Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Attention-Grabber

Go ahead. Turn the tone dial all the way up!  People want to hear you.  Give them precision, but also give them a 10 on the tone scale!

By the way, a great sound is a nice flub-eraser at auditions.  If the audition committee likes the way you play, they are likely to excuse a clip or two.  A great tone just might cancel some inaccuracies if they had to choose one over the other.  So you might as well keep a good sharp focus on your tone in daily practice. Prepare to be noticed and remembered for your sound.  

A great sound is not enough however.  It must be accompanied by great musicianship and style. These compliment each other.  A great sound with no direction or purpose is boring.  Our goal is to project the appropriate style with a distinctive and captivating sound. Opera singers plunge into their roles with an abundance of drama. Why not be that opera singer every time you play?  Command the attention of a large audience. Sound quality and extraordinary musicianship matter.

Note:  Great tone does not just equal high decibels. A great sound should happen in all dynamics. The bullets for today are TONE and MESSAGE.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Powerfully Persuasive!

Confidence in pianissimo! That's a winning ticket, and a rare one indeed!  Mel Broiles as well as Roger Voisin, two players known for their amazing power and style, both maintained that the secret to great playing is control in the softest of dynamics.  That seems like an oxymoron, doesn't it?  We think that loud is great, and soft is not.  Actually, anyone can blast, but few are comfortable in an expressive pianissimo passage.

Maneuverability in pp is the goal.  It is vital for the music and the health of the embouchure. Our lips get tired, or "tard" as some of our Cincinnati colleagues used to complain.  What's a brass player to do after an orchestral pummeling?  The macho in us says, "tough it out, man!  Meet fahr with fahr, (fire)!" The truth is that wise, soft, practice of basics for sensitivity is the best way to recover and to prepare for the next blastathon. Regular low decibel practice will help guarantee confidence and security in performance. 

Explore the soft range. Learn to control both screaming loud and super soft.  Just because the part indicates quiet dynamics doesn't mean you play with no tone or style. PP does not mean pitifully puny!  It stands for Powerfully Persuasive! 

Note:  As the finalists for his job were awaiting the verdict from the BSO trumpet audition committee, the great Roger Voisin himself strode confidently into the locker room. "Hi, boys, he said.  Just wanted to see who was going to get my locker key."  He then opened his locker, pulled out a muted C trumpet and played for us a very tasty, spiffy-clean Bozza-like soft and agile fanfare.  He grinned, hung up his horn and left.   He could have won his own job back! Soft was VERY COOL and the lesson was very persuasively imparted!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Where's the Hulk?

Alright, alright! It is agreed that this brute must be conquered and well tempered.  However, in our quest to obtain elegant and refined playing, we are too easily convinced to sacrifice that visceral presence that commands the attention of every listener within a five mile radius. The training mission may be accomplished, still a thirsty committee yells, "unleash the hulk!"

How about restoring the proper mixture of sensitivity with bombastic belligerence! We originally started playing with the exuberance of a monster, only to be severely chastened: "Don't you ever again break those restraining chains!  Know your proper place, stay there, and don't come out again!"

Audition committees certainly look for command and control, but if all the finalists are equally accurate, then what?  Maybe they're hoping for a hulk to emerge.  At that point, a well-tamed monster will win every time. 

How much of the hulk is in your daily playing?  30%, 20, 10, any at all?  Have your aggressiveness and your overall impact evaluated.  Finesse is demanded, but so is power, confidence, and a nice amount of THE INCREDIBLE HULK.  Be that guy!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Giving Lip Service

This post is for all of us simple trumpeters who might be in need of a facial adjustment or two. Silliness is sometimes the best way to make a point. Speaking of clear points, which of these guys is more likely to deliver a crystal clear, sharp-edged tone, Mr. Flabby-Leaky Lips, or Mr. Snazzy-Steely Lips? Wonder how they sound?

Often our greatest need is not for the newest horn, a pricey mouthpiece, or an amazingly huge air stream.  The big time deficiency could well be the not-so-wonderful mouth of Mr. Touloose-Lips himself!  The good news: getting a spanking new spiffy embouchure costs us nothing.

The key word for today is embouchure. A great setup is the first step towards a great sound. Both lips must be disciplined to work for us, not against us. Each part of the embouchure must participate. We shouldn't have to try to play well in spite of lazy lips.  Let's declare this month EMBOUCHURE EFFICIENCY MONTH.

Free-flowing air must travel over firmly anchored lips. An unfocused embouchure disperses the airstream robbing us of clarity, projection, and endurance.  We should also include lack of accuracy and range. 

An ultra relaxed look might seem very cool, but music is not about appearances.  Simply focus and blow.  Hit the audience with your streaming air, not the side of your neighbor's face! 

The best advice I remember on clarity: "Pucker, point the tongue and blow."  Another profound comment: "Direct your air straight down the pipe."  Another: "Release the air, don't attack the note." Also: Buzz it, then play it. And: "Great playing begins with a great embouchure."

Whatever is happening right behind your mouthpiece matters! 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A One-Track Mind

What does Grand Central Station have in common with your practice room?  Hopefully nothing.  Often however we experience the same stress and anxiety of a busy terminal.  Instead of a calm walk to the beach, you find yourself frantically looking at a multitude of destinations.  "Which train do I take, and WHERE am I going again?" Like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, you've got no time because "you're late, you're late, for a very important date."  Sadly, it sounds like your destination is unknown.

How about approaching practice with a one-track mind?  Pick something you need to work on.  Don't flit about like a bee from one flower to another.  Do one thing well at a time!

Here are a few trains to consider taking.  Remember, you can only board one train at a time. 

  • RHYTHM - Your most productive work will probably be without the horn.  Sing it. 
  • SOUND QUALITY - Play very slowly for great sound on all notes. Listen. 
  • DYNAMIC CONTRAST - Don't assume it's happening.  Exaggerate.
  • DRAMATIC MESSAGES - Avoid the boring. Be devoted to the story. Act it.
  • STARTS OF PHRASES (first notes/entrances) - Enter the music well. Start clearly. 
  • THE MOST DIFFICULT PASSAGE - Spend extra time on the nasty stuff. Master it. 
  • HOLD THE HIGHEST NOTES OF A PASSAGE FOR SECURITY - The top notes must be the best.  Enjoy them. 
  • ENDS OF PHRASES - Enter silence gracefully.  Last notes matter.

Relax, define the issue of the session, and walk through it carefully and slowly. Think beach, not terminal.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Your Best Tutor

What player wouldn't welcome some quick help with sound quality, focus, and intonation?  Since we all have limited practice time, what's a good fast remedy for these vital issues?  Well, consider your friendly tutor, that much ignored little corrector, your mouthpiece!

We shouldn't expect the trumpet to correct our unrecognizable pitches, our unfocused tone, or our floozy attacks. However, after some consistent accurate buzzing on the mouthpiece, you can enjoy instant improvement. 

(Some argue that buzzing is different than real playing.  I agree, but I've always noticed marked improvement after enjoying a good buzz.)

It seems that when it's unclear on the mouthpiece, it's also unclear on the horn.  But when it's perfect on the mouthpiece, it's a whole lot better when you add the horn.  It's like a ball player swinging two or three bats before stepping to the plate.  Don't trust me, or yourself. Trust your mouthpiece.

Assignment:  buzz any phrase slowly and accurately with as little fuzz as possible.  Don't modulate, and don't approximate.  Just nail each note, spot on with ease and no hand pressure.  Watch what happens after even a single session of conscientious buzzing!  Now, simply add the trumpet, play like you buzzed, and, voila, an amazingly improved sound and focus!  Repeat often during your day. Very cool! Your own personal tutor!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Bullets to Go

Trying to keep lesson assignments short and simple.  A daunting list of expectations is discouraging for student and teacher alike.  A few bullets to go is the goal.  The lesson should end with a doable agenda clearly in mind.  Here are some items covered today:

  • SING IT - Before playing, sing your music with all the inspiration you can muster.  Most of us sing way better than we play.  This ought not to be.  Don't let the trumpet be a music inhibitor.  Try to sing everything the music indicates, but with no horn yet.  Don't even think about it.  Just sing well, play it later.

  • BUZZ IT - Your goal is to buzz the mouthpiece with accurate intonation and pure tone.  Remember: it must be in tune and clear.  We demand too much of the trumpet when so much can be accomplished on the mouthpiece alone! Buzz it.

  • SLUR IT -  A slurred line always has better tone than an articulated line.  Suggestion: slur the whole line first while listening for your best tone on all notes.  Check with your clarinet player friends.  They always do great at this.  Slur it first, tongue it later.
  • TONE IT -  Try for a "Pictures" tone on all notes, especially the short ones.  Do you recall any stuffy or fuzzy notes in Pictures at an Exhibition? It's quality control on everything. Tone it.

  • CLICK IT - You must be a metronomic freak.  Your rhythm must be awesome.  Amaze all listeners with your unusual ability to be STEADY.  Rhythmic character wins jobs.  Click it or ticket.