Brass Advantage with Wayne Downey
Welcome back to the land of "All Things Brass." Over the past few months I’ve been receiving e-mails from many of you asking a variety of questions pertaining to brass technique. Brass technique or pedagogy (the study of performance techniques specific to brass instruments) is as much a science as it is opinion and preference.
I use the words opinion and preference because as far as I know there is no exact science in creating a characteristic quality of sound. There are however many guidelines and possible techniques to aid you in your search for that allusive tone quality.
Due to the fact that they’re so many physical variables in the dento-facial features of individual performers it’s almost impossible to be exact in prescribing a solution or approach for the masses however in the following paragraphs I hope begin to shed some light on mastering, creating and producing that tone quality that everyone is looking for with excerpts from my book titled "XtremeBrass Technique". This month’s installment is all about breathing… Enjoy!!
Welcome to the world of XtremeBrass technique. The following pages are designed to be your "guide to success" in reaching your peak potential as a brass player. As with any road map, there must be a destination in mind. The destination for all brass players in the XtremeBrass world is developing the ability to play with a beautiful tone. That ability combined with a comprehensive understanding of brass technique will allow the player the opportunity to succeed in the art of making music.
To me, the art of making music is being unencumbered by technical hurdles so that the performer can express and communicate freely their emotional involvement with the music they’re performing. It is my hope that the information contained in this technique guide will bring to light the techniques that have enriched the lives of so many of my students and given them the opportunity to experience the joy of making music.
With the understanding that "tone" is our priority let’s proceed. First and foremost, it’s important to know how to take a full, relaxed breath before attempting to produce a beautiful tone. It’s also important to understand that "air" is the fuel of a great sound and without it a characteristic tone quality cannot be achieved. You must always remember "air creates tone" and your ability to inhale and exhale in a relaxed, unrestricted and efficient manner is essential in producing a great sound.
Breathing – Breathing in a relaxed efficient manner is actually a very simple task that we do all day long without consciously thinking about it. Breathing is defined as the process of taking air into and out of the lungs. This process is an involuntary (subconscious) muscle action of the diaphragm and lower abdominals and is aided by muscles in the chest. For now, there’s no need for you to understand the names or functions of the different muscle groups or get wrapped up in the scientific mumbo jumbo of it all, just remember your body breathes all day long without YOU thinking about it. From this point on let’s refer to this involuntary muscle action as our "Natural Breath".
The beauty of the "Natural Breath" is that it creates a relaxed, calm feeling throughout the body. All muscle groups become flexible, elastic and function with ease. This is due in part to the oxygen that the "Natural Breath" breathes into the lungs and eventually is absorbed into the blood. The oxygen in the blood not only aids in maintaining flexible muscle motion but also acts as a nutriment to promote muscle growth throughout the body.
Simply put, your subconscious mind regulates your bodies breathing in an efficient and relaxed manner. Your goal as it relates to breathing, must be to learn how to exaggerate the "Natural Breath" so it becomes a voluntary or conscious process without sacrificing the relaxed physical condition it creates.
For the most part, beginning and intermediate brass players over exaggerate this natural process causing themselves a host of problems. First off, exaggerating the "Natural Breath" will result in restriction and tightness in the lower abdominals, diaphragm and chest as well as constriction of the throat cavity.
Constriction of the throat during inhalation will limit the amount of air flowing into the lungs thus adversely affecting your breath capacity and breath control. The tell tale signs of throat constriction are guttural sounds that can be heard while air is passing through the throat into the lungs. To relax the throat so no constriction occurs I suggest you try this simple exercise. First off, put one hand in front of your face and blow air onto the palm of your hand. The physical sensation you will feel will be a cool air column hitting the hand. Next try dropping your jaw and opening your mouth as wide as you can while blowing air onto your hand. The temperature of the air you feel now should be warm. The physical result of this part of the exercise is a throat cavity that is open and relaxed. This physical state should closely resemble the condition of the throat while yawning. Yawning is an involuntary reflex that brings oxygen into the body and is the most efficient breath we can take. Although it is not practical to play with warm air in all registers it is the physical sensation of a relaxed open throat that you must learn to bring to your playing at all times.
Tightness or rigidity in the lower abdominals (muscles in the lower abdomen) will impede the natural process of breathing by limiting the amount of air (oxygen) that you take into your lungs. Without the ability to completely relax the diaphragm you will never be able to take a full breath. Constriction of the lower abdominals will also negatively affect the control of air speed and pressure. This is detrimental not only to your breath control but to your pitch control and range. With only a limited ability to change your air speed and air pressure, changing the speed of the vibration of the tissue of the aperture will be greatly hindered. Thus, limiting your range extension and ability to alter pitch when necessary. I’ll discuss more on these topics shortly.
While discussing breath capacity and constriction I would be remiss in not talking about the condition of the upper body. Although your shoulders and rib cage will naturally rise while taking a breath it’s wise to make sure that they both are relaxed. The shoulders should be naturally rounded, not pulled back to far or slumping forward before taking a breath. The upper body should be in a position that promotes expansion of the rib cage allowing the rib cage to expand and contract freely. If there is tension or constriction in the chest cavity or shoulders that tightness will limit the expansion of the lungs thus limiting the amount of oxygen you can take into your body. As you can see it is important relate the action of breathing to the ability of taking a full breath because, "air" is the fuel of a great sound.
Well, I hope this month’s installment has enlightened and encouraged you to go out there and lasso that tone quality you’ve always wanted to play with.
Stay tuned for more "XtremeBrass Technique" in the next couple of installments of Brass Advantage….
For all of you members of M.E.S.T. (Major Ego Soloist Types) Frank Dorritie’s new brass technique book titled "STARPOWER" has just been released on www.xtremebrass.com It contains all you’ll ever wanted to know about being an incredible soloist and much, much more… Check it out!!!
Well that’s about it for this month, don’t forget to check out all the new brass and percussion technique books, marching band warm ups, drum cadences, drumsticks, CDs and DVDs on my website at www.XtremeBrass.com, send your questions or topics to: AskWayneDowney [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com.
"Don’t Let The Chance Pass You By". See Ya Soon…
Wayne Downey is the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition to his long-term role as Music Director of the 11-time DCI World Champion Blue Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 20 Jim Ott awards for "Excellence in Brass Performance", Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands – as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show "Blast" and in feature films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical director for the Blue Devils. Wayne’s latest venture – XtremeBrass.com provides brass players of all ages and skill-levels, as well as educators, personalized lessons and access to his championship-winning techniques and methods. We’re honored to have him as one of our contributing columnists. -jmd
Wayne Downey was the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition to his long-term role as Music Director of the 14-time DCI World Champion Blue Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 21 Jim Ott awards for “Excellence in Brass Performance”, Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands – as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show “Blast” and in feature films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical director for the Blue Devils. Wayne’s latest venture – XtremeBrass.com provides brass players of all ages and skill-levels, as well as educators, personalized lessons and access to his championship-winning techniques and methods.
Posted by Wayne Downey on Wednesday, June 6th, 2007. Filed under Brass Advantage.