Brass Advantage with Wayne Downey
Welcome back to the land of “All Things Brass.” This installment of Brass Advantage was written for both music educators and tuba players seeking advice and counsel from a professional tuba player to improve their performance qualities.
Written by Mr. Marty Erickson who is both a fabulous musician (tuba player) and a world-class teacher, this installment includes:
Practical Concepts For Teaching And Playing The Tuba
The issue of sound is placed first in this paper because it should be the first consideration of any musician. Arnold Jacobs will always be remembered for the phrase “Song and Wind.” These words are at the heart of sound production. The sound must be rich, dark, free and focused. Some descriptions for younger musicians might be to describe a “velvety chocolate waterfall.” I often tell my students to envision painting a room with a huge roller full of the most incredibly beautiful paint imaginable feeling it glide across the surface of the wall. Listen to and imitate good sounds, define those sounds using colors and textures and let the airflow abundantly and freely. Finally ask the student, “do you love your sound?”
Proper body posture and instrument positioning are two of the most overlooked yet essential elements for performing the tuba comfortably and playing well. Whether you are starting a new student on the tuba or simply trying to develop better habits for your ”veterans” use the following checklist as a guide.
- See that the student is sitting erect with a slight lean forward but not rigid.
- Make sure that the leadpipe/mouthpiece line up with the embouchure so that the student doesn’t need to stretch.
- The student must be comfortable in the chair. Many chairs accommodate a student only if the student is a contortionist.
- Check that the hand is comfortable, fingers curved and over each valve. Thumb should not be stretched away from the hand. Many thumb rings are placed awkwardly away from the valves.
- Feet should be flat on the floor and never crossed. It actually causes pressure on some internal organs and in some cases result in a hernia. The student may just be trying to stabilize the horn or just be plain lazy.
This is the point where the student makes contact with the instrument and produces the essential buzz or vibration of the lips, which is amplified through the tuba. A proper embouchure is necessary for good tone production. It’s possible to produce good sounds with many different types of embouchures. But some can slow or even stop progress entirely if not corrected. Here are some points to remember.
- The ear is the best way to determine a good sound Good embouchures produce good sounds.
- The corners of the lips should be fairly firm and mostlt tucked.
- Avoid meaty or smiley corners and try not to allow the cheeks to puff dramatically. Keep the aperture open and relaxed so air may flow freely.
- When possible place the mouthpiece evenly on the lips. Many brass players use a 2/3 upper and 1/3 lower lip placement or half and half but no placement is ideal. Whatever the placement the goal is for the student to be able to produce a good buzz with both lips vibrating on every pitch.
- There should be a total absence of tension thoughout the body including the embouchure.
- No air should fill the lips above or below the mouthpiece. It is a sign that the air is not being directed through the mouthpiece. Notice I said “through” not “at.”
Phillip Farkas’ book titled “The Art of Brass Playing” is a good resource for the study of embouchures. There are also other helpful tools available such as the embouchure ring or the “cutaway” mouthpiece. Encourage students to look in the mirror to constantly check their “setup.” Arnold Jacobs book titled “Song And Wind” also has a wealth of information about playing and using the body efficiently.
Wind is the fuel for vibrating the lips and supporting a robust sound. The higher the student plays the more air is required. The lower register requires a grater volume of air expelled at a lesser rate. I think of a trapezoid sitting firmly on the base when playing high and the trapezoid reversed or upside down when playing in the low register. In the first example you need a strong base of air support playing in the low register as well but mainly you need a greater volume of air in the oral cavity powered steadily and gently for the notes in the lower register. Here are some ways to present the issue of breathing to students.
One of the most simplest and most effective ways I’ve found to convey the use of air is in common use already by some band director friends and originated from Adolph “Bud” Herseth principal trumpet with the Chicago Symphony. Have the students say the word “How” aloud, next have them whisper “How” with strength. Then have them inhale the whispered “How” firmly. The next step is to have them inhale “How” for four beats and exhale for four beats with a hissing sound. This should be conducted or done with a metronome so the parameters are exact and measurable. Each event should be preceded with a relaxed natural breath. The next step is to increase the period of time of inhaling and exhaling the hiss. Then have them play a long tone or as a group a chorale. This is extremely effective for younger musicians as it generally makes them breath correctly and gives them immediate and measurable improvement.
For most students it helps to visualize air in various ways. For forte passages or for full sounds picture an archer. Draw a long full breath (as you would draw back the string on a bow) in the archer’s position and then release or propel it quickly and fully at the target. Picture that the target is fifty yards away to enforce the idea of propelling air through the area. For sustained piano passages imagine you are gliding a paper airplane across the room. You draw you arm back gently and release carefully propelling the airplane straight and true. In practice the student would draw a long sustained breath and release gradually controlling the “flight” with a consistent embouchure and consistent airflow.
You’ve heard various way to focus air the most popular way being to hold a piece of paper against a wall wit the air stream. My picture for sustaining a focused air stream in the lower register is to imagine propelling s ping-pong ball across a long table top in a straight line using a concentrated air stream. You could start moving the ping-pong ball with a wide stream but to sustain it for any distance the air stream must be focused and steady. For upper register playing visualize the same scenario utilizing a golf ball. Imagine the intensity and focus necessary to move the golf ball several feet!
Some problems caused by poor breathing are bad phrasing (not enough air to sustain the phrase) poor sound, poor intonation and bad attacks (no air support for the muscles in the embouchure). Students may also lack stamina or endurance because they’re using muscles of the embouchure instead of air to propel the sound.
The student must have conscious control of the air used through the use of the diaphragm, chest muscles, lips and tongue in order to play with a proper sound, good dynamics and excellent intonation. The breath is an essential element in supporting articulation as well.
Well that’s all for this issue, stay tuned for more from Marty Erickson in the next issue of “Brass Advantage.”
I wanted to tell you about some exciting news concerning my newest original composition for marching band titled “Conquests of the Conquistador”. This Fiery Hot, Heart Pounding, Spanish Show Stopper is sure to be the crowds favorite at football games and competitions alike as well as a show that your students will love to play and audiences will always remember. Log on to www.xtremebrass.com for both audio and PDF score previews of the show. Exclusivity and Regional Protection is available, so log on now and “Check Availability” in your area.
Don’t forget to check out all the new brass and percussion technique books on my website. This month I’m highlighting my newest book titled “XtremeMarching & Playing Technique” which comes with both Wind and Percussion scores/parts complete with accompanying marching exercises on Pyware drill sheets. If you’re a drummer don’t forget the drum cadences, drumsticks, CDs and DVDs on my website at www.XtremeBrass.com & www.XtremePercussion.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 12-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 Tuesday, July 14th, 2009. Filed under Brass Advantage.