What is Brass for Beginners?
It is an interdisciplinary approach to the fundamentals of brass playing using the natural trumpet. Created by music and social science educators, Brass for Beginners® goes back to the basics:
It focuses on the development of fundamental techniques with an emphasis on aural skills, thoroughly preparing students for playing any of the modern brass instruments. Its interdisciplinary approach gives students a reason to make sound in the first place, unlocking creative and technical abilities by bringing human history and the history of lip-blown instruments to life.
The Brass for Beginners® methodology was developed over the course of a decade through the interaction with countless enthusiastic young learners, resulting in an effective and engaging approach, comprised of three basic elements:
I. Use of the Natural Trumpet
The natural trumpet (sometimes referred to as the Baroque trumpet) is simply a long trumpet without valves. It was the trumpet used across Europe from the 15th through the mid 19th centuries, and is a common ancestor to all modern brass instruments. A modified, user-friendly version is an ideal pedagogical tool for learning the fundamentals of brass playing. Learn More
In traditional beginning band programs, students are faced with countless variables: learning to read rhythmic notation and notes on the staff, coordinating corresponding fingerings/slide positions, learning basic sound production, articulation, and at the same time, needing to find the correct harmonic for any fingering/slide position. This can result in a slow-going, frustrating, and musically uninspiring first year with a modern brass instrument.
The use of the natural trumpet reduces theses variables significantly, helping students to focus on what is most important in the early stages of development: sound production, articulation, and navigation of the harmonic series. The harmonic series of the natural trumpet, which offers several accessible notes in the middle and lower register, all form consonant intervals. This means that all notes “sound good,” which allows students to play in the range that is most comfortable at first, building confidence in sound production, while instruction focuses on fundamental issues such as posture, embouchure development, and breathing. By establishing good habits of sound production and technique from the outset, students are more likely to have a positive and rewarding experience when they start a modern brass instrument.
II. "Learning by ear"
The use of the natural trumpet offers limitless opportunities for “learning-by-ear”, which promotes the development of students’ aural skills as they learn the basics. This makes Brass for Beginners® similar to the language-based approach found in the Suzuki method, which has proven extremely effective in stimulating musical and technical development for young string players.
Younger brass players rarely have the opportunity to develop this critical musical skill, and because they are confronted with so many variables at the outset, it can be very difficult for them to hear the relationship between the pitches they are producing. Learning by ear using the harmonic series of the natural trumpet is an extremely effective way to develop the connection between sound production and pitch or interval awareness, which is critical for success on all brass instruments. Students learn either by listening to their classroom teacher and/or by playing along with online sound files.
III. Interdisciplinary Approach
The Brass for Beginners® interdisciplinary curriculum uncovers the origins and meaning of music itself, by exploring the role lip-blown instruments have played throughout human history. This results in an engaging and meaningful learning experience for both students and their teachers. Learn how it works
Because of the natural trumpet’s place in history and the fact that it relates to all lip-blown instruments, it a great bridge to the past, providing a wealth of interdisciplinary subject matter.
At a time when arts programming is often on the chopping block in public schools, it is more important than ever to find ways to connect arts education to core educational disciplines such as the social science and humanities. A truly interdisciplinary approach can be extremely effective, not only in checking off boxes for administrators, but in giving students the context they need in order to make deep personal connections to learning an instrument.
“Back to the Basics” doesn’t mean lower intellectual content. Even the youngest students are capable of understanding complex ideas and making sophisticated connections with the world around them. Learning the origins of lip-blown instruments and their development throughout human history using the fields of history, archaeology, geography, religion, and art – pushes students to think more broadly about five often-ignored questions in music classes: who, what, why, where, and when. These questions hold the key to students’ ability to be reflective and imaginative about the quality and meaning of the sounds that they create.