Airline Stress

A big part of my life is travel, and having to lug a trombone on airlines can often be far from easy. Travelling with your instrument can be a stressful experience, not knowing what staff you will get at the airline checkin. Sometimes you get a sympathetic employee who is having a great day and cant do enough for you, and other times its like you have personally offended them by bringing a funny shaped case to the airport. 

So, I thought I would give you some tips that I have learnt for travel that might help you the next time you are heading to the airport with your instrument in tow. 

If you are a cornet/trumpet player, you have no need for this blog, you are blessed with an instrument that has no issues getting on a plane - my only advice for you is to read the tip on travelling with oils/accessories etc. 

Ok first up - the most important part about travelling with your instrument is keeping it safe - many cases do not have suitable protection on the exterior or interior. Arriving at an airport for band contest, you will see a plethora of badly packed instruments arriving on the conveyer belt. Some are cracked, scratched, some even have major damage. Most cases that your instruments come in are not designed for travelling in the cargo of the plane. If you want to travel with your instrument under the plane, you need to invest in a sturdy hard case that will protect your instrument as best it can. 


At all costs, try not to let your instrument go in the cargo of the plane. It doesn’t matter how great you think an airline is, the baggage staff will throw those cases like they are rubbish into a tip. If you are putting your instrument under the plane, then pack it as though the baggage staff are going to use it for a caber tossing tournament. Your hard case for travelling should be, at the very least, carbon fibre and sturdy as an All Blacks front row. Don’t just assume that the case it arrived in is going to last the rigours of travel - it wont. 

The exterior is one thing, the interior is another. Make sure your instrument is not floating around the inside of your case. I have many cloths in my case that I pack around the bell. Don’t have mouthpieces or miscellaneous bottles floating around the case, this will cause dents. Treat your instrument like it’s your grandmas favourite tea pot - pack around it and make sure it is safe inside the case. 


If you are taking your instrument on as hand luggage (recommended) then here are a few rules that I use to make sure I don’t have any problems with airlines. 

1 - Book your tickets with an airline that you know are friendly to musicians. Air New Zealand are very good about instruments (in my experiences). They will try and do what they can to accomodate you, and very rarely have I had a problem. Other airlines (wont name them but one of them rhymes with Get-Far) dont like you carrying cases on at all, and will make you check them in. 

2 - When checking in, try and leave your instrument with someone else while you check in. If they see it at check-in they will often say it needs to be checked. By the time you get to the plane, the staff just want you on board and to leave on time, so they are less likely to kick up a stink. 

3 - Put all your oils/mouthpieces/miscellaneous stuff into your suitcase. Airline staff love finding that tiny amount of banned substance in your valve oil, and then confiscate it. It’s not worth the hassle, just put everything in your suitcase and you will have no problems. 

4 - Try and get on the plane early - Getting on the plane early helps you get a spot for your instrument and others can pack their stuff around your instrument. 

5 - If you can, use a shoulder strap for your instrument and make sure its on the opposite shoulder to the person that is checking your boarding pass. Keep the case away from their view, and you wont have any issues.

6 - If you get stopped and asked about it, make sure you tell them that you fly frequently and have never had a problem with this before. Tell them you are a professional musician and this is your livelihood. A little white lie is sometimes the difference between having to stop off at the repairer on the way to the gig. 

7 - If you can avoid using a gig bag for travel, this is advised. If you get told you have to check the instrument in, you may as well not bother getting it at the other end - it will just be a crumpled mess of metal.

Some good sites to look up travel cases are:

Marcus Bonna Cases - - good sturdy cases for most brass instruments

Edwards Trombone Cases - good carbon fibre cases -

Hickeys - Lots of hard cases available here. The Eastman series is very good too.

Take care of your instrument when you travel, its worth it! 


Day 7 - Practicing

You are probably glad my 7 blogs in 7 days are coming to an end! A lot of information jammed into a few days, but hopefully there has been something useful in all my waffling! 

Today I am going to sum up everything into a blog that really focusses on one of the most important aspects of learning - Practicing - How do we practice? how do we stay motivated to learn? to want to be better - its a tough one. I know lots of players who find it a chore to get the instrument out and do the hard work that is needed, you are not alone if you are one of these players. 

I actually love practicing, I really enjoy getting into a quiet room and working on the things that I need to, its something that really motivates me. I know that by putting in the hours now, I will reap the benefits later, but I am aware that we are not all like that. 
So today I wanted to give you a few pointers on making practice more enjoyable and productive, and things I do to keep me motivated to practice.

Firstly, you need to feel good walking into your practice session. Put on some music by a musician you love to listen to, or even a piece of music that you want to perform at some point. Start your session by listening to something that is going to motivate you to want to practice. For me, I love to put on a recording of one of my favourite singers like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau or one of my favourite jazz trombonists Urbie Green or Bill Watrous. Then I feel like I am in the zone to get started. 

The late great Bill Watrous

The late great Bill Watrous


The first aspect of practicing is knowing what you want to achieve, setting goals and working hard towards them. If you go into a practice session with a clear set of objectives and goals, you will come out the other end having achieved something. If you go into a practice session just doing what you always have done before, then you will continue to make the same mistakes. 

So - here are a few rules I abide by when it comes to my practice. 

  1. Before you start practicing, make a plan of attack. Work out what your session is going to look like - what are you going to focus on today. Be organised and structured about your session, you will achieve a lot more. 
  2. Find somewhere quiet and away from the ‘real world’ - away from devices and distractions. If you only have 30 minutes to practice, don't spend 10 minutes of it on Facebook. 
  3. Have all your music sorted and ready in one place. Either on a stand or scanned into an iPad. Get it all ready before you start so you can keep going without have to head off and find that bit of missing music.
  4. Have a Tuner, Metronome, Pencil, Breathing Bag etc at the ready. Every practice session should include a tuner and metronome, they are so vital to our development as musicians. Surround yourself in the gadgets you need to help you improve!
  5. Dont do the same things day to day. Mix up your routine and stay fresh. Throughout a week I want to work on all the aspects of my playing, but I don't want to do that everyday. Keep a diary of what you have done, and don't repeat yourself day to day. 
  6. Challenge yourself - your practice time is your time to make mistakes. You have to make mistakes to know how to improve. Push yourself hard, practice at 100% - not on auto pilot. 
  7. Play some music that is out of your comfort zone - for fun! I like to put on transcribed jazz solos from youtube - I play along with JJ Johnson or Frank Rosalino, and try and keep up. Its not something I am good at, but I love the challenge. 
  8. Steal music from other instruments - there is so much music available out there, don't just settle for the stuff you are given, go looking. Head to - - and start searching.
  9. Warm up and Warm down - vital for making sure you feel good tomorrow
  10. Finally - find someone you respect and is at a similar level to you, and meet up every few weeks to play to each other. Play scales, exercises back to each other, ask questions and talk about playing. Bounce ideas off each other, and challenge each other to be better players. 

My Practice sessions look like this generally:

Preparation - plan what I want to practice

Warm-up - Air, Buzz, Low Register

Studies - Flexibility, Scales, Multiple tonguing, Technical proficiency, range extension.

Work - Solos, orchestra/band music

Fun - new music, playing along to youtube, just be crazy!

Warm-down - low register, preparing for tomorrow. 

Most importantly, I abide by a simple rule when it comes to practice. If I am not enjoying it, stop. Go away, get a coffee, do something else, and come back to it later. You will achieve so much more in your practice if you feel motivated and excited to be doing the work. Try and make your practice room a place you enjoy being in, set up with a stand and your music, perhaps even a way to listen to music. In a perfect world, have a recording device setup so you can record yourself at any point, and then play it back. I like to work on something, and then record it and listen to it back, making notes for next time. 

Practicing is about being disciplined, but it also needs to be fun. Find a way to enjoy your practice, don't make it feel like its homework.

I will endeavour to post more blogs over the coming weeks, but might take a week off now! Please email me if you have any questions about any of these topics, or for more exercises. I have pages and pages of exercises that you are welcome to - my email is

Good luck, and work hard.



Day 6 - High Register

For many of you out there, talking about your high register leads to lying on a couch talking to a therapist, its not always an easy topic to chat about. I think if I polled 100 brass players on which aspect of their playing they wish would improve overnight, most would say high register.

The problem with developing our high register, is that we want it done yesterday. We dont have the patience to do it slowly and correctly. So the common method is by using force and pressure, which leads to poor technique and bad habits.

One of the finest exponents of high playing on the trombone is Joe Alessi - the Principal Trombone of the New York Philharmonic. All trombonists should own every album Joe has made, but I think all brass players could learn from the way he sings in the upper register. One of the misconceptions with playing high is that the smaller the mouthpiece, the higher we can play. Now, of course a trumpet can play higher than a trombone, but thats not what I am talking about. As a trombonist, you dont need smaller equipment to play high - you need correct technique and time. Joe probably plays on the biggest ‘tenor’ trombone anyone plays on, so that theory is out the window.

Joe Alessi - just listen to his playing 

Joe Alessi - just listen to his playing 

 The way I think about high register is simple, if I cant make my best sound up there, then its not in my register yet. There are a million opinions out there on the web about high register, and like most of these blogs I want to start by saying that I am just writing what has worked for me - it might not work for you, but why not give it a go.

The key to unlocking your high register is all to do with pressure and tension - ie the less tension you use, the higher you soar. We joke about the little hook at the end of the valves on a trumpet being the ‘octave key’, because you get that pinky in there and pull that instrument back towards your chops to get the high notes - but it doesn’t need to be that way.

Firstly - always think back to the air. The air is the key to everything we do, so my starting point in developing the high register is relate it back to the foundation of our playing - good air. So as we move our practice towards the upper part of our range, always think about a relaxed airstream. Try and do all your upper register work in front of a mirror, to make sure you are staying relaxed without your face looking like you are having a coronary.

Firstly, we need to do a quick assessment of our range to work out what we are working on, and where to start. So, speaking in brass band pitch (Bb) - I want you to think about the highest note you can play absolutely comfortably with no problems, and with your best sound. Then lets assume you have 4 notes above that that are not particularly comfortable, but you can get them (on a good day). Right, this is the start of our process.

Lets say that our comfortable note is a G on the top of the stave, and the 4 notes above go up to a top C. Great! It’s important to have this worked out, as that 4th interval is the area we need to work on, not above the C - thats not in our range yet. Squeaking out a top D 2 times out of 20 doesn’t count....

So, we want to concentrate our practice in that G to C range (or whatever the 4th is for you). Starting one octave below your note (G), do the major scale of that note at mp. Put the metronome on at crotchet = 80, and spend 2 beats on each note, slurring each connection. Remember to do this in front of the mirror, concentrating on not changing the air or pressure as we get higher. As we get to our top G, we turn around and come back down. Easy as! Now do it again, exactly the same, and one more for good measure.

Great, so now we have done the G major scale 3 times up and back - 2 beats on each note - slurring each connection, and not using any extra pressure. Make sure your face is not getting red, or your neck is bulging. Stay comfortable, and make it look easy.

Next, we go up to Ab Major, and do the same thing, and then A Major, then Bb Major, B Major and you guessed it, C Major. Each one of these 3 times, at mp dynamic. If you get to a point where on any of the scales you cant get the note without using pressure and force, then go back one scale and do that one again.

Concentrate on making your best sound for every note - as soon as you are squeezing then stop, and go back down. As you get more and more comfortable with these exercises, because you are going to do them everyday... then you can start adding a semi tone to the starting note.

Try and do this exercise for 3 months before moving the notes. We are playing the long game here. The key to this is keeping the sound even, quiet and not forcing it. Focus on constant relaxed air up there, not pushing hard with the air, that causes tension. Relax, Relax, Relax.

The next step for me, is to do etudes or melodies up the octave. When you get tired, stop and take 30 seconds break, before going again from where you left off. Keep the sound warm, and within your range. The longer you can spend in that 4th range without forcing, without tension, and with your best sound, the more ease you will play up there with.

This is not a quick fix, its a slow monotonous process, but the gains at the end are enormous. Imagine a world where you have complete faith in your high register, where you sleep well at night not having nightmares about that top C in the bands test piece. Its possible, but it takes time and patience.

The final bit of advice about this, is take the pressure off yourself when it comes to high register. Work slowly and confidently, it wont happen over night, but it will happen.. Dont play Russian roulette anymore with your high notes, take control and be realistic about where your high register is at. Rather than picking pieces that might not come off, pick pieces that you can show off the work you have done. 

Please email me with any questions or for more exercises at

Good luck,



Day 5 - Sound

How do you improve your sound? It sometimes feels like it is something that is out of our control.

The sound we make on our instrument is a concept, its a hugely personal concept, but one that we often neglect. Unlike other topics in these blogs, sound development is not something that we can always say “do these exercises and you will get the sound of your dreams”. It’s more about understanding you the player, and you the listener. Once you come to terms with this, then you will start to see change in your sound and move towards the sound you want to make.

Lots of long tones, and low register work will definitely help free up your sound, but today I want to go a step further and talk more philosophically about the process of making the sound you want to make. 

First up - what makes a good sound? You listen to a player and you say, wow I love that sound, but its often hard to put your finger on what it is about it that you love. Being analytical about this is important - we often listen to the wrong things, unfortunately this is very common in brass bands. We are so programmed towards competitions, that we listen more for split notes and inaccuracies than we do the sound of the performer.

So, what makes a good sound? That is completely up to you! Go and listen to Wynton Marsalis, and then tell me what makes his sound so incredible, is it the warmth? the character? Or is it the rawness in his sound? It’s more than a good sound, it’s HIS sound. He owns that, its his passport to his performance. When you put a record on, you know instantly that that is Wynton Marsalis. I often think that he is the perfect example of what we are all trying to achieve - our own unique sound.

His sound comes from every Smokey Jazz club he has played in, it comes from the classical repertoire he knows so well, it comes from every experience that has shaped him, and then he breathes that all in and it comes out his bell. How do we get there? How do we make our own version of this? Well I am really glad you asked....

Firstly, we need to decide what is it we want to sound like. I like to think of sound as a huge circle on the wall. The circle is filled with colours. When I practice at home, I look at the wall and think about the sound I am making, is it dark and mysterious (rich blues and green) or is it light and edgy (reds and yellows). How much of the circle is my core sound (the dark material in the middle) and how much is the light colour on the edges. By doing this, I have entered into the most important part about this process, I am thinking about the colours I am producing and manipulating my sound through this concept. This might sound all airy fairy, but I can tell you that it has worked for me, and thats why I am writing about it. A huge part of making the sound you want to make, is thinking about that sound every time you pick up your instrument. Don’t throw away the opportunity to make a good sound because you are not concentrating. A teacher once said to me that ‘every time you pick up your instrument, you just have to make your best sound’. It’s a concept, its concentration, its the single best habit you will ever get into.

I get furious with myself when my sound is not right, when it’s unfocused, I reset and try again. Every time I play, I think about the sound I am going to make before I even breathe in air. I know that without my sound, I am just a trombone player, but by producing the sound I want to, I am me.

The second part of producing the sound you want to, is always listening and adapting your sound to your environment. Listen, Listen, Listen. Put on a recording of players you love, and write down what it is about their sound that connects with you - think about those positives, and then make it part of your playing. I listen to players all the time, and it doesn’t matter if they are learning or a professional, there are always things to learn from. The thing I often take away is the sound, the quality of it, and I try and take an aural photo of it, imprinting it on my brain to think about.

The last thing I want to mention, is that you are capable of making many different sounds on the instrument. Light or heavy, bright or dark, you can manipulate the instrument to create the sound you want - dont ever settle for one sound. If you want to change your sound, then go looking, find the sound you want and strive everyday to make it. Never stop thinking about the sound you want, its a life search, and one that is equal part infuriating and awesome.

Having a clear idea of what you want to sound like is vital. Watch Beauden Barrett before he kicks a goal, he visualises the ball sailing through the posts, and then goes through the physical process of kicking it. That visualisation is the same as conceptualising your sound. Think about the sound you want to produce, take in great air, and then sing through the instrument. You just made a great sound.

Good luck,



Day 4 - Low Register

I am sure I am not the only brass player that listens to players like James Morrison, Wynton Marsalis, and Urbie Green, and dreams of having the ease of their high register. Gliding around in the stratosphere like it’s the easiest thing to do, but as we know its not. 


When I was a youngster, I wanted to play high, but it was a struggle. I listened to those great players, and couldn’t work out why I couldn’t play up there like them. So, I came at it from the other direction, I decided to make my priority my low register, and away I went. Each days practice started with low register exercises, sometimes over an hour of them, and things started to change. Not only did my low register start to develop, but all of a sudden I noticed that my high register had improved out of sight. The best way to describe it, is to think of a high jumper only focussing on the soaring over the bar, and not working on the jump - the point when they are at their lowest. 

Working on my low register helped develop my air, my sound, my concept of playing. It was the most beneficial year of my studies, and a turning point that I hope all players get to go through - it was the closest thing to an epiphany that I think I have ever experienced. 

So - how important is all this - its vital! Controlling our air, creating a warm sound in the low register - these are aspects of our playing that we often neglect, and as part of our new regime we are going to make them a priority.

There is good news, and bad news….Lets start with the good. Finding exercises for this part of our practice is very easy - the bad news is that its going to be one of the larger parts of our practice time. This is much easier for a Trombone, Euphonium, Tuba etc - instruments with a 4th valve or trigger to help join up our low F# and our pedal C. Its trickier on a Cornet, Trumpet, Horn etc but its still doable and important. 

Firstly - the higher instruments - Cornets, Horns etc. The key to this part of your practice, is slow long, low playing. Start on a middle G, playing mf and work your way down. Focus on a rich warm sound, no vibrato, and absolutely legato.

Slow and steady wins the race! Concentrate on a big warm sound

Slow and steady wins the race! Concentrate on a big warm sound

Next we are going to focus on some tunes we know - play them down the octave and the key is to just spend some time in this register. Fill the instrument with air and sound. Here is an example of a tune we know - make the highest note and lowest note sound the same. 

Big rich sounds - legato approach and even sound. 

Big rich sounds - legato approach and even sound. 

Secondly - the low instruments. This is very easy - buy Melodious Etudes - Transcribed by Johannes Rochut. This book is available through most music stores. Try and start by playing 5 of these each practice session DOWN THE OCTAVE. I try and spend about 30 minutes of my practice session in this range - sometimes getting through around 15 etudes. There are plenty of books available for Tuba that suit playing in the low register for Trombone, Euphonium etc. 

So, here is Etude No 1 from the Rochut book - play this down the octave and concentrate on a warm rich sound - lots of great air and make the instrument sing. 

Play this down the octave - sing through the instrument

Play this down the octave - sing through the instrument

Here is the first page of the Blazhevich 70 Studies for Tuba - another great book for working on the low register. 


The key to developing the low register is slow rich playing down there. Try and do 10 minutes to start with - it might be hard work at first, but you will start to see rewards soon. Play a low register exercise, and then do a breathing exercise and some low buzzing - then back to the instrument again. Go back and forth at first to help - but dont give up. Make it a priority and work hard, and you will see benefits. 

There are many books available that will help with this - for low instruments try:

Charlie Vernon's Book - A Singing approach to the Trombone - this is an excellent book for all aspects of playing. 

Arbans - Complete Method - there are many slow exercises that can be put down the octave. 

Good luck - and please email me on with any questions. 


Day 3 - Flexibility

Blog 3 - Flexibility 

I am the least flexible person you know, not in an argument sort of way, but in a yoga way. I try and do the moves they say, but it just doesn't feel right - my arms and legs just wont quite get to the right place. Sometimes playing a brass instrument feels the same way! You try to manipulate the notes and move them in a certain way, but they just dont want to go there. 


Flexibility on a brass instrument is the ability to slur around the instrument without the use of the tongue and without bulging the air. Its a hugely un-utilized skill, and one that when it used well makes the instrument sing. I listen a lot to the great Jazz Trombone players, Urbie Green, Bill Watrous, Frank Rosalino, JJ Johnson, the list goes on. These guys glide around the instrument like its the easiest thing to do, when we all know it isnt. 

So - on day 3 of our new regime, we are going to make a concerted effort to improve our flexibility around the instrument, and hopefully you will start to see an improvement pretty quickly. 

As you can imagine, there are a few things that are important to think about before we do any exercises. Its very easy to move or pivot our instrument to help make these slurs easier, but you dont need to do this. In fact, when first doing flexibility ask a teacher or friend to watch you to make sure you have minimal movement. You want to be able to glide around the instrument without putting you neck out. So, first rule:

1)   Keep movement to a minimum - focus on relaxing and let the air do the work. 

Next - we need to make sure the air is not surging through the instrument, but keep it relaxed and free. Try and do as little amount of work, rather than over working and getting a big dramatic leap up to the note. 

2)   Keep the air stream constant and free of surges. 

And finally, do all these exercises slowly, don't try and run before you can walk, start slowly and build up over time. 

3)   Take your time, set the metronome on slow, and go up a click each day. 

Ok - the exercises are very simple. You want to start slowly, and try be as efficient as possible. 

I found all these exercises on the internet, and they are all very similar to the ones I do everyday. 

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

Flexibility Studies by Del Staigers

Flexibility Studies by Del Staigers

Exercise 3

Exercise 4

Arbans Studies 

Arbans Studies 

Ok - this is a good start for examples of what you need to do, try and do 10 minutes of flexibility exercises each practice session. As I said earlier, start slowly, and work your way up. Set the metronome on slow, and work your way up only when you have done it correctly. If you want to be hard on yourself - why not do it 10 times without a mistake before you move the metronome up. Good luck with that!

Flexibility is something that brass players neglect in their everyday practice. When I judge competitions, it is so easy to hear the players that can move easily around the instrument and everyone should be able to do that. Make this part of your practice a must, a priority. It might be difficult at first, but as it gets easier you will start to have confidence in this area and it will change the way you perform. Its all about the air! 

And finally - listen to the great Jazz Trombone players, you can hear in their playing how to do it, much better than my words. I listen to them, and then I try and emulate them - its the best form of learning. 




Day 2 - Buzzing

Ok - yesterday we talked about adding Breathing exercises to our practice schedule, an easy addition to our daily routine. Today, likewise a very easy but powerful tool in making our practice time more beneficial. 

Buzzing on your mouthpiece has garnished many discussions of late, some quite heated. The key aspect of any of these practice techniques is to see what works for you, and then either stick with it or not. I personally have always got benefits from buzzing, and it's a very important part of my practice time and warmup. 

I don’t personally spend a huge amount of time buzzing, I aim for around 5 minutes each day. It’s a great way to connect the buzz with the air and make sure everything is working. Creating a good buzz is a key element to creating a good sound. 

So - some very simple exercises to get us started. 

First up - lets play a few long notes to concentrate on the sound we want to make. A couple of rules around buzzing:

Hold the mouthpiece lightly, with only 2 fingers (so you don’t use too much pressure)

No pressure, relaxed grip

No pressure, relaxed grip

Do these exercises in front of a mirror to make sure you are not straining

Always think of the air you take in and connect it to the sound you are about to make

Start the metronome going at crotchet = 60

Lets start on a low C (Bb concert pitch). Focus on a compact but warm sound (try to stop the sound from being airy)

Hold a C for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a B for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a Bb for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a A for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a Ab for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a G for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a F# for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Then go back up to the C again

Hold a C for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a C# for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a D for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a D# for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a E for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a F for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a F# for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Hold a G for 8 beats - and rest for 4 beats

Great - take a minutes break and relax - maybe do one of your breathing exercises 

Now we are going to do scales in 5ths - keep the metronome running 

So, first up starting on a C (concert Bb) we are going to head up on a C scale for 5 notes, and back down. 

C - D - E - F - G - F - E - D - C - slur every note, no tongue except for the first note. 

B - C# - D# - E - F# - E - D# - C# - B 

Bb - C - D - Eb - F - Eb - D - C - Bb

A - B - C# - D - E - D - C# - B - A

Ab - Bb- C - Db - Eb - Db - C - Bb - Ab

G - A - B - C - D - C - B - A - G 

Now repeat this exercises, but starting on the highest note and going the other way, we will start in the other direction now. 

D - C - B - A - G - A - B - C - D

Eb - Db - C - Bb - Ab - Bb- C - Db - Eb

E - D - C# - B - A - B - C# - D - E

F - Eb - D - C - Bb - C - D - Eb - F

F# - E - D# - C# - B - C# - D# - E - F#

G - F - E - D - C - D - E - F - G

Good work! The last exercise is very simple. I just want you to buzz your national anthem - wherever you are from (you can stand if you want...). Start in the middle of your range, you don’t want to be doing the Mariah Carey version of the anthem, just a standard one in the low/mid range. 

Take it easy on the anthem, nothing too high!

Take it easy on the anthem, nothing too high!

Great - you should be feeling great now. When you finally put your mouthpiece into your instrument, you should feel ready to get on with the rest of your practice time. 

These are very basic buzzing exercises, email me for more technical ones at

Enjoy and happy practising


Day 1 - Breathing

Day 1 of our new regime to be better learners begins today! 

Today is the most predictable topic to deal with first up. Its the most important aspect of brass playing, its actually the most important aspect of living - breathing. 

Air is so important to brass players, but it is also the number 1 neglected facet of our practice, performance and development. The best part about air exercises is they don't take long - and you can do them anywhere! All you need is a set of lungs and good attitude - so once you have checked those boxes, we can get started. 

First up - its important to think about air for a brass player the same way you think about petrol for a car. It doesn't work without it, but also if you put the wrong type of fuel in, the car will conk out. So, we need to have a philosophy about breathing, its all encompassing, and this should be the one thing that you constantly think about when you pick up your instrument. 

So, to start lets get our head in the right place. Sit down, don't look at your instrument yet, its not important yet. Find a good space and just get into a comfortable seated position. Sit nice and upright, without using the chair to hold you up. Relax all your muscles in your upper body, especially your shoulders and chest. Now take a good breath in, focussing on a nice dark sound of the air passing your lips - remember this sound, and always try to make it sound relaxed and consistent. 

Breathe in without lifting your shoulders, without puffing your chest out (the chest will naturally fill up last) and without lifting your chin up. The key is not to look like you are taking your last breath, stay relaxed and calm - focus on the air filling up your diaphragm. Do this for a whole minute, in and out with positive air. Try and concentrate on the quality of air you are breathing in, ie don't just take a normal breath, but focus on the speed, the sound of the air - its almost like meditating.

Once the minute is over - you can do a few upper body stretches - making sure you are warming up the muscles in your upper body as we do this process. 

Next - we are going to put the metronome on at crotchet = 60 beats per minute. You can leave it running once you have it on. 

Empty your tank of air, and then: 

Breath in over 4 beats, and out over 4 beats. 

In over 3 beats, out over 3 beats. 

In over 2 beats, out over 2 beats. 

In over 1 beat, out of 1 beat.

In over 2 beats, out over 2 beats. 

In over 3 beats, out over 3 beats.

In over 4 beats, out over 4 beats. 

Repeat this exercise - but stop if you feel dizzy. Ideally you should be able to do this exercise 3 times through. 

Next, with metronome still running. 

Empty your tank of air, and then: 

In over 6 beats, out over 6 beats. 

In over 5 beats, out over 6 beats. 

In over 4 beats, out over 6 beats. 

In over 3 beats, out over 6 beats. 

In over 2 beats, out over 6 beats. 

In over 1 beats, out over 6 beats - and try and repeat this 4 or 5 times (stopping if you feel dizzy).

Last exercise. 

Set your metronome to Quaver = 100

Start with a full tank of air, and then begin by letting out 1/7th of your air at a time over 7 quavers. 

On the 8th quaver, fill your tank back up. 

Repeat this 6 times (stopping if you feel dizzy). 

These a very basic beginner breathing exercises - you can do your own research and find more - the key to this part of your practice is to try and spend a minimum of 5 minutes (aim for 10 minutes) doing breathing exercises every day - thats right EVERYDAY!!!

I try and go to the gym early in the morning before I have to be at orchestra rehearsal, that is a great way for me to get my diaphragm muscles active, and my air moving. When I get to the hall, I still do the breathing exercises to make sure everything is working. 

Some resources and links that might be of use to you:

The Breathing Gym

The Breathing Gym

The Breathing Gym - Sam Pilafian and Patrick Sheridan - 

You can purchase this at -

Here is a youtube link to what they get up to -

Kristian Steenstrup - Play with a Pro

Kristian Steenstrup - Play with a Pro

Kristian Steenstrup - Guru Trumpet Teacher - you can sign up (and pay) for his breathing classes on Play with a Pro - its wonderful resource and he is an incredible teacher, especially when it comes to breathing - for all brass players.

The most important accessory!

The most important accessory!

Breathing Bag - an absolute must have - you can purchase in NZ @

Song and Wind - Arnold Jacobs

Song and Wind - Arnold Jacobs

Song and Wind by Arnold Jacobs - a wonderful book about the human body and brass players. Arnold Jacobs was the Tubist of the Chicago Symphony, and this is a must read for all brass players. 

Available @

So this is a start to breathing, its the most important thing we do as a brass player, so lets not neglect it any longer. Time to change our regime and make it part of our everyday practice. You can find more exercises, even make up your own ones! 

Message me if you have questions or queries at

See you tomorrow for Blog 2 on Buzzing!


Are we good learners?

Brass players love learning, mmm hang on, let me re-word that - Brass players love talking about learning. 

Learning is something that brass players love to talk about, books, teachers, workshops, you name it, we talk about it. But the sad reality is that sometimes thats all we do, talk about it. 

I travel a lot around the country, and spend a bit of time talking to individuals and bands about ways in which we can improve as brass players. Now, its important to note that 15 years ago when I talked about breathing and buzzing exercises I would get a similar look as if I had said I was trying out for the All Blacks. People looked at me like I was all sorts of crazy, and yet its the least crazy thing about playing a brass instrument. Now-a-days, its almost worse, I get a look of agreement, a look that tells me that they are going to go home and do these exercises everyday for the rest of their lives…but the reality is they wont. The reality is that we love hearing the information, but the implementation of the information is a whole other can of worms. 

When I join a new gym, an instructor tells me what I need to do to lose weight, to get fitter, and to meet my goals. I am drunk on the information, and love the idea that this is going to change my life - a week later I have stopped doing the exercises and am back doing the same old stuff I have been doing for years, and doesn’t work. 


I don't want to sound negative, well I do, but I don't want us to feel all is lost! I want us to realise that sometimes the information is only the start, it doesn't make us better players unless we do it over and over again. 

The internet is one of the most incredible sources of information and motivation we could wish for. Every week I sit down and play my warm ups at Alessi Music Studio alongside Joe Alessi, Principal Trombone of the New York Phil, and I do breathing exercises with videos by Trumpet guru Kristian Steenstrup in Scandinavia - all online and only click of a button away. 

Kristian Steenstrup's breathing regime.

Kristian Steenstrup's breathing regime.

We need to be more than just information gatherers, we need to be information processors. I have been to a tonne of classes, lessons, workshops, where I have been given information that didn’t work for me. I tried it, I persisted with it, and then I realised it wasn’t for me - thats fine. The key to this process is processing the information, and persisting with it, not for a day or a week, but for months - thats how we see benefits and progress. 

So - if we are going to change, then lets do it together. I am going to post 7 blogs in 7 days, with exercises on a range of topics, starting tomorrow. If you have questions - ask. If you have problems - let me know. Most importantly, lets change our practice methods, lets be better players and better learners, because learning is not something that stops, its a never ending quest to be better everyday.

And for the record, I am going to start a new gym regime tomorrow, and try and stick with it!



We are Athletes!

I love running. I never used to, I was always a bit lazy, but then realised one day that I needed to do something to burn off my excess winter padding. The idea of understanding my body was something very foreign to me, even though I was transfixed reading Arnold Jacob’s ‘Song and Wind’. The idea of understanding my body was far more interesting than the reality of it. 


Nevertheless, I forced myself to get on the treadmill - 1k here, 1k there, and before I knew it I was up to 5k. The interesting thing was that I started to hear my body talk to me, the aches the pains, tiredness and lack of enthusiasm to get out on the road. The more I listened to my body, the better I learnt about how to get the best out of my running. Now running is something I look forward to everyday, even on tour when I have to drag others out with me so I dont get lost! 

On tour in Europe with Luke Spence, Kevin Hickman and Tom Davey

On tour in Europe with Luke Spence, Kevin Hickman and Tom Davey

Where am I going with this you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked. 

The interesting thing about brass players, is that we are athletes, but we don’t apply the same amount of focus and research into the muscles we use for playing, the same way runners would with their specific muscles. We don't listen to our body giving us information about our tiredness and fatigue. We soldier on, day after day, smashing the lips and wondering why we continue to play Russian roulette with our performances. How many times have you woken up the morning of a performance and wondered how your chops are going to feel today? What if you knew your muscles so well that you could sleep with confidence that you are going to feel great the day of a major performance. 

In brass bands in New Zealand, we start out 2 nights of band a week around 3 months before contest. Then closer to the time we add in weekend rehearsals, building up the bands ensemble skills and strength, as we inch closer to D-Day. Then 10 days out, we start smashing the chops, sectionals, band practices, long weekends - every night of the week. Even the day before the contest there will be a solid 2 hour rehearsal. Now think about this for a second. If a runner was going to run a marathon on Saturday, would they run for 2 hours on Friday? Probably not…

If we listen to our chops, we start to understand what we need to do to get through the day of rehearsals or performances. We tend to do the same routine everyday regardless of how we feel, and we are also reluctant to take a day off. 

Today is a day off for me - and I love days off! The last 10 days has been full on playing, probably between 6 and 10 hours of playing a day, with rehearsals, concerts and practice taking up a huge amount of the day. For me, the day off playing is as important as my biggest practice day. The value that I get from letting my chop muscles relax and recover is invaluable to the next weeks playing. 

I urge you to go and read ‘Song and Wind’ you can buy it here - - or get the kindle version and always have it with you on your iPad or kindle. Learn about how your anatomy connects with your instrument and then treat this process seriously. I guarantee you will see benefits in your playing if you learn about the process of making the sound you make. 



Here are a couple of rules that I live by when it comes to getting the most out of my practice and performance. 

1 - Breathing Exercises - these are invaluable to me to get my air moving and connecting with my sound. Even better, get up early and head off for a jog at 7am - way better than breathing exercises and awesome for your health. 

2 - Stretch - do some Yoga - or even find some yoga poses that you can do before you practice. Find a way to open up your breathing muscles. Hold the poses and take 10 good breaths in an out. Make this a part of your warm up. 

3 - Warm ups - take your time! - find the time to ease into the day with buzzing and low register work. Try and do this early in the day and think of it as stretching your muscles before a day of playing. 

 4 - Be Healthy - the best version of you the musician, is only possible if you are also the best version of you the human. Think about what you eat, what you drink, how you sleep, and make your health a priority. 

5 - Take a day off from time to time - Days off are not the enemy! They can be hugely beneficial. Try and take a day off every 2 weeks, and dont even look at your instrument.

6 - Practice with someone - find someone you respect and like to listen to, and try and get together and play excerciese back to each other. I use the Joe Alessi Studio  - - it costs $100US for adults and $50US for students. The subscription lasts a year, and you can warm up with Joe Alessi and listen to his classes and talks. Its an incredible resource and worth every cent. 

Joe Alessi Studio 

Joe Alessi Studio 

The more you understand your body, the more you will forge ahead in your playing. Dont underestimate how much you need to listen to your body, and dont forget - you are an athlete! 


Banding vs Orchestral

Over the past few years at the NZ National Brass Band competitions, I couldn’t help but think throughout the week how far the relationship between orchestral and brass band players has come. I have had many teachers over the years telling me that their students shouldn’t be playing in a brass band because it is bad for their orchestral playing. Now playing in a brass band might be bad for your liver, but for your orchestral playing? I don’t think so.

As a student I always looked forward to band in the evening as it was a good chance to have a decent honk after often long days of rehearsing works in the Uni orchestra with long passages of rests. I found that band was a great chance for me to work on three aspects of playing that often needed attention.

Solo playing – Playing the trombone solo out of Phillip Sparke’s Year of the Dragon would obviously be approached differently to playing the solo in Mahler’s 3rd Symphony. Sitting in band was a chance for me to think about that style and how I could manipulate the music to get the most out of the line, which had a positive impact on the way I would look at orchestral solos. The soloistic approach of a band trombonist is often a lot more romantic to what you might get away with in the orchestra. I have always loved trying to push the boundaries of what an orchestral conductor might tolerate…

Stamina – This is something we are always working on which was a constant issue for me as a student. Getting through a band practice was a real struggle, so using the band to develop that strength and stamina was really great for my playing. The key to this was making sure that I didn’t pick up bad habits on the way – I was always conscious of not changing the way I played throughout the range regardless of how tired I became.

Changing the sound and style – an often-neglected skill. Players often feel that the sound they make is the only sound they make. Well it shouldn’t be! You should have a range of sounds that you can produce; the sound you need to make to project in a brass band is very different from the one you would use in the orchestra. I have always enjoyed the challenge of adapting to the environment I find myself in, whether I’m playing with a jazz ensemble, a brass band or an orchestra, as a soloist, or in a small group where I need to hide in the texture from time to time. Playing in the band helped me realise that I couldn’t make the same sound all the time, it just didn’t work, so I found a way to adapt, and develop my sound. This was the opening of a door in my mind to many other processes in my playing that I constantly think about.

So, is playing in a band bad for your orchestra playing? I absolutely do not think so. Playing in any ensemble creates a change of environment that is always a positive, you just have to find these positives and stay disciplined.

Over the years brass bands have developed and adapted to their musical surroundings, and the sound of brass bands has also evolved along with developments in brass teaching around the world. I firmly believe that the orchestral method of teaching is the strongest form of brass education as it teaches the instrument first i.e. the basics of producing sound – air, buzz, concept, technique and projection. Many other teaching methods put the music first and the instrument and player equal second.

Over the years we have seen more and more students from brass band backgrounds heading off on a tertiary journey studying orchestral brass and later returning to bands with that information. We have also seen more and more orchestral players taking the reigns of brass bands. This has seen a change in the overall sound of bands, particularly in Australasia, where bands have become an extension of the orchestral brass section. There are pluses and minuses with this that are obvious. The most prominent change is in the rounder and richer sound of the bands – there is a stronger sense of the basics, so intonation and balance have improved out of sight. The downside is, and this is really a question I raise rather than a statement, are we losing our identity as brass bands? When you listen to the traditional band sound there is a rawness to the sound, a brightness to the trombones, vibrato a plenty in the cornets and euphos, and more passion than an episode of Downtown Abbey. Are we in jeopardy of losing this identity? The orchestral influence on banding is generally a positive one, as long as we take the best of the teaching, the best of the quality, and keep our traditions and identity intact.

National Youth Band blog

On January 20th the National Youth Brass band convened for a week of music making in the upper South Island. The management team had organised a program full of rejuvenating ideas for the band including a concert which included both musical and theatrical forms of audience engagement. In order to make these concerts a success we began our week with four full days of intense rehearsals. We focussed mainly on our two major works, “Aotearoa” and Le Carnival Romain” spending some time also on our smaller concert items and working with our stunning soloist Kyle Lawson. The pieces were all so enjoyable to play that, generally they came together very quickly under good direction and the band’s desire to play pieces they enjoy, to the best of their ability. The band also spent quite a bit of time in section rehearsals with a team of exceptional tutors, Anthony Smith taking the front row, Alan Spence taking the back row, Kevin Hickman with the Horns, Steve Miles with the Eupho Baritones, Mark Davey with the Trombones, Phil Johnston had the basses and Grant Myhill with the percussion. This incredible lineup were instrumental in making each section come together to play accurately and stylishly. So for that guidance we really thank them!!

Trombones with their Tutor Mark Davey

Trombones with their Tutor Mark Davey

Section of the Year - Euphos and Baritones

Section of the Year - Euphos and Baritones

Phil Johnston working his magic with the Bass section

Phil Johnston working his magic with the Bass section

Grant Myhill working with the Percussion section

Grant Myhill working with the Percussion section

Kev Hickman pondering the Horn Sections next move

Kev Hickman pondering the Horn Sections next move

Assistant Music Director Alan Spence working with the back row.

Assistant Music Director Alan Spence working with the back row.

Whilst doing all of this practice we were well looked after at Nelson college, with exceptional food and great facilities. Despite the weather consistently being in the upper twenties and Dave keeping the heat on us in the band room the entire week the band managed to stay cool most of the time thanks to the help of the school pool. Most of the band’s free time was either spent there or participating in organised activities, this included an afternoon of sports planned by Sue Ford (at the expense of  Logan Ford) which allowed the many sporting inclined members of our band to showcase their extraordinary talents. Once the band was suitably exhausted it took us several hours of rest and recuperation by the pool before our next event; a bowling and quiz night tournament. Kindly hosted by the Tahuna Bowls Club once again we were able to demonstrate our sporting prowess, with Alan Spence even hitting a record high for incorrect Biases and his team mates for a record number of times yelling “Come on Spencey”. After this the annual quiz night took place with the Euphoniums, Baritones, Trombones and about four tutors simultaneously getting away with such  an advantage and winning the entire competition quite convincingly.

After our four or so days of intense rehearsal it was time for our first concert in Nelson at the Annesbrook Church where we practiced our routine and costume changes in the morning and performed in the evening. Our routines involved changing from overalls, to suits, to traditional British band uniforms, then from marching gear to our “Jazz” outfits. Over the course of the next three days our costume changes would become more and more convincing although the first performance only saw one big error anyway; when the band was changing out of our overalls into our suits the lighting crew moved to early and when our name was read out to introduce us to the audience they clapped to a completely dark stage. This performance was livestreamed and we put on a good show for both the live and livestreamed audience, with both the theatrics and musical aspects of the performance coming off well.

Guest Soloist Kyle Lawson wowing the band

Guest Soloist Kyle Lawson wowing the band

Following a post performance debrief kindly hosted by the Ford’s the band was to hit the road the next day, we were on our way just down the road to Blenheim, with a short detour to Westport! Upon our arrival in Westport we unloaded at our accommodation and then had a great meal hosted by the Westport band. The committee and band members put on a great spread and we enjoyed exploring their bandroom and seeing their rich history on the bandroom walls. Next was a well executed yet particularly sweat inducing concert at the balmy NBS theatre. Once again a post performance debrief was held at the band room and the following day we were on the road again. It was awesome to travel around the beautiful south island however some of the scenery seemed pretty familiar by our second day of travelling. Our performance at the Blenheim ASB theatre was going to be a highlight, the new theatre was hyped up considerably by the Marlborough contingent of the band. However they did not disappoint as playing in that theatre was a highlight of the whole trip for me and I certainly am looking forward to playing there again this nationals. The best of three very large audiences saw our band playing the best we had all week and finish on a real high. We were hosted once again brilliantly by the Marlborough band both for dinner and our debrief.

our rehearsal space/sauna room

our rehearsal space/sauna room

On our final day we were hosted by Marlborough band again in the beautiful ASB theatre to record our CD. This proved to be both a long yet rewarding day for the band, especially the members of the band who have never recorded an album before. It was tedious at times however a very interesting insight into how these sorts of recordings come about. I look forward to the release of this and to hear how a band on top form sounds! Our annual prize giving ceremony concluded our week and many of the band were deservedly recognised for their exceptional contributions to the bands performances and behind the scenes work. Finally a night of celebration ensued and several faces looked very ‘sad’ getting onto the plane the next day.

Putting the finishing touches on our CD

Putting the finishing touches on our CD

This years youth band was so incredibly well thought out, planned and executed and I’d love to thank all those that made it possible. The Nelson, Westport and Marlborough bands which hosted us so graciously in their towns, the places which we had for accommodations which put up with all of the racket we made in the band room (and otherwise) and to our exceptional management team. The tutors for their expertise, Dennis Teeling for his huge help as stage manager this where so many things were going on on stage for him to think about, our exceptional soloist Kyle Lawson for his professionalism and presence at the camp and to Leigh Martin for his support and expertise behind the scenes as assistant manager. Finally a big shoutout to Dave Bremner and Mike Ford for their incredible work planning, organising, choosing and running this band. No minute of the camp was wasted yet at no point of the camp did anyone feel overtired thanks to Mike’s balancing skills and the polished final product which I know our CD will be is a testament to the skills and musical brain of Dave.


Thanks to everyone involved for an incredible week.


Lachlan Spence

Life in the Army

As an eager 11-year-old picking up the trombone for the very first time, I had always been blown away by the stories, my dad told of his time in the New Zealand Army Band. Fast-forward 13 years and here I am, the Bass Trombonist for the NZ Army.


The Army Band is much different to the band that dad was in in the 1970’s but some things remain, the location, and the retro carpet, even Graeme Bremner is still there!

I joined the NZ Army Band in 2012 after I studied Classical Performance at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington and was a member of the Royal New Zealand Air Force Band. Both the Air Force Band and School of music were awesome experiences and totally help transition me into a full time musician for the NZ Army. Prior to joining I was under the impression that the Army Band was a mediocre ensemble, I couldn’t have been more wrong. There are some amazing musicians in the band, all who work extremely well together to make this unique and really entertaining group.


I spent four years at the New Zealand School of Music and graduated with a BMus and PGDip Mus in performance. I had considered more study but money played a big role in my plans. I had the option of free-lancing in Wellington plus working part-time somewhere to raise funds to study, or audition for a position in the NZ Army Band. To me it was a simple decision, trying to find gigs and working at KFC or earning a comfortable salary actually playing trombone. I originally planned to be in the Army Band for two years to save to study further, however I have enjoyed it so much, after 6 years…I’m still here.


When I auditioned, I flew down to Christchurch to spend three days with the band. The most nerve-racking part of this was the requirement to bring running shoes for a fitness test….I probably hadn’t done any exercise in over four years, and my god-like body was more like Buddha than Zeus. On run day, I took off for a sprint at the start, but after 300m I slowed. With 2.1km left to go, I soon realized that I had a lot of work to do. Luckily they accepted my run, and I just had to pass the musical audition.

It was audition day. Unlike some other auditions I had been a part of, It was just myself auditioning. No screen, and it all seemed very relaxed. It all started with being in the band room with the whole band and joining in morning rehearsals. The Band was preparing to perform a marching display for Her Majesty the Queen. I was blown away by the complexity of the music in which they were marching to, it made Colonel Bogey look more like page one of my tune a day book from school. After rehearsing the music the band went outside to rehearse the marching, I got to spectate. I am not the most coordinated person, so watching the band cross through each other, and marching backwards all while playing that incredibly difficult music completely blew me away and I was desperate to be a part of it.


After lunch it was my turn to play for my main audition, everything was relaxed low key, which really helped with the nerves. My audition consisted of two pieces of my choosing plus some sight-reading. To my joy, I passed and was soon to become a member of the NZ Army Band.

I moved to Christchurch in April 2012 and was straight into performing with the band. One of my first gigs was back in Wellington at Government house. Still trying to impress the band members, I was very gung ho with the set-up and ending up taking a chunk out of a freshly remodeled door of the ballroom. So embarrassing! Thankfully this didn’t become a trend, and the next six years in the Army Band has become one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

The Band tours a lot and at a huge range of events, from extremely formal parades for Government and Defence Force Chiefs, to 1000’s of screaming punters at festivals like Hokitika Wild Foods. Whilst touring can be hard, it’s amazing how much of New Zealand and even the world I have been privileged to travel for work. Since I have been in the Army Band, I have been to Switzerland, England, Scotland, Germany, China, and of course Australia to perform.


Being a member of the NZ Army Band doesn’t just consist of playing your instrument, and a day is very rarely the same. We are regular force in the Army, which means we still do some “Real Army” things, like weapons training and qualifications, promotion courses, and of course the dreaded fitness test. The Army Band also has other roles within itself. All our members do other tasks to help the band run efficiently. We have teams who promote the band via social media, teams who arrange music for the band and many more. I am lucky enough to be an Arranger for the band, as well as help recruit, but my most rewarding role is being an instructor for the Army School of Music where I get to teach theory to all the musicians to meet the requirements of the band. We also play lots of sport; mainly touch rugby, and running. We are all really active so finding the motivation to go out and exercise is relatively easy and we all seem to stay in reasonable shape.

To me, joining the Army Band was one of the best decisions I have made in life, I have grown as a player, and seen places around the world I never thought I would have seen. I have made life long friends, and more importantly made some great music.

If you are interested in what the Army Band can offer you, please get in touch with the band via or follow the band on Facebook to see when we are next in your town.



Careers - David Bremner NZSO Principal Trombone

Happy New Year - hope you had a fantastic festive season, and are ready for a great 2018. 

Throughout the year, we are going to be bringing you lots of different blogs, covering various topics. But I thought a thread that we might keep going throughout the year is about careers in music. Many of us are incredibly lucky to be able to make music for a living, and I have asked a bunch of musicians around the country to write about their experiences in their chosen music profession. 

I thought I would kick start this thread, with my own personal experience being a member of the NZ Symphony Orchestra. Throughout this series we are going to hear about careers in Orchestras, Forces Bands, Brass Bands, Jazz Bands and many more. 

I joined the NZSO in 2002, as a pretty green 26 year old.  I had been Principal Trombone of the Auckland Philharmonia for around 12 months, and loved playing with such great people and musicians there. The APO is such a friendly and welcoming place to make music, I couldn’t have been in a better orchestra for my first job. 

The Principal chair in the NZSO came up in 2001, and I was very excited to be able to audition for the position. 

Many of you may not know the process that takes place to gain a position in an orchestra, but I can assure you it’s a pretty rigorous one, and not particularly enjoyable! 

It starts on audition day.  All the candidates are backstage warming up, and getting ready for their audition. The management of the orchestra will tell you your time to turn up, and then you need to be ready and warmed up for when your time comes. 

My audition for the NZSO was in a small concert chamber in the Wellington Town Hall, and I was backstage ready to go.  I went in, and there is just silence in the room, even though you know there are 20 odd musicians sitting behind this massive screen separating those in the orchestra from those wanting to be. It’s normal to play a solo work, usually the first page of a standard concerto, and then around five excerpts. 

It’s impossible to know what they are thinking or looking for, so I just focused on what I was trying to do, and then when you walk off the wait begins!  Waiting to find out if you have advanced to the next round is horrible, second guessing yourself on how you played, and finally convincing yourself that you have stuffed this up, and wasted an opportunity.  Finally someone comes around and lets everyone know those players who are advancing to the next round - and we do it all again!

At the end of the NZSO audition, two candidates were offered trials with the orchestra. A trial is a chance to do the job for a month or so, so they can see how you go within the orchestra.  A month is a long time not to stuff up! The other trialist was one of my best friends, so to say the process was stressful is an understatement. 

The whole process takes around a year to complete, and then you get the good or bad news. 

I started my time with the NZSO in July 2002, and my first concert was in the Michael Fowler Centre with a performance of Mahler's 3rd Symphony.  Talk about a baptism of fire!  This is the biggest trombone solo in the repertoire, so they definitely knew after the first day whether they had made the right decision (still not sure).



The following 15 years have been amazing, life is never dull in the NZSO.  We are a touring orchestra, so we are on the road a lot.  Travelling is pretty gruelling, especially with more than 100 people in your tour party. Queuing up for flights, hotels, buses, backstage at the hall, you name it we have waited for it.  It’s not always glamorous, but it is a privilege and one I never ever take for granted.

What is a normal day in the NZSO? No day in the NZSO is normal, but if we are at home we are either rehearsing or performing at the Michael Fowler Centre. 

If we are travelling, it requires being up, packed and off to the airport by mid-morning.  I usually grab a coffee at the airport (the first of many coffees in the day…) and then off to wherever we are performing that night.  The bus picks us up from the airport and takes us to the hotel, where we usually have a few hours before needing to be at the hall for rehearsal.  I have two things that I like to do on tour, running and practice. So as long as I get those things done, I feel good.  If the weather is good, I head off for a run, sometimes with colleagues in the orchestra, and sometimes by myself. Matt Allison is a good running buddy on tour, as is Bridget Douglas, but Bridget runs a bit fast for me, so I prefer Matt. I have running routes for all the cities we travel to, and love getting out and about in this amazing country we live in.

Then it’s practice time - never a huge session with a concert in the evening, but maybe just an hour and a half of studies and warm ups.  The orchestra usually has a 30 minute rehearsal in the hall before the concert and then we are off. 

After the concert, we usually have a debrief at a local establishment, and then off to bed to do it all again tomorrow.

We also make the odd appearance overseas. Since I joined the NZSO, we have toured the UK, Europe, Japan and China. I can tell you that touring with the NZSO is a lot of fun, I would say 'what goes on tour stays on tour', but you can go and see Jeremy Wells Documentary of our European tour to see what happens when we are away for a month in Europe. Head over to - - for a very funny doco on our tour a few years ago. I make a few (embarrassing) cameos. 

Very excited to be on stage in Vienna's Musikverein

Very excited to be on stage in Vienna's Musikverein

There are so many great halls in NZ that we are so lucky to be able to perform in throughout the year.  The NZSO also does the odd ballet and opera, as well as film soundtracks, CDs, education concerts at schools, and some pretty cool crossover concerts.  We have been lucky to perform with artists like Sting and Wynton Marsalis, as well as incredible classical artists like Lang Lang, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Pinchas Zukerman, and Janine Jansen. 

Me and Sting - I think I told him a joke...

Me and Sting - I think I told him a joke...

Chilling with Wynton - the most incredible brass player I have ever heard

Chilling with Wynton - the most incredible brass player I have ever heard


No two days are the same in the NZSO, whether it’s changing repertoire, or a different city to perform in, there is always something to keep us on our toes.  I know a lot of people say this, but I am convinced I have the best job in the world, and wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world, except maybe the Fiji Philharmonic….

You can go to the NZSO’s website at and see when we are coming to your town. There are lots of great concerts throughout the year, and there is definitely something for everyone. 

Might see you out on the running path in your town soon!



Gadgets under the Tree

As we are firmly into the festive season, it's a good chance to look back on the year that has been, and be thankful for many things. We are so lucky to have tools and opportunities that were not available for many generations of brass players.

So, today I am going to write about some of the things I am most thankful for in the world of brass.  And perhaps there might be a few things you hope Santa might drop off to you, or are under the tree!

First up - I am incredibly thankful for the amazing range of mouthpieces on the market at the moment.  I look at lists of brands on websites and feel a huge wave of Christmas warmth that there is most definitely something out there for everyone.  Whether you want a screamer jazz trumpet mouthpiece, or bucket tuba mouthpiece, there is something that will bring out your best and help you develop into the player you want to be to nail all those Christmas carols.  Check out the brands that your local brass dealer stocks, and go and try a few out.  Also, next time you are at a festival or brass band contest, spend some time trying mouthpieces at the trade stands.  Don't just try and play the highest note you can, but actually focus on the feel of it, and your sound, you will be amazed at the difference a good mouthpiece can make to your playing.

Next - my lifesaver - the Sshhmute practice mute! I don't know where I would be without this little gem to help me practice in every nook and cranny around the country. Whether it’s in hotel rooms, on the side of stages, anywhere! I have one in my touring box at the NZSO, one at home, and always one in my suitcase. This little gift will keep the noise police at bay! Head over to - where you will find a completely kiwi made practice mute that is the best on the market. 

I am grateful for the apps on phones that can help my practice time.  I use a tuner/metronome called TE Tuner – it’s fantastic for seeing my tendencies on pitch, and also has a great drone that I do my scales with. The metronome has many features as well. There are plenty of these apps on the iTunes site, but I have found TE Tuner the best.  Cleartune is another good one.  Other apps that are useful are iTunes and Spotify for listening to plenty of our favourite brass players - listening is one of the most important aspects of learning, and with all this music at our fingertips we have no excuse not to be completely immersed in the world of brass out there.  And finally, you can record yourself on the phone, using apps for hearing those tricky passages you are struggling with.  Don't be afraid to utilise the capabilities of your smart phone to get the most out of your practice. TE Tuner can be found at -

The breathing bag is a tool that I am incredibly grateful for, and one of the most used accessories in my case.  We just don't do enough breathing practice, and having it in my case constantly reminds me to do 5 minutes a day.  It's a great visualiser for seeing if I am using my full capacity, and its always on my stand when am practicing.  You can buy breathing bags from

Under the tree there might also be a small strangely shaped present from you - the B. E. R. P.  The Berp is a one of the best practice devices, and it clicks onto your instrument for easy use.  When you are struggling with a passage on the instrument, you can put the mouthpiece into the berp and buzz the passage while still moving the slide or valves.  It's a great tool for practicing your buzzing whilst still going through the actions of playing.  It’s perfect for isolating that little group of notes you are having trouble with and seeing if there is something going wrong with the buzz or air.  This is one of the best practice aids out there.  Head over to to read about it, and then keep your fingers crossed for one under the tree. 

And lastly, everybody wants gadgets from Santa, and the most useful gadget I have is my iPad.  I have all my music stored on it, so wherever I am in the world, I have a library of study books, music for upcoming concerts, and of course the internet, which is a great database for downloading music.  I am always scouring the site for free sheet music to work on.  The iPad is a quick and easy solution to avoid having to carry a suitcase of books and music on tour.  I scan everything, and put it into iBooks and then away you go - everything you need for practicing at your fingertips.  I have a mini stand that the iPad sits on, so if I am backstage or in a hotel room I have a ready-made music stand and library!

As this is the last blog from me for the year, I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.  I am very excited for the projects we have here at the NZ Brass Foundation in the pipeline, and I look forward to sharing these with you in the new year.  In the meantime, feel free to make a donation to the NZ Brass Foundation at - - and visit the website - - regularly for articles, and brass related information. 


David Bremner

Post Turkey and Gravy practice...


After the turkey and gravy has been digested, the focus turns to our New Year’s resolutions. I spoke recently around the country about the need for goal setting and how we can use summer as a chance to think about the aspects of our playing we can improve on. Carrying on in that vein, today I thought I would talk about building our range and stamina.

There are always solos that have a note that seems like it’s unattainable - it’s like trying to birdie the hardest hole on the golf course. Sometimes it’s easier than we think, and often it’s as simple as thinking about it from a different perspective. We put so much emphasis on high notes, and how they might make or break the piece, but the reality is that they are no more important than the lowest note. By simply changing our perspective on how much pressure we put ourselves under, we can suddenly relax into these higher passages, and not get so stressed about that Super H at the end of the piece!

Working on range and stamina are two very different but vital aspects of practice. I tend to work on them both at the end of my practice time, and never on the same day. Range development is the art of slowly building up those notes at the end of your range with the same technique and ease as those in the middle. Stamina development is being able to do that for a long time.



The key to a strong and efficient upper register, is a strong and efficient lower register, and vice versa. Don’t think you can have one without the other! Work on your low register with as much vigour as you do on your upper register. I find the best way is go in and out from the middle of the range to the extremities of your range, i.e. start in the middle and work downwards, concentrating on your sound, embouchure, air and facial expressions all remaining the same - calm and relaxed. Do this in a comfortable mf dynamic. As you do this into the upper register, keep the sound calm and even. Use your scales as a good way to practice this, going down or up a semitone at a time. As you get to the edge of range, repeat these scales many times, but don’t go further until it feels comfortable. You may feel something changing in your setup, so head back to the comfortable area and remind yourself what you need to do.



This aspect has to be done carefully and always with a good long warm down afterwards. Building up your stamina requires shortening the amount of time you need to feel fresh again – i.e. you play a high phrase and feel tired, you rest for 5 minutes and then you can do it again. Ideally you want to get this down to a matter or beats or bars rather than minute.

I use an Etude book, and I play the Etudes in Tenor Clef (they are written in Bass Clef), this makes them quite high, but you can use other methods as long as you are doing sustained playing in the upper register. I will start at number 1 in the book, and play until I am spent, the point where I can’t pitch those notes any more, and I take a 30 second break. I make a small asterisk at the point and then go again from that point, I repeat this 10 times. The amount I can play is getting smaller, but over time those amounts are increasing. Don’t force anything, keep it natural and calm, and stop when you are really tired - but ultimately the harder you work, the more benefit you will see. Make sure you do a good warm down and some low buzzing at the end of this one, it hurts!


Building your range and stamina takes time and patience, and ultimately discipline. Keep working hard and correctly and you will go a long way.


Happy practicing



Tongue and Cheek

Hi all,

I have spent the last few weeks travelling around the country, talking in band rooms and meeting lots of brass players across Aotearoa. I have been so inspired by the turnout at these events, and how eager you all are to listen and learn. 

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the remaining articles this year will each be dealing with a different facet of playing that we can work on over summer, and Neil Cording asked about some tips to do with tonguing techniques.  So Neil - here we go! 

There are so many opinions out there regarding tonguing and articulation, and I am not going to muddy it up too much today.  The most important thing is that your mouth and tongue are unique to you, and the way you produce a note will be heavily influenced by your mouth cavity, your teeth, your tongue, your lips and so on.  It’s important to remember this, as you can read a million books about tonguing techniques and none might work for you. 

So the first port of call for dealing with tonguing is to analyse your setup and work out how you are fronting the notes - where is your tongue at the articulation point?  What is the syllable that you most commonly replicate (da/ta/tha)?  Is your articulation fluid or is there tentativeness? 

Once you start to get an idea of what you are working with, then it’s important to remember a few things before you start producing the note.  One of the most important factors in tonguing, that is often neglected, is AIR.  Think of air as the petrol to your articulation - too much petrol and you will flood the articulation, not enough and the articulation will splutter to get going. 

Someone once told me that to make a good start to a note, you need to think about blowing out the flame on a matchstick.  You don’t need a lot of air, you don’t need a big explosion of air like you might do for a birthday cake, but just a small puff of air and the syllable TOH.  You can practice this without the mouthpiece or instrument, and focus on the air and tongue coming together at exactly the right time with the perfect amount of air.  Every time you start a note, think of this technique - not heavy but light, and just the right amount of air.  If I have a fluffy articulation in the orchestra, I will immediately do a few of these to remind myself of the correct technique, and it makes a huge difference. 

As far as improving our efficiency of tonguing, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter how fast you go, as long as the technique remains the same.  If you change the technique as you get faster, clarity and definition will be lost.  It’s important to think of tonguing like diction - if you mumble no one will understand you, but with correct diction (like a thespian) you will be clear as day, and the audience will understand every note. 

So make this the basis of your tonguing practice - technique first, then speed.  Sit down with a metronome and start on a G (concert F) playing 2 bars of semiquavers at crotchet = 40

Try and do this twice with the same clear articulations, before heading down a semitone.  Focus on clarity and the air before getting faster.  Try and go down an octave to a low G and keep the same diction all the way down.  Write down the tempo you were at, and then tomorrow move the metronome up a couple of clicks.  Remember that it’s not a race to the finish line, it’s about keeping the technique the same and controlling the clarity.  If you need to, record yourself doing this, and make sure that all the notes sound the same.

You can also integrate your scales in the tonguing exercises, but doing each exercise in a different style of articulation – i.e. staccato, legato, accented, marcato, etc.  Try and mix it up when playing the scales, whilst still focusing on the basics of the articulation that we have talked about. 

For double and triple tonguing I use the good old Arban book - there are plenty of fantastic exercises in there, but again remember that the key is ‘slow and steady wins the race!'.  Take your time and build up slowly, making sure you have complete control over your technique at all times. 

Let me know if this helps, or you need some more exercises - and any suggestions for the next topic are very welcome! 

Happy practicing



Sun, Surf, BBQ's and Practice...

I love summer, it’s such a great time in New Zealand - sun, surf, BBQs and practice - WHAT! Yes, that’s right, that dreaded word practice.  I love practicing over summer, it's usually the most productive time of the year for me with no concerts coming up or specific music to learn - just focusing on the basics.  It’s so easy to put your instrument away and forget about it until the new year, and then you spend the first month back playing catch up.  I have a different approach to the summer practice regime, and if you do the same, it might make 2018 a year to remember for you as a musician. 

First of all, it’s great to have a break over Christmas and have a few days away from the instrument, so don't be afraid to stick the instrument in the garage for a week - you deserve a break!  But if you take too long, it’s going to be a hard grind to get back to where you left off. 

A great way to help make the ‘break’ not too long is to do a detailed plan to set your goals for the upcoming year.  Setting goals will help you push yourself, and doing this over a few days off also gives you inspiration - and will probably make you want to go and get that instrument from the garage and get stuck into achieving those goals. 

The best way to approach setting goals is to do a complete evaluation of your playing, outlining your strengths and weaknesses - be honest!  Sit down and work out the areas you need to work on, and then set goals for the coming year so that you always have an idea of where you want to get to. 

Then instead of spending summer doing the odd practice session every so often, make summer the time to refine your basics, and work on those areas that you want to be stronger at in 2018.

Make a list of the fundamentals of playing a brass instrument - sound, range, articulation, tonguing, flexibility, air, etc., and try to make progress with each of them every day you practice.  Think of it as a spring clean of all those important aspects where some may be in good shape, and others a little rough.  Make it a goal over summer that you are going to make headway on these basics, and then you will be in great shape as band starts back, and your conductor will be very pleased with you!

Practicing can be fun over summer, find somewhere sunny and inspiring, even go outside and practice.  Listen to lots of playing that inspires you, and think about how strong these players are in the areas you are working on.  They sat exactly where you are now working on the basics, and now it’s your turn. Positive and motivated practice will give you a feeling of achievement, and you will start to see improvements in all these areas. 

Violin soloist Hilary Hahn recently did 100 days of practice, posting a 1 minute video on Instagram each day.  Her approach to practicing inspired many musicians out there, and she worked on various basics in her playing. Check out the article below:

What a great goal to start with!  100 days of practice - posting a photo from each session to inspire others to do the same. I might give that a go!

So, make this summer the most productive one you have ever had.  Of course enjoy the sun and the beaches, but connect with yourself musically as well.  Set out your goals for the year ahead, what you want to achieve, where you want to be at the end of 2018, and then get going on the practice - start a new routine and challenge yourself to stick to it.  Maybe it’s 100 days of practice.  Or 6 days a week of practice.  Perhaps it’s even starting to practice! 

The remaining blogs this year will cover some of the basics that we can work on over summer - perhaps you can let me know which ones you would like me to start with?

Happy practicing!


Blog Numero Uno

They say to start a blog, you don’t need to be good at writing - well I seem to be on the right track from the start! Add to that my lack of knowledge of computers, and we are off to a flyer. Nonetheless, here we go!

Welcome to my first blog entry here at the NZ Brass Foundation. As a trustee of the foundation, I am really excited to be posting these articles and covering many topics relating to music and specifically brass playing.  

I’ll be posting a new blog every two weeks on a range of different topics, and would really like to hear from you about any issues you are having and would like help with.  It could be any problem – air, buzzing, practicing, nerves, study etc.  Just let me know and I will do my best to answer or get someone who can.  I will also be calling in a few favours from time to time to get some different perspectives from other brass players, so if there’s anyone you would particularly like to hear from, let me know and I’ll see what I can do to track them down! 

To get things going, I thought I might broach a subject today that is pretty close to many players around the country - mouthpieces.  Travelling the country, I am amazed how many brass players play with the mouthpiece the instrument came with – that’s like ordering a suit online without giving your measurements, and then just wearing it even though it probably doesn’t fit!

There are many parts of the puzzle to being a strong brass player, and one of the most important is getting a mouthpiece that is absolutely perfect for you, otherwise it’s like running in shoes that don’t fit - it will give you problems.  But how do we know what is ‘best’ for us? 

Well, first up it’s about knowing what is out there. Do some research on the internet, you might find a player who uses a certain type of mouthpiece that they think is great and that’s a good start.  I can also recommend heading to our ‘Ask a Pro’ page and asking some of these great musicians what they suggest -

It’s really important to get a mouthpiece that is the right sized cup and rim - often this can mean playing around with different depths and sizes. Go too small, and you might have a great upper register, but your sound will suffer, as will your lower register.  Go too big and you will be struggling to get through band practice!  The key thing to remember is that a mouthpiece can really help you get the sound and range you want, but you need to try lots of different brands to find one that sits right with you.


Also, know how the mouthpiece is made up - here is a diagram of a standard trumpet mouthpiece:


A quick squizz on the Dillons Music site brings up a list of trumpet mouthpieces, this is just one list of the mouthpieces they are selling:

Bach/Bob Reeves/Curry/Denis Wick/Flex/GR/Griego/Hammond/Joseph Klier/K&G/King/Laskey/Marcinkiewicz/Monette/Najoom/Parduba/Patrick/pTrumpet/Purviance/Roger Ingram/Shilke/Shires/Stork/System Blue/Warburton/Wedge/Yamaha....

Wow!  And that’s just a start.

You are probably not going to get the perfect one straight away, it’s a lifelong quest to find that mouthpiece holy grail.  What is the right rim/cup combination?  What lacquer? 1 piece or 2 piece? What brand?  But don’t give up before you have started! Get out there and do some research, ask around, and borrow off people until you find something you like.  

Each brand of mouthpiece has a different feel about it, and may or may not suit you. Some have a sharp rim, some flat, different shaped cups etc. The key is finding the one that suits your embouchure, and feels natural. Talk to your teacher or brass playing friends about what they use, and why they love it. The most important thing to do is research! 

Mouthpieces are like a good pair of shoes - get the right one and it will last you for years and feel fantastic, the wrong one will give you back pain and cause you problems.

Please comment on any questions you have or topics you would like covered on this blog. Look forward to hearing from you.


Dave Bremner