphor, she really has.) Never again will I have a teaching aid quite as good as she was.

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