How Old Should Your Child Be When Starting to Play A Brass Instrument? Part 2

What mental requirements are necessary before the child should start playing an instrument?

When speaking of mental requirements, I am not referring to a mentally challenged or impaired child. I am speaking of the average child with the usual mental capacity. To succeed at any musical instrument, the student must be able to understand the importance of regular practice. Practicing regularly to some might mean “practice when you feel like it” or “when it is convenient”. This is the type of student that will most likely tire quickly of the discipline required for advancement on a brass instrument. I have never found practicing to be either fun or enjoyable, yet I do it every day. This dedication is also referred to as “paying your dues”. If I don’t practice, I don’t improve. If I don’t improve, I’m not satisfied with myself.

Would it be best to start now or wait till later in their development?

This is one of the most difficult questions to be answered for each child is different. One observation I would like to share with you is the issue of the parent’s aspirations and the aspirations of the child. A very good example of parent’s wishes over powering the child’s desire is the argument for and against the very young children competing in pre-teen beauty contests. I will not voice my opinion as to the values of these contests for I have no interest or experience in this area. What I have seen on increasing occasions, are parents entering their children in contests where the parent is trying to live the experience through their child and forgetting that the child may not be interested in the experience. A very good place to see this happening is on Youtube.com. The number of very young children being exploited by their own parents is staggering. The sheer dangers of posting videos of your child on line for everyone to see are extremely questionable in the least. I am puzzled why videos such as this one have been posted on a world wide site. I have no issue with recording your child for a family history or even for sharing with family members, but what benefit is gained by posting videos such as this?

If your reason to start your child at a very young age is to be able to show your friends what a very talented young person he or she is, by all means, invite your friends to your house and let them demonstrate their talents, but please do not do what hundreds of parents are doing every day by posting videos of their children to the world.

What advantage would be achieved by starting the student at a very early age?

I live in Branson, Missouri, known for years as the “Live Music Capitol of the World”. We have over one-hundred shows going on at any time during our peak seasons and many of the entertainers are very young. Several of the shows feature entire families and included in their shows are children all the way down to the age of two. Audiences are amazed at the talent of these miniature people as they mount the stage, and sing and dance at unbelievable levels of musicianship. Audiences are impressed to the point that they many times think their young child could be the next star on stage and begin to fantasize on their child’s possibilities in the future. Unfortunately the parent does not realize that same tiny person has known nothing but entertainers around them their whole life (two years) and in many cases knows nothing else but showbiz. The same thing happens on television most evenings as younger and younger children are paraded in front of the cameras every night.

Personally, I feel that for most children, the time to begin playing a brass instrument is when the band directors visit the schools and explain what the local band program is all about. In some cases this happens around the fourth or fifth grade level. By this time the child is beginning to understand what is required for success in any area and will be mature enough to understand the necessity of regular practice and will be willing to work towards success.

What are the expectations of the parent when starting a young child on an instrument?

Before you decide to start your child on an instrument, ask yourself these questions-

  • Is my child interested in starting to play an instrument or am I interested in having them play an instrument?
  • Is my child interested in music or do they have more interest in another activity?
  • Will my child have enough interest in music to continue with the required time studying?
  • Will my child enjoy the experience and want to continue?
  • Am I willing to support my child in the added activities which accompany their musical activities?

Even though I have asked many questions and offered many suggestions as to the importance of deciding on an instrument for your child, one point I would like to make in closing is this- “Even if it doesn’t work out, it is not life threatening”. Even if your child does not decide to play an instrument, the world of music is available to all and the beauty of music can be appreciated by a nonplaying musician as well as the most gifted.

You may find this site also helpful when selection your child’s first musical instrument- Selecting an instrument to study Parts 1-4

How Old Should Your Child Be When Starting To Play A Brass Instrument? Part 1

This seems to be a hot topic on the national trumpet bulletin boards and I’m not sure there is a definitive answer to the question. Each individual will have to make his/her own decision on this one. Some young players have been very successful while others have failed miserably at the quest. It will be my intent in this post to bring light on both advantages as well as disadvantages when considering a very young child’s first experience on a musical instrument.

Important issues to consider when starting a child on a musical instrument-

Does the child have any interest in beginning an instrument?

If the child has asked to begin playing an instrument, it is usually prompted by one of a few influences. Many times the young person has been impressed with a musician on television or at a concert and because of this interest; they decide that they would like to perform also. This is commendable and nothing should be done to discourage this interest and selection of one particular instrument. In most cases, young people are impressed by the electric guitar or the drum set. If by chance your child wants to go the route of a brass musician, inquire why they have made this selection. If the child has a well thought out reason for wanting to play a brass instrument, and they are at an age that you think they would be able to understand the requirements for sticking with it (practice), I would do everything possible to help them with their goal. If on the other hand, your child has had a history of starting something and soon tires and begins to search for something else to entertain themselves, I would try to steer them into another interest at this time. Eventually they may settle into a single venture and stay with it and at that time, if they show interest in playing a brass instrument, do everything to help them. You may wonder why I seem pessimistic about starting young children who exhibit a lack of focus and determination into playing a brass instrument. I have found that the requirements to succeed in playing a brass instrument are more challenging than most parents and children realize and to become frustrated with the instrument at an early age is not good for the child or the parent.

Does the child have any talent in music?

Deciding whether a child has any musical ability is difficult if not impossible. I can not tell you how many times I have heard someone tell a parent, “Oh yes, your child has a great ear for music”, or “Your child has an amazing gift for music”. Give me a break! Most of the time when this information is shared with a parent, it comes from someone interested in selling the parent an instrument or at least a series of lessons. To tell someone that their five year old will be the next great musician is like telling a parent that their child will be the next Tiger Woods. Time is the only way anyone can show real talent at anything. At this young age, the child’s interest is a better barometer for success than someone’s unqualified opinion.

What physical attributes must the young person have to begin study?

Very young children may have physical limitation which could affect their selection of their musical instrument. When I first began to think of playing a brass instrument, I remember vividly my mother and I visiting our local music store, the Band Box, in Moline, Illinois. Mr. Jack Manthie was the owner and when my mother told him that I wanted to play the trombone, his response was, “Oh no, his arms are too short”. That is the only reason that I have played trumpet all my life and not the trombone. Isn’t life easy? Later I found out that it wasn’t the length of my arms that decided my instrument, it was the fact that they had no trombones in the store that day and they did have some trumpets they wanted to unload. Many times a student will be encouraged to start on a particular instrument only because the high school band director is in need of players on that instrument in the near future. Isn’t it interesting how the music business works?

When deciding on an instrument for your child, there are practical issues which may influence your decision as to which instrument to buy. Visualize your very small son or daughter carrying a large Sousaphone on the field every Friday night at the football game. If your son or daughter has overly large fingers, be sure to have them first place their finger on the keys of a flute or piccolo if that is the instrument they want to play. Practicality many times can be an issue when deciding on an instrument. If your income is limited and your child wants to play harp, please remember that not only is a harp expensive, but also is the vehicle you will be required to purchase in order to transport the new harp.

Additional issues discussed in Part 2 include-

Mental requirements of a student starting to play an instrument at a very young age.

At what age is it best to start playing an instrument?

What advantages are there for starting early on an instrument?

What are reasonable expectations of the parent starting a young child on an instrument?

My All-Time Favorite Brass Ensemble- The King’s Brass

My last post dealt with my favorite trumpet players and today’s post is similar, but this time I would like to introduce you to my favorite brass ensemble, the King’s Brass. This was the brass ensemble that influence me into forming my first trumpet ensemble. I have followed the King’s Brass from its very beginning and had predicted from the start that they would eventually reign supreme in the brass ensemble field. Many will disagree with my opinion, but the prediction I made many years ago has proven correct. Few ensembles are able to combine a religious message with outstanding programming and tasteful musicianship as the King’s Brass has done through all these years. Great brass ensembles have formed and most have folded, but the King’s Brass continues to tell their story and amazing their audiences throughout the world.

I salute Mr. Zimmerman’s vision and perseverance in a field seldom conquered with such flare and musicianship. “To God be the glory” and to Tim Zimmerman and the King’s Brass go our deepest appreciation.

The primary mission of the King’s Brass is to spread the Gospel and encourage other believers. However, the mission is actually multi-faceted and can be best expressed through the goals set by the members.

Goals of the King’s Brass

GOSPEL Present the good news of life through Jesus Christ at every concert.

WORSHIP Lead people in worship. By the end of each concert, people should have their hearts focused on Jesus Christ.

EXCELLENCE Present musical excellence at all times. We should not be embarrassed to perform for other musicians who attend our concerts. Our music must always communicate to our audience, but never at the expense of quality programming and music.

BRASS Encourage brass playing and players in the church. Show them that brass can be used as a valuable vehicle for leading congregations in worship.

GROWTH Encourage personal development. Each player should be a better musician, person and Christian as a result of being a member of the King’s Brass.

ENJOYMENT Enjoy our tours. If we don’t, let’s stop. Life is too short to not enjoy it all. Let’s have fun!

MEMBERS OF THE 2010-2011 KING’S BRASS TOUR

TIM ZIMMERMAN – Director of The King’s Brass, Trumpet

GREGORY ALLEYTrumpet

MICHELLE KUHL – Keyboards

DAVID GRAVESEN – Trombone

ERIC HENSON – Trombone

DANIEL LEWIS – Trumpet.

DAVID PORTER – Tuba

JEREMY SMITH –Trombone

MCKINLEY “MJ” STINSON – Percussion

How to Identify and Deal with Excessive Mouthpiece Pressure- Part 2

Mouthpiece pressure begins with the hands.

#1. The easiest solution

All mouthpiece pressure begins with the hands. Holding the instrument is the only way we can play the instrument so it is logical our first step to lesson the pressure on the lip would be to  lessening the grip on the horn. Now visit another of my blogs “Left hand Playing Position”  illustrating a “lower left hand position” which will automatically lessen your mouthpiece pressure. By using this lower, left hand position, you will begin to lessen your pressure without any major changes to your playing style.

The next area of attack is the little finger on your right hand. If you have been in the habit of placing your little finger in the ring on your lead pipe, now is the time to break that habit. Many people complain that they forget to keep their finger out of the ring and because of this problem; I have suggested that they wrap a strip of Scotch Tape around the ring as a constant reminder to keep the finger out. The little finger positioned in this ring can transfer a tremendous amount of pressure to your lip while performing. After a week of touching and replacing the tape, you should have relieved this point of pressure. If your habit returns, pop on some tape again.

#2 The more difficult solution

The next step in relieving excessive mouthpiece pressure is where I am at the current time. I have decided that even with the lower left hand position which I have used for many years, it was now time to reduce the pressure even further. For that reason I am now using a different left hand position and have made significant improvements. The accompanying photo illustrates this new left hand position. Let me be the first to say that this is more than a little unusual. All of my practicing is done this way and I am very pleased with the outcome. I have begun to play with minimum pressure and because of that fact; I have seen a tremendous improvement in my embouchure development. When you begin to perform with less mouthpiece pressure, you will notice that your embouchure will be used more efficiently and consequently increases development. I have used this left hand position on only one job so far but while playing the gig I noticed that my endurance, range, tone and flexibility had increased. I am convinced that this hand position has improved my playing and I will continue playing this way until I find something better.

#3 The most difficult solution

This exercises is the most challenging and should only be done in the confines of your practice room.

Stories have circulated for many years about lessening mouthpiece pressure. One suggestion told to me  is the “suspended trumpet” exercise. The trumpet is suspended from the ceiling by two or three strings which allow the instrument to swing freely in air. Then the player is supposed to walk up to the mouthpiece and begin to play a note. Obviously as the mouthpiece pressure is increased, the instrument begins to be pushed away from the player. I have no doubt that this will illustrate just how difficult it is to play with “no” pressure. My only question is directed to the value of this exercises, “how does this relate to real life playing”?

A similar and more practical approach to the same problem would be the following exercise. Place your instrument on an elevated table or extended music stand covered with a towel. Walk up to the instrument and begin playing a note. The towel and music stand will increase the amount of pressure you are able to place on your lip and for that reason; this exercise is a little more practical when illustrating minimal mouthpiece pressure. Start with middle range notes and gradually increase both higher notes and stronger volumes. This is only an exercise for forcing you to concentrate on the responsibility of the embouchure muscles. After a few minutes of this exercise, begin to practice holding your instrument as described in example #2. While practicing, be very conscious of the feeling of limited pressure and begin to implement this feeling into your practical playing routine.

How to Identify and Deal with Excessive Mouthpiece Pressure- Part 1

Before we get into the how and why of excessive mouthpiece pressure, we need to identify what it actually is and establish how it is produced.

What is mouthpiece pressure? When the rim of a brass instruments mouthpiece comes in contact with the lip, it produces mouthpiece pressure on the lip. Some pressure is required in order to seal the two from leaking air as the player begins to blow through the lips. If too little pressure is exerted you will have air leaks. If too much mouthpiece pressure is exerted, the player will limit the vibration of the lips and in extreme cases, damage can be sustained by the lips.

How much pressure is correct? The amount of mouthpiece pressure will vary in accordance to the volume (decibels) and range of the notes. When playing extremely loud, a slight increase of pressure is necessary in order to compensate for the increased amount of air being blown into the instrument. Less pressure is also needed when playing in the low register of the instrument as compared to slightly more pressure used in the higher register. Please note that I have described the increased pressure as being “slightly” increased for an excess of pressure is not good and now we will identify what is ideal as compared to excessive.

How do you know if you are using too much mouthpiece pressure? The usual signs of excessive mouthpiece pressure are-

  • Bruising or pain under the rim of the mouthpiece while playing or after playing
  • Long lasting (ten minutes) dent in lip after removing mouthpiece
  • Thinness in tone in all registers
  • Split lip caused from playing for long periods of time and/or in high registers
  • Ridges forming on the inside of your lip where your lip makes contact with your teeth
  • General lack of endurance
  • Inability to play very soft passages
  • Difficulty starting notes at soft volumes in all registers
  • Excessive tension in neck and shoulder muscles after practicing
  • Lasting (ten minutes) dent in your little finger of your right hand where you hold your instrument
  • Left hand tends to go to sleep during long (one hour) playing sessions
  • Soreness or stiffness in your jaw area after long playing sessions

All of these are signs of possible excessive mouthpiece pressure and now after pointing out the signs, we move on to what can be done to alleviate the problem.

What can be done to lessen excessive mouthpiece pressure? If you are a beginning player, you have a definite advantage over an older player for your habits have not yet become established and consequently the time needed for the correction will be lessened. For a long-time player, the correction time will take longer but the advantages you will gain will be well worth the effort. In my next post I will describe three methods which should correct your excessive mouthpiece pressure problem and I will begin with the least aggressive and continue with more difficult exercises.