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Checklist for Improving Brass Instrument Performance

 Brass Performance

The Brass Musician

What is the brass musician to do if he or she expects to fully develop his or her musical abilities? To gracefully perform with technical facility, tonal beauty, and musical taste is what we plan to answer in today’s “Checklist for Improving Brass Instrument Performance.”

Factors To Consider

The factors to consider when working to become a performing brass professional can seem broad in spectrum and be minimally effective if strategic practice isn’t used. In this post we will identify the most accepted, and highly regarded recommendation prioritizing the most important skills to master. All factors to consider, elements of tone production and technical execution should be in every daily practice routine. Individual’s practice time should be divided into “older problems” that may be needed to be  revisited and new ones that may by attacked intelligently.

Problems Facing Brass Players

Everyone is different, so logically each player has their own set of problems. However, it has been found that the main issues brass players face include:
  1. Posture
  2. Breath Control
  3. Tone Production
  4. Finger/ Slide Technique
  5. Lip Flexibility
  6. Dynamics
  7. Range and
  8. Intonation
Consider focusing significant and regular effort on these performance elements in order to see steady improvement of your playing.


Posture is first on the list of of issues, or checkpoints, that brass performers need to master sooner rather than later. Bad posture will serve as a crutch in most other attempts to improve other musical elements. However, the reverse is true as well. With good posture other musical elements are easier to improve upon due to the kinesthetic oriented alignments. Keep in mind that when striving for excellent posture, as a brass player, to do the following:

  1. Stand straight, but relaxed, with weight on the balls of feet.
  2. Sit straight, but relaxed.
  3. Keep your head up.
  4. Practice exercises which tend to strengthen the back and stomach muscles. In addition, you want these exercises to also reinforce a relaxed spine and neck.
Correct Posture

Breath Control

Breath control is an element of playing that is absolutely a game changer. Breath control can determine the tone quality, phrasing capabilities and the overall performance composure of brass performer. Treat breath control exercises as a daily part of your warm-up routine to see steady growth. Consider the following steps when homing in on breath control isolation measures:

  1. Yawn several times to relax thoroughly.
  2. Breathe deeply several times. Note your diaphragmatic breathing by placing your hands on the bottom of your ribs. There should be an expansion and contraction in the back, front, and sides.
  3. When you breathe use an open throat and relax your jaw.
  4. Inhale only the amount of air you need to play the desired tone or phrase. However, leave just a small amount in reserve.
  5.  Do not force air out with stomach muscles, chest, or ribs. The diaphragm should naturally expel the air. There should only be an exception to this when a tone is to be expected to be accented and a sudden push of air is necessary.

Tone Production

Tone production is my number one most important element that I am concerned with as a brass musician. Think about it, if you can play with a good tone you will often have a good quality of sound. However, if you have poor tone production you will always have a bad sound. When working on tone production, consider doing the following:

  1. Have a clear conception of what a good, characteristic tone is by listening to professional performing artists in the field.
  2. Listen to examples of what quality tone sounds like and use digital recorders, chromatic tuners and software to assist in trying to emulate that sound.
  3. Consider using these practice measures to obtain a clear and resonant tone:
    • Find the center of the tone by experimenting with the pitch to the most resonant sound.
    • Sing the tone.
    • Buzz the tone on your mouthpiece.
    • Play the center of the tone again on the instrument.
  4. Use the following practice drill to improve intervals:
    • Sing scales. arpeggios, intervals. exercises, and solos.
    • Buzz them on the mouthpiece.
    • Play them on the instrument.
    • Sing, buzz and play octave intervals.
  5. Attack each tone using the tongue accurately.
    • Place the tip of the tongue high on the front teeth.
    • Seal off all air with the tongue.
    • Keep a steady flow of air to the mouthpiece at all times.
    • Start the tone by lowering the tongue quickly and releasing the air.
    • Practice single, double, and triple tonguing.
    • Do not stop tone with the tongue: stop breath with diaphragm.
  6. Form the embouchure correctly.
    • Place the lips together naturally.
    • Place mouthpiece on the fleshy part of the lips.
    • Check lip vibration by buzzing the mouthpiece.
    • Do not use excessive mouthpiece pressure.
    • Place the mouthpiece near the center of mouth: comfort and satisfactory results govern exact location.
    • Moisten the lips.
    • Develop lip Flexibility by practicing lip slurs and rapid interval changes.
  7. Produce long tones for several seconds of duration with no change in the pitch or quality.
  8. Produce long tones of several seconds of duration using a controlled vibrato.
  9. Shape the mouth to different vowel sounds in order to secure desired quality.
  10. Use quality equipment, instruments and mouthpieces.
  11. Keep equipment in good playing condition. Keep it clean and check it regularly for leaks.

Finger & Slide Technique

Finger and slide technique is a skill developed through focused practice. The results received from such practice relies heavily on the attention to detail of how the kinesthetic practice is implemented and the series of repetitions it receives. When working on finger and slide technique consider following these steps.

  1. Memorize your scales. These include the major scales, all three forms of minor, chromatic, and the whole tone scale. Execute these scales as rapidly as precision will allow. If at all possible play two octave scales, both slurred and tongued.
  2. As mentioned previously follow the same procedure for playing all arpeggios and intervals as well.
  3. Practice any series of tones that present difficulty in fingering or slide technique.
Slide Technique

Lip Flexibility

Lip flexibility comes hand in hand with air control and finger and slide technique. The key is to be able to play through exercises and musical gestures that sync pitches with the rhythms and styles. To obtain greater competency in lip flexibility consider the following:
  1. To start, first follow the suggestions we discussed for developing finger or slide technique.
  2. Next, practice lip slurs, start slowly and gradually increase in speed.
  3. Finally, practice octave intervals, slurred and tongued. A great resource for this can be found in the Arban’s Complete Method books under the “Intervals” section.


Dynamics help make any piece of literature interesting. Air control and specific muscles are needed to be actively engaged in dynamic mastery. Consider using the following steps to practice in order to observe noticeable gains:
  1. Engage your efforts to produce the following effects. Starting in sequence, on a single tone: pp-p-mp-mf-f-ff; ff-f-mf-mp-p-pp; ff-pp; pp-ff.
  2. Next, produce the following effects. Holding any one tone for several seconds and maintaining a steady pitch: p to f: f to p; pp to ff to pp; ff to pp to ff: f to p (in this situation diminish quickly from the f to the p and hold the tone); and then p to f ( in this scenario hold the soft tone and then push quickly with the breath just before releasing the tone.)
  3. Finally, use variety of dynamic ranges when practicing scales and arpeggios.
Disclosure: Some of the links are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, 
I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase


Range is a musical element that many players often get hung up on. Expecting unrealistic results without putting in the proper amount of focused practice time into range building can be detrimental to your well being. Consider taking these steps for a healthy approach to range building: 
  1. Maintain an awareness of a matched tone quality throughout the entire range of your instrument.
  2. Improve your high range by doing the following:
    • Maintaining breath support.
    • Opening the jaw and throat.
    • Keeping a cushion of lips between mouthpiece and teeth.
    • Avoiding excessive mouthpiece pressure.
    • Raising the tongue slightly to form the vowel sound of “too” or “doo.”
    • Beginning the tone precisely thru the valve action of the tongue in releasing the air.
    • Tonguing and slurring all scales, arpeggios, and intervals.
    • Psychologically thinking of attacking tones from above.
    • Forming the lips close together.
  3. Improve your the low range by doing the following:
    • Extending the jaw slightly.
    • Pushing the embouchure forward slightly.
    • Opening the lips more.
    • Using less mouthpiece pressure.
    • Use the “tah” or “dah” syllables.
    • Beginning the tone precisely thru the valve action of the tongue in releasing the air.


Intonation development is a major component of any professional musician’s daily work efforts. The slight nuances in a person’s ability to have an ever so better intonation than a competitor could easily determine the results of a professional audition. When working on improving brass intonation consider taking these initiatives:
  1. Practice hearing the tone in your head before producing it.
  2. Sing and buzz on the mouthpiece to new music before playing it.
  3. Use the strobe or chromatic tuner and check pitches carefully.
  4. Discover the pitches that are out of tune on the instrument. Be sure to make the necessary adjustments as automatic as possible. One highly recommended resource for identifying instrumental intonation issues is Shelly Jagow’s “Tuning for Wind Instruments: A Roadmap to Successful Intonation” book.
Disclosure: Some of the links are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, 
I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.


In conclusion, by prioritizing your daily brass practice efforts you will observe gradual and satisfying results. The elements of posture, breath control, tone production, finger/slide technique, lip flexibility, dynamics, range and intonation all contribute to a beautiful brass performance. 


Arban, J.-B. (2014). Arban’s complete conservatory method for Trumpet. Allegro Editions.

Bachelder, D. F., & Hunt, N. J. (2002). Guide to teaching brass. McGraw-Hill.

Instrumentalist. (1991). Brass anthology: A collection of brass articles published in the Instrumentalist Magazine from 1946 to 1990.

Jagow, S. M. (2012). Tuning for wind instruments: A roadmap to successful intonation. Meredith Music Publ. 



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