Chris Buckholz University of Northern Iowa

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1 Section Playing Basics Sound Balance Intonation Articulation Rhythm Dynamics Style Brass in the Big Band: Basics That Will Quickly Improve Your Brass Section Chris Buckholz University of Northern Iowa Sound: mental conception Mental concept of how you want to sound is the most important factor in actually getting a good sound Listen to great players on your instrument a lot both recordings and live Constantly challenge your students to get the best possible sound. Make that the focus of the warmup. Listen to a few seconds of a recording, then play back exactly what the artist did, including vibrato, sound, dynamics Record yourself Sound: concept and air Sound needs to be full with a lot of core Full =lots of overtones in the sound (aka resonance ) Core =lots of fundamental in the sound Air is the key to a great sound Air is the motor force that drives the embouchure The better the embouchure buzzes, the better the horn sounds Embouchure=instrument or voice

2 Chris Buckholz: Brass in the Big Band Page 2 Mouthpiece=microphone Horn=amplifier Sound continued Most (not all) embouchure problems are really air problems Most students don t take in enough air for their embouchures to buzz efficiently Embouchures developing around weak air supplies work much harder than they need to Filling the lungs with air each breath improves the sound, range and endurance all at once Physics of a good brass sound Embouchure buzzes the correct pitch. Maximum lip tissue vibrates under mouthpiece rim because thick air column is pushing on lip surface. Air pressure and lip tension are minimal. Horn is set to the proper length to resonate on an overtone series for the correct pitch, through valves or slide. Horn amplifies note. Implications Embouchure is a reflex mechanism that has to buzz correct pitches Buzz on mouthpiece to refine reflex mechanism Maximum lip tissue needs to vibrate for best sound Buzz on embouchure visualizer Get thick, open column of air up to embouchure Work on breathing: relaxed suction Get tongue out of the way Horn has to be set to the proper length Slide has to be in position BEFORE note is played Valve has to be down BEFORE note is played

3 Chris Buckholz: Brass in the Big Band Page 3 Balance Section needs to be balanced in such a way that lead is most prominent voice, but all the individual parts can be heard clearly as well Good sounds throughout the section will improve balance Air quantity largely determines dynamics Not taking in enough air limits dynamic range, particularly in lower parts This in turn affects balance Intonation affects balance Working on balance Spend some time with a decibel meter with students individually and as a section Determine what seems like a reasonable decibel level for piano, forte, etc. on the section level Then do that on the individual level, so that the student knows how loud to play in the section for a given dynamic Dynamics are relative, but this will give a good starting point and help students to hear what it s like when the section is balanced Intonation Intonation affects perception of sound quality and balance Good intonation is crucial to a great ensemble sound Air quantity affects intonation Small quantity of air in the lungs tends to make the pitch go sharp, because embouchure has to close down to function with weak, pressurized air Weak players often have to pull their tuning slides very far out to play in tune. Good trombone players often have to cut their tuning slides, because their embouchures are open enough to play flat. Working on intonation Practice with tuning drones Play slow scales, both major and minor, and work to get rid of beats

4 Chris Buckholz: Brass in the Big Band Page 4 Know intonation corrections for each interval Practice with tuner Play the note first while looking away from tuner. When the note is locked in, look at the tuner. Play notes around the tuning pitch, then land on the tuning pitch Especially important for trombonists Articulation Tonguing has to be much harder, more percussive and the short notes much shorter than in classical playing Failing to do this robs the music of its rhythmic momentum Many brass figures are punches that function as an auxiliary percussion instrument Tongue is generally more in the way of the airstream than in classical playing Tongue on upper teeth for jazz playing. Tonguing on the lips is a serious problem! Tongue on hard palate for classical playing. Articulation continued Ends of notes are just as important as the start of notes Any non-legato note is cut off with a tongue stop Can be short: dat Can be long: daaaaaaaaaaaaaaat Doesn t have to be a hard stop, but needs to cut the note off cleanly so that it has a definite finish rhythmically Good bands start notes together. Great bands end notes together. Rhythm Brass players have to articulate correctly, take in a lot of air, and have good internal metronomes so that they don t drag down the ensemble s time Weak articulations, notes that start late and bad senses of time all create dragging brass sections Count Basie band of 1960s: most of the time, right on top of the beat.

5 Chris Buckholz: Brass in the Big Band Page 5 Sometimes get behind the beat for effect Bands sometimes try to play behind the beat to imitate the Basie band, but this is a misconception Great ensembles swing hard! Work on swing feel with eighth notes on one pitch Dynamics Loud playing is easy to do with brass instruments. Soft playing with a good sound and intonation is trickier. Dynamics in a jazz ensemble tend to be mf-f, but the pp-p end of the spectrum should be worked on, especially with the brass section Again, air determines dynamics. You can t play loud on one breath for very long, particularly if that breath is shallow Don t let quantity of air dictate how loud or soft you can play Don t let the desire to play a long phrase in one breath interfere with dynamics or sound quality Style What is style? Encompasses sound, articulation, dynamics, note lengths, vibrato, rhythm, scoops, bends Lead players largely convey style to the rest of the ensemble Inner parts should use less stylistic inflection than lead parts Vibrato is the most important stylistic element in the brass section Use of vibrato varies widely over time Hand/slide vibrato common until 1960s Jaw vibrato mostly used after 1960, important in bebop era Vibrato used sparingly after 1970s Style continued The constant, wide vibrato used in non-unison parts in 1930s-1950s big band music is important to convey that style

6 Chris Buckholz: Brass in the Big Band Page 6 The way you play an Ellington composition stylistically is vastly different than the way you play a Maria Schneider composition Students have to be taught these differences and the techniques involved in order to play older styles convincingly Summary Creating a great big band brass section requires work in many areas: sound, intonation, balance, articulation, rhythm, dynamics and style These aspects can only be dealt with once the music can be played technically Work on familiar music to refine basic skills Recommended Recordings Count Basie Live at the Sands (before Frank) Reprise Sinatra at the Sands Reprise The Complete Live Roulette Recordings Mosaic The Complete Roulette Studio Recordings Mosaic Duke Ellington Never No Lament (The Blanton Webster Band) BMG Maynard Ferguson The Complete Roulette Recordings Mosaic Woody Herman Blue Flame LRC Jazz Classics Big Band Live at The Concord Concord Thundering Herd Fantasy Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Complete Solid State Recordings ( ) Mosaic Stan Kenton New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm Capitol The Holman and Russo Charts Mosaic Cuban Fire Capitol Buddy Rich Big Swing Face Pacific Jazz Swingin New Big Band Pacific Jazz Mercy, Mercy, Mercy Pacific Jazz Maria Schneider They re all amazing! Frank Sinatra Songs for Swinging Lovers Capitol

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