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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 January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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