Talking Basics…


Today’s world is a changing one. Everyday new inventions and technology remind us of how important it is to be ready for anything that comes our way and the new challenges and demands these changes pose.
Playing a brass instrument is no different.
I believe the brass musician in this new century will face challenges like never before. The Internet “shrinks" the world every day more and more making distances seem so small we feel we can reach the other end of the world with our hands. Therefore; the versatility in our performing abilities will be demanded by many as people become more aware of the different styles of music that are played throughout the world, and only the disciplined musician will be able to cope with the new challenges and demands. You must be asking yourselves: How does all of this relate to basics?
It is very simple.
The healthy practice of basics every day in our instrument is the most important aspect of our playing. It does not only help us maintain and reinforce healthy habits, but it also enables us to reach new levels. These basic concepts and exercises affect directly the level of success and mental confidence we are able to achieve when facing any challenges during our career. A brass player without a daily routine is the same as an athlete without warm-up or pre-season training in any sport. For example, a football (soccer) player who has not had a proper pre-season preparation increases the chances of a serious injury by 60 percent throughout the season and his stamina and productivity suffer visibly. Our “chops" are no different. Without the proper maintenance and promotion of healthy habits every day, our playing will suffer and our risk of injury will increase significantly. Besides, we won’t have the basic tools to refine our craft.
We must make a habit of starting the day with a very healthy routine and be as honest and analytical as possible when playing these basic exercises. Long tones, mouthpiece buzzing, flow studies, breathing exercises, technical exercises, tonguing, easy melodies and finally lip flexibility (I think this is the most demanding exercise of them all), if practiced correctly, will increase the chances of success in our career and will help promote a healthier and longer life as a brass player.
A very important aspect of playing a routine and practicing in general is the amount of playing time versus the amount of resting time. It is my believe we need to rest as much as we play. It is also very important we stop playing before we experience mental or physical fatigue. My advice is to avoid playing for more than twenty minutes at the time unless we are preparing for a specific show or piece; or working on a specific skill. Some studies have shown that the brain starts to lose focus and attention after twenty minutes of heavy activity. It is important to stay mentally and physically “fresh", otherwise bad habits can start to appear and it is easier for them to creep into our playing.
Always start the day as easy as possible. Avoid starting by playing anything extreme and demanding dynamically and range wise. Comfortable dynamics, relaxation, deep breaths and lots of air are the perfect breakfast for the brass player and as we all know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The use of a metronome and a tuner are very important since we want to increase positive habits at all times. Have a flight plan ready; avoid jumping in without knowledge of what and how much of each skill you need to work on. Preparation is key.
How to practice?
The first thing we need to take into consideration is that practicing basics is not particularly the most fun activity in our lives. But we can make it fun.
Avoid practicing for time and start approaching practice as a vehicle to reach goals. If we try to do something with our long tones and instead of playing them as we always do we try to improve our attacks, sound, air stream and capacity while warming up; all of the sudden we have an exercise that not only helps us with our routine but also makes us improve in all of the aspects of our playing. Not to mention we will stay mentally engaged as we analyze and try to improve in a regular basis. If our single tonguing is not fast enough design a plan to help it and set dates to reach goals by. The better and more efficient we become at practicing the more fun it is. Goal setting is important because it quantifies our efforts and lets us see the improvement we are making on the spot. It is like the investment that pays off. When we see our selves getting better practice becomes a fun activity and not just something we have to do. Remember to rest as much as you play when practicing.
I hope these few thoughts will help to make our already exciting journey through music a bit more fun.