Monday, February 27, 2017
IN THIS ISSUE:
Setting up students for success starts at the very beginning. When placing students on brass instruments, it is wise to not only hear them buzz on the mouthpiece, but to also blow on the full instrument. Is their tone clear and relaxed or tight and strained? If a student is straining from the very beginning, it may be wise to steer them towards a different instrument -- either a brass instrument with a larger mouthpiece or in a different instrument family. Set a standard for playing certain brass instruments. Explain this standard to students and parents before instrument tryouts take place. Show a diagram of lip sizes and how they tend to fit certain mouthpieces more easily. Do them a favor and direct them towards success of finding the proper brass instrument for them.
How should I set up the brass embouchure for beginners? Say "Mmmm" and keep corners firm. Teeth should be apart in order for air to pass through. Flip the mouthpiece around backwards and place your teeth over the end to get a general size of the space for your teeth. Some students prefer to lick their lips to play with a wet embouchure while others prefer to play with a dry embouchure. It's simply a personal preference. Use lots of air to say "Tooo" while keeping the corners firm. Add a lip buzz by pressing lips together while blowing out air. The neck and throat area should be relaxed as if blowing out a candle. Many students think they need to strain or tighten their throats in order to squeeze out notes above G. As a result, they are cutting off their air supply. The neck and throat should remain relaxed while the embouchure is reshaped for high notes by focusing a wide buzz (McDonald's straw size) to a narrow buzz (coffee straw size). Have students blow hot air on their hand, then cold air. Without instruction, they already know how to change their embouchure in order to change the temperature. When students understand how to connect low notes to hot air and high notes to cold air, their air support and embouchure adjustments happen naturally.
After you coach students on mouthpiece buzzing, listen to their natural tone on each brass instrument. See how many partials they can hit with the valves in open position. Can they make a low and a high tone (on trumpet: low C & G)? Is their tone pretty clear and relaxed? If yes, get them signed up to play. If not, find the instrument where they can naturally change embouchures to play a high and low pitch. Proper instrument placement will save you time and effort later on as well as direct students toward their best chances for success.
For French Horn & Trombone, have students sing pitches by echoing either your voice or the instrument. Why? Because the partials on a French Horn are so close together, it is easy to overshoot the intended note too high or undershoot it too low. Trombone players need to match pitch vocally to show that they can hear to tune their slide positions. Where is 5th position? Between 4th & 6th? There is a huge area between 4th & 6th. The correct answer is where the note sounds in tune, which can be slightly different on various brands and sizes of trombones. Your ear tells you where 5th position is. If a student can't match pitch vocally, he will most likely struggle with the same problem with his trombone slide. This requirement up front will help you avoid pitch problems later on. For students who struggle with this, directing them to another brass instrument with a similar mouthpiece is a suggestion.
Many brass players agree that when it comes to mouthpieces, one size does not fit all. I've personally experimented with various brands and sizes and have found the most success with these cup sizes:
First 5 Notes
Before you set up music stands and have students reading notes, start with echoing notes between the teacher and class. Spend a week developing good tone on the first 5 notes without the distraction of a method book. Have students play their first 5 notes to you while articulating "too" at the beginning of each note. You may choose either low to high or high to low. It doesn't really matter. Once students can do this, they are ready to start exercises in the book. Progress will go much faster in class at this point. Why? Because students can already get a good tone on the notes and they already know what each note sounds like. Now they only have to focus on reading the note on the staff and counting out the rhythmic notation. No restarting to get everyone on the correct pitch again and again. Students should be able to quickly lock in on their first 5 notes while reading the notes on the page.
Buzz and Play Everyday
What is a brass player's secret weapon? The mouthpiece. Set up a warm-up routine for your brass players to buzz along to either a recording or to you playing a routine warm-up. Then, have them play the same warm-up again, but on the full instrument. One way to secure the embouchure on the mouthpiece only (replicating the angle of playing the full instrument) is to use the BERP mouthpiece aide. The BERP allows for more resistance when buzzing as well. It is worth the investment to promote mouthpiece buzzing. Even if students get tired of buzzing, don't let them convince you that they don't need to buzz. If they are doing it properly, they should get tired. The benefits to sticking with a class routine of buzzing and playing will pay off greatly after a few weeks. What are the benefits? Clear tone, extended range, and better control in loud and soft playing. These benefits will also lead to students gaining overall confidence in their performance.
Daily scale studies are a sure way to build range. At the beginning, students will learn the first 5 notes of their first scale. As you teach new notes and build full scales, go over these daily on the mouthpiece and full instrument. After the daily warm-up with mouthpieces and full instruments, devote 3-5 minutes to scale studies. As you build range, you will build endurance for power-playing. As students gain control for playing loudly, they will gain better control for playing softly.
I recently judged clarinet auditions for the Kansas Music Education Association’s (KMEA) North West District band. As one who once auditioned for All-District and All-State band myself, it’s a pleasure to provide this service young clarinetists and educators. As I go into this experience, though, I’m thinking about what I want to hear from high school aged clarinetists hoping to make it to the top of these ensembles. And, if I were their age, I'd want to know what I, the judge, is thinking.
I want you to succeed! I am absolutely going into this judging process hoping to hear some wonderful clarinet playing, and I'm rooting for you behind the screen. It makes me sad to hear you struggle, and I empathize with you so much.
I'm not out to hurt you, and I will be as objective as I can be. All I know about you is how you played on this specific day at this specific time, and I will have to make my decision based on this specific 5-10 minute period. The outcome of this audition doesn't define you as a human being.
What I’ll be Hoping to Hear (In this order):
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