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10 Things Only Brass Players Would Understand

10 Things Only Brass Players Would Understand

Did you know that Herbert L. Clarke (1867 -1945) was one of the world’s greatest cornet players? If you are a brass player, you will almost certainly have heard of him. His methods for cornet playing, such as his agility in scales and slurs, are now widely regarded as standard for trumpet and many other brass instruments such as the tuba, horn, and trombone. His extraordinary sense of musicality plus his astounding techniques can be heard on this video. It is said that Louis Armstrong possessed this record and may well have been influenced by Clarke’s brilliant playing.

If you are a brass player, you will resonate with the joys and difficulties in playing these challenging instruments. You will also have to face some common misconceptions.

Misconception #1. You always hear that the correct embouchure is important

The embouchure is the so called “correct” application of lips and tongue when playing a wind instrument. Many students copy the embouchure of famous players but it really depends on the anatomy of our lips and facial features. Each brass player has to experiment with what works best for them.

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Misconception #2. You are a privileged member of society

You know when people say that brass players, like all musicians, are a privileged minority and live on a different planet. El Sistema with Dudamel: Let The Children Play is an inspiring story of how teenagers were rescued from crime and delinquency in Caracas by being given to chance to learn music.  Listen to them playing Shostokovich’s Symphony No.10, 2nd movement conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, where the trumpets and trombones are the protagonists.

Music is a universal right and must never be reserved for an elite. You are proud of the role you are playing in every sense of the word.

Misconception #3. You know that your teacher knows best

There are teachers who insist on the correct position of lips on the mouthpiece. Robert Beauchamp had a teacher who insisted that he should play the French horn with mouthpiece 2/3 upper and 1/3 lower. This limited his playing somewhat and held him back. Forty years later he discovered that a more flexible approach did wonders for his playing. He now plays horn and trumpet in a church orchestra. You can read his story here. So teachers may not always know best and players have to learn by trial and error what lip position and breathing techniques work best for them.

Misconception #4. You are paid a very high salary

If only people knew the reality of brass players’ pay checks. Many top orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra will pay their members up to $140,000 a year. This is for the chosen few and many brass players, like most musicians, have to be content with an average salary of $36,543 a year.

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Misconception #5. You are just doing a pretty mundane job entertaining people

Why is entertainment so far down the scale of people’s priorities? Music is actually connecting people at a higher level through ideas and emotions. It is no harm to remember that the British brass bands in Victorian England were often the only way that working class people were given the chance to listen to classical music.

Misconception #6. You hear that it is easy to reach the top

As you practice for hours and even years, you wonder where people get this idea from. The psychologist Dr. Ericsson who is famous for his “10,000 – hour rule” states that 10,000 hours practice will be sufficient to reach expert level. Guess what the exception is? Yes, musicians have to do it for 15 -25 years to reach a level that will bring them international fame.

Misconception #7. You hear that people think the trumpet cannot be very expressive

If you listen to one of Maurice Andre’s recordings, you will see why he is regarded as one of the world’s greatest trumpeters. He was instrumental in making the trumpet a popular instrument through the Baroque repertoire. This is what he says about the trumpet being expressive

“I always tried to profit from the possibilities of my instrument because it can be very soft, virile, technical, and it can be very romantic – it’s an extraordinary instrument.” – Maurice Andre

Sit back and listen to him playing the Haydn trumpet concerto allegro and see what he means.

Misconception #8. You know that it is all a matter of breathing

It is a bit more complicated than that. After all, if you have to play the horn, then you are making music through various feet of twisted metal. Barry Tuckwell is probably the world’s most famous horn player and he knows all about making the horn sound enchanting. Yet he regards it as a treacherous instrument and no doubt he has learned from his mistakes.

“Success comes through rapidly fixing our mistakes rather than getting things right the first time.” – Tim Harford, author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure

Misconception #9. You know people who are playing down the importance of music education

Wynton Marsalis is the first composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music with a jazz composition. As one of the world’s greatest trumpeters, he has won no less than nine Grammys. He has very definite views on the importance of music education and how it must be used to make a real difference, to make the world a better place and to encourage people to feel empowered and inspired.

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“Music will prepare you to be a better person.” – Wynton Marsalis

Misconception #10. You think that music practice is always hard work

There are long hours of practice but when you get the chance to play in an orchestra, the rewards are truly phenomenal. Alison Balsom is an inspiring trumpeter who started to learn the trumpet at the age of seven. She knows all about the thrill of playing for other people’s pleasure and enrichment while sharing her talent with other musicians and learning from the experience.

Most brass players will tell you that while mastering the technicalities of embouchure and breathing are crucial, your idea of what you want to sound like is an extension of yourself.

“I realised from early on that it wasn’t just a trumpet, it was a voice that could seemingly do anything. One of my very first experiences was hearing a recording of Dizzy Gillespie. It was just so sassy and clever and sort of primal, emotional but hugely cool, and all these things alongside all the glory and splendour the classical trumpet can offer.” – Alison Balsom

Featured photo credit: Duo/Nick McPhee via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on October 6, 2020

6 Signs It’s Time to Change Your Life

6 Signs It’s Time to Change Your Life

Is it time to make some changes in your life? It just might be. Life is too short to not live it to the fullest.

Here are some signs it’s time to change your life.

1. Every week, you cannot wait for Friday.

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    Fridays are fun, but one thing I’ve discovered in my quest to find and do work I absolutely love is that almost every day can be really fun. If you’re saving all your living for the weekends, it’s time to truly think about your lifestyle and consider making some changes. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great to have plans you look forward to on the weekends, but what if you could have that excited Friday feeling most, if not all, days of the week? It takes a lot of self-discovery and work, but it’s truly possible to live a life you love—even on Mondays.

    2. You live for your vacations.

    Vacations are great, but what’s even better is building a life you don’t need to take a vacation from. As Seth Godin said, “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” Vacations are fun and exciting, but even better is building a life where you have the potential to do what lights you up many weeks of the year, not just your two allotted vacation weeks.

    3. When you stop and think about it, you’re really not focusing your life on your priorities.

    Write down your 3 top priorities. Then write down the 3 things you focus most of your life on. Are you spending your time living your top priorities? Consistently spending time doing what matters most to you is one of the keys to feeling fulfilled in your life. If you’re not focusing your life on what’s important to you, it’s time to make some changes.

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    4. You have no idea what lights you up, and you don’t have the space in your life to discover it.

    If you haven’t found your passion in your current life, you’re not going to find it if you continue to do your same routine, over and over, year after year. In order to discover what lights you up, start by creating the space in your life to seek it. Give yourself time to figure out who you are, what your strengths are, and what picques your interest. Experiment with learning new things, spending time with inspiring people, and doing more of what excites you and less of the things that suck your energy.

    5. You’re frequently jealous.

    If you find yourself frequently feeling jealous of someone, there are 3 changes to consider making:

    1. Make a point to focus on your path instead of his or her journey. Sometimes this involves taking a break from social media.
    2. Get inspired from the person you’re jealous of, and work toward a similar goal in your life.
    3. Decide what the other person has is not something you are willing to put in the effort to achieve, so you’ll cheer him or her on but choose to not be jealous.

    When you are feeling jealous, consider why you want what the other person has, and what your motives are. Living a life on your terms, focused on your priorities, passions, and strengths, will provide you with much more fulfillment than trying to be somebody else.

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    6. You can’t remember the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone.

    According to Neale Donald Walsch, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Your life can become even more amazing if you stretch beyond your comfort zone. If you’re not sure where to start, try the tips in this article about small ways to step out of your comfort zone.

    Life is too short to spend your years not living to your full potential. If you decide you’re ready to change your life, I encourage you to start taking small action steps toward the life you want to live. Keep moving forward.

    Check out this video if you’re ready to make a change in life:

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    Featured photo credit: Lauren McKinnon/https://flickr.com via flickr.com

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