Prelude to Brass Playing

Copyright © 1961 by Carl Fischer, Inc.
All rights assigned to Carl Fischer, LLC
International copyright secured.  All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.

Some highlights from the book:


Your study in music will be much like your study in school; you develop so much in one grade to prepare yourself for understanding in the next. There are to be times when the road will seem a bit rough. You must console yourself with the thought that the final goal is more than worth the effort. All over the world students meet the same problems, and overcome them just as you surely will.

Some of the finest musicians of a few years from now have not started yet-think of that now! You all have much the same chance. Will you use your opportunity to the best of your ability? Will you strive to become a good musician, a credit to yourself and your parents, and an asset to the musical world?

I wish you every success, and trust that my efforts in Prelude to Brass Playing will serve to get you started on the road to good musicianship.

Good luck to you!

Chapter 1:

You will recognize the fact that habits are formed early. The first time you pick up your instrument, you start to form habits. They will be either good habits, or bad habits-depending upon your approach. Skillful playing on a brass instrument stems from a series of good habits, poor playing, from a series of bad habits.
It is unfortunate, but true, that bad habits seem the easiest to fall into; they wait at every turn for the unwary student. And they waste so much time - weeks, months, years. We see players starting over again after years of working the wrong way it is harder to unlearn bad habits than to learn good ones.
Chapter 2:
You are about to become a brass-instrument player and, as such, will have different problems and pleasures than the players of the other wind instruments, but one thing you will share with them is the production and control of that vital force which generates your tone and even gives the over-all name to your kind of instrument. Yes, I mean (and how obvious can I get?) WIND.

Chapter 3:

Embouchure development must be regarded as the most important single phase of brass playingl Your degree of success will depend for the most part on your embouchure training. just as the violinist must make his notes, so must you. He depends on ear and fingers. You depend on ear and embouchure. Your playing can be only as good as your embouchure. Be sure you go into the training with a clear understanding of every factor relating to the production of sound on your instrument.

Chapter 4:

Knowing that sound on your instrument is dependent on lip vibrations, that lips must be loosened up before they will vibrate naturally, that Nature must take its own course in this training, will you spend one week-a full seven days-on this all-important phase? There will be no need for your instrument during this period of training, so put it away and concentrate on the job at hand. You are to get the lips vibrating easily, so that when you do pick up your instrument and blow against the lips, they will respond by giving you sound-naturally and easily.

Chapter 5:

There is no doubt that mouthpiece has a bearing on range and tone. And I am a firm believer in each player's having a mouthpiece that suits him; that is to say, a mouthpiece that suits his type of playing. But as for mouthpiece providing a short cut to playing ability ... never! Ability on a brass instrument always has, and always will depend, not on the mouthpiece, not on the instrument, but on the player himself.

Chapter 6:

While an understanding of the mechanism of any brass instrument is essential to proper care and handling, the average beginner fails to concern himself to any extent with this detail. Let us consider this machine (for it is a machine, with delicate working parts). If for no reason other than keeping it in first-class working condition, we would be advised to have more than a smattering knowledge of it.
Chapter 7:
You will do well to regard your instrument as an amplifier-a loud-speaker that amplifies the sounds made by your lips. You are aware by now that there is nothing magical about valves or a trombone slide. They merely make more notes available to you. It is for you to make your lips vibrate at the frequency for the notes desired. In other words, you depend on the lips.

Chapter 8:

Think back to your early school days. Do you recall students in your old reading class who read easily, without hesitation, lowering the voice in some places, raising it in others, speeding up here and slowing down there, using various means to add expression to the printed words? Do you recall other students who read in a halting fashion, mispronouncing words, running through the end of a phrase, speaking in a monotone, and sounding in general as though they were in a hurry and relieved to get to the end? There will be no doubt in your mind as to which were good and which were poor readers. There will be little doubt, too, that you will see the possibilities of such instances among music students.
Chapter 9:
True intonation is one thing that the average listener demands of a performer. The experience of listening to faulty intonation is so painful that we will not tolerate it, and it is taken for granted that any brass player appearing before an audience will at least play "in tune." This matter, therefore, warrants our keenest attention.
Chapter 10:
Tone is to be seen as dependent upon technical development. One may have a love of the beautiful, a sense of artistry. He may have a clear mental picture of the tone quality he desires in his playing and yet never attain that tone through a lack of development. In this respect he might be likened to the artist who has not sufficient ability with oils and brush to capture on canvas the pictures of his imagination. Musician and painter, sculptor and architect - all are dependent upon the development of the technicalities involved in their art.
Many students go into the development of register with a faulty impression. They cherish the idea that top notes are all-important, and that the ability to play them is a criterion of playing. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Nothing, furthermore, could be more disastrous to embouchure development. I am convinced this misunderstanding has been one of the greatest undermining influences leading to frustration and ultimate failure on brass instruments.

Seek Knowledge: acknowledge your ignorance and grasp every opportunity to learn. Look for criticism, and never be ashamed to ask questions.

Form Good Associations: choose your company wisely. Avoid those who would undermine your resolution. Seek those who will stimulate you to better efforts.

Keep Your Aim High: know that enjoyment in music goes in direct proportion to ability. Like a sunflower reaching to the sun, aim high - up and up.

Welcome Difficulty: recognize difficulties for what they are - stepping stones along the way to test your will. Once surmounted, they will spur you on.

Have Patience: stick by your guns. Know that then you will attain your goal, however long the road, whatever the difficulties.

Have Courage: fortify yourself with firm resolution. Stubborn resolve will bear you up when strength is needed.

Have Faith: know that success lies within you. Know that firmness of purpose and perseverance are prerequisites of success. Cast doubt from your mind and believe in yourself.

And now to work! Opportunity lies before you; make the most of it.

I have the greatest respect for you at this moment. I know that you can succeed.

Show the world that you can.

Thanks to Ted Lessley for the selection!

I got permission from Carl Fischer to publish this (March 17, 2003)