Category Archives: Music programs

Brass instruments for beginners and pros

 

As one of the broadest categories of musical instruments, there’s a lot to consider when pursuing playing a wind instrument. Brass or woodwind is just one if the many questions a musician must ask themselves, then it’s on to narrowing it down to the instrument itself.

Like with any other category, there are myriad options to choose from. To help narrow down the search, here’s a guide to the some of the most popular brass instruments for all levels of skill. 

 

Trombone 

 

Dating back to the 15th Century, the trombone is one of the oldest brass instruments there is. Its sound is solid and unmistakeable – even in a symphony orchestra, a bold blast from the trombone player is never missed. It’s a little less trendy today than it once was and is considered more of a marching band look than a rock star one with kids and teenagers. That’s not to say it isn’t a valued. In jazz circles, the trombone dominates and its masters, like J.J. Johson and Carl Fontana, are worshipped.

Beginners can’t go wrong with Mendini’s B Flat Tenor Slide Trombone for $129.99. Players love its easy slide and the white gloves that come with it.

 

Mendini B flat Tenor slide trombone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A more experienced trombone player may want to consider a more expensive piece of kit like a King. At $2,249, the King 2166 3B Valve Trombone is a treat for professionals who want the sleek, shiny comfort of a valve section. It’s a beautiful instrument and one which will stand the test of time if cared for properly.

King 2166 3B Valve Trombone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trumpet 

 

The trumpet offers a sharper, brighter sound than the trombone and often adds moments of levity and lightness to darker arrangements. It shines in the middle register between a G3 and G5.  The earliest instruments which resembled the trumpet were used as battle horns and date back to 1500BC. Today, it remains popular in schools and normally takes a dignified backseat to glorified guitarists and vocalists in mainstream bands.

Mendini’s MTT-L Trumpet Bb is a hugely popular trumpet for $89.99. The friendly price point makes it a go-to for kids or other beginners who are eager to take up an instrument.

Mendini's MTT-L Trumpet Bb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pros are may want to look to a more sophisticated model like the Bach Stradavarius Series Bb Its price ($2,829) reflects its heightened quality. The trumpet comes in silver and with an elegant brown leather trunk for transporting it.

 

Bach Stradavarius Series Bb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Horn

 

With its wrapped brass tubing and dramatic flared bell, the French horn certainly grabs the eye. Its the third highest sounding instrument in the brass category beneath the trumpet and the cornet. Its normally reserved for classical music.

Beginners can’t go wrong with Ammoon’s B/BB Flat 3 Key horn for $179.99.

Ammoon’s B/BB Flat 3 Key Horn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a fuller bellied sound and higher quality, Hans Hoyer makes show-stopping pieces with startling price tags including its uble French HornHeritage 6802 Bb/F Do for $5,035.

 

uble French HornHeritage 6802 Bb/F Do

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuba

 

The largest and lowest pitched instrument in the brass family, the tuba is one of the most show-stopping pieces of the band. Next to the cello, there are few instruments which command so much attention because of its size. Its younger than others in the family, finding its origins in 1835.

Because of its size, it’s more expensive than other brass instruments. Again, Mendini makes a great option for beginners with its $399 Brass B Flat model

Mendini Brass B flat tuba

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schiller make more advanced models including its rotary 4-valve BBb tube for a reasonable $1,930 and its 4-valve Piston tuba in a nickel finish for $1,292.

Schiller silver 4-valve BBb tube 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a more modern take on the brass look, Cool Wind boasts a collection of coloured finishes on its 4-valve BBb tuba for $1,245.

Cornet 

 

The corner is similar to the trumpet but is smaller and has a conical bore. Its tone is mellower and less piercing than the trumpet and it’s not as well known by non-musicians. Still, it’s a unique instrument which can add vital undertones to any piece of music.

To hear the difference, check out this video comparing the two:

The good news about this lesser known instrument is that, like the trumpet, it’s cheaper than a lot of other members of the brass family. A decent beginner item, such as the Tristar which comes with a case and MP, will set you back just $100.

Tristar cornet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More sophisticated versions are offered by Ravel for $343.

 

Ravel cornet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If a brass instrument isn’t for you, you might want to consider wind or a different family altogether. Check out our guides on the ukulele, drums, bass guitar and violin for inspiration.

Using Amazon Echo as a musician or music teacher

There’s been a lot of noise around Amazon’s latest tech product, the $179 Echo. Most of the excitement is focused on how it can improve the user’s home life by performing voice-activated functions.  But there are a handful of ways the Echo can boost productivity for musicians.

Here’s a list of all the ways the device can help with your music career.

 

Amazon-Echo

**You can get a great deal on an Echo here.**

Listening

 

This one may sound obvious, but the benefit of having voice-controlled stop and start functions when listening back is revolutionary for musicians.

Musicians don’t just listen to music for enjoyment. They sometimes need to study music to get ready for a gig or analyze something for a student. Think about it, one of the hardest things about learning a tune is having to constantly put down the instrument or interrupt your work flow to set the tune up and run it again.

The Echo completely streamlines this clunky process. Simply instruct Alexa, the AI assistant which performs all of the Echo functions, to stop and start when yore ready or you want to move on to another tune. The Echo even has a search function, so you can even search through YouTube for tunes you need work on without getting up from your instrument.

 

Recording

 

If you are a performing or composing musician, you understand the importance of documenting ideas and using them later. Amazon Echo has the ability to record your voice, or whatever instrument you may be playing, so you can save it for later when you are ready to develop the idea further. Both the microphone and the speakers on this device are surprisingly effective considering the size of the device.

 

Tuning

 

One of the most impressive features of the Echo is its implementation of Alexa Skills. Alexa, the robot which carries out all the functions and takes her queues from the voice-over, has a range of built-in functions which lie in a drop down menu on the Alexa app.

Among the skills is a guitar tuner. From the other side of the room, the musician can demand to hear a perfect A from the speaker, just as they would from a guitarist in a band. It’ll be right every time too.

Here it is being used by someone for the first time. After instructing Alexa to enable the tuner, the user can be heard demanding what note he wants to hear. The Echo returns it four times.

 

My Metronome

 

My Metronome is another built-in Alexa skill. It keeps the tempo for musicians, holding from 10 to 300 beats a minute. To activate it, just tell her what you need by shouting: ‘Alexa, start My Metronome and 80 beats per minute,’ for example.

Of course, if you’d rather use your own, there are some great options here and here.

 

Lessons

 

One of the coolest things about Alexa is her ability to teach you how to play an instrument. There is even a built in app designed to help you learn how to play the piano. It is very simple, making it a great device for those who are beginners to playing music and children who have very little experience learning an instrument. It starts you off by teaching you simple notes and showing you where they are. Eventually, you will work your way to being able to play a duet with Alexa! The songs are pretty simple and mostly consist of nursery rhymes, but they can be a great primer for a student who is interested in taking piano lessons who’s parents are not sure if they are really going to be into it.

 

 

The Echo also has a built in function that will play back any note that you ask and can even play a series of notes, providing students with a reference point for a pitch when they are practicing. This means you can test out ideas ahead of time or even use the device as a means to improve your ear training by trying to sing the pitch before the Echo plays it. There is even a quiz on the Echo that you can use to work on your ear. It will play a note and you will try to guess what it is. This may seem like a skill you are either born with or not but the ear is something you can develop over time and, with enough work, you can almost give yourself perfect pitch.

Play-a-longs

 

If you are an improvising musician, you know one of the best ways to practice is to simply improvise. Of course, you can’t always call your friends to have them come over and play some tunes with you, so you need a solution. One way you can use the Amazon Echo to practice is to utilize play a longs. A play along is a recording of music that has your part taken out, so you can play as if you are playing with a band in a live situation. One popular version of these for jazz musicians is the Jamey Aebersold series. He has recorded thousands of tunes that students can practice over ranging from jazz to funk and RnB classics. Download them to your Echo and get started today.

Here’s an idea of the sound quality you can expect

 

Amazon Dot: A cheaper version of the Echo

 

The Echo sits a stop a cylinder speaker which is powerful enough to be used alone. But if $179 is too steep a price tag, the Dot is a great alternative. At $49, it’s considerably less expensive and performs pretty much all of the same functions as the larger Echo.

The only major difference is the lack of speaker. So if you have your own already, the dot may be the way to go.

Amazon-Dot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon Echo Show: The Echo with a touchscreen

A huge hook of the Echo is its voice-controlled function. In commercials it plays out very smoothly and it appeals to a lazier, Siri-obsessed generation. But some people would still like to have the option to control the device by hand.

 

Amazon-Echo-show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To accommodate them, Amazon recently released the Echo Show which combines the Echo with a touch screen for easy use. It’s the most expensive device in the range at $229. In essence, it looks like an iPad with a speaker attached at the bottom.

It can however be a great tool for musicians who are trying to learn lyrics. The Echo Show will display the words on screen. It’s also a great way to pull up sheet music to play along to with a tune running in the background for support

Interview with an artist: Brandon Mills

Brandon Mills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not all musicians forge their careers out of unbridled ambition. For some, the road to a full-time job in the industry happens by accident, chance or fate.

New York-based folk pop artist Brandon Mills didn’t always have his sights set on it. For him, it took tours of Afghanistan and Iraq in one of the deadliest divisions of the Marine Corps to discover his calling.

Today he lives with two roommates in a four-bedroom apartment in Harlem and is about to launch his third album, the first he has ever shared with anyone. It is the product of a bluegrass-infused upbringing in Kentucky, solemn solitude with his guitar in the chaplain of army base camps and a reluctant, years-long struggle with PTSD.

‘I’ve found a lot of healing and empowerment through music,’ Brandon tells Music Education Madness.

After a brief childhood fling with the saxophone, the now 32-year-old had a casual relationship with the guitar until 2004, when he was deployed to Afghanistan with an infantry unit. Three years later, he was in Iraq with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, a revered Special Forces unit. It was there, between his field missions, that Brandon would sneak into the chapel to play a lonely guitar that had been left out after prayer services.

‘It was a distraction and it was equally an important to use as a tool to process what was going on. Things that I couldn’t say to anybody, things that I couldn’t even express vocally, I could put in songs. It was the war, loss, life and all the challenges of war that are hard to talk about.’

He played and wrote alone, occasionally watching the permanent administrative staff on the ground pick up the prized guitar for a light-hearted jam session.

‘The military looks at any vulnerability as weakness and there’s a functionality to that, so I get it. [But] it meant I didn’t share my feelings or talk about much of anything. The guys that were on base all the time, they were just practising and having a good time [when they played]. I didn’t know them very well but it seemed like a different thing.’

In 2008, Brandon left the Marines and was suddenly aimless. He traveled the world with charities in an attempt to occupy himself, all-the-while trying frantically to keep the creeping clutches of post traumatic stress disorder at bay.

‘I was in complete denial that I had PTSD. I was stubborn and hard-headed, hard-hearted and hyper vigilant once I got out. It was a part of my brain that I couldn’t turn off. It’s a hard thing – we have a mission and we’re good, gifted at it and then we get out and there’s no more mission and we’re at a loss.’

He settled in Hawaii in 2010, taking a well-paying job as a private contractor. It was this, with its six-figure salary and easy-lifestyle, which finally laid bare his crisis.

‘I had a lot of money but not a lot to do. I thought it was everything I’d ever want but I wasn’t happy, so I prayed. I had to experience that financial security to realise how empty it was, for me,’ he says. emphatically.

A year later, he ditched it to move to Harlem and start courses in audio engineering, music production and sound design at the City College of New York – ‘an amazing program’.

Now, Brandon plays small gigs at independent venues across the city and subsidises his life by with bar-tending  and catering (‘I actually love it. I love serving people’.) Last year, he opened for Jason Derulo at Times Square. When he can afford to pay them, he likes having support on stage in the form of other musicians. Otherwise, it’s just him, his Martin D- 28  and a harmonica which he uses nostalgically to inject the soul of that Kentucky childhood into performances.

As he prepares for the launch of his third album, he is grateful for his winding path to full-time music.

‘The freedom I have is remarkable. To do what I love and get paid for it…’ he tails off.

In addition to shopping around for a label, Brandon hopes to kick-start a music program to support other vets through PTSD.

For more about Brandon’s music, visit his website here

 

Related: BEING BLUE PART 1 – A STORY ABOUT GROWING UP TO DRUM FOR THE BLUE MAN GROUP

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