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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 December 9, 2019

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

Everyone experiences mental stress at one time or another. Maybe you’re starting a new career, job, or business, or you feel incredibly overwhelmed between work, parenting, and your love life (or a lack of it). It could even be that you simply feel that you have way too much to do and not enough time to do it,  plus, on top of everything, nothing seems to be going the way it should!

Yup, we all experience mental stress from time-to-time, and that’s okay as long as you have the tools, techniques and knowledge that allow you to fully relieve it once it comes.

Here are 5 tips for relieving mental stress when it comes so you can function at your best while feeling good (and doing well) in work, love, or life:

1. Get Rationally Optimistic

Mental stress starts with your perception of your experiences. For instance, most people get stressed out when they perceive their reality as “being wrong” in some way. Essentially, they have a set idea of how things “should be” at any given moment, and when reality ends up being different (not even necessarily bad), they get stressed.

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This process is simply a result of perception and can be easily “fixed” by recognizing that although life might not always be going as YOU think it should, it’s still going as it should—for your own benefit.

In fact, once you fully recognize that everything in your life ultimately happens for your own growth, progress, and development—so you can achieve your goals and dreams—your perception works in your favor. You soon process and respond to your experience of life differently, for your advantage. That’s the essence of becoming “rationally optimistic.”

The result: no more mental stress.

2. Unplug

Just like you might need to unplug your computer when it starts acting all crazy, you should also “unplug” your mind.

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How on earth do you unplug your mind? Simple: just meditate.

It isn’t nearly difficult or complicated as some people think, so, if you don’t already meditate, give it a try. Whether you meditate for 5 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 hours, this is a surefire way to reduce mental stress.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to relax your body (resulting in less mental stress), while also reducing anxiety and high blood pressure.

3. Easy on the Caffeine

Yes, we know, we know—everyone loves a nice java buzz, and that’s okay, but there’s a fine line between a small caffeine pick-me-up and a racing heart and mind that throws you into a frenzy of mental stress.

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Try giving up caffeine for a while and see how you feel. And, if that’s completely out of the question for you, at least try to minimize it. You might find that lots of your mental stress mysteriously “disappears” as your caffeine intake goes down.

4. Attack Mental Stress Via the Back Door

That’s right: your body and mind are part of the whole being, and are constantly influencing and affecting each other. If you’re experiencing a lot of mental stress, try to reduce it by calming your body down—a calm body equals a calmer mind.

How do you calm your body down and reduce physical stress? A  great way to reduce physical stress (thereby reducing mental stress) is to take natural supplements that are proven to reduce stress and anxiety while lifting your mood. Three good ones to look into are kava-kava, St John’s wort, and rhodiola rosea:

  • Kava-kava is a natural plant known to have mild sedative properties, and you should be able to find it at your natural health food store or vitamin store. It’s available in capsules or liquid extract form.
  • St John’s wort is a natural flower used to treat depression. Again, it’s found at your local health store in capsules or liquid. Because it uplifts mood (enabling you to see the brighter side of all experiences) it helps relieve mental stress as well.
  • Rhodiola rosea is a natural plant shown to reduce stress and uplift mood, and Russian athletes have been using it forever. Like the other two supplements mentioned, rhodiola rosea can be found at your natural health store in capsule or liquid form.

While these supplements are all natural and can be very helpful for most people, always check with your health care provider first as they can cause side-effects depending on your current health situation etc.

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5. Good Old-Fashioned Exercise

This tip has been around forever because it works. Nothing relieves mental stress like running, kickboxing—you name it. Anything super-physical will wipe out most of your mental stresses once the exercise endorphins (happy chemicals) are released into your brain.

The result: mental stress will be gone!

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or just plain stressed, try using some of the above tips. You can even print this out or save it to refer to regularly.

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Featured photo credit: Radu Florin via unsplash.com

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