High Range Methods- Current Approaches

This posting includes a warning! “What you are about to read and view, can be of help to playing more easily in the upper register. This material includes very reasonable and sensible methods and, if followed carefully, should improve you high notes. Also in this post are examples of extremely high playing and in no way should you try to achieve today what these players have developed through years of practice. Any attempt to duplicate their high notes can and will spit your lip wide open and cause massive bleeding and unmatchable pain and suffering. The author of this blog accepts no responsibility for any damage or discomfort done to any individual who does not follow the included instructions as stated.” With that said, let’s get into the study of high note playing. Oh, one more thing. If you get dizzy, while playing these exercises, SIT DOWN IMEDIATLY!

The accompanying written material is highly recommended and should be read completely before beginning to play.

Trumpetstudio.com- Free

There are many similarities between these exercises and those done in the Roger Spalding and the Glaude Gordon Methods. These are proven examples of high range practices and should help you.

StudyMusicOnline.com This video explains a very thoughtful approach to high note playing. Please note the use of low tones performed after the high note exercise. This is very important for it gives the embouchure a slight chance to recover as well as reset your mouthpiece placement and embouchure formation.

215thArmyBand The player in this video will share many important hints which you should consider. During the video, two very helpful etude books are recommended. The first is the Earl Irons, twenty-seven Groups of Exercises. This was a required book for all of my students at the University of Northern Iowa and I am very pleased that it is still valued so highly today. The other etude book is the Walter Smith Top Tones for Trumpet, also one that I required of my students. Playing repetitious scales can become very boring and the Top Tones will give you more of a melodic approach to high note playing.

I recommend all three of these sites and would expect you to try all three. Try all three, one at a time and decide which approach works best for you at this time and then stick with that one alone. If, in the future you become tired of your first choice, or if you do not advance in your high range playing, try one of the other two for a while. There is no way in the world anyone could tell you which method will work best for you but at least now you have three possible methods to try. Only you can be the judge on which is best for your situation.

High Range Methods- Pedal Tones

The use of pedal tones is like eating Chinese food; you either love it or hate it. I’m not sure who should be given credit for the use of pedal tones but my guess would be that it had something to do with playing the Circus. If you have ever played the circus, and I am speaking of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey circus, you know what I am talking about. I’m sure that there are trumpet players around who enjoyed the experience and I am also confident that those players also enjoy have a root canal done on them during a lightening storm.  The after affects of such an experience will teach one the fine art of flapping ones lips or as you will see, playing pedal tones.

What are pedal tones and what do they do for you?

Pedal tones are the notes below the usual low register of the trumpet which would begin on our written low F, one-half step below our normal low range. In order to produce this lower half step, all you have to do is relax your embouchure to the required note. Once you have a good F (and can this even be possible?), continue down to the next half step below. Continue lowering your notes until you are unable to go lower. With a little experimenting and a little less mouthpiece pressure, you will suddenly produce a whole new world of strange vibrations which, if continued too long, will begin to make your nose itch. Yes I said that your nose will itch. The reason for this is that your lips are vibrating at such a slow speed and your lips are relaxed to such an extreme that your whole face will begin to feel this relaxed condition. This extreme relaxation of your facial muscles is the reason we practice pedal tones. Pedal tones not only relax facial muscles but also super charge the meat with added oxygen for a more rapid recovery from tired embouchure muscles. After an extended time playing pedal tones, you feel as if you had just received injections of collagen in your lips.

How can pedal tones improve playing high notes?

There are many theories on why pedal tones help increase our high register. Some players feel the added oxygen is the reason. Some feel that by having puffed the lips up with the pedal tones, more meat is under the mouthpiece and consequently you have an added cushion of embouchure to work with and some believe that you play in more of a pucker position under the mouthpiece. Whatever the reason, those who practice the use of pedal tones, all agree that pedal tones do help with upper register performance.

What method books utilize pedal tones in their material?

No one is sure who was the first to promote in print the pedal tone concept but two of the earliest could have been the Roger Spalding Double High C in 37 Weeks (not currently available) method and the Claude Gordon Systematic Approach to Daily Practice method. Another important method around the same time and possibly the predecessor to the first two might have been the Carmine Caruso method.

I have practiced out of both the 37 Weeks and the Systematic Daily Practice methods and was pleased with my increase in the upper register. I would recommend either but for the reason that the Claude Gordon book is a complete practice routine, including additional material (Clarke’s Technical Study book, and lip flexibility books), I would get the Gordon Method for it’s complete approach to your development.

High Range Methods- Traditional

I will group the “Old School” approach to improving high range as any method using traditional methods which would include improvement one half-step at a time over a period with constant repetition.

The highest note in the entire Arban Method is only a high C. Did you ever wonder why this appened.? Why was such a popular and authoritative work so limiting in the upper register? I’m not sure anyone would have the real reason for many factors affected the material at that period of time. It is interesting to read the review of  Arban’s material when he submitted it to the Pasis Conservatory’s Committee on Music Study. Their replay stated, “This work is rich in instructive advice, is based on the best of fundamental principles, and omits not a single instructive point which might be needed for the development and gradual technical perfection of a player.” The Arban Method contains three hundred and forty-seven pages and, when considering the amount of material, there is a complete exclusion of anything above a high C.

It is not to say that the cornet was not playing the notes above high C for the virtuosic soloists of that period were regularly pushing the highest limits during their solo performances. Even with today’s standards, they are considered some of the greatest high note players, and on some of the most primitive instruments when compared to what we have today. If they could play that high, why did it not reflect in their method books? Arban died in 1899 and within a relatively short time, material to study in the upper register began to change. In nineteen twenty-four Walter M. Eby published his book “Eby’s Scientific Method for Cornet and Trumpet. Within his method were some of the most humbling high range exercises ever written to paper. On the first page in his Part 4- Professional book, the first exercise includes its first high C and on page three-hundred ten you are served your first double C and further down the same page you are shown what a triple high C might look like. That must have been a real shock to the players back then! I highly recommend adding this method to your library but unfortunately, it is no longer available in stores. If you happen on a copy or notice it on sale on Ebay.com, be sure to make a bid, for it will be a sought after collectable in the future.

I can recommend a book for your study which will help with a traditional approach to high range development and it is FREE! This material was published years ago by the well known high note player Bud Brisbois. It is available at Bud Brisbois’ trumpet method Trumpet Today. While you are at this site, also download  Bud Brisbois’ Jazz Trumpet Duet book Trumpets Today. Both the method book and collection of duets (with on site recorded examples), will serve you well in your quest for just another half step in a traditional approach to high note playing.

High Range Trumpet Methods- Introduction

One of the most asked questions from students is this, “How can I learn to play high notes?” Seldom do players ask how they can improve their tone, endurance or any of the equally important areas of development. While giving clinics both with the faculty brass quintet as well as individual clinics, I have often been asked, “How high can you play?” My answer to that question was usually “I can play one note higher than I am asked to play”. Although they seldom understood what I meant by the statement, my response did answer the question. I have never been a high note player. At my very best I was able to play an Eb above double C. To many that sounds impressive but when that was accomplished, I was a graduate student at North Texas State and I was determined to work up to my first double C. I got there, I exceeded my goal and shortly there after returned to my usual range of reasonable D above high C. Upper register playing has always been a struggle for me and that is why I am very content being a decent second chair player in a big band. I have been blessed with good chops (not exceptional), above average reading skills and an acceptable ability to improvise. I was told by one of my music department director’s years ago, “Not every horse is a race horse”. His statement to me was directed toward one of my students but the inference fits me very well also. So if I am not blessed with high chops, why am I posting information on how to increase your high chops?

Some are blessed and the rest of us sweat.

If you are one of the fortunate that sail through the air with the greatest of ease, I am envious. For the other 80% of us, this article has been written. I am reminded of an experience in Lancaster, Texas one afternoon when a young man (10-12 years old) wandered into the band room where I was teaching private lessons. He asked the usual questions and I handed him my trumpet after he asked what it was. This total non player’s first note out of the horn was around an F above high C, with no effort. When I speak of the gifted 20%, this young man was best example I could offer. With no past experience or knowledge, his first note was higher and more effortless than what I could play. “Life is not fair and then we die”.

If you are among the 80% who work for every half step, you may find this post helpful for as a member of the same group, I understand what you have and will be going through to reach your upper goals.

Traditional approaches to high range playing.

When we first began to play our instruments, we were limited to the number of notes available for us to play. As we continued to practice, more notes were possible. After years of regular practice, the increase in number of upper level notes began to slow. The low range was not a problem for obvious reasons but what used to take a few months to increase was now taking years and eventually that ceiling stopped moving up.

A traditional approach to high range improvement would be an extension of what we were using at the beginning of our career as a musician. If high C is a good note, then continue with your same exercises until you can play a C#. That’s as traditional as it gets. You work and work until you get the next half step then you repeat until satisfied. That’s not rocket science, dude!

In my next post, I will be demonstrating this concept in a very fine method book written by the late Bud Brisbois called Trumpet Today. This is a wonderful method and an example of the more traditional approach which I have described above.

The introduction of the use of pedal tones to improve high range playing.

Many years ago, we were introduced to a new concept of lip development called pedal tones. Everyone at the time began to fill practice rooms around the world with these, unmusical, low frequency sputters which sounded more like an outboard motor than a musical tone. Top musicians joined the fraternity of pedal tone players and we all were using different versions of this technique. It did and still does have value in increasing your high register and in a following article, I will compare the attributes of two of these earlier methods- Double High C in 37 Weeks by Roger Spalding and Systematic approach to Daily Practice by Claude Gordon. Both of these methods have been very beneficial to thousands of struggling players, including myself.

Current sources for upper range improvement.

The market for high range playing instruction is constantly building. Many of the new ideas are just revamps from earlier methods. Some are quite distinct and helpful. Many are a waste of time and money. Many times the gifted high range player thinks that they are obligated to share their great ability with the world but forget that some of us are not able to accomplish what they find easy and consequently this information is useless to many of us. If you have ever frequented a trumpet convention, picking this player out of a crowd is easy. All you have to do is follow the screamingly high noise and there the person will be, expounding on how, with only five minutes and his book, you will also be able to play notes only dogs can hear. When you are visiting with such a person, be kind but don’t believe everything you are told.

Why Should I Extend My Third Slide On Low D?

Band directors are constantly asking their students to adjust their instruments on out of tune notes and unfortunately many students are unaware of the need. I will try to first identify the most difficult notes and suggest some exercises which will help students know exactly how much adjustment needs to be made.

What notes are the most out of tune and why?

All instruments with three valves face the same problem. Because of the length and acoustics of our instruments, there will be some notes or partials which will not be in tune. If you begin on the lowest open note on a trumpet, you will play our lowest C. There is another partial or fundamental tone below the C but it is not a note we are capable of using. As we ascend from the second harmonic or partial, the next will be the note G, second line, which is followed by C, E, G and so forth. If every instrument were perfectly in tune, each note would be centered and additional adjustments would not be necessary. One such harmonic is the E, top space or the fifth harmonic. This note tends to be flat and addition adjustments may need to be implemented. The two most out of tune notes on a trumpet are the low C# and its neighbor D. The D is sharp and the C# is very sharp and both need to be lowered substantially.

How far do I have to lower these notes?

A very simple way to find out how far you should extend your third slide to put these two notes in tune would be as follows-

1.      Play second line G with your conventional fingering (0).

2.      Now play the same note with the first and third valves (1,3).

3.      Alternate the two different fingerings on the same second line G.

4.      Extend your third slide until the two notes have the same pitch.

5.      This is the distance your slide should be extended when you play your low D.

6.      Now finger your second space F# with the usual fingering (2).

7.      Play the same note now with all three valves depressed (1,2,3)

8.      Alternate the two different fingerings on the same first space F#.

9.      Extend your third slide until the two notes have the same pitch.

10.  This is the distance your slide should be extended when you play your low C#.

Most performers adjust pitch on these two notes by extending their third slide but adjustments could also be made by extending their first slide if it is equipped with a ring or saddle. For many years I used my first slide rather than my third and had no issues with the alternate slide. One advantage the third has over the first is that you can lower the pitch further with the third than with the first slide. To be truly effective in slide extensions for pitch improvement, you should be able to move each whenever the situation dictates. Several of your first valve notes will need to be lowered and they cannot be adjusted with the third slide.

In some instances, alternate fingering may be used for troublesome intonation. On early trumpets and cornets, the fifth harmonic, (top space E) played more flat than our modern instruments and this could be the reason why the great jazz cornet player Bix Beiderbecke may have chosen to play this note with an alternate fingering (1,2). Jazz enthusiasts have criticized Bix for his practice of alternate fingerings, saying “Bix didn’t even know the correct fingering for his instrument”. I’m sure Bix knew the correct fingering and may have chosen to use the alternate fingering so that his note would be more in tune.

The ability to play in tune is challenging for even the best players for in many cases when performing in an ensemble, you will be expected to adjust your pitch even when you are perfectly in tune so that the overall intonation of the ensemble would be improved. Most of my playing requires me to play the second part in ensembles and in that position, I am more aware of intonation problems than if I were playing the first part. If the lead player next to me is playing sharp, I adjust my pitches to help the intonation by pushing my notes up a little. Life is full of adjustments and you should be ready at all times to make these changes.