Kramer, Don: Aids to the Development of the Big Four

BREATH The goals here are to develop an ever greater capacity for AIR and skill of using that AIR wisely.  The young student should be very careful with every breath.  Some time during the daily practice certain exercises should not only have “breath marks” but “breath stops” like a water stop on a long journey.  Concentrate on taking the breath through the corners of the mouth and then very quickly.  This method will insure the taking of a FULL breath.  Then go on with the exercise concentrating on a steady flowing stream of air on to the next “breath stop”.

EMBOUCHURE Young players generally use too much lip tension against lip and mouthpiece against lip (especially upper).  To avoid the “pinched” quality of tone the upper lip should have as little pressure from the mouthpiece as is possible!  The anchoring of the mouthpiece against the lower lip by pointing the instrument slightly downward extending the lower jaw will give the upper lip less pressure thus allowing more freedom for vibration and a freeing of the air stream for a “warm” and flowing brass tone quality.  Daily exercises should be practiced for the control of long tones and embouchure flexibility.  General aid in lip slurs; shape inside of the mouth as if to say “awe” for low tones, “oo” for mid tones, and “ee” for upper tones.  Going from low to high also demands a greater flow and force of air.  (This should be emphasized more than added lip tension).

TONGUE The beginning student should be taught to tongue each note very carefully.  Perhaps the biggest fault in tonguing is carelessness and inconsistency.  Daily practice assignment should include exercises which move very slowly, giving the student time to prepare for the starting of each note in the exercise.  This kind of exercise can be incorporated into the warm up and long tone exercises.  The only DON’T in regard to tonguing is “DON’T STOP THE AIR WITH THE TONGUE.”

FINGERING Fingering or in the case of the trombone, slide technique is much more than getting the correct “buttons” down or putting the slide in the correct position.  Valve instrument players generally have one common fault in fingering.  The basic position of the right hand has everything to do with this.  Flat fingers extended over the tips of the valves causes the player to give the impression of uninformed and sloppy technique.  The fingers should be curved as naturally as they are when the arm and hand are relaxed and hanging loosely at your side.  The finger tips should contact the valve tips from this natural curved position.  On baritone and tuba the young student often puts the thumb too far into the thumb ring thus promoting the “flat fingered” technique.  Cornet and trumpet players should place the tip of the thumb lightly against the 1st valve casing under the leadpipe.  This will allow the hand to assume a natural position and will place the fingertips directly on the valve tips.

Trombone players need to be concerned about wrist relaxation and flexibility.  Valve instrument players should have exercises which make use of the third valve at the earliest possible time in their training.  The third finger is by nature the weak finger and the first finger the strongest.  Beginning band methods and easy band literature do not demand much work from the third finger and thus that third finger technique remains underdeveloped throughout the average player’s activity.  The other major goal under this heading is the development of tongue and finger coordination.  Part of the daily practice routine should be devoted to this skill.

Don Kramer