Sound better by Gord Thompson

Practise basics from Gord Thompson

If you have feedback or comments please email

As I conduct New Horizons Bands, and observe my colleagues doing the same, it has been evident that there are several musical instructions being given repeatedly that ought to be learned and put into practice without constant reminders. Here's a summary and brief description:

Produce your best sound

Your very first lesson focused on sitting position, embouchure and blowing enough air into the instrument to produce a good tone. Many players forget some of these fundamentals – stand may be too low resulting in a slouched position, and looking down instead of at the level to see the conductor; not taking enough air in to support the tone from the diaphragm; pinching to reach higher notes when a stronger embouchure is needed. I recommend increasing your range by only one semitone from your comfort level and not trying to play high notes that sound poor. Good equipment is important, especially a proper reed and mouthpiece.

Observe dynamics

Music becomes more enjoyable for the listener when played with the intended expression. The composers and arrangers identify volume levels for good reason, so always observe and practice volume control, expression and phrasing, even when practicing alone. Lyrical passages should be “sung” with a suitable shape and style.

Keep a steady rhythm

If you don't use a metronome, keep one ticking in your mind. Account for every beat when interpreting rhythms; pretend someone is dancing to your music. Usually the first beat is strong, and it sets up the rhythm of the following phrase. Recognize how pickup notes lead to the strong beats. If you get off the beat, don't keep going without listening – your part must fit with the other parts, so accurate counting requires as much listening as reading notes and rests. Play with confidence, focus and precision. Any amount of practice will improve the quality of your music. Don't be afraid to make mistakes in practice situations, and do enough practice to play pieces to the best of your ability well before concert time. We have 5 levels of band difficulty, and you should be in the one that provides a challenge, but where you are able to be reasonably successful.

Continue to learn

Reading music requires an understanding of a new alphabet with strange symbols. Studying and interpreting various rhythmic structures is an essential part of learning music. Listen to quality musical performances to gain an understanding of how your music may sound eventually. Performing well is what makes band music fun, meaning gratifying. And putting these suggestions into practice will save the constant reminders from your conductors. I hope you have been patting your back as you read these comments, but there may be a few suggestions that will help your musicianship, and reduce the number of times your conductors repeat things like, “You missed that sfzp!”