Tips for brass students (and parents of brass students) by Dr. Tucker
There are plenty of good reasons to learn to play any kind of instrument, but here are some things to consider regarding brass instruments. 1. The Nature of the Beast Playing brass instruments can be more physical than people realize. Sound is produced by the lips buzzing together, which requires precise control and development of the lip muscles, as well as coordination of this strange activity with fingers, tongue, and wind, not to mention deciphering music notation at the same time! Unsurprisingly, all of this can only be achieved through regular, daily exercise, which is to say, practice and some guidance, to avoid common pitfalls and bad habits.
2. Why Take Lessons? Just as with any other skill, different people seem to have different potential for playing brass instruments. That means some folks advance in their playing skills faster than others, given the same amount of time and effort on the instrument. If you have great potential, or talent, you may do relatively well in school band programs without much practice at home (if you don’t care to exploit fully the talent you have). If, on the other hand, you have less potential for the instrument, do not be discouraged. You can still become a skillful, accomplished player, but you will just need to work harder (i.e., practice more) than some others. Getting help from a private instructor can be very beneficial too! In either case, whether you are overflowing with potential or have a tin ear and a lip of clay, you need commitment, care for the instrument, and a little guidance along the way. Remember, playing brass instruments should be fun, and the better you play the more fun it can be.
3. Is it Expensive? Playing any instrument, including brass winds, has monetary costs associated with it. Renting is relatively inexpensive, and rental instruments are generally of higher quality today than in past decades. Nevertheless, cheap instruments can still be found to have sticky valves and slides, poor tone quality, or a stuffy response and similar problems. Once a student’s interest and commitment are established, it is worthwhile to purchase a good instrument if possible, not only because a better quality instrument plays better but also because it is easier to learn and improve on a good instrument. Please let me know if you have questions about the quality of your instrument. I am happy to play-test any instrument and give my professional opinion. Besides the cost of the instrument, there are costs for occasional repairs, lessons, etude books and other music, valve oil and slide grease, mutes (eventually), cleaning accessories, and for the serious student, new mouthpieces, practice tools, and devices, and maybe even summer workshops and music camps.
4. A Quirky Note of Caution: One odd and interesting note is that brass instruments can be used as weapons! Besides ancient Israeli legendary use of trumpets as a tool of war at Jericho, these loud, clangorous instruments can be used (improperly!) to annoy little brothers, big sisters and household pets. Some dogs and cats are extremely averse to the sound of live brass instruments (recorded brass sounds are typically not a problem). If the brass player of the house is given to teasing the family pet or annoying the siblings, parental supervision and intervention might be wise...
5. What About Recitals? Part of the value and the joy of learning an instrument is—or ought to be—performing for an audience. Playing music can be enjoyable in and of itself of course, but for building confidence and concentration, there is nothing like performing under the pressure of public performance. And yes, it is fun and exciting! Playing for family and friends is a great way to start. Short, informal student performances are scheduled periodically for this purpose. All my students are encouraged to perform in these or other public recitals and performances whenever the opportunity arises. The music performed can be something that we are working on in lessons no matter the length—no need for a concerto!😉
6. Practice Tips No matter what the skill level or how experienced the player, good practice habits include finding a consistent daily practice time away from other distractions. It is best to practice at the same time[s] each day, for about the same length of time, generally 20-30 minutes for beginners and more as one gains experience. Following a consistent practice routine (including mouthpiece buzzing, playing various assigned exercises and musical selections, and perhaps rhythmic and other slightly odd activities) is very important too, as is taking time and opportunities wherever they can be found to hear and listen to other brass players and musicians in general, especially professionals. This last tip is not really a practice tip, is it? But it is a vitally important part of improving on one‘s instrument, which is the goal of practicing, after all.
I hope these introductory admonishments and musings are helpful in the struggle to make music out of metal. Remember, the journey of a thousand miles always begins and ends with a single step.