Wednesday, February 3, 2010



“Dynamics are the tone controls of sound production.”

“The study of dynamics is not the analysis of air flow. It is the awareness of sound.”

“Sound motivates function.”

Although playing loud is a factor that encourages tone production, healthy tone production must also include developing a wide range of dynamics over a broad tessitura. As the brass player responds to the musical challenges of playing extreme dynamics, they provide themselves with an opportunity to develop control of their sound. They must not become distracted by trying to control undetectable air.

The most difficult technical challenge any brass player encounters is playing a very soft entrance on a very high note. There are three factors working against them; high frequency, soft dynamics, and attack. All three elements are factors that discourage tone production.

Like any playing skill, the ability to play a wide range of dynamics in any register must be developed methodically and gradually over time. The goal of lifting a 300 pound weight over your head cannot be achieved by just turning it on like a switch. There must be proper development over extended time.

Attempting to execute any extreme technical challenge, without methodical and progressive development, will cause failure. A history of failure will create an expectation that leads to increasing failure. We always realize our expectations whether they are positive or negative.


Many brass players and teachers think of playing dynamics as the study of air flow rates. Everyone understands that dynamics are created by adjusting the flow rate of air through the embouchure. Loud dynamics require a high flow rate and soft dynamics require a low flow rate. It’s the same requirement a string player has with their bow. They must move the bow faster to play louder. I frequently hear teachers tell their students to use “fast air”.

However, there is an important fundamental difference between telling a string player to move the bow faster and telling a wind player to move the air faster. A string player can have an awareness of their bow with the senses of sight and feel.

A wind player cannot see air and they only have a very vague awareness of it by feel. Air can be felt if we blow it on our hand, but that doesn’t occur when playing a wind instrument.

Some teachers try to create detection of air by having their students imagine a moving object, such as a stream of water. However, that is a useless and unnecessary exercise that will not successfully motivate all the elements of tone production. There must always be a strong association between playing and a musical sound.


“There can only be a vague awareness of air when we play. However, it is possible have a powerful awareness of sound.”

“The brass player’s awareness of sound motivates air and all the other elements of playing, not the other way around.”

“Function motivates sound is weak methodology because self analysis results in paralysis.”

“Technical development is the result of musical challenge, not playing mechanics.”


What follows is a six exercise sequence of studies that develop the brass player’s ability to play extreme dynamic contrasts over a wide range. To create and maintain development, each exercise must be played in a progressive order. Skipping exercises or moving through them too rapidly will not allow enough time for development. These studies work equally well for individuals or with groups of instruments.


“Louder dynamics encourage tone production. Softer dynamics discourage tone production.”


1. Six beat long-tones with fermata, single breath. (f >pp, fermata)
(mm. quarter = 52-60)

2. First develop on mid-range notes then expand lower and higher. The fermata should be held for four beats and played as softly as possible and without interruption.

3. Exercise One should be practiced daily until the range has expanded to a minimum of two octaves, before moving to the next exercise. The estimated time of development is 4-6 weeks. The brass player will notice that their dynamic range has expanded on both ends of their dynamic range. They will also notice improvement in tonal resonance.


1. Practice exercise 1 substituting legato quarter notes for each beat of sustained notes before the fermata. Continue to sustain the fermata very softly for four beats. Expand the exercise to 2 ½ - 3 octaves.


1. Nine beat long-tone with fermata, single breath. (f>pp2. Practice 2 ½ - 3 octaves


1. Practice exercise 3 substituting legato quarter notes for each beat of sustained notes before the fermata. Sustain the fermata as long as possible on a single breath.


1. Six beat long-tone with fermata, single breath (f>pp, fermata)(mm.quarter=60)
2. Brief pause. Start at the same dynamic level (pp).
3. Six beat long-tone with fermata, single breath (pp4. Practice three octaves.


Repeat exercise five, replacing the long tone with legato quarter notes

There are benefits to be derived from developing only one or two of the six exercises in sequence. The entire sequence of exercises should be practiced over a period of about six months. They will require periodic reinforcement.


"I sing the notes in my head as I play them. It doesn't matter how my lip feels or how I feel."


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