The Brass Tactics 6/60 Routine
The Brass Tactics 6/60 Routine can be likened to circuit training--it's a very efficient way to cover all the bases of sound production in under an hour. The modular approach, presented in three different levels, makes it highly adaptable to individual ability and goals. Click on VIDEOS to see an overview.
(More info below)
About The Brass Tactics 6/60 Routine
“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
The Brass Tactics 6/60 Routine was born out of several considerations:
- Playing a brass instrument is an athletic activity and must be approached as such.
- There never seem to be enough hours to practice everything we want and need to practice.
- Most of us don’t use our practice time as effectively as we could. Distractions are ever present.
- Concentrated effort is effective and efficient.
- A well-balanced menu is as vital for a brass player as it is for a human being. ☺
The 6/60 Routine can be likened to circuit training. It consists of eight exercises to be performed in a specific sequence. Each exercise is carefully timed, including rests. No exercise takes longer than 6 minutes. The entire routine can be performed in less than 60 minutes. (See what I did there?)
A COMPLETE WORKOUT
The eight exercises that comprise the routine address virtually all aspects of sound production:
- Long notes
- Short notes
- High notes
- Low notes
- Loud notes
- Soft notes
- Slurred notes
- Articulated notes
- Finger dexterity
- Leadpipe buzzing
- Mouthpiece buzzing
- Long tones
- Note bending
- Whisper tones
- Initial attacks
- Tonguing (Single / Double / Triple)
- Mental Focus
LEVELS / VARIATIONS
Each exercise is presented in three different levels. Six of the eight exercises are presented in two variations, so that two different routines are available at each level.
The most effective way to practice the routine is to perform one exercise after another with minimal rest in between. But each exercise takes you through the full range of the horn and can be performed separately, like a mini routine. This is a good option for those whose schedule more easily accommodates a number of shorter practice sessions throughout the day, rather than one longer session. Once you realize how much can be accomplished in just a few minutes, you’ll discover there are more opportunities to practice than you may realize.
WHO IS THIS ROUTINE APPROPRIATE FOR?
The routine is presented in three levels to suit a range of players from intermediate to professional. A trumpet bias is evident, but all brass players face similar challenges and the exercises can be adapted to any brass instrument.
IS IT AVAILABLE IN PDF?
This question is asked often. From an author's viewpoint, eliminating the printing, stocking and shipping would save a lot of time and money. Still, I have resisted publishing digitally, and here's why:
One-time reads, e.g., a novel, magazine or newspaper, are very effective in digital format. I feel that reference books that may be used repeatedly for years are more effective in print form, that you'll reach for a printed copy of a book on your shelf more often than you will a digital file hidden on your hard drive, and that you're better able to grasp the overall expanse of a book by thumbing through it and opening to individual pages. I feel like I can make a connection with a reader better with a printed book (signed and shipped by the author, just sayin'...) than with a digital file transmitted anonymously.
For perspective: The price of a book, even with international shipping, is less than the cost of a one-hour private lesson. Perhaps making the investment to get the book into your hands will incline you to make full use of it. More use = greater value.
Not everyone will agree with my reasoning, but now you have it.
Questions and Comments
Comment: “The Brass Tactics 6/60 Routine is simply the best trumpet book I’ve ever seen. Relatable and implementable. Schlossberg and Arban tell us ‘what’ to do. This book gives the what, why and how–and amazingly–the when. My last 3 days of practicing have been the most productive I’ve had in at least six years. That’s not an exaggeration!” PB (Victoria, BC)
Q: What is the difference between this book and Brass Tactics?
A: Brass Tactics is a comprehensive overview of brass pedagogy, including a wide variety of exercises. Advice is offered on designing an effective practice routine, but the actual construction is left up to you.
The Brass Tactics 6/60 Routine is a follow-the-dots approach. Where the exercises are based on exercises to be found in Brass Tactics, they are adapted and modified to fit the 6/60 formula, carefully timed and balanced with rest. Think of it like walking into a fitness center; all the machines are there for you to use if you choose to go it on your own, but a personal trainer can help you devise an efficient routine based on your current level of fitness, your goals, and the time you have to commit to training.
Q: How did you arrive at the six-minute time limit for each exercise?
A: The original concept was five minutes, since that is an amount of time that everyone can spare, yet it’s enough time to accomplish something, as long as concentrated focus is applied to the task. As I developed the Level 3 routines, which comprise my own practice routine, it became clear that in many cases five minutes was not quite enough to cover what I needed to cover. Extending the time to six minutes did the trick, while still keeping the full routine under an hour. (In the front of the book I point out that this shows how important a minute can be, if one chooses to make it so.) Virtually all of the Level 3 exercises take between five and six minutes, with several of them pushing it right to the 360-second line. The Level 1 and 2 exercises are, in some cases, a little shorter because of reduced range limits.
Q: How high do the exercises go?
A: Level 1 assumes a working range to G on top of the staff, with a range extension exercise to high D. Level 2 assumes a working range to high D, with a range extension exercise to high G. Level 3 assumes a working range to high G, with a range extension exercise to double C. Your ideal routine may lie somewhere in the middle of these three levels; it’s pretty easy to figure out how to tailor the exercises to your own ability.
Q: Do you suggest jumping in with both feet, adopting the entire routine at once? I note that you recommend everyone, even advanced players, should start with Level One.
A: As one person describes it: “The 6/60 Routine works out of the box for me.” Others may have the same experience, however in general I feel that with any new physical fitness routine the body will appreciate having the time to adapt to new challenges gradually. If one adds one of the eight exercises per week, replacing existing elements of the current routine with this more efficient approach, I think you’ll notice improvement quickly and throughout the integration period. This also gives you time to experiment with the progressive levels for each exercise, finding the one that is right for you. You’ll never go wrong by starting slow.
Q: After playing this routine I feel wiped out for hours. Is that the goal?
A: If you are playing at the appropriate level and resting enough, the routine should leave you feeling energized, not enervated. If you feel wiped out, you are overdoing it. See the answer above.
Q: Is it essential to the success of the routine that the eight exercises be played in the same order?
A: I would say it makes the most sense to play the first two exercises (Leadpipe, Mouthpiece) and the final exercise (Range Expansion) in the order in which they appear. The others (Arpeggios, Flexibility, Note Bending, Velocity, Tonguing) could be reasonably interchanged, and there would be validity in switching things up.
Q: Are there certain exercises that you consider the most beneficial?
A: The exercises incorporated in the routine are those which have had lasting benefit to me over the years. I consider them all of equal value within the context of the routine. That said, no two players are alike and I assume many if not most people will take this routine and adapt it. Balance and timing are the two most integral factors.
Comment: Thank you for the 6/60 Routine. It is a very helpful method. At first, it was exhausting, very physical. Now I am in the swing of it and have noticed significant improvement in my technique.
A:It is indeed a physical routine. As noted in other comments, ‘easy does it’ is good advice when starting out. (Although trumpet players are not known for taking that approach.) Your description of ‘getting into the swing of it’ is apt.
Q: If I have a tough rehearsal or gig scheduled, should I play the entire routine?
A: The first three exercises function very well as an efficient and effective warmup, setting you up for the rest of the routine or any other playing. That said, I always try to perform the full routine before playing anything else in the day. If you are working at an appropriate level and taking enough rest throughout, the routine should not leave you feeling exhausted. The goal of every practice session is to set you up for the next time you pick up the horn, whether that is fifteen minutes or 24 hours from now.
Q: Is there a strategy for transitioning from one level to the next? I can technically handle the exercises in Level Two, but I can’t produce the ‘D’ on the leadpipe and I can’t get above a ‘D’ on the horn.
A: There are clearly more than three levels that define the range of players. Some people may mix exercises from different levels; others may devise some that are a combination of the two. Each exercise should take you to your range limits, but not beyond to the point that control is lost. If you are technically able to play the exercises in Level Two but are not quite able to take them as high as written, then just go as high as you can. You may wish to start a little lower or begin with the end of Level One exercises to keep the timing of the exercise similar. Rome wasn’t built in a day; patience is a virtue; et cetera!
On the leadpipe, in search of the next partial, try to bend the G on top of the staff upwards as far as possible. If it flips up to the next partial, even momentarily, you’ll get at least a sense of what that note should feel like.
Bottom line: this exercise routine, like any other, can and should be modified to target each person’s individual abilities.
C: I’ve never found mouthpiece buzzing to be effective. It seems to leave my chops feeling unresponsive.
A: If your chops feel unresponsive after mouthpiece buzzing or any other exercise, you are likely pushing yourself too hard, too fast. Brute force is never the goal or the answer. If the mouthpiece routine as written in Level One (one-octave scales and glasses) does not feel good, step it back. At a medium to soft volume, buzz and hold individual notes in a register where the chops respond easily. Over time, expand the range up and down, eventually incorporating moving lines, perhaps just a couple of notes at first. The goal of the 6/60 routine is to increase both strength and efficiency. Trying to rush the process or push yourself beyond your current limit of comfort and control will slow your progress.
Q: I’m loving this routine! One question: should I play the Pedal Tone exercise before the Leadpipe Exercise? I always thought pedal tones were most helpful after active playing.
A: The Pedal Tone exercise is not actually part of the routine, but as preparatory material for developing the pedal register. If you can play the pedal tones as they are incorporated in the in the exercises (primarily for lip relaxation, as you suggest), then you don’t need preparatory work. Glad you are loving the routine!
C: I’m having some success producing the pedal tones in the first octave, but the second octave is completely unresponsive.
A: Pedal tones are an acquired skill, but they are not really hard once you figure out the technique (hard to describe in a book). While it is entirely possible to become pretty accurate with the placement of notes in the pedal register, from a practical perspective any low notes will serve the purpose of lip relaxation.
Q: I can play a pedal C with three valves down, but I find it impossible to play with open fingering. I can play it on the flugelhorn, though. Does that count?
A: The pedal C sits well on the flugelhorn, as you’ve discovered, relating to the conical bore. (However, all the pedal tones leading down to it are less stable.) It ‘counts’ in terms of letting you experience the chops vibrating at that frequency without fighting the horn. If you bring that sensation to the trumpet, you may be able to produce a pitch somewhere around an open pedal Bb. Open B and then C results from pulling that pitch upwards. Do it gradually, don’t pull past the point that you lose hold of the note. And don’t fret unduly if you can’t bring it all the way up to pitch. Pedal C and pedal B are the two most persnickety notes in the pedal register. All of the others play easier and accomplish much the same thing. Learning to play open pedal C (and B) is essentially a study in note bending, which establishes control or as I describe it, ‘mind over horn’.
Q: When playing pedal tones, should one strive to keep the embouchure the same as when playing in the normal register, or allow it to ride up on the lips?
A: The purpose of pedal tones in this routine is primarily for lip relaxation; to that end you want to produce a robust sound, and should allow your embouchure to adapt naturally in pursuit of that goal. Strive to treat the first half octave of pedal tones (down to C#) as an extension of the normal low register. As you descend further, it is OK and probably necessary to allow the mouthpiece to slide up on the lips. In the deepest pedal register the mouthpiece is almost entirely on my upper lip.
Q: Why do some of the pedal tones seem to switch octaves in the middle of an exercise?
A: The format followed throughout the book is that two octaves of pedal tones are utilized. Thus a switch occurs between F natural and F#.
Q: Does it make sense that I would have greater difficulty producing pedal tones on my lead mouthpiece?
A: It does, in that, generally speaking, large mouthpieces facilitate a robust low register and small mouthpieces help achieve the compression necessary in the high register. Whether one can produce pedals on a ‘lead’ mouthpiece would be less of a concern to me than whether one can produce the full range of the instrument, including low register, on any mouthpiece that is in the shank. A mouthpiece that severely compromises any particular aspect of playing in favor of another is likely to cause problems at some point. Musical situations tend not to stay exclusively within one realm.
C: I prefer to spend more time on long tones than I do with this routine.
A: The goal of the 6/60 Routine is to address all aspects of playing in a relatively short amount of time. It’s quite common for people to devote so much time to one aspect that others get neglected, or that you get to everything in your routine only on those rare ‘perfect practice days’.
If one wants to invest more time in long tones or any other aspect of the routine, that is fine, as long as it does not mean that tonguing or flexibility, for example, are ignored. The more varied the practice routine, the more multi-faceted you will be as a player.
Q: In the chromatic tonguing exercises, you advise fingering the next key prior to playing it. Do you mean to finger the chromatic pattern or a diatonic scale in the next key?
A: In the context of the routine, I mean to finger the upcoming chromatic pattern, but one could substitute any scale or pattern. The key point is that rest time can be used to target brain, fingers and tongue while the lips are recovering.
C: I note that you mention Bill Adam in conjunction with the lead pipe routine, but that you go higher in the partials.
A: I never studied with Bill Adam, but I was first introduced to buzzing the leadpipe by one of his students. It became the starting point for my routine and has remained so for many years. I like starting with the leadpipe because it establishes the perimeter of your range relatively quickly; in the case of the 6/60 Routine, within six minutes. It sensitizes you to the partials of the pipe, since you are not working to precise pitch points, and the leadpipe provides more latitude than the trumpet (although less than the mouthpiece, which is the second exercise in the routine). I’ve also found leadpipe buzzing to be a beneficial exercise for those with tight sounds, which is usually a sign of excessive tension.
The leadpipe routine as I’ve evolved it targets the natural harmonic frequencies of a Bb trumpet lead pipe: pedal F, first space F, top staff G, high D and high G. (On good days I add double B.) These are approximate pitches; the resonance of the sound should determine the placement of the notes rather than trying to play them ‘in tune’.
Q: Do you have any advice for integrating improvisation into the practice routine?
A: In the introduction I make the point that exercises comprise only half the picture; time must be allotted for the practice of actual music. Improvisation is in that category, along with technical studies and other repertoire. Individual schedules vary; if you only have one hour in a day to practice, then the routine should be altered accordingly. The modular construction allows for that.
The bottom line is that we strive for command of the instrument so that it will act as an ally rather than an enemy when it comes to making music. Instrumental technique is of limited value in the absence of musical purpose.
C: The 6/60 Routine sounds like it is along the same lines as the Canadian military 5BX Plan for Physical Fitness.
A: Although Canada is my adopted home and native land, I did not serve in the military so I had to Google that one. There is definitely common ground! Both Bud Brisbois and Bud Herseth were rumored to follow the 5BX plan. I’ve no idea whether any of the concepts made their way into their trumpet practice, but I’ll happily take any comparison to those two Buds!
Q: Will there be an e-book version?
A: I believe a book on the music stand is more likely to get used than a file on an iPad, so there are no plans at present to release a digital version. Luddite, perhaps!
Q: Using this routine, how long should I expect it to take before I have a consistent double C?
A: Between one week and never.