Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Nicely-Toned Machine

Yup. That's you, looking good but sounding even better! Just as with a job interview where that first impression speaks volumes, so does your sound. Those first notes out of the bell matter.

Pop the cork and out sizzles your rich and amazing tone. Just as the fashion model presents a striking visual impression, so too your sound must grab instant attention. Listeners must do a double take as soon as they hear you.

Is your playing distinctive? Is it recognizably you? What distinguishes you from your competition? Sure, go for accuracy, but don't forget that people are listening. You want to be offering generous treats of expensive ear candy every time you play!

Pretend that your every note is being monitored even from those first sounds of the day. You have no notes to waste. Your warm up is careful and systematic, but not without plenty of attention on well-focused tone. Show your listeners the results of your summer tone-up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Buzz it

A great buzz makes for a great tone. An unfocused airy buzz makes good tone-production harder. Simply place the mouthpiece so that the center of the lips can freely vibrate. Anchor your corners, and direct the air straight into the hole in the mouthpiece. Focus the best buzz possible. Your goal is purity on your mouthpiece first. Then just add large doses of artistry.

Now using as little pressure as possible, buzz one note at a time, eliminating extraneous fuzz from your buzz. Go for the core of the pitch, the most resonant sound you can muster, always with minimal embouchure effort. Hold mouthpiece with only two fingers and one thumb, no fists. Air pressure must be greater than arm pressure.

Begin with sirens, slowly glissing up and down, pausing briefly on the lower and upper pitches. Remember, no junk, no stuffy questionable notes, just well-centered pitches, nothing less. Developing a soft response will be more helpful to your embouchure than just belting and blasting. Learn finesse and control in soft first.

Next, buzz short simple tunes, college fight songs, Christmas carols, etc. Keep the whole song well supported with a steady air stream. Each note must be clear and exactly in tune. Modulating cannot happen. Check with the piano often to ensure stable pitches. Notice how clean the tone is on the piano, starting instantly and not wavering? Copy that.

Determine that any eavesdroppers will be mightily impressed by your buzzings. Your listeners must admire the clarity of tone you are able to produce with just a four-inch piece of metal!

Daily conscientious buzzing will greatly improve your ear and your sound. Check with your mouthpiece often during the day. Whatever the passage, you will be able to control it when you can buzz it.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Sweep it!

Sweep it! Not your room, but your notes. One word is often better than a lecture. Make your progress simple and fast. How many one-word instructions can you recall that trigger immediate playing improvements, both for yourself and for your teaching? Studio flash cards, anyone?

The word "sweep" works nicely, not as into the trash, but into the audience. A good conductor's sweeping gestures are effective in drawing out broad expansive phrases from the orchestra. No conductor to look at? Visualize a yard full of dry leaves being cleared away by a power blower. Jump start that thing, and let it do what it's designed for. Our playing needs to be wind-swept, avoiding pokes and jabs. Just breathe and blow.

Our goal is fluid air no matter how angular the phrase. Nasty clusters of awkward gnarly notes can easily cause your air to get stuck somewhere behind the mouthpiece. Keeping a forward direction with a steady supply of free-flowing air always brings improvement. Tone opens up and embouchure tension is reduced.

Inhale, then release without holding back. The phrase must start before it is played. Intake and outgo must be free and in time. Your product must be musical, but your air must be dumb. Jerks, hiccups, and bumps will happen in the music, but not in the air stream.

Remember: Air rules.