For today’s brief post I would like to issue a challenge to my current students, my former students, and, well, any low brass player that might be reading. In an email to my current students earlier this week, I exhorted them to be diligent in at least going through their daily fundamentals routine each day during the break, and lamented that the majority of players that I have taught during my twelve years of teaching thus far have not really “bought into” the idea of performing a comprehensive daily routine each and every day. Even though this is the single element most responsible for the measure of success I have enjoyed as a brass player (at least with regard to technique), I have been able to really convince precious few students of the effectiveness of this practice in developing great playing skills. Thus, week after week, in lesson after lesson, many students seem to be thoroughly unfamiliar with exercises that they have been instructed to play every day.
Thus, building somewhat upon last week’s post as well as upon the private email sent to my current students earlier this week, I want to encourage and challenge all of you to make performing a comprehensive daily routine every day a top priority. Try it even just for the holiday break; I can promise you that, if you will do this consistently and correctly, you will experience, at least in some measure, the following five benefits:
1. You will at least maintain your current fundamental playing skills, even with little or no practice in addition to the daily routine.
As I mentioned last week, sometimes circumstances can severely limit the amount of time we are able to commit to practicing, and so we have to find a way to cover as much material as possible in as short an amount of time as possible. Indeed, sometimes the best we can hope for is practicing to “maintain” rather than to “grow.” When you find yourself in such a situation, I can think of no better way to “tread water” than to have a comprehensive daily routine that reviews and extends all of the “basics” of playing. How else could you honestly say at the end of as little as 20-25 minutes of practicing, “I have covered what I need to cover today to maintain my playing skills?”
2. You will increase articulation speed, finger/slide agility, flexibility, and range more quickly and in a more even and consistent manner than you otherwise would.
I have observed over the years that many players’ development of the “extremes” of speed and of tonal range is quite erratic. As a teacher, this indicates to me that students are not approaching their practice of such skills in a systematic way. A comprehensive daily routine gives the player a forum in which to exercise these skills each day, even when they are not addressed in any other playing during the day. Perhaps more importantly, the daily routine provides an opportunity to systematically extend these skills. For “speed” exercises—articulation, fingering, slide movement, flexibility, etc.—use the metronome to measure your progress and spur greater achievement. For example, if you can double-tongue sixteenth notes at 130 beats per minute one day, using the metronome will ensure that you do not “slack off” and begin practicing more slowly the next day. Then, after a week or so, increase the tempo to 135 beats per minute, and keep it set there until that tempo is mastered, and then move on. Regarding range, the daily routine is the best place to explore beyond one’s comfortable range and get into extremes of both high and low register. Practicing these extreme ranges day after day, month after month, year after year, will lead to those high register “squeaks” becoming “actual notes.” Ditto for the lower register.
3. You will have more stamina, and find yourself able not only to play for longer periods of time, but to explore extremes of range and speed for longer periods of time.
The daily routine promotes a gradual increase of stamina in playing the instrument. This is true in part simply because a good daily routine includes (but extends beyond) what is included in a good “warm-up.” Just as is true with any muscle group in the body, the muscles used in playing perform better and are less prone to injury and fatigue when they are properly “stretched” prior to heavy exertion. Additionally, students that tire easily when performing lots of rapid articulations or extremes of range will find these activities to become less and less tiring after daily exercise of these extremes is performed as part of the comprehensive routine.
4. You will have a better, fuller, more vibrant sound.
Producing a full sound on a brass instrument is conceptually quite simple. The more “lip” you have vibrating in the mouthpiece, the more “tone” you will have. Lips that vibrate freely are free of excessive tension, a freedom promoted by both the “warm-up” and “strength building” aspects of the daily routine.
5. You will learn new music much more quickly.
Finally, by systematically addressing most or all fundamental aspects of playing each day in the fundamentals routine, these skills become increasingly “automatic,” and begin to be even unconsciously applied when reading and performing “actual music.” The more “automatic” the application and execution of fundamental playing skills become, the less time one spends “reinventing the wheel” when learning and practicing new music. One quickly discovers that the extra time devoted to fundamentals, rather than increasing the amount of time spent practicing each day, actually enables the remainder of one’s practice sessions to become more efficient and productive, so that more is accomplished in the same amount of or even less overall practice time.
(And, if scales and arpeggios are systematically practiced in a similar manner each day, all of these benefits will be realized even more fully. More on that next week, D.V.)
Will all students experience all five of these benefits in the same way, at the same time, and to the same extent? No, of course not. Any number of variables—some within, and some beyond our control—can increase or decrease the effectiveness of the daily routine or of any aspect of practicing. However, anyone that commits to diligent, regular, systematic practice of playing fundamentals can expect to experience all of these benefits, and to an increasing extent as such practicing is continued over months and years. Trust me—it works!
If you have been including a comprehensive fundamentals routine in your daily practice each day, then good for you. I’m sure that you will agree with me regarding the benefits of doing so, and perhaps could even extend this list. If you have not been practicing in this way, start now! You will be amazed at how much your playing improves (and, for my current students, how much your lesson grades improve)!
There is the challenge. Get to practicing!