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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 March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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