Sound Innovations Author, Chris Bernotas, on the Importance of Warming Up Your Performing Ensemble

By Chris Bernotas
Alfred Author

What is the purpose of a warm up in the band (or any) classroom? Students come into our classrooms from a variety of places, both physically and mentally. Maybe they are coming from lunch, or a science lab, or home. The fact is, not every student comes into the music room with the sole focus of creating and communicating through music.

I believe that the first ten (or even twenty) minutes of class are far more important than even the literature. Is that a crazy thought? Maybe it is, but I have always had the belief that if students are prepared properly, physically and mentally, they will absorb the literature more easily and with more meaning.

In preparation for each of our ensemble rehearsals we do much more than a single scale for a warm up, but let’s take a second and analyze one role of using a scale as part of your warm up.

“Here we go, Bb scale, whole notes. Ready? Go!” I admit it; I have been guilty of using this scale warm up method and honestly, is starting with a scale in whole notes a bad thing? No, it isn’t. Is a routine that students can expect when they come into the room a bad thing? Nope. What is so bad about it then? Answer: Performing a scale in whole notes without purpose.

It isn’t that the teacher doesn’t know the purpose, but often we forget to share our secrets with our students. It is called assumed knowledge – we sometimes assume students know the reason for performing each exercise.

Quite often they do not know and will obediently perform as you ask without knowing why it is important. For a student, warming up might simply mean heating up their instrument. Really! Ask them! They will tell you.

The Bb scale will take on a whole new meaning if you share with students that in addition to getting their bodies prepared (by paying attention to their breathing and posture) and their facial muscles prepared (by focusing on proper embouchure), they are also warming up their minds.

We are all well aware of critical thinking and problem solving – going beyond surface learning and understanding. Are students aware that they do this everyday in music? And every time they are making a sound?

When you share the secret with students that when they play long tones in the Bb scale they should be listening to and analyzing the following:

  1. Quality of the sound – is it a good characteristic sound? If not, change it! This is the problem solving part. Students need to experiment to change their sound, as a teacher, try to learn to trust their judgment.
  2. Balance within their section – Are you blending well with the performers on either side of you? With the section? With the band overall? Have you, as the teacher, shared with your students how you would like them to play in balance? What exactly does playing in balance mean? Maybe you know what you are looking for, but do your students?
  3. Tuning – is your sound in tune? Do your students know what “in tune” is? Do they think it is just something that a machine tells them? Do they know that you need to tune every note? And that each instrument and each person plays differently and they need to be aware of tuning 100% of the time they are making a sound? Tuning to one note is merely a reference. We know that, but do our students? Adjusting pitch is problem solving.
  4. Articulation – How does each note begin? Is it an accent? Are notes slurred from note to note? Be sure to let them know!
  5. Phrasing – If the scale is in whole notes, where should they breathe? Is it staggered breathing?
  6. Dynamics – Is the scale going to be one dynamic? That’s fine, but tell them!

There are many ways to warm up in the band classroom and the Bb scale (or any other, try Concert C for a whole new opportunity to work on critical thinking and problem solving!) is just one of them.

The important thing is to share the why with our students. Too often we take for granted that our students already know the why and in reality it is our responsibility to be sure that they know the purpose of what we ask them to do.

If students understand the reason for the exercise, they will perform it with more meaning and the end result will be far more beneficial to your rehearsal and to their success.

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SI Guitar Interactive Brochure

What makes Sound Innovations for Guitar different from other methods?

  • Focuses on real-world guitar skills
  • The included SI Player allows students to slow tracks down and loop them for practice, and to select “minus one” play-along tracks
  • Video lessons on DVD explain and demonstrate all concepts and techniques
  • Musically satisfying lessons focus on core guitar skills like strumming, pivotal rock and blues riffs, improvising, reading music, and applying music theory
  • Starts on the Low E string
    • Establishes better left-hand technique and position
    • Promotes understanding of how patterns lie on the neck from the root note
    • Introduces notes in a clear, musical alphabet sequence
    • Allows students to begin playing fundamental bass-line type rock and blues patterns right away
  • Written by Aaron Stang, Grammy winner, educator and author; and Bill Purse, Guitar Chair at Duquesne University, recording artist and author

View our Interactive Brochure!

Look for audio and video links throughout the catalog and listen to and watch excerpts from the book.

SI Guitar Brochure

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Sneak Peak: Sound Innovations for Guitar

So, you’re a band, orchestra, or choir teacher, and you were just asked to teach a guitar class. What do you do? Check out Sound Innovations for Guitar – perfect for teachers who don’t normally play (much less teach) guitar. Check out the trailer here. More info and sneak peek videos to follow!

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Having a Thanksgiving concert?

Having a Thanksgiving concert?

Having a Thanksgiving concert? Here’s a performance piece suggestion:

Thanksgiving
Music by J. Eric Schmidt
The theme and variation form is taken to new heights with the breathtaking new work from J. Eric Schmidt. The theme is presented brightly in the brass, and then proceeds with five variations. A recap of the material ends with a short and swirling coda. This new work will be the one every director is talking about this year!
PRICE: $70.00

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Intonation Police: The Never-Ending Challenge In Live Performance

If you perform on a musical instrument that has a fixed intonation (commonly piano, guitar, mallet percussion, and electronic instruments), you rarely have to concern yourself with intonation other than noticing that the fixed notation has shifted and needs to be adjusted. For the rest of the performing music world, including vocalists, intonation is under the control of the performer and at the mercy of many variables. Exact intonation can never be taken for granted, no matter how experienced the performer is. Those performing at professional levels often reach a point where so many repetitions have occurred that intonation is all but guaranteed, but in most cases, musicians must monitor intonation at all times.

At The Service Of The Basics

Improper intonation is nearly always the result of either a lack of attention to detail by the performer, an inability to hear whether the pitch they are performing is matching other pitches (due to environmental challenges), a lapse in proper performing technique, or a combination of those elements. “The basics” of pitch and rhythm, as mentioned in a recent newsletter, are sometimes taken for granted even by seasoned performers and can experience inaccuracies. To perform at the highest levels of excellence, focused attention for the duration of the performance is a pre-requisite.

As The Wind Blows

For wind instruments (including the human voice, which has elements of both a wind and string instrument), Performing with accurate intonation is primarily a function of controlling the variables of airstream amount and pressure in combination with knowing the pitch tendencies of the instrument. All wind instruments have “bad notes” built into them due to the intonation system used in modern Western music that must be known and compensated for. Violins and violas tend to have intonation issues associated with which string is being played because the player’s left wrist is on an angle to the instrument’s neck, therefore producing a different position on the finger board as they reach across to their lowest string, combined with unbalanced bow speed or pressure. Vocalists tend to push sharp due to tension in the vocal tract or drop flat because of improper application of the air flow and vocal fold adduction.

Performers must monitor their own technique regularly, and must occasionally swallow their pride and allow an outside observer listen, watch, and critique them.

Tension Is The Enemy

Once the basics have been learned and performers understand the pitch tendencies of their instrument, the primary culprit of any drop in performance level is because of physical tension creeping into the system. Tension affects nearly every aspect of performance, including tone production, intonation, rhythmic accuracy, flexibility, and speed. Becoming aware of common ways that performers unknowingly create tension within their bodies usually requires an outside coach or instructor of some kind to intervene.

To perform at the highest levels, musicians must train their senses to become aware of all aspects of their performance at all times, must have knowledge and experience with their instrument’s tendencies, and must continue to master their craft at every opportunity. Intonation is just one aspect of this mastery, but it is one that in elemental in importance.

Thanks to Thomas J West for letting us refer to his blog! (http://www.thomasjwestmusic.com/apps/blog/show/7746450-intonation-police-the-never-ending-challenge-in-live-performance)

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Helpful Tips on Flute Repair

As You’re Preparing for the New School Year, Here Are Some Tips for Getting Your School’s Flutes Up to Par.

Working With the Pad Adjustment Screws on a Standard Concert Flute

Here’s another essential skill that falls into the “things they never taught you as part of your music education undergraduate degree” category.

A standard concert flute, from student models on up, have small screws on the right hand pad keys that adjust the height of each individual key above its respective tone hole. I na ver really understood why these adjustment screws were present – no other woodwind instrument has them. However, through typical use (and misuse) of a flute over time, the height of the pads above the keys can change. This will cause the flute to play normally on pitches above the affected key, but cause tonal and pitch problems at or below the affected key.

Small flat-head screwdriver is required to adjust these screws properly (an eyeglass screwdriver from your local department store works well). If you look at the body of the flute from the side as you tighten and loosen the screw, you will notice that the height of the key you are adjusting will change from making contact with the raised rim of the tone hole to floating above the hole and vice versa. When you adjust the screw, be sure to look at the left-hand keys of the flute as well. As you adjust a right-hand key height, you also affect one of the keys on the left-hand. There is a “perfect height” that you must adjust the right-hand key to create closure for that key without causing the left-hand key to open. Generally speaking, if you make an adjustment to one right-hand key, you typically have to adjust all of them.

If you have adjusted all of the screws and still are not getting improved pitch and tone, it is possible that one or more of the pads needs to be replaced, or a key has become bent and is not laying parallel to the body of the flute. Both of these situations are minor repairs that can be done on your own.

To read more, check out Thomas J. West Music’s blog: Working With The Pad Adjustment Screws On A Standard Concert Flute (http://www.thomasjwestmusic.com/apps/blog/show/6560506-working-with-the-pad-adjustment-screws-on-a-standard-concert-flute).

Thanks goes to Thomas J. West Music for letting us use his blog!

Thomas J. West is an active music educator, composer, adjudicator, clinician, and award-winning blogger. http://thomasjwestmusic.com

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Parents Pay – 3 Things You Can Do to Help Your Students Purchase the Right Book

1. Verify all your book and contact information is correct before placing your order. Since these books are custom-made for your class, we cannot accept any returns or exchanges once a purchase is made. Please double-check everything to make sure your method is perfect for your class!

2. Add any important additional instructions and your own contact information in the “Special Instructions” field. This allows your students to contact you with any questions such as “which instrument am I playing this year?”

3. Send or hand out the Parents Pay flyer right away. This handy flyer lets your students know when they must place their order by in order to qualify for the group shipping rate. Make sure to emphasize that they need to order before the cutoff date to avoid a significant extra processing and shipment fee.

 

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