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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: Rex Martin

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!

Being a Team Player

Andrew Hitz

"It's better to sound right than to be right."
—Rex Martin

This is one of the best soundbites that Rex Martin threw my way during my studies with him. It gets right to the point.

In a performance, there is no such thing as one person being in tune and the other being out of tune.

Rather, they are out of tune.

If someone isn't balancing a chord right and you can do something about it by playing louder or softer (regardless of what dynamic is on the page), you are the obligated to adjust. Same goes for pitch and everything else.

This doesn't mean everyone should go around constantly adjusting to everything. That would quickly resemble one giant dog chasing its tail and never quite catching it.

But the definition of being a team player in a music is always being ready to do what sounds right rather than what is right.

It doesn't matter how many degrees you have, what gig you've got, or how many countries you've performed in. This goes for everybody.

Thanks, Mr. Martin, for making that crystal clear to me so many years ago.

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.

The Brass Junkies: Jamie Lipton

Andrew Hitz

Listen via

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Lance and I had the opportunity to sit down with Jamie Lipton, Euphonium Artist and Professor of Low Brass at Henderson State University for the latest episode of The Brass Junkies.

Jamie discussed her musical upbringing and how that led her to attending Northwestern and North Texas to study with Rex Martin and Brian Bowman. She talked about the reasons for her career decisions and where she would love to see the euphonium head moving forward.

On top of that she is an absolute riot. The episode starts with her telling the story of her very first day of student teaching. With the band director not in the room a student raised his hand and asked a question that will blow your mind. She decided she wasn't quite cut out to be a band director on the spot!

Her advice for Jens is pretty spot on as well!

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!

Words of Wisdom from Rex Martin

Andrew Hitz

On my Facebook page recently, I posted the following quote:

"Playing soft with the same intensity as loud is difficult to master."

-Dan Neville

 

Rex Martin.jpeg

I think it's a great quote that puts a spotlight on the importance of playing softly.  But as usual, one of my mentors, Rex Martin, came in and put it in even better words.  The comment he left on that status was priceless:

"Not particularly difficult at all, but pretty time consuming."

-Rex Martin

Reminds me of the JJ Johnson quote from one of last month's Monday YouTube Fix's about taking shortcuts when learning an instrument.  Spoiler Alert: JJ couldn't find any.

Intonation is a Social Skill

Andrew Hitz

"Intonation is a social skill."

I posted this quote on my Facebook Page a couple of days ago and it got over 100 likes.  I believe I first heard this said by Rex Martin but I'm not sure.  Playing in tune with others has just as much to do with social skills as it does with the length of your instrument.

We have all played with "that guy" who thinks he has a pretty incredible ear and yet always seems to have trouble playing in tune with others.  Sometimes "that guy" blames others with their words and other times they simply convey their disappointment with those around them through their body language, eye rolls or any of a plethora of non-verbal communications.  No matter how great that player is, no one ever wants to play with "that guy."

You have to be flexible with your intonation always in all situations.  100% of the time.  No exceptions.  You can have a PHD in intonation and if you are "in tune" and the other four members of a quintet are all equally "sharp" you've got a problem.  No audience member would ever hear you as in tune and the others as all sharp.  You are flat.  End of story.

The best set of ears I've ever played with belong to a trumpet player and my former colleague in Boston Brass, Rich Kelley.  I describe him as having "beyond perfect pitch."  He is blessed (cursed?) with the ability to exactly identify whether any note is sharp, flat or in tune and by exactly how much.  Every single time.  I know he is not unique in this regard but he is as good as I've ever seen.

Coincidentally, playing in tune with Rich is easier than with anyone I've ever played with.  And that's not because he tries to steer the intonation ship from the top of an ensemble.  He agrees with Pythagoras on this one and listens down.  It's because he has one goal and one goal only: for the music to sound in tune.  He is incredibly helpful with rehearsing and being able to identify immediately whether a player is sharp or flat in any given chord.  But in the moment, he will do whatever it takes to make a chord sound in tune, which is the only goal any of us should ever have.

A very important part of playing in tune is also playing well with others.

My dog plays well with others and would probably play very in tune. © 2013 Andrew Hitz

Rex Martin's Tips to Playing In Tune (Part 1 of 3)

Andrew Hitz

My senior year at Northwestern University, my tuba professor, Rex Martin, gave the studio a handout he had written titled "A More Natural Intonation." This article is packed full of really useful tips for playing in tune.  I'm really glad that I still have it laying around over 15 years later.  There's enough great stuff in this article that I'll break it up into three posts.

"It is counterproductive to think in terms of intervals being lipped up or down.  If we do so, we are reacting to something we have already done wrong and are trying to fix it, instead of simply hearing what to sound like beforehand.  It is important to imagine the sound as a specific quality of tone, not simply a pitch.  If we hear the sound in our head as we play, our instrument will resonate those pitches and produce that tone, as long as we have the correct valve combination or slide position."

- Rex Martin

The above passage underscores the importance of clearly hearing exactly what you are trying to sound like in your head while you are playing.  When working off of a clear mental image, absolutely every aspect of your playing is taken care of.  Articulation, tone quality, musicality, note endings, and yes, intonation.

More often than not, when you are playing a note out of tune it is with a less than ideal tone quality.  This is why imagining a specific quality of tone in our heads is very important.  You can be blowing a pitch sharp on a brass instrument that is the proper length while either lipping it down or pulling a slide to make it in tune.  While it is certainly possible to play a note in tune in this scenario it is not possible to do so with a good sound.  Imagining the note in your head with a great tone in the first place would have fixed this scenario immediately.

Hearing the sound you are striving for in your head goes for brass, woodwind, percussion, strings, vocalists, everyone.  All of the greats hear a world class version of what they are performing in their heads as they play or sing and everything else, intonation included, takes care of itself.

Tonal Energy Tuner - The best tuner I've ever used.

Style Over Technical Facility

Andrew Hitz

Kenny G is an amazing saxophone player and I say that with no sarcasm whatsoever.  As a saxophone operator he is very accomplished.  But for my taste, he does not push any stylistic boundaries and in terms of interpretation "plays it safe" on just about everything. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the singer/songwriter Tom Waits.  Every time I hear his music (even at midnight in a 7-11 in Tokyo once!) he makes me think about what I'm bringing to the table musically.  He gets me away from thinking about lip trills and towards thinking about storytelling.  It is no surprise that Rex Martin introduced me to the music of Tom Waits since there are few better storytellers on any instrument in the brass world.

If you primarily listen to people on your instrument with great technical facility but who don't push the boundaries of style and interpretation your playing will reflect that.

(This post was inspired by listening to the Tom Waits album 'Swordfishtrombones' on headphones at 30,000 feet)

Cultivating a Bad Sound

Andrew Hitz

You're cultivating a bad sound.

That is what my tuba professor at Northwestern, Rex Martin, used to say whenever I would play any note without using my absolute best sound possible.  That included quickly touching a note to get a pitch in my ear before buzzing.  It also included ghosting a note down an octave before playing a note in the high register.  He made me apply the concept to every single time I ever played anything and it is some of the best advice I've ever received in my career.

Every time you play anything you are reinforcing something.