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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.