The Older Brass Player

what-brass-players-want-the-older-brass-playerPlaying a brass instrument is a very physical thing to do. Of course there is the necessity to hold the instrument, breathe fully as well as using the smaller muscles in hands and fingers when using the valves or slide.

As we get older there are a number of things that simply start to become a little more tricky and it can be possible to feel that your playing is not what it once was. There are five areas that you may simply notice that things are not what they used to be:

  1. Breathing and breathing stamina.
  2. Overall technique.
  3. Perception.
  4. Sight.
  5. A feeling of needing to work much harder to maintain your previous standard.

Issues with breathing and stamina

Lung capacity starts to decrease with age, and by the time you reach the age of twenty the lungs will have stopped growing and developing. Of course, with regular practice it is possible to maintain good breathing habits.

Building breathing techniques regularly into your practice time will enable better results. For some good breathing exercises, have a quick look at this article. There are some quick, easy to understand exercises that will help to build a solid foundation for good breathing technique.

How to fix the problem!

Ensure you continue to allow the lungs to move freely, and work on expanding the chest upwards and out wards regularly. It is important to keep muscles relaxed and to allow the body to respond to breathing without interference. As we get older it can be very tempting to feel that we can make things move or happen by thinking and analysing what is happening. This will often have the opposite effect of what is actually required and lead to a position of paralysis by analysis!

Overall technique

what-brass-players-want-the-older-brass-playerYou may feel that there are just more things that don’t seem to to work and that little cracks start to appear. It may be that your tonguing is not as crisp as it was (particularly with double or triple tonguing), that your co-ordination between your tonguing and fingers may have slowed a little, issues with the trill or other ornaments, playing for longer periods in the higher register and so on. The list here could be almost endless.

These can be problems with getting older, but also from poor practice techniques or lack of focus on developing technique. It is of course possible for this issue to exist with young players as well as older players.

How to fix the problem!

The first and most important step is to accept and then to try to understand the problems that you are having. Get the best advice you can from a good teacher and make sure you work with the problems you are facing. This will hopefully lead to a more productive resolution to your individual issues. Always try to be open to new or different ideas and do the things that are required.


what-brass-players-want-the-older-brass-playerAs people age, the way that things are approached tends to become more formulaic and the way in which things are listened to and heard change. Of course this can be a really positive thing. In terms of interpretation and musicality there will be greater experience from which to draw.

Some people have noted that they often hear the music in their heads more slowly and that the tempo used seems faster. In addition to this, the tempo can often fluctuate more during playing. It is often a problem that as you get older you my well have performed many of the pieces you are playing lots of times. This can lead to a standard way of approaching interpretation and a reluctance to accept, or work with, different ideas.

How to fix the problem!

Developing a secure beat can be achieved through use of a good metronome. This can help with practising more tricky passages of music, but also to help with maintaining a steady beat over time. It can be useful to play along with recordings in addition to this, using performances that have differences in interpretation and approach.


This can apply to eyesight in terms of being able to see the music and a conductor or another member of the group as well as to a more tunnel vision approach to the music you play.

Of course having the wrong glasses when you go to play can be exceptionally infuriating so it is probably worthwhile getting a spare pair that can be left in your case. There are some special deals at different places from time to time that can make this more affordable.

what-brass-players-want-the-older-brass-playerA more tunnel vision approach to your playing can occur in terms of what you think will happen, what you think should happen and how you respond to things. Music occurs in time and space and quick reactions in performance are essential. This comes down to experience, musical awareness and understanding of the ensemble that you play in. Generally speaking I have never known a tunnel vision approach to happen commonly, but when it does begin it can have such a negative effect on the performance.

How to fix the problem!

Always have the correct glasses that give the ability to see the music and other musicians. Opting for having a spare pair is always a great, if somewhat expensive, option. Avoiding tunnel vision in terms of your playing is something that is very important and can be done by making sure that you continue to listen to as much music as possible, attend live concerts and keep up-to-date with premieres of the latest works. The Proms is a great place to start!

Working harder to maintain your standard

Some people in orchestras and bands feel that they need to continue to work much harder to maintain the standard that they were at when they were younger. This may be due to a drop in confidence, or overall belief that the technique that was once had will fail. However, it has no real need to be true. It may be that there is the feeling that playing just takes a bit more effort or that standards have continually risen. Generally speaking this shouldn’t really be the case.

How to fix the problem

what-brass-players-want-the-older-brass-playerTry to find time for practice. It is so easy to allow things to get in the way such as kids, marriage, work etc. Trying to set a little time aside each day for practice will pay dividends in both the short and long term. Set your self up a list of short and long term goals and plan your practice sessions.

There will of course be a number of other issues that you decide will be worth focusing on, but with a little dedicated focus it will mean that your playing will be able to continue for as long as you would like it to.

Please follow and like us:


The Older Brass Player — 3 Comments

  1. Boy, at 75 I am experiencing all these things. Thanks for a great article and things to try. I’m not thinking about all your “how to fix the problem”

    • Thanks for getting in touch – an interesting question. Am I correct in my understanding that you are suffering from soreness or cramp-like symptoms in your embouchure?

      If this is the case, then the best thing I can suggest is to ensure that you wrk on a very gentle warmup routine. Try to keep all forms of pressure to a minimum and work with gentle long notes that allow the sound to flow easily. Keep everything in the mid-low to low register to make sure that you are not pushing the mouthpiece too hard onto your lips. At the start of any pain, stop and allow the muscles to rest. Then try again with focusing on keeping all pressure to an absolute minimum. Some people find that (very) gently rubbing the area that is causing the most pain can help, or placing something cool onto the area that hurts. The important thing to do is to make sure that any form of pain is removed or kept to something that is very minimal and with no lasting effects.

      Try to play for short amounts of time for a while and then gradually build up the amount of time you play for and the range of notes you use. Keep everything as gentle and free flowing as possible and avoid pushing the instrument onto your lips.

      It may be that there is a simple technical issue that is causing this pain. If you can, have a look for a local teacher that could help to give you clear advice. The teacher may well uncover things that you are not completely aware of that may easily solve the issue.

      I hope that this helps – brass playing really shouldn’t be painful or cause cramps. It may be worth booking yourself a lesson to really get things checked out properly.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

− 2 = 2

Have you Subscribed via RSS yet? Don't miss a post!