Warming Up the Brass Section

Sep 11, 2019

For the last few weeks, we’ve been focusing our attention on warm-up techniques for different sections of the orchestra.

We started this whole process off with an article on warm-up techniques for the piano, then moved on the guitar and bass, vocalists, and finally last week, we visited the woodwind section. If you’ve been following along with us, then by now you should understand just how important it is to warm up your body and your instrument before you perform, or even just practice.

Warming up helps prepare and protect both your body and your instrument from stress, strain, and injury (or damage in the case of your instrument). Just like the athlete that needs to warm up their body with stretches and a specific routine to avoid disaster, so too does the smart musician.

And so, this week we’ll be exploring warm-up techniques for another section of the orchestra: the brass section. When it comes to brass instruments, try to remind yourself of the fundamentals of sound production. There are four stages: Posture, breathing, buzzing, and finally, the horn itself.


It doesn’t take a medical expert to tell you how important it is to have good posture. Not only is it important for your continued health, it’s an important part of performing.

Stand Tall

Before you even take your instrument out of its case, try doing a few exercises related to posture and breathing. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and imagine that the top of your head is attached to a string that is hung from the ceiling. This helps to get your head up and back, which helps put your spine into the best position to reduce the chances of putting too much strain on the muscles of your upper back. This also happens to help open the throat for increased resonance, which will come in handy a bit later.

Next, slide your shoulder blades down towards the floor – not inward, but downward. This drops your shoulders down and back, while also raising your sternum and opening the chest cavity. All of this helps to provide stress relief for your skeleton, and body overall. As a matter of fact, you’ll probably notice that with good posture, breathing is easier.

Which brings us to our next topic.


There are two things to keep in mind then it comes to your breathing: 1. Always inhale as much air as you can, and 2. Keep your airflow constant.

Continuous Breath

The first exercise to try involves working on seamless in-and-out airflow; continuous breathing. Keep your throat muscles relaxed and open (as if you’re yawning), and inhale and then exhale in one motion. Think about when you toss a ball into the air; it seems to change direction and come back down without ever stopping its motion.

Practice inhaling and exhaling like this until you feel that you’ve achieved one smooth motion with your breath. Once you’ve got it down, continue doing it while you attend to other things – this will help internalize the concept in your mind.

Next, with your exhale, you’ll want to push the air out until you have nothing left in you. When you do this, you should feel your abdominal muscles tighten. The point of this exercise is for you to feel that and be aware of it. Keep a close watch on your posture as you perform this exercise – you don’t want your chest to collapse while you do it.

Finally, breathe in as much air as you possibly can. While maintaining everything we’ve discussed to this point, start taking in even larger breaths. Focus on filling yourself with air from your hips to your collar bones. After about 5 breaths or so, you should feel your lungs stretching with each breath. Performing this exercise on a regular basis will help improve your lung capacity.


It’s finally time to use (a part of) your instrument! Grab the mouthpiece and hold it lightly between your thumb and index finger at the base of the shank. Place it on your embouchure and buzz a mid-range note. Make sure you find the balance between the resistance created by the aperture of your lips and the compression from your air. This is where and how you find the true center of your pitch.

The Siren

Still only using your mouthpiece, pick a starting note, and slowly and evenly slide up and down into the adjacent notes. Try to make it sound like an old air-raid siren. Keep practicing this until it is internalized like the breathing exercise from before.

The Horn

Finally, you’re ready to take the rest of your horn out of its case!

At this point, scales are a good idea. Try the Vincent Chicowicz Flow Study #1.

The first few lines are taken at a quarter note equals 50 bpm, then the tempo begins to increase as you progress to accommodate for the longer lines. This exercise usually carries on all the way to the high “D” above the staff using the same base scale pattern.

It’s at this point that you can start using your tongue at the beginning of each line. But keep in mind that the air is what starts the note, not your tongue – your tongue is only there to clean up the start of each note. Try singing the notes in your mind as you play them. Keep the air moving all the way through from beginning to end.


If you perform these exercises on a daily basis, before each and every practice session, you should be able to maintain a level of consistency and improve your endurance – both of which should help you feel more confident to meet whatever performing challenges you might encounter. Once you go through the process of building these concepts in your mind and body on a regular basis you’ll find that you are able to more freely express yourself musically through your horn, and not be so concerned with the mechanism of playing.