Ensemble playing has many benefits including attention to pitch, better concept of time and a more musical environment. The problem arises when, at 10:00 PM at night, you decide to call a friend to come over and play duets with you and your only response is a loud click at the other end of the line.
Recording yourself playing one or two parts of duets or trios can be very helpful for it forces you to keep time and play in tune. I have used this practice routine for many years and have found it to be very beneficial. Below I will give some suggestions as to how you can use the practice and I’m sure many of you would be able to add to the list.
If you have a tape or digital recorder the only other equipment needed would be a metronome to keep it all together. Place the recorder or microphone close to your metronome so that the recorded trumpet sounds and the metronome are of equal volume. In many duets, the first part has most of the melody so record the second part first. Record and play back to begin your ensemble rehearsal.
Trios will require a recording program such as Audacity, for multiple channels will be required. Audacity has the capability to “lay down” a click track so a metronome is not required. Head phones will be necessary in order to separate the play back sound from your new recording.
More complex ensembles
Again, the Audacity program will enable you to stack as many parts as your computer can handle. In addition to the added number of parts or tracks, the program will enable you to add special effects to your original recordings which will improve even the worst sound in the world. CAUTION- once you get to this point in your practicing, you may find that you are spending more time with the toys than you are playing your instrument.
Using your recordings to improve your endurance and range
This section is very important for it can change your outlook on practicing. You can use prerecorded etude material as well as ensemble material. I developed this concept while preparing for an upcoming bout with the Ringling Brothers Circus many years ago. I needed to improve my endurance so that I would be able to live through a week of the circus in Iowa. If you are not aware of the old days of circus playing, you only need to know that it is constant and more constant playing with the mouthpiece buried into your lip. Follow the instructions below and you will be able to build more endurance than you thought possible.
How to build “King Kong” Chops
• Set your recording equipment up to record one part and a metronome.
• Start with an easy book of etudes- First Book of Practical Studies for Cornet and Trumpet by Robert W. Getchell works great.
• Record the first line along with a metronome and rest through the second line with the metronome continuing.
• Record the third line and continue for one-half hour.
• The next day, record the Second Book of Practical Studies for Cornet and Trumpet or finish Book 1 in the same manner (play a line and rest a line).
• The third day, restart your first tape and play the lines that you rested two days before.
• The fourth day, play your second taped session.
This is the procedure that you will be using. You record the first line of an etude book and the next day you play the even number of lines. Some of the benefits you will experience are an increase in your ability to sight-read because of the added amount of material covered, your increased attention to counting for you will need to come in at the correct time on each line. Additional advantages include increased attention to: pitch, intonation, tone and attacks for you are constantly listening to yourself in each play back line. Those are some of the musical advantages- and now for the physical advantages.
• By resting every other line, your lips have a chance to “rest as much as you play”. This is very important when building endurance.
• As you become more comfortable with these first two etude books, you will have the urge to increase the difficulty of your material too fast. It is better to increase the difficulty of your material at a slower pace in order to sustain your comfort zone while playing your material. If the material is too challenging, your tension and consequently your enjoyment will suffer. It is better to extend the length of your session than to increase difficulty of the etudes at this point.
• After you have become comfortable with your material, drop back to your first recordings and start building the amount of time playing to increase your endurance. If your goal is to increase your upper register, you can continue at this level of difficulty and add higher etudes but be careful not to increase the range too quickly. This is where most players start to lose their comfort zone. Add to the difficulty slowly and be content with slow, but steady improvement rather that quick improvement and pain and suffering that follows.
You might ask at this time, “Just how long and how high should I continue with this method”? That will depend on your time available and your goals of achievement. As I mentioned before, I started this method in order to prepare myself for the circus. When it finally came to Waterloo, Iowa, I sailed through the shows with ease. The week before we were invaded by the elephants, I was going into my office at 8:00 AM to begin my routine of “play a line, rest a line” and continued this method for the next four hours. You may not be that persistent or even have that much time to practice, but I share this in order to illustrate how much material and time can be utilized.
There are few absolutes when speaking of methods for improvement in trumpet playing but the practice of “play a line, rest a line” is as close to that as I have been able to find.