Everyone wants to become a better brass player in 1 week. The question is, how does one achieve this? The answer is actually relatively simple, and although the journey requires a little discipline, everyone can become a better brass player in 1 week, maybe even less!
In this blog post, we’ll take a no-nonsense approach to giving you the advice you need right now. All you need is the desire to be a better brass player in 1 week. Let’s get stuck in…
The Nuts and Bolts of Playing Brass
It might come as a surprise to you that brass instruments, such as the cornet, baritone, euphonium or whatever brass instrument you play, is not powered by the mains. Sure, OK, no surprise there! So, we all know that the air supply is the power source of playing any brass instrument, it is therefore important we make the best use of it.
A lot of brass players breathe incorrectly, and although only a very few still lift the shoulders, most still take in air in the chest in an upwards direction. Air taken in this way is harder to control and will run out very quickly. It is not the best way to store energy for your brass playing.
It is important to develop the correct breathing technique in playing brass; always breathe downwards, as if filling your tummy. This gives you the best control of the airflow and allows for much-increased air compression, something that is necessary for high range playing.
Taking-in air in a downwards direction gives you consistent airflow with steady speed and good torque, and provides the necessary starting energy required to play brass instruments.
After air, the buzz itself is next in line. The energy stored in airflow is used to make the lips vibrate. The quality of sound is derived from the quality of your buzz; contrary to what some believe, sound quality does not come from your airflow. The embouchure is the sound; the air is the stored energy to make this apparatus perform.
This is aptly demonstrated when you give a rank beginner a brass instrument; they take in a good breath but the sound is harsh, aggressive and not warm at all. This is because their embouchure is like concrete; they clamp down their lips and try to make them vibrate. “Blowing raspberries” is fine when you are in your first few weeks of playing, but beyond that, it must be remembered that you never vibrate the lips. This is what results in a harsh sound. If your sound is harsh, your basic buzz technique is incorrect.
The correct method is to pinch-down the corners of the embouchure and to allow the inner embouchure to provide an aperture that has a good deal of “cushion”, almost as if puckering the lips ready to kiss. This cushion, if done correctly, provides a grip on the mouthpiece. Grip is essential for controlled blowing, especially in high range playing. Combine this with the “torque” of your air column and all this starts to add up to a strong and confident command of your instrument.
The buzz is then created by allowing air to pass through the lips, which in turn makes the lips vibrate – it is the airflow that vibrates your lips, not you trying to vibrate the lips. This is where warmth of sound and the tone quality is generated. Nowhere else. With good airflow (storage of initial energy) and a strong lip with plenty of cushion, the quality of sound lifts.
Don’t abandon good breathing, however. Keep everything open and focus on allowing the air to pass through freely. Try to visualise the note you play as if it is suspended in the air you breathe.
Playing v Practising
In order to truly become a better brass player in 1 week, you need to have discipline and you need to be honest with yourself. It is almost close to pointless to pick up your instrument from time to time at home, rattling off a few things you can already do well. You do that don’t you? This is the first and most devastating of problems for a lot of hobbyist brass players.
When you do home practice, it should be exactly that, home practise, not only playing. It is good to play, but it is more productive to practise. Do the things you cannot do, and for the etudes you can do in the Arban, have you tried it 10, 20, 30 bpm faster?
Technical Studies for the Cornet by Herbert L. Clarke is also a great trumpet manual to help to become a better brass player in 1 week. The trick is to start slowly, at a tempo you can perform each etude accurately and in-time, then start to build-up speed as your confidence and muscle memory grows.
In this great trumpet book, Clarke quite rightly and unreservedly states,
REMEMBER that to improve, one must master difficulties each day.
If you are not at least attempting to master difficulties you will not become a better brass player in 1 week, or even 1 month, or 1 year, and by the time a decade passes, you will have progressed an embarrassingly small amount.
For as long as there have been brass bands, musical directors throughout the world utter, “Long notes!!” – you must take heed of this advice. This alone will allow you to become a better brass player in 1 week. 1 week of discipling yourself to long notes, you will experience:
- Increased endurance and stamina.
- Increased comfort on the mouthpiece.
- Better accuracy in starting pieces.
- Better intonation and centering of notes.
Observe the following points when practising long notes:
- Start low and progressively work higher up the chromatic scale.
- Keep the notes at around piano, and certainly no more than mezzo-piano. Resist the urge to play louder as you progress into the higher notes. If it is a struggle to play high, stop, and work back down the scale.
- Focus on taking a good breath (remember, downwards into the tummy!) and remember that to sound the note, prepare the embouchure and allow the compressed air to pass through the lips, making the lips vibrate.
- Try to produce as steady a sound as you can, free of wobbles and flutters where possible, but never allow the note to stop; keep that air passing through lips!
- When you think you’ve hit the threshold of where you need to stop and take a breath, close your eyes and focus your mind and try to visualise the air coming from your tummy and passing through your lips. This will buy you a few extra seconds at least. Stop only when you truly feel you have nothing more to give; safety first.
- Between each note, take a steady breath in and exhale out slowly. Take your time and ensure your breathing and heart rate is steady.
- 10 minutes of long notes each and every day is all that is required. For best results, perform 2-3 times a day if and when possible.
There are Not Enough Hours in the Day
There is enough hours in the day. You make a choice to use that as an excuse. You’re coming up with all sorts of excuses right now, aren’t you? Of course you are, you are only human. Always remember, everyone is busy, some people are just better at utilising their time better than you. That’s why you are reading this blog post; you want to become a better player in 1 week because you have made excuses of why you are not better. Remember, to become better at what you do, honesty is required.
Quite simply, you are not better at playing your instrument because you have not been honest with yourself and you have not known how best to utilise the small amount of time you have. The person sitting next to you at band probably has the same “not enough hours in the day” in their life, but they are better than you… why?
To become a better brass player in 1 week, you need to learn to use what life has given you. You have identified the problem – “not enough hours in the day”, but how will you solve it, or will you continue to use it as a convenient excuse?
Two things are useful in this regard, thus:
- Have the instrument in an accessible place, where it is visible. Either place it on an instrument stand or leave the case open so that you can visually see the instrument. It is far easier and less of a chore if the instrument is in arms reach, without having to take it out of its case and get everything set up.
- Identify small blocks of time you can utilise. No matter how busy you are, you do have time to practise, even if it is just 10 minutes in the kitchen whilst waiting for the potatoes to boil. Add that to the 5 minutes you were able to slot in at lunch time and the 15 minutes you can do after you have done the dishes, waiting for EastEnders to start. Identify, then act. It’s a matter of discipline and habit. If you get into the habit of not practising, guess what!?
To become a better brass player in 1 week, you need to focus on the mechanics of how you play, spend time practising things you find difficult, find opportunities to slot in practice times during your busy day, and most importantly, long notes. Oh, and long notes. Sorry, one more thing, long notes. Do you see the pattern here?
Once this is mastered, you can then move on to more advanced things. Exciting stuff!