"Superchops" in just 8 Minutes a Day!!
Right... You wish.
Now, I know what you're thinking - you're thinking that if this is another one of those "quit looking for a quick fix, stop all your whining and get back into the practice room" articles, you're going to soak your horn in Blue Juice and fire it out of a circus cannon. Well, hold on. You might be pleasantly surprised. Okay, I'll admit that the title was a cruel trick, but I was aiming to attract readers just like you - the brass player who's looking for more efficient ways to get better, faster.
I'm convinced that we brass players ARE what we practice on a daily basis. We start each day with our daily routines, and those routines form what we can and can't do on the instrument. If you want to change your playing for the better, make some adjustments to that routine. Within a short time - or, in some cases, immediately - you're a better player. (I should also mention that it's a good idea that you actually have a daily routine to which to add these.)
The following are a few "adjustments" that can quickly and simply improve your playing. The most difficult aspects of these "quick fix tips" is remembering to do them every single time you play.
The first tip deals with your posture. Yes, your mother was right when she told you to sit up straight. Improving your posture, both while standing and sitting, can instantly improve your playing. Singers have understood the importance of posture for over a century now, so it's past time for us brass players to all jump on the bandwagon. Just try it. Sit on the edge of your chair with your feet planted flat on the floor and your back straight. From the very first time you try it, you'll immediately notice how much easier it is to both support your sound and to take that all-important breath before you make a sound. The byproduct of this support and breathing efficiency is a richer, more relaxed tone.
Now that your posture is in place and it's easier to take a breath, it's time to talk air. You want to know just how important air is to brass playing? Try making a sound on the instrument without it! If you master your management of the air stream, you will be better prepared to master playing your instrument. Think of the air being to your instrument what the bow is to the violin. You want to make sure you're using a full bow every time you play so that you achieve the fullest sound and the greatest agility in your performance. The easiest way to achieve this "full bow" effect is to simply take a big breath before you play. This will immediately improve sound, articulation, and perhaps even range and endurance. Just with a big breath. It sounds easy, but an "easy breath" would be the kind of breath you take while lying on the couch watching Monday night football. That's easy.
Taking a full breath requires a bit more effort and that's where it becomes difficult. Remembering to take the full breath every single time becomes a challenge, as well. Keep in mind that what I mean by a full breath is not a desperate breath, but just a relaxed breath that comfortably fills your lungs. Even for those soft passages, a full breath for pianissimo playing will give your tone a rich core and will boost response. So think about the breath you take before you play the very first note of the day and remember to do it for every single note or phrase thereafter. Your lips will thank you for it.
The next tip has to do with your valves/slides. Valve instruments: you may have the world's fastest fingers, but you still need to make sure the valves go all the way up and all the way down, firmly and with rhythmic conviction. Trombones: you might think you're in the right position, but have you checked notes against a tuner? Sometimes you're not in the right place for YOU. Spend time becoming accurate with your positions. When you get more comfortable with valve/slide performance, you will drastically improve your sound and note accuracy.
Finally, my last quick fix tip may seem a bit silly to you, but trust me, it can make a huge difference in your practice and performance. Keep your horn clean! I can't tell you the number of times a student has come to me with range, endurance, or sound problems and I've found an herb garden growing in their leadpipe/slide. All that toxic sludge stuck throughout the horn will undoubtedly change its response, sound, resistance, and at times, really interfere with your progress - not to mention eventually eat away at the inside of the instrument. Taking apart the horn and cleaning it can be very time consuming, but well worth the time and effort.
Every two weeks (or more often, if you're the type to eat and play at the same time), blow a mouthful or two of warm water through the mouthpiece and instrument while holding all the valves down/slide all the way out. Doing this two or three times will clean out a large percentage of the crud. This by no means is a substitute for a good, complete clean out but, if done regularly between full cleanings, will keep your horn blowing as freely as the day you bought it.
There you have it: some tips for you quick-fix fanatics. And you thought this article was going to be depressing! Even the most experienced players remind themselves of these important strategies on a regular basis - the're one-size-fits-all. So next time you head for the practice room or rehearsal, think about your posture, air, and technique, and instantly make some changes in your playing for the better.