Using Technology to Improve Your Trumpet Playing- Using an Audio Recorder

The use of an audio recorder may seem common place for most for we all have been or have recorded ourselves at one or more times in our lives. Usually we are not happy with the playbacks but that’s life and even what we dislike can be helpful to our development. A straight record and playback is normal but what I would like to suggest are a few tricks which will enhance your playing ability far beyond the simple, record/ play back level.

Your recording can be done with various pieces of equipment. I’m sure many of you would not be familiar with the early devices which we, the older generation started with but from an historic standpoint, I will list them. I started recording my performances first with a Panasonic, monaural, cassette recorder, then advanced to J.C. Penny’s Stereo reel-to-reel recorder. Soon I was recording on Beta tapes, followed by better quality VHS, then reel to reel stereo recorders and eventually I advanced to Digital. I wish I could say that my playing improved as much as the recording technology.

We will assume that we are all enjoying digital recordings for anything less would be unthinkable. Recording digitally has many advantages over the older formats and through these advancements we will begin to improve our playing ability. I am not talking about using a conventional digital recorder for everyone has the ability to do that on their own. What I am suggesting at this time is recording yourself through a computer equipped with an inexpensive (FREE) recording program called Audacity.

Setting up your recording equipment.

Required equipment-

• Computer
• Microphone (internal or external)
Audacity program

Getting your recording program to work.

• Read the instructions
• Read them again
• Call the service number for help

How to use your recorded signal.

I will assume that you have installed your free Audacity program and have been able to see your recording on your screen. Viewing an audio signal is amazing for all those jagged peaks and valleys will be very helpful to you as you analyze your tone.

Exercise #1- Keeping a steady tone.

• Record a single note in the middle of your range and play it as steady as you can. Use no vibrato and keep the dynamic the same throughout.
• Play it back and notice how the volume and intensity of the signal fluctuates.
• Keep playing and recording until you are able to keep a constant tone and dynamic level throughout all the notes on your instrument.

Exercise #2- Connecting repeated notes.

• Play and record a series of quarter notes on the same pitch in the middle of your range.
• Notice the gaps between each note in your recording.
• Repeat your series and this time try to connect each note with an extreme legato articulation.
• Continue with this exercise until you see only the slightest space between each note.

Exercise #3- Connecting notes with wider intervals.

• Repeat the exercises listed above but this time record arpeggiated note patterns and try minimizing the space between each note.

Exercise #4- Helping with pitch in the higher register.

• Play and record a C scale starting on low C and ending on third space C using half notes on each pitch.
• Highlight your recording and under “effect”, click on “change pitch”. Unfortunately I have not been able to raise the signal an octave in only one step so you will have to do it in two steps. First raise the original from F to Bb, then raise Bb to F. You should now be able to hear your recording being played back an octave higher than recorded.
• Practicing with this recording will give you a better idea as to what your pitch should be when you match your notes an octave higher than recorded.
• Extend your recordings up as high as you feel comfortable playing.

Exercise #5- Improving your intonation.

• Record pitches which you know to be in tune (i.e. using a recently tuned piano/ pitch/tone generator/tuner) throughout your playing range. You will need to record a click track in order for this exercise to work.
• Record a chromatic scale from your lowest note to your highest using your in tone/pitch generator with each note lasting a slow four beats.
• Record yourself playing the same notes but do not play back the first recording.
• Now that you have two recordings of the same pitch playing at the same time, play both back and make note of the intonation discrepancies for future reference.

These are just a few of the ways you can use a recording program for your improvement. Additional tests could be used to test your accuracy in counting, analyzing your entrances and releases on notes and your use or misuse of vibrato.

Using Technology to Improve Your Trumpet Playing- Using a Metronome

A Metronome is defined as “an instrument of the devil which speed up in difficult passages and slows down in easy passages”.

To prove my point, try playing the last page of W. Brandt Concertpiece # 1 with a metronome and you will realize how much a metronome can increase in tempo. And on the other hand, play Lil Darlin’ by Neil Hefty and observes that after only eight measures, the same time keeper has slowed down. Interesting phenomenon isn’t it?

Keeping a steady tempo has always been a challenge to musicians and solving this problem requires patience and regular use of a metronome. Notice I said “regular use”. Most often we get the old clicker out when we need to know what tempo the composer had in mind and never think to use it in perfecting our own time keeping ability.

The importance of keeping a steady tempo was brought to my attention while attending (at that time) North Texas State. During one of the trumpet sectionals, our section leader told us to form a circle but instead of pointing in to the center, he had us turn to face away from the center with our horns pointing out. If you want to find out if you are keeping time with your section, try that exercise. With your back to the center, you don’t have the advantage of seeing, hearing and feeling what your neighbor is doing. It gives you the same feeling as walking through a field of live land mines. I relate this story only to illustrate how unaware we usually are when trying to keep a steady tempo.

Exercise # 1

Set your metronome at a moderate tempo (mm90). Let it run for a minute or two. Then shut it off and continue to count at the same tempo for a minute. Restart you metronome and notice how far you have increased or decreased the speed. Continue this same exercise until you can sustain the original tempo.

Exercise #2

Do the same exercise but this time increase the speed to mm160. Restart your metronome and again notice how far you have increased or decreased the speed. Continue this same exercise until you can sustain the original tempo.

Exercise #3

Do the same exercise but this time decrease the speed to mm60. Restart your metronome and again notice how far you have increased or decreased the speed. Continue this same exercise until you can sustain the original tempo.

Exercise #4

Repeat exercises #1- 3 everyday for the next week and see if your concept of time has improved. If it hasn’t improved, turn in your trumpet and start learn to play the drums!

Using Technology to Improve Your Trumpet Playing- Using a Tuner

Everyone knows how to use a tuner- “play a note and watch the dial”. There are more efficient ways to check your pitch and I will try to list a couple which I have found helpful through the years (decades).

Download free work sheet here- Exercises for Tuning Your Instrument

In order to play your tuning note accurately, you first need a reference point and this is what I will first address.

How to center your tuning note more accurately.

Before you start, you need to know why we use the third space C as the standard tuning note. The note “C” is in tune, is in the middle of the instruments range and is also one of the easiest notes to perform.

1. To guarantee that your instrument is constant in pitch make sure that the air in your instrument is warmed. Play a few notes in order to raise your instrument into its normal playing pitch. Brass instruments cool as they sit and tuning with a cold instrument will give you a pitch that is low. As the instrument warms, it rises in pitch and a warm instrument is where we begin. Exercise #1 on the sheet.

2. Picking a note to tune out of the air is difficult even for a seasoned veteran. The best exercise to center your tuning note is to play a short scale up to your tuning note (third space c). Exercise #2 on the sheet.

How to check the pitch on each note on your instrument.

Begin on the note G followed by A, B and finally C. By playing these notes, you will be certain that the final C has a good reference to be played in tune with your instruments.

3. Once you have tuned your instrument using your main tuning slide to the tuner’s C (concert Bb) it is time to check all of the notes on your instrument. I have included a work sheet to use which lists all of your notes as well as the notes to be used to center your pitch. Exercise #3 on the sheet.

4. Notice on the work sheet that there are three attempts for each note. The reason for using three attempts is that you will have to average the three in order to determine a more accurate conclusion. Check your tuner as you hold the whole notes and mark in the next measure your pitch tendencies (# for sharp/ ## for very sharp/ b for flat/ bb for very flat). After playing all of the patterns, go back and average each note and indicate on your sheet which notes you have to compensate for. Below I have listed some helpful information as to how you can improve your intonation with alternate fingerings and slide extensions.

This is a lot of work but you will enjoy playing more when you play in tune; and so will everyone around you.

5. After you have run through the exercise, you will have to transfer this information to a single sheet (also included) which you should keep in your case for future reference.

How to adjust for out of tune notes.

Now that you have determined which notes are out of tune, the next step is to decide how you will compensate for this problem. Every sharp note must be lowered by either alternate fingerings or extending a valve slide. Every flat note needs to be raised by using an alternate fingering.

I have included material which will show you the pitch tendencies of the various notes and alternate fingerings for many. This will give you many combinations of fingerings and note which will require slide extensions. It is worth the time you spend finding these notes and learning how to compensate for their deficiencies.

Play your instrument well requires attention to many issues on many levels. Unfortunately we are sometimes content to just play the correct note, forgetting that other elements are needed such as a good sound, even tempi, proper counting, control of the dynamic levels, balancing with the musicians around you and, as this posting indicates, good intonation.

Using Technology to Improve Your Trumpet Playing- Video Recording

Some might ask why video recording is important when preparing a performance and to that I say “Your audience not only has to hear you play but also see you perform”. The video recorder can be a great tool when preparing your recital or any other solo performance for after reviewing your video recording, you will be amazed at how much you really don’t know about your up coming performance.

A video recorder will show you how you enter the stage, how you present yourself to the audience as well as let you know what visual bad habits you are doing while you play. Many people find emptying the water key is offensive and after watching myself during those unpleasant yet necessary moments, I began to add a small section of cloth to my equipment to soften the sound and absorb the moisture during a solo.

Entering the stage is seldom taken into consideration and is usually the first impression the audience gets of you. If you enter in a “don’t give a #%$@ manner, your audience will think you don’t care how you perform. Practice with the recorder to help you give the appearance that you are not only prepared to perform but you are also looking forward to it.

Many times performers play a complete recital not knowing that the audience was unable to see their face. Your recording will let you know just where to place your stand so that everyone will be able to see your face turn red on the last high C.

Another example of the importance of video recording was brought to my attention when I realized how many times I had to bend over to pickup a mute from the floor during a rehearsal. After realizing how distracting this extra movement was to the audience, I began using a small table to make my mutes more accessible during my performance. These are the small details which can distract from your performance.

In closing I would like to mention another use of a video recording which happened many years ago. I was judging a jazz festival somewhere in Iowa and was approached by a director wanting some advice. He told me that he was from the same town that the previous jazz band director and asked if I remembered the band. I did remember the band as well as its director; a very large woman who jumped around the stage so much that it was a distraction to everyone in the room. His concern was that his department did not know how to approach her about her size and movement on stage. This was a tough situation for him and I suggested that all they had to do was video tape her and have her sit down and watch herself on stage. I received a letter weeks after that from the director thanking me for the suggestion. They recorded her on the next concert and said nothing until she was shown the video. She was shocked to see how she was presenting herself to the audience and nothing more was said.

I would like to suggest that the next time you have a solo performance coming up, video tape yourself and see what the rest of the world sees.