Monday, July 26, 2010

Shofar Practice Guide

Shofar Practice Guide

Arthur L. Finkle

WE MUST WARM-UP! This should not be left to chance nor treated lightly by a serious musician on any instrument. If I do not warm-up properly, my performance certainly suffers. Most brass players have several routines. For Shofar sounding, I suggest warming up on the fundamental note. In simple terms, a noise from a musical instrument plays more than one note, called Harmonics, but the principal musical tone produced by vibration (as of a string or column of air) is the fundamental or most prominent tone. Then, focus on your attack (how you articulate the note). Then play the Tekiah, Shevorim, Shevorim-Teruah, and Tekiah. Your warm up should be at home because the shul does not offer privacy. In shul, you should hold the Shofar between your arms so that the horn will become the same temperature as your body because the instrument should be the same temperature or more than the room. A cold note becomes flat (off-tune or atonal).

The shofar’s sound is similar to creation as that of a brass instrument b(Trumpet, French horn, trombone, tuba, etc) in that the lips vibrate creating a “buzzing.”

You should practice buzzing; (brass players do this by playing the mouthpiece alone. In the case of Shofar playing, you can buzz by shaping your thumb and forefinger in the shape of a mouthpiece and blowing into it to stimulate your embouchure. (See The Art of French Horn Playing by Philip Farkas, The Complete Method by Milan Yancich, and Embouchure Building by Joseph Singer; there are many good resources out there.)

When Should I Warm-Up? How Much Should I Practice?

Professional brass players warm-up every time they get the instrument out of the case to play. The first warm-up in the morning is the most important, as it sets up your embouchure for the rest of the day. The second and third warm-ups are usually shorter, but need to be there to maintain and build the embouchure.

Related issues are how much to practice, and when. I feel, if time allows, the serious brass student or professional usually practices three times a day for no more than one hour apiece. A Shofar sounder, not being a professional in the brass instrumentalist sense of the word, should practice each day at the same time of day. Practice standing up; sitting down will change your embouchure.

Initially, practice the fundamental note until you feel your muscles get adjusted. Do not play too much beyond this level. If they tire, your muscles are telling you that they have had enough. By repeated playing, however, your musculature will develop into high quality sound and endurance. Ten minutes is the usual limit.

Once, you have mastered the one fundamental note, you should concentrate on the attack. The quality of an attack is determined by the position of the tongue’s touching the lips. In some cases, the tip of the front of the tongue can be the part of the tongue used to tongue the attack. In other cases, you can use the side of your tongue. Some use the side of their side tongue and move it back. The technique that is most effective for the Shofar Sounder – and still allows maintenance of the correct embouchure -- is the correct way.

Week 1

During the first week, work on your embouchure (muscle tone of your lip and surrounding facial muscles) by sounding the most prominent note (fundamental).

How long – start with no more than 5-minutes per day; gradually increase this practice time so you will build and tone your embouchure.

How long – start at 5-minutes per day; gradually increase this practice time so you will build and tone your embouchure.


Week 2

Begin the play the sets

Phrase I - T-SH-R-T (3X) Tekiah-SHevarim-teRuah-Tekiah

Phrase 2 - T-SH-T (3X) Tekiah-SHevarim -Tekiah

Phrase 3 - T-R-T (3X) Tekiah- teRuah-Tekiah

You may sustain ‘lip fatigue’ – your lip will tire and will not respond the way you desire.

You should begin with phrase 1.

The tekiah – is one blast – some end it with a small ‘up’ not (but is not necessary)

The shevorim – three moaning sounds. In music we call these sounds slurs. It begins with a low note and slides up to the dominant note. You accomplish this by tightening the lips from the dominant note to the third above note.

The Tru’ah – nine staccato notes. To avoid confusion, count the nine Aas three triplets. This, xxx; xxx; xxx. The notes are articulated with the tongue touching the mouthpiece top tip for nine times.

Tonguing needs practice and repetition. Thus, it becomes part of the protocol.

Week 3

Continue practicing the phrases for as many times as you can In doing so, you will memorize the association of the sounds and their names . Also, you will build stamina and embouchure definition. Note that you are focusing on endurance athletics but you do need a certain amount of stamina and lip strength to beat fatigue.  

Learn Prayer To Be Recited On Rosh Hashanah

Praised are You, O Lord, Master of the Universe who has commanded us to hear the shofar

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech

Ha-olam, asher kid-shanu b-mitz-votav

Vi-tzi-vanu Lish-moa Kol Shofar.

First Day Only

Week 4

Work from the prayer book to practice each series of sounds. Some congregations sound thirty note; others, ninety; most, 100 sounds. 

On a couple of the days, I suggest you work with the kri’ah (the one who pronounces the sounds so you can coordinate your activities. You also will ‘feel each other out,’ as so often happens in musical schemes.

On the day before Rosh HaShanah – do not practice. Although Jewish law forbids such practice, the musical reason is to enable your embouchure to rest on the day prior to performance, such as soloists do prior to musical recitals.

Special thanks for significant input of premier shofar Sounder Michael Chusid, RA, FCSI

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