Hakan Hardenberger Masterclasses

I frequently share links with my students that support their goals, and these two are among the best:

The Swedish musician Hakan Hardenberger is one of my favorite trumpet players.  I love his full, free and focused sound, and the fact that he has been involved with a lot of new music.  Evidently quite a few composers love his playing as well, and why not?  He makes their music sound wonderful!  This Youtube video shows he’s also a great teacher, and several reasons why I resonate with his approach to both playing and teaching.  A couple of the key points he makes here:  not to let staccato markings break up the musical flow (or sound quality), and how important it is for a trumpet player to hear the note before it is played.  With a focused, responsive embouchure, flowing air and a clear tongue attack we can create the acoustic illusion of staccato without chopping up the phrase  (“short, but long”- 5:24). The great Adolph “Bud” Herseth said tonguing is 95% vowel, meaning no matter how rapidly you are tonguing, the tongue spends the majority of it’s time out of the way of the airstream. Tonguing with “dut” (~2:25) leaves the tongue position up (“T”) and blocking the airflow, which adds tension and instability to the system.  Try saying “Dut” several times very fast, and then the same pattern with “Du” (or “Da” as he does) and you’ll see what I mean.

Hearing a note before it is played (“real listening,” 4:04) not only helps with accuracy (playing in the right “slot,” or partial in the overtone series), but also with centering the pitch.  It is very important that the quality of each note (which includes a centered pitch) be considered a part of the sound we are listening for.  Problems with the sound quality are indicative of problems with the fundamentals.  I believe the student in the video knew the basic pitch of the note (she had already practiced that piece quite a bit), but was carrying a lot of tension and was out of position (see below), to the point that her air was no longer efficient or sufficient enough to support the phrase and the quality of the sound.

This talented and courageous young student did an admirable job, but there were some passages (~3:01) that were, according to Hakan, “unacceptable.”  I bring these up, not to be mean spirited (as many comments on YouTube can be), but to take advantage of the learning opportunity that is presented here.  She experienced a very common problem, and understanding how her breakdown occurred can help us all.

Start by looking (full screen if possible) at how she is setting up, beginning at ~1:41.  In fairness to her, she is more preoccupied with following his direction than carefully preparing for sound production, but you can see that she begins by placing the mouthpiece on an embouchure with the corners pulled back.  This action not only will thin out the sound but will also leave the embouchure’s center exposed to more mouthpiece pressure.  By ~2:04 (where she never actually blows) it’s obvious that this tension occurs before the exhale.  Her missed entrance (~2:47) happened because the mouthpiece weight kept her lips from assuming the proper position and vibrating freely. The closeup at 2:52 shows the equal alignment between the lips at her left corner is gone. The bottom lip has erupted out to the point the top lip is barely visible.  While we cannot see what is going on inside of the mouthpiece, these clues (including her sound) suggest that her embouchure has lost focus, and it is the mouthpiece weight rather than the embouchure muscles that are holding the formation. We can hear this (as can Hakan, judging by his facial expression) at 3:34.  In contrast, you can see he has better lip alignment and jaw position (not to mention 25+ years of experience).   By 4:54 the student has recovered her alignment and focus and her sound and control have begun to improve.

The second link leads to notes taken at a seminar Hakan gave at the Norwegian Brass Forum.  Here he talks about about eliminating force and tension, and developing qualities like balance, relaxation, efficiency, and resonance.  He is more concerned with HOW he practices, rather than WHAT he practices, for the HOW truly gets to the heart of the matter.  You will realize how much time he devoted to these concepts early in his career, and how he must still address them every day during his warmup.  If a player of his caliber considers these things on a daily basis, shouldn’t the rest of us mortals do so too?

The “Golden Egg” he describes is the small, focused lip aperture, which is certainly fragile considering its proximity to the mouthpiece, and the tendency trumpet players have to use excessive mouthpiece pressure.  It is tedious work to practice all of the fine details Hakan discusses here, but even the youngest players making the smallest improvements can be greatly encouraged by the results.  While the dimensional changes between a good and bad setup may appear to be very small (especially to the untrained eye), bringing these key components of the system into line will have a huge impact on our playing. Anyone (from beginner to professional) who can acquire more knowledge of the proper fundamentals, become more aware of how well they are applying these principles, and then invest their practice time wisely will see positive and encouraging results!

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