Trumpet fundamentals clinic on 10/5/13 at Melk Music!

Area band directors…….I’m presenting an informal masterclass on trumpet fundamentals at Melk Music Inc. this Saturday, Oct. 5th at 1:00pm. While I’m gearing it towards middle-school level students, high-school students will get something out of it too! It’s FREE and I won’t take more than 90 minutes of your time. Tell your students to bring their trumpet!

More information can be found at Melk Music’s website or Facebook event page.

Tanglewood Music Center Trumpet Masterclass – MUST WATCH!

The Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Music Center has recently released a 5-part YouTube video series titled “The Art of Section Playing”.  This is the best video series I’ve ever seen on the subject, and some of the best instruction available by two of the best orchestral trumpeters in the USA, Tom Rolfs and Ben Wright.  Rolfs and Wright take you through what makes great orchestral trumpet sections sound the way they do, and how to take your own playing (and section) to the next level(s).  The level of intricacy in which they teach will shock most trumpeters.  Their students already play at a very high level, yet through the demonstrations of Rolfs and Wright details are found that a tweak or adjustment.  Also note how the students take criticism.  Direct comments are made often (some pointed and some more general) and every student takes them in stride, never questioning authority.  One has to have a certain level of maturity to be able to handle direct criticism (especially in front of peers) and they all show an extremely high level.

These videos show what it takes to be the best of the best.  You can practice to an extremely high level of skill and yet there is always room for improvement.  Enjoy!

Analogies: Breathing and the golf swing

As many of my students know, I use analogies almost constantly in lessons. Most teachers find having multiple ways to explain a concept is helpful in connecting with a student. Analogies are one of those ways, so I’ve decided to create and devote a topic series based on some that I have used over the years.

The first analogy I’ll discuss has to do with breathing and relating it to a golf swing. I’ll give credit where it is due; I first learned the basic idea of this analogy from Kevin Hartman, Professor of Trumpet at UW-Milwaukee. I’ve since come to the conclusion that there are three prominent features common to good breathing and a good golf swing: relaxation, the absence of hesitation, and fullness.

A great golfer has a relaxed swing. Watch PGA level golfers and you’ll see what I mean. Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Fred Couples, and Jack Nicklaus (and many others) have a smooth, nearly effortless swing. Nothing is forced, yet each is capable of great power. Compare them with say Adam Sandler in the movie Happy Gilmore. Obviously, the movie is pure fiction, but walking or running up to the ball and “gripping and ripping it” generally produces unpredictable and erratic results at best. In my very humble golfing experience, I hit the ball a much greater distance with more accuracy when using a gentile, relaxed swing versus a more forced, “muscled” type swing. I have the same experience with breathing. When the muscles of the abdomen, chest, shoulders, back, and throat are relaxed, more air can be moved with less effort. Think a yawn-type breath versus trying to blow out a candle six feet away. This translates into a purer, more colorful, immediate trumpet sound.

Hesitation in a golf swing or breathing can have negative effects, with added tension the most common result. Watching PGA golfers will show that none of them have a perceivable pause or delay when moving from the back swing to the forward stroke. If there were a pause, a muscle group would have to stop the backward motion, an opposing group would “hold” the motion, and finally the first group would release to start the forward motion. Ideally, we don’t have the “hold” moment in our swing or respiration. If we can transition directly from one muscle group to the next we lessen the amount of tension that builds up. Any “hold tension” will affect our accuracy, power, articulation, and resulting tone quality.

As for fullness, we as trumpet players need to think we are “teeing off” for most breaths. Most golfers use a full swing when hitting from the tee box. They select a club for distance or or situation (hazards, elevation, etc.), just like a trumpet player selects their trumpet and mouthpiece for a certain style of music or desired result. A full swing uses the golfer’s maximum range of motion to achieve the most momentum/power, resulting in the fastest club head speed. This gives the golfer their greatest potential distance. A full breath does the same for a brass player-power for high range or dynamics, and “distance” for long phrases. It also contributes to a steady, unwavering exhale, which increases accuracy and evenness of tone. Vary rarely does the brass player use an “approach” or putting stroke; successful execution of these strokes generally requires mastery of the full breath, and the full breath works best for the vast majority of brass playing situations.

Some or all of these concepts require time (and patience) to implement for most players. Many students for whatever reason do not learn proper breathing technique from the beginning, and bad habits must be corrected (or new good habits formed). If one can get through the “correction phase” the result is a easier, more rewarding playing experience! Consulting with a teacher well-versed in proper breathing is best, but if such a teacher is not available I recommend Vincent Cichowicz’s “Long Tone Studies”. This book has great exercises and excellent commentaries on this subject.

“Never Say Never Again”

I’ve just learned of a great article that I would like all of my students to read. It discusses many myths concerning “absolutes” when learning or teaching a brass instrument. The title says it best, “Never Say Never Again”. The article is posted on the website of Stork Custom Mouthpieces, one of many excellent mouthpiece manufacturers in the United States. I hope that by reading this article my students start to look at practicing and progress in a different light. Enjoy!

The article can be found here.

Precision trumpet playing-here’s why we aim for it!

I often stress the importance of playing accurately to my students. Rhythm, timing, pitch, articulation, style, purity of sound, evenness of tone in all registers, etc. all make the difference between a good player and a great player. I found a video that illustrates this perfectly. Listen to how every musician (not just the trumpets) matches style EXACTLY. Notice the dead-on pitch between the trumpets when they are in octaves towards the end of the clip. Every note from the trumpets speak perfectly with no hesitation or timidness. It doesn’t matter if it’s an Ab on the top of the staff, a low C, or a double Bb. Bam! There it is.

This video features three of England’s top studio trumpet players, including the great Derek Watkins on lead. These guys are the equivalent of our Los Angeles studio trumpet players (Malcom McNabb, Wayne Bergeron, Rick Baptist, Warren Luening, etc.). Derek has a phenomenal list of credentials, notably lead trumpet on ALL of the James Bond movies.

Wayne Bergeron Masterclass!

Wayne is one of my favorite trumpet players and is just a great guy. I credit Wayne for advising me about an important adjustment of my trumpet playing. He’s a wealth of knowledge and a world class player in every respect. Enjoy this masterclass in five parts:

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.