7 Effective Practice Routines for Brass | Creative Ministries

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7 Effective Practice Routines for Brass

Posted June 27, 2018

Over many years of play­ing brass I think that my rehearsal time has been largely wasted time. I have always loved to play so that is the way I have approached my rehearsals.

Aca­d­e­mics will say you must rehearse in a sys­tem­atic way and I have tried that. It is dead bor­ing and over time becomes a chore — there are many ways to skin a cat, or many ways to achieve your desired outcome.

Before I delve into rehearsal tech­nique, I want to men­tion embouchure (the place­ment of your lip on your mouth­piece), and the issues I have had with mine. When I was a keen teenager I prac­ticed heaps and it was only ever about tech­nique - play­ing faster and higher. At that time my lip was posi­tioned off cen­tre and. This was my nat­ural embouchure. When I was accepted into the Navy band with pro­fes­sion­als I was advised to change my embouchure. I went through tur­moil for about a year until it clicked into place. But over the years it has changed. I have tweaked it and now think it is the best it has ever been. I am now play­ing I the cen­tre with a frac­tion over 50% on the top lip which suits me. Many brass play­ers have had sim­i­lar issues but what­ever the advice is for you think care­fully before chang­ing any­thing dras­ti­cally. You could be head­ing down a path of anx­i­ety and disappointment.

Now back to rehearsal tech­nique. I guess I have learned what works for me as far as rehears­ing goes. Firstly I have realised there are no short cuts. There is no sub­sti­tute for time spent work­ing on your craft. You have to do it reg­u­larly and inten­tion­ally. As you improve and start to mas­ter your craft the desire will grow to want to rehearse.

Here are some hints that will help you in your quest.

1. Work on what you find dif­fi­cult:

Let’s face it most of your band music you can play. Don’t play just for the sake of it. Rehears mainly those pas­sages that you can­not play or are hav­ing dif­fi­culty with. Here is how you do that.

2. Slow it down use a metronome:

Slow the pas­sage down so you can play it. You may be way off the desired tempo - don’t worry. Repeat over and over until you are com­fort­able at the slow tempo then slowly increase the tempo.

3. Chop large dif­fi­cult sec­tions up in to digestible shorter ones: 

Some­times there will be whole sec­tions that are hard to play. The same prin­ci­ple applies but do not attempt to learn the whole sec­tion at once. Learn 4 – 8 bars at a time using the same tech­nique as above.

4. Prob­lems with rhythms?

If you are hav­ing prob­lems with a rhythm, the same principle applies. Slow it down! If you need to, chop up the passage and then put it together when you've mastered all the segments. Also, tak­ing musical ties off can make the rhythm eas­ier when learn­ing. Put the ties back on once you're comfortable and slowly speed up.

5. Improve over­all tech­nique, espe­cially areas of weak­ness:

There are many tutor books out there for all instru­ments. For brass the best all round tutor is the Arbans tutor. This tutor touches on all the tech­ni­cal aspects of brass play­ing. I sub­sti­tute it with a good lip flex­i­bil­ity tutor.

6. Learn your scales off by heart:

Make learn­ing and play­ing scales a part of your daily prac­tice. Once you mas­ter both major, minor and Chro­matic scales you find them in all music. There are many ways they can be rehearsed that is up to you.

7. Prac­tice like a vir­tu­oso:

Get your hands on as many solo pieces that you can. Use them as a part of your daily rehearsal. Always work on some­thing that is just beyond your abil­ity. 

Remem­ber prac­tice should be fun. Here some ideas on how to break up your rehearsal into the ele­ments men­tioned above.