Last Day for Gigantic Price Blowout!!!!

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With the Fall Season just around the corner (remember the Christmas season begins on Labor Day in Branson), our sister site trumpetensemblemusic.com will be offering all of their arrangements posted from September 1 through September 30 for only $5.00 each.

This will the best time to stock up on your music needs for the remainder of the year.

Every new arrangement posted from the September 1st through September 30th will be priced at only $5.00.

Be sure to check every day for the arrangement you need and stock up for the Holidays.

Not only that!

If you have something special you need arranged, contact me in the comment section and I will try to fill your request- within reason. It does take a little more work to arrange a brass choir with full percussion for $5.00, so please be reasonable.

This is our way of thanking all of our friends who have been so supportive through another great year at trumpetensemblemusic.com

PS. Many of these September arrangements will increase in price after September 30th.

Put A Spring In Your Playing

With all the advances in trumpet materials and design, you would think someone would do something to improve our valve springs. There is one thing that you can do yourself to possibly improve the performance of your instrument. And the answer is inside your valve casings.

Valves are made to go up and down when we perform and in most situations, they work well. Sometimes they stick and in most cases a good cleaning will solve that problem. But if a nice warm bath and cleaning has not improved your valve action you might consider changing your valve springs. After years of playing, even the best springs will loose their strength to some degree and replacing them might be just what you need for a better playing instrument.

Another possible improvement in valve spring replacement can be made when you want to improve your finger strength on your valves. Valve springs are in most cases designed about the same. If the spring fits into the spring holder without touching the inside walls, it will work on your horn. Some springs are built with more resistance than others and for that reason; you could replace your original set of springs for more resistance. By making this switch, you will be adding to increase the resistance in each of your valves and train your fingers to push the valve down with more force. This is a great way to learn to bang the valves down as “Doc” Severinsen used to preach in his lectures. I also remember my former trumpet teacher Don Jacoby saying, “when you push your valves down, you should hear a pop”. Adding stronger springs will help strengthen your fingers and when returning to your original springs, you will be amazed at the increased strength and speed you will have developed.

If you are unsure as to how strong your valves springs need to be, just play something very slow and see if the depressed valves return to the upright position as quickly as your fingers. When you lift your fingers from each valve the finger buttons should stay in contact with your fingers. If your finger leaves the button as it is lifted, you need to add more strength to your springs. Sometimes you can slightly stretch the springs to give you more resistance but if you do stretch your springs, be very careful that you don’t over do it for you will not be able to redo any damage you have done by over stretching. You also need to be sure that when you stretch your spring, it must remain straight. If your spring ends up looking like the letter C, you had better order some new springs for a bent spring will not work as it should inside the valve casing.

Increasing the resistance can be taken to an extreme as a student and I found out many years ago. The student complained that he didn’t have enough strength in his fingers so we decided to increase the resistance from a set of 7 oz. springs to a set of 9 oz. He was not satisfied with the change so we tried 7 oz. inside the valve and added a second set of 7 oz. below the valve. He was satisfied with the added resistance and continued to practice that summer with the extra set of springs. When he returned the next fall, I asked him how it went and he proceeded to push his valves down with crushing speed. He was very satisfied and I was happy he was satisfied. For most situations, this would be considered a bit excessive, but for him, it did the trick.

While preparing this post, I checked every repair shop on line which offered trumpet valve springs and could not find one that offered springs in different resistances. That is unfortunate for I was able to collect at least three different resistances for my own use. Each set was interchangeable in my Schilke, Bach, Getzen and Yamaha horns. The best way to start collecting valve springs of different resistances would be to ask your local instrument repair shop to show you all the trumpet springs they have in stock and test each for different resistances.

With all of the money being spent today on custom made, ultra light, ultra heavy, extra fast, and titanium with mother of pearl insert finger buttons and special alloy valve caps which will increase you upper register by three octaves, it is a wonder that no one wants to offer the trumpet world better valve springs. Could it be that there would not be enough markups in price?

How A Soda Straw Can Improve Your Playing

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In our last post we talked about the use of a modified, plastic, water bottle to improve your air intake and today we will be using another simple and readily available gadget to improve the air flow out of your body and through your instrument.

Many have pondered exactly how we produce the correct air stream when playing a brass/wind instrument and in most cases, the concept has been grossly misunderstood.

Here are just a few of the comments I have heard-

1. Tighten your stomach- WRONG!

2. Tighten your diaphragm- WRONG!

3. Firm up your stomach- WRONG

4. Blow from the bottom of your lungs- WRONG!

5. Support from your diaphragm- WRONG!

6. Fill your diaphragm with air- WRONG

7. Fill your stomach with air- WRONG!

….and the list goes on and on.

Taking air in and blowing air out is very simple and to save time at this point let me be very brief.

Undeniable fact #1- “MUSCLES CAN ONLY CONTRACT”.

Undeniable fact #2- “Every set of muscles has an opposite or “apposing set of muscles”.

Here is an illustration for those who are not yet up to speed.

1. Hold a heavy object in your right hand, straight out from your body.

2. Slowly raise your right hand from the elbow and with the other hand feel your bicep of your right arm. It should be firm for it is being used to lift the object. Also notice that your tricep in your right arm is relaxed.

3. Now sit, place your right hand on your right knee and firmly push down. Notice that your tricep is firm and your bicep is relaxed.

This exercise illustrates the function of opposing sets of muscles. Both work together but not at the same time. If they both contracted at the same time you would have isometric tension, which is not what we want when playing a wind instrument. Isometric tension occurs when opposing muscles are contracting at the same time and energy is spent without any work being done.

For those who still feel that you must have tension in your diaphragm to expel air, let me further illustrate your error.

The muscles of the diaphragm can only contract and when they contract, it lowers the diaphragm and consequently enlarges the area below the lungs which draws them downward and in turn sucks the air in. The diaphragm can be compared to your bicep as it moves the weight upward.

The muscles of your abdominal wall can be compared to your tricep muscles as you push your hand down on your knee and in the case of your abdominal wall muscles, forces the air out of your lungs by compressing the material in your visceral (guts) area upward against your diaphragm and consequently the bottom of your lungs.

Now, if you still feel that you must have firmness in your diaphragm and the firmness in your abdominal wall at the same time, what you are doing is implementing an isometric tension between the two sets of muscles which generates tension and accomplishes nothing.

If you still feel that you must do this muscle against muscle action in order to play trumpet, please contact me for I would love to hear your justification for this misguided thinking.

Now that we have defined what muscles are, how they work and work efficiently, we can now move on to our trick with the soda straw.

The soda straw exercise-
• Stand erect and place one hand on your abdominal wall (your belly).
• Breathe normally for a couple seconds and try to visualize the air entering your nose or mouth; whichever you are most comfortable with. This action is called tidal breathing which is how we breathe throughout the day and at night when we are asleep. Tidal breathing is the action of sustaining enough oxygen in our blood stream. The action we use when playing a wind instrument is called forced inhalation and forced exhalation and both are an extension of our tidal breathing practice.
• Take a deep breath and open your mouth as wide as you can and exhale. Notice that there is no resistance to the exhaled air stream. Now take a deep breath in and exhale through your lips as if you were blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Notice the increase in resistance to the air stream. You should be able to feel an increase in firmness in your abdominal wall muscles. Breathe in deeply again and this time place the straw between your lips and blow your air out through the straw. You should again be able to feel even more resistance to the air column and more firmness in your abdominal wall.

As you do this exercise, be careful not to become hyperventilated by exchanging too much oxygen; actually you become hyperventilated by not having enough carbon dioxide.

During this exercise, try to visualize the organs of your body as you bring air in and expel it through the straw. The air goes in when you contract the muscles on the outer ring of your diaphragm and the air goes out when you start to tighten the muscles of your abdominal wall. If both your diaphragm and abdominal wall muscles are contracting at the same time, your respiratory system is not performing in the most efficient way and you are wasting energy and getting little work done. By blowing out through the straw you are using more abdominal wall contraction and in doing so more easily understanding where your muscles are and how they work.

THINK-
DIAPHRAGM DOWN, AIR IN.
ABDOMINAL WALL IN, AIR OUT.

In a following post I will address this breathing thing in more detail but for now, try this simple exercise with the straw and visualize how you can breathe more efficiently when playing your horn.

How A Water Bottle Can Improve Your Breathing

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Taking in a sufficient amount of air before playing trumpet is a very simple yet confusing action. Some say that “you take air in as if you are coming up for the last time when drowning”. I never did understand that one. Some say “lift your shoulders and fill your lungs from the bottom up”. Still others tell their students to “breath low”. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard that one. Some encourage the player to “take a long, slow breath through the nose”. That person must have very large nostrils and a long time to take a breath. It is true that we need to inhale properly in order to perform well on our instrument but the following trick may improve your inhalation without creating additional problems as do the examples mentioned above do.

Instructions on how to breathe deeply before playing a note on your instrument-

1. Empty a plastic soft drink bottle.
2. Cut the bottle as illustrated in the picture.
3. Remove the cap and clean out the neck end of the bottle.
4. Place the neck of the bottle between your lips and teeth.
5. Exhale completely.
6. Inhale quickly.

Notice how much air has entered your lungs in a very short amount of time. This is the feeling you should have when you take a deep breath before playing your instrument.

How simple!

The reason behind this exercise is to illustrate how the back of your throat should be positioned before inhaling. Notice the back of your throat is open and your tongue is located at the bottom of your mouth. In this position, you are able to take in a great amount of air in a very short amount of time; as you should do when playing trumpet.

I would like to give credit to the persons responsible for this trick and I think I heard it from a couple of my colleagues who had studied with Arnold Jacobs, tubist with the Chicago Symphony. If it works and helps brass players breathe correctly, it must have originated with Jacobs.

Instructions on how to use this device-

Before you begin practicing your instrument, take about two minutes to breathe normally through the device. Feel the openness and the free flowing air stream as you breathe. Be sure to guard yourself from hyperventilating as you do this exercise for you will be exchanging more air than your lungs are used to.

After this exercise, place your mouthpiece on your lips in a buzzing position and try to duplicate the openness you experienced while breathing through the device. Buzz a few minutes on only your mouthpiece. Then place the mouthpiece in your horn and play a few minutes while still trying to duplicate the open throat and air passageway.

After a few days practicing this routine, you will become accustom to the feeling of openness in your throat and the lack of restriction in your air passageway.

In our next post we will continue with another simple trick which will improve the function and muscles used to properly support a good sound.

An Interesting Dilemma Revisited

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Problem Solved.

After going through the arsenal of trumpet mouthpieces I have collected through several decades, I finally stumbled upon one which has been shelved for more years than I can remember; my old Purviance 5*K4.

Today I played the first half of the show on my usual Bobby Shew Jazz mouthpiece and the second half on my old 5*K4 and my old standby saved the day again. Every note in the middle range which was covered by the lead trumpet playing in his high range finally cut enough to make balancing the two parts perfectly.

Tonight I will now have to “dial the new mouthpiece in” with my horn to complete the switch. I was amazed at how the two horns are now equal in volume balance without having to increase my decibels.

In the future, I may have to fill in on the lead part again like last season and at that time I will be looking to the Purviance 4*K4 for even more edge to my sound, but for now, The 5*K4 is the answer I was looking for.

You might keep this in mind if you are faced with a similar situation.

An Interesting Dilemma

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I pride myself as a very competent second chair trumpet player. Making this confession does not come easily for declaring that you are comfortable being a “second chair player” is against all trumpet player’s egos. But, as I told Mr. Bobby Shew one day, “we are the players that make you guys sound good”. Be sure to read my earlier post entitled “How To Become A Better Second Chair Trumpet Player”.

Last season I was playing the lead chair in our show The All Hands On Deck Show and
I enjoyed it immensely. Our show reopened this month and we were fortunate enough to add one of my best friends and former lead trumpet player from the Les Brown band to join us so that I could play the jazz solos in the show. Mr. Doyle Miller and I have been playing together for many years and the change would be great for the band. I have never performed with a more similar style of trumpet player as Doyle. With this said, I will now share with you the dilemma we are facing in hopes that someone out there can come up with a solution to this situation.

Here is the problem-

It is my job as the second trumpet to keep the volume between the two trumpets as balanced as possible throughout the show. We have no problem at all in the middle and lower range but when the lead part gets up to the high C and above range, the lead trumpet part begins to increase the edge of its tone. This is not any problem when the second part is playing in interval of a third or even a fourth below the lead part for it also begins to increase in its edge. The problem we are facing now is that most of the second parts are written mostly a sixth below which does not have the cutting power in that range. Some may suggest that the second player play louder which seems to be an easy solution but without the same edge to the sound, the second part would have to be uncharacteristically much louder than the first part. We have tried to equalize this volume situation with separate mikes, different mike and mike placements but the unbalance still continued.

Our problem stems from two conditions-

1. By voicing the second part an interval greater than a fourth, the tone quality of the two trumpets is drastically different.

2. Without re-scoring the book, I see no way to even the volume between the two instruments in wide range differences.

I have tried playing the second part on a more edgy mouthpiece and this only distorted the volume balance in the middle and lower range. The placement of the mike was raised to be more omnidirectional to cover both trumpets but this also failed to improve the balance. I have also tried playing with my backup trumpet which has a smaller bore and a more brilliant sound and found no improvement.

If any of you can come up with a solution to this problem, it would be greatly appreciated. Until then, I will be doing my best to “make the first chair player sound good”.