Saturday, November 27, 2010

Some Healthy Choices

O.K. the eating frenzy is over. You're thinking, no more sweets, no junk, no more sugar-induced colds. Help! If you are now more convinced than ever to get healthy, you may want to apply that obsession to trumpet practice. Consider good intakes of some items that are sure to improve rather than tear down your playing? Here are a couple of healthy suggestions for your practice menu. Get a head start today on your '11 resolutions.

How about a good helping of daily sweet starts? You need to be able to guarantee a great-sounding first note. Imagine being able to win an audition with just the amazing quality of the first note of every one of your excerpts! Wouldn't that be sweet?

Next, you may partake of some of those very expensive specialty starts, the high and the soft. Don't try to gulp them down. Approach each with calm care. Then let them melt in your mouth. Savor that ability to pick them off slowly, one by one, to the amazement of all who listen and watch!

No slurping at the table. Why are the upward slurs usually played better than the downward, especially in the low register? We tend to slur up and slurp down. Your job is to make legato intervals the clean, the pure, and the in-tune every time. Be sure to keep corners from sagging and relaxing so much that you can't recover your firm setting.

Great players have learned how to be successful with the simplest of tasks. Now open up Arbans and Schossberg (or the like). Confine your work to the beginner section at the front. Simple and boring is what you're looking for. No expressive shoulder-lifting, just precision. Goal: cold-blooded, deadpan control and accuracy - the mindset you'd expect from your heart surgeon!

See earlier posts on this subject:
  • Playing the 10-Second Game, 4/18/09
  • What a Way to Start, 4/11/08
  • Garbage-Free Zone!, 4/21/07
  • Playing the Dim Game, 2/6/07
  • Five Seconds Only!, 5/13/06
  • The Tip of the Brush, 5/1/06

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Trumpeter's Table

As you approach that smorgasbord, your attention is instinctively drawn to the stacks of luscious chocolaty desserts, the crispy fried chicken, endless turkey helpings, piles of buttery rolls, gobs of seasoned stuffing with savory gravy. What do you say we just skip the salads, the fruit dishes, and the artistic vegetable trays. A balanced meal? Well, some more convenient day perhaps.

The table of brass goodies likewise invites us to plunge headlong into the high, the loud and the flashy. That's where the fun, the fame, and the glamor is. After all, who wants to rehearse the low, the soft, and the boring while there's so much excitement to be had?

What do you consistently avoid? That which you neglect is probably the very thing you need the most. Does focusing on intonation taste like broccoli? Is working on soft control no different than a mouthful of cold cauliflower? Are scales and arpeggios unappetizing? Does transposition make you gag at the very thought of it?

Go ahead and enjoy the sweets and the glamor, but don't neglect to take in all the daily must-haves that will make you successful. As your mom used to say, "Eat it anyway. You just might learn to like it! And you'll thank me some day."

Thanks, Mom. I still don't like it, but I eat it anyway.

"That's my boy!"

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Clean Machine

Look at you - dressed sharply, well-groomed, appearing friendly and outgoing with pleasant disposition, and likely to make a positive impression even before that first excerpt or solo is played. Surely they will have your contract in hand, except for one thing.

Your observers must look at that grungy tarnished war-torn instrument of yours. Rubber bands are holding broken spit valve springs and have corroded the plating badly. Your moldy valve guard protector has long since failed to protect anything. Dents dating back to marching band days are still visible dulling both your sound and your reputation. Those sticky valves from those inadvertent drops (that someone else did) continue to cause havoc with fast licks. Aren't you tired of glaring angrily at your horn while you pound the valves with your fist so they won't stick? For some reason you continue to struggle with all of these annoyances.

Slides tend to stay put while the bore of your horn has now likely shrunk from a Large to a Mighty Small. Several years of meal fragments line the lead pipe, and the mouthpiece bore once gleaming brightly now is full of craggy lumps. Who knows what has been lurking secretly inside your trumpet for months or even years?

If you play like an angel you are allowed to have a horn that looks like hell. But since most of us are fallen players of various degrees, we cannot afford the luxury of a cool-looking civil war relic for an ax. We need all equipment in top condition and ready for scrutiny.

Hey, clean the horn! Chem flushes work wonders. Your trumpet will play better and look better. Keep it that way. Its maintenance is a reflection of its owner. Impressions matter.