I thought it useful to put some workshop notes onto this website for individuals to browse over. In essence however, it should be used to supplement discussions in my own workshops rather than used as a document in its own right.
Also click on this link to visit another website which has some useful resources Trombone Lessons
Brett Baker’s Helpful Hints
There are three main areas to most of my workshops. They are:
There are three main areas to most of my workshops: Basic Techniques, Intermediate Issues, and Advanced Techniques.
Basic Techniques (B>R>E>T>T)
Rehearsing (Patience and persistence)
Embouchure, including the back of the mouth and lip buzzing
Tonguing, position of the tongue and articulation
Turbulence, use of air and support
Intonation – Tuning and alternative slide positions and valve combinations
Sound – the most important concept in brass playing
Awareness – Listening
Nervousness and how to combat apprehensions
The throat and its effectiveness
Insecurity in quiet dynamics
Negotiation of difficult passages
The use of the practice mute
Lip trills slurs and flexibilities
Uniformity and phrasing
Solo Techniques, expression and musicianship
We will now consider each in turn.
The basics are the foundations on which we build more advanced techniques.
Before even beginning to play a wind instrument ensure you are breathing deeply and supporting the air that comes out of your body when exhaling.
To ensure you are doing this correctly, ensure nothing prevents the air flowing through your body and through the instrument.
Open your mouth as if yawning to take in air.
Feel cold air entering the back of your throat.
Fill yourself with air from the bottom of your abdomen – imagine a milk bottle – up to your neck, imagine your stomach muscles filling up; as would a balloon. (Though this should never be forced).
Also try sitting on a chair and touching the floor with your fingers, then breathe deeply, if you use your body correctly your fingers will leave the floor as your abdomen expands.
In general you will breathe correctly when lying down breathing through your nose. Try this and then recreate the same sensation when standing up or sitting whilst breathing through your mouth in order to play.
As well as your diaphragm you should also utilize the muscles above in the rib cage, but filling the lower part of your body with air first then the top part.
Some good breathing techniques include breathing in over 4 seconds holding for ten seconds and breathing out over 10 seconds, then reduce the breath in time and extend the breathing out time. Malte Burba suggests doing breathing exercises for 30 minutes per day just to get the body to react correctly for three months.
Rehearsing; Patience & Persistence
Some musicians do not get professional training. When starting out on a brass instrument we are sometimes asked to spit down the mouthpiece to produce a note. This can be counterproductive, preventing a good sound and solid high register.
Make sure you have a good mouthpiece i.e. one that has a size on it and a manufacturers name and that is fairly deep. If a trombone or euphonium player a 4, 5 or 6 is a good start on either a Michael Rath, Joseph Klier, Vincent Bach or Denis Wick.
Don Lusher’s natural embouchure technique i.e. Buzzing. This involves playing a note on the mouthpiece but also buzzing without a mouthpiece.
Ensure when buzzing you make a good sound on the mouthpiece.
Using the embouchure made whilst buzzing put your instrument onto your mouthpiece.
Buzzing is ensuring that your embouchure is doing all the correct things before you involve the amplifier (or instrument).
Try playing a tune on the mouthpiece, take the starting note of for example a G from the instrument, see whether the note you finish on is the same note as per the pitch of the instrument, you will be surprised how far out one can get.
Tonguing & Articulation
Three types of articulation, no tongue, soft tongue and accented tongue.
The problem with the accented tongue when not supported by airflow, is a tendency to split notes and experience refusals.
Also lesser known is the doodle tongue, used in Jazz where the tongue moves up and down within the mouth brushing the air-stream.
Finally there is the technique of double and triple tonguing (ask for details).
Turbulence; Airflow And Dynamics
If you don’t refill your car with fuel it soon stops!!!
This is the single biggest problem for brass musicians, always try and imagine pushing the instrument away from your body with the air that leaves your body.
Lack of air flow can restrict range and lead to a poor sound and limited flexibility.
Airflow is necessary for the whole dynamic range from ppp to fff!!!
Pushing air through the instrument and keeping all cavities open will prevent refusals (tuft notes) in quieter playing.
Try not to press too much on the mouthpiece on louder playing – remember what happens to a hosepipe when you squeeze it as water gushes out!
(Descriptors of notes in brass band treble clef)
Here are several tips on this subject:
First position G’s (middle and upper) need to be flattened.
Third position G#’s need to be slightly sharpened.
Similarly F#’s in 2nd, F’s in 3rd E’s in 4th
High Bb remember 3rd position is a false position, as 1st position will be flat!
Try top D’s in 3rd position, top E’s in 1st, top F’s in 3rd or 1 ½.
Try using a practice mute to open the glottis and increase sound.
Alternatively a cleaning cloth with a standard mute.
Always be conscientious of the sound you make, never force the sound!
Remember that your sound is yours and therefore unique. Be alert to make it always your best.
The older I get the more important I realize it is to warm up. If you were an athlete about to run a race you would stretch and wake up your muscles playing a brass instrument is no different.
Keep it simple do not play above middle range
Practice breathing, do some buzzing and then play long notes (low) then some tonguing exercise and finally some simple lip flexibilities maybe then a few scales.
Awareness – Listening
Listening is a very important aspect of playing
You cannot ever expect to play well as an ensemble if you do not listen to others and are prepared to accommodate others in terms of intonation, rhythm and style.
Listen to good recordings. There is a huge variety of solo CD’s available in the market place.
Everyone gets nervous, this is perfectly natural, the main thing is to appear relaxed and control your apprehensions as much as possible.
Preparing well helps alleviate these issues
Symptoms of nerves i.e. sweating, increased heart rate and shaking
Take deep breathes before entering your platform can help.
Take time to focus before you start a performance.
If you dry up taking water can make this worse, try pinching the roof of your mouth with the back of your tongue.
Remember it’s not the end of the world if you split a note but make sure the next note you play is the best you can deliver!
An important factor in playing brass
Ensure the throat is open and does not restrict the air flow.
When you breath in ensure the throat is not tight and closed as this would hinder breathing often when the shoulders are raised.
Insecurity (in quiet dynamics and high notes)
Many people are uncomfortable about playing in quieter dynamics
Merely imagine you are pushing the mouthpiece away from your lips with the air and then slightly bring the mouthpiece off the lips to ensure security in quiet dynamics.
Negotiation Of Difficult Passages
The best way to negotiate a tricky passage of music is to:
Split the passage into components of first rhythm, then shape then pitch.
Practice the rhythm on one note
Observe the shape
Practice the fingering or slide positions without playing.
Put all these elements together playing the passage slowly and increasing the speed.
How Trombone Players Do It by Peter Gane and Eric Crees.
60 studies by Kopprasch
Trombone Technique by Denis Wick.
Derek Bourgeois study books.
Any trumpet study books, such as Howard Snell’s The Trumpet.
The only way to improve sight reading is to practice it
Every day play through a study without stopping that you have never played before
It does not matter how bad you play the study do not stop
This is sight read practice trust me it will improve.
Lip Trills , Slurs And Flexibilities
The Secret of lip trills is to use the tongue to determine pitch.
Start on a relatively high note and speed up the transition from one note to another when slurring.
Flexibility books are widely available and these exercises improve stamina and high range if practiced correctly.
Uniformity & Phrasing
A very important aspect of playing is to realise a phrase.
Not start with a bump and round the phrase off musically.
As with the above recording solo’s takes months of preparation and practise. I treat a recording session as an athlete would treat an important race. In general I built my stamina up months before the session.
Important points to remember are:
Do your marketing before you engage on a recording project.
Know your market and know the audience that you are pitching the recording towards.
Check the venue for suitability i.e. it needs to be fairly dry, check for interruptions and what external noise may be picked up.
Check the finances for the recording, and double check any costs you may incur, always have reserve funds for the unexpected.
Make sure you have a well-balanced program.
Try to use a reputable recording company preferably with distribution outlets. If you cannot afford this, find a good engineer and some excellent recording equipment.
Remember the recording is to entertain your audience, check the program content to make sure that this is the case.
Solo playing, like any other aspect of playing, relies heavily on preparation and practise.
If you are playing with a piano or bigger group, ensure that plenty of rehearsal time has been set aside to make you feel comfortable.
For solo playing, remember to pick the right piece for the audience.
If playing a selection of pieces, ensure you choose works that illustrate variety and flexibility.
Remember: as a Musician you are performing to entertain others rather than entertain yourself.
Expression is a very important part of solo playing; playing note-perfect may be rewarding to you as an individual but not for the audience. Take some risks in the name of music.
Be yourself when expressing the music – i.e. be musical.
Try to play in the venue before the performance to get a feel for the hall.
Nervousness is something that can be controlled but it will never disappear.
After appropriate preparation and rehearsal, make sure that you have the right mind set.
you are confident
you have put in the work so now reap the rewards of preparation by enjoying the moment
© Brett Baker 2023