Learning a Contest Piece
Love them or loathe them, brass band contests are often quite an important factor of brass banding. They can be a time where many feel great when they have played well, or that their band has placed well or where there is a real sense of being quite underwhelmed.
The most important part of any band contest is the preparation and getting yourself into the correct place physically and mentally in time for the contest.
How do I approach the contest piece?
One of the most important things, and probably the first thing that you should aim to do, is to listen to the piece. Although the way in which it is played in terms of tempo, dynamics, phrasing or shaping may vary, a good recording can help you to understand the piece a great deal more quickly. Recordings are usually available online or from World of Brass.
Listen to the work with your part in front of you can be useful and can help you to find the tricky corners or sections that may cause some problems. Working on the tricky sections will help sort out the technical difficulties that exist for you and allow you to feel much more confident with the piece. Developing this outside of the band room rehearsal can also allow your musical director to focus on ensemble, intonation and style.
Look at the section that is causing you difficulties. Work out what technical difficulty is causing you any problems. For example, is it a problem with getting your fingers around the notes? Or is it an awkward leap? Once the technical problem is understood it is easier to think about how to tackle the difficulty.
Good Practice Techniques
- Do slow metronome work. Make sure everything is in time and where it should be from working on the difficult section slowly.
- Swing the quavers. If you have a pattern of quavers or semiquavers, then you can make them much more even by using a swing quaver rhythm (dotted quaver followed by semiquaver) and then switching this around (semiquaver followed by dotted quaver).
- Transposing the section. By moving the difficult section up or down a tone you can really get to know the sound of what you are trying to play and it can confirm the intervals between all of the notes.
- Sing it!
- Start at the end of the phrase and work forwards. The mind will always go toward that which it knows so begin by playing the final 3 or 4 notes, then play the final 5 or 6 notes, then the final 7 or 8 notes and so on until the phrase is complete.
- Always practice a few bars before the tricky bit through to a few bars after so that you get a real sense of how things fit together.
Getting the Best from Rehearsals
Know your part, but more importantly, how your part fits with everything around it. During band rehearsals pay as much attention as possible to the things that are going on around you and how what you are playing fits with what is happening. knowing whether you are playing a melody, counter melody, harmonic part or bass line within a particular scoring can help to ensure that you achieve good balance and blend well with the ensemble. It is also good to be aware of which note of the harmony you are playing. This can help you listen out for any tuning problems and fix them much more quickly.
Have a pencil at the rehearsal and mark your part with the comments made by your section and musical director and of course, find out what happened when you miss a rehearsal and update your part. Adding marks to remind you about dynamics or intonation can be very useful, but any information you can write about feel, style or interpretation will become invaluable away from the band rehearsal.
Work on your intonation, and as part of your personal practice routine work on some scales and arpeggio patterns. The Arban Cornet Method can be very useful for providing exercises for scale and arpeggio patterns.
Make sure you take the time to warm up and warm down – especially if there is quite a number of additional rehearsals scheduled with your band. This can save you causing any damage to your embouchure!
Hopefully you have found these comments helpful – what extra things have you found helpful when preparing for a contest?
If you have problems with performance anxiety or nerves look out for a future post on using those feelings of nerves to your advantage! If you can’t wait, contact me to discuss how I can help you gain confidence and belief during performance.
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