The Trumpet Teachers Hippocratic Oath

By Mark Van Cleave
©2015 MVC

Teaching the trumpet is similar to being a physician. In many ways, the trumpet teacher has to go through the same sort of thought process as a doctor when first meeting their patient/student. The teacher will first examine/analyze the patient/student and then make a diagnosis based upon his knowledge, experience, and understanding of (in this case) trumpet playing. The doctor/teacher will then prescribe a treatment for the patient/student that (in the teachers best judgement) will result in a cure of the patient’s/student’s ailments.

My father in-law was both a musician (professional and also teacher) and then later an M.D. Having our own family doctor in house was always a great and immediate source of medical knowledge. I would many times ask him how he made his medical judgements… or what his insights were based upon etc. One day, he told me that while in medical school one of his professors explained to the prospective doctors that they should always remember that 80% of all medical issues will cure themselves without ANY medical intervention at all. 

My father in law explained that this 80% also fit together with the doctor’s Hippocratic Oath which is widely known as the "first, do no harm" oath. 

Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase that means "first, do no harm." The phrase is sometimes recorded as primum nil nocere.

The origin of the phrase is uncertain. The Hippocratic Oath includes the promise "to abstain from doing harm" (Greek:ἐπὶ δηλήσει δὲ καὶ ἀδικίῃ εἴρξειν) but does not include the precise phrase. Scholars widely believe that Hippocrates, often called the father of medicine in Western culture, or one of his students wrote the oath.

This is the original version of the Hippocratic Oath:

(1) I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius the surgeon, likewise Hygeiaand Panacea, and call all the gods and goddesses to witness, that I will observe and keep this underwritten oath, to the utmost of my power and judgment.

(2) I will reverence my master who taught me the art. Equally with my parents, will I allow him things necessary for his support, and will consider his sons as brothers. I will teach them my art without reward or agreement; and I will impart all my acquirement, instructions, and whatever I know, to my master's children, as to my own; and likewise to all my pupils, who shall bind and tie themselves by a professional oath, but to none else.

(3) With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.

(4) Nor shall any man's entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so. Moreover, I will give no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child.

(5) Further, I will comport myself and use my knowledge in a godly manner.

(6) I will not cut for the stone, but will commit that affair entirely to the surgeons.

(7) Whatsoever house I may enter, my visit shall be for the convenience and advantage of the patient; and I will willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood, and (in an especial manner) from acts of an amorous nature, whatever may be the rank of those who it may be my duty to cure, whether mistress or servant, bond or free.

(8) Whatever, in the course of my practice, I may see or hear (even when not invited), whatever I may happen to obtain knowledge of, if it be not proper to repeat it, I will keep sacred and secret within my own breast.

If I faithfully observe this oath, may I thrive and prosper in my fortune and profession, and live in the estimation of posterity; or on breach thereof, may the reverse be my fate!

Basically, it says this (translated for trumpet teachers):

(1) I will observe and keep this oath.
(2) I will honor my teachers and share all of my knowledge with all of my students that are serious.
(3) I will give my students the best tutelage and practice methods I can without causing harm.
(4) I will make all decisions concerning what is addressed in lessons.
(5) I will teach in a respectful manner.
(6) I will teach what I know and not what I do not know.
(7) I will teach all levels of students with the highest level of tutelage and skill possible.
(8) I will keep all student and lesson information private.

As you can see, this is a very practical and good place to start for all trumpet teachers (in my opinion).

Here are some of my insights for this unofficial Trumpet Teachers Hippocratic Oath:

(2) Honor your teachers. Give credit to the teachers that you benefitted from and that helped shape your trumpet playing and teaching. DO NOT try to BECOME your teacher. It is ultimately unflattering for both your teacher and your own teaching methods. You can NEVER teach their method as their method was a result of the unique personal knowledge and insights that only they had. You can only teach YOUR VERSION of their method that can only be based upon your own unique personal knowledge and insights.

(3) The teacher should take care to only address issues in a fashion that will not cause harm. Radical approaches to simple playing issues can result in the student's progressing backwards. As a teacher, it is critical that you monitor the student progress and take all precautions to ensure that they do not develop bad playing habits.

(4) Many students look for the “magic bean” from their teachers. The first lesson is full of expectation and they often think that they should receive ALL of the secrets to playing well in that first lesson. It is important to evaluate each student and give them the information and guidance that they require only as they require it. Not when they demand it.

(5) Stay positive as a teacher. The student will always progress better in a positive learning environment. Teaching in a respectful environment also has a way of getting your students to also be respectful in the lessons. This is a win/win environment for both effective teaching and learning.

(6) Many times the teacher’s ego can get in the way of productive teaching for the student. There may come a time that your best advice to a student is that they need to find a new teacher. One that can take them from where they are to the next level. Once a teacher has done what they can do for a student, they need to realize their own limitations as a teacher and do the right thing in the interest of the student’s progress.

(7) No matter what level a student is when coming to you, they deserve the same level of attention from you. If you do not have the temperament to teach young beginning students, you should not. It should never be about the level of the student’s current accomplishments, but rather about the seriousness of the student to improve.

(8) It is important to keep student information confidential from other students etc. All students should feel that they are in a safe zone where their concerns and accomplishments are not going to become public knowledge.

So… this is certainly not an official oath for all trumpet teachers, but maybe something like this should at least be considered. The trumpet teacher’s "first, do no harm" oath. It would probably help produce better trumpet teachers as well as better trumpet playing students!

Funny thing how you start writing with one thing in mind and end up on a completely different topic… hmmmm!

Oh well… I guess there will be another article soon.



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