Goal number one is control of right notes, right sound, right intonation, right length, and right volume. Goal number two is to be able to be in shape at the time of the concert.
First make individual notes familiar and bring them under control. Then go back and forth in interval work between two notes (or two notes of a study or solo) guarding against over-changing (collapsing) the lips and familiarizing yourself with the difference in the distance of lower teeth from upper. Then apply the above to all playing.
Some things lips can do only themselves and other positions that the lips can take only with the help of the mouthpiece. Studies should be put together on the mouthpiece as well as playing each note separately. This also applies to scales.
Demonstrate buzzing of lips alone (on a specific tone), then on the mouthpiece, and then on the horn. Play daily a C scale on the mouthpiece separating notes repeatedly and then the building of a connected mouthpiece scale (not slurred), keeping the muscular structure alert.
The first downward scale (or any first notes) should arrange a solution for the problem of embouchure – diaphragm. Repeat many times pp (quite a few should be done getting emptier of air) so that support begins to come without overblowing and the consequent distension of the embouchure.
Practice a daily routine that gets you around the instrument, but which doesn’t abuse the physical, which, instead, creates security and a feeling of control and doesn’t force you to indulge in bad habits of collapsed embouchure and excessive mouthpiece pressure. Sometimes in warm-up, when the effort is made to use good support, the blowing of air is neglected and more than desirable pressure is used on the lips. The important thing is to achieve a combination of both. Also the “blowing at the mouth” feeling is harder to feel on high notes when the pucker is less and the pressure greater.
Make the connections between on-off practice and endurance; the obvious one is more moments of rest when playing on-off. The less obvious is that fatigue is caused by legitimate (acceptable) factors and by non-acceptable ones. On-off creates and finds the exact rightness for each note and helps therefore to eliminate fatigue because fatigue is caused by unsmooth production. The other valid reason for fatigue is pressure. This is more needed in the high register. Pressure is reduced to its proper degree by the finding of exactness in embouchure resulting from on-off practice.
Before gaining control on your instrument, and before even beginning to work for that control, you must first have concepts. These concepts become your goals, your standards while practicing. To work toward either a tiny slender pianissimo or toward a masterfully sustained, forceful fortissimo, you must first conceptualize musical situations that would call for these things.
Control means that every note speaks exactly when you want it to. That you can play with accuracy at the softest level to the loudest level in all registers. On long and short notes, between notes that are close together or far apart, with good intonation and the required articulation, without smacking into notes.
The real condition of the lip is difficult to judge from day to day. It may feel good, but it has to be proven out. Only by patient, dogged repeating of figures that are awkward (and may look simple) can the various muscles in the cold lip be reawakened, reminded, and brought under satisfactory control while critically listening for forte.
You pick up the horn, look at the music, and plan to play it. You observe the time signature and begin to mentally hum the written notes against a rhythm or beat within yourself. You understand the key and perhaps can hear the written pitches. You know the fingerings and you recall playing well yesterday. You understand something about air, embouchure, and support but you sound awful when you start. Perhaps you can’t even play a simple study beautifully. Why? As in ballet, the pretty result seen on stage is nothing more than the total of all the dry, laborious, physical procedures.
So many of the mistakes that happen are from some little thing being wrong, a slight exaggeration of any otherwise correct action. It is clear from this that one of the most important aids to playing well is to practice with care and alertness. Good routines, carefully practiced and with great effort not to miss is one of the secrets of playing well.
A certain amount of sheer determination is necessary for results on some days. When the lip is truly sluggish, stiff, or feels weak, then the player must with careful determination proceed through a warm-up routine, during this warm-up saying to himself, “I ought to be able to play these notes clearly and accurately, and I am going to!”
When the sound is bad, and the mind seems to wander, and the flesh doesn’t feel willing, then one must determine to turn such a bad day into a good one. One must proceed as though a concert were to start in thirty minutes, and with an intelligent warm-up make the lips do the work that they have previously proven themselves capable of. Never mind the bad sound and the bad lip sensations. If one proceeds with determination and intelligence to produce the notes of the warm-up routine, the sound will gradually improve as the lips find themselves.
Be more impressed by the player who sounds well in the concert after sounding badly in the warm-up than by one who starts out sounding better and deteriorates from there.
The slow, separated, and clear striking of notes breaks the careless movements of jaw and mouth muscles down to exact requirements for each note.
Lip tension + lip arrangement + mouthpiece placement + support + pressure = output.
The enemy of a good attack is a flabby, unarranged lip. The embouchure has to be good enough to turn on loud and full with control and also soft with control. If the embouchure can’t do those things, practicing becomes more detrimental than helpful. Building on no foundation gets one nowhere. Test early in each day’s practice to be sure the facial arrangement can do the demands of secure loud and soft over the range. Only this way is one building security.
Perhaps a better approach than saying that the embouchure produces a loud note is the right one is to play softly (or loudly) but with little air and good support and insist on immediate response.
The separate notes should anticipate the slur problem. Portamento tonguing is an excellent way and possibly the best way to practice everything. It keeps the embouchure just right.
One of the main reasons for my kind of embouchure (white on white with firm held corners) is that it gives a great feeling of security, of knowing what’s going to come out.
- lip (reeds)
- air (power, energy, etc.)
- attack (or release) system – glottis and tongue
Playing can be compared to cooking, and good playing is the result of having correctly measured the ingredients. The ingredients are the same for all players. Each of us has lips, fingers, teeth, lungs etc. Just as in cooking, even a bad combination of the ingredients may be edible or will at least end up by being recognizable as food. So in playing the wrong proportions of the ingredients called for may still produce tolerable playing or at least bad sounds and wrong notes.
The moment of truth is when the various physical efforts, each measured to the correct degree, combine at precisely the required instant. It is achievable only when a unity of all the required parts occurs at the desired moment. Any mis-measurement or tardiness of any effort suffices to create the musical accident.
The whole result of good playing is the combination of the individual efforts of various ingredients in the player. They become a unity of action. Because they are basically separate things, each ingredient can be separately understood and developed.
When the parts become a unity, a subtle and slight change takes place in the way each does its job in so far as it is affected by the others; for example, the embouchure not being set quite exactly right without a well-blown airstream.
Why Study Solfège
The air must know the name of each note in order to blow at (aim at) each note. If the air doesn’t “know” the note, the result will be more pressure and less blowing. If the mind doesn’t know what is happening, and if instead the physical apparatus is trusted to do the job, the performer is then trusting to luck (of which there are two kinds).
Even though the eyes see the notes; even though the ear thinks the pitch in advance; even though the fingers know how to depress the keys; and even though the lips and air know how to make the required specific effort to produce the desired note (as proven simply by the fact that they have played any note on many occasions) – yet none of these separate bits of localized knowledge can be depended upon to combine at the needed moment with all of the other required bits, unless the player’s mind is leading the action and has a mental alertness of the name of the note in the passage and of its melodic and harmonic relationship to the other notes in the passage.
For beginners, a good way of starting correctly in terms of the solfège problem is always to say correctly the syllable mentally as the note is being played. The fingers benefit, for example, by following a mental command before they act. Playing by rote is not sufficient.
The order of meaning and application of solfège to playing is as follows:
- The notes are produced as a result of a certain specific combination of the face muscles and the air.
- The ingredients can combine successfully only if they combine together at a specific moment, and in as positive a manner as possible, with a minimum of hesitation and doubt.
- If the air is wandering to any degree and is not absolutely sure as to just what note it wants, this uncertainty and hesitation are transmitted to the actual playing ingredients and then being less than certain, make less than their best effort.
- The player cannot afford to have any mental uncertainty as to the note sought.
- Solfège amplifies benefits to rhythm and time control.
One should be able to turn on and off the mental solfèging. One of the great benefits from solfège is its help in stopping rushing.
In addition to knowing the fingerings, which is simple, and learning to hear musical sounds intelligently and to control the breathing apparatus which is far more complicated, we must go that one step further and actually know mentally (as opposed to knowing physically) the name and location harmonically and melodically of each note.
Solfège improves musical and performing abilities by keeping the brain “turned on.”