Welcome to the blog devoted to brass playing and classical music. A blog by two brass teachers: Matt Hurley and Doug Battson.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Burn Out

Recently I had to participate in an intervention.

Let me give you the background. I've had this student for about a month. He's not yet in high school, but has amazing skills and tons of raw talent. Fantastic tone quality, excellent range, and a fine sense of musicianship. The problem: it wasn't much "fun" playing anymore.

I asked him what his practice/rehearsal schedule was like and was told that he was playing between 45 minutes to an hour every day. Without exception.

If you ask highschoolers that question, you're lucky to get 15 minutes a day.

This student's father is very "jazzed" about his son's talent and the pressure was there for him to keep at it. Which is good to a point, but my fear was that this student was facing burn-out. And that would have been a tragic waste of talent, so I made sure to let everybody know that it is okay to have a life too.

Practicing is important, but so is enjoying it. When it becomes a chore, it's time to stop looking at the clock. How long the practice session is isn't near as important as the quality of that seesion. I'm a believer that 90% of brass playing is mental, and you have to be in the proper mindset in order to achieve success. With maturity and experience, the trumpet player can perform at peak conditions for a longer duration of time; and developing that skill is what practicing is all about.

The problem with clock watching is that it isn't results oriented. And that is the key characteristic of a successful practice session.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

It All Starts With the Wind

As a studio teacher, I can't tell you how many students that I have had over the years that have had problems playing their instrument. In the majority of these cases, I would say 97% or better, the problems boil down to a lack of air support. Chopped off musical phrases, poor tone quality, inability to reach higher notes, cutting short of long notes, all of these problems stem from poor air support. So how do we go about and fix these problems?

When I have a new student, especially if they are brand new to the instrument or to playing, the first thing that I do is to encourage them to play out. Whether or not the student realizes it, by playing out, the student is using more air then they would normally. Inherently by playing out, they are using the proper breathing techniques required for playing an instrument. The reinforcement of these proper breathing techniques early on can assist in avoiding a lot of problems later on in their playing career.

So how do we go about increasing breath support, or fixing breathing problems for a student that has been playing for awhile? One of the techniques that I use in my studio is using long tone exercises. I have the student play a comfortable range note, go down a half step, and then back up. These notes should be at least a whole note in length and should focus on good tone throughout the entire exercise. You can then repeat the process going down a half step each time. You should start at a softer volume (probably at a mp level) and then gradually crescendo and then decrescendo during the exercise.

Another exercise that I use to help develop air support is the whole note exercise. You pick a medium range note for the instrument and play it at a nice comfortable volume. You have the student play a whole note and then rest for four counts, then you have them play for two whole notes combined (8 counts) and then rest for four counts and continue to increase the length of playing time by another whole note until the student has reached their maximum. When they have reached their maximum, you have them try increase the length by another quarter note and then another.

The students that I have used these techniques with have shown immediate improvement in tone quality and sound production. When I transfer these ideas to music, I notice improvement in musical phrasing and shaping of the line. I find that I will have to reinforce these ideas with students who have been playing awhile before they started taking lessons with me, but over time they will start to remember on their own. Besides these are always good exercises to come back to or to start out with to concentrate on creating a good tone.

Others might have other techniques that they use, and I encourgage you to use those ideas if they work for you. These ideas work for me and I am sharing them as a tool for you to use with your students. If you have differing ideas or other techniques that you use, I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Some new students

I have just recently picked up some new students over the past couple of weeks. Two new trombone students and a new trumpet student. Helps fill out the schedule a little bit for Saturday morning.

Musical Benefits of Marching Band Part II

Looks like I haven't posted here in almost a month. My apologies to the loyal readers. Then again, I don't think that the guy who got me into this blogging thing has posted here in awhile either. Anyway back to the topics at hand.

Aside from the musical benefits mentioned in the other post, there are more benefits to marching band. The biggest one of these is the health benefit for the students.

In today's society where it is too easy for kids to plop themselves in front of the computer, tv, DVD, or gaming console, where it is also too easy to run down the street and pick up fast food for a meal, it is nice to have students to be able to get some form of exercise. Marching band does that in a big way. During a performance, whether it is a marching band competition or during a football game's halftime, the students will use up enough oxygen and will have their heart rate increased to the point where they are comparable to a marathon runner. Granted, the marathon runner is running for several hours, where as the marching band kids are going for just about 15 minutes or so. Even still, there is exercise that is being gained. Doctors will always tell you that is a good thing.

During a two hour marching practice, the students are probably really exercising 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes. Figure that two times a week, plus a Friday football game and a Saturday marching band competition, you are looking at a good healthy exercise of four days a week. At the end of the marching band season, even the most out of shape band member will be able to do more and accomplish more than they would be able to during the rest of the year.

Okay so maybe this part of it isn't so much a musical benefit as a health benefit. However, if the students are feeling healthier, they will have better emotional image as a result. The healthier emotional image will allow them to be able to express themselves more and thus be more expressive with the music. Okay, that might be a far stretch. But I know from my own experience, that through the course of the exercise that I got during marching band, I was better able to put more effort into the music when it came time for the concert band season.

Just something to think about.