Saturday, October 24, 2009

Flying Safely Under the Radar

Most trumpet players don't have trouble being heard. Problems tend to happen when we have to not be heard! Owning the stage is not always our job description as much as it is to blend and get out of the way. Remaining relatively unnoticed is often our most difficult assignment. Can you do it?

Performance in low decibels does not mean playing with low intensity. Soft does not mean boring, tense, or tentative. The trick is to perform comfortably and agreeably in all dynamic ranges. (Oh, to always be at home, home in the range.)

Imagine that you are a great operatic tenor-in-training, just itching to belt out your favorite romantic aria. However, instead of the concert stage, you are on a baby-sitting job with the sleeping child within earshot. You just gotta sing because it's in your blood, but it has to be very soft. Can you do it?

Can you play all the loud licks in pp with equal enthusiasm, spontaneity, and control? Flying under the radar doesn't mean we are certain to crash. It means we still perform with maneuverability, flexibility, and musicality.

Why don't you build a large cut-out of a conductor's big left hand? Fix it to a bobble-head type contraption so that it waves and jerks at you while you practice, insisting that you stop your loud blowings. Get used to it. Our task is to comply and play beautifully no matter how far under the radar we must play. Can you do it?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Trills Matter

Sadly, trills are rarely perfected, but with some meticulous work they can and should be. Trill drill is definitely worth the extra effort. Trills can dazzle your listeners when deftly executed. Your goal is snazzy, spiffy, sparkling clear finger-poppings, performed exactly in time. Even if other details are imperfect, your impressive trills can save the day. There is nothing quite as satisfying as that grandiose, confident and well-executed trill at the conclusion of a great piece of trumpet music!

Sloppy trills however, can drain your energy and bore your listeners. Don't be thinking like a truck driver while your fingers furiously flap away for 8 to 10 beats on a single note. Think "flute, soprano, solo violin, butterfly" or anything that flutters gracefully. Remember: trills are not tremolos, buzzers, or anything Black and Decker. Nice trills have two recognizable pitches, usually a major or minor second apart. And there is a reason that the two notes prior to the resolution are called "grace notes!"

Be sure to monitor your speed. Too often trilling is too fast and too intense. The important note in a trill is the first note. The rest are throw-away and less important (as long as they are decent). The resolution is where you are going. Whether you start above or on the note, make sure it is impressive and clean. Never mind the textbooks, just do it nicely!

To stop the trill or not to stop the trill is the question that is usually answered by convenience rather than conviction. How about Plan A. That is: trill right into the grace notes without stopping. This is a bit harder to do as it involves a lot more coordination, but sounds great. Resolving the trill before the graces is O.K. but still sounds like Plan B.

Once you seem to have mastered trills, prepare them in horribly awkward keys! Since we only need to train 3 fingers, we might as well discipline each of them to work for us in any key.

Note: don't forget that for picc work, the 4th finger needs training too.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Posted Notes

Busy today with no time to carve out a "decent" practice session? Here's a touch-and-go list of items. Better to visit each one briefly rather than let them slip. Remember that although you are rushed, your playing does not have to be sloppy or hurried. In fact, you might be a lot more productive with less time to waste. Note: in the future this might be the norm rather than the exception, so learn to practice getting it done quickly. Caution: don't forget to rest, and remember to vary your dynamics. Include pp! Your goal is not just to get it all covered, but to finish in good shape, ready for anything.

No music needed:
  • LTs w/dims
  • Interval slurs (pick random intervals/play slow, smooth, in tune)
  • Scales (2 octaves - M - m (nat/harm/mel) - soft to loud to soft, and vv
  • Chroms - polished, even, fast
  • Arps - 2 octaves - M - m - A - dim7
  • Flex. - arps leapfrogged (be able to start at the top)
  • TT
  • DT
(Do you ever do the above on your small horns?)

Music needed:
  • Etude fragments
  • Solo movement
  • Transposition
  • Excerpts