Wilktone

Jazz, brass, composition, and other things music related.

Wilktone - Jazz, brass, composition, and other things music related.

Weekend Picks

I’m playing tonight (Friday, August 29, 2014) at Highlands Playhouse with the Asheville Jazz Orchestra. Dinner is served for attendees at 7 PM and the concert starts at 8. Stop by if you’re in the area.

Here are my picks for your weekend surfing.

Liz Ryan offers 7 Reasons To Let Your Kid Study Music. It’s a little different from your typical list that strives to show a connection between musical study and academic success, although there’s a bit of that in there too.

Are you a trumpet (or any brass) player looking for some new exercises to break things up? Check out the Exercise Database For Trumpet Players, Teachers and Students.

In 1920s America admitting to a homosexual relationship could get you thrown in jail or worse. In spite of that, some lesbian blues singers more than alluded to their preferences. Lisa Hix has written a fascinating look at Singing the Lesbian Blues in 1920s Harlem.

Lastly, it’s easy to find YouTube videos of trumpet players showing off their high range. If you find those videos impressive, you’ll enjoy this High Note Trumpet Nation Anthem.

Embouchure Question – Doubling on Brass

Kelly is a brass doubler who was looking for some help with his or her embouchure type.

Hi, i was wondering if there is any way i can tell if im i medium high placement or a very high placement player? I feel i am a flexible player, but i struggle with anything above the staff (Trumpet player) i also play euphonium, but the opposite occurs. Its much easier for my to play in the upper register on euphonium than on Trumpet. does this mean i’m a medium or high placement player?

This is a tough question to answer, even when I’m able to watch you play in person. In order to actually give someone targeted advice about embouchure I at least need to see some video footage (here is a post I’ve put together that describes in detail the sort of thing that I like to see on video). There is so much that can happen with a player that causes similar symptoms that any suggestions I offer without watching a player can be the complete opposite of what they should be doing. Even working with a student in person it can be difficult to tell with just one lesson which embouchure type will work best in the long term for a player.

Based on what Kelly wrote above I would look at how Kelly’s embouchure looks on both euphonium and trumpet and see if they are indeed the same embouchure type or if Kelly is using a different embouchure type for the different instruments. It’s best if a player can play with the same embouchure type for any brass doubles and it will work better if a player places the mouthpieces in concentric circles on the lips, rather than lining up the top of the rim, for example, in the same place. That can result in type switching or even just having to work harder on one of the instruments because the lips may be fighting for predominance inside the mouthpiece cup.

It’s not hard to find trumpet players who can pick up a low brass instrument and play very high, but struggle with the low register. If you’re used to focusing your embouchure inside a trumpet mouthpiece you can more easily force the lip vibrations into that very small surface area inside a low brass mouthpiece and play into the trumpet range. On the other hand, usually the tone isn’t so focused sounding and often these trumpet players have difficulty descending this way. Lip compression needs to start from the mouth corners, not inside the mouthpiece cup. When these trumpet players learn to do this their tone and low register might open up, but they will loose some of their high range until they learn how to ascend from this more appropriate embouchure formation.

Another fairly common situation is to find brass players (even non-doublers) who type switch between “very high placement” and “medium high placement” embouchure types. At times it will be clear after a little experimentation which embouchure type is going to be correct, but it can also be very difficult to tell, particularly for players who have not been playing for very long or younger players. Since your anatomy determines the most efficient embouchure type it is often necessary for the player to allow some time to complete the growth spurt before you can more correctly determine the embouchure type. Players who haven’t yet learned good embouchure form (using the correct muscles, firming the lips correctly, etc.) will sometimes fluctuate between embouchure types as the lack of stability makes it hard to figure out what’s going to work.

Without having watched Kelly play, the best advice I can offer for now would be to strengthen up the embouchure formation with some light, simple free buzzing exercises (follow that link for the exercise Donald Reinhardt came up with). I wouldn’t be worrying too much about which embouchure type you have, since if you guess wrong you can end up doing more harm than good. Concentrate on other things (firm your lips before placing the mouthpiece, keep the mouthpiece on the lips while breathing through the mouth corners, practice good breath control, etc.) and over time allow your embouchure type to develop on its own. Most players will naturally and subconsciously figure out their own embouchure type this way.

Sometimes a player will type switch and not work out their own embouchure type, however. In this case it can be very helpful to catch lessons from someone who has a deeper understanding of brass embouchure form and function who can do some controlled experimentation and help you find your own embouchure type. At the very least, lessons with an experienced brass teacher who doesn’t really deal with embouchure will help you with other aspects of your playing that should help your embouchure settle down and make your embouchure type more apparent.

Weekend Picks

If you enjoyed Lloyd Leno’s film, Lip Vibration of Trombone Embouchures, you might like watching a cymbal filmed at 1,000 frames per second.

Here’s a neat project.

We put a Carnegie Hall orchestra in the middle of New York City and placed an empty podium in front of the musicians with a sign that read, “Conduct Us.” Random New Yorkers who accepted the challenge were given the opportunity to conduct this world-class orchestra. The orchestra responded to the conductors, altering their tempo and performance accordingly.

While the title is 7 Surprising Qualities of the World’s Best Improvisers, I don’t think any of them are really all that surprising. Still, it’s a great read and worth a look.

And finally, I was just talking with fellow trombonist Alan about this video of Tommy Pederson performing Flight of the Bumblebee.

Lake Norman Big Band Season Kickoff August 23, 2014

The past couple of years or so I’ve been a clinician for the Lake Norman Big Band, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization. Each year after their summer break they have a day-long band camp where they bring in clinicians to work with each section of the big band band and then host an informal performance for friends and family (followed by dinner). I’ll be working with the trombones again this year, Will Campbell (from the University of North Carolina – Charlotte) is working with the saxes again, Bill Lawing (Davidson College) is the trumpet clinician, and Noel Freidline (“parts unknown”) is the rhythm section clinician. Even though this band is mostly comprised of amateur players, they are all serious about sounding good and it’s really a very fine big band.

While I’m in the Charlotte, NC area this Saturday (August 23, 2014) I may be able to find time after 5 PM to get together for embouchure lessons in the area before I head back to Asheville. If you want to try to meet up drop me a line here.

Weekend Picks

I just began working on a new project that is taking up much of my free time just now. It’s not ready for a public announcement, but it will be of particular interest to student jazz composers and involve the Asheville Jazz Orchestra. Details on the AJO web site and here when it’s ready to go live.

AJO at Woody's and Becky's PartySpeaking of the AJO, we played a private event for one of our trumpet players, Woody, and his wife, Becky. Their sons threw them a 40th anniversary party. Since it wasn’t a formal performance for us and there were a lot of musicians in the crowd to sit in, I got to go out front and listen for a change. I even moved around and took a bunch of photos. Too bad I didn’t think to bring a better camera.

At any rate, here are some music related links for you to surf this weekend. There’s a bit of a theme this weekend. Everything here is something I take with a grain of salt.

Well it’s about time. Science declares Universal Property of Music Discovered.

Researchers have discovered a universal property of scales. Until now it was assumed that the only thing scales throughout the world have in common is the octave. The many hundreds of scales, however, seem to possess a deeper commonality: if their tones are compared in a two- or three-dimensional way by means of a coordinate system, they form convex or star-convex structures. Convex structures are patterns without indentations or holes, such as a circle, square or oval.

Do you buy it? Assuming the math is sound, it’s probably just an interesting quirk. At least that’s my guess.

There’s definitely some good advice and food for thought, but the headline is just click bait, The End of the Symphony and How Today’s Music Students Should Adapt. I’ve been hearing about the end of symphony orchestras for decades and they’re still around.

Speaking of the end, here is Frank Zappa explaining the decline of the music business. An interesting perspective from someone who experienced a changing music industry, but the business has changed quite a bit more since Zappa recorded this.

And finally, here is “Hans Groiner” discussing the music of Thelonious Monk. The comments on YouTube are hilarious.

AJO Tonight and Weekend Picks

AJO-Logo-Transparent copyI’m directing and performing with the Asheville Jazz Orchestra again tonight (Friday, August 8, 2014) at the White Horse in Black Mountain, NC. The show starts at 8 PM and we’ll play two sets of big band jazz. If you’re in the area looking for live music, please consider coming on out.

Here are some music related links for you to check out this weekend.

Low-Down Sires Busk

Low-Down Sires Busk

The first time I ever performed on the street (AKA “busking”) I had just graduated high school. A sax player heard me play and we talked for a while about a band he was playing in. A month later I went off to college and coincidentally I met another member of that band, eventually leading into me recording and playing some gigs with them. Recently I started busking again with some friends I play trad jazz with. We’ve found it to be a fun way to practice new material, essentially becoming a way to make a bit of money to rehearse. Sometimes if we’ve got some down time on an out of town tour we will go out and play on the street to not only pick up a few more bucks but also plug our gigs later. If you’re interested in trying out performing on the street, check out this advice on How to Busk.

One piece of advice I often give to my composition/arranging students is that they should show their parts to players that perform the instruments they are writing for. Even instruments in the same family will differ in terms of playability. For example, I sometimes get parts written by trumpet players that lay horribly for trombone because they took what they wrote for a trumpet and simply transposed it down an octave. Horn is a particularly challenging instrument for me to write well for because it has some idiosyncrasies that don’t translate from the other brass instruments. Fortunately, John Ericson has given us 9 Ways We Can Tell a Composer or Arranger Doesn’t Know How to Write for the Horn.

Did your metronome battery die? Or maybe it’s just too quiet and you need to blast a metronome through your computer speakers. Here’s a handy (and amusing) online metronome that simulates a pendulum style metronome.

And lastly, since school is about to start up after our summer break, here is a list of Ten Things You Should Never Say to Your Music Teacher. The tone may be tongue-in-cheek, but the advice is golden!

Embouchure Question: Should I Change My Off-Center Embouchure

Here’s another question I got from my virtual pile of email. This one is from Veronika.

I am a French horn/trumpet player in high school and I play with an embouchure that is off to my right of my lips and I have had teachers tell me I need to fix it or I will hit a point where it will get in the way of my playing and I have had others say that if it works for me then I should be fine I would like to know if this is a bad thing and if I need to fix it if you could get back to me ASAP it would be great

As I usually have to say with questions like this, I can’t really answer your question without watching you play, preferably in person. Every player is different and so for me to say without seeing you that you need to change your embouchure (or keep it the same) would not be good advice. Your teachers, on the other hand, have presumably watched you play and notice something not working correctly and have offered a suggestion. My first instinct would be to follow their advice and give it an honest effort.

However, even some very fine musicians and experienced teachers often make some erroneous recommendations simply because they don’t have an interest in embouchures and assume that what works for them (and even a majority of their students) must be correct. Everyone has a different face, so everyone will have a different embouchure. If you do a search for “off center” here on my blog you’ll see many examples of embouchures that are placed to one side, and some of these are world class brass musicians. Most players will find that their embouchures are a little to one side, but generally centered along the horizontal. Some players play much better with a very off-center mouthpiece placement.

It’s difficult to generalize why some players do better with an off-center placement. Sometimes brass musicians will talk about a protruding or sharp tooth that requires them to place the mouthpiece so the rim can’t contact the tooth. I’ve heard other players describe how they intentionally place the rim over a protruding tooth or gap in order to “lock in” their placement. Again, it’s a very personal feature.

Getting back to Veronika’s question, I would just close by pointing out that it’s not how your embouchure looks that is important, it’s how it functions and how good it sounds. If you sound best with an off-center mouthpiece placement then I think that this is where you should leave it. Whenever I recommend an placing the mouthpiece in a different spot than where it is I do so because there is an immediate improvement in something that needs to be fixed and because I can’t fix that issue with any other method. If your teacher is telling you that in time the “muscles will develop” with a more centered placement I would try to find a different teacher and grab a second opinion when you can. I’ve even heard of some cases where excellent brass players have done everything their teacher told them to do in their lessons, but practiced how they knew they should play on their own in order to get by. That’s not ideal, but always an option if you think you’re being steered wrong in this area.

Do you have a question about brass embouchures or any other music related topic you’d like to see me discuss here? Drop me a line with your questions.

Embouchure Question: “True Buzz” and Equipment Size Fitting Your Size

I’m trying to get through some of the questions I’ve been emailed that have piled up. This one is from Mark.

Hi Dave,  your suggestions to me as a fellow upstreamer to do shorter practice chunks (5 min.) was very helpful to me a few yrs. back…thanks!  (On a side note, you might be interested to know that in high school I knew my emb. was different from everyone else I knew, & Kai was the only person who looked to have a similar one, from a photo, and that he had a brighter sound than JJ.)  
Anyway, since we free buzz downstream, how can we tell about the accuracy of our true buzz, as downstreamers do? Also, as I am on the somewhat smaller side, is smaller equip. more in resonance with me as as a player, or is that irrelevant?
Thanks for your time,  Mark

In case you surfed over here and haven’t seen how I personally will use the terms “upstream” and “downstream” in relationship to embouchure, you will want to take a bit on look through this resource here. Both Mark and I are not talking about whether you have a high or low horn angle, we’re talking about how the air stream actually passes the lips into the mouthpiece.

Mark mentions that upstream players will (should) free buzz downstream when practicing free buzzing exercises. This is because it is the best way for brass players to target the specific muscles you want to focus on with your brass embouchure (the intersection of muscles at and just under the mouth corners). Trying to make your free buzz work upstream, even if you’re naturally an upstream player, typically forces your lips into a position where you’re not really targeting the correct muscles. Here is another resource I have put together on free buzzing.

To get to Mark’s question about the accuracy of the buzz I think it’s important to note that I don’t consider free buzzing to be a useful diagnostic tool, but rather a type of practice that one can use. While it may be true that many downstream players want to make their playing embouchure more like their free buzzing embouchure, that’s not always the case. For some players of any embouchure type you can see the aperture forming in one spot with free buzzing, but if you look inside a transparent mouthpiece or visualizer you’ll see the aperture forming in a a different spot on the lips (here’s a resource I’ve put together on this topic). Incidentally, I do not use a rim cut-a-away/visualizer as a diagnostic tool either, but prefer a transparent mouthpiece as it shows us the most accurate look at a player’s embouchure as it actually is functioning while performing. If you want to see what any player’s embouchure is actually doing when playing you shouldn’t rely on free buzzing or rim only buzzing. It might be similar, but it might be completely different. Brass teachers and players who rely exclusively on those methods for embouchure diagnosis are getting an incomplete picture.

Regarding Mark’s equipment question, I have to start off by warning everyone that I really haven’t looked very closely at this. Most of my mouthpiece recommendations are based on what I learned from Doug Elliott in some of my lessons with him. We’ve mostly discussed how different embouchure types can respond to different general mouthpiece features. It seems logical that for a very small person a smaller mouthpiece might be typical and larger folks might want to play on a generally larger mouthpiece. That said, I don’t really know how accurate this idea is.

One thing that I really like about the equipment recommendations I got from Doug is that he started from a general recommendation and then methodically helps you find the right mouthpiece for you. In one of my lessons he brought out different sized rims and had me try them out one at a time, going to the next larger size each time. As I went bigger we both noticed slight improvements in my sound up to a point at which the next larger rim size made my sound less focused. Going back to one size smaller ended up being perfect for me.

If you’re looking to work out a good mouthpiece size for your personal embouchure I’d recommend a similar experiment. Try out mouthpieces that change one feature (cup size, cup shape, rim size, rim bite, etc.) and methodically try them out until you find the best fit for you. It may be more difficult to get a hold of all those different mouthpieces, but I think this may be the best way to really know for sure.

Weekend Picks

It’s Friday again. Here are some of my music related picks for your weekend surfing.

Here’s an older (2011) article from Psychology Today that asks Can Art and Brain Be Put Together?

Although we are all now more culturally comfortable bathing in conversations about art and brain, are we making progress? Has looking into the brain helped us make sense of the arts? Here I will briefly explain why I believe we have made little progress. And then I will propose an alternative route to understanding art and its origins.

And an interesting article from Missy Mazzoli on composing classical music, Missy Mazzoli Defies Dogma, Demands Diversity. In discussing music composed by William Brittelle that includes electric guitar and drum set, Mazzoli asks:

Why is the classical music world not clambering to claim this excellent music for its own? Because its creators use repetition as a compositional tool? Because they write triads? Is it the electric guitars? The drums? Is it that the composers don’t look or act like the “composers” we read about in music history class? Let it go!

There are many theories about Mozart’s death, ranging from poisoning to renal disease. If you’re into academic articles about medical problems that performing artists deal with, you can read another theory, Vitamin D deficiency contributed to Mozart’s death. Jazz musicians beware! Staying out all night and sleeping all day has consequences.

Lastly, Bob Pixley, Deputy Professor of Music and Substitute 3rd Trumpet for the Herrodsburg Volunteer Fire Department Brass Quintet, offers his trumpet tips on the “whisper key.”

MusicWorks! Asheville

I’m very excited to have joined MusicWorks! Asheville as a teaching artist last week. MusicWorks! is an El Sistema inspired after school program for children in Asheville, NC. It’s under the direction of Brian Kellum. We’re working with students at Hall Fletcher Elementary School, along with Hall Fletcher music teacher, Melody McGarrahan.

MusicWorks! is an intensive artistic and social program inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema, offered after school in the city of Asheville to children in underserved populations that uses music education as a transformative and Empowering tool to teach life skills.

Right now we’re starting with kindergarten and 1st grade students. Next year it will expand to include the rising 2nd graders and include new kindergarten students. It’s our goal to grow the program every year in this way.

MusicWorks! Asheville was the recipient of a grant given for music education to the Asheville Symphony Orchestra.

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