1 step forward 2 steps back...

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Chris P, Nov 18, 2013.

  1. Chris P

    Chris P New Member

    Hi, I'm 50 years old and have been playing the cornet for nearly 4 years (late starter). I play second cornet in a brass band and I feel I'm getting left behind by other beginners. I've had a lot of private lessons from a reputable teacher, I've got plenty of books ....ARBAN, CLARKES, HOW BRASS PLAYERS.... etc... I practice every evening for 45 mins to an hour and still I struggle to play higher than 'G'. In fact it all begins to sound after middle 'C'. I'm beginning to feel I reached a plateau around 18 months ago and I'll never really get much better.

    Any thoughts?
  2. Andrew Norman

    Andrew Norman Member

    Try a bigger instrument... If you are struggling with range it will almost certainly be easier. Look around your band and see where the gaps are - aim to play something that is "of use" even if it's not what you had really set your mind on.
    Whatever you do don't give up - you've got yourself into a great hobby but not everyone is made to play a small instrument.
    Good luck and enjoy your banding.
  3. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    great advice, one of the greatest things about brass instruments is that everything you've learnt on the cornet you can apply to any other instrument
  4. Chris P

    Chris P New Member

    Thanks for the advice fellas but I really do want persevere with the cornet. I'm just frustrated that after 4 years I still can't play it at a higher level. Any advice on good practice methods?
  5. Beesa

    Beesa Member

    Lots of long,long notes. Get a digital tuner (or use an online microphone tuner) to add interest and also possibly improve your ear.
  6. wittig

    wittig Member

    I think it sounds like you may have reached the point of diminishing returns (don't be disheartened though it's a good thing it shows the progress that you've made up to this point). Concentrate on making those small continuous improvements now - focus on that point where you think things are starting to sound strained and work to make that easily within your reach, the semi-tones of security of sound and intonation will stack up slowly over the months of practice now. On technical passages, that one notch up on the metronome marks a significant improvement in your capabilities.

    On another note and a personal anecdote, the most useful "doorway" to further improvement for me has always been sitting next to better players in bands and learning from them. It's an eye opener and provides inspiration to improve your sound/breathing, different approaches to tackling difficult bits. Players that play more consistently well around you has always helped me concentrate on what I can improve.

    It doesn't mean you have to leave your current band, but explore other local opportunities - lots of bands are happy to have players sit in on rehearsals.
  7. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    You know, in a way, it reminds me a little of how a modern teenager reacts to a barrier. You need to realise we all reach these plateaux from time to time, but, if we keep at it, eventually we reach the other side and come on in leaps and bounds. Many of those on here have been playing for decades (myself included) and we still occasionally come up against problems.

    If you can detect no further signs of improvement after, say, another six months, try a slightly bigger instrument for a while to let your chops relax a bit. Treat it as a holiday before you go back to your cornet.

    It may be worth a try.
  8. DRW

    DRW New Member

    I've seen this situation often and a switch to a bigger instrument is usually the answer. As Mike suggests, even if it's only a temporary change, you will likely find it unlocks the elusive notes. Cracking those feared high notes on a lower pitched instrument will likely be easier than on a cornet as you will already have been playing in that sounding range.
  9. Chris P

    Chris P New Member

    Thanks all! Plenty for me to think about and to work on, and perhaps I should try to get less frustrated and stay relaxed...

    Thanks again...
  10. Ianroberts

    Ianroberts Well-Known Member

    I must say, you do seem to fit the bill for baritone !
  11. Cornet Nev.

    Cornet Nev. Member

    I also started to learn at the age of fifty or maybe fifty one, after a little less than eight months of private tuition I joined a band.
    I also hit that level where you feel there is nothing happening, where you don't seem to get any better, the strived for goals seem to be forever out of reach.
    They are not out of reach, you are getting better and there are things happening.
    You may not feel it right at this moment, but what is happening is your stamina is improving. You can prove that easily, just take time out of rigid practice for one night and obtain or find a selection of easy to play tunes and melodies, play all those you like, and go back to the beginning and play them again and again until eventually you get to the point where you do have to stop, when you have lipped out and can't play another note.
    How long did that take?
    I bet a months pension you couldn't have played for that length of time one year ago.
    Now you need to increase that length of time that you can last for, believe me stamina is as important as anything else in brass playing. You will certainly need it the day you do a full march playing hard, to make up for the fact you are the only second cornet as the others couldn't make it that day. Then after the march play again as the only second cornet for an outdoor concert which comes straight after the march.
    Building up that stamina to be able to do that and never mind those high notes, leave them for the front row players, once you have got to a high level of just pure lasting ability, suddenly, those high notes come easily, and in tune too.
    Don't give up, just relax a little, don't aim for those stars of the high notes, keep a steady push at lasting out for a little longer with the lower notes.
    Unless your band is playing in a high section in the first place, most second cornet music isn't about how high you can get, maybe a push to how fast you can play in those quick passages for some pieces perhaps, but in the main it is plodding along in the important but background parts. Make sure you can last, not just the length of a rehearsal, nor even the major Christmas concert your band may be doing soon, aim for being at least still fresh enough to do it all again.
    It works, believe me, it certainly did for me. I am now 65, one thing we do need to remember is we can still get there, due to our age it may take a little longer, but we will. Don't give up just yet.
  12. Sid the Cornet

    Sid the Cornet New Member

    I too started at the ripe old age of 45. Three years (next month) and numerous brass lessons with an esteemed and respected tutor later, I play soprano. Not great, granted, but I wanted to push the boundaries as much as I could so I decided to give it a go. Up to this August I was playing 2nd Cornet.
    I do feel like I have to work a lot harder than a lot of the younger players around me, but the satisfaction I have felt recently in achieving top As and Bs is immense.
    There has been plenty of times that I have thought that its just not going anywhere and maybe going back to 2nd Cornet was a better idea, but then bingo, it happens.
    Basically what I'm trying to say is just keep doing what your tutor says and it will happen. It might be a hurdle difficult to get over, but it will happen.
    Brass banding has opened a whole new world to me and will be forever grateful to those that gave me the chance and pushed me to the limits. Keep at it.
  13. iffytboner

    iffytboner Member

    This is indeed great advice. Even if you plan to persevere with cornet, "have a go" on someone else's horn or baritone etc.

    I first started on cornet but after 6 months I couldn't get past the stage of sounding like a constipated cow and it certainly wasn't for lack of practise. My tutor suggested I try trombone (the only spare instrument the school had) and within 4 years, I was playing 2nd trom in a champ section band. Even having returned after 25 years off, I'm quite a proficient trombone player and can also double on any lower brass. Put a cornet in my hand and the cow returns!!

  14. Chris P

    Chris P New Member

    There is more and more great advice coming in, all of it helpful and constructive... I really don't want to switch instruments so for me it will be perseverance on the cornet, and you have given me some great tips that I intend to put into my regular practice routine from now on. In particular, (Cornet Nev) practicing tunes I find easy, working on my tone and my stamina. This makes a lot of sense and I can see how this could work, improving the quality of the music I can play while strengthening my embouchure for those elusive high notes, for which I will need patience!

    I consider myself a brass bander for life now and I'll never quit...
  15. agent006

    agent006 Member

    What instrument and mouthpiece are you playing? It may be you're unwittingly being a hero on an impossible mouthpiece or notoriously bad instrument; and a change of equipment would help.

    My wife had similar on Trombone. She's a very capable musician on other instruments but has only been playing trombone for a couple of years. She hit a point where nothing was improving. She tried a couple of mouthpieces of mine and settled on one after a while. A noticeable difference straight away and she's seen more improvement since.
  16. Cornet Nev.

    Cornet Nev. Member

    agent006 does have a very valid point too, it will mean borrowing different mouth pieces from other willing players, as most of us do collect a few over time. The other important thing is the instrument itself to some extent, a poor quality thing may be OK to start with, but you really do need to move up in the standard of instrument as you move up in standard of playing, if starting off with a cheapo student type thing.
    Some may disagree, so yes I can get decent sounds out of a cheapo, but why struggle when a better instrument makes life easier?
  17. cockaigne

    cockaigne Member

    A look at your choice of mouthpiece may well show a way forward from the point you've reached. As with any instrument, there is no single 'standard' mouthpiece, and nowhere is this more clear than on the cornet, the role of which (and required sound/range) varies tremendously within the section of nine [B-flat cornet] chairs. As a trombone/euphonium player myself, I find with a relatively large (and crucially, deep) cornet mouthpiece, I can get a decent enough sound and range for demonstrating/teaching (up to the top of the stave, and beyond if I don't mind knackering my lip on it).

    A few years ago I hit a similar plateau in my playing, largely because I was stuck in the same practise routines I'd been using since my college days (about seven years at that point). So a look at what you're working on in your personal practise time may help to reinvigorate your playing. Getting stuck in any habits (even good ones) can end up feeling pretty hum-drum; once practise feels like a chore, it's hard to remain positive and motivated.

    Good luck!
  18. agent006

    agent006 Member

    Also, be careful of recommendations of "the best" mouthpiece. My wife and I play very similar instruments on 1st trombone in different bands. She hates my favourite mouthpiece (Marcinkiewicz 6 1/2) and I can barely play her favourite (Bach 5GS).
    Either ask around at band for spares or find a decent shop that's prepared to do a trial/return sale. Your teacher may be able to help but beware of bias.
  19. Craigsav83

    Craigsav83 Active Member

    This is very good advice.

    I had a similar problem about 4 years ago, after battering my lip for years at playing at uni, I was struggling for register on cornet, so I moved to horn for about a year, it gave my chops time to rest, then I moved back to cornet, and I've had no issues since.

    I feel I'm almost back to my best, (not that that was a high marker!) and feel the most confident in my playing than I ever have.
  20. Chris P

    Chris P New Member

    My cornet is a Sonata and my mouthpiece is an Alliance 2A.

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