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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: Pedagogy

Strength Is Not the Answer

Andrew Hitz

"Strength is not the answer.  I guarantee you that everyone in this room has the strength to play a high G."
—Jim Thompson, Former Principal Trumpet of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra

Preach, Jim!

Watch this video of the incredible Brian MacDonald of the Airmen of Note and tell me that strength is needed to rip in the high register.

One of my last Boston Brass big band Christmas gigs featured Brian on trumpet. I was knocked out at how ridiculously relaxed he looked while soaring above the whole band. It was a call to action to take a lot of not just unneeded, but counterproductive physicality out of my playing.

And that's why the mirror is your friend. Watch the greats on YouTube and then watch yourself. Can you be doing anything more efficiently? The answer is pretty much always yes no matter who the hell you are.

Just Trace It

Andrew Hitz

The great pedagogue Arnold Jacobs had a famous concept of always playing two horns at one time: the horn in your hands and the horn in your head.

He always talked about hearing what you were trying to sound like in your head and then simply trying to make that come out of your bell. I use this approach for literally every single note I ever play. From a tuning B-flat to a difficult cadenza. I hear it first and then simply try to make that come out of my horn.

I recently came up with an analogy that seemed to really resonate with students. (I won't mention the 30 before that that only kind of, sort of, not really registered!)

I asked them if they were good at drawing. All of them said they weren't which is something we have in common! I then asked them if they had ever tried to draw a bowl of fruit in art class. Most of them said they had and that it looked terrible.

I then asked them if they had ever used tracing paper to trace something and they all said they had. I pointed out that if either of us tried to trace a picture of a bowl of fruit that we would be able to do it well and it would be recognizable by anyone.

Finally, I explained that all we are trying to do is trace the sounds we have in our heads. And the key to tracing that well is having a crystal clear idea of exactly what we are trying to sound like.

When using tracing paper, no one is thinking about proportions, depth or anything else that makes drawing it by freehand so difficult. We just copy what is below that thin piece of paper and all of those difficult aspects of drawing a three-dimensional object magically take care of themselves.

The same goes for "tracing" the horn in our head. It gets the player (even the young one) away from focusing on process and towards making music which makes tone, phrasing and a long list of other things magically better.

The key to tracing something is of course not having a blurry picture underneath that tracing paper. So students need to be encouraged to have as clear an idea of what they are trying to sound like in their head as they can (which of course comes simply from practicing it.)

The more good playing and bad playing we hear (which I usually just refer to as data), the more in focus what we are trying to sound like becomes in our heads.

And then we just have to trace it.

Warren Deck Master Class Quotes (Part 2 of 2)

Andrew Hitz

Here is part two of my quotes from a master class by former Principal Tuba of the New York Philharmonic, Warren Deck. These quotes are from his class at the 2015 Northeast Regional Tuba Euphonium Conference at Ithaca College.

It was a phenomenal class. The quotes below about the window especially blew my mind. Really opened my eyes to exactly what I am trying to play and teach.

You can find part one here.

  • I like to play a game with myself when I listen to music. It's called 'how much can I hear? How much can I notice? That's why I like to listen in community. I like to listen with 3 or 4 people. 
  • The higher the quality of your musical mind, the higher the quality of what's going to come out of your instrument. 
  • Keep the instrument full of air. 
  • I'm going to urge you to listen to records and try to dig one level deeper. What can you hear? Every day try to hear something you haven't heard before. 
  • Listen to the great players. Listen to how they make the magic. 
  • The air only knows one thing: the shape of my phrase. 
  • I want to hear the music as if I never have to breath ever. 
  • I'm going to throw in an extra breath to see whether I can do it without changing the shape of the phrase. 
  • The way air misses notes is dynamically. Air can miss notes. But oftentimes we missed it with our embouchure. 
  • The bow doesn't need to know about changing the pitch. 
  • Teach your embouchure to sing that tune accurately. 
  • Separate the art from the craft. Our art is how well we can conceive of it. Our craft is how well we can play it. 
  • The art is a scene and the craft is the window. If we show someone our scene, how much dirt is on the window? 
  • The reason we clean the window is because we have an exact idea of how we want to sound. 
  • Ronnie Romm said that flying a plane was the most musical thing he ever did. 
  • I'm driving a car and my listener is my passenger. What kind of ride am I giving them?

 

Warren Deck Master Class Quotes (Part 1 of 2)

Andrew Hitz

Back in April of 2015 I was honored to do a music business presentation at the Northeast Regional Tuba Euphonium Conference at Ithaca College hosted by Aaron Tindall. The lineup was better than some of the national conferences I've attended and it was an honor to be a part of it.

One of the real treats of that week was getting to attend a master class by former New York Philharmonic tuba player Warren Deck. I had a lesson with him in his New Jersey basement back in 1992 but hadn't been exposed to his teaching since then.

Warren is one of the all-time great tuba players and teachers. He is that rare combination of superb player and phenomenal teacher. I love these quotes and glad that I remembered that I was sitting on them!

You can find part two here.

  • A great writer has a really huge vocabulary and by using that they can evoke a wide range of emotions by their choice of words.
  • Musicians manipulate audiences emotions. They willingly pay to be taken on a journey.
  • I advocate that people commune with the page. Ask 'what is this composer trying to tell me through this archaic notation system?'
  • How many different ways can you say the word hi?
  • How can we change little things to find just the right inflection when we play?
  • Think of different interpretations as saying the same things with different accents.
  • The same person might play things completely differently depending on the acoustical settings.
  • An actor acting to the back of a hall would look ridiculous doing the same thing for a camera right in their face.
  • I was always chasing the tuba in my head.
  • Can I articulate a note any way I want at any dynamic?
  • I found that the louder I played the harder I tended to tongue. I needed dynamics and articulations to function separately.
  • The difference between ta and da is compression.
  • I took (the relationship between dynamics and articulation) and was able to practice an Arban's exercise much more mindfully.
  • I want to be able to change octaves where my air thinks it's one note.
  • The older I get the more I admire Gil Johnson for his ability to phrase and soar.
  • I just heard a person who has had a good deal of success with auditions say that they learned how to play their instrument before they learned excerpts.

The Brass Junkies: David Zerkel

Andrew Hitz

Listen via

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David Zerkel is someone I look up to in the tuba world for a number of reasons. First of all, he does things as a soloist on the tuba that simultaneously inspire and depress me! He is a true master technician but that fact completely takes a back seat to his artistry. He is a world class player in every sense of the term.

But I also look up to David as a teacher. He is incredibly well spoken and has the ability to always be teaching whoever is in front of him.

You'll hear in this interview what I mean in this interview of The Brass Junkies.

Note: You can find an incredible collection of David Zerkel quotes from a master class he gave at George Mason here:

Website:

David Zerkel UGA

Links:

Tuba/Euph at UGA
Brass Band of Battle Creek

You can help offset the costs of producing the show by making a small donation at https://www.patreon.com/thebrassjunkies. Your support is greatly appreciated!

Produced by Austin Boyer and Buddy Deshler of FredBrass.

The Proper Way for a Student to Hold a Mouthpiece When Buzzing

Andrew Hitz

There really is no wrong way to hold a mouthpiece when buzzing, but there is a way to hold it that can eliminate a common mistake made by students.

Many students figure out pretty quickly that it is easier to "hit the notes" on a mouthpiece when you jam the mouthpiece into your face. This especially goes for higher notes.

Of course this is something that needs to be discouraged since it leads to both fatigue and a terrible sound. I have finally noticed a correlation between mouthpiece pressure and how it is being held (especially for the low brass instruments.)

When holding a mouthpiece with the entire hand, it is difficult not to apply pressure when buzzing.

But when holding a mouthpiece with only two or three fingers, it is difficult to apply pressure when buzzing.

By simply having students hold the larger mouthpieces with only three fingers at most you can avoid the issue of excess mouthpiece pressure without evening saying the words.

Use Their Words

Andrew Hitz

"It sounds mushy. I want French fries and you're giving me mashed potatoes."
—Tiffany Hitz (Band Director at Carson Middle School in Fairfax County, Virginia)

I heard my wife tell her jazz band this a couple of weeks ago and I thought it was great.

It reminded me of the importance of using the same words (and imagery) that your audience use. This goes for being a band director or a marketer.

Every single kid in that band immediately knew what she meant by french fries. In fact, it was probably the least number of words she possibly could have used to get that point across that clearly.

Three Tuba Legends Talk About the Influence, Playing & Teaching of Arnold Jacobs

Andrew Hitz

This is awesome!

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has assembled a number of clips of three tuba legends, Rex Martin, Gene Pokorny, and Floyd Cooley, speaking about their mentor, Arnold Jacobs.

The three of them speak about a wide range of topics including:

  • Teaching
  • Vibrato
  • Sound
  • Legacy
  • The CSO Brass Sound

There are a total of 19 short clips about Arnold Jacobs. These are absolutely priceless. A huge thank you to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for publishing these!

You can here them all here.

Jens Lindemann Master Class Quotes from George Mason University (Part 1 of 3)

Andrew Hitz

Trumpet virtuoso Jens Lindemann is one of the great players and pedagogues of any instrument in the world today.  He is truly gifted musician and educator and we were honored to have him come to George Mason to give a master class last semester.

Here are some quotes from his class with the brass ensemble.  There were so many good ones I had to split this up into three posts.

Enjoy!

  • "The relationships you're forging now are the ones you will have in 15-20 years.  Remember, as you gain in status so do those who are now around you."
     
  • "Tchaik 4 with the NY Phil and Zubin Mehta was like opening a cage and tossing raw meat into it."
     
  • "This is where your research will help your performance.  If you know the composer is a cinematic composer, you will play it in a cinematic way."
     
  • "There's not a trumpet player in the world that I don't have on speed dial.  I'm super famous."
     
  • "The greatest of the great players are the ones that say they're going to take this to the next level no matter what it takes."
     
  • "You don't have to be superstar players to make a great performance."
     
  • "The big thing about chamber music is that you shouldn't play it like you're sitting in the back of the orchestra.  It's harder to play soloisticly in that scenario."
     
  • "Traditionally you think about fitting in and keeping the machine going when you win a job."
     
  • "They all looked at me and told me 'No no. Don't play it like Freddy played it.  Play it like you play it.'"
     
  • "When you obviously have a moving line, like 8th notes in a ballad, move it along."
     
  • "Rhythm is a musical term for cooperation."
     
  • "The third note of a quarter note triplet is not important.  What's important is the first note and where it's going."
     
  • "Are you going to let the trumpets steal your solo line or are you going to Marty-ize it?"
     
  • "Not everything has to line up vertically in music.  I used to think it did."
     
  • "I used to hear Gene (Watts) talk about 1960's Mozart.  About how the bass and drums didn't line up, about how it was out of tune.  'But it was so right.'"
     
  • "The day you start sounding perfect, like a computer, is the day you completely lose what this is about: emotional rub."
     
  • "It's not just how you play the downbeat.  It's having direction in the notes leading up to the downbeat."
     
  • "There are a handful of musicians in our business that are untouchable.  Like Wynton Marsalis.  He's not a trumpet player.  He's an icon."