Video transcript
Art Bites - Brass practice - 03. How to approach practising pieces

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[music playing]

BRAD LUCAS: Hi. My name is Brad Lucas, and this is the third video in a series designed to help brass players practise more efficiently and more effectively. In this video, I'm going to talk to you about how I approach practising a piece of music. I demonstrate all of this on the euphonium, but, like the other videos, nothing I'm going to talk to you about today is euphonium-specific, because it's all about my thought process and my concepts when I'm practising. I want to encourage you to use this video as a resource, come back to it, and watch it multiple times. I want you to take away how I'm practising and my thought process, and start applying it to your own pieces. So, let's get on with it.

OK? So, now it's time to practise some pieces. Now, if you're anything like me, you've been told by a teacher to go and learn a piece, and maybe this week was the week that you're like really keen and you're going great. OK? I'm going to do this. You do it every day, you practise, you're feeling great. Then you go to your lesson, and they rouse on you because obviously you haven't practised. And you're going, I don't understand. I've been so good this week, and it just hasn't paid off. It doesn't show.

Now, that was me for years. I was doing it, and I just didn't know how to practise properly. I was spending all the time that I was meant to do, and I just wasn't getting results. And, it was because I was being really inefficient. I was wasting all the time that I could have been doing other things.

So, I want to help you out, make you aware of some of the dangers, some of the traps that I see in younger people when they practise. And hopefully, help you in your practice so you can maximise the benefits you get in the same amount of time. So, for today, I'm going to use an example from Martin Ellerby's 'Euphonium Concerto.' Now, I'm sure you don't know this piece. I'd be very impressed if you did, don't know why you would. But, the Martin Ellerby Euphonium Concerto is a great piece of music, one of the great brass concertos, full stop, and, just an incredibly fun piece to learn, one of my favourite pieces I ever got to play. I had a thoroughly good time learning it.

Now, that was years and years ago. I haven't seen the music since. But this isolation has made me think I want to get it out again and have a go. So, you're about to hear the first time of me picking this piece up again, and there's going to be warts and all. I'm going to walk you through how I'm going to approach this practice session. Now, as I've said in other videos, the key is I have a clear concept of sound, what I want it to sound like.

Now, as I said in the other videos, my concept of sound is made up of different euphonium players, and trombone players, and brass players, and woodwind players, and just any instrumentalist or musician that I've heard. And that has guided my sound of what I want. Now, I know this piece, and so I've taken this sound that I have, and have a clear idea of my goal, my goal performance.

And then, my practice sessions are going to be troubleshooting what am I doing that makes what comes out of the bell not sound like this. And then, I have to basically be a detective, figure it out, and then figure out solutions. That's our practice session.

For so often, I see young people - and I was guilty of this - of practising, and practising, and practising, with very little thought going on. Practice is not a passive thing, It's an active thing. We're always thinking. We're always going - 'Oh, why is this not working, what am I doing wrong, what's this feel like, does it sound right?' We're always engaged. That's the biggest thing I see that young people, and old people, are guilty of at times, ok?

So, I'm just going to play, wish me luck, the first two lines of the first movement of the Martin Ellerby Concerto. Now, it starts out with lots of fingers, lots of tongue, lots of technique. So, who knows what's going to happen? But then, I'm going to show you how I'm going to approach this practice.

[playing melody]

With a split note and everything at the end. How good's that? So, there's obviously a lot of work to do. It's a great piece. If you haven't listened to it, go have a listen. You'll love it.

So, straight off the bat, there's a lot of tonguing, there's a lot of fingers. How on earth do we approach this? Anyone who knows me will know that this comes out before my instrument gets out of the case. This is your best friend in practice. Never leave home without it. So, unless you practise at home, then keep it at home and practise with it always. So, I will set the tempo is 144. I'm not going to start there. I'm going to start nice and slow. I'm going to start at 96.

So, I can play it with all the information. I want every note to be clean. I want every articulation to be clean. I want any accents that are written, any variations in dynamics, crescendos, decrescendos, all the information on the page. I want to make sure the listener can pick up on it. So, let's go slowly.

[metronome ticking]

Let's see if I can bring out all that information.

[playing melody]

OK? So, bring out those accents, bring out those swells, those crescendos. Now, what I want to be - I can't figure out what scale is this based on. OK? So, the first few notes [playing notes] that's not from any scale I've ever practised. So, what on earth is it? I look at it, and I go, well, it's a semitone and a minor third, a semitone and a minor third, just repeated, and repeated, and repeated. This whole movement is based on a semitone and a minor third.

Now. you might be saying, Brad, who cares? But, for me, it makes life so much easier when I go 'OK, I can understand. I'm not just learning random notes.' Before I realised this, it was like, how on earth do I learn this? It makes no sense. Me, understanding semitone, minor third, semitone, minor third, just helps me in my practice.

Now, I think the big thing is we have to be detectives. OK? We have to figure out this is our goal. What's causing this to not work? And, I like to keep everything as simple as possible. So, there are 4 things in my mind that can be going wrong, that's causing me grief. It's either 1 of 4 of these, or a combination of 4.

So, there can either be an inefficient use of air, an inconsistency or inefficient use of air. It could be an inefficiency or inconsistency with our buzz, our embouchure; an inefficiency or inconsistency with our fingers, or, in the case of trombone, with our slide; or an inefficiency or inconsistency - there we go - with our tongue.

So, one of those 4 things, or a multiple. So, how do we figure it out? OK? So, this opening phrase [playing melody]. Now, those notes aren't clean. I'm not happy with that. So, what could be going wrong? So, I love using my buzz, my mouthpiece, as a diagnostic tool. As soon as I hear that there's any stoppage of my buzz, if my buzz stops at all, I know instantly my air must have stopped. So, let's buzz it.

[blowing mouthpiece]

OK? So, you can hear that dip in that buzz. I go 'OK? I don't like that. I need to address that.' So, let's do some more buzzing, getting that air constant on a big glissando throughout.

[blowing mouthpiece]

OK? So, my air now is constantly flowing.

So. [blowing mouthpiece]

OK? I feel much better about that. So, let's see if that helps.

[playing melody].

OK? So, now there's constant air flowing. I can feel much better, and it feels much more relaxed. But, that F sharp just doesn't seem to speak. So, there's an inconsistency somewhere. So, I think it could be either my fingers or my tongue. So, what's causing that? So, let's just isolate my fingers. Get rid of the tongue. We're going to slur it.

[playing melody].

Now, if there's an inconsistency with my fingers, I need to have creative ways of fixing that. So, creative ways might be changing the rhythm from dotted quaver to semiquaver [playing melody] or semiquaver to dotted quaver.

OK? If I feel comfortable with that, if I feel that - Ok? No, it's not my fingers, that's fine. It might be my tongue. Well, let's isolate the fingers and let's just work on the tongue. It's a double tongue, 144, that's pretty quick. Let's see if I can do that.

[playing melody]

OK? If there's an issue there, I go - 'OK, it's my tongue.' I have to work on that. Let's isolate that from all the other things that are going on. I have to focus on this. If that's fine, we go - 'OK, well maybe there's a coordination issue, like my tongue and my fingers aren't working properly together.' So, let's slow it down and let's see if I can make sure my fingers and my tongue work in unity. So, let's get that tempo down to 96 again.

[metronome ticking]

And, really focus on a synchronisation between my tongue and my fingers.

[playing melody]

OK? So, that already feels better. I've figured it out. It wasn't my tongue. It wasn't my fingers. It was the combination of those 2 things. Let's see if I can slowly start increasing that speed and see if we can get it closer to that tempo.

[metronome ticking]

OK? So, that's pretty good. Let's see if we can go a little bit faster.

[metronome ticking faster]

[playing melody]

Now, I never go faster than I can do with the sound being constant, consistent, and consistent with my concept of sound. If it gets messy, stay at that slow tempo. It will get faster. You just have to be consistent and patient.

OK? Then this is the key. When you're practising pieces, never switch your brain off. You're active. You're always trying to be that problem solver. Oh, why is this not working? Oh, I wasn't happy with this note, what can I do to fix it? OK? Once you start being in the driver's seat of your practice, that's when you'll start seeing the great results. So, your greatest teacher is not the person you go see each week, it is you. It's the person that is in your practice room every time you pick up that instrument. You're the one who can catch yourself going - 'Why is my posture bad?' You're the one who can catch you going - 'Oh, I didn't take a good breath.' You're the one who's going - 'I have horrible slide technique right now.'

You're in charge of your practice. The realisation of that completely changed how I approached practice, and saw massive improvement in my practice, and the results that have come from it. So, hopefully this helps. Hopefully you take your practice by the reins, and you jump into your practice, and you'll see results immediately. So, good luck. Hope you enjoy. And I'll see you in the next video.

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