How often have you heard groups set up, get ready for the first note, the conductor gives them the preparatory gesture and then they haphazardly comes in or the first sound they make is harsh and non-musical? With wind players this happens for three reasons – 1. They don’t take a rhythmic breath (breathe together and you will play together), 2. They think the tongue makes the sound, leading to a BANG at the start of the tone. 3. They don’t have a firm embouchure at the start of the tone.
The best way that I know how to rectify this systemic problem that I hear bands do incorrectly all over the country is to have them first learn what you are doing with your conducting. That starts with you actually conducting ONE preparatory gesture and not counting off “One, Two, Ready, Play”. Even beginning players can react to a preparatory gesture and do not need a count off or you banging your baton on the music stand! Show and discuss with your students what your conducting gestures mean. I find it helpful to do this – “Say the word START when you think you should start during my conducting pattern.” I also do it in reverse – “Say the word STOP when you think you should stop during my conducting pattern.” I have used this little trick with countless students and they nail it every time as it helps them to understand exactly where you would like them to start and stop the sound.
Now I take this a step further, I have the students on the prep. beat think “Breathe, Set, Play” on 4 & 1. This will get them to do a rhythmic breath on 4, set the corners of the embouchure firm on the & of 4 and then sound starts on 1. The other thing that works best for me at the start of rehearsal is to have them start the tone with a breath attack (no tongue). This way they begin to understand that the AIR makes the tone and not the tongue. Later on you can work on articulation, but they first must understand how to overcome the three reasons mentioned above why the first entrance of the band sounds bad and how to correct it. I leave you with one more phrase that I use often with musicians I conduct – “Music is how you get out of silence and back into silence.” Ponder that for a while – Good luck!