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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Category: Pedagogy

Collection of Diaphragm Control Exercises

Andrew Hitz

We all want to improve our breathing, both on and off the horn.  After seeing a vocal coach on television tell a singer to "expand your diaphragm out", I decided to do some research.  I have scoured the internet and believe that I have compiled an exhaustive list of every available exercise that will help with controlling the diaphragm.

Here is the complete list of exercises I found:

Which one is your favorite?

Photo  by National Cancer Institute is in the Public Domain

Photo by National Cancer Institute is in the Public Domain

Free Copy of Lance LaDuke's Music Practice Coach

Andrew Hitz

For a limited time, my partner at Pedal Note Media, Lance LaDuke, is giving away free copies of his book Music Practice Coach.  All you have to do is go to his website and sign up for his email list.  It's that simple.

Music Practice Coach is a book that I require all of my college students to purchase and use regularly.  It is a fantastic practice method that is written in a simple, straightforward way.  Even tuba players have no problem understanding it!

The entire book is about goal-oriented practice and is a truly marvelous method.  ALL MUSIC EDUCATORS should get this book and encourage all of their students to do so as well.

This book is well worth double its usual price but since that price is currently nothing you really should pick one up today.  He might come to his senses tomorrow.

Click Here for a Free Copy of Lance LaDuke's Music Practice Coach


Questioning What You Are Positive Is True

Andrew Hitz

"A lot of times when you have a problem with your playing and you think you know the solution try the exact opposite.  85% of the time it will work.  And that comes from personal experience." -Marty Hackleman (former horn of the Empire Brass, Canadian Brass and National Symphony Orchestra)

This is invaluable advice for the practice room.  But it is also great advice for band directors and private teachers.  As with anyone who has been doing something for three decades, I know an awful lot about music.  Frequently though, the things which I am positive are the way I perceive them are what hold me back from having a breakthrough with a student or having one myself on the horn.

What is it that you know today that you need to "forget" for a few minutes while allowing the best possible solution to emerge?

The moon rising over the Italian Alps before a Boston Brass performance in Merano, Italy. © 2012 Andrew Hitz


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

Don't Just Look Busy

Andrew Hitz

We've all fallen into the trap of when in doubt, look busy.  I know I certainly have. But when you take a moment and observe the most successful band directors, professors, performers and entrepreneurs in music, they don't have looking busy as their top priority.  In fact, it's not anywhere on their list.  The best in our business have the ability to constantly prioritize what needs to be done right now.

If I have an unpleasant phone call to make, I may procrastinate by cleaning up my inbox.  The trap is that cleaning up my inbox might be something that needs to be done, maybe even badly.  But if that phone call I'm putting off is the most important thing to take care of, it doesn't matter what I'm using to procrastinate.  It needs to get done.

One job that makes it incredibly easy to "look busy" is being a band director.  That's because they are, in fact, always busy.  Have you ever known a band director who seems to be constantly working but always seems to not quite take care of everything when it needs to be taken care of? That is not a symptom of work ethic.  It is a problem with prioritization.

(Note: I believe that being a great band, chorus, or orchestra director is possibly the hardest job to do really well in the entire music business and have said so over and over again.  To be clear, I wouldn't last a week  two days as a band director.)

© 2012 eskimo_jo


I have worked with both colleagues and students who seem to feel entitled to success because they are working hard.  (Coincidentally, people who feel this way rarely seem to be working as hard as they think they are but that's for another blog post!) The people who stick around in this business and succeed are the ones who master the art of addressing and changing priorities to get the most out of their time and effort.

For anyone just starting out in any aspect of the music business, the earlier you can master the art of prioritization, the better.

The Power of Doing

Andrew Hitz

"You don't learn something when you hear about it.  You learn something when you do it or teach it." - David Cutler (Author of "The Savvy Musician")

These wise words came from my good friend and colleague, Dr. David Cutler, at the beginning of The Savvy Musician In ACTION Retreat back in June.  As another school year begins, these are great words for all teachers to remember, from elementary school to college.  I know I can occasionally fall into the trap of telling my students all about something at great length rather than giving them simply a general idea and then making them try it themselves.

Students learn a little bit about a new concept by listening to an expert speak about it.  But they learn a lot more about it by actually doing it.  That includes succeeding and failing.  The power of our students doing the very skill we as teachers are trying to impart is simply priceless.

And the second half of the above  quote is why all students, no matter what level they are, should be teaching someone something about what they are trying to master.  It's amazing how well you have to know a subject in order to explain it to someone else in a succinct, understandable manner.  I started teaching private lessons when I was a senior in high school.  The experience I had teaching those three students (4th, 8th and 10th graders) was invaluable to my development as a musician.

The power of doing (and teaching) is simply priceless.

The Savvy Musician

We're All Creatures of Habit

Andrew Hitz

Musicians are all creatures of habit. So do you grab the soap or the shampoo first in the shower? I'm personally a soap first kind of guy.  This is not for religious reasons.  It is not a family rule that's been handed down through the generations.  It is not for any practical reason.  And yet every single day, 365 days a year (I have a rule to never bathe on February 29th,) I grab the soap before grabbing the shampoo.  Without exception.

This is because I, like all of us, am a creature of habit.  Everything you ever do on your instrument, on the podium, on stage, anywhere is establishing or reinforcing a habit.  This is why it is imperative to play with your absolute best sound possible at all times.  As in every time you ever play a note.  Whether you are "testing" a note an octave lower in order to get a higher pitch in your ear, you are noodling around while a conductor is talking to another section, or you are "just" warming up, you must play with your absolute best sound possible or you are more likely to play with the same sub-par sound next time.

We are all creatures of habit, both on and off the horn.  When realized, this can be harnessed and used to take great strides in our craft.  If not, we are doomed to repeat our past failures.

(More tomorrow on the myth of breaking bad habits.)

Janos Starker's Inspiring Words on Teaching Music

Andrew Hitz

Trumpets on Stage

"I've considered always that teaching is a far more important aspect of my life than performing...I've always said that after a standing ovation, people sit down. Teaching may affect generations."

- Janos Starker

What an amazing quote about the imperative that is music education.  It simply is not an option to eliminate it from any student's educational experience in this country.  Nothing short of future generations are at stake.  May we honor the late, great Mr. Starker, whom we lost this week, by continuing to fight the good fight when it comes to music education.

May he rest in peace.


Joe Alessi Master Class Quotes (Part 2 of 3)

Andrew Hitz

Here is the second installment of quotes from Joe Alessi's wonderful master class at Towson University last week.  If you missed it, you can read the first part here.

  • "A lot of young players see a crescendo and just play loud.  Let's hold back and be very gradual."

  • "I want you to play every note with more tone."

  • "A new term I use is "constipation of air".  We can take the air in but we can't get it out."

  • "There's a thing called being relentless about practicing."

  • "I like to stay on the top 50% of my air supply."

  • "It takes a really intelligent person to practice really slowly and say 'this is what's good for me.'"

  • "If you have to take a breath in an awkward place like that you should always relax the note before it."

  • "The further away your hand gets from your brain, the more difficult (the trombone) gets."

  • "That's a really rich sound.  Now you have to figure out what to do with it."

  • "With the trombone, you have to make more variations with your style and attacks.  You're not being creative with different ways to say things."

  • "You have to be careful with a trombone because it can resemble a car horn.  You have to give your sound some flexibility.  Rather than laying on the horn you have to give it some beauty.  It's all might right now."

  • "Your articulation is almost too good.  You're really tonguing the pants off of it.  You have to have a little more sensitivity in your style."

  • "You have to have more fun with something unusual."

  • "With my teacher growing up, if you didn't have a good release, you'd have to sit there and think about it for a while."

  • "When you play fast try to lighten up.  Playing heavy while playing fast is like driving a Cadillac fast on a windy road.  You want to drive something smaller."

  • "Do it again.  You're being too careful.  Just have fun."

  • "Spend a lot of time getting into a passage so you know every square inch of it."

  • "On a word in the music: Always go with the adjectives that you are supposed to do.  It's like a clue."

  • "Anything that involves 5th position is hard.  The problem with 5th position is that people don't trust that it has to go out that far."

  • "There are two types of playing: detached and non-detached."