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 https://bremnermusic.co.nz - 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 - http://tonalenergy.com/
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 https://www.abi.co.nz/
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 www.berp.com 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 http://www.imslp.org 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 - https://givealittle.co.nz/org/nzbrassfoundation - and visit the website - http://www.nzbrassfoundation.org.nz/ - regularly for articles, and brass related information.