It’s almost that time of the year again. Your students are gearing up to be back in school, and no matter how they feel about the matter, you know they’re excited to go back to their favorite class: band! As an educator, it’s challenging to address each instrument group and have the pedagogical knowledge to really help raise the musicianship of every student. I’m learning new tips about woodwinds and percussion all the time! My goal today is to help you bolster your knowledge on the instruments with spit valves – the lower ones specifically. Here are some ideas on how to get your low brass musicians off to a great start this school year.
3 Things First Year Students Need to Know to Get Started Right
1. Use More Air
Your beginners need to understand from their very first day with their instrument that air (wind) is the key to making sound, and a beautiful sound at that. Start with breathing exercises for your low brass musicians (which can benefit all of your wind players).
Have students open their mouths like they are saying the letter “O” and then inhale and exhale slowly. They should gesture with their hand palm facing toward them to help the wind come in, and then move their palm backwards as they slowly exhale. This serves as a nice visual so students can picture their wind as a source of power. Know that if you hear unsupported thin sounds from your tuba and trombone players, the answer is often, “More air!”
Metaphors that can help students visualize the concept of using more air include (but are not limited to): blowing out birthday cake candles, blowing out a campfire, powering a sail boat with air, and blowing down a house made of straw. You get the idea.
2. Remain Open
Beginners can tend to have a lot of tension in their bodies because they are not used to holding their instruments. It is important to let your students know that their throat and their teeth in particular need to be open. A closed throat and closed teeth create an undesirable pinched tone. Teach students to relax from the beginning and they will see success much sooner.
To understand the concept of slightly parted teeth, I have my students take their mouthpieces cup facing their mouth.They then turn the mouthpiece so the shank is facing their mouth. Have students open their teeth and place the shank in their mouths so that they can lightly bite down. This is roughly the space low brass players need between their teeth to produce a beautiful tone. I love this trick because it gives students a tactile understanding of the remaining open concept.
To finish out the exercise, have students turn the mouthpiece back around, keeping the space in their teeth, and take a few deep breaths blowing their air through the mouthpiece.
3. Bring the Instrument to You
Finally, beginners need to get started with a correct playing position. The most important concept here is to have the mouthpiece come to them- sitting up straight with feet flat on the floor of course. If they contort themselves in any odd way, their tone will not reach its full potential. When they are sitting up correctly as you would like them to, have them bring the instrument to them, and they will be off to a great start!
Tips to Shake the Rust off of More Advanced Students
Low Brass Choir of Sound
Scales in rounds build alert ears among band members. Instead of keeping the entire low brass trapped in group one, let them be the only members of the round! Group one tuba, group two euphoniums, and group three trombones just for starters. This exercise will open up their ears to their section sound. Intonation and tone matching become much easier when they are responsible for their own part of the scale.
Along this same idea, give your low brass section a piece just for them! Something beautiful and slow like an arrangement of Finlandia (Arranged by Michael McDonough http://www.lowbrassmusic.com/finlandia-9161) works very well because they have to tune their long tones and find a balance and a blend. The more the low brass listens to each other, the tighter they will be. Your band’s foundation will be rock solid.
Refresh Alternate Slide Positions and Fingers
Students in your high school band are experiencing more difficult literature and will be in need of different slide positions/fingerings to tackle challenging passages. These also often provide better intonation. Here are some that they will find useful:
Whether you are starting the low brass musicians of the future or inspiring the current aspiring ones, know that they will be encouraged by a little love thrown their way. Hopefully these tips will prove helpful to you and your students. Have a fantastic and musical school year!
Heather Ewer grew up in Arvada, CO and has been happily playing the tuba since the 4th grade. She graduated with a degree in music education from Western Michigan University. Now in her second year teaching band with Mapleton Public Schools, Ms. Ewer enjoys sharing her passion for music with 5th and 6th grade students. After school, Ms. Ewer works with students in the Colorado Honor Band Association and plays her tuba in a variety of community groups-including the Jefferson County Community Band, the Golden Eagle Concert Band, and the Aurora Symphony.
In addition to playing tuba, she loves to hike, ride her bike, watch musical theatre, and curl.