Lyrical Playing, part II

Forward Motion. Without it your playing is lifeless and dull, but how do you achieve it? Most players tend to give undue emphasis on downbeats. This is understandable given how music is written and even how it is generally talked about. Most of you have heard the old cliche that jazz emphasizes the upbeats and classical emphasizes the downbeats, so who could blame you for emphasizing them? When you look at music you no doubt think of your music in groups of downbeat-upbeat, downbeat-upbeat, or strong beat(1,3)-weak beat(2,4), strong beat-weak beat. Many of you have also probably heard that in music there is tension and release. This is where our problem comes. Tension is created in the upbeats and "weak beats" and is resolved in the downbeats and "strong beats", but if you group your music into groups of downbeat-upbeat, downbeat-upbeat, downbeat-upbeat you are making release-tension groups instead of tension-release groups. So what's the big deal? Well, the forward motion that drives good performances is created by the tension-release groupings, which means that your emphasis needs to change. Music should be grouped upbeat-downbeat and weak beat-strong beat, with the upbeat and the "weak beat" getting the emphasis and the push (which is why I put quotations around "weak beat").

Confused yet? I have written more extensively about this on my website, which I think makes it easier to understand. I have also analyzed how Maurice Andre groups his notes in the Haydn Concerto so that you can see and hear how a master musician groups his notes. I know that the title of this post is "Lyrical Playing," but apply this to everything. Pay attention to this in everything you listen to and it will quickly become second nature because the other way will just seem awkward and wrong. Up truly is down.

Another Exercise

You know you've been itching for something else to practice, so here it is (here for trombone). Keep your air moving and tongue it more crisply than you are comfortable doing (aim your tongue through your teeth). Have fun.


Sites of Interest

Trumpet Exercises, a site courtesy of Tony Rapacciuolo lets you hear how some of the standard trumpet exercises should sound. Don't be intimidated by the back of the Arban.
[update-1/27]Tony has informed me that he does not wish to be taken as an example of how to play the trumpet because he's not a pro, but would appreciate some feedback from you if you listen to his recordings. Listen and decide for yourself if you want to use it as an example.

I realized that most of my referals come from I Was Doing All Right, so I checked it out and decided to share. It details the development of a jazz trumpet player.

Also be sure to check out O.J's Trumpet Page.

Lyrical Playing, part I

You want your airsream in the lyrical pieces to be as energized and steady as if you were playing fast. It is common in lyrical pieces to play with lack of direction and intensity in an effort to play prettily, but avoid this temptation. Think about accelerating your air all the way to the end of a phrase. An exercise that helps is to just play your leadpipe (take out the tuning slide). You should be playing a steady, unwavering long tone while fingering something technical like a Clarke study and imagining the notes you are fingering (it is quite difficult at first to avoid lipping in the direction of what you are fingering). Take the intensity from that long tone and apply it to lyrical pieces. As an added bonus, this exercise is also great for alleviating excess movement between notes (which is a common culprit for tension, pinched sound, lack of flexibility, and poor endurance). Take any piece that you are working on and play it on the leadpipe with all the correct fingering and articulation, but hold the pitch steady. Aim for a big, lively, open sound.


Bud Play, You Listen

Mahler Symphonie #3, posthorn solo


High Attacks

Odds are that you are one of the many players who can play higher if you work your way up to a high note than if you just have to hit a high note out of the blue. You have no doubt found this frustrating, but did you ever wonder why this is the case? If you have been coming here for a while you have hopefully experimented with what I wrote about in this post. Now if you think about what happens when you approach high notes from down low (like in this great exercise), if you are playing with good connection between the notes your air will be moving freely at the beginning of the high note and your lips are probably much more relaxed than when you try to hit the note cold. Basically, you want to approach all notes as though you are already playing. That is why it is so important to not stop between your inhale and exhale and why you should not clamp your lips shut before an attack. You want it to feel as much as possible like you are just jumping in on a note that is already being played.

Besides stopping the air before the exhale and clamping the lips, a big culprit in ruining high attacks is the tongue. Many players have a tendency to pull the tongue back and up in the mouth when playing high, and they exagerate the problem in high attacks. Be aware of this and keep your tongue down and forward at all times. Think about attacks going out instead of up. Your high notes articulations should feel exactly the same as your low note articulations.


Random Tip #2

Instantaneous change is important for success on trumpet. A piano player told many a while ago about a piano technique, which I believed he called bel canto. It is a melodic technique that involves not lifting up your finger in a melody until you have actually started to play the next note. Every note extends into the next note. This is an exageration of vocal bel canto technique which involves singing a syllable all the way to the next syllable (I believe there is more involved in the technique, but we will just concern ourselves with this). Try to approach playing trumpet like the piano player who lets each note go into the next. You will find that if you are like most trumpet players you have a tendency to either back off slightly between notes or make muscular adjustments in anticipation of the next note while you are still sustaining a note (or both). You need to focus on the note that you are playing up through the very end, and do nothing for the next note until it is actually time for it to start. If you listen to your sound and concentrate on keeping it the same through the whole note this should be much easier. A metronome will also be a huge help.