In part two of this musical evolution blog post, I will show you an example of how this practice theory works. This example is specific to brass playing but if you read part one and understand the concept, it is simple to apply it to any musical technique on any instrument or even any life skill which you want to improve.
To read part one CLICK HERE.
To recap, the theory is this:
1) MASTER THE BASIC STEPS
2) ATTEMPT THE IMPOSSIBLE
In this blog I will show you an example of how I use this idea to help develop my high notes on the euphonium. I am in a position where I have already developed a level of mastery with high notes up to a certain point. If I have full control over a high note at any speed or dynamic then I feel ready to start attempting the impossible. It is essential you adapt this idea to suit your current level. There is a video demo at the bottom but I would advise you to read all the information first before skipping to it.
It is important to remember that what works for one musician, might not work for you, so feel free to adapt and experiment. The exercise I am showing you is something I do once every day as part of a routine. I work on basic techniques every day and playing high is just one of many techniques to be maintained and improved. High note practice can be damaging if done wrongly or too much, so I always try and stick to these rules:
Only do one high exercise each day.
Warm up and do other basic exercises first.
Stay 100% relaxed throughout.
Balance the high notes with low notes to relax.
Think about air, ignore the lips.
Don't dwell on any notes that don't sound good.
Learn from the previous day.
Keep a positive attitude and believe that playing high is easy.
Playing high on any wind instrument should be as easy as playing high on the piano. Some players fear high notes, but keep thinking rationally as you look to develop, over time, with the correct practice it will improve. Once you start noticing improvement, it shows you are doing it right, then further improvement will be exponential.
My high note exercise uses ascending major arpeggios for the high notes and the opposite for the low notes. I try and have a crescendo through the exercise and try and fill the notes out as much as possible. I adapt it sometimes by changing tempo, using minor arpeggios, using vibrato more or less, moving the pause (fermata) or playing it tongued.
Here is the notation for the exercise but you can start on whatever note you want. In this notation example it is starting on C (concert Bb) but you need to adapt it to suit the range you wish to develop. For three valve instruments you can attempt the low notes as false notes or just play within your comfortable low range.
In part one, I spoke about knowing what it is you want. For me, in this example, I want to maintain my range up to a double high C (concert Bb). Whatever range you can play comfortably could be your target. I have never needed to play this note in a concert (and hope I never have too!) but if I want the F and G below this to be easy, great quality notes, then I must practice even higher notes.
The trick however, is the next step. In order to maintain this note I must attempt the impossible. So I must attempt the notes that are still even higher. In the video example below, I start by attempting a double high E (concert D), and are unsuccessful but I don't worry. That is just like the flying squirrel trying to glide for the first time. I start miles out of reach and then work my way down from there. I tend to find that my range above a double high C is inconsistent and greatly effected by how tense or relaxed I am feeling.
Starting high and working backwards gives amazing results. It means I get stronger as I go down (rather than potentially getting weaker if I go up). Each new exercise gets easier as I drop in pitch. I am making myself believe that the high notes are actually low. I start so high and the notes just feel lower and easier every step down.
In order to attempt this, I advise you to find the top of your range and then add a 3rd or 4th higher as a starting note. No matter what happens, just attempt those notes. Keep relaxed. You notice in my video, the first few top notes are not great, the very first top note is actually none existent on this occasion. I think it is important people reading this see the reality of the exercise and also, attempting it multiple times for the sake of a perfect recording would only have a negative impact on my own practice. It is important not to care too much how bad the first few notes sound, that is the evolution process in action.
Also, this recording was recorded in one take. I am currently getting back into better shape after a bit of a break during lockdown and over time my starting note will get higher and higher. I haven't done anything to try and enhance this recording, I just hit record during the high note part of my routine one day. The little inaccuracies are all part of learning and I never dwell on them much.
Just try and improve further every day, learn from the previous days inaccuracies. Especially concentrate on good pitching and clean articulation to the first note of each exercise. Some days I use a metronome and a tuner but some days I like to be free from them.
Here is the demonstration. Remember, you will start from whatever note makes sense to your ability and work your way down as far as you want.
In the exercise you can attempt the impossible and master the basics (your current comfortable range) and then you just repeat it daily and let evolution take control.
I am available for online lessons should you want help with this or any other aspect of brass playing or could even just do a coaching session to go through how to set up a good practice routine. Feel free to get in touch (email@example.com).
I hope you have enjoyed this two part blog. If you try this out and have success or even if it doesn't work for you, I would love to hear all about it.