Technical Development


Practice Techniques for any Technical Challenge

(Specifically Chromatics, but works for anything)

Before playing any technically challenging scale or music, please read and heed the following. “Hacking” in practice will produce hacking in performance, which is not pleasant for your audience to hear, as it completely obliterates any music you are trying to communicate. And for you, the performer, it not only causes you to loose the emotional content of your performance, it causes embarrassment, lose of confidence and big disappointment.

You cannot let your “musical soul” speak the feeling in the music if you are thinking about fingers or any other technique. You must train the physical parts of playing just like an athlete trains for any sport. Only when you have the physical habits perfected can you focus completely on the subtle nuances of interpretation to create genuine “music,” music that generates emotional content for you as well as your listeners.

So the good news is, you never have to make technical mistakes.The way you train is the way you'll play. Train wisely. If you are 100% positive your fingers/slide and counting are ready, you can then focus on aspects of your playing. If you are NOT 100% positive your fingers are ready, begin here:

Fingers/slide must move perfectly even and in perfect time.If your fingers/slides are uncoordinated and stumbling, you MUST work them before your horn touches your face. If you have to concentrate on fingers, you cannot work on the effortless effort of blowing the horn. You will be creating unnecessary physical tension and destroy your mental focus.

There are several ways to develop even, smooth and perfect fingers/slide:

Using fingers only:

A.   “Out of Time"  Finger each note, but do not move to the next note until you have visualized the fingering for the next note. Do not cheat! See your fingers change in your mind, only then do you move them percussively to the next note. "Pop" fingers down and” pop" them up as well. More than half of finger problems stem from laxity on the "upstroke."

B.   Valved brass: repeat the above process using your left hand fingers. Reverse your hand position. Yes, it will feel awkward, terribly awkward. But overcoming the awkwardness is exactly what will improve your finger control.  Trombones: you can slide left-handed by turning your slide 180 degrees. Yes, it will feel miserable.

C.     "In Time" – set the metronome on a tempo so slow that you cannot make a mistake. Go through the entire section you are working on at that tempo. If you make a finger mistake, even just a "bobble," slow the metronome down. For every mistake you make, slow it down 2 bpm. You must complete 5 perfect repetitions of the entire scale/exercise/song section before speeding up.

D.  Repeat step C with your left hand

E.   Repeat both C and D, moving the metronome up only 2 beats per minute until you reach the target tempo. (Yes, this IS boring! But you won’t make any mistakes when finished!)

F.   "Groups" – Finger the first beat plus the next downbeat, notes. Start SLOWLY and speed these up to 10 bpm past the target tempo. Repeat this process with your left hand (valved brass only). For the second group of 5, start on the next count, which will be the last note from the previous group? Repeat this process with your left hand. Next, add the first two groups together for a total of 9 notes. Start SLOWLY, so slow that you cannot make a mistake. Work up to 10 bpm past the target tempo. Repeat this process with your left hand. Continue this pattern throughout the entire scale, pattern or exercise.

G.  "Reverse 5's"Same as "Groups of 5," but start with the last 5 notes and work back to the   beginning.

H.  “I Feel the Need for SPEED”- Start with the first two notes, finger them as quickly as you can perfectly. Move the metronome up 2 bpm. If it's still clean and perfect, move up 2 more. When you reach the target tempo, repeat the process with your LEFT HAND.  When you reach the target tempo, add the 3rd note and start with the metronome back at the fastest tempo you can play them cleanly. If perfect with both right and left hands, up the met. 2 bpm until you reach the target tempo. Repeat the process with each note until you have the entire scale or section of musicianship faster than you need it and as fast as want it.

In all the scales, exercises and music you will find patterns that are very awkward! These are the ones to spend the most time with. Working the awkward finger changes and the most awkward tempos with BOTH hands (valved brass only) are exactly what you need to master finger technique.


While all of this may seem tedious, it is the quickest way to master this or any other physical technique, and the quickest way to ensure it will always be accurate in the future. In learning physical skills, "trial and error" is the worst learning tool possible. Every error trains your body to make that error again. Physical errors are NOT a necessity in training your technique. Make perfection in practice a habit and you will be programmed to have perfection in performance.

NOTICE:  As with all things musical, this is a process, a journey that will take weeks or months or maybe years to master. Do not cheat. The dividends include not only developing your technique  to an extremely high level, but also increased ease of playing, fluency, range, tone, volume control, confidence and musicianship in everything you play!    DrJ © 2005


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