Instrumental & Vocal - Instrumental Technique

Whether you play the harp, electric guitar or a woodwind instrument, a good technique is essential to improve your performance. Playing an instrument is a physical activity and if you don't practise frequently, your technique will deteriorate. All instruments have different and unique techniques; your specialist teacher will introduce different exercises to help and support you with developing your technical ability on your chosen instrument.

Action

To be successful

Advice or tips to help you

1

· Posture

· Keep your posture relaxed

· Even if you are sitting by the piano or standing to play the trumpet, always start by focusing on your posture. Here is a short guide for you to consider when standing.

· Stand with your back straight, keeping your:

- ears directly over your shoulders

- shoulders over your hips

- feet apart facing five minutes to one

- hands holding / supporting your instrument or on the keys.

· Decide whether to stand or sit when you perform

· During any rehearsal or performance, you may need to both stand and sit. A good posture is very important for both; here are some guidelines when sitting.

· Sit with a straight back in the centre of the chair, with your shoulders relaxed and keeping your:

- ears directly over your shoulders

- shoulders over your hips

- feet firmly on the floor

- heels just behind the front legs of the chair

- hands holding / supporting your instrument or on the keys.

· Decide how much movement is appropriate

· When playing certain pieces, you may combine simple movements and actions to complement your performance. Avoid introducing too many, however, as this can hamper the quality of your sound. Too much movement will also affect your posture and breathing.

2

· Breathing (for woodwind and brass instruments)

· Ensure you know how to breathe correctly to support your playing

· Always start with breathing warm ups to develop your technique. Here is one exercise for you to try:

· Make sure you are completely relaxed.

· Exhale to empty the lungs completely.

· Breathe in and allow the tummy muscles to relax outwards, and feel your ribs expand outwards.

· Play a single note and keep your ribs pushed outwards for as long as possible.

· Don't change the note in pitch or volume, work on a consistent and rich sound.

· Ensure that you aren't out of breath at the end of each phrase

· Continue with breathing exercises when rehearsing to develop your technique. Here is one exercise for you to try:

· Make sure you are completely relaxed

· Exhale to empty the lungs completely

· Breathe in and allow the tummy muscles to relax outwards, and feel your ribs expand outwards

· Play a single note and keep your ribs pushed outwards for a count of 10, the next time extend to 15, 20

· Repeat the exercise but using a specific phrase out of a piece.

· Decide where to breathe

· You should aim to breathe at the end of each phrase, usually marked with phrasing marks.

· Sometimes the melody requires you to breathe in the middle of the phrase due to its length. Find a long note in the middle of the phrase and breathe after this note.

3

· Preparation

· Warm up appropriately

· Think of your warm up as the beginning of your rehearsal. Many woodwind and brass instruments need to be literally 'warmed up'.

· A warm up on a tuned instrument could consist of playing scales or arpeggios, on a percussion instrument a warm up could include playing a steady ostinato pattern.

· Create a good sound

· Always concentrate on the production of your sound when warming up / playing your exercises.

· All instruments have an unique sound / tone, you must always focus on creating the best possible 'quality of sound,' this will only develop with plenty rehearsal and time!

· Ensure that you can play those high notes

· You may struggle with playing high notes on numerous instruments, e.g. a string instrument - because the amount of pressure required when pressing on the string or a wind instrument - due to your breath control or shape of mouth.

· With plenty of practice and exercises, you will find that you begin to reach higher and lower notes with greater ease. Different instruments require a specific technique to develop these skills - always ask your teacher for advice.

4

· Tuning

· Tune your brass instrument properly

· Tune your woodwind instrument properly

· When tuning a brass instrument, keep switching back and forth between the pitch pipe / meter and your instrument, moving the properly greased tuning slide in or out slightly until the pitches match up perfectly. Pulling the slide outward makes the instrument's tubing longer, and will cause the pitch to go flatter. Pushing the slide in shortens the tubing, making the pitch sharper.

· Pull out the tuning barrel near the upper joint connection on your woodwind innstrument if you're sounding sharp. This can make the instrument longer, so it might sound slightly lower. Push in the tuning barrel near the upper joint connection on your instrument if you're sounding flat. This can make the instrument shorter, giving it a slightly higher pitch.

· Tune your string instrument properly

· Take care when first tuning any stringed instrument to turn it away from you. The most likely time for the strings to snap unexpectedly is on their first tuning, and it is important to keep your eyes out of the way. Tune up slowly, make sure you have a pitch pipe or tuning meter, and that you know the correct tuning so you don't over tighten the strings.

· Support the soloist with tuning if you are an accompanist

· If you are taking on the role of an accompanist, as part of your performance you should always support the soloist with tuning, during rehearsal and when on stage. You should always be ready to provide a note/s for the soloist and repeat as necessary.

· If the soloist is playing an instrument that is not in 'concert pitch', you will not be playing the same note on the accompanying instrument. An instrument in "Bb" will require you to play "Bb" on your 'concert pitch' instrument and they will play a "C" on their instrument.

5

· Instrument care

· Look after your brass instrument

· Valves on brass instruments need to be lubricated on a regular basis. To do this: (a) unscrew the valve cap and pull the valve out about half way. (b) apply a drop of valve oil to the wide part of the valve. (c) push the valve back into position making sure that it is lined up correctly. Note: The valve has a guide that keeps it in place. To check for correct alignment gently try to turn the valve. If it doesn't turn it is lined up. If it turns keep turning the valve till you hear a slight "click" and the valve stops turning.

· Look after your string (bow) Instrument

· When you're not using your instrument, the hairs on the bow should be slackened (the metal end of the bow acts as a screw). This protects the bow from losing its curve and tension. Avoid touching the hairs of the bow, the grease from your fingers will spoil it. In order to play, you will need to put rosin on the bow hairs. Most violins come with rosin. Rub the rosin against the bow hairs until you feel some friction between the rosin and the bow hairs.

· Look after your woodwind (reed) instrument

· Playing a musical instrument is about making a beautiful sound, and you need all the help you can get from the best quality reed.

· Don't get stuck on a reed for too long. If you find a good reed it is easy to keep using it without noticing it deteriorating.

· Learn how to adjust reeds. Even a brand new clarinet reed will benefit from making sure the back is perfectly flat, this is simply achieved with a straight reed knife.

· Always have a supply of spare reeds.

· Keep your reeds in your case - they are no use left at home.

· Accurate positioning of the reed on the mouthpiece (cl. & sax.) is vital. A good reed will seem useless if inaccurately placed by even a tiny amount.