Fourth Annual DU Trumpet Day- April 11, 2015!

It’s that time of the year again, for what has turned into a successful annual event for trumpet players.  Hosted by Alan Hood, professor of trumpet and director of the Lamont Jazz Ensemble at Denver University, this day is full of informative trumpet clinics given by some of the top Denver area professionals.   There is also a concert by some of DU’s finest trumpet ensembles, a wide range of instruments and associated equipment to try out, and an opportunity to receive some coaching while you jam with a small jazz group.  All of this for the price of a trumpet lesson…and did I mention a free lunch comes with the package? Oil up your valves, open up your ears and join in the fun!

DU Trumpet Hang poster

Schedule of Events

8:00 AM –       Registration

8:30 – 9:15      BRAD GOODE – “Warm-up or Check-up?”

9:25 – 10:10    PETE OLSTAD – “Staying In Shape”

10:20 – 11:05  AL HOOD – “Practice Makes Permanent”

11:15 – 12:00 PM   BOB MONTGOMERY – “The Creative Improviser” – Jazz Session and      Jam (with rhythm section)

12:10 – 12:50 JOHN MILLS – “Trumpet Trader Product Session”

12:50 – 1:30   LUNCH

1:30 – 3:00    TRUMPET STUDIO RECITAL

3:00 – 4:00   JUSTIN BARTELS – “Fundamentals Workout”

Clinician’s Websites:

JustinBartels

Justin Bartels

Brad GoodeBrad Goode

al_hoodAlan Hood

lJohn Mills (of the Trumpet Trader)

bobmontgomeryBob Montgomery

peteolstadPete Olstad

 

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Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks (or How to Break old Habits)

2480_620x290First of all, this article has nothing to do with teaching an actual old dog new tricks, but I hear the saying often enough when an adult student says that they cannot learn something new.  They (and students of all ages)   complain that their old habits are too deeply engrained for them to make any lasting, positive changes in their playing. The focus of this post will be on the root causes of the difficulties in transitioning to a new, improved way of playing the horn, how to avoid them, and what techniques can be used to keep your progress more consistent and rewarding.

I have sung the praises on this blog for Roy Stevens’ embouchure “blueprint” (see the four part “Landing” series’  links below), and how players who initially form a few of its components can often see an immediate, predictable improvement in their upper range, sound quality, and ease of playing.   Also predictable though, can be problems with low notes, note attacks, and the ability to hold the new formation in the context of playing music.  The initial thrill of the first, positive results can be replaced by frustration and discouragement.  This is the point when I usually hear from the student that they just can’t break their old habits.

My reply though, is to ask how those bad habits were originally formed.  Although players usually cannot correctly answer that question with certainty, learning about the origins of their bad habits can prove to be not only enlightening, but can also show them a way out of their current dilemma.  It’s important that you know this:  Most often what starts a bad habit is the very thing that sustains it (and what makes it hard to break).

The way I began playing trumpet was pretty much the way we all have started…we put the mouthpiece (with or without the trumpet) up to our lips and tried to make a sound, followed soon after by attempting to play the notes in our beginning band method book. The introduction of that book, or any basic instruction we received at the time, gave us either a very small part of the big picture, or total misinformation.  Either way, with that kind of a start, we were ill equipped to have the kind of control to not only make a sound efficiently, but to do so in a way that lay the foundation for many years of successful playing.

music-trumpet_1878272cBut make music we did, and without the proper elements in place and in balance, we left our body’s knee jerk reactions in charge of figuring out how to achieve some level of control.   We could have had varying levels of success with this way of playing the horn, but as the music gradually became more challenging, our limitations became more and more obvious.  More practice time increased certain aspects of our technique, familiarity with keys, and reading skills, but in the end, any apparent progress with our most basic fundamental skills of sound production were at best, an illusion, since they were being built upon the foundation we laid during those earliest, initial times.

Enter our trumpet teachers, with their own ideas about how to solve our problems.  But how well did those ideas work?  Success or failure with any teacher (or going it alone), are related to these three major factors:

  • The knowledge of the subject material.  In the case of the teacher, it is also extremely important how well that knowledge is presented.
  • The amount of awareness the student has, which directly influences how successfully they can utilize their knowledge, or follow the instruction.  Awareness is also important for the teacher, for without it, they could have the student playing a level of music they are fundamentally ill-equipped for too soon, which can only compound the problems.
  • The amount of time the student invests in careful, awareness based practice

If you come up short in any of these areas, there will be trouble.  Here are some different ways of looking at the fundamental principles (again, the knowledge), and some of the most common mistakes that are made (in awareness), in order to help get everyone on the track to success.

Toyota Trumpet RobotThe metal trumpet and mouthpiece we hold in our hands are not the complete instrument. At the most basic level, the player’s own body parts provide the missing components of reed, facing, a gasket (to help seal the reed and facing with the mouthpiece), a passage for the airstream (which includes four resonant chambers), and a pump to produce a flow of air through this passageway, and then past the reed and facing.  There is also a mechanism for moving the valves, and a computer loaded with the software needed to coordinate all of these parts into a performing system.  Many of you know about Toyota’s trumpet playing robot, which has all of these parts…although I’m not sure about its resonant chambers, which for us humans are the upper chest, the throat, the oral cavity, and the volume of the mouthpiece cup (as determined by how much or how little the player’s lips protrude into that cup).

For optimum results, both the metal and human parts of the instrument need to be made and assembled with the same degree of precision, so I think it’s helpful to briefly look at some of the master trumpet builder’s construction process.  If we can understand and appreciate their craft, then we will have a good role model to follow during our own work with our human components.  As you read this, ask yourself if you are as informed, thorough and conscientious with your own work.  I’m not going into too great a detail here…just enough to help make my point.

Master trumpet builders (and mouthpiece manufacturers) have studied their subject in great detail, and understand the impact of variables like metal and alloy types, their thickness, and the exact dimensions of every part of the instrument from the mouthpiece to the end of the bell.  Trumpet Tuning SlidesThis even includes the shape of the instrument’s components (like the different tuning slides seen on the right), and the type, number and placement of the bracings that hold the instrument together. Then there is the way those variables can be combined into a system.  For example, different metal alloys can be used for different parts of the instrument, or a reverse tuning slide might be used with a more square shape, or a traditional tuning slide with a more ovate shape.  The builder (who is often the designer as well) must consider all of these possibilities, and know the musical context they are best suited for…whether it be delicate chamber music, screaming lead trumpet in a big band, etc.

Their base of knowledge was arrived at through a lot of study and experimentation, often changing one variable at a time, in true scientific fashion.  This research led them to the point where they could successfully predict the performance characteristics of most any combination of components.  But that is still not the end of this brief overview, for how well the instrument is assembled must be considered as well.   Anyone who has played a few trumpets that are the exact make and model from even the most respected trumpet maker, knows that they do not all play exactly the same.  There are even greater differences in performance due to build quality between manufacturers.  How many hammer strokes were needed to shape the trumpet’s bell?…and was it annealed or not? How well were the joints soldered, and was the excess solder completely filed off?  How well do the valve ports align with the internal ports of the valve cluster?  No matter how good the design, it can be defeated by careless assembly.

trumpet bellsEvery player who is dissatisfied with their playing should ask if they have considered all of the parameters of their own human part of the instrument.  Do they know the best shapes and dimensions of their embouchure, jaw position (and the relationship between the two), lip aperture, the tongue, throat, chest etc., and are they aware enough to know to what degree of precision they have followed in their making?  It is not enough that you have two lips, for they are only the raw materials to work with (just like the raw brass on the left, which is far from the final shape of a brass instument’s bell).   If you can tell the difference in performance between two different mouthpieces from the same manufacturer (like a Bach 7C and 5C, with rim diameters of 16.25 mm and 16.20 mm, respectively), then you know the impact of a small dimensional change in a critical part of equipment design.  Please understand that even small changes in key parts of your fundamental setup can produce large changes in your performance.

There is some overlap here, but here are some of the most common problems in making the transition to a better way of playing:

  • The player does fully assemble the proper position.  I often get questions about mouthpieces, mouthpiece placement, etc., when further investigation reveals that the player has not even made the basic “M” position.  Or the player has not observed in the mirror how well they hold that position when they begin blowing (with or without the the horn).
  • The mouthpiece is placed before the embouchure is even set, often landing on the top lip first, or being too heavy in general…enough so that the lips begin adjusting (even in anticipation) to that contact pressure by “kissing” the mouthpiece, or pulling away from the mouthpiece with actions like smiling, sneering or lip eruption.  By the way, the term “kissing” seems to have both positive and negative usage in our trumpet community.  I feel the word could have positive value as far as contributing to a free, center, but a negative usage when done to the degree that destroys the contact and alignment between the lips, which is achieved with the “M” position.
  • The player immediately begins playing notes…even a basic long tone, slur, scale, tonguing, music, etc., with little regard to how they set up, or how they are actually making the sound.  Remember that there are a lot of ways to play the instrument, but not all of them offer the potential we need.  If the sound is bad, there is an instinct we all have to immediately make it sound better (most likely with the old habits), rather than making the corrections in form and air that will improve the sound.
  • Too much tension, and in the wrong places…like the upper body, throat, tongue and embouchure’s center (and even the mind, which may be too distracted to relax).
  • There is not a relaxed, steady flow of air, with an uninterrupted momentum. Oftentimes players attempt to achieve this by excessively opening the center of the embouchure, or by overblowing, either of which can spawn several new problems.

If those pitfalls can be avoided, the player has taken the first positive steps towards breaking their old habits.  However, even after following the basic guidelines, some of the key elements can still be missing, or may not be refined enough.  Players may find that they cannot make a sound, or that they cannot control their sound enough in a musical context (starts, sound quality, pitch, duration, low register, etc.), enough to give them confidence that they are on the right track.  For example, a lot of times players have trouble when they first try to give up tension based control (like excessive mouthpiece pressure), and haven’t yet figured out how to efficiently establish the gentle contact between the lips in a way that creates the focus of the lip aperture and seal with the mouthpiece.  Obviously, what’s important for anyone who is at this stage is to discover which of the parts are not in place.  During your practice time, if things are not working, it is extremely important that you do not force a note to play.  It’s far easier to find any errors from a state of relaxed awareness, rather than by trying to perform even an easy exercise or musical passage unconsciously.  With the old habits driving the bus, you will then only be further from making effective changes, since the needed corrections are not only harder to spot, but will also be harder to implement.

Think about making a paper airplane.  How do you test the soundness of its design and construction?  You have to throw it into the air and observe its flight.  You do not run around, still clutching the little airplane, giving it the pseudo-appearance of flying.  The plane will never soar that way, nor will you ever learn if it was made properly.  You cannot gather enough data through observance until you launch it with the swing of your arm. boythrowingplaneTaking this analogy further, there is a minimum takeoff speed for the plane to successfully launch and glide. The best paper airplane will not fly without the momentum of air under its wings.  Also, if you have a blueprint for a proven design, it is far easier to carefully follow that during the construction process, than to start from scratch, with no understanding of the laws of flight.  Going back to embouchure construction, carefully make the position (diligently checking it with the blueprint), place the mouthpiece properly, and then blow a relaxed, steady stream of air while holding the position.  Don’t force, or try to make a sound, but instead, just see what happens. Observe…through the look, the feel and the sound (or the absence of sound) and adjust…then blow again and observe, always comparing your work to the blueprint.

Often players can begin making a sound with this new setup, but cannot hold it for very long as they begin moving through the range of the instrument, or while tonguing.  If we go back to thinking about the trumpet maker, the best parts need to be carefully assembled, and then patiently soldered together.  small_piccloetenHowever, the better the parts are made and then aligned, the less stress will be on the solder joints.  Those joints will then not only be more durable, but will also allow the horn to be more open sounding, and more responsive.  But what is it that makes the ideal embouchure, and then holds it in place?  Some say the facial muscles, which is true, but those muscles must be programmed to do their job both accurately and consistently.  There needs to be a mental solder (what I call a “clear mental image“), and it must oversee that the correct muscles are involved in not only making this ideal position, but also in applying tension in just the right places (with any excesses carefully removed), in order to hold the embouchure in place.  If you want to play consistently, then you must begin by consistently making a correct embouchure, then by consistently interfacing it with the proper placement and weight distribution of the mouthpiece, and then by consistently providing this setup with a relaxed, and consistent flow of air.  The better you make and align the parts of the embouchure, the less stress involved, which will also make the embouchure more stable, and therefore easier to hold.  This also impacts the sound quality and response in the same positive ways as the well assembled trumpet just described above.  The more carefully you make your embouchure, the clearer your mental image will be, and if done correctly, you will use that same mental image, plus the same combination and coordination of muscles, to hold the position as you play.  Players that rush through this construction process do not have an accurate and clear enough mental image, so it is no wonder that the human part of their instrument does not function properly or hold together consistently, especially if the playing is also done unconsciously.  Their second mistake is then to blame the blueprint, rather than their own lack of knowledge, awareness and time invested.

You may have noticed how often the words “consistent” and “consistently” were used.  Fair warning here…human beings tend to be impatient, and to lose mental focus if things become boring (no surprise).  Repetition is extremely boring, and only heightens our impatience, so in the midst of tedious practice, our tendency is to gradually begin to skip steps, or to just go through the motions…giving the brain a vacation.  If you become caught up in that bad habit, you will soon become discouraged with your results, and even more impatient.  Sometimes success can be even more distracting, for that often breeds the kind of confidence that leads to carelessness…which brings you right back to where you were before.  The only way around this vicious circle is to replace repetition with refinement.  What I mean by that, is that every time you take a breath, not only reset your embouchure and mouthpiece, but add a refinement to that setup…make it even better than it was the time before.  progressive_refinementThis approach asks you to pay attention to what you had just previously done, and to determine at least one aspect of that system that could have been done better.  I say “system” because I’m not only including the embouchure, but also the placement, amount and distribution of the mouthpiece weight, the tongue, throat and upper body…and the airflow.  It’s not enough to just say that you will do it better each time…you have to have very specific improvements in mind.  If you want to improve, your mental image must be constantly refined (just like the series of pictures above, which gradually exhibit more detail).  That might seem like a tall order to some, but this process will increase your awareness…the most important tool for learning and growing.  By following that plan, you will then naturally begin to notice more things that need attention.  There is truth to the old adage, “the more you know, the more you know what you don’t know.”

FacesSome folks say that the “M” position only works for high notes, and that they can’t hold it when they try to play lower.  The fault is not with the “M,” but with tension that was used in making and holding it.  Try a different approach.  As you’re reading this, your lips are most likely already touching from corner to corner, and without any tension in your face, right?…just like the people you see in the picture on the left.  And like them, you’re not thinking like a trumpet player at all…you are just a relaxed human being with your face in it’s state of rest position.  The reds of your lips are probably showing as well, which is fine for now.  The important thing to observe is that the gentle contact you feel between the lips is on the inside…where the air will hit first, and that there are no gaps in that contact.  You already have a formation much closer to the ideal than many players form when they are actually trying to make an embouchure!

Now, in front of a mirror, and without the horn, refine this natural “M” position by bringing the lower jaw slightly forward, with the teeth 1/4″ apart, and the lips meeting at the exact vertical center of that gap (1/8″ below the top teeth edges, 1/8th” above the bottom teeth edges).  Make sure that you have retained that gentle, corner to corner contact that is felt on the inside of the lips, and that same sense of relaxation, but now carefully begin to reduce any excess tension or contact at the center of the embouchure.   To do this, some need to slightly engage the embouchure muscles (the “scissor action” described in “The Landing: the Final Focus and Seal“)**, to insure that only a very small, single point of least resistance is at the embouchure’s horizontal center, and that the gentle contact is still retained…but the more this can be accomplished by the localized relaxation, the better.

(** Some comments about the link just mentioned above…while it may explain the scissor action, it does not begin with the lips gently touching.  The advantage of that approach is that it helps to set the jaw and lip line more accurately, plus it does describe [and illustrate with the arrows in the accompanying diagram] how and where the embouchure’s muscular energy should be directed.  However, when first following these guidelines, some players end up using far too much tension during this process, which can work against the advantages that are to be gained from a position of this design.  After watching a couple of students struggle with the side effects of that tension, I came up with the slightly different approach listed above, which helped not only those students, but everyone else who has tried the ideas.  The muscular action of the “scissors” is still used, but now only as the way of maintaining the structure of the embouchure…when helping to preserve the gentle contact between the lips while the player is releasing tension in a way that will establish the embouchure’s small, single, central point of least resistance, to help make the seal with the mouthpiece and improving the distribution of its weight, and while the air is supporting the demands of the music.  A lot of unnecessary tension is more easily avoided by starting this way, thanks to the natural contact of the two lips that already exists while they are in their state of rest position.)

To aid in this process (and still without the instrument), blow ever so gently (which will greatly increase your awareness and control), with the mental image of aiming the air up…just enough for only a very small amount of air to pass through the embouchure’s center (I imagine a lip aperture so small that only one air molecule can pass through the center at a time).  You do not need to take a deep breath to do this, for then you will have to hold back its natural release, which would only add tension to this system.  Don’t try to buzz your lips…that action will most likely add unneeded tension, or cause the lips to erupt outwards.  Always know the exact size, shape and location of your lip aperture.  Maintain the original contact, and the sense of relaxation.  Remember that this contact is felt more on the inside of the embouchure, and so that is where you will first feel this smallest amount of air passing through.  AikidoYou are still establishing that point of least resistance, by mainly releasing more tension (a subtractive action, done without losing your gentle contact), rather than by gripping, clamping, squeezing, etc., in an effort to focus the lips into small aperture (for sure, an additive action).  You are allowing a path for the air to freely flow, before the mouthpiece, tongue, receding jaw, or “kissing,” “smiling,” “stretching,” “erupting,” etc., actions (old habits), react to the additive actions in a far less controlled manner.  With this air passage now established (even as small as it is), the position has been made and held with a minimum amount of tension, and because the air has a path to freely flow, the position becomes more stable, and easier to hold.  We don’t have to resist the air….we merely shape and focus it.  This is much like the martial art of Aikido, where the energy of the opponent is not confronted head on, but is instead side stepped, and then used for an entirely different action.

Next bring the horn up to the formed embouchure, and lightly touch the mouthpiece to the lips.  Be careful not to disrupt the embouchure’s shape, and recognize that the arms are so much stronger than the embouchure muscles, they can unconsciously cause problems…like a bull in a china shop.  You should know the exact skin cell (maybe an exaggeration!) below the center of the embouchure that feels the first contact of the mouthpiece.  bull-chinaThis may seem like overkill here, but this is where many players drop the ball with the weight distribution.  It is important to increase your awareness and control, especially during a step where the old habits could be the strongest.  Again, see the “Landing” series (links below) for more details on the mouthpiece placement and weight distribution.  Calmly breathe in and out through your nose and just observe.  Are you still relaxed, maintaining the gentle contact between your lips, and with the small, central point of least resistance felt on the inside of the embouchure?  Even without full contact, the proximity of the mouthpiece to the lips is not only a great reference for the next round of refinements, but it may also trigger old habits, so be vigilant.  Continue to monitor your state of relaxation, the gentle contact between the lips, and your central point of least resistance, and begin to blow just that very small mount of air again…still aiming it up towards your nose.

Be aware, and be honest with yourself.  If you are allowing compromise at this stage, you have not found the proper coordination for your balance.  Without that base, you are only inviting the body to try find the solution, in an overly reactive, knee jerk way…and how well has it done that in the past?  Don’t worry if you can’t do this right away, for you are learning something new, and are probably influenced by the urge of your old habits, which could now be on full display.  If so, be grateful that you can see them in action…thanks to the mirror, the absence of mouthpiece pressure, and of the need to make sound or music.  However, by slowing down the process…taking the time to set up carefully, blowing first with the very close proximity of the horn (not the actual full contact of the mouthpiece), not forcing a note to play, etc., you have given yourself the time to develop new skills, and not only catch some of the body’s knee jerk reactions of tension or release, but to even see and feel any possible signs of incompleteness and imbalance that invited their presence.  The embouchure will react entirely differently to an airstream alone, than to excessive or misplaced mouthpiece weight, and this allows it to learn these new skills much more easily.  Through vigilance and patience, you are also improving your mental image…the solder that will hold all of the parts together.  This is very dynamic practicing…in the very best way.

weightlessConsider the woman above, who is nearly weightless…completely relaxed, save for very minor adjustments to keep her balance.  She is in a relaxed state of awareness, and has found the physical position that allows her to easily maintain it.  If she wanted to begin doing the backstroke, she would have a great model of balance and efficiency in place, which would help her to recognize and perpetuate this state as she adds the complexity of motion.  This would make it easier for her to delegate muscular energy towards propelling herself through the water in an effortless way, rather than having to compensate for a body that had never experienced this state of relaxation and balance.  It is easier to maintain balance than to achieve or regain it.  Give yourself the time to discover a more relaxed and balanced way of playing.

Missy+Franklin+Swimming+National+Championships+93Ttz8t8S-jlIdeally, when you play there should be no wasted motion (for a swimmer, this efficiency is often seen as less disturbance in the water).  All of the action occurs within a form designed for optimum results, where every movement occurs around a center of calm, and is balanced with another action (Ex.: alternating left arm stroke, then the right arm’s stroke, etc.).  Swimmers and coaches constantly study form, and the swimmer’s ability to conform to it.  They also do exercises that, while not exactly like swimming a race, target and develop a certain aspect of form.  Years ago I remember working with a pull buoy, which is held between the legs in a way that will not allow the legs to kick, but still keeps their position elevated in the water.  This device helps a swimmer learn the proper alignment and balance of the body, and therefore a more efficient stroke.  During my first time with the pull buoy (actually with the very first stroke), I immediately  flipped over in the water…a victim of my own imbalance and poor form.  The experience revealed a lot of wasted motion, and how much it was throwing me out of balance.  As I began to train using the buoy, these problems were corrected by giving me a new mental image of good swimming form, that also developed balance, and the strength in my upper body that could help sustain that form, and increase my speed and efficiency through the water.

Can you see how this analogy relates to trumpet playing?  Blowing air past the calm center of the embouchure formation (still with the close proximity of the mouthpiece, which is not yet contacting the lips), gives you a chance to observe your embouchure and airflow in action together much more clearly.  In this state, undisturbed by the negative, unconscious use of mouthpiece weight, or the urge to make a sound at any cost, you can witness how your body and unconscious mind have been operating (much like I discovered what my swimming form was like, with the first stroke of my work with the pull buoy).  Often revealed during this process (which I call “No Weight Blowing“) are actions like the bottom lip squeezing up, erupting out, or flattening, the head dropping down, the corners pulling back or up into a smile, and the lower jaw receding (all of which can destroy the position).  Other common problems that could be noticed at this time are poor breathing, issues with posture, throat and upper body tension, or the arms being unable to hold the mouthpiece precisely at the correct location and angle.

Even the sound of the air passing through the formation is packed with clues.  “Chugging” (my term)…is where the air stops and starts or is very inconsistent, as it struggles to get through a tight lip aperture that is being squeezed.  More than one sound (whistles, pops, buzzes, etc.) means that there is more than one lip aperture, which again is a product of too much tension in the lips (the mouthpiece weight often begins creeping in here, and could also be the culprit).  Be sure that your your throat is not tight and closing…it must be completely relaxed, as though you are singing with a rich, resonant voice (try it!).  In most cases, if the sounds you hear do not correspondingly change in pitch by a whole step when you change from open to 1st valve and back, or respond pitch wise with changes in the airspeed (higher pitches with faster air, lower pitches with slower air), the lip aperture(s) and approach you are using will not be useful to you.  It would be best to start all over again from the beginning, without the horn, and with the lips in their most basic, state of rest position.  The tongue position, throat, and the embouchure shape and tension all contribute to very distinctive sounds in the airflow.  Try experimenting by changing those variables, in order for you to recognize how they change the sound of the airstream, and then which airstream sound is related to the ideal form.

Remember that you are not trying to make a trumpet sound at this point, instead you are learning how to maintain the most basic attributes of relaxation, balance and form, all while you blow air, and with the very close proximity of the mouthpiece.  Tightrope walkerIf you cannot do these things at this stage, your form will not miraculously improve when you begin to play.  The old habits will most assuredly kick in with their attempts to make things work, and you will most likely be back to where you started.  I should mention that if you do become impatient and force a note to play, you may at first notice some improvements (even somewhat dramatic), but know that they most likely stem more from what careful improvements you may have made up to this point, not from the “cheating” in form or impatience you have shown.  Although playing with a good sound is one of our goals, even relative improvements can be achieved with the combination of good form and compromise, so you must be vigilant, and know how you are playing.  When you are no longer influenced by the knee jerk reactions of using misplaced tension and excessive mouthpiece weight (any amount that destroys the position or inhibits the top lip from vibrating freely), in attempts to apply control, it then becomes much easier for you to make any remaining, needed adjustments, and to improve your mental image of playing.  The entire system can then develop in much more balanced way, which then can become a part of your way of playing.  The old habits are more easily discarded, and because the body has found a more relaxed way of doing the job, the likelihood of the old habits returning is greatly diminished.  Note:  a few years ago I was thrilled to see physical therapists use a way of retraining the body that had a lot in common with No Weight Blowing (Support from the Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy Fields).

One more point…just like the paper airplane needing the constant flow of air under its wings to fly, a swimmer’s momentum through the water is a part of their system of balance.  The same is true with trumpet playing.  As important as embouchure form and weight distribution are, the momentum of a relaxed, consistent flow of air is also a vital part of maintaining an equilibrium when playing.  This momentum begins with the inhale (air taken in a relaxed way, with a sense of expansion all around the belt line), then turning into an exhale, without any hesitation between when the air is coming in or going out.  Remember that for this initial work with a greatly reduced airspeed, we do not have to completely fill up, for then we would be essentially holding our breath (and tension).  Stay relaxed, only take in the air that you will need…but let it flow.

at31022_xtrSo how do you then begin the transition to making sound, and without force?  For this step I model the simple toy trumpet.  Even a child can make a sound with this little device, only having to blow air through the hole at the “mouthpiece” end.  No squeezing or forcing is needed, because the toy’s reed is consistently held in the path of the air by the shape of the plastic molding.  For the trumpet player, the “scissor action” of the surrounding embouchure muscles fulfills the same function as this housing (again, see The Landing: the Final Focus and Seal), and also aids in maintaining the proper alignment and shape of the lips, and the weight distribution of the mouthpiece.  What is important to remember is that as energy is directed past the center of the embouchure in this way (where the top lip serves as the reed), it should be done without destroying the original position that you began with…either by squeezing it shut or stiffening it at its center, or causing the contact points to release.   If you maintain the gentle contact between the lips, and a singular point of least resistance at the center, the sound will begin when you add the air.  Again, don’t try to make a sound…instead, make the position that makes the sound, with a relaxed, steady airflow.

If there is no sound when you blow a relaxed, steady airstream, or the sound is unacceptable, you have not yet completed the position, or balanced it with the rest of the system.  Don’t just assume that you have done everything correctly, and therefore this approach just doesn’t work for you.  You are working with predictable, physical laws, which will serve you well if you align yourself with them.  4983407Problems that occur at this time are similar to the frustration of continually typing in the wrong email address or password into your computer.  Although you may have been sure that you did everything correctly, being off by even one character is enough to cause trouble.  Stay relaxed (physically and mentally) as you blow, and observe the look, the feel, and the sound.  Listen to every type of sound you hear (coming out the bell, out the sides of the embouchure, in the throat, etc.), and if and how it changes over the duration of your breath, for that process will provide you with invaluable clues.   There is a direct connection between the sound and the feel.  If you hear the sound change (for better or worse), you should be able to notice a corresponding change of feeling in the body at the same time…the amount of contact between the lips, the aperture size, shape and location (and how they are affected by mouthpiece pressure and weight distribution), the jaw position, throat, tongue, chest, airspeed, etc.  Most problems at this stage are due to not having the complete, gentle contact between the lips, either because they were not set up properly to begin with, because the position was released, or because that gentle contact had been destroyed with too much tension in the in the center of the embouchure itself (either with excessive and/or poorly distributed mouthpiece pressure, or by closing the center with an incorrect action of the embouchure).  Also remember that this is a system, so you must also consider the flow and shape of the airstream (with an open throat, and the tongue down in the “Oh” or “Ah” position), and the general state and posture of the body.

Understanding and controlling sound production at this most basic level is at the heart of your work here.  Because it is so easy to make a sound without regard to form, it is very easy to skip right over this most fundamental step, which is what most players do to varying degrees, and which sets their course for everything else that follows.  This “Genesis of Sound” is what you are building your entire system of playing on, so you must know how you are starting the note.  Sharpen your awareness, and then use your awareness to expand your knowledge.  Cultivate your patience.  You will be rewarded.

Most of us come from an entirely different way of practicing, one where we were taught to play exercises in a book…the What to Play.  The approach outlined here is based on How you Play, so you have to rewire your brain for it Brain Waves(it has been shown that brain wave patterns are distinctly different when you are learning [and practicing], than when you are making music!).  At this stage you are still the builder of the instrument, not the player, and when you first do play, you are the tester of your work.   If I imagined what my warmup and much of my fundamental work today would look like on a musical staff, a lot of it (especially at the beginning) could not be notated, would be pretty boring looking, and should not be anything for anyone to emulate, since that would be still be practicing the What, not the How.  Also, those written notes would not reveal my mental process…what I am observing in regards to how I am playing, and the kind of corrections I am making.

The more time you take to observe, the more aware you become, which means you will begin to judge your work more effectively.  Don’t just assume that an improvement in some way means you are doing better, or that a bad sound means that you are doing worse.  An improvement in the upper register might be because of incorporating new techniques into your playing, but you may still be using too much mouthpiece pressure or tension, even if it feels relatively lighter than before (which for some is then one reason why the low notes won’t easily play).  An improved sound could signal progress, but you may still be releasing too much of the position when eliminating any excess tension (and then most likely will continue to have problems with the upper register).  Compare your results more to the blueprint, and the highest standards you can imagine, rather than how you used to play.  You must know how you achieved your results, good or bad.

My first improvements after studying with Roy Stevens were judged in comparison to my previous levels of performance, rather than by an honest assessment of my ability to follow every aspect of his blueprint.  This common mistake was revealed once the thrill of those improvements had passed, and then after realizing that I had not been progressing beyond that point.  Further investigation revealed that I had also inherited a different set of problems.  The solution was to return to the How I was playing…increasing my awareness, being honest with myself and focusing on the changes that needed to be made, while not being distracted by either my failures or successes.  Things began to improve again at first, until I noticed that I was repeating the same mistake again…judging myself more on the latest results, and then again assuming that my work was done.  Once I became bored with this new level of playing, I had to return to more responsible practicing, and then things began to improve again.  This cycle was repeated a few more times until I finally realized the pattern…that I had been wasting time by not constantly upgrading the system.  Deep-Well1Comedian-filmmaker Woody Allen had a joke, saying that a relationship (in his case, between a man and a woman) is like a shark, in that it must keeping moving forward in order to survive.  Nothing in our known universe remains the same (outside of the physical laws) …there is either growth or atrophy.  The same goes for our playing, and so we need a method that will continually give us a way of overcoming the next level of challenges…a deep well, that can be returned to over and over again for what we need.

Although the body does not know about trumpet physics, it does intuitively recognize imbalance, and will react in predictable ways to that imbalance with actions that will provide you with invaluable clues as to the origin of any problem.  By catching yourself in the act of losing your balance (or discovering why you had not achieved balance to begin with), it is much easier to distinguish the root cause of these reactions (which often became the bad habits we are trying to break).  domino-1500x350Those bad habits are usually symptoms of a greater underlying cause.  Know that once the initial reaction occurs, there can quickly be a chain reaction (like the domino effect), where several things happen so quickly, it might be hard to know what event occurred first (especially if you are only observing the last “domino” to fall).  However, symptoms can always give us clues that can be traced back to their source cause.  I always play the “Game of Why” with my students…”Why did this happen?”  And when they answer why, I ask again, “Then why did that happen?”  After they give me their next answer, I ask again, “And so why did that happen?”  Eventually we find not only the root cause of the problem, but also reveal the actual sequence of reactions that occurred after the original misstep.

The_Usual_Suspects_027These root causes usually turn out to be what I call the “Usual Suspects”…the same cast of characters that are known culprits and troublemakers (see the five listed earlier in this post, right below the raw brass to be used for trumpet bells).  Trying to find the root cause of a problem is just like the police putting known perpetrators into a line up during the process of solving a crime.  If the authorities have no suspects, they begin with the criminals in the area most known for being involved in that particular type of crime, seeing if the witness can identify them, and then asking the suspect, “How were you playing that Low C?”  If you are having trouble solving a fundamental problem, take a good hard look at the Usual Suspects.

You have heard of Newton’s Third Law, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  Can  you see this at work in the picture below?   This law can help you with your problem solving, for any reaction that you see or feel your body making, will point the finger at the previous action that caused it.  DOWO_flying_0867_rsz2_mcFor example, if you are starting with too much mouthpiece pressure, have poorly distributed its weight, are squeezing the bottom lip up (all of which close up the center of the lips), or are even just anticipating those actions, the body can react in several different and predictable ways (and sometimes in a combination of these ways) to free up the center of the embouchure.  In this case, here are some of the most common reactions or anticipations:  rocking the head to get “comfortable” (what I call the “bobble head”),  licking your lips (which is more due to the tension at the center than to dryness…the water vapor in your breath is enough to moisturize the lips for playing), tonguing between the lips to get the note started, “kissing” the mouthpiece, pulling the corners back into a “smile,” “pancaking” (flattening) the bottom lip, receding or opening the jaw…all actions, that while they may reopen up the center, usually do so by going too far in the other direction.

To take this example a little further, once any of those reactions take you past the balance point, the lip aperture is then too big, and so the body will react again in an attempt to focus the embouchure.  Again, this reaction is usually overdone, and in an improper, less efficient way…actions like bringing in more mouthpiece pressure (especially on the top lip), tightening the throat and upper body, squeezing the bottom lip up at the center, unconsciously arching the tongue, etc.  vicious-cycleOf course, all of these “solutions” only make matters worse, since they will trigger reactions like those first mentioned in the previous paragraph, which only cause more loss of focus at the embouchure’s center, which then invite the same predictable reactions that attempt to refocus the lip aperture again.  It’s a vicious circle.  The only thing than may be achieved at first is some semblance of control…but there is no real balance in the system, and certainly no relaxation.  It’s only a matter of time before a loss of control and sound quality begin to surface (symptoms like loss of endurance, cracked, airy notes, etc.).  Oftentimes this is when the player begins looking for a new mouthpiece…either something smaller to compensate for the unfocused lip aperture or to improve endurance, or something bigger, to compensate for the bright sound (due to the excess tension in the body and embouchure), and the diminished mouthpiece cup size (due to the lips erupting into the mouthpiece). These are obviously attempts at balancing the system, but only address the symptoms, not the cause.

Speaking of causes, we should back up to where I referred to Newton’s Third Law.  Shouldn’t we have asked why there was a need to start with too much mouthpiece pressure, or poor weight distribution in the first place, or why the bottom lip was squeezing up?  Those are all misguided attempts at focusing the aperture, meaning the embouchure was not set properly to begin with (it’s good to know that mouthpiece pressure can also be used to unconsciously open a closed embouchure).  And if we back up a little further, we will most likely find that the embouchure wasn’t set correctly because the knowledge of how do to this step was lacking, or that enough awareness was not utilized during the process, or the time was not taken to do the job properly.  Now we are really getting to the root cause!  These three cornerstones for success were mentioned near the top of this article, where it stated that if any of these are missing, there will be problems.  Without these three necessities for effective practicing, bad habits are both made and maintained.

And remember that a relaxed, steady airstream is an integral part of this balance.  A finely tuned sports car with problems in its fuel line cannot perform in the way it was designed.  You also have to make sure that you are not adding any form of destructive tension, or losing embouchure focus as the airspeed changes to suit the musical demands.  There is a delicate balance between the Focus and the Flow…and both these aspects of your playing need to exist in harmony, without one diminishing the other.

Even the best players can compromise to some degree…some lower lip eruption, a little bit of cheek puffing, receding the jaw, a small amount of smiling at the corners, etc.  These actions can be signs of a slight amount of imbalance (all helping in some way to keep the center free), but it is slight, and usually not to the degree that adversely effects their playing.  Their compromises are usually much smaller, without causing too much of an adverse reaction, plus there are a lot of other elements that are working extremely well for them.  If you can play as well as they do, or are satisfied with your playing, then don’t worry about these things if they are present in your own playing.  But if you want to improve (or if you are a teacher, and want to help your students to improve), then you have to address every facet of good form when you practice (and be careful about which aspects of your hero’s playing that you emulate).  In retrospect, some of our heroes or heroines have admitted to shortcomings in their approach to playing that required some major changes, or that these problems ended up getting the best of them.  Always check your work with the “blueprint” that aligns you with the physical laws.  By continuing to focus on that ideal, you will be less distracted by your successes and failures, and will always have a clear path to more progress.

Balance ScaleBecause you are working on a system of playing, every component of that system needs to be in balance with the others.  Even if you make an improvement, that impacts everything else in the playing system.  Other components may then need to be tweaked, otherwise the body once again will automatically try to make its own knee jerk adjustments in an attempt to achieve some semblance of balance.  For example, years ago when I first moved my jaw to the slightly forward position, I then discovered that it began opening up past the 1/4″ spacing while I was playing… something it had never done before.  I eventually realized that I was still using too much mouthpiece pressure.  The smaller aperture created by the jaw coming forward and aligning the lips (a big step towards focusing the lip aperture), was not balanced by decreasing the excess mouthpiece pressure (which was no longer needed to that degree).  The combination of the old pressure and the improved jaw position had then created even more of an imbalance in the system, negatively affecting both the airflow and the lip vibration with even more resistance in the center of the embouchure, and so the body’s involuntary reaction was again to try and free up the center of the embouchure.  Since at that point I was only concentrating on keeping the lower jaw forward, the body had found another way to react to that imbalance, and I was still stuck with a lip aperture that was too big, even though I thought I had done something positive, by bringing the lower jaw forward.

You should also realize that your mind often runs on the powers of association (my term for the phenomenon).  The mere act of making an embouchure, or blowing air, or bringing the mouthpiece up to your lips, or making a sound, or playing a scale or slur, or making music, etc., can trigger responses from the undisciplined mind…the equivalent of a computer running on an older version of software, causing the old habits to resurface.  Closing eyes while swingingEven with our best intentions, when trying something new (like forming a different embouchure and playing a note), we often “blink.”  All it takes is that split second for  the old habit(s) to come back and ruin your work.  You have to remain vigilant.   These powers of association are strongest when we take any common step we have done thousands of times before during our routine practice (like putting the mouthpiece up to play).  This lack of concentration is the equivalent of a little kid closing their eyes at the last second while swinging at a ball… merely doing an approximation of a swing and hoping to get lucky.  The only way to keep this from happening is to have the new “software” installed before you take that next step…which is holding in mind what I’ve been referring to here as a clear mental image.  The more detailed this image is (remember that this picture truly is worth a thousand words), the more easily you can override the mind’s force of association and begin developing a new habit.  It’s best to start with the most basic, fundamental steps…which gradually allow you to bring more of the new ideas into play, and to be an astute observer, as to how well you are adhering to form.  If something goes awry, you should be able to tell exactly when it happened, and what the cause of the slip up was.  The batter here only knows that she missed the ball, and has no idea if her swing was too high, too low, too soon or too late.  How can she make the necessary adjustments for the next pitch?  Keep your eye on the ball.

Also worth mentioning is a study done by researchers in sports performance (where most of the money on the subject is spent these days, but something musicians can still benefit from).  The studies revealed that it takes 10,000 repetitions to learn a new skill, but if you are trying to relearn that skill by implementing new techniques, it takes 20,000 repetitions to develop the new habit.  Although that number can seem staggering, it can be arrived at with a consistent, dedicated practice routine.  More importantly though, is that those repetitions must be performed using the correct form.  Practice does indeed make permanent, so we must be aware of what we are doing at all times, and choose the level of performance where we have the most control, before moving on to something more challenging.

Here’s a brief example of a warmup and practice session, which gradually and methodically adds complexity (more details are in some of  the related articles listed below, along with their links).  It’s a good idea to do this without any music in front of you, for staring at notes on a page is a distraction from your deeper work with your body and the horn.  Long Range ShootingDo not rush through these steps, for if an earlier step is not done correctly, the error will be magnified as the complexity increases (just like the smallest position change of the rifle barrel becomes more critical the greater the distance it is from the target).  But for that very reason, if you’re unsure if you have done a step correctly, any problems will be easier to spot in subsequent steps.  However, a problem’s solution is best addressed at the moment it first occurs.  Return to an easier step and make your fixes there.  When it doubt, simplify, or…go slower, arrive sooner.  The steps listed here are in one possible order of gradually increasing complexity, but that is not to say that order needs to be rigidly adhered to, especially with little regard to your ability to play in form…that starts to become more about what you are playing.  For example, it should be easy to imagine a type of slur that is more complex than a scale (even though slurs are listed before scales), so the fact that you are practicing slurs before scales does not guarantee that you are warming up properly.  What is more important is that you begin with relaxation, good form and balance, and retain these virtues as you progress, thinking more about how you are playing than what you are playing.  As you refine your human instrument, your sound and abilities will become more refined, so stay focused on the true work at hand.  A popular word these days is mindfulness.  With any good endeavor, you must be fully present when you practice, and have a purpose in mind.  Do you know why you are playing a long tone, a slur or a scale?

  1. Start with a completely relaxed body and mind.  This will increase your awareness, create the best environment for creative practicing, and set the base for the way you will play the horn.
  2. Visually (in front of a mirror) and by feel, make sure that you have the natural, gentle contact of the lips in their state of rest position, touching from corner to corner, with minimum tension.  You may already have it if you took Step One to heart.
  3. Set the 1/4″ teeth aperture, and bring the lower jaw forward so it is at least vertically aligned with the top teeth (see links to the “Landing” series below).
  4. Establish a small, centered lip aperture (arrived at mostly by a localized release of tension, and without losing the gentle contact), which is felt on the inside of the embouchure, where the air will hit first.  Some players need to engage a very small amount of the scissor action at this point (which puts only the minimum, required amount of tension at the corners, and keeps the center free).  It helps to imagine an aperture small enough for only one air molecule to freely pass through at a time.
  5. Using only the minimum tension of the scissor action to hold this position, gently begin to blow the air, aiming it up (you are still observing in front of mirror).  Make sure you can hold the position without squeezing it, and that you can remain relaxed without losing it.
  6. Next, while just normally breathing in and out through your nose, bring in your horn until the moment when the mouthpiece first touches the embouchure (which should be just below the bottom lip), being aware of that first contact point (imagine down to which skin cell, in order to help increase your awareness), adjusting mouthpiece placement (2/3 on the bottom lip), and the horn angle (so the mouthpiece weight will slightly favor the bottom lip, and be evenly distributed between left and right sides).  Use the close proximity of the mouthpiece to help determine if you need to adjust the placement and angle of the mouthpiece (the goal being to get as much even contact with the mouthpiece rim this way first), if you need to relax more, and where you may then need to use the scissor action for any remaining refinements with seal and proper weight distribution (again, refer to the “Landing” series for more info).  Make your adjustments.
  7. Slightly back off the contact of the weight and then blow, maintaining the position, contact points, lip aperture, and a constant, relaxed airflow.  This is the “No Weight Blowing” discussed earlier, which can also be combined later with tonguing and fingering…and you should alternate with this during steps 9-13 listed below.  Do not attempt to make a sound yet…just observe through the look, the sound and the feel that you still have the position, and that you are completely relaxed.  For most people, if you are making sounds without mouthpiece contact, it means you are either squeezing the position or letting it go.  If this is what is happening, you must know which of those two actions you are doing, so you can make the proper adjustments.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to inhale through the nose before blowing, just so you can better retain the position you have carefully made (this could also apply to steps 9-13).  Once you can remember the feel of the new set in the context of airflow, you will be able to return to the position more easily as you resume normal mouth breathing (keeping the throat open and the tongue down), within the natural uninterrupted rhythm of inhale and exhale.
  8. Bring back the gentle contact of the mouthpiece.
  9. Long Tones– Keeping the head and horn up, and being careful to gently keep the contact points, and a small, central point of least resistance, begin aiming the air up (no tonguing yet, which often separates the lips) and wait for a note to play.  Remember that you have been playing notes all of your musical life, and by that association, you can easily slip into auto pilot and undo your new setup.  Use your entire breath, maintaining a relaxed, constant momentum with your air, whether a note plays or not.  The longer your exhale, the more you can observe the system in action, and understand what is going on.  Absolutely no forcing at this critical point in time, for it sets the stage for everything that will follow.  Just blow and observe.  Start with whatever note wants to play, and when it wants to play…and be aware of how it began.  A note can begin with releasing the position or squeezing it (both to be avoided).  We are looking for the position that just plays when the air passes through it.  After setting everything up so carefully, you may be surprised at what comes out.  If there is no sound, or it is airy, then there is not enough gentle contact between the lips, or they are too tight to allow for vibration.  “Buzzy” sounds, or more than one sound at a time, means you are squeezing the position or letting it go.  More contact, less tension should become your mantra.  If you’re actually set for one note and try to play another pitch, you’re forcing the body to adjust, which could cause you to lose the formation you have so carefully made, so to avoid that, just let any note play.  Playing soft here helps to keep the lip aperture small, and the system relaxed and efficient.  The better things are working, the more you will notice an improvement in your sound…clearer and thicker (because of the improved contact between the lips), darker (not duller, because there is less tension in the position), richer and more resonant (because of the relaxation in the body, the shape of the air column, and the lips not protruding into the mouthpiece).  Contrary to some opinions, sound quality should be refined by tweaking the physical elements more than by merely imagining a good sound, at least until you can make the connection as to how those physical components influence the sound.  Remember that there a lot of ways to make sound, and some have more potential than others.  If stable notes are beginning to play consistently, try gradual crescendos and decrescendos, checking to make sure that you are maintaining a good, consistent sound, balance of form, and that state of relaxation.  Always use your entire breath, making sure the chest does not drop at the end.  If long tones are boring, then you’re not doing them with the proper amount of awareness.  There are a lot of things to keep track of, and remember, you should be constantly looking for ways to improve both your form and your sound, and learning more about how the two are related.  If you are successful here, you can gradually expand the pitch range (both higher and lower), with the actual pitches being determined by the range in which you can maintain your form, sound, state of relaxation and balance.  Carefully reset after every breath, and if necessary, improve your starting position before every new long tone.  You can alternate with “No Weight Blowing,” which might reveal some areas in which you are beginning to lose form, and help you to get back on track.  Remember to refine, not repeat.
  10. Slurs– Once the range of your long tones is large enough to include two or three slots in the overtone series, begin to slur between those slots, without changing any valves during the slurs (although you can use any valve combination).  Always work in both directions, meaning when you slur up or down, return back in the direction you started.  Gradually expand your range higher and lower, but only if you can remain relaxed, flowing, in form, and can play with a beautiful sound.  As you continue to improve, you will notice that the approach to the upper, middle and lower ranges becomes more and more the same, and that the differences between the registers become smaller and smaller.  Keep up the momentum of the air through your entire breath, properly supporting every note (listening carefully to your sound for clues at all times), and making that a priority over the number of notes you play in the slur.  Once again, the How is more important than the What.  Also think less about the rhythm of your pitch changes at first, letting the move to the new slot (up or down) be determined by the air and matching resistance of the embouchure, not by carelessly letting actions like erupting or squeezing the lips, tightening the throat, suddenly adding mouthpiece pressure, etc. become your method of control.  Once you can understand, coordinate  and control the proper techniques, then you can add the rhythm.  Learning how to correctly move up and down the overtone series is one of the most important, fundamental skills a trumpet player must master, and so you must know exactly what you are doing at all times (refer to the two links below about practicing scales and arpeggios for more information).  Your warmup and practice routine are two places where you can form your habits…old or new…good or bad, so be vigilant, even in the range of the horn that is easy for you (see the link below on the “No Respect Range”).  It is a good idea to alternate with “No Weight Blowing” here, just to check how well you are retaining your relaxation, form and balance as the pitches change.  And always remember, How you are playing is more important than What you are playing.
  11. Scales and Arpeggios– these can be only fragments at first, plus you do not have to start on the root or go up to begin with.  Instead, stay in the range you have control, prioritize form, balance, sound quality and relaxation, coordinate these things with the valve changes, and be aware of the sound and feel for clues about How you are playing.  Choose the direction, up or down, that you feel will allow the most control, going slow at first from pitch to pitch, but keep the valve motion quick, deliberate, and complete.  Your speed through the scale is the last thing you work on.  As with your slurs, always work in both directions, gradually expanding your range.  Again, alternating with “No Weight Blowing” will be useful here too.
  12. Tonguing– (may also be introduced during Steps #7 , 9, 10 and 11) This is a great test for your setup and balance.  For the clearest attack, tonguing requires a good seal with the mouthpiece, and a small, focused lip aperture (along with a relaxed, resonant, steady airstream).  Think more about these things than how you are tonguing (after all, you have been saying words beginning with the letters T and D all of your life), as long as you’re not ending a note with the tongue (like “Tut”) or tonguing between the lips and teeth (which is usually the body’s reaction to too much mouthpiece pressure).  Keep the sound full, clear and connected…just like your long tones.  No matter how fast you tongue, the tongue should spend the majority of its time low in the mouth (the “ah” or “oh” vowel).  If you catch it up high in the mouth (or especially arched in the back, which is often accompanied by nose noises), it could be the body’s way of compensating for a lack of focus at the lip aperture).  As mentioned several times before, if you do not have all of the system’s parts in place, the body will begin searching for its own solutions, and so tonguing can often quickly raise a red flag about bad form.  Another example..if the jaw begins “chewing,” it is trying to free up the center, which is pinned with too much mouthpiece pressure.  Start by slowly tonguing on a single pitch, to give your self the time to observe, judge and correct any deficiencies in the process.  Only when things are working properly, can you increase the speed, and then the range in either direction.  Alternating with “No Weight Blowing” works here as well.
  13. Music– Make sure you are still thinking of your fundamentals here, which will help your transition to a better way of playing all the more.  If you have warmed up properly, then you should be hearing the sound and displaying the control you want, so listen and feel intently.  As dry as all of this meticulousness may seem, if utilized properly, you should really begin to notice a payoff for all of your hard work.  Once again, alternating with “No Weight Blowing” (using valves and tonguing according to the music) will not only reveal what is happening with your system, but it also allows the embouchure to continue and develop with the air, rather than adversely react to weight.  Alternating with this step during your practice will also help solidify that “mental solder.”

Return to a more fundamental step (like No Weight Blowing) anytime you feel tired (even mentally), have lost the position, or are having problems with control, or just put the horn down for awhile and rest.  Fatigue is more due to carrying too much tension in the system (including excessive mouthpiece pressure and poor breathing), and the accompanying loss of balance, rather than the lack of conditioning in your embouchure muscles.  There is nothing wrong with improving your strength and conditioning, but they must be developed using good form, without adding unneeded tension…in other words, in the context of finesse.  watchyourform_mainThis is not a bench press contest.  In fact, the man here is not really developing strength in his upper body in the best possible way, for he has taken some of the load off of those muscles, and has transferred it to his legs and butt…putting his lower back at risk.  If I were to equate the bench press to good trumpet playing, the legs would be off the floor (closer to a fetal position), which would mean the balance would have to be impeccable, plus some of the unnecessary muscles would be taken out of the equation entirely.  The bar would always be in motion, from when it first lowered (the inhale), during its change in direction (without it bouncing off the chest), to when it returned to the top of that cycle, and the ascending speed would be able to vary in a very controlled manner.  During the lift, you would sing “Ah” or “Oh” with a relaxed, resonant voice (no grunting), and very precise pitch.  Get the idea?   Strength is only a part of the process, with balance, coordination, breath control, and localized relaxation playing just as important roles.  Stay “in the zone” of good form, relaxation and balance as much as you can.  Play the odds, for the more time you spend practicing this way, the sooner you will replace your bad habits with a better way of playing, and the more you will see those improvements when you perform.

I usually see the greatest strides are taken when the first steps are done flawlessly.  The better I refine my human instrument, the easier the subsequent steps become…almost like someone had practiced them for me.   Holding Cub in MouthAgain, your daily fundamental practice should always be more about How you are playing, rather than What you are playing.  Slurring, scales and arpeggios, and tonguing routines are great as a methodical way of testing the design, assembly and execution of your system through varying levels of complexity, but there is no magic in playing the notes themselves unless you bring a high level of awareness into the process, and are playing these exercises with good form, sound, balance and relaxation.  This is also where you strengthen your mental solder.  Remember, you must start as balanced and relaxed as you can, and then maintain those attributes as the complexity of what you are playing increases.  Like the mother tiger seen here……using just enough tension to hold her little cub, but not enough to injure it.  She maintains that delicate balance no matter where she carries her baby…up or down, left or right, fast or slow.  A player must establish the same kind of balance…making and holding the shape and contact points of the embouchure (and its singular point of least resistance) with a minimum amount of tension, using the scissor action…all the while staying relaxed, and releasing all unnecessary tension without losing the position…whether going up or down, tonguing or slurring, playing loud or soft, etc.

A Few More Tips and Reminders

  • Like a chess master, think several moves ahead before you act.shutterstock_73070908
  • Increase your awareness by calming and focusing your mind.
  • More contact (between the lips), but using less tension.
  • Fix the cause of the problem, not the symptom.
  • Discouragement can be a natural part of the learning process, but don’t dwell upon it, for there are better uses of your time.  When something is not working, the problem is on full display for you to observe, analyze and understand.  What an opportunity!
  • When in doubt, simplify!
  • Go slower, arrive sooner.
  • Know when to be your biggest critic…or your biggest fan.
  • Any changes you make should be be small, and done very slowly.  If you go too quickly or make too big of an adjustment, you could end up going right past the “sweet spot,” or moving other elements that could already be in place…or both.
  • Take videos of yourself during practice, especially from the angles (like the side) that you cannot observe as well.
  • You have to know what you are doing for control.

This has turned into quite a lengthy post, but I wanted the players who have been stuck or frustrated with their progress to have some clear ideas about the cause of their dilemma, and to know a way out…some way of putting themselves in more control of their progress.  Mastering any instrument takes thousands of hours, and quality hours at that, so you want your investment of time to count.  But this need not be drudgery.  Focusing your mind, solving problems, developing your talents, discovering that you have abilities you didn’t have before, learning more about yourself…these are all some of the highest endeavors of living…and of being human.  Music can provide you with interesting challenges for the rest of your life…so learn to embrace them, like old friends.

Albert-Einstein-geniusAlbert Einstein may not have been a trumpet player, but he was a clear thinker, and so I’ll let him have the final words.

  • “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
  • “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
  • It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

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Composing and Recording Music for Film

Film MusicIn an earlier post, I talked about the challenge and fun of “Composing Music to Poetry“, but recently I had the chance to take that experience to an entirely new level, when I was asked to write and play some music for a pivotal scene in an upcoming, full length movie.

A Remarkable Life” is Vohn Regensberger’s second film.  We’ve been friends for around twenty years, yet I first only knew Vohn as a talented acoustic guitarist and composer, working primarily with Brazilian music.  However, as we got to know each other better during our periodic discussions about music, I learned about his passion for filmmaking.

Vohn had been hard at work on this most recent work for awhile, so we had been out of touch.  When he called earlier this summer, I assumed the film was finished, and had asked how it came out.  It was then I learned that he was still in the work’s final stages, and that he wanted me to be a part of one of its last steps.

akinmusireAlthough most of the soundtrack had already been recorded, Vohn did not have music for the end of the movie’s second act, where the male and female leads were transitioning from an evening of bliss, to an emotional breakup.  Vohn had been searching for what kind of music would work in support of this pivotal scene, until one night he went to hear rising young jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire at Denver’s top jazz club, Dazzle.  Hearing a beautiful ballad with muted trumpet and piano gave Vohn the inspiration he was looking for, and thankfully he thought of me as the one who could help bring his new vision to light.

I, on the other hand, was not so sure that I was up to the task.  I felt very rusty after being away from my career for the last few years while caring for my elderly parents.  With the recent passing of my dear father, I was then currently caught up in the vortex of demands for settling the family business, selling a house, and moving to a new place.  I was already in overload mode.

This is where the reassurances of a good friend who knew me came into play…a friend with a known sense of musical integrity that I trusted.   While we had never actually worked together in the past, enough can’t be said about the value of time spent with a kindred spirit, bouncing off ideas about music and Life.  I trusted Vohn because he trusted me, and accepted the work.

Vohn was still writing the scene’s theme at the time, and when he felt he had a piece that would not only work for the particular scene, but also related to the music and structure of the rest of the film, he sent me a PDF of the basic leadsheet.  What I found was a beautiful little AABA tune, much like you would find in the Real Book.  Of course, that triggered my creative love of reharmonization, so I immediately began to work with the tune, adding my own ideas.  When I had finished, I requested that Vohn and I get together before going into the studio.  Before spending any time or money there, I wanted him to not only hear what I had done, but to see what degree of rust had been accumulating in my horn playing.

431069_308746602591608_1423491309_nWe had a great meeting, for not only did he like what I had done, he was also able to show me (using his laptop) the scene the music was to accompany.  I was very impressed with the two actors (Marie Avgeropoulos and Chris Bruno, both seen at left), and could see the challenge of coming up with something that supported their scene, while still working within the form of the musical themes.  The darker chords and voicings I had used seemed appropriate, but I could see that more tweaking would be in order to match the elements of the scene more exactly.

181291_306269529505982_1821992511_nI learned that the scene was done near the end of a long day of shooting at other locations, which had put everything behind schedule.  The two actors were tired, and there had been only a small amount of time left that the room would be available to the cast and crew.  Because the crew was rushed, the sound was not right, with too much ambient noise in the background (another reason the music was so essential, for without it, the actors would have to overdub their speaking parts to clean up the sound…something they never like to do, and for good reason).  The cameras only framed the two actors together at the very beginning and very end of their scene, with everything in between alternating between individual shots.  The camera perspectives did not always change with the dialogue…for often one actor would be speaking, while you watched the way the other was processing what they were hearing.  This increased the intimacy of the moment,  drawing you in more closely to what each person was experiencing at the moment.

With his laptop sitting on top of my piano, I tried playing in real time with the scene, as Vohn and I discussed specific places in the music that would work well with key points in the dialogue, action, and even facial expressions.  The scene was all over the emotional map, as the two characters struggled with a new, sensitive part of their young (and fragile) relationship.  Vohn talked about me recording the music without the visuals, and coordinating the two mediums by the basic timing alone, but I saw too many important cues that needed a more accurate placement, and was not confident in my ability to synchronize with them as precisely as needed without simultaneously tracking the video.

Once Vohn had left,  I copied a rough version of the movie on to my computer, and began tweaking the harmony and rhythm even more, to dial the music in with what was happening onscreen.  However, once he was able to get me a file of the scene alone (a much smaller file than the rough cut of the entire movie), I loaded it into Digital Performer (my sequencing software, shown below with a frame from the actual scene), which allowed whatever I did with the music to be replayed perfectly in sync with the visuals every time.  This is a far cry from the older days (in the not too distant past), where a separate track of SMPTE time code had to be recorded on tape (remember tape recorders?), often needing to leave an open buffer track to keep the hardware from accidentally being influenced by an adjacent track’s recorded music.  In my love-hate relationship with computers, that day was definitely a lovefest.Film in DP8

Lenny's Lament 2Vohn’s original lead sheet (partially seen on the left) also had a simple intro, showing two arpeggios with an interesting relationship to an underlying G pedal point…the G11 A Remarkable Life- Blog Exerpt 1could be also thought of as an FMaj7/G, and the G7b9 could be thought of a an FminMaj7/G.  Of course I had to put my own mark on things, but still wanted to use his idea to begin with.  Stripping things down, I at first eliminated the G pedal, and then played only the Maj7 interval between the outside voices of the first arpeggio (F and E), and then resolved that dissonance to the inner voices, A and C.  The concept of creating dyads in this way became not only the scene’s beginning, but also a recurring cell that could be varied later on according to the harmonic needs of the moment.  Note: for copyright reasons, I’m only showing small fragments of the music.

When Vohn and I had worked together at the piano, he knew exactly when the theme (the pickups C# and D to Letter A) was to begin, and there were a few other key places in the scene that worked extremely well with very specific points of the music.  However, as I really began my work in earnest, it started to become obvious that the musical form needed to be stretched or condensed, in order for those key points to coordinate exactly.  And as I became more familiar with the scene, other visual and dialogue cues also demanded appropriate musical support, and so the piece began to take on a much more definite form.

So the introduction did not feel rushed (which would have played against the tender moments of the scene’s beginning), I found an earlier entry point for the music to begin. The pace of the music improved, and also seemed to work quite well with the film during that part of the scene.  Via email, the director instantly agreed with my ideas, and gave me the green light to proceed in that direction.  Vohn is a very good director, and knows when to assert his will (like the exact moment the theme was to be introduced), or when to be open to new ideas from the actors (or in this case, with me).

The new, longer intro then needed more music, and the motivic cell of dyads I mentioned earlier was easy to develop in a way that suited each moment.  Also, many of the timing cues Vohn and I had worked out at the piano were arriving far too early in the theme’s second “A” section, so I presented Vohn with the idea of inserting more of the Introduction’s motifs between the first two A sections.  Once again Vohn instantly agreed with the choice, and I was able to continue the work without missing a step.  With the added music, the cues we had had worked out for the second A section now dropped into place much more easily, just as we had originally planned.


A Remarkable Life- Blog-1I love dyads!  They’re so opened ended, meaning they can suggest so many harmonic possibilities without really committing to any of them.  Example A  (above) shows the same opening motif, with the pedal G entering a little late…to delay the truer sense of Vohn’s Gsus11 (FMaj7/G), followed by…what would you call it?  Any chord that would have those three pitches in it would sound quite different if you filled in the remaining notes.  That’s why I like dyads…simple, yet complex…nebulous, yet distinctive.  After that a CMa7#5 that first only appears to be another Maj7 interval.  Example B develops the opening cell a little further, still with only three voices.  Example C’s melody begins with another descending 3rd, but for variety, the lower voice of the dyad always moves in parallel 7ths.

A Remarkable Life- Blog- 2Example D (above) begins with a Maj7th interval, but this time resolves in a darker fashion.  What is that…an Ab major chord with a b9, or a CminMaj7#5 chord?…followed by a minor 6th dyad in the second measure which changes color as the bass line ascends to the Eb.  After that, Vohn’s FminMaj7 chord is heard in its dyadic form. Example E has all of the notes of Example C, arranged slightly differently.

These examples could initially sound dissonant to your ears, but if played tenderly, with a bell-like tone on the piano, that effect is softened to…maybe bittersweet?

By the time the B section (the tune’s bridge) arrived, things were beginning to get pretty agitated between the two actors.  Here the new, darker harmonies came into play perfectly, although now the pace of the music had to accelerate, and turn on a dime to keep up with the action.

I should say that all during this time I tried to be aware of not stepping on the dialogue.  The Sound Editor could adjust the overall level of the music to the speaking parts, but still, the music should support, not compete with what is happening on screen.  I had to look for my openings, and jump in without the flow of the music being destroyed in the process.  None the less, I found meters and tempos needing to be be altered…but that often happens with music that stands alone, doesn’t it?  In this case, all of the complexities that needed to be incorporated did not happen consciously (as if I was saying to myself, “I need to change to 7/8 time at this point”), but occurred more spontaneously as I played the piano while watching the scene.  It was only after the fact that I realized what the music had done structurally to serve the scene.

Marie A.By the time the music reached the third and final A section, the actress was in full flight, drawing from her own life experience, and as a result, began improvising her own lines.  Director Vohn let her soar.  The music needed to reflect that anguish, and so the returning melodic theme received it’s third reharmonization, even darker than before.

I should say that throughout this scene, I had also been using piano voicings that stressed clusters…intervals of a major or minor 2nd (which are inversions of the interval of a 7th), sourced from one of the applied scales of the moment.  Rules of harmony still applied, but these types of voicings, combined with more exotic scale choices, worked well with the moods of the actors.

Chris B.Having said that, when the scene reached its meltdown, traditional harmony was abandoned in favor of an even more chromatic approach.  The melody began to be at first comprised of either descending half steps, or very wide intervals in the opposite direction.  When thematic material returned, it was presented with dyads a perfect 5th apart, while the bass became more melodic and thematic based itself, also doubled at the interval of a perfect 5th above.  The intervals between those two (actual four now) voices became more dissonant (minor 9ths, tritones, etc., which injected a lot more heaviness and testosterone into the scene).  As the scene reached its surprising conclusion, it was punctuated by a very dense cluster of several notes at the bottom of the piano.

A Remarkable Life- Blog- 3Because the Perfect 5th is found near the bottom of the overtone series, it strongly states a key center with its bottom note.  In Example F on the right, the two dyads (from the bottom up, Bb-F and E-B) suggest the keys of Bb and E…a dissonant tritone apart.  The same relationship exists in the second measure (Ab-Eb and D-E), although the two original dyads moved in contrary motion to get to the new voicing.  Example E  shows the top dyad of B-F# over three different dyads.  When heard over the C#-G#, a more consonant C#sus7 is suggested.  More dissonance returns with the underlying Eb-Bb (akin to an Ebmin with an added b6), and then C-G (a Cmaj7b5).  Although those chords have the same pitches as the example’s written notes, the Perfect 5th interval dyads bring to mind something different, and assert a much stronger and consistent mood than conventional voicings for those chords would.

logicsession2_090413Once in the studio, it was great to have the piano part already recorded as MIDI information in the sequencer.  The engineer, Tad Wheeler, had only asked for a MIDI data file from me, which he then opened in his sequencer of choice, Apple Logic Pro X  (I have been hearing good things about this sequencer, and seeing it’s editing capabilities in action now has me thinking of converting).

pianoteq-260639-1247623640Tad also wanted to use Pianotek 5 Pro sounds , which is a software based plugin instrument he prefers.  Pianotek models (rather than samples) the sound of several piano makes (Steinway, Bluthner, Yamaha, Bechstein, etc.), offering a huge number of variations (string length, hammer harness, detune, grands, uprights, vintage, to name just a few parameters) that do not tax the computer’s CPU.  I had played all of my parts on the new Yamaha CP4, so although I was impressed with Pianotek’s capabilities, from previous experience of a similar situation, I feared that the touch and sustain information of my performance on the CP4 would would not be interpreted by Pianotek in the same way it was played.  Sure enough, some of the notes were clipped, instead of being allowed to sustain, but luckily there were not too many notes so affected, and they were relatively easy to fix in Logic.

akgc4142.lFor recording the trumpet, Tad had chosen the AKG 414, a classic, large diameter condenser mic.  I had never used this mic on harmon muted trumpet, and was a little leery of the kind of sound we would get.  This had nothing to do with Tad or the AKG though, but was based more on the last studio experience I had, where I let the engineer have full reign on mic choice and placement.  On that day, he had chosen a ribbon mic (which I normally like), but the mic (the make and model I cannot remember) was placed too far away to achieve the intimate, resonant sound associated with this mute, and made iconic by the late Miles Davis (seen below).

Miles MutesToday, trumpet players also have the option of using a bubble mute (seen on the right, below), instead of the older Harmon design (seen with Miles, and on the left, below), which usually offers a bigger sound and improved intonation.  I still have my older Harmon mute though, just in case it could someday be the better choice.  Both mutes have an optional stem which is usually abandoned (because of the different sound it produces). Bubble mutes are made with different kinds of metals, and that day I chose to use one made of copper (rather than aluminum).

There is something called the bass proximity effect with microphones, where the sound becomes deeper  and more resonant as the source gets closer to the mic.  Add to that the fact that the harmon mute’s hollow shell actually is a resonant body with a different sound at the exit point of its small hole, and you have good reason to place a mic in tight for solo work.  Heard from a much greater distance, the sound the trumpet makes with this mute is entirely different, and has it’s place in the context of orchestrating for a larger ensemble…most notably when a section of harmon muted trumpets can be heard adding a nice bit of metallic sparkle to a big band.  We experimented with the distance between the mute and the mic, and eventually found the “sweet spot,” which drew smiles from both Vohn and Tad, and let me breathe a sigh of relief.  Near the end of the scene, where I had described the increased use of chromaticism and parallel 5ths, the trumpet’s harmon mute was discarded in favor of the open horn, to add more even more drama to the music.

As I had mentioned at the beginning of this post, as a trumpet player, I was out of shape.  There were some pitch problems in a few places, which were compounded by the tendency of the high resistance bubble mute to play sharp.  Although this was fixed by pulling out the tuning slide, I would have preferred a week’s worth of dedicated practice to center the sound and pitch.  In an ideal world that could have happened, but in real life you must do the best you can under the circumstances.

During the final playback in the control room, I heard one place where I had played a different note than what was supposed to be doubled by the piano (at that point I had been going by sound, rather than reading the music).  Neither instrument was playing a “wrong note”…they were just a half step apart (the major 3rd of the chord and the b9 an octave lower).  One quick adjustment of the piano part in Apple Logic, and the two instruments were perfectly together.  This was a case where the computer saved us some time, which is a invaluable commodity in the studio.  However, if this solution would not have worked musically, we would have gone back and recorded the trumpet part in that section again.

Sound Editing TheaterWith the recording done, it was then scheduled to be sent via the internet directly to the sound editing engineer in Los Angeles, where he predicted a three week turnaround for his work on the entire film.  He works in a very different kind of control room, for here the room and speakers are an actual movie theater, in order to get a truer sense of the venue the film will be shown in.  From there Vohn hoped to get the film submitted to the Sundance Film Festival before their August 29th deadline.  Besides a nice call from Vohn, thanking me for my work, I have not heard any more news about the film, although he hoped to find a theater in Denver to schedule its home town premiere.  I’ll post an announcement of that date and location as I learn more.

There’s a Facebook page for the film too: (https://www.facebook.com/aremarkablelifemovie), so based on my history of usage with that social media, maybe you’ll know about the premiere before I do!

Just as I was finishing this post, Vohn texted me, saying that “A Remarkable Life” will have a limited showing (for those who helped make the film) on October 2nd, at the Landmark Theater near I-25 and Bellview.  That will be a very special night at the movies for all of us!

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Explanation for Delays in Posting

images-1My apologies to all of the subscribers of this blog for my taking so long to publish a new post.  I lost my father on March 25th, and have since been overwhelmed with all of the demands that come with being the Personal Representative of his estate, and getting set up in a new residence.  There are ideas for new posts which are waiting in the wings, but I’m projecting it may be a couple more months before they are published.

While this signifies the end of a great and loving man’s time on this earth, it also means a new beginning for me, as I will eventually be able to return to my passions of composing and performing again, after missing them for these last few years.

Thanks for your patience.

 

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2014 DU Trumpet Hang!

Here’s a great event for Denver metro trumpet players, although many have come from beyond Colorado’s borders to attend.  For the price of a private lesson, you can attend five informative clinics with talented, experienced pros, try out a variety of horns, mouthpieces and accessories, hear some fine trumpet ensembles from DU, do some playing…and lunch is included!

Trumpet Hang Poster

THIRD DU TRUMPET HANG – 2014 SCHEDULE

  • 9AM: Prelude-DU Trumpet Ensemble.  Clinic- “Breaking It Down; The Relationship of Slurring to Total Technique.” (Brad Goode)
  • 10AM: Prelude- DU Trumpet Ensemble.  Clinic- “Orchestral Sound Production and Style” (Justin Bartels)
  • 11AM: Prelude- DU Trumpet Ensemble.  Clinic- “Trumpets & Other Fun Things – Why Things Sound Like They Do” (John Mills)
  • Noon: Prelude to lunch- DU Trumpet Ensemble
  • 12:15–1PM: LUNCH & DISPLAY
  • 1PM: Prelude- DU Trumpet Ensemble.  Clinic- “Clifford Brown: Researching & Re-Discovering the Jazz Trumpet Titan” (Al Hood)
  • 2PM: Prelude- DU Trumpet Ensemble.  Clinic- “Trumpet Practical Applications and Troubleshooting (Q and A)” (Pete Olstad)
  • 3PM: Prelude- DU Trumpet Ensemble.  Clinic- “Booking Yourself/Your Band – International/Domestic” (Bob Montgomery)
  • 4PM: Trumpet Ensemble Reading Session (Bring your horns!) (‘Hang’ Faculty leading)

Clinician’s Websites:

 JustinBartels

 Justin Bartels

Brad GoodeBrad Goode

al_hoodAlan Hood

lJohn Mills (of the Trumpet Trader)

bobmontgomeryBob Montgomery

peteolstadPete Olstad

 

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Pedal Tones- A Foundation for Correct Trumpet Playing or a Waste of Time?

organ pedalsYears ago when I was in college, many of the school’s trumpet players began to follow the Claude Gordon Method, which started with a series of long tones chromatically descending into the pedal register of the instrument (named after the lowest pitches of the organ, which are played with the feet).  All of this was done independently of their trumpet lessons at the university, but once one player heard that the routine was great for developing the upper register, many others followed suite.  Of course I wanted to be able to play those high notes too, especially since I’d lost much of that range when I began trying to play with less mouthpiece pressure.

Learning of all of the great musicians who endorsed the Claude Gordon method increased my dedication, and inspired me to develop pedal notes below double pedal C.  However, there was no change whatsoever in my upper range.  Over the years I have heard of other players who have had the same lack of success, but have always wondered why this method worked for some and not for others.

A few years later I began studies with Roy Stevens in New York City.  Roy was not a fan of pedal tones at all, saying that playing in that range would only encourage a lack of embouchure focus, leading to problems in the upper range.  Everything else he taught was based in a solid grounding of the physical laws that govern trumpet playing, so I had a lot of faith in his logic from first hand experience.  Still, what was it about those pedal tones that had created such a loyal camp of followers?

Flash forward years later, when I was working with students on their downward slurs. Inexperienced players tend to approach the lower register by letting the airspeed sag, and by letting their lips erupt out…which always produces a compromise in the sound (becoming airy, blatty, and less focused), and hindered their ability to suddenly return to the middle and upper registers.  As they learned a better approach to their low range, not only did their sound improve on the low notes, but so it did in the middle and upper range as well.

The constant reminders of the positive results achieved with good fundamental technique (both with my students and in my own playing), eventually made me wonder…if that pedal C (or any other of the lower fundamental notes in that slot of the horn using the other six fingering positions), is a “real” note on the horn (after all, it IS the instrument’s fundamental pitch), why shouldn’t we be able to play that note with a good sound, and in good form too?  And not just be able to play the note, but to slur to and from it, to tongue it, etc.,…all the things we expect to do with any other note within the playing range of the instrument.  Besides, those fundamental tones are not the same as the induced notes, the pitches between (but not including) the low F# below the staff and the Pedal C (see the example below), which are not reinforced by an overtone series above.  Those induced tones are not easy to play, especially in good form, and rarely sound good.

Pedal TonesI began to experiment with trying to play a pedal C with the same strict form I aspire to use throughout the rest of the range of the instrument…no compromises, avoiding actions like lip eruption, tilting head down, putting more mouthpiece pressure on the top lip, opening and/or receding the lower jaw, etc.  During that process I noticed that the urge to let go of the form and erupt the lips was related to (and often provoked by) poor mouthpiece weight distribution (with too much on the center of the top lip, inhibiting its vibration), and the lack of mouthpiece seal at the corners, which left the lips too far apart to produce any sound without having to resort to sloppy technique.  I found that the Pedal C began to play softly when I backed off the mouthpiece weight, made sure it favored the bottom lip, and sealed at the sides of the mouthpiece by using the scissor action (described in an earlier post, “The Final Seal and Focus“).  I also made sure that my throat was very wide, and that the air was “hot” and steady .  As the lips (the top lip’s reed and the bottom lip’s facing) came into gentle contact, the Pedal C began to play, and surprisingly with a lot less effort.

Another twist on my approach to playing the pedal C, was to actually blow less, which goes against most of the common practice of playing in this range.  More air certainly helps to get loose, flabby libs vibrating, and can make up for deficiencies in the seal, but it can also contribute to a large, unfocused embouchure and lip aperture, and so I didn’t want to settle for an approach that merely played the note (I had already tried that years ago, and knew it did not offer the benefits I had hoped for).  But as the sound began to speak, it was more clear to me that the note would play with a more efficient set, and using less air made me more sensitive to that process of refinement (for more information on this approach, you can read the earlier post, “Using Weber’s Law to Improve the Focus of  a Trumpet Embouchure“).  One more thought:  Roy Stevens described several physical laws related to playing a brass instrument…one stating that increasing airspeed into fixed lip and jaw apertures will produce a climb with a corresponding crescendo.  Loud, unfocused pedal tones are also subject to this law, and therefore that playing formation at best could only beget an inefficient, limited climb, and at a volume (and sound quality) that would be inappropriate for most musical situations. Conversely, a pedal C played with the exact same sized lip aperture as a Low C, will be softer than the Low C.

Playing the Pedal C in good form was only the first step, though.  Although the sound was somewhat improved, it was still  airy, which revealed that the work was not yet done.  In the past, the next step would have been to just go lower…to the Pedal B and below (at that point, they were certainly playable).  However, I believe that it’s best to fix problems when they first occur (or at least when you are first clearly aware of them), so in this case I stuck with the Pedal C, and began to tweak the form…improving the alignment and contact between the lips, focusing the lip aperture even more (being careful not to add tension at it center), and making sure I was not depending too much on the mouthpiece weight to seal at the corners.  The sound not only continued to improve, but I noticed that I could begin to slur up to the low C with some success, and also have some semblance of an attack when tonguing.

It was still not pretty though, and since it was still clear to me where the deficiencies were, I continued to refine the embouchure’s form…going for even less tension at the center, without allowing the lips to release their “M” position.  Improvements in those areas continued to yield better results…the better the “M” formation was retained, the more the Pedal C sounded like a regular trumpet sound.  The slurring was able to ascend up past the low C, and I was also able to slur back down to the Pedal C.  I’m not saying the sound and control was at the level I had in the instrument’s regular range, but it became obvious that my playing in that more common range was beginning to show marked improvements.  The sound was broader, yet at the same time more focused.  Now I was starting to see the value of pedal tones!

Although I often include written musical examples in this blog, it was a conscious choice not to write out the kinds of notes and patterns I was playing during this kind of practice, in an effort to discourage interested readers from following my exact routine.  My progress to more demanding slurs, tonguing, etc., was based on the success I was having with the sound and control, not because it was the next step of written notes in a routine or book.  I spent most of my time setting up the embouchure properly…and not just repeating that process, but instead, refining it a little more each time.  6-exercises-you-are-doing-wrong-bicepsThe long tones, slurs, tonguing, etc. were performed to give me feedback on my work, or to provide me with the challenge of maintaining the improved position. What and when you play should be determined by your ability to play in form, and with a good soundnot by your ability to merely play a note or a series of notes.  It’s no different than performing an exercise in the gym (like the dumbbell curls shown here).  Proper form insures that the right muscles will be exercised and developed.  Bad form takes the load off the muscles you are trying to develop, and could lead to injury as well.  It’s a waste of time.  Good form will produce good results in sound, control, and other areas of performance.

As I continued having success with this approach, the ascending slurs began to move past High C, which I never thought would have been possible starting from a Pedal C.  The climbs would ascend easily, and as quickly as the airstream accelerated, and all with no changes in the embouchure.  Although I could play the High C, the embouchure’s aperture size was still too big for efficient sound production (in accordance of the physical law described above)…I simply ran out of air sooner.  When I started the Pedal C with a more focused aperture, the sound quality and efficiency improved, and extended the slur past high D.  Those high notes were already in my range, but what impressed me was the more uniform feeling and sound I was experiencing throughout my range.  High notes didn’t sound high, for there was less strain…they played with a lot more ease.  The sound was warmer, tonguing was easier, and accuracy was much improved…more of what I was used to in the middle register.

Addressing the Pedal C with the same sensibilities used in the normal range of the instrument helped to clarify the coordinated muscular action that needs to prevail throughout the range of the horn.  The challenges of compromise we encounter in this extreme range are more obvious, which makes them easier to identify, and therefore clarifies the work that is needed, in order to replace those compromises with fundamentally sound alternatives.  “Shutting the door” on all of the compromised ways we are tempted to use when  playing in the trumpet’s lower register helps the body discover and learn the techniques I’ve described here.  Even by foregoing the common practice of dropping the jaw in the low range, the body must find other ways to free up the embouchure’s center, like reducing unnecessary weight and tension even more.  Also of note, Roy Stevens reserved the action of opening the jaw only for playing loud in the extreme low register, not for getting the note to merely play.

bench-press-negativesHere’s another weight room analogy:  there is an exercise in this kind of training, (in my experience, with the bench presses) known as Negatives.  Here the bar is loaded with more weight than you can possibly lift off your chest (a good spotter is required).  The spotter helps get the bar in place, and then slowly turns the entire weight over to the lifter.  Of course the weight will begin to overpower you, but you must resist with all of your might, all while keeping the strictest of form.  Once the bar has reached the chest, the spotter (or two), then lifts the bar back to the starting position, and the steps are repeated.  In this way the muscles are subjected to a very intense workout (interestingly when the bar is moving in the opposite direction achieved when these specific muscles contract), which can lead to increased strength and muscle development.  In a similar way, playing a Pedal C with great sound and form can seem like an insurmountable goal, but by at least moving towards that goal with an increased awareness of how you are playing…correcting your technique as you go to the best of your ability, you will be making major fundamental changes in the ways you approach playing the instrument.  In this range, the lips will instinctively want to release any kind of formation, so the player will first be challenged to clarify their mental image of what the proper form should be, and then to follow through with the correct, coordinated muscular action that supports that mental image.  During Negatives, if the athlete does not keep strict form and balance, the exercise loses its effectiveness, and increases the risk of injury.  In the same way, careless, uninformed practice in the pedal register is not only a waste of time, but can also be harmful to our work in developing a better way of playing the trumpet.

144040-004-EB694DD2There is yet another analogy that works here.  If you have ever watched competitive bobsledding (also known as bob sleighing), you know how important it is for the pilot to keep the sled in the middle of the half pipe track.  There is a little wiggle room, but any contact with the walls, will slow the sled’s speed and efficiency. Also, the chance of damaging the sled increases with this contact, and if the sled continues to stray further from the center path, there can be a serious crash.

There is a similar, optimal center path when playing the trumpet, although many players only become aware of it when they deviate from this ideal in the extremes of their ranges (coincidentally, what I’ve called “hitting the wall” in previous posts).  For example, one might notice that as they ascend into the upper register, they are using more and more mouthpiece pressure on the top lip, or tightening their throat and upper body…eventually leading to a ceiling in their range.  Or, that as they descend, their sound becomes airier, and less focused.  Often players feel the need to change embouchures when they change ranges.  As discussed in other articles in this blog,  these problems are most often symptoms of a greater causal problem that has already occurred.  Unless you are perceptive enough, the symptoms will appear to be the problem, and if so, attempts at finding a solution will most likely be frustrating.

Balance and AlignmentThe crude diagram on the left illustrates some of my thinking about this center path, as it relates to playing the trumpet. Example A would be the ideal, where the relationship between the various aspects of airflow, embouchure formation and mouthpiece pressure, is in balance through most of the range of the instrument (represented here as the fundamental Pedal C and its overtone series).  There is an ease and resonance to the sound. Example B shows the lack of balance stemming from the usual fundamental problems many players experience within a normal range of the horn.  You can see that although the player appears to be in the center path within the most common range of the trumpet, there is a lack of true, fundamental balance.  If the player continues to ascend or descend with this unbalanced approach, it becomes more and more of a struggle (represented by the red arrows) just to get the pitch to speak.  These attempts at control are usually the body’s knee jerk reactions to this loss of balance (e.g. excessive mouthpiece pressure in the upper register, or progressively more eruption of the lips in the lower register).

Imagine driving a car that inherently pulls to the right.  wheel-alignment-image-3Driving under those conditions will not improve the problem, no matter how much you adjust the steering wheel to the left, or how many miles you drive. Instead, the car needs to be taken into the repair shop for alignment. Repeatedly practicing range extension exercises (either higher or low) without an awareness of the basic, proper balance of ingredients will be unproductive, and only introduce or reinforce bad habits.  Also, if you have started with a good balance, it is then much easier to maintain your balance.

The orange arrows of Example C show that if a player can improve his or her balance while transitioning between two “slots” (overtones), or even on a single pitch, they can effectively align their playing with the entire range of the trumpet…being prepared for any sudden leap the music requires.  Establishing and maintaining the correct form and balance is more important than merely playing notes, patterns or exercises without this awareness and goal in mind.  In short, when trying to improve as a player, HOW you play is more important than WHAT you play.  Any genuine improvement in form, in any range of the instrument, should help produce an improvement in sound and form in the other ranges.

Uan RaseyThere are examples of great trumpet players who have concentrated on establishing this kind of balanced in a very limited and easy range of the trumpet, and making it the cornerstone of their warmups.  Duke Ellington’s famous lead trumpet player, Cat Anderson was known for playing very soft, middle G long tones for twenty minutes.  There is a great story of Hollywood studio great Uan Rasey (seen at left) carefully warming up by playing a slur back and forth between low C and middle G.  This impressed the composer of the film score (who was listening in the next room), so much that he changed the theme of the movie to those very notes…and then had Uan perform them when recording the film’s soundtrack!

As simple as these warmups sound, again there is much more to them than merely playing the note(s).  Example B above shows that one can seem to be quite centered, or at least be within the bounds of controlled playing, but still headed for trouble when playing outside of those warmups’ humble boundaries.   I imagine that those great players were trying to warmup in a position that would have them prepared for anything…being able depart from those notes to any other…high or low, loud or soft, tongued or slurred.  A simple way for the player in Example B to test his balance without having to go to the extremes of his range (where the problems are harder to fix) would be to quickly jump back and forth between second line G, the high G an octave higher.  The amount of “wobble” is a good indicator of the degree of balance in one’s playing.  How much does the  embouchure move?…the head and horn angle?…the distribution of the mouthpiece pressure?  Does the sound quality change?  Is the tonguing still clear and consistent?

The most important point to make here, is that How you play, determines your success or failure more than What you play (have I repeated this idea enough times by now?). Pedal tones can be helpful when approached with strict form, but so can concentrated work in the horn’s easy, middle register.  My early work with pedal tones was quite uninformed…I had no idea what kind of embouchure formation would work throughout the entire range of the horn, or even for the suggested, simple, one octave C major arpeggio in that same Claude Gordon routine.  That arpeggio was asked to be repeated several times, but I had no idea of the opportunity the exercise was offering.  That lack of knowledge made the rest of my fundamental work less effective too.  Once I gained more detailed knowledge of How things worked, and of the ideal playing position’s detailed blueprint, returning to the fundamental exercises (the What) I had practiced for years began to be more and more productive.

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Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma”…a New Reharmonization

Dizzy-editedWhen you say the name, “Dizzy Gillespie,” many people think of the iconic trumpet player with the puffy cheeks, his crazy looking trumpet with the upswept bell, and the comedic personality…playing flurries of notes at lightning speed, all while soaring into the stratospheric range of the horn. But Dizzy had another side to him.  He was a warm, loving human being, with a very sophisticated sense of harmony.  I first discovered this facet of his personality when I heard his beautiful tune, “Con Alma” …first with Dizzy playing with the Mitchell-Ruff duo, and then Stan Getz’s 12/8 version. This was a far cry from his bebop offerings, and still stands as a unique composition in the jazz repertoire.  I learned a lot about harmony from studying his beautiful chord progression.

hqdefaultHaving said that, one might wonder, “why would I reharmonize a tune that is already great?” or for that matter, why reharmonize at all?  I remember reading an interview with saxophonist Branford Marsalis in Jazz Times, who shared an experience he had during his stay with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (that’s Brandford on the right, with his brother Wynton on trumpet, and Art on drums in the back).  Branford admitted that he couldn’t play ballads at the time, and so he started to change all of the chords in a Gershwin ballad to make it “hip.” Art would have none of it though, saying that the Gershwin tune was already hip, and that Branford was masking the fact that he had had trouble playing on the tune the way it was.

I would agree that we must learn how to play on the original tune the way it was written.  Our jazz standards are the bedrock of the language…and a thorough understanding of the harmonic language is required not only to become a fluent and informed improviser, but a successful reharmonizer.   Having said that, reharmonization has long been an accepted practice in the world of jazz, and is akin to the common practice of writing new melodies over a standard’s original chord progression (for example, Miles Davis’ “Donna Lee” is based on the chord progression of the older tune, “Back Home Again in Indiana”).  These practices are creative acts, which in many ways not only bring us closer to the heart of the original music, but also pay homage to it as well.

In spite of the added complexity this reharmonization brings, once one is familiar with it, you can still play the tune following Dizzy’s prime directive, which he states in the song’s title:  “With Soul.”

As with the other reharmonizations on this post, the viewable lead sheet below is a lower resolution JPEG file.  For a better quality, printable PDF, click on Con Alma.

Con Alma

Some points of interest in this reharmonization:

  • Dizzy’s theme was supported with a clever, descending bass line in measure 1-2, and 5-6 of the A Section.  I decided to try an ascending bass line (which carries the same harmonic momentum), only to extend it from two to eight measures.  If the written bass line in measures 5-8 is taken up an octave,  then the two, four measure phrases of Letter A neatly dovetail together with one, long rising bass line.
  • Before the repeat and D.S., this ascending bass line is lengthened by starting it sooner, in the measure preceding each A section….giving it a little boost, like a rolling start.
  • The original melody’s simple rhythm of four half notes in measures 1-2 and 5-6 of the A sections has been replaced with the equivalent of three dotted quarter notes…adding a little polyrhythmic interest and momentum.  Although a 12/8 feel is suggested for this arrangement, know that the 8th note figures (unless triplets) are not literal…the written notes on the offbeats will really fall on the last third of the beat.
  • The melodic motif in measures 3-4 and 7-8 of the A Section is used for the arrangement’s introduction and interludes.
  • The introduction is given a pedal point, as a contrast to the ascending bass line.
  • Starting with the third measure of the bridge, the bass line descends…adding more contrast to the arrangement’s fundamental form.
  • I’ve been asked why I use triads over bass notes (like in this arrangement’s introduction) instead just naming the chord from it’s root.  For example, the Ab/E in the second measure of the introduction could be called an Emaj7#5.  There are several things I like about this approach.  First, they give you an instant voicing, in this case (from the bass note up to the melody note)…E, C, D#(Eb) and G#(Ab).  Thanks to the triad, there is also a certain resonance to these kind of voicings.  If you use a series of chords using this technique (like the intro), it automatically lends a sense of consistency to the section.  And then there’s the flexibility in regards to the applied scale(s).  For example, the F#/E in the fourth measure of the intro could use (among other possibilities) E Mixolydian #4, F# Mixolydian #4, or E Diminished as applied scale choices.  I also like the contrast of a simple four note chord, as opposed to always using voicings so thick, that they often use all seven notes of the applied scale.

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Lessons in Life from Playing iPad’s FreeCell Solitaire

Freecell LogoAs I am spending more and more time caring for my elderly father, we have come upon a shared activity that we both really enjoy.  FreeCell Solitaire is a twist on the classic solitaire card game.  Most of the rules are the same, but there are a few twists.  Gone is the repetitive three card deal that exposes the next card looking for a home…instead you get to see all 52 cards randomly laid out in eight vertical rows.  On either side of these columns are places on which to build your common suites from the ace on up, plus a novel holding place for four cards, that can be used to facilitate your latest plan.  As our understanding of the game has evolved it became clear there were not only patterns for success emerging, but that what turned out to be a solid game strategy could also be applied as Life Lessons…wisdom that had a real world context.

So here are a few of my observations.  I’m sure this will be nothing new to many of you, but to me, these lessons offered great insight and example, in a unique way that constantly reminded me of their use in one’s daily life.  Here’s a few of them, in no particular order.

  • Even when you lose, you are more involved in the game when you are giving it your all, than when the wins come easily.  What’s the well known cousin to this idea?…”tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”  Immerse yourself in Life…even your struggles, and experience the richness of the moment.
  • Every once in awhile you can get a hint for your next move.  This game has a little “Hint” button, but Life constantly offers us hints too.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a hint, and keep your eyes open at all times, for you never know from where those clues will come from!
  • Coming back to an impossible game after a good night’s sleep can make all of the difference in the world.  Everyone needs to recharge their batteries.  Take the time to sharpen your saw before cutting the wood.
  • Early success at the beginning of the game does not insure victory.  Know that problems can surface at anytime in life, so remain vigilant.
  • When you get in a jam, try retracing your steps.  I love the FreeCell feature that allows you to start the identical hand over, or undo any number of previous steps, so you can try another strategy.  Develop more dimensions to your game.
  • Before starting over, look at the game’s sticking point see what mistakes you made, and what you might have done differently.  This is a variation of what was just said.  The opportunity to start over again is a wonderful thing, but make the most of it by trying to understand how you got stuck in the first place.  Learn from your mistakes.
  • You can know you will be successful before everyone else does.  FreeCell Solitaire will signal you when it recognizes that you will win the game, but more often than not (in fact every time with this game), I already know victory is at hand before the computer tells me.  The only guessing is to predict when FreeCell will finally acknowledge the inevitable.
  • Even if you can’t see any positive results from your actions, or see a clear strategy to follow, sometimes it’s better to just keep the cards moving and stay in the game.  With every step you take, your perspective will change.
  • You can often see whether or not a strategy will be effective or not if you think ahead.  Without moving any cards, you can still play the moves through in your head…saving time and energy in the process.  Conscious thought precedes conscious, effective action.
  • Sometimes it’s just better to concede defeat and just try a new deal.  There are impossible hands that you can be dealt.  We don’t want to make a habit out of quitting, but sometimes our time and energy can best be spent by moving on.
  • You can’t win every game.  You can’t win every game…no one does, but as you improve you can win more than your fair share of them.
  • If you’re playing the game with another person, it’s good to let them have a chance to contribute.  I’m quicker at the game than my Dad, but if I don’t let him into the game I’d be missing the opportunity for a fun, shared endeavor, which is the real reason we play the game.
  • It’s good to sometimes focus on one aspect of the game, but you have to be able to see it from all perspectives.  There’s been more than one time that I am planning my strategies, thinking many moves ahead, when my Dad sees a simple move that was under my nose all of the time…oftentimes leading to a victory.
  • When you come up short after your strategy fails, it’s better to try another solution rather than just imagine and complain about what could have been.  I’m sorry to admit that I’ve groaned a few times about what could have been…saying if there was one extra move how much better the game would go.  But all of the groaning in the world does not help the outcome. Use your energy to move towards your goal.
  • If you are told there is nothing more you can do to achieve your goal, that does not mean that it is true.  Sometimes when you ask Freecell for a hint, it responds by saying, “No useful moves detected.”  Sometimes that directive is true, and if that is the case, you probably already know that is the case.  But several times, some creative, outside of the box thinking proves that FreeCell does not offer the final word on your chances for success.  No one is in more control of your life than you are.
  • After a victory, the outer celebration is not as rewarding as the inner sense of accomplishment.  Celebrating is fine, but do we really play the game for the celebration, or for the joy of the game itself?…for the way it tests us and teaches us, and makes us better.
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Reharmonization and Arrangement: I Remember You

Only the first page is shown with the jpeg file below.  For the entire four page PDF of this reharmonization, click here: I Remember You  Keep reading below for commentary on the tune and arrangement.

I Remember You- page 1 copyI’ve always liked the tune, “I Remember You”…maybe first hearing it as a Top Forty hit on the radio when I was young, which was still a few years after it first saw life in a musical.  Later during my early college years I recall hearing a Bill Holman arrangement of the song performed by the Stan Kenton Band, with a cool trumpet solo and Holman’s wonderful, linear writing.                  

Mercer-Garland

I Remember You LyricsFinding the tune in Real Book Two years later was like meeting an old friend again, although this time I had the music and a piano in front of me.  The song’s second chord revealed an understated hipness I was not prepared for (the “E”in the melody was the 11th of a Bmin7 chord…a surprise for me to discover in the key of F Major), so the music-musician relationship deepened.  And to add to it’s intrigue, I later discovered that the lyricist Johnny Mercer had written the words (seen at left) for his love, starlet Judy Garland…giving it to her on the day after she married another man.

Fast forward a few years later, when I was trying to get a student to arrange this piece for his small group.  As the band’s deadline for new material was rapidly drawing near, I thought I would step in to help out…after all, I love reharmonizing standards.  Even though my new harmonies might be too complex for the group to improvise over, with a little practice I thought learning the arrangement might be worth the effort, and their solos could then revert back to the original chord progression.  Long story short…it was never performed by the group, but I have still enjoyed the challenge and rewards of playing over these new harmonies.  For anyone who might feel the same way, I present this reharmonization and arrangement.  (I should also confess that I did not consider the lyrics when working on the reharmonization).

At the heart of the arrangement are the intro’s chromatically descending chords (with perfect 4th intervals), heard underneath a motif drawn from the last four notes-syllables of the first verse (…”kis-ses a-go”, measures #23-25).  The descending quartal harmonies are heard again under the same motif near the end of the next two A sections (measures #43-45, “Did-n’t you know?”, and #67-70, “…thrill of them all”).  Note how the pitch of the pedal bass changes, or how both the pedal point and the chords can be transposed (meas. #43 and #68).

Other possible points of interest:

  • The melody is transposed up an octave at Meas. #22, the second A section, measure #54, and the final A section, meas. #59-63.
  • Letter C (measure #76), uses the song’s main motif as a repeating bass line, although heard each successive time a perfect 4th higher, all under the final melody note, the sustained pitch of “F.”
  • The contrasting chord progression below the melody at letter A ascends.
  • Continued use of pedal points  #43, #47 (the Bridge at Letter B), #68
  • Measures #65-66 have more traditional harmonies, yet the chord voicings can still be quartal, and descend chromatically.
  • There is an option to extend the length of the phrases at measures #14-15, #32-33, #62-63, #74-75

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2013-2014 Colorado All State Band and All State Jazz Band Auditions

12415415771151985All of the information for the 2013-2014 Colorado All State Band and All State Jazz Band is now available on line.  Here in one place are all the links for trumpet and jazz piano players (and more), along with some supporting materials to help you out. If you are not old enough yet to audition it still would be a good idea to practice this music.  Band directors often use the All State music for their own school auditions, which then help them place their students in the appropriate band and chair.  By clicking on the highlighted link you can go right to the official website for all of the guidelines.

2013-2014 Colorado All-State Concert Band and Symphonic Band (PDF Document)

In preparation for your audition, be sure to check out the two part “Audition Strategies” links below, and learn how to use “Add-Ons” for the especially difficult passages.  Since scales are a part of your audition, you will also want to read the links shown below which will help you make your scales sound their best.

The two etudes in Phil Snedecor’s Lyrical Etudes book can be ordered online, or you can have a store like Kolacny Music here in Denver (303-722-6081) order the music (but be prepared for up to an eight week wait!).  Unfortunately, I could find no examples of the two selected etudes on YouTube this year.  No worries though…there are still plenty of wonderful  examples of great trumpet playing on that site.  Listening for the beautiful sound, phrasing and impeccable articulation of the world’s top players will give you an invaluable reference for your own practice.  Hakan Hardenberger, Sergei Nakariokov, Maurice Andre, Philip Smith and Manny Laureano all are well represented on YouTube, and would be great references for your work.  Of course there are many others, but you can’t go wrong using those masters as a starting point.

2013-2014 All-State Jazz Band

dixie_jazz_52013-2014 All State Jazz Band Audition Information Form

Lead Trumpet Music

Trumpet Section Music

Piano Music

Even though last year’s post for the 2012-2013 Jazz Band audition (link seen below) has some dated materials, it still has many useful tips that will help you prepare for the improvised part of the audition, plus it is full of useful links that will help you prepare even more.  The link to the “Ultimate Motivic Cells” (also seen below) has the latest post on the same subject.  The links at the bottom of this post on “Audition Strategies,” “Add-Ons,” and “Scale Practice” will also help you prepare for the Jazz Band audition.

  • Buy the Aebersold Book and CD, “Maiden Voyage” (Volume #54, also available at Kolacny Music, listed above) that will be used for this audition.  It’s one of his better offerings, and you’ll get a lot of good use from it well after the audition is over.
  • Listen to lots of artists performing the required tune(s), not just those who play your instrument.
  • Stay away from the higher, faster, louder approach and concentrate on rhythmic integrity (swing), your sound, and melodic development.  Record yourself before you submit your application CD in order to listen critically and then make the required adjustments.

Auditions not only give you an opportunity to play with the best of your peers (if you are successful), but the preparation should also help you continue to grow and become a better musician.  Good Luck!

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