New page: Resources

I’ve added a page called “Resources”, a dedicated place for me to list recommended trumpet books and accessories. Since it can sometimes be difficult to find a particular book or accessory, I’ve teamed up with Amazon to offer a place to purchase these items at a great price. I will be adding more books and accessories from time to time, and will eventually submit detailed reviews of selected products.

We’ll see how this goes! The trumpet geek in me loves checking out new trumpet gear and method books, and I’d like to share that with everyone. I’m also glad to post a “recommended list” so students can easily see what I would prefer them to use.

The “Resources” page is located on the far right of the menu bar.

Clean Your Trumpet!

A clean trumpet may be the easiest way to give yourself a performance “edge”, and it extends the life of your horn too. It’s just like changing the oil (and other fluids), rotating the tires, routine thorough inspections, and the occasional car wash for your automobile. These little maintenance tasks allow your car to run at it’s best and often saves you money in large repairs down the road. Cleaning a trumpet is quick, easy, and inexpensive. Clean your trumpet every six months for best performance and longevity. Here’s a list of what you will need:

Cleaning snake
Mouthpiece brush
Valve casing brush
Liquid dishwashing soap (Dawn, Ivory, etc.)
Valve oil
Slide grease
A couple of old towels
Old sponge, toothbrush, or washcloth (for cleaning tight spots and male slide tubes)
A large sink or bathtub

For those unsure of what to do with the above list of items, follow the simple steps below:

Fill your sink or tub with warm water (add soap while filling). Disassemble your trumpet, placing the valves off to the side. Place all parts (body, slides, top and bottom caps) in the sink to soak for 20 to 30 minutes. After soaking, run the snake (several times) through all tubes on the body and slides, taking care not to run the snake around sharp “elbows” or bends in the tubing (it will get stuck). Spend the most time on the leadpipe, tuning slide, and tubing that connects the tuning slide to the 3rd valve. Put a few drops of soap on the valve casing brush and run it through the valve casings, and do the same with the mouthpiece brush and all mouthpieces. After looking down the tubes and checking for any remaining gunk, thoroughly rinse each object and place on a towel to air dry. Clean each valve port (hole) using the same process as cleaning the casings and mouthpiece, taking care not to immerse the valve (and getting the felts wet). Make sure to use a very soft bristle brush on the valves (the casing brush is normally just fine) as the valves are delicate and any scratches or dents may affect performance. Rinse the valves and set aside to dry. After the trumpet is dry, re-assemble and oil/grease the trumpet. If you have a silver trumpet, now is the best time to polish it.

I also recommend an Ultrasonic or chemical cleaning once every 1-2 years. These must be done by a professional, but will completely clean every square inch of your trumpet, even in places unreachable by cleaning snake. Most reputable music stores and repair shops offer these services in the range of $65-100. The tech performing the cleaning will also give your instrument a thorough inspection. If you need a recommendation, contact me.

The $100 investment that keeps on giving

Before you buy another mouthpiece, spend some money on something that will improve your sound and musicianship far more than an equipment tweak. Good musicians do a great deal of music listening, whether examining their own performances, finding new interpretations, or taking the mind off of something. To me, having a quality music playback system is vital so that one may hear everything music has to offer.

It’s often not feasible to own an extravagant audio system with large speakers, an amplifier, and source components. A college student living in a dorm room has limited space (and probably a limited budget). Apartment dwellers have neighbors to deal with, and let’s face it, with the advent of iPods, cell phones, and tablet computers (I’m typing this on my iPad) many of us listen with portable audio devices. Headphones are great for all of these situations.

Now, most headphones that come with a portable device are merely something to stick in your ears. They have mediocre sound quality at best and are made with cheap materials. I’ve used various types of these cheap headphones and have always wanted something more (clarity of sound, real bass response, better quality materials that don’t break if you drop them or trip on the cord). For $100 a company called Grado Labs has the answer.

The SR 80i is a rugged, retro looking headphone that has some serious sonic punch. The plain-jane appearance is a disguise, the truest statement of function over form. Simple round ear speakers have replaceable foam pads that sit on the ear. Easily adjustable, the spring steel headband and ear speakers swivel and pivot to accommodate almost anyone. A stout cable of good length is fitted with a high quality gold plated 1/8″ jack (a 1/4″ adapter plug iis included) and is connected securely to each ear speaker. The sound that comes forth is remarkable. Grado is known for a warm, punchy, and detailed sound. These headphones give you all of the details (superb articulation, clarity, and pitch definition) while retaining lush musicality. They have a sense of drive and timing that rivals many high end home stereo systems. Best of all, they sound GREAT plugged into your favorite portable device. Some high quality headphones require an amplifier to achieve a decent listening volume and obtain their best sound. While the SR 80i indeed sound better with an amplifier, it’s simply not necessary. Your iPod will spring to life, immersing you in sound you never thought possible.

You can use this “costly high end home stereo” when the neighbors are home, fold it flat when not in use, and not be terribly concerned with theft (remember the simple, retro looks?). You can also practice while wearing Grados because of the open-air design (they don’t block out exterior sounds). The only drawback of the open-air design is that you can’t mow your lawn and listen to music or crank your tunes in a confined space (everyone will be able to hear your music).

I’ve had my pair of SR 80(precursor to current model SR 80i) for 11 years, including six years of college. My pair has been dropped, sat on, cord tripped over, and smashed in a suitcase over and over. I don’t recommend that kind of harsh treatment, but they are still going strong. I love them and I think you will too.

For tight budgets, be sure to check out the entry level Grado, the SR 60i. For those wanting higher performance, Grado makes several models above the SR80i but I strongly recommend using a dedicated headphone amplifier to unlock best performance. I recommend buying them here.

The studio!

I’ve recently re-vamped my home studio. This is “the laboratory” for lessons, practicing, study, or anything else music. I’ve recently added a web cam (this is the view)-more pictures to come!

Valve Oil

It seems these days there are as many brands of valve oil as there are trumpets. Each one claims you’ll experience record valve speed. Some will clean your horn for you. Some smell like jet fuel while others smell like roses. You may turn in to an environmental steward if you buy brand “X”. Want lime green colored oil? No problem. Do you like blue? Good. What shade do you want? How about oil with no oil in it?

I say all of this is hogwash. Trumpet players are gullible. We buy all kinds of stuff with the hopes of finding the “magic bean”. I’m guilty like all other trumpet players. I have seven different brands of valve oil on my shelf right now. Having tried all seven oils (plus many more over the years) I’ve finally come to a realization:

It’s VALVE OIL folks. Keep your horn clean, oil your valves regularly, don’t drink the valve oil, etc. and your valves will work fine.

Staying true to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra I’ve found that Holton makes a fabulous valve oil. Holton’s Electric Oil has been around since 1907. It’s clear. It smells like lamp oil mixed with rocket fuel. It doesn’t clean my horn. It’s under three bucks a bottle. It says “HOLTON” on the bottle. My valves work as well or better than they ever have.

Seems like they got it right in 1907……………………..

Charles Davis Copper Wah Wah Mute

So I start out with a post on trumpet gear………..go figure!

I’ve had the opportunity to spend some performance time with my newly acquired Charles Davis Copper Wah Wah mute. To say that I am pleased would be an understatement. This mute is unlike any harmon-style mute I have played. Harmon-style mutes never play in tune, but this one is as good as it gets. No longer do I have to pull out my tuning slide; most notes are dead on, and the ones that aren’t are easily lipped into place. The color palette is broad with a golden sheen. No, it won’t quite give you that authentic Flamenco Sketches tone, but it can slot a low F# that sounds like a low F#. Dynamically this mute can do it all, from a gravelly fortissimo with the stem in to a hazy whisper with the stem out. Or, try the inverse and get a clear, woodwind-like piano with the stem or a piercing whine without.

I’ve had great fun using this mute in performances of the Threepenny Opera. Stem in, stem out…….tone in spades either way. Make it “talk” and emulate a singer? No problem.

Yes, this mute costs more than your average harmon-style mute, but this isn’t some cheap hunk of metal. It’s got engineering and performance that others lack. Think Aston-Martin versus Ford Pinto. Well worth the asking price. Photo courtesy of Mouthpiece Express.