Drum Corps chop conditioning?

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Myshilohmy, Jan 5, 2011.

  1. Myshilohmy

    Myshilohmy Pianissimo User

    Jan 6, 2009
    Does anyone have any really good conditioning exercises to prepare for drum corps this summer? I'm also looking to improve my overall sound-I sound fuzzy sometimes when I get above the staff or play real quiet and I think mouthpiece buzzing might fix this? There's also some lip trills and slurs I've been doing, and I want to try the Hoo-Too-Too thing to strengthen my face muscles, I have a leaky lip when I get tired. Any advice to get me in good shape for the summer?
  2. Scatmanblues

    Scatmanblues Pianissimo User

    Jul 19, 2010
    West Texas
    There are lots of things to do to get ready for drum corps, and only about half of them have anything to do with playing the horn.

    First and foremost, realize that performing with a drum corps is much more similar to an athletic event like a soccer match than it is to a concert. If you are unprepared for the physical demands, then no matter how good you are as a musician, you won't shine come the shows.

    To do your best in a marching environment you need to be spending as much time working on your physical conditioning and marching fundamentals as you do your playing.

    In short, you should be preparing in four areas:
    1. Physical conditioning
    2. Marching fundamentals
    3. Playing fundamentals
    4. Combining marching and playing CORRECTLY

    I'll give you some examples in each, but know you need to develop a consistent routine for all of them.

    1. Physical conditioning:

    This consists of three areas: flexibility, strength, and endurance. You'll need all three to survive a summer in drum corps.

    Full-body stretching should be a daily part of your routine. The more flexible you are, the easier it is to execute marching maneuvers, and the more relaxed you will be while doing it. That directly translates to an easier blow and improved playing and endurance. In particular, you want a rock solid core to support your movement and air production. Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, whatever. Just stretch every day. We used to stretch 20-30 minutes every morning in corps.

    You need strength, especially in your core and legs, so that your body does not have to spend the energy you need to play trying to keep you upright. Arm strength is also important because you'll be holding your horn at attention several hours each day, and push-ups are the consequence of choice for screw-ups. Focus on low-weight, high-rep strength training because marching is about the lean muscle of the runner/soccer player rather than the bulk of the offensive lineman.

    Finally, cardiovascular conditioning is the absolute ROCK SOLID CORE of marching and playing success. If you are sucking wind because you are tired, there is NO WAY you can play your horn well. You should build your entire physical training regimen around building up cardiovascular endurance. Your breathe control sets the stage for everything else, period. The exercise we used for developing breathe control was to breathe in and out according to steps. So, say you are walking down the hall at school. Inhale a deep, full breath for 8 steps, then let it out in a steady blow for 8 steps. At the end of the exhale the goal is to have NO air left in the lungs. Repeat that until you can maintain a constant air flow across the entire 8 counts of the exhale (without tensing or closing off the throat). Then, do the same, but only inhale for 4 steps. Then 2. Then, finally, take a deep breath in 1 step and exhale for 8 with a steady and strong flow. Once you've mastered the 8 step exhale, do the same progression of breathing exercises with a 12 step exhale, and finally a 16 step exhale. If you're really good, you can do that while jogging (we used to run a mile a day taking timed breaths). The progression of breathing exercises can also be done while sitting or laying in bed at night (its a great way to relax -I still use it when I have trouble going to sleep).

    Marching fundamentals:

    Quick test -find a big mirror and face it. Now, put your horn in playing position with mouthpiece to chops. March 8/5 towards the mirror and focus on looking at the reflection of the top of your head and end of the bell in the mirror. If either is bounding up and down at all you are not isolating your upper body while marching (thus putting excessive and unpredictable strain and pressure onto your chops with every bobble). If you're doing that, you'll have no endurance no matter how long you can play sitting or standing still.

    Your goal should be to march towards the mirror and have no visible bounce in either your head or horn. When you can do that moving forward, then do the same marching backwards. Then work crab steps. Then march forward and backward parallel to the mirror, but with your upper body turned towards the mirror going in both directions. Then practice making direction changes without letting the horn bounce or move.

    Now, some tips for how to get there:

    1. Your hips are key. If you lower your hips even a little while moving it will allow your legs to absorb more of the shock of the steps. Stiff legs = bounce. You can still maintain an upright posture in your back and shoulders while doing so.

    2. Stretch, stretch, stretch. The more flexible you are in your legs and lower body, the easier it is to move fluidly and twist into position. You'll be amazed how much easier it is to turn your shoulders perpendicular to your hips with a week or two of good stretching exercises.

    3. Build your core. Strengthen the muscles of your core with solid exercises (plenty out there such as Yoga, Pilates, or if you don't want to do that good old-fashioned push-ups and sit-ups) and they will improve your stability and allow you to march longer with less fatigue. It will also improve your balance -a key factor in staying stable while playing and moving. Another trick to work the core and improve balance -stand at attention with the horn in playing position. Now, pick up one foot and put it next to your other knee with your toe pointed down. Stay there for 5-10 seconds, then alternate feet and do it again. The goal -as always- is to be able to move from foot to foot and have no movement in the horn or head.

    4. Perfect your glide step. You want to move lightly ACROSS the field, not step ON the field. I don't know which type of marching step your corps teaches, so I can't give you specific advice, but a universal truth is that the goal is to tread lightly, rolling from the heel to the toe smoothly, with as consistent a step as possible. You should be able to close your eyes, put your horn to your face, and march 8/5 for 10-15 yards and land within an inch of the yardline every time. If you can march that far and accurately with your eyes closed, you'll know you've smoothed out your step and balance.

    5. DON'T EVEN BOTHER PLAYING WHILE DOING ANY OF THIS UNTIL YOU HAVE ELIMINATED THE BOUNCE!!!!!! You want to build GOOD habits and only put the playing to the marching AFTER you have built a strong foundation of marching fundamentals. Even after you have gotten comfortable and stable you should practice marching alone every day to maintain the body and muscle memory.

    Playing fundamentals:

    This post is too long already, and too many other people have done a great job here of discussing building a strong base of playing fundamentals. Your general plan is a good first step, but read more here about building endurance to get even more ideas.

    Combining marching and playing:

    This is the trickiest step, and it is important not to rush it. You should really focus on isolating and getting comfortable with marching fundamentals before you put playing to it. Introduce playing the horn slowly. Start by doing straight marching while playing long tones. Listen for wobble in the pitch from your steps and focus on being as smooth as possible. Don't move on until you can play scales in whole notes with no wobble while marching. Then, do the same with half notes, then quarter notes, then eighth notes, and finally your marching music. Do the same marching forwards, backwards, while making turns, with crab steps, etc.

    Plan to spend AT LEAST a few hours a week working marching fundamentals if you want to see any real improvement. Even then, it can take the entire off-season to really build the habits you want to develop. Also, that's what off-season camps are for with the corps. Those weekends will expose you to the marching techniques that corps uses, and should send you home with plenty of ideas for the specific areas you need to work on.

    One last detail about drum corps that I think pertains here, and which I hope will put you a little more at ease. Drum corps (in the majority of cases) are not full of astounding technical musicians who can play circles around a flitting bumblebee. If you are a solid high school player with a strong embouchure you can handle the book in a drum corps (excepting most lead and solo parts). Only in the top 10 or so corps is the musical and playing skill at a high collegiate level. Most corps play at the level of a good high school band, but just spend more time polishing and refining the final product to make a better show by the end of the season. Don't psych yourself out that your playing or marching isn't the best. More important is being able to play well enough while marching to hit the part -and they'll spend a whole spring and summer getting you there.

  3. Ed Lee

    Ed Lee Utimate User

    Aug 16, 2009
    Jackson NC
    Doesn't really matter what type of music you are playing, the problems with Lip strength, embouchure and aperture are common to all of us. However, individually we may have more or less of a problem than another. There just isn't an instant or any magic procedure or gimmick to correct these instantly whereas it takes time preferably under competent one on one instruction, but time nonetheless practicing.
  4. JLSmith526

    JLSmith526 Pianissimo User

    Feb 16, 2010
    Scatman is right on.

    The playing thing will come. I don't think there is a great way to get your face in shape to play that many hours a day, while running around a football field.

    Work a lot on your core strength, this is will help save your face on the field, and make you look way better.

    Another great exercise is high mark time, when you have great core strength and control, you should be able to high mark time with almost no movement in your upper body.

    Stretch a lot, right now. This will help keep you from getting injured on tour. During all days is when you see the most injuries. And a lot of that injury can be avoided by stretching out well. So get in the habit now of doing a lot of stretching.

    The breathing gym is something else I can highly recommend. I used it in both of the drum corps that I marched, and I have seen it implemented into a lot of different brass programs, this will be greatly beneficial. If nothing else when you go jogging meter your breathing. This is the one thing I wished I would have learned well in my first 2 years of marching. learn to meter your breathing even when you are extremely tired, it will be your life saver when you are in the closer doing 200 bpm at a 4 to 5, playing loud technical runs.

    And spend a lot of time now holding your horn up. If you're marching trumpet, then you really will be looked down upon by other members of the hornline if you can't hold your horn up. I can't lie I got mad when the trumpet players struggled to hold their horns up, and I only marched mello. So if you're in the mood to listen or watch drum corps, stand up (with good posture) and hold your horn at playing position for a show or two. It will help out a lot.

    Where are you marching at?

    Best of of luck!
  5. Myshilohmy

    Myshilohmy Pianissimo User

    Jan 6, 2009
    Thanks you guys! That was a ton of info and will definitely help a lot! I plan on auditioning for Carolina Crown.

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