low brass mistakes

Top 5 Common Low Brass Mistakes for Beginners

Are you new to low brass? Here are some of the most common low brass mistakes I see beginners make.

Read on to improve quickly!

1. Pressing too Hard with the Mouthpiece

I see this all the time.

Beginning players tense up as they try to get all the notes whizzing by. They focus on fingering and blowing and reading the notes and dynamics.

There’s so much going on. It can be overwhelming.

In the midst of all this, beginners tend to just press the instrument to their face without any thought to the pressure.

When you press the mouthpiece to your lips too hard, a lot of things go wrong.

First off, you have a lot less flexibility. When you play high and low notes, your mouth must make subtle adjustments, and these can’t happen if you’re pressing too hard.

You also start to cut the circulation off. This gives you less sensitivity to what you’re doing.

Lastly, it will wear you out faster. It’s really tiring to play like that. You’ll be squeezing notes out until your lips are numb.

One of the best things a beginner can do is to learn to play with as little pressure as possible. Once pushing too hard becomes a subconscious habit, it’s quite hard to stop doing it.

For years, you’ll probably find yourself tensing up and pushing harder than you intend anytime a difficult or high passage comes up.

Get out of this habit before it’s too late!

common low brass mistakes

2. Expecting to Progress Fast

This is more like a mindset problem than a real mistake, but this mistake has caused way too many people to quit.

The problem arises from many sources. The first is that beginners often compare themselves to people they admire. Sometimes these are professional players, but even people a few years ahead of you can make you feel inadequate.

You’re learning a skill that takes decades to perfect. No professional player was born playing like that.

Even the most talented and hardworking brass players took over a decade learning their art before they sounded like they do.

But even people who aren’t making unrealistic comparisons tend to get discouraged when they practice every single day without seeming to make progress.

You must trust that this is a normal part of the process.

There will be weeks that you feel like you do nothing and make huge strides. There will be other weeks that you grind out all the technical work and feel like you’re stuck in the same place.

The human brain is weird.

Learning always works like this.

Sometimes you feel like you’re not making progress, but you are. You should trust the process. Keep chugging along and practicing and the results will come eventually.

3. Playing Rather than Practicing

I like to make a distinction between playing your instrument and practicing it.

Playing is fun, and you can get really far by taking your favorite pieces and reading through them.

But this isn’t the most efficient use of your time.

Most beginners don’t know how to practice, and that’s okay. Part of learning an instrument is learning how to practice. It’s not something we should expect our students to just know.

Before I go further, I’m not saying you should suck the life and fun out of playing your instrument by drilling scales and technical exercises while doing nothing else.

This article is directed at beginners.

My mom picked up the clarinet in her sixties. After a few months, she was frustrated that she couldn’t seem to play anything. I asked if she could play a C major scale for me.

She struggled through it.

It became obvious to me what the problem was. She had been playing through the beginner books her teacher gave her, but she hadn’t ever taken time to practice anything.

If you flub a few notes in a piece, isolate that section.

Play it slowly with a metronome until it’s easy. If you only spend a few minutes each practice session doing this, you’ll be months or even years ahead of other beginners who aren’t doing this.

It’s amazing what a few minutes of focused practice can do.

Learn your scales. Don’t just memorize them so that it’s a recall activity. Practice them up and down, in groupings of 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.

Do it until you can’t ever mess it up because it feels so natural.

When you’ve practiced this way for a while, you’ll find that the pieces you enjoy playing through are far more enjoyable. You can focus on making music and not on the fingerings and notes.

4. Posture

This should be one of the easiest things to fix, because if you’re taught to play with good posture from the beginning, you’ll always have good posture.

Unfortunately, most teachers are so focused on teaching the instrument, they save posture for later.

You should sit up straight so that you can breathe from the diaphragm. The instrument shouldn’t press into your body. Your neck shouldn’t be tilted forward or backward, cutting off the air supply.

Your upper body should be open and relaxed.

This is especially hard for low brass. Every single low brass instrument has posture issues that no other instrument family has.

Trombone players have to figure out how to sit up straight without their slides hitting the stand or chair or person in front of them during rehearsals.

No other instrument has this problem.

If you play trombone, watch out for “hunched shoulders” as you play under your stand.

Euphonium and tuba players have the issue of their instrument height in comparison with their torso length.

The best way to have good posture on euphonium is to stand. This obviously isn’t possible for a rehearsal. The other way to sit up straight is to hold the instrument at the right height.

Most beginner euphonium players don’t have the upper body strength to hold a euphonium up and away from their body during a practice session or rehearsal.

This means tuba and euphonium players set the instrument on the chair or their legs and contort their body to get the mouthpiece to the right height.

Please don’t do this!

There is an easy solution: use something like foam or a pillow to adjust the height. I did this all through high school, and it works great.

It’s also a good idea to have your feet flat on the floor. This helps with the other parts of your posture and gives you the most stability.

5. Tonguing

I’ve saved this one for last, because it’s a bit more advanced than the rest.

Most people have a vague idea of how to tongue, but it’s rare that teachers get into the specifics with beginner students. Luckily, this isn’t one of those bad habits that’s hard to break.

First off, you should actually tongue articulated notes. Some beginners get into a habit of just pressing the valves to make the change in notes.

Others get into a habit of “breath attacking” the first note of a piece. This is really inconsistent, and you shouldn’t do it unless explicitly told to in a special case.

When you tongue a note, say the word “tah” to get a feel for where the tongue should hit your teeth.

An important concept is to not stop the air. The air should keep flowing. Your tongue interrupts the air at the teeth, but don’t cut it off in your throat or chest.

Also, use the tip of your tongue.

It’s always hard to tell what’s going on with a particular student because I can’t see in their mouth. But sometimes it seems like they’re sticking their tongue through their teeth or using the whole tongue.

Use the tip of the tongue, like saying “tah.”

This all you need at a beginner level.

You can experiment with advanced alternate tonguing techniques later, and only for very specific circumstances.