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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: Arnold Jacobs

Starting the day off right

Andrew Hitz

This x 100!

Marty Hackleman once told me he doesn’t like to call it a warm-up. He calls it his daily routine and the byproduct of that routine is that he is warmed up, both physically and mentally.

I have encountered many students who use their warm-up to ease into the mental aspects of their musical day, but I don’t believe this is necessary if you walk into the practice room with the proper mentality in place.

This is one reason why I am an enormous proponent of doing breathing exercises before playing. I’m not a slave to them and don’t always do them, but whenever I do I make sure I am fully committed mentally to the exercise as a way of engaging my mind on a very specific task, which in turn helps my first notes of the day sound great.

This is also why I like to do things like wind patterns during my breathing exercises. “Be musical with your air” is a phrase I’ve uttered thousands of times to various concert bands and marching bands. “Playing” Jingle Bells with your air is a great way to get dynamics, phrasing, articulation, style and everything else going in the brain.

Once you activate all of those things, the physical side of playing really just comes along for the ride.

Finally, I find it can be difficult to truly concentrate on breathing exercises when I do the exact same ones in the same order ever day. That’s why I like to use sequences (like are found in The Breathing Gym Daily Workouts DVD.) There are many ways to get the air (and the brain) moving and mixing up what is done and the order they are done in is really beneficial, even for professionals.

Regardless of how you begin your day or what you do for a daily routine, a simple decision can be made that your first notes will not be of poor quality. If you make that commitment, you’ll be amazed at the results.

In search of a resonant pitch center

Andrew Hitz

This reminded me of a great exercise that Rex Martin taught me at Northwestern which I’ve shared with countless of my own students.

There was a note I was having trouble getting my absolute best sound on. It just wouldn’t center because I was fighting the horn.

So Mr. Martin had me hit the pitch intentionally sharp, hit the pitch intentionally flat and then play it right down the middle with a beautiful vibrato to help it resonate.

Hitting the pitch both sharp and flat helped to frame the pitch and the vibrato helped me to center it. I can’t tell you how well this exercise works. I still do it to this day.

It is worth noting that none of this had anything to do with speed. Just three distinctive versions of the same note.

I’m so happy he showed me this exercise and that the Jacobs quote reminded me of it!

Your chops are dumb

Andrew Hitz

Your chops are as dumb as a box of rocks. Your brain is what’s driving this train.

So don’t focus on feedback from your lips while you’re supposed to be actively creating art. That doesn’t end well for the audience.

Besides, to quote the great Mark Gould:

“It’s not supposed to feel good. It’s a piece of %#&$ing metal on your face.”

You Can't Break a Bad Habit

Andrew Hitz

This is precisely why it is so important to not rush through things and learn them the wrong way when practicing. The key word in the last sentence of the above Arnold Jacobs quote is gradually.

Once you have established a habit, the only way to replace it with a new one is gradually over time. Translation: it's a lot of work.

I was also always taught that the brain does not respond well to the word don't. If you write something like "Don't Drag" in your music then your brain first comprehends "Drag" which is not exactly ideal. I always have my students write the positive version of whatever they're working on so "Don't Drag" becomes "Groove" or "Steady Tempo".

Ideally, we don't ever learn something wrong in the first place because the extra time we take to learn something with slow and deliberate practice will be more than saved by not having to relearn it the right way. But if we do, rather than focusing on not doing it wrong, we need to replace it with the correct version and then have the patience to see the entire process through which will take a while no matter what we do.

Staying in the Middle Third

Andrew Hitz

This observation by Arnold Jacobs is why I find breathing exercises out of The Breathing Gym so beneficial for students. Getting them to experience the sensation of taking in a large amount of air without having the horn in their hands is invaluable and gives them something concrete to model when they do pick up the instrument.

Doing exercises with long inhales like 6-7-8-9-10 or any variation of In for 8 > Hold for 8 > Out for 8 (also 8>16>8, 12>12>12 or even 16>32>16) are great for feeling the sensation of moving a lot of air.

And as always, Mr. Jacobs was dead on with this observation. So often, mediocre brass players never get close to full and never get close to empty. Getting them to experience this is a great way to encourage them to eventually do it on their own.

The Brass Junkies 83: Donna Parkes

Andrew Hitz

Listen via

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We had a blast interviewing the phenomenal Donna Parkes, Principal Trombone of the Louisville Orchestra. She told us all about her fascinating journey from Australia to Kentucky with a few stops along the way.

It's always so great when musicians who are as accomplished as Donna is are so down to earth. It really was a treat to speak with her!

From the show notes:

TBJ83: Trombonist Donna Parkes of the Louisville Orchestra on having a “Yes!” attitude, sleeping bags and growing up in Australia

Donna Parkes, Principal Trombone with Louisville Orchestra joins Andrew & Lance to detail her amazing career, from Australia to Kentucky, with stops in Chicago, Alaska and Doha, Qatar.

In this fun and lively conversation, we cover:

  • Playing Principal Trombone with Louisville Orchestra
  • Playing with the Colorado Music Festival
  • Coming from Indiana, I mean Canberra, Australia
  • Coming to the U.S. after her undergrad to study with Charlie Vernon at DePaul
  • The differences between the Australian and U.S. markets
  • Studying with Michael Mulcahy early on in Australia
  • Playing freelance gigs in Sydney for a year before moving
  • Getting a lesson with Arnold Jacobs and Ed Kleinhammer
  • Working with 80-year-olds in Virginia
  • The size of Andrew’s tongue (don’t ask)
  • Sleeping in her sleeping bag with her trombone in a hostel on her first night in the U.S.
  • Taking pictures of snow
  • Tips for flying to Australia
  • Playing gigs in Sitka, Alaska twice a year
  • How she recently got married in Australia
  • A typical week in Louisville, which is anything but typical
  • The importance of being flexible and being a good colleague
  • Having a “Yes” attitude
  • Playing in Doha, Qatar
  • An important life lesson, “Don’t smell it first.”

You can check out the complete show notes including all of the links mentioned during this episode over at Pedal Note Media.

Wise Words from Arnold Jacobs

Andrew Hitz

The key to playing in either the high or low register well is focusing on making music. As always, Mr. Jacobs seems to have found the perfect words to share with any student struggling with that.

I think it is safe to say that the instinct for most of us when playing in the extreme high or register is to want to use more power to "hit the notes." While using a lot of muscle (and for high notes, shoving the mouthpiece into our faces) helps us to "hit" high notes, it is always with a terrible sound that no one can blend with or tune to. It is also very likely that we will crack that note a high percentage of the time and get tired very quickly.

By telling the player to focus on playing melodically, we get the attention off of the physical aspects of playing in the extreme registers and towards simplifying things.

I am reminded of a great quote from Joe Alessi. He frequently says:

"Playing a brass instrument well is an incredibly simple process, and playing a brass instrument poorly is an incredibly complicated one."

Playing with power (using excess strength) is always a more complicated process that simply focusing on the buzz and thinking melodically.

And if it's good enough for Mr. Jacobs and Joe Alessi, it is good enough for me.

A Trick to Getting More Musical When Doing Drills

Andrew Hitz

Want to know a trick to instantly be more musical and focused when doing mundane drills or warming up?

Broadcast yourself using Facebook Live, Instagram stories or on YouTube.

No, seriously.

Even if three people are watching you, hell, even if there is only a threat of just three people watching you, you will be incredibly focused.

As anyone who has ever taught knows, it is awfully easy to be fully engaged when performing a drill for a student. And that's just with an audience of one. With social media, you can recreate that phenomenon any time you'd like.

Simply posting a one-minute chunk in the middle of your warm-up will engage your brain and make you much more focused, even after the camera is off.

If you are bored while doing drills or warming up, there are tools at your disposal to remedy that situation. If you don't use any of them and continue to not play at your absolute focused, best, it's on you.

And every one of your heroes on your instrument is always playing at her or his focused best.

The Arnold Jacobs Straw Exercise

Andrew Hitz

This is a great exercise for two reasons:

  1. Students feel the sensation of air movement which is a much better thing to focus on than any body movements or where the air is headed
  2. This lets the student experience firsthand the difference in efficiency when they inhale with a good oral shape

Combine this with the "EE to Oh" exercise out of the brass gym and you can fix a whole lot of breathing issues without ever addressing them. And in teaching, using fewer words means less chance for confusion and getting to the actual doing of the activity being addressed faster.