EPN Travel Services proudly presents: The Playing Tip of the Month!

Enter your warm-up, rehearsal, performance, or teaching tip for a chance to win a special prize from EPN Travel Services!

Winning Playing Tips will be published in School Band & Orchestra magazine.

Don’t start playing until you are ready; mentally and physically prepare to commence. Too often, younger players try to begin playing before they are actually “set” to begin, resulting in poor entrances, missed rhythms and notes, and an array of other inaccuracies that otherwise might not occur if they simply take a moment to prepare. Think of a MLB pitcher going into his windup before actually throwing the ball, or the batter preparing before stepping into the box to receive a 98mph fastball, or the Olympic gymnast before the final segment of their floor routine. Musicians are no different in this respect. If students develop a habit of preparation before execution, the musicianship should improve.

Todd L. Hunter

Marywood University

Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania

To get beginners to understand quantitative playing skills like air, tonguing, and embouchure, I use the 3 bears analogy and tell students to “find baby bear.” This accelerates learning and makes it interesting. Phrases like “You’re blowing like Papa Bear, use less air and keep it moving” or “Your tongue is like Mama Bear and is too light, you need to articulate more clearly.”

Michel Nadeau

Burr Intermediate School

Commack, New York

If you’re having a problem playing a certain passage, set out an empty glass with 10 pencils on the side.

Read more: Pencil Pushing

Too often, younger players try to begin playing before they are actually “set” to begin, resulting in poor entrances, missed rhythms and notes, and an array of other inaccuracies that otherwise might not occur if they simply take a moment to prepare.

Read more: Don’t Start Playing Until You Are Ready, Mentally and Physically

My long-time sax repair man showed me a trick that has saved me a lot of money on pad replacements.

Read more: Passing the Buck

Having worked with elementary band students for the past 26 years, I have found that having my Woodwind and Brasswind students think of the acronym AIM (Air in Motion) works a lot better than asking them to “support their air,” which can mean several things and become confusing.

Read more: Playing Tip of the Month: Taking AIM

Saxophone and clarinet players: look in the mirror, place the mouthpiece in your mouth with your normal embouchure and don’t play. Look at the lips and chin surrounding the mouthpiece, start to blow air into the mouthpiece until the reed vibrates. There should be no change in your lip, chin or face muscles from not playing to playing. If there is a clenching, or tightening of the area of the face surrounding the mouthpiece, you are choking off the reed and not allowing it to vibrate properly. The reed must be free to vibrate across the tip and both side rails. This will produce a more focused, rich, resonant sound full of overtones.

Mike Iappica
Parsippany Hills High School
Morris Palins, NJ

Don't practice until you play something right - practice until you can't play it wrong. 

Lauren Bushong
Gaylord High School
Gaylord, Michigan

Record yourself playing a song and compare yourself to professionals playing the same song. Ask yourself questions like, "Do you sound like a professional playing? Do you have dynamics? Do you have the right intonation?"

Gillyoung Koh
Marple Newton High School
Broomal, Pennsylvania

Recently, I saw various sections resting and oblivious to the music that was surrounding them. I stopped the group and began asking the various sections: who has the melody? Those sections were caught off guard, so I invited them to listen as the other sections played again: this time hands skyrocketed with the answer. Later, I asked sections who were playing at the time if they knew who has the melody. Those sections were unresponsive: so I asked that they play softer to listen for the melody. After playing through the excerpt again, the sections knew the answer and learned to listen for the melody. 

Paul Herrera
San Jose State University 
San Jose, CA

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