This is the third article of a series discussing the process of building a warm-up that will grow your group’s abilities through creating connections. In this post we will look at creating connections with exercises that integrate many or all of the fundamentals we want to develop into a cohesive warm-up performance.\
If you sing anything, you’ve just created an audiation exercise. Create a connection between what you hear and what you play. It’s not just about developing a sense of pitch. You’re developing an understanding of how air flow creates pitch as well. Having a singing component to your warm-up will help develop an awareness of your facial structures also. Incorporate singing into all levels of your rehearsal. Whatever can be played, can be sung.
- Sing with different vowel shapes to build their use of facial muscles.
- Sing with a vibrato that’s created by the face muscles to further awareness, stretching and comfort in using these muscles.
- Sing drones or rhythmic accompaniments while the melody is played.
- Have the melody sing while the accompaniment plays.
- Sing chords, scales, melodies, vowels.
Students must always think about the sound they are making. Tone is present in all areas of musical performance. Tone can be improved while working in every area. Playing fast: students naturally play with fast air during a fast tempo. Match that air to slow tempos or long notes. Articulation: releasing a good tone in a variety of styles. Vibrato: maintain a centered tone while producing vibrato. You can find many ways to connect tone throughout your warm-up.
Is the air column able to create the proper tone?
- A full resonant (all the overtones present) tone, requires the student to produce an air stream that is:
- Focused- concentrated to maintain its integrity the complete distance of the instrument,
- Fast- able to traverse the full length of the instrument without out any disruption to the necessary pitch wave length,
- Resonant- an air stream with the right focus and speed will cause the instrument to vibrate at its correct fundamental, thereby activating all of its inherent overtones in order to produce a perfect tone for their instrument.
- Students should avoid thinking that a big, wide air stream will create a full sound or create the overtones that make up our instrument’s tone. We create tone by activating the instrument correctly. We do not put tone into the instrument. Air is the mechanism by which we activate the tone inherent in our wind instruments.
Is the length of your instrument set at the necessary distance to allow the air stream to create vibrations at the desired wave length? It’s important to recognize that both the instrument length and air stream are variables in this process. The instrument and reeds need to be in good working order but we need to understand these 2 primary variables first.
- Instruments are designed and manufactured to produce a fundamental frequency when the body is at a certain length.
- The materials that make up the body of the instrument will vibrate at its true pitch center when the proper air stream is used during performance.
When you teach your students to set their instruments to a certain length and then move their air at the necessary speed to produce the pitch, you will have conquered most of your tuning issues. When students start from the beginning with the idea that they produce the notes by matching air speed to pitch, instead of pushing and pulling for every note, you will see a greater independence in tuning even by the end of their beginning year.
When I first began teaching I could use some general guides to set my beginners, but with so many nonstandard brands showing up, I have to actually play some instruments to find its fundamental pitch center for the students.
Here is my general guide for setting instrument length. (For Instruments designed for A-440):
- Flute- Start with headjoint 1/8” pulled out.
- Oboe- Reed is inserted completely into the upper joint.
- Bassoon- Bocal is inserted completely into the tenor joint and reed is snug on bocal.
- Clarinet- Leave about dime space between the barrel and the upper joint.
- Saxophone- Leave about ½” of cork showing.
- Trumpet/French horn- Pull main tuning slide out ¼”.
- Trombone/ Baritone- Pull main tuning slide out ¾”.
- Tuba- Pull main tuning slide out 1”.
These are just starting spots with beginners. More adjustments will be made to fine tune their specific brand and instrument type. Have them practice matching pitches at these lengths so they can get used to matching air to pitch. Then make adjustments once you see where their midpoint is between sharp and flat tendencies. Let them build some air speed and flexibility before you start pushing and pulling.
Sound is vibration. Connecting the physics of sound to how their instrument produces its musical tones instead of just noise will increase their understanding of their instrument.
Chord Progressions and Chorales
I love playing chord progressions before playing a chorale. Play block chords. Give the downbeat and hold each chord. Let the kids really get into controlling everything (R.A.T.M.E.T) themselves. You can familiarize your students with complex sounds through a short chord progression. When you add the melody of a chorale you will see the dividends of chord progression practice. Make sure students connect to every area of musical performance during a chorale. There are great opportunities to build connections with chords and chorales.
Adding various tonguing patterns can connect articulation to any part of your warm-up. Even a chorale can be a mode of opportunity. Play a chorale at a faster tempo with a staccato articulation and a pianissimo dynamic. You just created an articulation exercise that wasn’t a scale pattern. No matter what you are playing, be attentive to the beginnings of all the notes. We are actually practicing articulation with everything we play; not just during articulation exercises. I also have sets of short scale passages with different articulation patterns to use during warm-ups. Connect the coordination of tonguing an articulation with the style of the articulation.
You can increase their connection by holding a note/chord for 10 seconds. Start piano and crescendo to forte. If they maintain balance, blend, tone, tuning, air speed and focus throughout they have created many connections. By having them change one thing, they are required to adjust all other areas as well. This means a lot of focus and connecting. Do a simple dynamic exercise every day during warm-ups, and dynamics will happen easier in repertoire. You can improve your students dynamic control throughout rehearsal. At any point during your warm-up you can vary the dynamics of your group to provide opportunities for them to develop dynamic control in any situation.
Kids’ favorite part: how fast can we go? You must put into place the concepts that will make technique useful instead of perilous. Everyone only has so much fast twitch muscle ability. So the only way to maximize our technique is through efficiency.
- The less distance your fingers move, the quicker they will complete that movement. Keep fingers on the valves/keys, open holes ½” above, and curved. Use the muscles in the first digit (fingertip) to initiate movement.
- The less distance the tongue has to move, the quicker it will complete the articulation. Keep the tip of the tongue within 1/16” from the contact point of the reed or the mouth. If your brass use the K-tongue modified, it’s the same principal just a different spot.
Play a passage slowly with fast air, clear tone, correct embouchure, balanced, blend etc. Increase tempo with the task to maintain all these skills; not just go faster. We have to teach them not to forget everything else when they go faster. Connect all your fundamentals. Posture, hand position play a very important role in technique. Make sure students remember their air creates the proper resonance/tone. If the instrument is vibrating properly it will respond to pitches quicker, making the lag time that is created by the vibration change from one pitch to another even shorter.
What my 10-15-minute Warm-up looks like:
- Rhythm exercises 1-4 measures.
- Breathing exercises. Using whole, half and quarter notes.
- Sing various pitches using different vowels.
- Mouthpiece exercises using straight tone, vibrato and articulations.
- Brass Sirens
- Fogging: blow air through instrument without sound. (All keys or valves are depressed)
- Sing, Buzz, Play. We sing pitches, buzz them, then play them.
- Flexibility exercises: Remingtons, Lip Slurs etc.
- Flow Studies.
- Longtones with dynamics.
- Chorales. 1 Phrase for Middle School
- Technique: Choose from Scales, Arpeggios, Short (2-4 measures) technical drills I composed.
By consistently experiencing musical challenges in practical ways, we provide moments for excelling as a band. Students will aspire to perform with complete integration of their fundamentals when they continue to experience these unique moments of musical joy. The next post will provide a set of warm-ups for each instrument that students can use at home or before rehearsal begins.
Steve Giovanoni is in his 23rd year of teaching. He is currently in his 12th year at Randolph Field ISD in Universal City, TX. While at RFISD he has taught Band, Dual Credit Music Appreciation and Music Theory courses.
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