Introducing... the WARM-UP
At some point in our early musical development, we reach the point that we wonder why our increasing abilities seem to have hit a ceiling, and we are stumped about certain issues, be it range difficulties, sound quality in particular dynamic ranges, or other inabilities. We are also stunned to find that what came so easily in the beginning has now become a bit more difficult. Aside from the idea of "beginner's luck", (or more rightly, ignorance was bliss! ) we find that in order to continue playing with improved consistency and control, we must begin to focus on our sound fundamentals: Moving Air and the Buzz! (Sounds like the name of a rock band!) Consider improving the “Nutrients” of our playing. It’s all about Airflow, TONE, and what you do with them.
Quality of Sound
The art of Tone Production takes place in what I fondly refer to as the "Sonic Carbeurator" or Embouchure region of our face, where the Airstream (Airspeed, Air Temperature), Tongue (just the right kind and amount- forming Articulation), and Lip Setting (degree and placement of lip-tightness and alignment) all meet and have to function as a unit to mould our sound.
Further use of these ideas will develop a singleness of purpose in your approach to playing, and your mind will become more focused toward what you are intending. This is perhaps the most important purpose in playing these exercises.
What follows are some ideas for improving our tone, beginning with Breathing Exercises and Buzzing exercises.
Breathing Exercises (some from Eastern origin…)
I take no responsibility for the use of these exercises. I include them to peak interest in further study...
- Rhythmic Diaphragmatic Breath-
- Harmonious, with metronome
- Deep inhale
- Exhale through nostrils, but with no sound
- Channel Purification-
- Close off right nostril, inhale through your left nostril. Then reverse…
- Three times each
- Forceful Expulsion of Breath- extreme use of diaphragm muscles and abdominal muscles. Passive inhalation… 7-21 cycles.
- “Bellows” Abdominal Muscles = bellows
- Vigorous Inhale and Exhale
- 21 cycles in quick succession
Warm-up Ideas, Buzzing...
- Make a Cut-Away mouthpiece... turn an old mouthpiece into a buzzing aid. Can be buzzed while moving slide in coordination.
- Buzz mouthpiece, using warm air and "fog up" the mouthpiece. Allow for maximum resonance.
- Painting: Starting on pedal Bb, softly play Bb scale 2 octaves (up to Bb on top of the staff) returning to pedal Bb, while "painting with a large brush" all the smooth, in-between notes within this 2 octave range. Repeat on B Major, then C Major, then C# Major, etc. By the time you finish (as high up as you want), you will have painted ALL the notes in your range.
- While playing long tones, pretend you have a hard-boiled egg in your mouth cavity. This will open up your airstream and keep your tongue down, thus enhancing a more round airstream.
- Make a Breathing Bag out of a 1.5" diameter plastic pvc pipe, perhaps 4" long; a small wastebasket-sized plastic bag, and a rubber band. Insert bag opening over one end of the pvc pipe, and fasten with the rubber band. Purpose: to keep the throat open while breathing into the bag, allthewhile preventing dizziness. I take no responsibility in the use of this breathing tool, but the use of this device will help to practice our deep breathing for a longer period than mere breathing fresh air. Refresh with "fresh air" after a few full breaths.
- A good Routine covers certain basic concepts:
Routine Basics: Buzzing, Long Tones, Lip Slurs, Range Extenders, Scales, Articulated Etudes, Chromatics. See my "Nutrients"…
Practice Ideas, Consider this Wisdom:
1. “Lightning never strikes in the same place twice”… see if you can buck the trend in applying to your instrument: pitch accuracy, rhythmic accuracy, consistency overall.
2. “Easier to play solos at tempo, or faster, with poor ears on than it is to really put your good ears on and play under tempo”… ie practice at half speed (pulse = eighth notes), or if in 6/8 time, pulse = eighth notes at one-third-tempo.
3. Recording our practice always brings about both new ears as well as new awareness as we play. Recording with the metronome informs us of our adherence to the beat. (ie not ahead or behind…"oh this bar is where I tend to rush”)
4. Put your playing under a microscope! Be willing to take your music apart to its lowest elements - physical movements, sound production, particular scale passage, rhythm figure, etc… Videotape yourself playing, and review while imagining the most efficient robotic player.
5. However, once you improve a piece, don’t “undo” what you’ve already accomplished - a real time saver. Always maintain what you have accomplished.
6. Practicing vs. Maintenance vs. Playing
7. Isolate and Conquer! Seek out the problem spots in a given piece… use of a technique (ie. Chunking, Rhythmic Simplification, Melodic Simplification, Buzzing) to fix…
8. Where’s the loudest part of the piece? Softest? How do you want to end the piece? The more dynamic colors you have, the better!
9. Sound pictures - as nature scene, graphic images, or sine-waves… colors!
10. High quality intention in, even higher quality out!
11. Rhythm = Language; think about it the next time you hear a speech by someone with poor annunciation.
12. In Legato, "To DU or not To DU"… develop your "smoothness" skills!
13. Thoughts on Tuning: When using a tuner, or tuning to a fixed sound, always tune with your best sound!
Allow your pitch to adjust in the direction you intend with your lip setting - too often I hear players move their tuning slide, but fight to keep their tone where they had started, to the detriment of their tone!
Start a bit above pitch and bend your tone downward toward the "tone-shelf's" bottom. This will add richness to your sound. Next, be sure to use this new-found richness in your playing so that it becomes a natural part of your "sonic being”.
14. Picture an Iceberg - your tone is this large floating ice chunk, whereby the visible portion is supported by the massive weight underwater. Consider your sound as having an "undertone" that adds weight and richness to your above water tone.