Play Along

Jazz players have a long history of playing along with recordings, whether to transcribe a solo and learn to play it exactly how it was played on the record or to just jam along. Since I have split my time pretty evenly between jazz and classical I have done quite a bit of this. I just recently realized that it is at least as helpful for my classical playing as my jazz. I have always worked on phrasing by singing along with recordings, but it is completely different to actually play and try to perfectly match with your horn. I've learned quite a bit of subtle things in my playing in the last week from playing along with guys like Maurice Andre, Reinhold Freidrich, and Matthias Hofs. I think I will sit in with the Chicago Symphony tomorrow and see how well I can blend with Bud (this is where having a huge stack of orchestral parts comes in handy).


Random Tip #3

You play a wind instrument. Everything you do with your lips and tongue is aimed at manipulating your air stream. If air is not moving freely it does not matter what you do with your lips and tongue. A great brass teacher (probably Arnold Jacob, but I don't remember) said to blow from your lips. Feeling your air moving at the lips is extremely important. You can convince yourself that you are blowing hard by tightening up the muscles in your chest and neck, but what you really need is to feel airflow through the lips. When you have that happening you will find that your lips and tongue don't need to work nearly as hard as you thought.


I would like to continue along the same lines as my previous post. Bud Herseth has said that if you get nervous in auditions you don't deserve the job. There are of course many people that would disagree with that, but let's try to figure out why he thinks that. It is pretty safe to assume that you do not get nervous when you are playing a song for yourself with nobody listening. At that point your thoughts are focused on the music. What changes from that to a performance? An audience of course, and it is when you worry about what they are going to think that you can get nervous. Bud recognizes that if music making is your only concern you won't get nervous, and music making should be your only concern when performing. A performance in which the music is the your thought will inevitably be a better performance. You are playing because you love to play, and that should be what is behind your playing every time the horn is on your face. You should approach playing so that not only do you not care how you sound, but you can't care what other people think. Play beautiful music and forget about everything else. With this attitude you will not only get rid of nerves, but you will enjoy yourself every time you play.



I have gotten an amazing amount of feedback about this post in which I discuss not caring about what you sound like. As that concept seemed to resonate with quite a few of you I am going to expand on it in the next few posts.

One of the most problematic symptoms of overthinking is hesitancy. This tends to show up most frequently in attacks, with a tense pause just before the attack and a pulling back of air immediately after the attack. I have a great exercise to combat this, which can hopefully be applied to the rest of your playing as well. This requires a metronome, so if you don't have one yet you should get one (you should have one anyway and use it often). Figure out the absolute fastest speed that you can single tongue sixteenth notes and have it set there (if you have no idea how fast you can tongue start with the metronome at about 70 and gradually increase the speed until you can't go any faster). To do the exercise start on a low C and play 4 beats of sixteenth notes followed by a long tone. Work your way up the C major scale resting between each note. The important thing to think about is tonguing no matter what happens. Even if nothing but air is coming out, tongue the whole pattern with perfect rhythm. This means not waiting for the first note to speak to tongue the second note. It's all about the follow-through. Work your way up past the point that you can comfortably play, but be sure that you are still articulating in time. I find that it is also helpful to do this exercise on the mouthpiece. When you play any attack imagine how your air moves while doing this exercise.



In a previous post I discussed recording yourself and gave a link to my website with a recording program (Audacity) you could download. I had never actually tried to open the file because it was already on my computer, but I recently realized that it was corrupted. This wouldn't have harmed your computer, it just wouldn't work. I was trying to alleviate some traffic from Audacity's website, but apparently it has to be downloaded directly from their website to work (or I just don't know what I'm doing), so you can get it from them here. If you want the beta version of the more powerful new version get it here (a beta version of a program tends to have bugs that haven't been worked out yet and may not be as stable. Save your work even more often than you would otherwise). Sorry for the inconvenience and have fun recording.

As a side note, if you want much better sound out of your computer setup without spending a lot of money, I just got this usb mixer and it sounds great. Also, they can't advertise their price because it is below the manufacturer's minimum advertised price, but that doesn't stop me. Northern Sound is selling it for $131.00 with free shipping. The advantage of using something like this is that you bypass your computer's sound card which is inevitably awful, you get good EQ controls, multiple inputs, and you may need it in live sound situations.



I have been working on a few of the cornet solos in the Arban lately and decided to record some. I have actually been working more on The Little Swiss Boy (#7), but recorded Norma (#12). I realized that I haven't really looked at the 3rd variation at all, so I'll record that in a few days. I have spent most of my time on Variation II, the triple tonguing variation.
Variation I
Variation II

On the Intro, I was going for a cornet type sound, but I think it just sounds flat instead. I have not spent much time on the first variation and it shows, especially near the end. A good performance has an aspect of inevitability to it, where you have no doubt that all the right notes will be played cleanly and with conviction, and I was not there. On the second variation my time is bad on the slurs. I guess it helps me to have my tongue articulating to keep my fingers in time. I should practice it tongued and then do it slurred.

[Update 2/5] I have re-recorded the introduction to try to fix the sound problem in my first take. I think it sounds much better, but there are still a few subtle phrasing issues I would like to address.
Introduction take 2

[Update 2/10] I started working on the 3rd variation, so here is a very preliminary version. I am still working out how to conserve my air to get all the way through it with just one breath near the beginning, and my fingers still need a bit of work. I would like to get it about 20 clicks faster (up to around 180).
Variatation III


Before the Beginning

An often overlooked aspect of playing the trumpet is what to do before the note is started, but I have found that focusing on this part before the beginning can have at least as much of an impact on your playing as anything that you do once you actually attack.

Start by just closing and relaxing your lips. Without changing your lips at all just put your mouthpiece on your lips. Doing this without doing anything to your lips is quite difficult for most people, and I would recommend doing it in a mirror to make sure that you are not moving or tightening. Now just let it sit there. A few seconds of this will probably feel like a very long time, but just let yourself get comfortable having the mouthpiece sit on your relaxed lips. Don't even think about playing at this point. Now you are going to breath, still without thinking of playing. With your lips firmly on the mouthpiece open your mouth and take in a deep breath. You are not thinking of playing, so there should be no urge to tighten the corners, pull the lips back, or anything else that you have a tendency to do when taking a trumpet breath. The lips stay in contact with the mouthpiece the whole time, but when you open your mouth the middle of your lips will come apart. Do this a few times without playing. Now you will actually play a note, and will start off exactly the same as before, so for everything up through the end of the inhale you are not even thinking about playing trumpet. We left off at taking a deep breath with the mouthpiece on the lips, but with the middle of the lips parted. Before you feel like you are done with your inhale spit the air back out. You don't have to think about blowing, forming an embouchure, or tonguing if you just act like you are spitting something off the end of your tongue. In that motion the air will be redirected without the tension causing gap between inhale and exhale, your lips will touch lightly and you will articulate. Focus on the air moving away from you.

This process takes patience at the beginning and trust at the end, but will lead to a much more relaxed approach which will improve all aspects of your playing.