Helpful Exercises-continued

Instead of updating this post I am just writing a new post. I didn't give much guidance on how to practice this exercise previously, and I think that it warrants some additional consideration (trombones see here). The way that I always approached this exercise until recently was like this, concentrating on firmly articulated but tenuto (connected) notes. I still think that it is important and useful to practice it this way, but I have found recently that range can be greatly helped by practicing it like this. This staccato approach with very hard fronts forces the tongue to stay forward, and you should feel the corners of your lips draw towards each other as though they are trying to squeeze the tip of your tongue as you ascend. Don't shy away from it if it seems like you are tonguing too hard. Revel in that pop at the beginning of each note and feel your horn vibrate.


The Best Advice I Can Give

Go practice (then come back).

The Journey

It is important to learn to appreciate the journey you are on as a trumpet player. Young players (and many older players) find themselves hampered by debilitating stress and frustration about their playing, many without realizing that it is a problem. Many players instinctively tense their tongue and momentarily hold in their air before an attack. Why do this? It's certainly not because it helps. It gets ingrained in most of us from the beginning that playing trumpet is hard and that playing high is very hard. The body's natural response to having to do something physically difficult is to tense up. It is necessary to retrain the mind so that playing is not thought of as difficult, but instead is just done. Watch these videos of Matthias Hofs playing (To hear more of him check out the German Brass in the Brass Ensemble part of my Listening Room). He plays with the same ease that most of us speak with, and it is easy for him simply because he allows it to be. Let yourself just breathe and play as though you are just speaking. To make this change it is important to not care what you sound like. Imagine the sound that you wish to play but don't worry about whether it happens. This is one of the most difficult concepts to completely apply, but yields the greatest reward. Playing trumpet becomes not about wrestling the trumpet, but simply about playing music.

Getting back to the journey, it is important to not be concerned with getting "there". These kinds of thoughts lead to the excess tension explained above. I remember thinking in highschool that that if I could just get my multiple tonguing better and get my range up to a high F then I would be "there". As I continued to play though, and achieved those goals, I realized that in many ways I am no closer to "there" than I was in highschool. The better you get the higher your standards will become. If you are enjoying yourself and have the goal of making music every time the horn is on your face you are where you need to be. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Helpful Exercises

Looking back on stuff that I've worked on that actually made a big difference there are two exercises that really stick out. The first one, which you can see here (trombone version here), is one that I got from my college professor, John Head. We started almost every lesson doing this in call and response. It was very beneficial in developing relaxation throughout the range of the horn and in keeping my articulation the same through the range of the horn. I still play this almost every day, usually in lessons with me now leading the call and response (it is important to hear how this exercise should be approached. It could be practiced in many ways that would not be very helpful). Because hearing it is such an important part of the excercise, I have recorded myself playing it with space for you to play each part after me (I add some extra partials beyond what is in the written exercise). Download it here. My goal when playing this is not so much having a great sound, but instead is staying as relaxed as possible and keeping my sound even throughout. If I can stay relaxed through the excercise I can then shape my sound how I want.

The other exercise is a tonguing exercise which you can see here (trombone version here). This is a slight variation of an exercise that I got from Gordon Vernick. Start very slowly and try to maintain a consistent articulation through the entire range. That means consistent sound and a consistent motion (It is a common tendency to draw the tongue back and up as one ascends. Try to avoid this).

Have fun.


Sound Production

To play a note on trumpet I do not think about vibrating my lips. I like to think about blowing into the trumpet, and letting the vibrations that occur in the trumpet to cause my lips to vibrate sympathetically. How this works is that air focused into the trumpet causes what is called a standing wave inside the trumpet. This is what causes the trumpet to play, and our lips simply vibrate sympathetically with the standing wave in the trumpet. Students often look at me incredulously when I tell them this (I usually leave it at just "Let your lips vibrate with the trumpet", and don't go into a long physics explanation). I ran across a great post at by Mark Minasian at Trumpet Herald that explains the concept better than I ever did.
"You cannot blow a note out of the trumpet"... As I remember Mr. Adam's lectures, tests were done blowing smoke through trumpets, trombones and tubas. It took several seconds for the smoke to come out the bell, showing that one isn't blowing the note out of the horn. Also, if one were to take into consideration the speed of sound, 1130 ft/sec, the delay in the time it took for the sound to travel from lips to bell would be noticeable.

I saw John Harbaugh do a fascinating demonstration of trumpet acoustics. He took a clear pyrex cylinder and inserted a propane torch in one end. immediately a tone was produced, the tone having a wavelength equal to the length of the pipe. The flame obviously isn't buzzing or producing the pitch. The temperature differential between the flame and surrounding air creates vortices that provide the energy to excite the air in the tube and cause the production of the standing wave. Another interesting aspect of this experiment was that quickly AFTER the tone is heard, you can see the flame oscillating wildly in response to the standing wave. The sound comes first then the vibration of the flame. On the trumpet, do you buzz a note or do the lips buzz/vibrate in response to the standing wave?

I remember Mr. Adam often stating that the trumpet is static. It is a metal tube and unchanging. It is we who are dynamic and can change. If you try to muscle the horn to do your bidding you are engaged in a losing battle. We, as trumpet players, need to get "in phase" with the horn. This is one of the reasons for buzzing the leadpipe. The fundamental pitch of a mouthpiece by itself is around a high B or C. I can produce that fundamental pitch by blowing across the edge of the mouthpiece's stem, or backbore, in a manner like producing a tone on a coke bottle. Though buzzing the mouthpiece does have some pedagogical value, it can create unneccessary tension in a trumpet player as the player is trying to make each note with the lips rather than simply allow the horn to resonate on the given pitch.

By adding the leadpipe, you create a tube with a lengh long enough for a pitch approximately F in the treble staff. A much more comfortable place to start. than where the mouthpiece resonates. By producing a resonant buzz on the leadpipe, you "get in phase" with the instrument, adjusting to it's resistance, etc. Often, I will start by just blowing air through the mouthpiece then add the leadpipe, hearing the note speak as soon as the mouthpiece is engaged, or buzz the leadpipe then pull it away from the mouthpiece and listen to the non-buzzing but energized stream of air coming out the mouthpiece stem.

The bottom line is that we are using our air as the energizing force to get the horn to resonate freely.
Mark also posted something similar at TPIN where he gives another good example:
In a later clinic, trumpeter Charley Davis stated that he was part of a study where a miniature camera was mounted within a mouthpiece to record lip action. The activity observed with the flame could be seen in Charley's lips. They never touched or buzzed and the vibrating of the lips was a result of the standing wave generated within the horn.

I think that getting rid of the idea that the vibration comes from the lips is an important step towards playing with a rich, resonant sound. As a bonus, without fighting the horn you will find that playing is much easier, because in a fight the metal will always win.


Bizet "Carmen"

I just started working on the excerpt from Carmen. Listen here. After listening to this I decided that I don't need to play nearly as loud. I didn't have my comuter later when I was practicing so I don't have any recordings of that, but it sounds much better since I backed off a little. I'll try to add a clip of that tomorrow. I need my vibrato to sound more controlled. Vibrato has always been a weak spot for me and is something that I have been working on lately. Other than that I think that it is a good start. I still think about the transposition too much (down a half step, my least favorite transposition), which I think comes through when I play. It just doesn't sound sure enough, but I've only really worked on it for a day, so that should go away soon.