On Fire – with a capital F! (or “How Slurring is Changing my Life for The Better”)

My playing lately has been on fire.  I’ve been intensely practicing my C (while not ignoring my Eb, though).  As you’ve been reading in previous posts, with the upcoming concert with OT, Prokofiev’s R&J has been on my mind (and my embouchure) – and of course, the Dance of the Knights.  Well,  earlier this week I reach a new milestone in the sound of my low F.  Up until then, it had a minor, unstable vibrato/shake to it.  I remember going to the Summer Brass Institute in San Fran in 2008 and playing in a piece that was in F major and which ended on a low F – it was so instable that it was nearly in a flutter.  I had been happy with my low F on my C before then and since that summer, I’ve been on a mission to stabilize it again.  Low F# hasn’t been super hot either, but other notes around it have been nice and fat – Ab, G, E, and Eb.

Let me clarify some – I’m being critical of the sound for sure, but since 2008, it did have some moments where I was happy to avoid low F.  It wasn’t showing me at my best, though it has been improving bit by bit.  Fast forward to this week…

I’ve been working on buzzing exercises from James Thompson’s book and have been noticing a general improvement in slurs and embouchure.  Exercises 5 to 8 are prefaced with a requirement to slur from middle G to slow C before starting exercises on C – this is to establish a mid-range embouchure for wide-ranging slurs.  This triggered a thought for me that my general harmonic-series warm-ups should always start on the 5th – a mid-range embouchure for a full-range arpeggio.

I took this one step further — mid-G down to C and down to low G (i.e. 4th valve).  Slurred and tenuto.  Making sure the quality of sound quality between the three notes is equal – volume, tone, articulation (which, in a way, applies to slurred too) – this is a strong tenant of James Thompson’s book.  Repeat a semi-tone down (Gb) and again (F) and so on.

I’m doing a few things here – especially when slurred.  It takes express effort to make the lower note sound as nice and full as the upper two.  That involves a decent air speed to keep the buzz going in the slur down, all the while, maintaining the mid-range embouchure.  Setting up a good note-start when slurred means that it will be even better when articulated.

I did a bunch of those, re-enforced with my routine from the buzzing book and then hit the Dance of the Knights!  Blam!  I could hear and feel the results!

Plus! – with this exercise, I’m encouraging myself to take in copious amounts of air and use it all up, though wisely to make sure I can play all three notes in one breath.  I didn’t fully realize the impact of this until I played the opening low F in the R&J.  It sounded louder without the huge effort I was making previously and I could sustain the note more fully without a decrescendo (though I still needed to break the tie and breath – I’m only human, eh?).

I remember avoiding and ignoring slurs earlier on in my playing career – they didn’t sound good because I plain-old chickened-out of trying to make them better.  I’ve certainly come a long way since then.


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