Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, October 3, 2005


The PMC Quick Note is a weekly service provided to all area directors.  It is part of our mission to support the lives of band directors across the Midwest.  The weekly Quick Note will contain helpful tips and suggestions from area directors, spotlights on area college and university band programs, calendars of upcoming events, advocacy articles promoting music education, links to helpful web resources, and much more.  Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.

Click for the full article:  What To Do For Students With BracesWhat To Do For Students With Braces by Jim Donaldson

Note:  This is a wonderful in-depth article on dealing with braces.  Click to view the full version or read through the highlights below.


Q: Now that I have braces, what do I do?   A: First, adjust your attitude.

You come home with braces. They feel funny in your mouth and your teeth hurt. You've heard the terrible rumors. You can't imagine playing the trumpet with your mouth the way it is. Your teeth just hurt too much. A couple of days later, the hurting has decreased--or maybe you've just gotten used to it--and you open up the case and put the mouthpiece in the horn. You raise your horn to your lips. The mouthpiece sits on your chops like you've never done this before. You take a breath, rather tentative, tongue a note, and blow. The sound is awful. You sounded better in sixth grade (sixth graders: think fourth grade). It just feels so weird. Everything feels different and weird. You play a few more notes, all low. They all sound bad. You try to go a bit higher, the buzz stops altogether, no sound comes out, and it hurts. You are first chair, but the guy on the other end can do better than you now, and he plays with the mouthpiece over near his left earlobe. You play a few more notes and then try a higher one again. Same thing happens, and it is starting to hurt. You can feel the braces start to dig into the back of your chops. Try one more time. No sound. Pain. You put your horn back in the case, shut it, and go jump off a bridge.


That is how it feels, but stop before you get to the bridge.


Don't get discouraged. Keep reminding yourself that others have done it, and so can you. In fact, it seems to Eric Bolvin and trumpet teachers everywhere that nearly every kid gets braces at some point. So be positive and be patient, but be realistic. This is a major trauma, but you are up to it. It is going to take some time for you to return to your best, but you can do it.


Here are some suggestions:

  • Jean Pocius recommends that one purse his or her lips a bit, which is done without moving the corner placement (i.e., using the muscles between the corners and the rim of the mouthpiece). This is necessary for efficient playing for anybody, but is all the more important for those with braces.
  • You absolutely have to learn to play without pressure or some day, during band, you will bleed to death.
  • You will become even more dependent on developing your air control.
  • Start by playing long tones, long low tones, really long tones, at soft volumes. Play, as Michael Haig says, until you find a spot that feels comfortable and gives you the best sound and tone, so long as it isn't extreme. Much of the muscle memory of your chops has been disrupted to the point that you have to teach the chops what to do all over again. Get a nice buzz, let the chops get the feel of the mouthpiece again. This will not come the first day.
  • Focus on the notes on the lower part of the staff, like the fourth line D and down to bottom line E, unless those are too high, then work lower. Stay relaxed, but do not play lots of very low notes (below staff) or your embouchure will get flabby and your lip aperture will start to open in an unhealthy way. 
  • Still using the lower part of your range, Kate Myers recommends practicing slurs to develop good fundamental flexibility, starting of course with slurs of a short distance between notes (i.e., no octaves for a while--the stronger you get, the wider you can go).
  • Once you can begin to play again, both Eric Bolvin and Michael Haig recommend doing a lot of exercises from the first couple pages of Herbert L. Clarke's Technical Studies. These are great for the buzz, the air, and the sound. Play them softly, at reasonable--well controlled--speeds.
  • Jeanne Pocius recommends the playing softly and gently of double pedals (the octave below pedal C). Often the chops of those with braces are stiffer than usual, due to the increased distance between teeth and lips. Don't use any appliance when playing pedal tones--they shake it loose anyway and they are played with so little pressure that the appliance is unnecessary.
  • Tonguing is also often disrupted by braces. Jeanne Pocius recommends that one tongue on the bottom edge of the top teeth, rather than on the roof of the mouth, to avoid any wires or retainers that may be behind the teeth. Articulation studies, softly lightly tonguing eighth notes and sixteenth notes over your useful (diminished) range are very helpful. Aim for the least possible tongue movement and the cleanest possible articulation.
  • Listen carefully to your sound, compare it in your head to the sound you want. The more you focus on that sound, the better you will get. If you don't have a good sound in your head, go get some recordings of great trumpet players and listen carefully. Go hear trumpet players in concert. You can't reproduce a sound you haven't heard.
  • Practice fairly short times (15 - 20 minutes, maybe only five minutes at first), resting as much as you play so you do not do more harm than good.  Do not play at all once you get tired or feel some stress. Don't push, don't press. Practice, Kate recommends, two or three or four times each day. Don't over practice. If you do, it just sets you back.
For more helpful suggestions on dealing with braces, read the full-article version.  PMC would like to thank Jim Donaldson for his permission to include this material in our weekly Quick Note.

Keep It Fresh by Michael Knight

We are nearing that point in the season where many directors start to feel the staleness of the marching band season beginning.  Competition season has started, football is well under way, and October is looking at us squarely in the face.  The problem is, marching season will continue for another month.  After weeks of drilling pictures and music memorization, what can you do you “keep it fresh” for your students (and yourself) while still making progress on your show?  Here are a few ideas I have found that are sure to get your band over that hump and help your show reach its mid-season form.


Clean the feet.  With so much attention being paid to drill and forms, the first thing that starts to slide is marching fundamentals.  The funny thing is improving individual marching technique is one of the easiest ways to make your drill look “clean.”  If you do not do so regularly, spend some time reviewing the basics.  Emphasizing pulse in the feet, proper roll step technique, and posture can do a lot to improve minor drill issues.  You may also find that musical performance also improves with better horn position and air support.


Writing (and re-writing) to your strengths.  One of the typical problems we all face as marching band directors is the fact that sometimes things look better on paper than they do on the field.  Do not be afraid to make changes in drill and music in order to reach your original desired intent.  As you get to know the abilities of this year’s band, changes in scoring, technique, step size, and alignment are often necessary.  This does not always mean making things easier, either.  Adding additional things to the show can keep your students’ (and audiences’) interest as the season rolls on.


Gain an outside perspective.  It is very dangerous for both you and your students to go through the season with blinders on.  Sometimes we get so caught up in living with our show on a day-to-day basis that we can develop a form of writer’s block that keeps up from seeing the big picture.  Do you encourage your students to watch other bands at competitions?  I know most of you do.  It’s also not a bad idea to make a few notes yourself during other bands’ performances.  For me, watching other bands reminds me of things to emphasize with my group.  Also, if possible, have a colleague visit your performance or rehearsal.  Just like during concert season, a fresh pair of eyes (and ears) can be very beneficial.


Click to visit the Marching Mizzou websiteThe marching season can be long and grueling, but it does not have to be stagnant.  Taking a step back occasionally and reevaluating things from a different perspective can lead to a more successful and enjoyable season.  Best of luck!

Michael Knight is Associate Director of Bands and Director of Marching Mizzou at the University of Missouri-Columbia.  Prior to his appointment at MU, Dr. Knight held teaching positions at Hickman High School and Rockwood Summit High School in Fenton, MO.  He has served as a clinician and adjudicator throughout the Midwest and Southeast.  Dr. Knight holds degrees from The University of Missouri, The University of Georgia, and The University of Iowa.

This Saturday’s Area Marching Band Festivals

Saturday, October 8, 2005

Francis Howell InvitationalSt. Charles, MO

Lee’s Summit North Marching FestivalLee’s Summit, MO

Renegade ReviewTulsa, OK

Contact Your Local Palen Music Center

Can we assist you with anything?  Please contact your local Palen Music Center school road representative for all of your music education needs.


Springfield (417) 882-7000 Bob Hopkins and Mike Brown

Springfield North (417) 862-2700 Martin Probstfield

Columbia (573) 256-5555 Robert Pitts

Moberly (660) 263-0109 Clint Thompson

Joplin (417) 781-3100 Wayne Blades

Liberty (816) 792-8301 Ken Crisp


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