Running with Boots On
by, 01-02-2008 at 06:00 PM (367 Views)
As brass players we face a pair of challenges that are in opposition to each other.
On the one hand we strive to do things efficiently. We want to convert our efforts into the maximum effect, so for each cubic inch of air that comes out of our lungs we want to get the most sound. We work to develop each extra decibel of sound so that we have a great dynamic range.
On the other hand our bodies keep telling us to do less. Brass playing is not a very natural act. We take in a big gulp of air and meter it out over a relatively long period of time, for example. We put a metal ring to our lips and push air through in a way that causes our lips to vibrate. That's odd stuff for our bodies.
As we practice by ourselves, even in a nice room, it can be all too easy to get 1% lazier each day without noticing. We work a little less hard at volume, range, tonguing, or whatever. If we practice in a small room (fairly typical in school situations especially), we hear ourselves so loudly that we tend to pull back slightly - by nature we react to what we hear around us.
For reasons such as the above, it can be useful sometimes to encourage our bodies to do more. I use the example of training for a foot race. While I doubt this holds up well in reality, the theory goes that if you practice running while wearing boots, you will develop more strength that will go a long way once you change to good running shoes.
For musicians, there are two things that are commonly used to help develop strength of sound.
If you live in a remote enough area that you can practice outside, that can be a very valuable experience. As mentioned above, we tend to react to the sound circling around our head. In a small practice room we hear an unnaturally high volume level bouncing off the ceiling, so we react and play a little less fully. But when practicing outside, we tend to work harder to hear the sound we expect. In that case we will develop better strength and endurance.
Practice mutes are made to keep the sound you produce from getting too far. Also, practice mutes (or any mute) tend to make the horn play stuffier than it does without a mute. So when you practice with a mute you tend naturally to work a little harder at producing sound. Again, it's a great way to develop strength and endurance.
No matter which of these two techniques you might try, it is important to spend some time in more "normal" rooms as well. A brass instrument does produce a lot of sound in a room, so reflections from the walls, ceiling, and floor are a part of your total sound. If you spend too much time playing outside or with a mute without balancing it with more standard environments, you might develop in an awkward way. But in reasonable doses these techniques are valuable.
There is also a useful tone-development technique that Arthur Lehman discovered using the corner of a practice room. Check out his book for good advice on many topics:
The Brass Musician