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Mental Aspects of Playing

As human beings we are incredibly complex. Fortunately, we have the means of accomplishing tasks without thinking of every aspect involved. The key is finding what to focus on. Arnold Jacobs described what these are for wind and brass players: Song and Wind.

As we move into discussing the fundamentals that we will be approaching in your individual practice, we need to have a clear understanding of how best to learn our instruments. The master tuba teacher, Arnold Jacobs, revolutionized the way we think about brass playing. He was a student of psychology, physiology, and music. He discovered that incredible musical results could be reaped from focusing on two fundamental ideas: Song and Wind.

Song means you focus on exactly what you want to sound like to the audience. Pay attention to every detail – vibrato, type of sound, articulation, correct pitch and rhythm, etc. Having this mental image is 85% of the game and relies heavily on your imagination.

Wind, the other 15%, means you have the ability to apply the proper air stream to create what your Song requires. This means we need to have strong breathing skills: good flexibility, deep capacity, ability to breathe freely, ability to control air movements. These are skills that require work and development – they can be improved greatly.

The process works like this. If the Song, or musical image, is very clear and present in your mind, your Wind will obey. The wind will directly effect what comes out of your horn, which will closely resemble your image. It’s almost like you have a CD running in your head as you play. The musician on this CD is everything you want to sound like.

Not only will this lead you into playing how you want to sound, it will also give you a heads up on what exactly you need to fix.

By Jacobs' theory, it is vitally important that you carefully learn the music you are working with correct rhythm, intonation and phrasing. Even if you can’t play something yet, having this perfect understanding will guide you in the right direction. The more refined your mental image, the more you will be able to refine your own playing.

I encourage you to look into Jacobs’ teachings. There have been some wonderful collections, CDs and books written that capture the essence of his teaching. Visit this website, and you will get a whole new understanding of “Jake” and how he has impacted the world of brass playing.

Here are a the books and CDs that have been published that contain the essence of his teaching. The CD is especially amazing for several reasons. First, he is actually the one talking and lecturing. And you get to hear him play – it will blow your mind to hear how he plays the tuba!

  • Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind. Brian Frederikson. Gurnee: Windsong Press Limited, 1996.

  • Arnold Jacobs: Legacy of a Master. Compiled by M. Dee Stewart. Northfield: Instrumentalist, 1992.

  • Portrait of an Artist. CD compilation. Summit(Classical): B00004UDEY. 2000.

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