AIR, BLOW & CANTA
THE A, B, C OF THE HORN
My teaching philosophy is based upon the approach to music through singing (bel canto), in order to bring a student to believe in his own ambition and to build up a wonderful sound, not leaving out, however, the technical development which allows easy expression in any musical form.
The basic elements of my philosophy are the following: AIR development, BLOW, and CANTO (singing) as a mean for conveying one's musical ideas.
Every wind instrumentalist should know his breathing ability and, after exploring his quantitative and time limits, will be able to broaden them with the he help of certain devices called SPIROMETERS. In the morning, before beginning one's practice, one should do some breathing exercises; first breathing in/out with the balloon, with the metronome at 60, for a few minutes. Then do breathing exercises with the spirometer, always with the metronome at 60, starting with the spirometer regulation at 0 and gradually increasing it up to 12.
During practice, whether concertos or orchestral excerpts, one should keep the habit of blowing in/out with the balloon, in order to maintain a clear feeling of the air flux.
An instrumentalist should always breathe while keeping in mind the tempo and the dynamics of the piece.
When the ease and consciousness of breathing have been acquired, one learns to blow into the mouthpiece producing a BUZZ, a vibration which, according to the air speed and quantity, will vary in intensity and harmonic content.
The mouthpiece plays the role of an insulator for the lips, helping to produce a good vibration.
A note: what is a good vibration? It depends on an air stream that is adjusted to the pressure, on a meticulous listening to intonation and sound form, and on a strong breath support. In order to have good control and an even sound quality throughout the range, one should attain a correct embouchure and firm anchoring. The main points of this exercise are:
- to lean the mouthpiece against relaxed lips;
- to anchor;
- to breathe in a relaxed way, without stretching the mouth's corners; it's important that the corners be always forward and inward, but never tense;
- to play.
Singing is a fundamental part of my philosophy. I use it to perceive and hear the intonation and to vocalize the notes clearly. First one should have an idea, then it can be put in practice by singing. So by singing a concerto, by vocalizing it, one can center the sounds better and more precisely.
Each vowel sound produces a different sound color: an A, for example, is clearer than an O; an I will be more intense and focused than a U. All must be taken into account and chosen in agreement with the repertory. When playing one should always think of some vowel sound, without inflection on the single notes (so as to avoid the TWA-TWA). One should never sing the name of the note, but rather think to a broader vocalization. In order to achieve a broader variety, the pupil should try different combinations of vocals and consonants, different articulation types, and different hand positions.
The use of the abdominal muscles is important in order to lighten the lip's work, as the notes should always start from the bottom, never from the lip. The abs must be used according to one's needs: in the forte, in the piano, for entrances, in the low and high ranges, and so on.
For an efficient use, the abdominal muscles must always be supported by a steady flux of air.
A color for each piece of music
The horn's repertoire is so wide that a musician should be educated in order to perform adequately in every style. However the study method should also be tailored to the individual student, in view of technical development.
From the Baroque to contemporary music, one can think of thousands of combinations of Air, Blow, Song, consonants and vowels. I like to think of the comparison between a musician and a painter. Just like a painter, we too can use a palette with many colors, creating an infinite number of nuances, use many different paint brushes to achieve the desired effect. For example, for Bach I prefer the consonants D and T; I, U and O for the vowel sounds. In Mahler I use all consonants and all vowels except E.
The basic principles for every student are discipline and study (see study plan).
In each exercise, concerto or orchestral excerpt we'll work on air fluxes and muscular development. In fact, several muscles are needed as support to allow the musician to play efficiently. Among these we may recall:
The risorius arises in the fascia over the parotid gland and, passing horizontally forward, superficial to the platysma, joins the skin at the angle of the mouth. It is a narrow bundle of fibers, broadest at its origin, but varies much in its size and form.
The buccinator is a thin quadrilateral muscle, occupying the space between the maxilla and the mandible at the side of the face.
The levator anguli oris (caninus) is a facial muscle of the mouth arising from the canine fossa, immediately below the infraorbital foramen. Its fibers are inserted into the angle of the mouth, intermingling with those of the Zygomaticus, Triangularis, and Orbicularis oris.
The orbicularis oris is the sphincter muscle around the mouth. It is also one of the muscles used in the playing of all brass instruments and some woodwind instruments. This muscle closes the mouth and puckers the lips when it contracts.
After considering all the main muscles of interest to us, I can say that they are all necessary; however my long experience as a musician and as a teacher tells me that the muscles come after Air, Blow, Song and the search for a beautiful sound. Obviously, a musician can't attain a professional level if his muscles are not well trained.
How to train the muscles
Treating this topic I refer to my past experience in sports. In order to train muscles one needs sequences of repeated exercises to make a constant consolidation work, in particular with regard to flexibility and mass. After thousands of repetitions our brains acquire the right ways to activate the muscles and will be able to follow them naturally, without thinking; this is analogous to children learning information about language and body movements.
The purpose of my philosophy
All these aspects of my philosophy have the purpose of exploring the idea of beauty in music and, in this way, attaining the most beautiful sound. This will help us to play better by exploiting all our possibilities, but always using the ear, brain, and muscles.
In conclusion, I would like to cite my great teacher, Arnold Jacobs: “The greatest friends of a wind musician are: breath, ear and brain”.
This is the dictionary of the most important concepts which one should follow in order to know music and our own instrument:
(Note: Some of the letters refer to the original Italian words. -ed.)
AIR, ARTICULATION (work on consonants), AMBITION, ANALYSIS, HARMONY, ART, SELF-ESTEEM
BLOWING, BUZZ, BEAUTY OF SOUND
SINGING, CREATIVITY, COLORS (vocals), CONCEPT, CONCENTRATION, REPERTORY KNOWLEDGE
DISCIPLINE, DETAILS, DETERMINATION, DICTION
EXPRESSION, ELEGANCE, EMOTIVITY
GENIALITY, GRIT, GALLANT
HISTORY of HORN, MUSIC, COMPOSERS
INTONATION, SETTING, IMITATION
MUSCLES, METRIC, MEAN, METHOD
POSTURE, PERSEVERANCE, POSITIVITY, THOUGHT, PASSION
BREATH, RHYTHM, REFINEMENT
SOUND, SPIROMETER, STUDY, SENSIBILITY
TEMPERAMENT, TERMINOLOGY (largo, lento, adagio, moderato, allegro, vivace)
WILL, WIN, VITALITY
Luca Benucci has been active as a performer, pedagogue, and conductor in Italy and abroad for many years. His ensembles include the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (where he is principal horn), the Nuovo Quintetto Italiano, Italian Brass Quintet, and the Italian Jazz Horn Ensemble. He is the Artistic Director of the Italian Brass Academy and serves as president of the Italian Chamber Orchestra. Luca Benucci conducts the “Filarmonica Leopolda” wind orchestra and is the director of the Leopolda Music School.