I've written before about daily routines and their importance to the development of every brass player. My stance on that certainly hasn't changed. The daily routine is where the majority of your progress as a brass player will take place. Something I've been experimenting with recently though is the use of multiple routines over the course of a few weeks.
The reason for this experimentation is this: I'd been doing the same routine (Routine III) for a two years.
I'd made great progress, become a more complete player, and...reached a point with one of the exercises in particular where I was becoming overly concerned with the mechanical aspects of playing. This is a bad thing. It's called paralysis by analysis. More on that next time. Long story short though, after a certain point you should really only think about what sounds you want to come from the instrument.
In any case, I thought Routine III had run it's course for me. So I decided to adopt a new strategy. I'll probably come back to Routine III during my off-season (starting in MAY!). Until then though, I plan to rotate every couple of weeks to a different routine. The performance season is September-May this year. So for what's left of performance season I'll use Daily Fundamentals for the Trumpet by Michael Sachs, The Brass Gym, Daily Drills and Technical Studies for trumpet by Max Schlossberg, and a few others I've found online.
I'll let you know what I find out as I go through the process of developing this idea. For the time being, I'm excited to be trying something new because I believe it could yield great results. At the very least, it will help me to stay well-rounded during the performance season.
Let me know what you think.
Thank you for reading!
Have you ever thought about what sort of training professional athletes go through in order to stay in shape for competition? I first encountered this concept in a book I recently read called 10-Minute Toughness by Jason Selk. I strongly recommend it for anyone looking to develop a yearly practice schedule. just like the astronomical seasons (Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall), there are four: post-season. generalized preparatory, specialized preparation, and the performance season. Each is roughly three months long and has distinct characteristics.
I'm going to be doing this cycle for the foreseeable future. I think it's a great idea for advanced performers who need additional structure to their performance planning. This cycle will even factor into my daily routine/warm-up.
Side-note: In writing this post I'm assuming that you're a sufficiently advanced player that you'll need an annual cycle. What I meas by this is that intermediate or novice players are (usually) not yet able to practice hard enough to warrant long-term considerations to rest and recovery.
I'll use myself as an example. As a player who has developed over the previous twenty-six years, I am able to practice extremely hard six days a week. The seventh day I really need a rest day. Incidentally, that's exactly what I do. Practice six days a week, with a light practice day to recover on the seventh. If I don't rest, it really starts to show. My sound will shrivel, flexibility begins to disappear, and range deteriorates. In fact, there's a significant difference in the way I play mid-week versus the end of the week. For me actively working to increase range during the performance season comes at the expense of repertoire and performance quality.
Novice and intermediate players don't need recovery as badly since they are not to the point yet where they can entirely wear themselves out over the course of a week. So for a novice or intermediate player a better strategy would be to keep working on fundamental exercises year-round and work towards daily improvement of skills. So take this into consideration before you adopt an annual Practice cycle.
Let me know what you think!
Thank you for reading!
Has anyone ever told you that you should try meditation? Cool, I will too.
YOU NEED TO MEDITATE!
What do I mean when I say meditate?
Meditation is time that you spend trying to quiet your mind. You try to focus on a single thing. I usually focus on my breathing while sitting in a chair. You could also mentally scan your body, or listen to a guided meditation. This type of meditation is basic mindfulness meditation. There are lots of resources online for helping you choose what could be most useful to you. I use mindfulness because seems to be the most useful to me.
Here’s my process:
To me, meditation is the best way to train your mind to focus on what you need to focus on when you want to be focusing on it. There's plenty of research to back this up as well. Basically, it says that meditation is one of the best ways to combat distraction. Some research also says that on average we are distracted every 40 seconds when we work from a computer and it takes us up to 23 minutes to get focused again. Yikes! That means most people spend the majority of their workday either in a distracted state or recovering from it.
Why is distraction a bad thing?
Distraction slows down practice productivity. Your mind also wants you to be distracted by the symptoms of nervous anxiety when you perform.
Why is meditation good for your attention?
It lowers the time it takes for you to bounce back from distraction. This will have positive ramifications for more than just practice and performance.
When should you meditate?
I usually do a quick session of mindfulness meditation before each practice session or performance. This typically happens early in the morning and in the late afternoon or evening. I also tend to cap daily meditation sessions at two.
Give mindfulness meditation a try and let me know what you think.
Thank you for reading!
What do you do when you’ve been rejected? When you’re told what you did wasn’t good enough? When they say someone else was better? What do you do in the face of harsh criticism?
If you want to make a living in the music business, you've got to learn to handle being rejected over and over again. I’m not afraid to say that I have a fair bit of experience dealing with these things. When I’m rejected for an audition or job application, I've learned to view it, even welcome it, as an opportunity to improve. I think to myself, “I'm not going to let this happen again. Next time I come back, I’ll be too good to be ignored.” I use any anger or frustration as a fire that motivates me to buckle down, work even harder to improve, and find the way past the current hurdle.
At certain points in my life I've rebounded from a slight or rejection by finding fury. This isn’t the kind of fury that causes people to lash out or get in a fight; this is the simmering, brooding fury that settles in and makes a home in your mind for a while. This is the fury that whispers, "They said you weren't good enough. Will you let that happen next time?"
Here's an example: when I was in graduate school at Indiana University, we had auditions every semester for ensemble placement. There were four or five orchestras, three bands, and four big bands. The most coveted positions were in the orchestra, or at least the top band. My second semester I was in the second jazz band. I was last place in that particular audition. I know this because Mr. P left his audition notes out on the table for me to read while I waited for him to start my lesson. I think he did it on purpose because he knew me well enough at that point to understand what it would do for me.
I read Mr. P's audition results and at first was hurt. I'm very competitive, and desire to be the best of the best. I also sulked over the dawning realization that I would be spending the next semester in the jazz band (nothing against jazz, but it's not my thing). Most shamefully, I tried to find someone else to blame for this, but couldn’t manage to. It always came back to me. Being last hurt my pride and stung my ego, but I had no one to blame but myself. I was the one who didn't take the audition seriously. I was the one who failed to prepare the repertoire. I was the one who had earned a last place finish.
So what happened next, you ask? I practiced, and practiced, and practiced some more. Going to jazz rehearsals was a constant reminder of my own failure to take my job of getting better at tuba seriously. The fury was there and was fueled as I attended orchestra concerts with my peers playing in the ensemble. Before the audition I'd been practicing around two hours a day. That was barely enough for maintenance; I needed to be working on improvement. Clearly I was not in a position to rest on my laurels. That semester I upped my average daily practice time to around five hours. That summer I increased it again. By the time we came back to school in the fall of my second year at IU I was practicing on average forty hours a week. In the first semester of my second year I fared much better, earning one of the top positions and placement in the orchestras.
I keep pressing on and working hard because I want to become my best self, the best possible teacher and performer I can be. Here’s what keeps me rolling: I don’t blame anyone else for not noticing my end product. I take total responsibility for it and vow to put in the work so that next time, they will have no choice but to realize how much I’ve improved.
Thank you for reading!
Have you ever had a performance that you were underwhelmed or even disappointed by?
First, after a performance you're unhappy with, ask yourself what went well. Once you've got an answer to that you can proceed. Next, you can move on to addressing problems. Why were you disappointed? For me there are usually two reasons I’m bothered by a performance. Either I allowed my nerves to get the best of me or I was under-prepared. There are simple solutions in both situations.
For performance anxiety you basically need to put yourself in situations where you feel pressure while you perform. This primarily means that you need to perform for people. You can also simulate the symptoms of nervous anxiety by doing some jumping jacks, push-ups, jogging in place, etc. this will increase you heart rate, respiration, and probably make you shake a little bit.
For under-preparation give yourself more time to learn the repertoire. If you had two months to learn the repertoire last time, try giving yourself three months next time. Or if you had six weeks, give yourself eight. The numbers really aren't the important issue here. Ensuring that you have adequate prep time is. You can also address your practice proficiency. Make sure you’re being honest with yourself when you practice. Never allow mistakes to go unaddressed. Obviously, there are some exceptions to this. You can’t fix every problem right now. Otherwise, we’d all have new repertoire ready for performance by tomorrow! Another consideration for under-preparation is whether or not the piece you performed was within your current capabilities. If not, choose rep that you can handle more readily next time. If the rep was within your current abilities, see above.
Later, go over a few things mentally. What could you have done better? Often there are specific problems holding performers back from having a better performance. There are any number of things that may be a culprit here; range, flexibility, articulation, dynamic contrast, musical concept, etc. Figure out what the issue was and how to fix it before your next performance. Add exercises to your routine that will cause you to improve on the identified issue.
What were some other potential contributing factors? Distraction? Hunger? Unforeseen hurdles that caused you to show-up late to the performance venue? Not getting time to warm up adequately? All of the above? Ask yourself these questions and find solutions to them. Then get busy working on the problems you’ve identified rather than dwelling on the disappointing performance. You can’t change the past, but you can (and should) learn from it. Use it to your benefit in the future.
Awesome! Now you know what you need to work on. So get to it!
Thank you for reading!
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of most breathing exercises. The reason for this is that it seems to me that people who do a lot of breathing “calisthenic” type exercises tend to have tight sounds. If you’ve been reading TuBlog for a while you know axiom number two (The Seven Axioms of Teaching) is always play with your best sound.
Try this: go back to the beginning of this blog post and read it aloud. What do you notice? Now, if you've got an instrument nearby play something and notice your breathing. How is conversational breathing different from breathing as you play?
In a conversation your breathing is shallow, slow, and imprecise. Hopefully, when you play your breathing is deep, full, relaxed, efficient, and exact. A lot of players breathe conversationally as they play. Our breathing should be more like when you’ve been running sprints than conversational. As low brass players, we need to be breath athletes, a virtuoso breather. Breathing in context must be practiced in the same way you practice technical passages of notes.
Here’s an exercise that I think is useful. Play it in every key, any range, all dynamic levels, and any tempo. The lower/faster you play it, the more effective the exercise will be.
Here are the rules:
Add this exercise to your routine and I think you’ll be pleased with the results. What do you do to work on breathing?
Thanks for reading!
I do the majority of my practicing in my office at university. There's a busy hallway right outside my door and a window which looks out into the atrium of our main music facility. There are almost always people near enough to my office to hear me practice in real time. I was thinking about this recently and began to wonder who might be listening to my practice sessions from the hallway.
I'm not suggesting that people camp outside my office door and eagerly await the arrival of my first notes every day (as cool as that would be). However, the thought that people walk past my door and hear what I'm working on reminded me of something I've heard a lot of musicians say: always sound your best.
The sentiment of always sounding your best is well-intentioned, but impractical and unsustainable. It's also in direct contradiction to one of my axioms, which is that practice is for problems. If you constantly attempt to play your best, you'll be stuck forever playing like you do right now because the fastest way to improve is by attacking your weaknesses. Attacking weaknesses means making mistakes. Making mistakes means sounding less than your best. The goal is to improve every time you sit down to practice.
People walking by probably think that I don’t perform as well as I do since I spend most of my time working on weaknesses. They walk by and hear me sounding my worst, precisely because I'm fixing the highest priority problems. I think certain people are surprised when I perform because there’s a big difference between performance preparation (practice) and performance. Performances are a very different product than practice would indicate. This is because I spend so much more time hashing out problems (improving weaknesses) than working on my strengths.
Here's another way to look at it: maintain strengths, but focus on weaknesses. Better yet, make weaknesses improve so much that they become strengths.
It's best to sound your best in certain situations. Find a way to peak for each performance. If that's not possible, decide which performances are most important to you and peak for those. Ultimately, you’ve got to decide what’s more important to you: improving or sounding your best.
First, Merry Christmas! Second, I've posted a new video on my YouTube Channel. It's Teutonic Tales #1: Damon - Tanz.
Now for the important stuff! A few weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of traveling to Waldkraiburg, Germany to visit the Miraphone factory. Christian Niedermaier was kind enough to pick me up at the airport in Munich and drive me to meet with German Tubist, Dirk Hirthe.
My purpose for meeting with Dirk was to discuss German tuba philosophy; when and and why they use bass or contrabass tubas. This was an interesting discussion. I learned that German tubist typically play bass tuba (F or E-flat) by default and switch to contrabass (CC or BB-flat) when specified. For those of you who don't know, this is the opposite of what we do here in the states.
After meeting with Dirk, Christian took me to the Miraphone factory (picture 1, below). At the factory I tried most of the instruments in the show room (picture 2, below). There were many instruments to choose from, including pretty much all of their inventory.
Miraphone starts the manufacturing process with raw materials like brass tubing (picture 3, below) and huge rolls of brass sheet. They make basically everything for all the instruments in the factory. This ensures that all of the materials are of the highest quality.
Picture 4 is a picture of a tube after being bent and expanded. There are actually two angles in this one. Once it’s bent it’s put in the steel mold and expanded in a press machine with an oil mixture under extremely high pressure. This tube fits the Petruschka. When I first looked at this part I began to realize just how many steps are involved in going from raw materials to a finished product. There are literally thousands. The process can be loosely broken down into drawing, bending, expanding, spinning, soldering/assembly, polishing, and finishing.
In picture 5 on the left are some of the assembled instruments that are awaiting final polishing. In the background on the right are bells. Picture 6 shows a 186 BB-flat tuba being lacquered. It’s in a booth which is designed to minimize the amount of dust and other contaminants in the air from getting in the lacquer.
In addition to meeting people from Miraphone and touring the factory, I was there to pick out a new Petruschka F tuba. The one in the show room had a silver finish. I was able to choose between two unfinished Petruschkas. It was a difficult decision because they both played well and were close enough to each other that they were almost indistinguishable. Picture 7 shows the instrument I ultimately chose.
Before Miraphone ships it to me they’ll switch-out the leadpipe, add a tuning-slide kicker, add water keys, polish, and silver plate it. I was astonished to learn that about 30% of the manufacturing process is actually polishing the instruments in preparation for the final finish (either lacquer or silver).
After the trip, I have a new respect for the quality and skill involved in making a Miraphone instrument. There are about 60 people who work to make instruments in the factory. I saw first-hand that every single one of them are invested in making instruments of the highest quality. So, next time you sit down to practice, take a minute to consider what was involved in producing the instrument in your hand.
Thank you for reading!
I hope those of you in the U.S. had a great Thanksgiving holiday and are recovering from the food-induced stupor. I recently released a new performance video on my YouTube channel. Here's a link to the new video, The Grumpy Troll.
Thank you all, loyal readers for following the Tuba Tuesday Newsletter. It means a lot to us here at Tuba Central that you continue to read and share the content. I've got big plans for future editions including: my trip to visit the Miraphone factory, two arguments, breathing, and more new videos. So stay tuned!
Thank you for reading!
This has to be a quick one. I'm leaving for Germany in two hours! (more about that next time)
I've been thinking recently about my purpose, my Why. What is my reason for being on this planet? This question came up at the beginning of the semester. As we were about to start school I was told I would probably have major surgery to alleviate several medical problems which had developed in my body.
This raised many questions. Could I give a recital this year? Would I be able to keep playing? Would I survive? I decided I wouldn't let any of the medical issues slow me down.
After a somewhat serious procedure and further testing, the medical issues ultimately turned out not to be as serious (or maybe as imminent) as we thought. However, as I was mentally processing this news and dealing with it emotionally, I began to wonder what the point of my existence was. After much reflection, I realized that secondary to caring for and loving my family, I want to be the best tuba player I can possibly be and that I want my students to be the best they can be, too.
So I kept thinking about it. Those are worthy aspirations, but they didn't seem to be enough. They seemed to feed toward a larger, more transcendent goal: I want to help popularize our instruments and share them with as many people as will hear them.
I later realized that things like practice and getting up early to work are much easier when you can articulate the reasons you're doing them. This helped me to achieve things above and beyond the goals I had set for myself this semester, in spite of an uncertain start.
What is your Why?
Thank you for reading!
I performed a recital here at WTAMU on November 3rd. If you weren't able to make it to campus or you want to hear it again you're in luck! I performed at Texas Christian University November 5th. Here's a link to the TCU live stream for my recital:
In preparation for these performances I tried a number of new techniques, some of which I'll use again in the future. My favorite of the new techniques is that last week I made a list of daily practice tasks.
I compiled the list based on two questions:
The second question is a matter of persisting through the issues I'm still working on for this performance. An example of this is producing a loud, isolated, staccato pedal-tone in The Grumpy Troll. So daily work on these passages is essential.
Something that didn't work well and actually ate up a lot of time was transcribing all of my accompaniment parts in Sibelius. I experimented with this a bit last year and thought it worked well. I was able to use them to practice with a simulated piano part. However, the repertoire for my performance last year involved much less rubato and was generally less complicated in terms of ensemble issues with the piano.
What are some things you're experimenting with?
Thank you for reading!
I'm a huge proponent of to-do lists. I use one every day to help me remember what I need to get done. Items on my to-do list could be things like sending an email when I get to the office, picking something up from the store, or other things that I need to get done that day. I also have recurring tasks for things I need to do regularly, like writing new Tuba Tuesday emails or evening long tones for my practice rest day.
Have you ever thought about making a to-do list of things you need to practice today? In issue #14 of the Tuba Tuesday Newsletter I discussed becoming your own greatest asset by taking a proactive approach to directing your development as a player. One of the ways to do this that I mentioned was to record yourself and fix problems you hear in your recording.
I record practice sessions regularly. I've got a recital coming up in two weeks and will record run-throughs of my recital repertoire several times between now and then. When I listen back to the recording I always use the sheet music of the piece I'm listening to for reference. As I listen and follow along in the part I write down feedback on what I hear.
This feedback could be complimentary, "Great entrance," or "Nice vibrato." Or it could be critical such as, "Accuracy, m. 65," or "Louder through crescendo, m. 122." I try to be as specific as possible with the criticisms so that I know exactly what to work on when it comes time to practice the piece again.
The list of feedback from listening is now your practice to-do list. Next time you practice you know exactly what to work on. Work your way through all of the criticisms and mark them off the list if you want. When you've fixed all of the problems, record yourself again. Listen, make a new list, and repeat the process. Do this as many times as you can before your performance.
One important suggestion; this process is most effective later in your performance preparation. I only start recording myself after I think I've fixed everything in the piece.
What's on your practice to-do list?
Thank you for reading!
Today I'll discuss being your own greatest asset.
An asset, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is an advantage or resource.
A liability is a debt or pecuniary obligation.
Let's re-frame my questions. If you have a lesson teacher, great! Pump them for every scrap of knowledge you can. You are with them a half hour a week or a full hour if you’re fortunate.
You have yourself for the other 167 hours every week. So wouldn’t it be useful if you could be your own teacher? Are you an asset to yourself or a liability?
How can you teach yourself?
Thank you for reading!
Today I'll discuss my foundational rules for teaching.
Hey! It's been a while, stranger (I realize that I'm the one that was gone, but please disregard). School is back in session and I've already had several thought-provoking conversations with some of my students. Thank you, Allen, for helping me with this list!
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an axiom is, "a statement accepted as true as the basis for argument or inference : postulate." Well, here are the axioms I use as the basis for my teaching.
What are your axioms?
Thank you for reading!
Today I'll introduce new materials on JeremyLewisTuba.com.
I recently took a group of students to the International Euphonium-Tuba Festival. There were lots of great activities at IET like private lessons, masterclasses, recitals, and ensembles. We had an awesome time. I was asked to present during the festival and in preparation I compiled three tiered daily routine packets. Here they are!
Routine I (tuba and euphonium)
This is the routine I give to anyone who hasn't worked through any of my routines yet.
Routine II (tuba and euphonium)
Routine II is a bridge between Routine I and III
Routine III (tuba and euphonium)
This is basically the routine I do every day.
A Few Notes on the Routines
Start with Routine I and increase difficulty incrementally each day. To increase difficulty you can extend the range of exercises (down and up), increase tempi, vary volume, change rhythms, etc. Once you've reached a plateau on any given exercise and been stuck for a few days, drop the difficulty back a few days of incremental increases and work your way past the point where you plateaued. Keep doing this until you are no longer able to break the plateau.
Once you've reached the limit of Routine I, move on to Routine II, then III. Note that you probably won't upgrade to Routine II or III all at once. That is to say, you can upgrade to Routine II Range before Flexibility, or Chromatics, or any of the other exercise categories. This is okay!
Keep a journal of everything you do in your routine. In my journal I put the date, how low and high I play during the Range exercise, and tempo in Chromatics, Flexibility, and Articulation. Refer back to the previous entry and go lower/higher, and faster.
Take your time. Be honest with yourself. There is no need to force progress to happen. Execution is of the utmost importance, not speed, volume, or high/low. If something doesn't sound like you imagine it should, slow down. If a slur isn't smooth, slow down!
The routine is the most important playing you'll do every day. And you should do it every day (unless it's your day off). This is where progress really happens. Push yourself further every day and don't settle for anything less than your best. You'll be amazed by what you can accomplish. Record yourself playing your routine every now and then. More importantly, listen to and analyze what you hear.
How're your summer goals going?
Thank you for reading!
Today we'll discuss getting ahead of the competition by staying focused over the summer.
Summer is a great time to get ahead of your competition by working on fundamentals. Many people take it easy over the break. Last summer I made it my mission to improve my range both low an high. I set a goal of adding an octave and ended up adding about an octave and a half. You can read all about how I did it here.
Staying focused on the single goal of increasing range last summer worked so well that I decided to pick a different goal this summer and work towards it. This summer I want to increase my double tongue speed from sixteenths at quarter = 150 to sixteenths at quarter = 200.
I was inspired by a shooting drill that basketball superstar, Lebron James does after practice. He takes three point shots until he's made 400. That's probably around 1,000 shots after he's been practicing and training all day, by the way. I like the idea of trying to improve double tongue technique with a high-volume (lots of repetitions) drill. My plan is to play through the Brum! exercise from the Brass Gym (euphonium and tuba) 200 times each practice day. There are 12 lines, so if I play the exercise top to bottom 17 times that's a total of 204 lines!
In the past week I've increased the tempo of the exercise to 160. I don't expect linear gains for very long. At some point I'll have to slow tempo increases down to 5 beats per week, then 2.5, then 1. Once I reach a plateau I'll switch exercises to some of the more advanced double tongue examples from the Arban book. After that, a different exercise. After that, maybe I'll experiment with tongue placement and try to find something more efficient/faster.
Without getting too far into the weeds, make sure your goals are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely). You can find more about SMART goals here.
What're your goals for this summer?
Thank you for reading!
Today we'll discuss five books I think every aspiring musician needs to read..
Last weekend our local library had one of their semi-annual book sales. This is an event which is near and dear to my heart as it involves two of my passions: books and bargains.
The library off-loads surplus inventory three times a year during these sales by offering books, which are often in excellent condition, for $7.50 for a grocery bag full of books. Yes, as many books as you can fit into a large paper bag! Weeks-worth of learning and/or entertainment for the price of a burger and fries. If that's not a good enough bargain for you, on the final day of the sale it's just $5 per bag!
This got me thinking about the books I've found most useful over the last few years. None of them is specific to music, but are more general to improving some aspect of your life. Take a look and let me know what you think.
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? People with a growth midset are much more likely to succeed and to be happy.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Transform your life by developing better habits. It's often our habits which hold us back from getting closer to our potential. So why not implement new habits which help us instead of hinder us?
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
Develop your talents and optimize your performance. I'll let you in on the secret of the book; talent isn't the most important thing when learning a skill-based task (like a musical instrument).
The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
I got so much out of this book that I bought the print and ebook editions. Ready to take productivity to the next level? Find the one thing that by doing it you can make everything else easier or unnecessary.
Performance Success by Don Greene
This book is harder to find the the others on this list. However, I'm not exaggerating when I say that it has revolutionized the way I approach preparation for performances.
Thank you for reading!
Today I'll be short and to the point (mostly).
This has been a hectic couple of weeks. So in an endeavor to stay in the groove of producing a new Tuba Tuesday edition every two weeks I'm sending out a couple more online resources that one of our readers (and current WTAMU junior), Alex Rivera reminded me of.
I honestly can't understand how I forgot these two resources, but stranger things have happened.
International Tuba-Euphonium Association
Thank you for reading!
Today we'll discuss the most important book in your journey to become a better brass player, the Vocalise etudes (euphonium/trombone and tuba) of Marco Bordogni.
There are many reasons to use the Bordogni book; it's an excellent resource when you're learning to play expressively. Since all of the etudes are written with slurs pretty much the whole way it's also great for working on playing with smooth legato. Since smooth legato requires smooth air stream, it's also a superb study in breath control. Finally, It's a versatile wealth of music that can be adapted and adjusted to suit your needs as a player.
The one time in my career where I think I've made the most progress as a tuba player was when I was playing Bordogni etudes for roughly an hour every day. I'd work through my daily routine, then move on to Bordogni, then practice other repertoire for the rest of the day. Wow, those were the days! No responsibilities except to make myself a better player. I digress...
I wasn't just mindlessly playing though the etudes. I had a purpose to everything I did. You can do anything you want with the etudes. You're limited only by your imagination.
Below is a list of the things I would do regularly that I found most useful.
1) Sing each etude using solfege if possible
2) Buzz large portions of each etude with particular attention to large/awkward leaps
3) Play them at the written octave but change certain aspects such as:
If you're familiar with the Bordogni etudes, what do you do that I didn't discuss here? Reply to this email if you'd like to talk about it.
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Today we'll discuss websites, YouTube channels, and other online resources for euphonium and tuba.
There are lots of great tools online for aspiring tuba-euph players. Some of my favorites are:
The Brass Junkies
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eioday we'll discuss buzzing; when, why and how. Happy practicing!
A few years ago there was a huge (by classical music standards) argument online about the pros and cons of buzzing on the mouthpiece. There were people protesting outside of local music stores, riots were started, others named their newborn children in support of their favorite mouthpiece manufacturers. Just kidding, but people really did argue.
People said buzzing was different from playing the instrument (it is, but not because you create sound in a different way), or that the way you create a buzz differs from playing on the instrument (also true). Neither of which mean that buzzing is a bad thing; far from it! Buzzing is a useful tool to have in your box of practice methods.
Today, we'll talk about finding your way back to the instrument after a vacation or other break. Happy practicing!
After the New Year 2019 my wife and I went on a seven day cruise to Central America. It was amazing! We saw Mayan ruins, beautiful beaches, and floated down a river through a mountain. I also gained 12 pounds...but I digress. I took a CC tuba mouthpiece and had great intentions of working through the Buzzing Book by James Thompson.
I did this twice throughout the week. It just isn't the same as playing the instrument. Buzzing is much more taxing and (at least to me) much less gratifying, though still a useful tool. I'll talk more on that in a future edition.
Once we were safely back home, I found my way back to the tuba. I'm typically pretty consistent when it comes to practice and usually take a tuba (or two) with me when we travel. However, if you've ever been on a cruise ship you know that space is on a premium. Bringing an instrument was not an option.
After a long break from practicing I make sure to do things differently for a week or so before I move back to full-bore.
1) Have temporarily low expectations
I'm not saying you should accept bad sound or sloppy technique. You still need to strive to get better. Just keep in mind that during the time you took off from practice you did de-train a little bit. You won't be where you were before you left, so go in with the expectation that you won't be able to do as much as you could before.
2) Go SLOW
Everything needs to be slowed down...more than you initially think it does. If my gut says "play this lip-slur at quarter = 80" I slow it down to 70 or 60 or even slower. Make sure you set yourself up correctly to start making progress.
3) Don't worry about lessened abilities
You won't be able to play as high/low/fast/slow/loud/soft, etc. It's not a big deal, you'll get back to where you were before you left. Take your time!
4) Work through your routine every day
This should go without saying, but I'm saying it anyway. It's that important! You need a routine that you work on every day.
5) Stay away from the rep you were working on before the break
Before the break I'd been working on a recording project and was very familiar with the repertoire. I haven't touched any of it since my return and probably won't for a few more days. This is important to me because I tend to be very critical of myself, especially in situations where I'm not in top playing shape.
6) Play only things you enjoy for a while
I like to take an etude book and gradually read through it over the course of a day or two. My favorites are Bordogni Bel Canto Etudes, Snedecor Low Etudes for Tuba, or Fritz Twenty Characteristic Etudes. Other times I'll just work on Arban exercises like arpeggios or intervals.
The point is to stay in your comfort-zone for a while until you get your chops back.
Thank you for reading!
Today, we'll discuss the best way I've found to increase single-tongue speed. Happy practicing!Every year I follow a rough schedule that looks something like this: Winter - focus on learning new repertoire for the brass quintet; Spring - focus on brass quintet repertoire; Summer - focus on specific problems in my playing and learn new solo repertoire; Fall - focus on solo recital repertoire.
A few years ago I decided that the focus for the summer would be my single-tongue speed. I spent some time looking for exercises that would work. I made my own drills, asked colleagues what they did, and spent hours online perusing the various brass forums (yikes, those places can be scary). Ultimately, the exercise that works the best for me came from a blog by an oboist. At this point, I have no idea where it actually came from, otherwise I give the oboist credit.
Single-tongue is something I have to constantly maintain. My default state without maintenance is about quarter = 95 beats per minute. After a few weeks of working with this drill it had increased to about 109 beats per minute (BPM). Here's a link to the exercise. It can also be found at the end of Routine I for euphonium and tuba
Anyway, here's the basic exercise.
When 100 is easy and you can keep up at stay with the metronome without having trouble, make 101 BPM your new starting tempo. The new sequence should look like this:
Thank you for reading!
Performance Preparation Tips
It's recital week! Since I'm a little crunched for time, I'll keep this short and sweet.
Here are a few things that may or may not be obvious to do when you're getting ready for a recital, audition, or other performance. These are things above and beyond what most people consider "good practice habits." I didn’t describe some of the items on the list because there’s a lot of information available on the internet if you just search. Enjoy!
Thank you for reading!
Today, I'm posting about some of my thoughts on low and high range development.
So, every year the WTAMU faculty brass quintet plays holiday themed performances at local elementary schools. At the end of each performance we usually have time to let the kids ask questions. By far the most common thing to happen in this situation is for the student to forget what they were going to ask about. The second most common, at least for me, is to be asked, "How high can you play?" or, ‘How low can you play?’
My instinct is to reply with a snarky answer like, "Who cares?" After all, playing high on the tuba is about as impressive as being the world's largest teacup Chihuahua or smallest English mastiff. Just so you know, there were supposed to be hilarious pictures of the aforementioned animals, but I could find no record of such creatures on all the internet. This serves my purpose here nicely, though. I understand the lack of evidence of pictures to mean that no one cares who has the world's largest teacup Chihuahua or smallest English mastiff.
Outside of the tuba-euph community no one really cares about our ability to play high or low. It's slightly more impressive to be able to play high on the euphonium than it is the tuba, maybe more like being a very large Sheltie (still, no one really cares).
All snarkyness aside, my serious answer to that question would be, "It depends." Am I focused on producing extremely low/high notes currently? How fatigued are my chops? Am I in my best shape?
Playing high is just not all that important in the scheme of things. Still we must be able to do what the composer asks at any time, every time. Which is why I recommend at least an octave above the highest note in the piece you currently plan to perform. It's not as important to have an extra octave below, but you should shoot for reaching at least the bottom of the pedal register. In case you're wondering that's: euphonium - C-flat 1 (all four valves), CC tuba - D-flat 0 (all five vales if you've got them), and BBb-flat tuba - C-flat -1 (yes, that's negative 1!).
We'll talk about this in more detail later, but the long story made short is that your body will compensate for increased demands through adaptation…Do more so your body will be able to do more, repeat. This concept applies equally well to lifting heavy weights, running a marathon, and even learning to play the euphonium or tuba.
Here’s how you can do it. Play scales every day; major, natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor. It doesn't matter, any scale will do.
Moderate tempo is best for endurance purposes. Start on the lowest note you can play with a great sound. Perform each scale in ascending chromatic order so that you’re constantly working toward your peak high range. You'll notice that by starting on your lowest note every day you will make gradual progress and be able to play even lower ultimately. If your initial starting note was E-flat 1, eventually you'll be able to start on D 1, then D-flat, and so on. Just keep working at it.
Play each scale two octaves. If you can get through all of them great, continue to three octaves. If not, also great, room for improvement! If you can play all of them three octaves, continue to four octaves, and then five. The point is to keep adding octaves to scales until you fail/miss the highest note of two scales consecutively. This is enough to inspire adaptation in your body.
Make every effort to play with an awesome sound no matter which octave you're currently playing in. From your very lowest, to your very highest notes, always perform with your best sound. Be sure you know the scales well enough that you won't need to devote much mental resource deciding which buttons to push down (I know, it's hard sometimes). You want to dedicate all of your considerable intellectual faculties to figuring out ways to play lower and higher each time you play the exercise. This can be done using any type of scale or arpeggio if you follow the directions (fail on the top note of two scales/arpeggios/exercises consecutively). I recommend the scales in Routine I for euphonium and tuba (links) as a starting place.
Thank you again and happy practicing!