The Top 5 tips for better brass playing
The mission of this blog was to create a space on the internet dedicated to developing the thoughts, technique as well as ideas and tips surrounding brass music and performance. Since its very beginning in 2012, there have been a variety of articles that discuss the fundamental elements of brass playing, and discuss opinions relating to musicality and interpretation.
This post covers the top 5 tips for every brass musician that will develop musicality and technique.
Top tip Number 1: Always start with the end in mind
This tip is based on a quote that will always provide a solid basis for things to fall into place. I think the really important thing is to know and understand what it is we are hoping to achieve. But more importantly, it is important to know and understand what that achievement will look like, sound like, be like and feel like.
With this firm foundation in place it is then possible to plan where to start, how to measure successes and evaluate failures. These ideas will allow us to shape the things that we do on a daily basis and how they will help us move toward our overall goal or direction.
Flexibility is of course crucial and it may be necessary to change our initial intention slightly. On any journey new things are learned which can help with gaining a greater perspective and understanding of the current, and possible future, situations.
As a brass musician the ultimate aim is always to improve musicality. Technique and presentation skills are extremely important, but being able to play higher and louder than someone else is completely irrelevant unless the end result is musical. There are many great musicians that have a fantastic range and power that can apply what they do with great musicality.
Top tip Number 2: Prepare and Plan
Preparation is completely key to success. This could be down to how you prepare for a final performance, how you prepare for every practice session or every time you play your instrument.
Keep a practice diary (you can find a template here) and us it! It is so tempting to start these things with great intentions and energy for them to simply fall off of the radar after a few weeks. Keeping a diary of your practice schedule will be helpful on a week by week basis to focus your time, but retrospectively it can provide a positive record of your achievements a year on.
If you do set yourself New Year’s Resolutions (click here and here for articles about goal setting) then keeping a diary will really help with defining and focusing a clear series of aims and goals that can help all aspects of your playing.
Top tip Number 3: Get better at listening
Listening is a real essential for any musician that wants to improve their interpretation, intonation and tuning as well overall musicality.
Find recordings, or better still attend concerts, of the top musicians that play your instrument and listen to the sound they create, the phrasing that they use and the way in which they communicate musically. Think about how this relates to your own playing and how you can use or adapt their ideas.
The best way to improve phrasing and awareness of melody is to listen to great singers. Brass playing is closely linked to singing and the way in which singers approach phrasing, breathing and interpretation can teach brass musicians a great deal.
If you are playing a transcription or arrangement, aim to find a recording of the piece with its original instrumentation. How does this change the way in which the music is approached, and how is this different to your own thoughts or ideas about the piece?
Listen carefully to different intervals and observe how different musicians deal with intonation issues. This will be so very helpful when you use a tuner to practice with.
Top tip Number 4: Use a metronome
The importance of internalising a beat can not be over stressed. Rhythm is the most important element of music and without a clear sense of pulse bringing out musicality can be an almost impossible task.
Working with a metronome can be somewhat frustrating, but regular use can improve (or helpfully resolve) timing issues with tricky parts of the music you are playing. Start slowly and go for accuracy with tricky section before speeding the passage up. It is also a really good idea to work with long notes and a metronome as this will give a chance to really focus on pulse without notes getting in the way.
Top tip Number 5: Enjoy yourself!
Probably the most important thing to do is to enjoy yourself. This will always come through in your performances and is something that your audiences will pick up. Also if you enjoy yourself it will make you feel a whole lot better about things the next time you perform!
If you are finding that nerves are a bit of an issue, avoid caffeine, dairy products or sugary products that will give an immediate lift. Although the short term burst is quite welcome, there may well be a serious crash or sugar low after an hour or so. Allowing yourself to enjoy the music that you are playing will help the nerves have a lot less impact and will allow you to perform with greater confidence.
I hope these tips prove to be useful in focusing what you do – let me know by adding a comment of any important things you think I may have missed!