Its a concept I hammer home with both my students and peers. Main reason? I even forget it myself sometimes.
The theory being that ALL brass players will shut off the air once in a while. It is after all a natural condition. Like a flinch when someone moves their hand near your face. We duck, cover and avoid the stimulus that appeared to "attack" us.
While seen most acutely in beginners and intermediate players you can see it many professionals too. Usually during or just before they start going into a downward playing spiral*. First we start playing too cozily in ensemble work. Typically we fear missing a note in an entrance. So we take a little off the tone. It's a recipe for disaster however because this means that we've cut off the air. Presto: a clammed note. Fearful from this experience we play even more "carefully" and ingrain the habit of timidity.
Band directors are often guilty of producing this timid approach in their students. Caught up in a world of music they forget the psychological hurdles their wind sections go through. So they make statements like:
"Don't be either the first nor the last note heard".
Advice which in and of itself isn't totally wrong and does have some value. Unfortunately it can induce excessive fear of failure. This in turn reinforces a habit of timidity. Watch for this in your peers, your students and most especially yourself.
I like to imitate the player who plays timidly in this evening rehearsal band I belong with. Just last week i took the second trumpet player to task for not putting enough air behind his horn. He agreed with my critique but i took the matter farther by imitating a very timid player in the trombone section. So i bent over my trumpet in a hunch, shook like I was nervous and played a series of weak, putrid tones of clams.
My young friend got a huge laugh from this as I made my point. Not to make fun of his friend but to point out the weak habit of allowing the horn to "own" the man behind the instrument.
When I took a lesson from Al Cass way back in the day (best lesson i ever had btw) he had me execute a large inhale and then yell at the top of my lungs the word "HAH". The neighbors must have thought we were crazy. Then he screamed at me again to yell even louder. He had me use my voice in order to release my inhibitions. And to test that i was really supporting my sound. Then when i picked up and blew through the horn his insults began.
"What's that weak, puny tone you're getting? BLOW dog gone it"!
The lesson eventually sunk in. The sound of a half crazy old Italian man half in the bag on warm Esslinger beer
yelling at you in his little shop when its 15 degrees above zero outside on a nasty New England winter afternoon isn't something one soon forgets lol. In the weeks and months that followed I would try and push as much air behind the horn every gig I had. Fortunately I was a five night a week working musician back in those days. So I had the opportunity to immediately utilize this aggressive air support concept.
In fact it worked wonders for my playing. Because of this lesson with Al I learned to switch from being just a side man to a dominating force within a band. LEADING, not just playing.
But there were other teachers who helped me along the way. The music educator Mr. John Allen from Andover, MA a great influence. I will pass on his favorite and most significant quote. Among the best I've ever heard:
"The biggest insult a brass player will ever hear is to be told he's not playing loud enough".
BURN that concept into the minds of your students. And even yourself if you haven't already. You will see incredible results almost immediately.
Dominance exudes confidence. Confidence = good entertainment in the minds of the audience. Conversely;
Timidity exudes weakness. Weakness = poor performance. Even if all the correct tones are played. Which usually won't happen. One is ten times more likely to hit a clam when playing with timidity.
* Al Cass told me that jazz great Red Rodney came to him for help nearly in tears. Red was losing his chops and in desperate straits. To which Al gave him the same "Sargent Hartman" pep talk he gave me. Only with even more bluster. Within six months Red went on to win some major favorable write up in Downbeat.