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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: master class

David Zerkel Master Class Quotes (Part 3 of 3)

Andrew Hitz

Here is the final installment of quotes from David Zerkel's recent master class for my students at George Mason University.  His wisdom immediately permeated my teaching and practicing.  Good stuff!

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.


  • "Breathing is like investing money. In order to make money, you have to invest money. You have to invest lots of air."
  • "When we're presenting our interpretation, I believe that articulation is one of the most negotiable."
  • "The practice room is the ideal place to try things out."
  • "Can you give me a little more pitch on the double tongue stuff?"
  • "I really recommend doing offline practicing when you're practicing double tonguing."
  • "The lip trill fairy can visit you in a short amount of time if you do a little bit of work. If you practice the Arban's exercise (quarters->eights->16ths->etc) religiously for two weeks, the lip trill fairy will pay you a visit."
  • "As you're working on your double tongue always aim for the 5th note."
  • "As you play music that is less melodically oriented, rhythm becomes more important.  You need to make the rhythmic aspect of this melody important."
  • "What you're selling melodically here is time."
  • "One of the main problems with the tuba as an instrument is clarity. Musical clarity, articulation clarity, pitch clarity."
  • "You sound like a bird singing in a cage that is covered with a blanket."
  • "I need you to be a more active and windy participant so you can play clearer."
  • "We have to work three times as hard as any other brass instrument to play as cleanly as they play. -Dave Bragunier"
  • "You can't evaluate your playing at the bell. You have to evaluate what it sounds like in the hall."
  • "Your best sound is not always the right sound.  You listen to Youngblood Brass Band. If you played in a lesson with the sound that Nat plays with you'd get punched in the throat and told to never come back."
  • "I want you to offend me with how short you play. I want you to make me puke."
  • "The place that you want to get with your playing is to where you are uncomfortable with how far you've gone."
  • "You never know how much is loving someone too much until you've done it. In life, you never know where the edge is until you've stepped off of it."
  • "You need to be closer to the line."
  • "The beginning of Strauss 1 is Belushi jumping into a room."
  • "In the upper register, work on your spin being a little faster, a little more tightly wound.  Move more air with a quicker spin."
  • "The higher you get on the tuba, the darker and less distinct it gets. I call it the Woo Register because it sounds like someone is wooing (with their hands cupped over their mouth.)"
  • "Make sure you can maintain a sense of rhythmic urgency without a metronome going."
  • "Sound is everything. If you don't sound good, nothing else matters."
  • "If it sounds good, it is good. -Duke Ellington"
  • "One of the most compelling things we can do is sell people on rhythm."


David Zerkel Master Class Quotes (Part 2 of 3)

Andrew Hitz

Here is the second installment of quotes from the wonderful class that University of Georgia Professor David Zerkel gave at George Mason University in September.

In case you missed it, click here for Part 1.


  • "When you start an excerpt, don't just hit the button on a treadmill and then go flying. I turn on the treadmill for at least a full measure before I get on so I'm ready to start."
  • "I can't tell you how many times I have been at an audition and literally said to myself 'Why am I playing? You aren't ready to play yet.'"
  • "We all have this idea in our head that it takes perfect playing to win an audition. It does not. It takes playing that is informed and stylish and that the person who is going to sit next to them for the rest of their careers knows the context of the music. They're hiring a musician, not a tuba player."
  • "I want you to think less about playing perfectly and more about playing communicatively."
  • "For me, music is performed in words, and sentences, and paragraphs, and chapters."
  • "Think less syllabically and think longer."
  • "Our job as performers in whatever we do, as performers, conductors, or people selling widgets, is to keep people with us, to not let them off the hook.  It can't be 'I'm going to play something nice for you and I hope you enjoy it.' You need to say 'You're coming with me. Get in the car. And here's what we're going to do.'"
  • "Keep moving your bow on long notes."
  • "People have short attention spans, Google Generation.  On the long notes I'm going to insist that you keep us with you."
  • "Always motion."
  • "You can look at the trees in the wind. They are moving. Wind demands motion. Motion happens because of wind. I'm asking your playing to be more windy. I'm asking for you to show me the reaction to the wind."
  • "When watching a conductor, the information you're getting is the motion between the beats. That's what you have to show."
  • "There are a lot of times when you get to the end of your phrase and you get an involuntary sound. We need to dictate it and not let the instrument tell us how it is going to be."
  • "Be sure you are maximizing your expansion when you're playing."
  • "If you need more air, for God's sake go get it."
  • "What's going to make people notice that my lung capacity is small? By playing with an involuntary sound at the end of phrases."
  • "I have a decision to make: am I going to let my sound suffer or am I going to breath in more places?"
  • "Can we all agree that when we are playing any wind instrument that one of our goals is to play with a resonant sound?"
  • "Sound is vibration. Resonance is an abundance of vibration. In order for us to play with an abundance of vibrations we must use an abundance of air."
  • "Jacobs asked me "how do you breath?" I gave a complicated answer and he said 'No, you suck air into your body.'"
  • "Jacobs talked to me about blowing way, way, way, way WAY beyond your lips.  He then played using air to his lips, then to his valve cluster, then to his bottom bow, then to his bell."
  • "Think of blowing your air two feet beyond your bell."
  • "Project everything forward. When you're singing properly your mask (face) vibrates."
  • "Someone says your sound is huge, that's a compliment. When they tell you you play loud, they may hate you."
  • "In the upper register the air stream is pencil-sized. In the middle register it is corndog sized."

David Zerkel Master Class Quotes (Part 1 of 3)

Andrew Hitz

In September, we were honored to welcome world-renowned tuba player and pedagogue David Zerkel to George Mason University.  David is currently the tuba and euphonium professor at the University of Georgia, where his students regularly win auditions of all kinds.  He is also a former member of the US Army Band here in Washington, DC.

The master class he presented was so good that I took down almost 90 quotes! He is a master teacher and communicator and he left my studio energized and inspired.  Because there were so many quotes, I am breaking them up into three posts.  Here is the first installment!

(Click here for Part 2 and Part 3)

  • "When you played the theme you had a very tentative approach to making music. It was like you were tiptoeing through the melody."
  • "You would have 15 different versions of breathing and blowing if you were to ask every wind professor at this school."
  • "Breath control can be distilled down into four words: blow until you stop."
  • "Your breath should be the same every single time you pick up the instrument."
  • "Your brain is brilliant. Your lungs are stupid lungs."
  • "If you spend half of your time having your brilliant brain sending your stupid lungs instructions you won't have the ability to make music."
  • "Blow to a spot that's right here at the top of your bell. Keep your tone a dial tone."
  • "Can we get a better connection between the C and the D? When you're shifting it's an automatic transmission. You don't have to put the clutch down to shift notes."
  • "Whether you're playing one note in one breath or 32 notes in one breath, your exhale is going to be exactly the same."
  • "I always want to make my tuba playing like singing, because singing is the most natural instrument."
  • "A 4-year-old at a birthday party sings perfect phrases. It's great."
  • "Singing is a really simple exhale. That's what singing is."
  • "Go for your best sound right at the beginning of every note."
  • "Blow until you stop. Once you initiate don't stop."
  • "16th notes and 32nd notes are not fast, they are melodic."
  • "If you do the blow until you stop, the 16th note won't sound different than the long note."
  • "Play a repugnantly bright B-flat or C when you're 'topping out' on the horn."
  • "Feel free to use a lot of air."
  • "For every octave you go up, you double your mph. (Pedal C is 15 mph. Low C is 30 mph. Middle C is 60 mph. C above the staff is 120 mph. Screech C is 240 mph.)"
  • "Tuba has two primary functions: foundation and time."
  • "When you're playing an audition, make it really easy for a committee to sing their part, because I promise you that's what they're doing. That's how they can tell if you're good at context."
  • "Take the Fountains of Ramp vamp up a minor third and then bring it down chromatically."
  • "I always start with what I can do because starting with what I can't do sucks."
  • "This time try and make the low E less involuntary when you finish it."
  • "One of the things that's hard for tuba players, actually it's hard for everyone, is that you need to sell the concept of time when you are playing long notes. It's hard."

Joe Alessi Master Class Quotes from 2008 ABA Convention (2 of 2)

Andrew Hitz

Here is the second installment of quotes from Joe Alessi, Principal Trombone of the New York Philharmonic, from his master class at the 2008 American Bandmasters Association Convention.  Click here for the first installment.


  • After a less than stellar first attempt by a student playing in the master class: "Let's hit the reset button and try again."
  • "In my lessons at Juilliard, you have to play one with a great sound or the lesson doesn't start.  It's like putting on your seatbelt in the car."
  • "When you take a breath don't lean into it."
  • "Really think about the sound you want to play with on the first note of every passage."
  • He had the student "mime" the passage by breathing with the slide: "Get everything timed."
  • "Mime a fast lick very short and slow.  Like getting the timing right on your engine."
  • "Stay in a good stage presence between sections."
  • "Don't think of a note being suspended in the air and you are playing up to it.  Think that you are suspended and the note is below you."
  • "Brass players blow too fast when nervous and our air columns become narrower."
  • "Listen to yourself at half speed."
  • On jaw vibrato: "Move your jaw, not your muscles."
  • "Remove vibrato at the end of a note to produce a beautiful taper."
  • "Louder equals more tongue.  Softer equals less tongue."
  • "Air and tongue can be adjusted like the oil/as ratio in a mower."
  • "Forte is 90% air and 10% tongue."
  • "You should practice with no tongue."
  • "Practice playing really softly without any tongue."
  • "Practice diminuendoing notes down to niente.  It will help with the attacks."
  • "ppp is the essence of your tone right in your face."

Joe Alessi Master Class Quotes from 2008 ABA Convention (1 of 2)

Andrew Hitz

In an effort to clean up my office I just stumbled upon a small notebook with notes from a number of master classes.  One of those classes was by trombone virtuoso and master teacher Joe Alessi, Principal Trombone of the New York Philharmonic.

This class is from March 5, 2008 at the University of Miami and was a part of the American Bandmasters Association Convention being hosted there.  There are some great quotes in here for all musicians, not just trombone players or brass players.  There were enough that I have broken them up into two blog posts.



  • "A low sound like Darth Vader when breathing means there's friction.  I like low-friction breaths."
  • "Auditions are all about time and when you reset your embouchure you will come in late a lot."
  • "Practicing without the instrument, like singing while conducting, is very important.  I sing and conduct through a piece with a new accompanist."
  • "You must have a pulse to conduct and you must sing the right pitches."
  • "I feel like you're reading the music, not playing the piece."
  • "It's a whole different part of our brain if we're not just reading the music."
  • After having the student play from memory to the back wall: "Look at the music but only refer to the music, like a big band.  Bell's up, music down low."
  • "Sometimes we have a good sound and we just don't use it."
  • "Your back should be convex with a slight arch forward when standing."
  • "If you stand healthy you will probably play healthy."
  • "You can tell (in an audition) how someone will play by how they walk into a room and sound."
  • "The breath is like a pitcher's wind-up.  You don't have a wind-up right now."
  • "Get set up earlier with the face (before an entrance.)"
  • "I like to watch the belt area when people are playing to see if they are supporting."
  • "You have a really nice sound but you're not always ready to use it."

Jascha Heifetz Master Class: Monday YouTube Fix

Andrew Hitz

The internet never ceases to amaze me.  Getting to witness a master class of one of the greatest violinists of all time some 50 years after the fact is pretty remarkable.

Here is a master class in four parts that the great Jascha Heifetz gave at USC in 1962.  The intensity he portrays in this class reminds me of how he played the violin.

My favorite comment from the class: "You're playing it too safe."


Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser Master Class Quotes (Part 2 of 2)

Andrew Hitz

The fantastic master class I attended summer by the one and only Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser had so many good quotes I needed to split them up into two posts.  It was a class for band directors but there are great lessons for all of us in these.  Here is the second installment. (And click here for Part 1 if you missed it.)

  • "Band has to be challenging."
  • "We have to put people in an atmosphere with courage."
  • "If you want to win a trophy, go buy one.  It’s easier and you don’t have to rely on someone else’s subjectiveness."
  • "Positives come and go.  Negatives accumulate."
  • "When we put the attention on others, they will follow us anywhere."
  • "How Do We Motivate: 1. Competition 2. Cooperation 3. Creation - Of those three, the highest level of motivation is creation."
  • "Create what isn’t."
  • "Happiness isn’t getting what you want, it’s wanting what you get."
  • "This is our lives.  This is not a dress rehearsal.  This is it.  The cameras are rolling."
  • "Pessimists see the challenge in every opportunity.  Optimists see the opportunity in every challenge."
  • "If it come between being right and being kind, be kind.  Because you can always go back and be right."
  • "At every moment we are either appreciating or depreciating the environment."
  • "Leadership isn’t something you do but something you are."
  • "Criticize in private, not in public."
  • "When we change the way we look at things, we change the things we look at."
  • "Communication is the key to all problem solving."
  • "Whatever we want is what we should give away."
My dog and wife looking out the window at the falling snow. © 2014 Andrew Hitz

Charles Lazarus Master Class Quotes (Part 2 of 3)

Andrew Hitz

Here is part two of quotes from the wonderful master class that trumpet great Charles Lazarus gave at the National Trumpet Competition this year.  In case you missed it, here's part one.  I can't believe how much I learned from this class.  I'm awfully happy that I braved all those trumpet players! I'll post part three on Friday.

  • "As basic human beings, we react to rhythm. Rhythm is a very primal and fundamental thing that humans react to."
  • "Rhythm gives you the framework to coordinate all of the physical things that have to happen in synchronicity when playing the trumpet."
  • "Rhythm, more than anything else when you’re playing, dramatically affects your physical coordination."
  • "Most missed notes are early.  Some are late, very few missed notes are on time."
  • "I subdivide everything I play, all of the time if I’m playing well.  If you hear me kack, I probably am not subdividing."
  • "Why did I biff the E? Because I wasn’t subdividing and I tried to play the E before it was time."
  • "Heldenleiben duh duh-duh splee-ah  - the splee would be before the downbeat."
  • "Every single day you should play with a metronome, especially in your warm-up."
  • "Play with a metronome every single day and then turn it off. Learn to internalize it."
  • "If you are a jazz player and you can’t tap your foot on 2 and 4, that’s a problem."
  • "I ask myself three questions if the sound is terrible and the feel is terrible: 1. How did it sound? What do I want it to sound like? 2. Am I phrasing? Am I taking in air and phrasing with that? 3. How is my time?"
  • "I’ve found that if those three questions are addressed, any technical problem can be solved."
  • "Don’t worry about aligning your wheels if your engine won’t start."
  • "You need to address those three questions before you go looking for the magic mouthpiece. You have to have your priorities straight."


Charles Lazarus Master Class Quotes (Part 1 of 3)

Andrew Hitz

I had the privilege of attending a wonderful master class by trumpeter Charles Lazarus at this year's National Trumpet Competition at George Mason University.  Charles is one of the best musicians I've ever met.  He can play not just well in a frustrating number of diverse styles but amazingly well in said styles.

His diversity is legendary.  If you were to hear him play a baroque trumpet solo, you would assume he does it full-time for a living.  If you were to hear him play with a brass quintet, you would assume he did that for a living.  Same with him playing with the Minnesota Orchestra or playing as a solo jazz player.  Really, he'll either drive you mad or to the practice room.  One or the other!

I had heard he was a great teacher but had never had the opportunity to see him in action until this master class.  I came away with enough quotes to share in a one hour master class that they are being split into three separate posts.  Some of them resonated with me to the point of being shared in almost every lesson I taught the following week after spring break.  I hope you enjoy these great Lazarus quotes as much as I have.

  • "No matter what you play, Body and Soul or Mahler 5, people only hear the sound that comes out of your bell."
  • "If your focus is on your sound, you will get to your end result faster."
  • "If you give a beginner a tone to try to match, they will sit up straight and their sound will get better."
  • "Technique is the ability to control your sound on any given note. At any given dynamic, 100% of the time. It is very easy to forget that when you're working on a lick."
  • Doc Severinsen: "I spent days and days and days trying to imagine the sound I’m trying to achieve.  I came up with my ideal sound and then I go for that."
  • "Not to say there’s not a physical side (to playing), but you have to know what your goal is."
  • "Rather than air support I like to think of tone support."
  • "I like to think of breathing as phrasing.  If you keep the air moving, your lips will vibrate."
  • "If you take in a full breath, there is some natural compression."
  • "If I want to get a fuller sound, I actually back off."
  • "When I talk to you, there are certain words that I emphasize. It is the same with phrasing."
  • "When you phrase, the sound and style will make sense to people."
  • "Our lips are like the string and our air is like the bow."
  • "If you’re phrasing with your air, you are going to take in enough air and you are going to keep it moving."
  • "If your chops are feeling stiff, keep the phrasing and the air moving."