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Playing Tips

  • Getting Good Air

    Mike Lawson | October 1, 2020

    Characteristic tone and tuning start with air. Unrestricted air requires use of the diaphragm, posture that allows for expansion in the abdomen, a relaxed and open throat, and no tension in the shoulders or neck. Good air should move a piece of paper held in front of the face from vertical to horizontal.

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  • 10-Minute Brass Warmup

    Mike Lawson | September 2, 2020

    Brass players warm up on your mouthpiece only. Play descending major arpeggios chromatically in whole notes from tuning Bb to as low a pedal tone as you can. After a quick rest, begin an ascending arpeggio pattern from low Bb concert to as high as you can without changing your embouchure. Tone, range and endurance will improve. Takes about 10 minutes.

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  • The Sound of Silence

    Mike Lawson | July 31, 2020

    I’m very insistent on the sound vs. silence duality. We will often practice by starting a note together with a solid sound and releasing the note together as a group. Depending on the group, it sometimes takes only two or three tries, sometimes it takes 15-20 minutes of work, but we get there!

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  • Keep it Warm

    Mike Lawson | July 15, 2020

    Begin each rehearsal with a warm-up routine that focuses on some basic playing. This will develop good tone, intonation, blend and balance, technique, and it will engage the students to develop deeper listening skills. There are many good ensemble method books that can be incorporated to help a director initiate this phase.

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  • Essential for Embouchure

    Mike Lawson | June 15, 2020

    Young clarinet players often play with unsupported, flat sounds in the upper register. This is often caused by a mushy bottom lip and chin. Ask your clarinetists to imagine they are looking in a mirror and putting on Chapstick.

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  • To ‘daah’ or not to ‘daah’

    Mike Lawson | March 3, 2020

    “One of the most common contributions to a non-characteristic brass sound from a young player is the approach to articulation. Many use a ‘default’ articulation, such as ‘poo,’ ‘thaw,’ between the lips ‘pthoo,’ or just a ‘whoo’ with no tongue at all.

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  • “Use the Force”

    Mike Lawson | February 6, 2020

    Quick knowledge assessment: To get all students involved and to quickly assess their knowledge I will pose a question and have students close their eyes when they have the answer.

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  • Ready, Set, Go!

    Mike Lawson | January 10, 2020

    Don’t start playing until you are ready: both mentally and physically set to commence.

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  • Picture Yourself in a Boat on a River…

    Mike Lawson | December 5, 2019

    Imagine a story as you perform, whether the music at hand is an étude, a concerto, or a set of scales.

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  • Keys to Practice

    Mike Lawson | November 1, 2019

    The warmup process is one the most important factors in developing musicians.

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  • Do you know the way to Carnegie Hall?

    Mike Lawson | October 3, 2019

    We all worry about how much students practice. For the last 47 years I have asked band students if they are [also] athletes, and how much they practice.

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  • Attack Tuning

    Mike Lawson | August 29, 2019

    When tuning, lightly articulate your tuning pitch a few times. Not only will this allow you to hear if you are above or below the reference pitch more easily, but it also ensures that you are in tune at the attack and not relying on embouchure or air adjustments to stay in tune.

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