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One Quick Tip

Editor | February 2009

    We asked a group of outstanding directors for the most helpful tip on their primary instrument.

Dennis Zeisler 
    It is important to balance your band to the clarinet section. Bands have become too brass heavy these days to the point that many ensembles have lost the color of the woodwinds, especially the clarinets. Ideally having enough clarinets – 12 to 15 of them –  will take care of balance problems. With any fewer clarinets, you have to control the brass so the color of the brass and woodwind choirs is equal.

Steve Nendza
    In an effort to help the saxophone section play with a characteristic and blended sound, have students produce a specific pitch alone on the mouthpiece to develop that sound. Once  they consistently produce the correct pitch, many tuning and tone problems disappear.

Mary Land
    Encourage trumpet students to buzz a pitch on their mouthpiece, then put the mouthpiece in their trumpet and play the pitch. Play long tones on the mouthpiece, then long tones on the instrument. If students can buzz it, they can play it.

Michael Doty
    I often joke with my trombone players about the fact that they hold the world’s longest tuning slide in their right hand. The slide does little good, however, because if they cannot hear miniscule variances of pitch, they will always play terribly out of tune.
    During lessons with private students, I play a steady pitch on my trombone and have them match it exactly until the instruments’ vibrations coincide.  I also sing a pitch and have the student match it exactly on trombone, or I reverse it by playing a pitch as the student sings it back, exactly on pitch.

Michael Golemo
    Young saxophonists sometimes play with a clarinet embouchure. For a good sound, I have these players think of the concept of round and imagine putting a rubber band around the mouthpiece – and not like a vise. To check this roundness I’ll ask students play an A or B flat on the mouthpiece, but they often produce something around a B or C.
I also encourage directors to learn as many alternate fingerings as possible, such as bis B flat for arpeggios vs. side B flat for scales, and open C#4 played like D5 but with the left-hand B and A keys removed. 

Jeffrey Bishop
    Be sure your oboe students can wield a reed knife without hurting themselves. They should have at least three working reeds at any given time. Invariably the one good reed an oboist brings to state contest usually has goes bad as the ensemble warms up.

Matt Moore
I have percussion students play as much as possible on mallets, especially for daily warm-ups. This sometimes means I have more preparation and parts to write, but the benefits are substantial.

Ken Force
    There is nothing worse than telling a student to fix that when you can’t explain what to do. As a trumpet player, I learned about the idiosyncrasies of woodwind instruments by talking to professionals about their particular instrument. I also made it a point of teaching elementary level students, even though I was a high school band director.
    Through the repetition of teaching, I grew to know each instrument well and had the added bonus of becoming ac­quainted with my future high school students. Occasionally I was only a lesson ahead of some young students, but it paid rich dividends later. 

Thomas Bough
    Many tubists struggle with tone quality, projection, and articulation. Today there are many recordings available of professional tuba players that are outstanding models of tone quality for students to emulate. Once a student tubist plays with a good tone quality, projection becomes much easier.
    Clarity of articulation is frequently difficult for young players. Even if they are playing at the right volume and with great tone, poor articulation limits their effectiveness. I tell my students to consciously start each note. Articulation on the tuba requires a great deal of tongue, supported by a great deal of tongue. The type of sound at the beginning of each note is a critical component of being heard. Again, professional players can provide a model of sound for good articulation.

Matt Eaton
    The best tip I can give to directors is to have the utmost patience with the percussion section. Be sure players have a thorough understanding of technique – wrist turn, grip, stick height – timing, and relaxation in all areas of percussion performance.

Mel Kessler
    My first best tip is that trumpet students should always go for a great sound. Anthony Pas­quarelli at Car­negie Mel­lon preach­ed about the sound in every lesson. A great sound helps with so many things, including being able to adjust playing to be in tune with others. My second best tip is to remember that air compression – how fast the student moves the air – is important in increasing his range, not the volume of air.

Brad Meyerdierks
    For a large flute sound that projects to the back of the auditorium, directors should tell their players to use a  highly focused tone. All to often the only suggestion players hear is to increase the air speed or volume.
    Students of Albert Tipton, the late flutist and pedagogue, will remember his special attention to interval tuning and the importance of just intonation. He was also emphatic about playing with a tone that was focused and in tune for good projection.
    Some of the best examples he demonstrated from orchestral repertoire were notes within the middle range of the flute, not necessarily high notes that could easily project over an orchestra. No matter where you sat in a concert hall, hearing him play the solo in Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faune made each person in the audience think Tipton was next to him.