I'd like to congratulate the organizers of the Singapore Brass Explosion this weekend. I had the chance to give master classes and perform along with some of the world's finest brass players. It was an uplifting experience and a lot of fun!
We had the privilege to hear the fantastic James Morrisson who plays trumpet, trombone, euphonium, saxophone, piano and god knows what and is absolutely amazing at everything! If you don't know him, go on youtube. There's got to be a bunch of videos of him.
It reminds me that when I was in school, we were told not to play on other instruments than our own because it would apparently ruin our embouchure if we did. After hearing James Morrisson, I'm not so sure anymore! Maybe he's just one of his kind but I guess if he can do it, it's possible.
Fooling around with a different instrument (we all did it anyway!) might disturb your chops for a few minutes when you go back to your own horn but I doubt it would ruin them! And for what I've seen this weekend, it is possible to become a virtuoso on all instruments if you're willing to practice all of them! I just don't know many people with the talent, time and resources to achieve that!
Everyone without exception should find time to do a bit of physical activity two or three times a week. It doesn't matter what. After all, your body is the vehicle you use to do everything including playing music so you should take good care of it.
No need to list all the benefits of exercise here but let's just mention that exercise is a great stress reliever and confidence booster. Not a bad thing for a brass player! Being in good physical shape will also improve your mental health and mood. You'll learn better and faster.
I can tell you that the older you get, the more difference it will make. In your early 20's, your mind and body are naturally young and sharp, you recover quickly and learn fast. But as you reach your 30's and the weight of the years starts adding up, it's not that easy anymore! You'll have to work for it if you want to stay fit. The good news is that exercise is fun! You might feel terrible the first few times but you'll get better and feel great after a while.
I've always been physically active on and off all my life. As I see my 40's coming soon, I decided to take it more seriously. I started to run seriously about 18 months ago on top of attending a yoga class every week. I'll do two or three runs per week plus one time yoga. At 37, I can really tell the difference in my playing. I feel stronger and more confident, I'm less tired at the end of rehearsals and concerts, my concentration is sharper and I make less little mistakes. I'm in a better mood and sleep better. Now I just can't stop running. Even in the singaporean heat!
We all like to watch sports on TV but why not getting off the couch and be your own hero sometimes?! You'll feel great and play your horn better.
If you hear an interval wrong, you will most likely play it wrong. Many people play octaves too wide and it's not because their instrument is out of tune; the problem is mostly in the brain.
A good trick to fix that is to play a note with a tuner and sing it in your head at the same time and then close your eyes and play an octave above or below while still singing the first note in your head and trying to tune to the pitch you are producing in your brain. Once you think you're in tune with your brain, open your eyes and check if the tuner agrees with you. You should be much closer at least!
Do this exercise on many notes for a few days and you should see some improvement.
You can work on your dynamics, articulations and phrasing by practicing a phrase on one note. It can be any note you feel comfortable with. You can for example play the whole passage on a B flat if it's the first note. It will sound a bit silly but it really works.
When you practice on one note, you don't have to worry about hitting the notes and you can focus on all the other things that you need to play musically . Try to make the phrase interesting and musical this way and then play it with the right notes. You should have a much nicer phrasing and sense of direction to your phrase after that.
Your mouthpiece will have a big impact on your playing (sometimes even more than your instrument) and it is important that you choose the right one. When choosing a mouthpiece, you will have to consider a few factors like the size of your lips, your embouchure position and what you want to do as a player. Here are a few guidelines but keep in mind that it can vary a lot from one person to another.
-In general, a deeper cup will help your low register and a shallower one should improve your high range. You'll have to find a compromise if you want to sound good in both registers.
-Choose the diameter of your rim according to the size of your lips.
-Larger and deeper cups tend to give a darker tone most of the time as a "cone" shaped mouthpiece will produce a brighter sound depending also on the player of course.
-A larger bore should help you playing louder but might make it harder to play soft.
The best thing to do is to go to a music store and try out all their mouthpieces and pick the one that feels and sounds the best. If they're really nice, they'll sometimes let you take a few mouthpieces home to try. If you're in school, find the "mouthpiece box" and fool around a bit. Ask your friends if you can try their mouthpiece also. Don't forget to wash it before and after you try it!
Pay attention to how your chops feel when you try a mouthpiece. I find that the better it feels, the better it sounds.
Keep in mind that although a different mouthpiece may solve a certain problem, it may weaken another aspect of your playing so you'll have to be careful about that. It can also take a while to get used to a new mouthpiece but if after a couple of weeks, it still doesn't feel and sound right, you might want to consider searching again. Be patient but don't be stubborn. I played a certain mouthpiece for a couple of months that sounded very good but was hard to play in the high register and made me very flat. After a while, I was back to the shop to choose another one which I still play after 20 years!
All these guidelines are very subjective and there is no absolute truth about mouthpieces. Everyone has different muscles, teeth and lips so you'll have to proceed buy trials and errors to find the right one for you.
There will always be many different opinions about how we should play technically and artistically. One teacher can tell you to play in a certain way while another will tell you the exact opposite!. On top of that,if you search the web, you'll find an unlimited amount of ideas not always going in the same direction. So how do you sort out all this input? Who's right?
You can trust one teacher or another but the person you should trust the most at the end of the day is YOURSELF.
You are the one who's playing and you're in the best position to see if what you're taught actually works. You have every right to seek as many opinions as you want on a specific topic and choose the one that YOU find the best. It's YOUR playing and YOUR life. You're the boss.
Before you ask a teacher what he/she thinks, you can ask yourself what do YOU think and how do you feel about it. At the end you're the one performing so your opinion should matter. Make your own experiments. Try things for yourself and be your own teacher. Some things you'll try will work and some won't. That's okay. You don't need a 100% success rate. You'll always make more progress if you're proactive about your playing than if you just passively wait for someone else to show you the way.
As long as you regularly get feed back from a teacher who has more life and playing experience than you and can make you see and hear things you wouldn't notice otherwise and show you techniques and ideas, you can make your own decisions and be in control of your own playing.
Buzzing with your lips alone without instrument or mouthpiece will improve your tone and strengthen your embouchure. It may also solve some embouchure position problems.
To get a nice buzz, bring your upper lip slightly on top of the lower one and blow some air. With a bit of practice, you can control the pitch of your buzz.
I often practice buzzing a few simple exercises ( just a couple of intervals) which I repeat on my mouthpiece and then on the horn. The tone is instantly richer and more focused.
Here is a little example. It's very simple.
I am associate principal horn of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the author of the progressive methods. I'm happy to share my experience as a horn player and teacher with you.