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

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.


Post a Comment

<< Home