Everybody knows that scales are an important part of warming up but there are other parts of an instrument that may be missed by only doing scales.
In part 2, I go through steps 4 – 6 of 6 ways to get that perfect sound out of your reed instrument.
4. ADD DYNAMICS TO THE LONG NOTES
Yes, you've probably noticed that you could combine steps 2 and 3 from part 1 with this one, and for time purposes you could do that but the smoothness we are aiming for with these dynamics may not come straight away.
By adding volume to the notes, you are increasing your concentration, stamina levels, and your overall sound/tone quality.
I usually start by playing long, loud notes in a similar pattern to the previous step. Then, the same notes at a medium volume, and again at a quiet volume.
It may take a little experimentation to find your lowest volume where the note is steady and clear and typically, the lower you get, the harder it will be.
Once you've done that, it's time to put those dynamics together into one long note, starting off loud and gradually getting quieter as you play, ultimately fading to silence in a smooth transition, and all in one breath.
Try doing the opposite and you'll notice it is really difficult to do and requires patience.
I have blown a note only to have the sound of air for a good twenty seconds before a note starts to come out.
The idea is for it to sound natural and not just jump out of nowhere suddenly.
To make this more challenging, set up a tuner and you'll notice the loud notes can go a bit flat, showing that there is such a thing as being too loud. We don't want to compromise the tone quality so keep tuning in mind with your dynamics.
5. TONGUING TO A METRONOME
It's time to get that tongue working. Using a comfortable note like B/E, set your metronome to a beat per minute of eighty and, in one breath, hold the note and tongue it to the beat.
From here, you can do one of two things:
1. Gradually speed up the metronome every time you hold and tongue a note.
2. Stick to 80 BPM and subdivide your tonguing; tonguing quavers, triplet quavers, semiquavers, etc.
The reason why I've added this exercise is simply that the tongue is a muscle and requires a warm-up as well. That way, it's more responsive when you move on to the piece of music you're working on. The more you do this warm-up when you practise, the faster you'll find your tongue can go.
By this point, not only should you feel warmed up but the instrument should feel warm as well. This means we're ready to start tuning the instrument properly.
As mentioned earlier, metal instruments need to be warmed up with air and can cool down very quickly, especially if playing outside. The intermittent blowing of air through the instrument when you're not playing will help counter this.
When tuning the instrument, the more notes you tune, the better. The reason being, every instrument is different: build quality, type of alloy used, ligature, reed, etc - all these things affect the tuning, as well as your own embouchure technique.
Tuning only one note could mean other notes are now more out of tune than they were before. If you have the time, go through the whole register of the instrument and see the individual tuning of the notes.
For me, the low notes can often be a bit flat; the middle notes fairly easy to tune; the octave notes slightly sharp, and then the top notes a little flat again.
Only adjust the mouthpiece, barrel, or wherever you extend or reduce the length of the instrument, when you're sure you need to and don't expect that to correct every note.
One of the main goals behind this exercise is to gain familiarity with your instrument. At some point, you'll start to know which notes are the troublesome ones and whether they require sharpening or flattening automatically. You'll also be able to hear the tuning better as well, as this is great practice for ear training, which is a completely different topic altogether.
By going through all 6 exercises on a regular basis, you’ll be well on your way to having an amazing sound to your playing.
Once you're into a routine, running through these exercises should take around ten to fifteen minutes, shorter if you’re combining steps 2, 3, and 4. If, however, you want to go into detail, you could easily spend over an hour on them.