Updated: Jun 15
This morning I received a lovely email from a brass player who currently suffers from discrepancies in his tone and was looking for suggestions to try and eliminate these issues. If you suffer from tonal issues, as we all do from time to time, take a quick read of my response below. Hopefully it will help in some way.
Everyone suffers from a loss of clarity in their tone at some point. It happens to me more or less on a daily basis! However what I try and do is to ensure I eliminate any tonal discrepancies in my warmup session, prior to performance. A lot of players simply ignore these issues and plough on regardless - and no doubt suffer the consequences!
I'll happily tell you what I try and focus on to eliminate the sizzles (sometimes it takes 2 to 3 minutes other times 15 to 20) but I always make sure I'm happy with the way I sound before I finish my warm up session.
So, maybe think about the following things when you're doing your initial long tone warmup:
1. When you inhale always inhale with an open throat, as in sucking back the letter ‘O’. Drop your jaw as you inhale, which in turn should give you a cold feeling at the back of the throat. Inhale deep and slow, focusing on diaphragmatic breathing i.e. try not to raise your body above your lowest ribs.
2. As you exhale to start the tone, the throat should stay open and the jaw dropped and relaxed.
3. Try producing your initial long tones without any articulation at all. Think of using the word Whore (!) to release the air and shock the notes into action. Make sure you keep the corners of your embouchure firm to avoid any chop 'flapping'. Spend as much time as you need with this exercise ensuring that your goal is to produce the notes as cleanly as you could with the tongue. Remember the deep, open breathing we mentioned in point 1.
4. Once you're happy you can produce long tones without any articulation, cleanly and with a pure sound throughout, you can think about adding a little bit of tongue to add some precision.
5. Maybe the next step could be to add some gentle crescendi and diminuendi to the long tones. Always listening closely to your tone quality and pitch.
The idea behind these suggestions is for you to become more focused on using your air column efficiently. If we implement the points above on a frequent basis then we become more reliant on the air to produce the tones, not the tongue or a squeezed embouchure.
Those dreaded bacon sizzling sounds we all suffer from are caused by having too tight and aperture and generally a constricted jaw and embouchure. Hopefully the exercises above, with constant repetition, will eliminate any discrepancies and become an automatic physicality when you play.
Give my suggestions a shot and let me know how you get on.