Masterclass number 1 - by Roger Webster


Roger Webster starts his series of masterclasses on the topics of Preperation, Practice and Performance as a taster for his forthcoming study book.

Roger WebsterOver the next few months I shall be writing a series of articles relating to the topics of Preparation, Practice and Performance. These will be loosely based on elements of my forthcoming study book.

Areas covered will be:

  • Introduction
    What's to come & what is performance anxiety?
  • Physiology  
    Pre-warm-up and warm-up
    Range and flexibility  (The diaphragm…the myth)
  • Methodology
    How to practice
    Studies to get you working
  • Psychology
    The final hurdle…doing in public what we have practiced in private.
    Keeping things in perspective …. Why we sometimes 'panic'.
    Some recent findings in trials using brass players.
    The benefits of Cognitive Intervention Therapy for the serious musician. (+ what it is!)
  • Summary

The areas that I briefly referred to; Preparation, Practice and Performance, will each then be divided into more detailed subsections covering elements such as basic pre-practice breathing exercises to the more complex cognitive re-training sessions (only to be undertaken under the guidance of a professional).

For the purpose of these articles, I will try to keep the information fairly general and not too in depth. They should, however give a greater insight and understanding of the subject, and perhaps help those of you who either are affected by, or perhaps teach someone affected by nerves. A full and detailed version will form part of the new method to be published later this year.


Knowing the individual names of the muscle groups used in brass playing is most definitely not required. However, knowing how to get the most from each study by working specific muscles, knowing how to survive a particularly tiring concert, or overcome a tiring tongue, dry mouth or loss of concentration IS required if you are to fully enjoy your experiences as a performer…whatever the level.


Practicing day after day is only of real use if the practice is concise, methodical and done with purpose. i.e. targets and goals within your practice…not just passing time.

Studies should be done with a knowledge of the benefits that each study brings to the performer.
However much time you personally have to practice, it should be used as efficiently as possible in order to cover the basics.

Higher, lower, faster, slower, softer, louder…the basic goals. Combine those with smoother and cleaner plus greater musicality and interpretive skills and you could be on your way.


Due to the complex nature of this subject, there is no one simple cause or solution, however, if we take a look at the areas surrounding and connected with this phenomenon, then perhaps we can have a greater understanding of why and how it affects us all, PLUS what we can do to stop it from adversely affecting our performance levels.

  • How can we minimise the effects of performance anxiety?
  • Do you fully understand the meaning of the term 'performance anxiety'?

It can be referred to as stage fright, nerves, bottle…etc. In real terms for performers such as ourselves it is an inner fear of failure.

This fear can be so incapacitating at times that even a seasoned performer will (if left to suffer) experience the same basic symptoms as a performance debutant.

Performance anxiety is not a sign of weakness or inadequacy!

Realization and acceptance that this phenomenon is our constant companion is the first positive step in the understanding and control of this duplicitous partner, 'debilitating monster or sensory heightening aid '.

What it is.

Performance anxiety is the physical manifestation of the phenomenon known as 'fight or flight'.
The fight or flight (F or F) reaction is the primitive response to a physical (ACTUAL) or psychological (PERCIEVED) threat.

It is controlled by the ANS or autonomic nervous system, which triggers parts of the body to deal with any imminent threat.

This basic, primitive response helped to ensure the survival of our species who faced many physical  threats such as predatory animals etc.

This reaction triggers a state of physical vitality and strength, 'a sensory heightening aid' or if left to reek havoc, 'a debilitating monster'.

Several adaptive physical responses occur as F or F kicks in.

  • Blood is moved from the extremities (limbs etc) to the body core. (We, brass players, lose blood from facial areas and fingers)
  • There is an interruption to the digestive process etc.
  • Small muscle groups are deactivated in favour of larger ones.
  • With this the heart rate increases………pushing more adrenaline around the body.
  • Breathing becomes shallow and often erratic.
  • Dryness of the mouth, shaking or quivering of limbs, increased toiletry function…(bars and toilets are quite often the busiest rooms on contest days).

These symptoms plus many others are all normal. Spot any familiar ones?

It is a fine line between the exhilaration and anticipation experienced by some, and the fear and panic suffered by so many.

As we explore these areas over the next months you will discover that rather than the old fashioned view of, 'just get used to it' or ' the more you do it the easier it becomes' it can be controlled and eventually enjoyed! 
Q. What is the difference between opening

1) a birthday present and opening
2) a similarly wrapped box found abandoned in an airport?

A. Anticipation of the contents. i.e Your mind going through all of the possible options.

1) Would be associated with pleasurable thoughts of past gifts.
2) Would be clouded by negative thoughts of potential fatal scenarios…explosions etc.

Therefore, if we allow our thoughts to run wild we can have little or no control over the physiological reactions of our bodies. Realistic, controlled thoughts will help.

It therefore requires us all to include one additional section to our practice list: The Mind!
©2004 Dr Roger B Webster

Roger Webster is Principal Cornet of the Black Dyke Band and a Clinician for Besson Musical Instruments.

Besson Musical Instruments Ltd
Number One
Blackmoor Lane
Croxley Business Park
WD18 8GA
Telephone: 01923 659700 main number
Telephone: 01923 659500 sales
Fax: 01923 659600  


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