Lesson Plans For Those Without An Instructor- Part 1

We have all had private lessons at some time in our lives and, in most cases, realize the importance of this experience. Unfortunately we are sometimes left to our own schedules or are in an area which does not include competent teachers and for that reason I wanted to address this problem.

Studying with a competent teacher is very important if only because you are forced to practice regularly. There is something about going to a lesson ill prepared that makes us practice. We brush our teeth every day, take showers regularly and take our vitamins regularly but when it comes to practicing our instrument, we sometimes let it slide. For that reason I would like to offer a series of lesson plans which might be of some help to the players who are not currently studying with an instructor. If you have a teacher working with you, disregard my suggestions for it is not a good idea to be “serving two masters” as it is told in the Bible.
My suggestions are based on many years of playing and teaching which gives me at least a little authority in this venture. Many will say “every player is different and because of this fact, each has different problems and requires different instructions”. I agree in many ways with this thought but when it comes down to the basics, we are all in the same boat. I will address these common problems in this posting and share suggestions as to what specific material to work on in the following posts.

Areas to be developed by all players

Tone and flexibility

I have combined these two areas for both are achieved through the same exercises. In order to improve your tone, you need to listen to your sound and through listening and evaluating what is coming out of your bell. This can only be achieved by breaking it down to the simplest element and that is through playing and listening to long tones. Playing long tones to me is boring but because of the extended time that you are listening to each sustained note, you become more aware of what sounds acceptable and what is not.

The counter part to long tones is flexibility. The more you play long tones, the more you need to play flexibility exercises. The reason for this is that the long tones tend to stiffen your embouchure and to counteract this you must perform the contrasting and supporting routine of playing lip slurs. Practicing one without the other will tend to produce a one sided embouchure.

Valve technique and range exercises

Developing speed and control of your valve fingers is very important for the more technical the material, the more confidence is needed to execute the passage. Fortunately we have a wealth of material suited for this development and I will make my suggestions in the next post.
In my experience, I have found that increasing the upper register is best accomplished through regular exercises utilizing chromatic scales. The very slight change from one note to the next will best suite you when increasing your upper register. I will include specific, written exercises for you in the next post.

Sight reading and etude playing

Every practice session should include etude playing which will allow you to play practical material in order to satisfy the more melodic side of your development. By combining both etudes and sight reading you will have again improved two areas of your development at the same time. I will share a very important secret in the next issue which will improve your playing substantially, something that has made a big difference in my practice habits.

Ensemble playing

Practicing by yourself can be very boring and for that reason I suggest that you search out someone to play with, even if only once a week. I have been fortunate to have a friend who is in the same situation as I, in that we are not performing regularly in town and still need to keep our chops up. The reason I have shared this situation is to let you know that you do not have to be playing in a full concert band or a brass quintet in order to keep your chops up. Duets fill the same void and are much easier to put together.

Always be preparing a new solo

Beginning work on a new solo can be your standard used to convince yourself that you are progressing. If the new solo is beyond your immediate capabilities, you then have a starting point to judge your improvement. If after a reasonable amount of time, you see no improvement, you are doing something wrong and need to change your routine. If on the other hand you accomplish the improvement you expect, you will have the confidence to continue and accomplishing this goal will give you the encouragement to continue.

Through these lesson plans you should be able to progress on your own until you can hook-up with a private teacher.

Check back to my next post for specific material I would suggest for the younger player and additional posts will cover the more advanced p

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.