Video transcript
Art Bites - Brass practice - 01. Warm-up and scales

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BRAD LUCAS: Hi, my name is Brad Lucas, and I've created a short series of videos to help brass players practise more efficiently and more effectively. In this first video, I'm talking about the warm up and how I approach practising my scales. Now, I'm a euphonium player, so I've demonstrated on the euphonium, but I want to assure you that nothing that I'm talking about is specific to the euphonium. It can be used by all brass instruments. The reason for that is that I'm talking about my thought process and the concepts of my practice, rather than anything specific to the euphonium.

I want to really encourage you to use this video as a resource. Feel free to pause the video at any time to try out anything that I'm doing, play along with me, and come back to this video. You might pick something up the next time you watch it. So, let's get into it.

So, in this video, I want to talk to you about the warm up. Now, it seems like something so simple - we just want to get some blood flowing through the lips, and get some air flowing through the instrument, and we're right to go. But, for me, that's kind of missing the whole point of the warm up. I was lucky enough to work with Nick Byrne when I was studying at uni, and his idea of his warm up was sitting in a cafe, drinking a coffee, and thinking about the sound that he wanted to make that day.

Now, that sounds silly, but it's a universal truth, with all the great players of every instrument, that having a real clear concept of sound, a sound that they want to achieve on their instrument, they all have. And then, when they pick up the instrument, that's what comes out. So, so often, we're kind of a slave to the instrument, but the great players have a sound that they're aspiring to, and then they're going to do whatever they have to do, on their instrument, to make that sound happen.

So, this is a different way of approaching your practice. But, when you do this, you'll really start seeing results. Now, my key for everything I do, and especially my warm up, is to stay relaxed. Any form of tension in our body, whether it's in our neck, in our throat when we breathe, in our shoulders, or in our hands - how we're holding the instrument - will negatively affect our sound.

So, what my warm up is is some simple stretching. I like to do some stretches. Which sounds silly, but if you've been sitting doing homework all day, then you've probably got some tension in your back somewhere. I want to sit nice and tall, or stand nice and tall - make sure my neck's not coming forward. And then, once I'm right like this, I can then start trying to breathe.

Now, these aren't breathing exercises. These aren't exercises to - let's see how much air we can take in and extend our lungs. These are just exercises just to really be aware of our breath, and be aware of our body, and making sure everything feels relaxed. So, I breathe in, breathe in, and out.

If I'm feeling good, I feel everything's relaxed, then I'm ready to start making a sound. My first point of call is the mouthpiece. I always start with the mouthpiece. I want to make sure that I can make a beautiful, resonant sound, with being relaxed on this, before I go to my instrument.

I keep it really simple. I had my embouchure set, my corners engaged, but this part of my lips, nice and supple to vibrate. Instead of thinking of buzzing, I want to think about just blowing. It's more about blowing air, than creating any stress or tension across the lips, to create a buzz. I just think ...

[sounding embouchure]

If I feel that there's no - if I remain relaxed during this, I will then do a simple B-flat major scale. I just play three notes on each note. I just descend from B-flat ...


I'm really listening to my sound, and making sure that I'm always relaxed, and it has a beautiful, resonant sound.

[sounding embouchure]

I'm always relaxed. Then, I take my instrument, I do some simple, long notes. I like to start in my middle register and go down to my low register. And I just work down chromatically. And, I'm always thinking, am I relaxed? Is my embouchure relaxed, is it free to vibrate, and is my chest and my shoulders free from any tension?

[sounding horn]

I'm always asking myself - Do I feel free? Do I feel relaxed? If I do, then most likely the sound that's coming out of my bell, it's going to be nice, and open, and relaxed. Then, I'll do some simple lip slurs. These are simple Schlossberg studies, and I'm just going to do, nice and slow, a simple 5-note slur, making sure each note is connected with a beautiful sound.

[playing scales]

And, so on. Now, when I'm doing these studies, when I'm doing my long tones, the key is keeping relaxed. I have a clear idea of the sound that I want. It's warm, it's resonant, it's pure. I have these great adjectives of what I've heard great players do on all instruments. I've stolen the attributes that they're playing, that I love, and I want to sound like. Then, I have that idea in my head, and I want to try to achieve that.

As I've said, any form of tension is going to hinder our ability to create that sound. So, my key here in my warm up is to stay relaxed. Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve - the sound that you want - stay relaxed, and, with that, hopefully your warm up will be more efficient, and you'll see some great results.

So, in this video, I'd like to talk to you about practising scales. Now, you're probably groaning already, because a lot of people don't like practising their scales. And I was one of those people. I hated practising my scales growing up. I would do everything I could to avoid practising scales.

It got to a point that I think, every week, my teacher would be rousing on me because I hadn't done enough practice. And shock horror, my teacher was correct, I've now realised. Practising scales is important.

And, now that I have put that effort in and I've learnt my scales, I can attest to the fact that has made my life so much easier. I can only encourage you to spend time, each day, working on your scales. It pays off big time.

How does it pay off? Well, when we are really comfortable with all of our scales, we know our scales like the back of our hand, it means that when we get a new piece of music, that piece of music is based on our scales. So, we have the building blocks, and it makes any piece that we get, the learning process is drastically reduced.

It also means that when we practise our scales, we actually develop a great sense of pitch. So, people who practise their scales more will tend to play more and more in tune. And, thirdly, playing our scales and getting a great understanding of our key signatures and our relative majors and minors will really help down the track when we study harmony.

Now, the danger I see a lot of people do - and I was guilty of this - was think that practising scales was all about my fingers, about learning these patterns. And, that misses so much of what we can actually focus on when we're practising our scales. So, I'm going to talk you through my thought process as I practise my scales. And, hopefully, if you take some of these ideas, you'll see benefits in your own practice.

Now, each day I set myself a tonal centre. Today is F. That means that today I'll be practising F major, F minor, and F chromatic scale. I'm going to start nice and slow at 80 beats per minute. I have my metronome here, and I'm going to play crotchet beats, just going up over two octaves.

Now, while I'm doing this, I'm always thinking about making sure my air is relaxed, in and out. I have no tension across my body, especially as I go higher. I want to make a beautiful sound on every single note, a clear articulation at the start of every single note, and I'm working on making sure I have efficient fingers. I don't want my fingers coming off the valves too far. That's quite inefficient.

If I'm playing trombone, I want to make sure my slide is moving as late and as quick as possible. So here's crotchets at 80 beats per minute.

[playing scales]

I'm asking myself all those questions. Was my sound consistent across the two octaves? Was every note nice and clearly articulated? Did I have a good synchronisation between my finger movement and my tongue? And, did my fingers stay on the valves the whole time?

If I'm happy with that, I'm going to move to playing quavers. Now, same thing. I'm thinking about keeping everything as relaxed as possible.

[playing scales]

I ask myself the same questions and make sure that, just because I'm going faster, it becomes more technically demanding, I don't want any tension coming into my body. If I'm happy there, I'll then go to semiquavers.

[playing scales]

I'm really focused on keeping everything as relaxed as possible. Once I've done that, I'll then move to F minor and F chromatic scale. Once I've completed that, I like to do some exercises. I really like the HL Clarke book, 'The Technical Exercises for Cornet.' And, I like doing exercise number 1, number 2, and number 3 in F major and F minor.

My whole goal here is to focus on my fingers, making sure they're being efficient, making sure I'm free from any tension, and I have consistent sound throughout. This is my thought process as I go through all my scale practice. And, hopefully, if you do this, you'll actually see a lot more benefits than just learning the finger patterns.

Remember, it's not about how fast you can play the scales, it's about how beautifully and controlled you can play them. Don't go any faster than you can maintain a beautiful, controlled sound. I hope this really helps. And, hopefully, you'll start to love practising scales.

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