A Relaxed Approach

Brass Academy Session #1

Taking a relaxed approach to playing an instrument is always the correct way. That was a bold statement! It takes practice and diligence in your thoughts to remind yourself to stay comfortable and free of tension. Every professional player I know would agree and teach the same things to young musicians.

When teaching young players, we must keep in mind they see things a bit more black and white. Less experienced players are usually looking for an easy way or a faster way to excel. Younger players also have a harder time processing the “why” and “how” and need a bit more time and education to train the correct approach. One example of a breathing aid that exists is the “Breathing Gym,” a book that is widely respected by music educators. Some music educators use these ideas as the only consistent/daily ways for kids to breathe. The only problem with this is that it is a training/workout book for expanding the breathing capacity, and for thought process for using air at different volumes. It works out the body to prepare for correct breathing habits. I have seen students that are part of ensembles that use this approach regularly, and the students breathe tight and tense, because it is not coupled with the correct relaxed approaches after this training. Much more explanation is needed for young players to understand what this book is designed for, and “why” and “how” the exercises should be implemented.

Just a few simple thoughts are enough for students to excel at breathing. If you are using a book or series of exercises to “workout” the body and breathing capacity, remember to couple that with correct thoughts:

  1. Stay Relaxed! Always relax your mind and body when you enter into playing a wind instrument. Just like doing any sport at a high level, the ones who are the most successful look like they are barely working. They have trained themselves to keep the mind at a confident consistent rest while still doing the hard work.
  2. “OH” shaped breath If we are trying to convince and train young musicians to breathe tension free, it makes most sense to take a breath with an open mouth. When closing the mouth and breathing in, tension tends to sneak in. Use an open mouth and be as inaudible as possible.
  3. Pendulum breath There are so many analytical philosophies about how the air comes in, where it goes and what expands. Simply put, and making it easier for young musicians, the air goes past the chest wraps around and comes back up through the chest on the way out. Relaxed stomach muscles and breathing the same in as you do out. Breathe for the dynamic you are playing. Relaxed in and relaxed out.
  4. The red zone In order to stay relaxed on the breath out, don’t let yourself get to what I call the “red zone”. The redone is simply the area where you begin to tighten up and the stomach muscles are no longer relaxed. When this happens, it is time for another relaxed breath.

There is no substitute for the right way.

There are tools out there that can help train students in certain areas, but simple, diligent and correct thoughts over time will help young musicians develop the skills to be successful over a long period of time. Be conscious of the techniques you are implementing and the reasons you are implementing them.

Research, contemplate and make educated decisions from talking to successful professional musicians in the field. This topic is the first session of Brass Academy. I am passionate in bringing this instruction to young musicians to help them reach their full potential.

Hard Work and Sacrifice

Significant change begins with two words

Here we are at the start of another new year with high hopes and expectations for our resolutions. Eating better, losing weight, getting organized are all high on the priority list, but, how long before we slip back into our old ways of doing things?

How long before the resolution becomes a thing of the past? 

Given the slip in resolutions, which usually happens around February or even March for some who are really intense, I have come to the conclusion that there are two words most people have a hard time with. Hard Work and Sacrifice. It’s all of us, me included. When things get tough, or we get tired we say things to ourselves like, “Ive worked so hard, I deserve a …….,” or “I’ve done pretty well the past few weeks, its ok if I take a day off.” What happens when we take even that one day off is we tend to slip back into the comfortable pattern of what we have always done.

When trying to commit to a complete change, the fullest realization of these two words has to be understood. Committing 100% to complete hard work and complete sacrifice to accomplish a significant change in our lives.

If you are someone who is starting off the new year with a resolution, try to brainstorm ways that you can sacrifice. . .things that you can give up in order to make your goal more achievable, and work hard to continue that sacrifice for as long as it takes to accomplish your goal. If your goal is to lose weight, set a realistic goal, over a realistic period of time, and then think of the sacrifices and the hard work needed to accomplish that goal.

Hard work and sacrifice demands your complete and undivided attention.

It’s all in and 100%. Slip out of your comfort zone and go after what you want with complete drive, determination and motivation. Don’t stop when it gets tough. Significant change begins and ends with sacrifice and hard work.

Wouldn’t you like to look  in the mirror at the end of this year and say, “I am a completely changed person from the start of this year!” Make it happen with hard work and sacrifice!

A great book recommendation is the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Happy New Year everyone! What are your resolutions for the new year?

Music on Purpose E014: Guest Stephen Campbell, Principal Trumpet Lexington Philharmonic

I was thrilled to have Stephen Campbell on this episode to discuss his keys to success in trumpet performance, music education and how to be successful in helping students be the best versions of themselves. We were in school together at University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (CCM) and I noticed his work ethic and attention to detail then and was elated he agreed to record this episode.

Stephen is currently the Visiting Professor of Music with Trumpet Emphasis at Ball State University and the Principal Trumpet of the Lexington KY Philharmonic Orchestra.

You can reach Stephen on Social media:

twitter: @trombadecorum

Instagram: @trombadecorum

2017 KMEA All-State Music

Technical Excerpt from the Charlier Book #12

The 2017 Kentucky Music Educators Association (KMEA) All-State auditions are Saturday December 9. The Charlier excerpt is by far the most challenging of the two etudes in this audition. This book is known to be challenging for professional players and the maturity musically to be able to play these etudes at a high level can only come with experience. Hopefully you have an excellent private lesson teacher to help guide you to the unwritten musical ideas that help bring this excerpt to life. Below are some pointers on the Charlier excerpt that may help in your final week of preparation. I have also recorded the etude keeping close attention to the ideas listed below:

  1. Work hard to keep a steady tempo, except for measure 8, where it is acceptable to add a slight ritardando for both musicality and to get a breath.
  2. Pay special attention to the accents throughout this etude. Do not overlook these.
  3. Stand out with your musicality on the dolce sections. Do not be afraid to slow the first two sixteenths of measure 13 and 17 slightly for musicality. Make a difference between the “decide” sections and the “dolce” sections.
  4. It is imperative to play the dotted sixteenth/thirty second passages very snappy and rhythmic. Do not play them like triplet rhythms. Also, be very concerned not to lose the thirty-second notes within the quick rhythm.
  5. Keep excellent time on the last five measures where you have quarter notes tied to eighth notes, and a quarter rest at the end of the measure. Practice with a metronome and keep an excellent internal pulse.
  6. Last but not least, while the tempo is marked quarter note equals 96, only play this excerpt as fast as you can play beautifully and accurately.

Good luck on your audition. Be overly prepared and do not forget to practice your scales and sight-reading. Play in front of as many people as possible this week and be confident.

If You Want It, Teach It!

During a recent podcast with Lois Wiggins, Band Director at Edith J. Hayes Middle School, a quote stuck out to me. She said, “If you want it, Teach it!” She mentioned young students are not born with the capacity to sit still and quietly for even five minutes at a time. You have to teach them to behave correctly according to the expectations. What great advice as we prepare students to learn and grow as musicians and people.

This advice, while simple in nature, is very profound. How many times have educators said things like “I wish my students were more serious, or I wish my students would rehearse better? I know as a consultant during the fall many directors are concerned their students will not listen, or will not take things as serious as they wish they would. I have also heard the directors say students talk after every repetition or so much time is wasted in between takes. My response since talking to Lois has been, “Have you taken the time to teach them how to do those things that you expect? What should their thoughts be and how do they raise their expectations?” It may not be that they don’t want to, they may just not know how! It may take many days and much patience, but by teaching the student how to do something, instead of just telling them to do it, you will see a huge impact.

The training of the students’ mind, energy and thoughts should be just as important as the music itself if not more so. We as educators need to take the time and initiative to give our young musicians the chance to be mentally ready for what we expect them to handle. Some examples of this might be:

1. sitting still in class

2. not bringing phones to rehearsal

3. what to do when you finish a repetition

4. using a pencil to write things in the music (without being told when to do so)

5. how to stay focused when someone enters the room

These are just some small examples of things that can be taken for granted that students should be able to do, but no-one has ever taken the time to teach it just as you would the notes and dynamics. It may be different depending on what you teach and what the expectations are for your class.

I had a student ask me “How do I practice at home?” What a great question!

This is an example of a student coming to me and asking for me to teach them what I took for granted they already knew. This student was begging to be better. Some students may be this far along, but others may be longing for the training of just how to expect more from themselves. Whatever it is that you want out of your students, break down your thought process and then teach your young musicians to think the same way. Whatever it is, If you want it, Teach it.

Do you have an example of an “If you want it, teach it” moment?

You can check out the podcast episode here!

Music on Purpose E013: Guest Vincent DiMartino, International Trumpet Touring Artist

In this episode of Music on Purpose I had the opportunity to spend time with one of the greatest trumpet performers of all-time, Vincent DiMartino. He has performed and/or played with everyone imaginable from Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie to Canadian Brass and Doc Severinsen. He offers his advice on how to separate yourself from the middle of the pack and make your way to being extraordinary. He is an educator at heart and taught at the University of Kentucky for over 20 years and Centre College for almost 20 years.


Music on Purpose E012: Guest W. Dale Warren, Senior Wind Band Conductor University of Arkansas

W. Dale Warren, Senior Wind Band Conductor from the University of Arkansas, joins me to discuss qualities that embody successful music educators. W. Dale has taught music at every age and enjoys working and consulting with programs all over the country. A genuinely passionate man about building and keeping relationships, he offers advice on connecting with students and keeping the passion to have longevity in the field of music education. Chair of the Sudler Shield Committee, W. Dale offers advice to programs on how to stand out during the audition process.


Music on Purpose E011: Teaching Middle School w/Lois Wiggins

On this episode of Music on Purpose I was fortunate enough to talk with a wonderful person and music educator Lois Wiggins. Lois is the Band Director at Edith J. Hayes Middle School in Lexington, Ky. Recently, Ms. Wiggins was a finalist for the Grammy Music Educator Award and she discusses the thought process and techniques that have helped her be successful. She says “If you want it, Teach it!” Great thoughts from an experienced middle school music educator.


Music On Purpose E010: Guests, Members from the Band Seabird

On this episode of Music On Purpose I was fortunate to sit down with three talented members from the band Seabird. Ryan Morgan, Aaron Morgan and Aaron Hunt all toured and recorded including being signed with the EMI label. Currently each member is now leading worship at a church in the Cincinnati area. Hear these guys talk about what it’s like to be a member of a nationally recognized popular band as well as life on the road, recording, writing songs and the transition to worship ministry.

Thank you to Ft. Mitchell Baptist Church for allowing us to use the facility to record this podcast.

Don’t Overload the Students

It is that time of year when summer clinics, sectionals and band camps begin. There is so much information to be given and so much hope for the success of the upcoming fall. It takes time to put together a winning product and it takes time to mold the students into the best version of themselves. When giving them warm-ups, music and basic fundamental thoughts, remember that our goal is to get 100% of the students to learn 100% of the information 100% of the time. In order to do that we must slow down and not be in such a hurry. The elaborate warm-ups and chorales are nice but if the thoughts running through their minds are not right, what will it sound like?

Start with one thought, and make sure that thought is learned by everyone.

At some point some of the information we give students will need to go on “autopilot” because there is simply too many things to think about. In order for things to become a habit the student must be taught exactly what to do, and each thought must be practiced over and over apart from the music. If it is how to expand when breathing, that single thought must be focused on apart from other thoughts. We cannot continue giving the students 10 things to think about while expecting them to play a difficult 8th note exercise perfectly. Have you ever tried to rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time? That is only 2 pieces of information and it is difficult to master. It takes time and organization. Help the students train their brain and be very organized with your thoughts so the students can master 1 step at a time.

It is not simply enough to give the students the correct information. The best educators give the information and then continue through the process with ensuring the student understands it and can master it. Many educators are not organized with their own thoughts and come into the situation without a clear vision of “what do I want my students to master and how do I make it happen?” Assuming students can do it without slow, organized methods usually leads to an ensemble doing many things but not mastering any. A “jack of all trades and a master of none.” Some educators think they hear the New York Philharmonic from their ensembles but in reality it is closer to the local middle school ensemble. Learn to hear what is really there! As we get ready to put together a fall marching show, take the time to break it down for the students. Don’t overload them with information. Each step should be mastered by 100% of them. Take it slow and organized.

A book recommendation that talks about this very thing is called Effortless Mastery. It is a short read and talks about when students begin to master things at a professional level, no matter how small, it breeds confidence and encouragement. Check out this short audio clip of me discussing this very topic with regards to breathing concepts.


Have you recently felt you are overloading your students?