In the absence of any pressing issues to write about in this article, I decided to have a look on the world-wide web. After a while—still looking for an issue that might be worth solving—I made a discovery that came as a complete surprise. At least, it had never caught my attention. I don’t mean to say that there are no more issues, nor that I have covered everything there is to know.
Somehow, however, I kept thinking about my discovery. And this is what I decided to write about. When you look at the social media channels and the various sites, you can’t help feeling that brass players—and many other individuals—have a tendency to look for problems where there are none. Or where I fail to see what the issue might be. I like to think that this trend has been growing over the last few years, or at least that the internet—which I have been surfing for some years now—mentions a lot more than I ever thought existed.
I may be wrong, but I cannot help feeling that certain posts are meant to suggest that someone somewhere bumped into an issue that I myself never even thought about. Mind you, this is usually not because I’m not easily worried, but rather because some people seem to see problems where I never suspected anything.
Consider the following example that has nothing to do with playing a brass instrument: I know of people who like to discuss whether it makes sense to change a car’s rims or lacquering to improve the driving experience. The problems I read about often appear terribly remote from playing a brass instrument, like worrying about whether I should wear a green or a red shirt in order to play better.
I would be interested to know why brass players should post or look up such “problems”—and indeed, why they are likely to find an answer somewhere… Granted, this may not be a typical brass problem. It has become a fad in this day and age. On the other hand, someone may argue that it might at least be worth experimenting with their car’s lacquering, because the new product weighs less than the old one. It may also be more aerodynamic, which is bound to have an effect on the car’s behavior. The fact that I play subjectively better in a red shirt may be because it feels more pleasant than the green one I have—or vice versa.
The three Pillars
Leaving aside whether the above may ultimately have a demonstrable effect, I believe that brass players should not worry too much about insignificant details. After all, what really counts are the following three pillars: embouchure, breathing and tongue. There are enough teachers, musicians and methods around that will tell you everything you need to know about embouchure, breathing and your tongue. The number of solutions, exercises and training steps are almost infinite and explained in a variety of ways. You may want to have a look at the “Pro Tip” section on the JUPITER website for starters.
It’s all in Your Head
Quite a few problems start in our heads—and before long, we start wasting a lot of time dealing with nonsensical subjects. I had a few students who came to the lesson and talked very convincingly about a problem for an hour. I, on the other hand, just needed to watch them play something to understand that the actual problem was their air flow. When I told them so, they responded with an endless series of buts and ifs.
Convincing them of the real issue seemed like mission impossible. It is only natural that players who believe that trifles are actually big issues should spiral out of control and discover ever more problems.
I stand by my analysis:
Most issues in conjunction with playing a brass instrument are caused by at least one of the three pillars or even serious flaws in a combination of them. Looking for other problems can easily distract a musician from dealing with what is really not OK, and cause them to look for excuses and pseudo explanations. In this respect, going back to the roots may work wonders. Play a few exercises that focus on the three pillars. This will help you improve in those areas. I still believe that talking to a competent teacher solves more problems than DIY’ing yourself through life ever could.
Promise yourself, however, to not start looking for half credible aspects that might explain your shortcomings. That would again distract you from focusing on what will really help you progress.