What Causes Stage Fright and How Can it be Overcome?

The lights go down, the audience begins their applause and you walk out from behind the curtains to perform your solo. As you reach your spot next to the piano, you notice the shaking in your legs and the extreme dryness in your mouth. As you acknowledge your accompanist you realize that you can’t breath or even remember your name. AND THEN IT GETS WORSE!

If you have ever performed in front of an audience, no matter how large or small, you may have gone through a similar situation. It is even worse for trumpet players for we have chosen an instrument which is the least forgiving. The slightest mistake is amplified to a greater degree on a trumpet than on any other instrument. A missed note on a piano is not anywhere near as bad as a wrong note played by a trumpet. To the best of my recollection, I can remember only one performance which was without concerns. Only one carefree performance and I have been performing on the trumpet for more than 58 years. I will try to address as many issues pertaining to performing under pressure and try to offer a few solutions which will help you cope with what we refer to as STAGE FRIGHT.

Stage fright is a very negative term which I would like to replace with a better term- performance anxiety. The amount of nervousness will vary among players just as our level of performance will also vary. There are player who do not get nervous and to those individuals, I am very envious. For the rest of us, we first need to learn the basic truths about performance anxieties and I will discuss several in this posting.

What are the basic reasons we get nervous before, during and after our performance?

  • The music is more difficult than our ability.
  • We did not practice the music enough.
  • We did not practice the music effectively
  • Lack of concentration added to our problem.
  • Our physical preparation was not considered.
  • Our mental preparation was not considered.
  • Not enough time was allotted for preparation.
  • The mechanics of the instrument was not considered.

Each of these areas will need to be addressed in order for your performance to be at its full potential. I will explain each and hopefully by the end of this post, you will understand the importance of a more thorough preparation for your next performance which in turn will lessen your  nervousness.

The music is more difficult than our ability

This statement might seem to many as being a little to obvious but I have coached many players who have chosen material much more difficult than they were able to perform. If you choose a solo which on your best day you can play well, what chances will you have on your performance day if your dog died the night before or you woke up the morning of your performance with a huge split in your upper lip. Just like a successful gambler, you have to be aware of the odds in your favor as well as the odds against you. I’m not saying that you should always play it safe, but if you want to release some of the nervous pressures in your future, take this into consideration. Don’t expect to play over your ability all the time.

We did not practice the music enough

The great cornet soloist Herbert L. Clarke has been quoted as saying, “I would never perform a solo in public unless I could play it one-hundred times perfectly in a row”. This is the reason Mr. Clark was such a fantastic performer. Think back to your last solo you performed. Could you have played it perfectly ten times in a row? Five times in a row? Could you have played it twice in a row perfectly? This is one of the biggest reasons we get nervous before and during a performance. To be perfectly honest, we really don’t know our material well enough to play it in public. We are not prepared enough to convince ourselves that the solo will go as well as we want. In  my next posting, I will go through a few suggestions for preparing material for public performances.

We did not practice the music effectively

Many times players feel that if they practice their music often enough, they will be prepared for their performance. We all need to realize that the number of times you play a passage is not what makes you better. Practicing your material efficiently will take less time and energy than practicing it inefficiently. If you are like most musicians, you will start practicing your solo at the upper left corner and continue down the page until you reach the lower right corner. Have you ever started in the middle? Have you ever only practiced the difficult passages and skipped the easy sections. Have you ever transposed your solo up a step or down a step. Have you ever played the material at half speed or double speed or have you tried slurring all of your notes? You might ask why would you want to do that? Changing your repetitiously boring practice routine will add a new life to your solo material as well as forcing you to think more.

Our physical preparation was not considered

Have you ever been out partying all night and get up the next morning wondering why you were out all night partying the night before? I’m sure we all have had that experience and have paid for it the next day. Think back to your last solo performance and ask yourself, did I do everything I needed to do to be physically up for the event. If your performance is important enough for you to spend weeks practicing, your physical condition should not be overlooked. Get plenty of rest the night before your solo for this is where you will gain the physical strength to do your very best on stage. Lack of sleep is one of the best ways to get your nerves on edge and plenty of rest will help you calm your nerves.

Our mental preparation was not considered

I have seen many gifted players walk on stage and before they play their first note, I can tell how the performance will go. Many years ago while I was judging a jazz festival in Iowa, I had a very unusual situation unfold. The first band to perform took to the stage and one student caught my eye. She was the bass player for the band and the moment she hit the stage, I knew there was something different about her. She marched to her spot in the rhythm section, placed her music on the stand and began to tune. She checked her settings on her amp, adjusted her stool as well as her stand and I knew that she was a player. At that time, we were recording our comments for the directors and on ta My recording began ” There is something about your bass player that caught my eye. She is focused on what she is here for and for some reason; I feel she is a real player”. This was recorded even before the band had played their first note. At the end of the day, we gave that same bass player an “outstanding musician award” for her performance. This is the best example I can give for what you need to do to be mentally focused on your performance.

Not enough time was allotted for preparation

We all are guilty for letting things go to the last minute and this is one of the main reasons we get nervous. Here  is a simple exercise which will help you to be better prepared and also release some of your nervousness before a performance. If you are to play on a certain date, move that date ahead two weeks and tell yourself that you have to have your material learned by the earlier date. In this way, you will be prepared two weeks early which will take some of the pressure off and in doing so, relieve more nervousness.

The mechanics of the instrument was not considered

DON’T DECIDE TO CLEAN YOUR INSTRUMENT THE NIGHT BEFORE YOUR PERFORMANCE. Many players think at the last minute that their instrument looks a little tacky and decide to clean it the night before. This is not a good idea for the instrument will not play the same way it did before you cleaned it. This will really rattle your nerves when you play your tuning note and the horn feels like a different horn. You also run the risk of temperamental valves. One of the worst conditions a trumpet player can be in is not knowing if the second valve will come back up after you push it down. Clean your instrument a week before you perform and you will not have this situation weighing on your mind.

I have listed several areas where you could improve your confidence before, during and after your performance and each is important. The most important area is your time spent efficiently practicing and due to the limited space in this post, I will address this area in the next posting. Be sure to stop back for I will give some suggestions on how to most effectively  practice your material which will in turn lessen your performance anxiety.

Improved Long Tones Part II

long tonesSo far no one has offered any comments about my last post. Surely someone will step up and defend the common and accepted practice of lone tones (either 1. I have no following, 2. everyone takes my word for it or 3. no one will stick their neck out and face me). Which is it folks?

My Last post stated that for three reasons the practice of long tones should be discontinued. I gave my reasoning for this rebellious statement and in this post I will give the trumpet world an alternative concept which should prove my assertions about the benefits of a more musical form of long tones.

Download Sheet #1- Improved Long Tones- Single line

Download recorded example #1- Improved Long Tones- Single line

In sheet #1, I have written a common set of exercises used as long tone exercises. As you play the recording, visualize yourself spending these 7:00 full minutes dutifully playing your required long tones.

Now

Download Sheet #2- Improved Long Tones

Download recorded example #2- Improved Long Tones- Trio

Look at sheet #2 and play its recorded example.

Which of the two would you rather play every day in your practice room?

The sample I have offered is a very crude example of what can be done to liven-up your long tone exercises. I’m sure you all can come up with an even more creative exercise. The problem is, most people are content doing the same thing over every day and getting bored with the results.

Suggestion on the use of exercise #2.

1. Don’t play the top line at first.
2. Play the second part for a while until you get the feel of the “play rest” technique.
3. As you gain strength, switch over to the top line for a while.
4. When your chops get stiff, return to the second part until they feel good again.

Now if anyone would like to discuss the benefits of the old form of long tones, bring it on…….

Three Good Reasons Why You Should NOT Practice Long Tones!

long tonesThree Good Reasons Why You Should NOT Practice Long Tones!

1. They are boring.

2. They tend to build stiffness in your chops.

3. No one ever pays to hear long tones.

Now that I have angered most of the trumpet players reading this post, I need to explain my thinking on the abolishment of long tones.

Long Tones Are Boring-

No one in their right mind would argue this statement. Playing long tones is like watching paint dry. Even the non-musician questions one’s mental capacity when they hear someone play twenty minutes on long tones. Usually their comment is, “Why don’t you play something we recognize”? That is a very good question and one that made me contemplate the hours I have spent playing l o n g t o n e s.

If only there were a way to get the befits from long tones and be able to play something melodic and recognizable. Well my friend, there is something you can do and still gain the benefits.

Long tones stiffen your chops-

This morning while playing through the wonderful book by Vincent Cichowicz, “Trumpet Flow Studies”, I came upon the realization that due to the edited slurs throughout the book, what the player ends up doing is playing each phrase as a long tone. The extended phrases change the embouchure ever so slightly which adds to relaxation and contraction of lip muscles keeping the embouchure flexible, unlike long tones which force the lips to remain rigid and increase stiffness.

No one ever got paid for playing long tones-

I think it is time for trumpet players to start thinking of a better way to strengthen their embouchure which does not increases stiffness, is more interesting to practice and help build their ability to perform well and make money. I think I have found the solution and in my next post, not only will I explain how to go about your substitution for long tones, but will also give you the exercises to make it happen.
Check back in two days for my follow up on this rebellious act of anarchy.

Until then, send me your views on the use of long tones, both pro and con. We may have begun an overthrow of a long time trumpet tradition.

And in the distance was heard the faint battle cry of a lone ranger, “DOWN WITH LONG TONES”!

What is the most important transposition to learn?

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When asking a symphony player to single out the most important transposition for a trumpet, I am sure you would get many suggestions. Transposing trumpet parts in a symphony is a way of life. Some transpositions are easy and some are extremely difficult. Transposing in a show usually begins with the vocalists request to lower her/his key one half-steps because of the singer’s cold. Transposing on a combo job where you are playing from a fake book means that whatever you see, you will have to transpose it into your trumpet’s key which is up a full step.

When considering the transposition most often required, I would say the transposition to concert pitch would be the most common. Even when performing in church, you will have to make the concert pitch adjustment and for that reason I have included some exercises to make the C transposition much easier for those not used to the adjustment.

There are different ways to learn transposition and I suggest that you visit an earlier site which explains the steps involved for transposition to any key. But for now, we will concentrate on only the concert pitch transposition.

Two ways to think of transposition are-

1. Key change
2. Interval adjustment

Key Change-

If your transposition is up a second, your key change would be up a step also. Notice that I said a full step, not a half step. If you are reading a concert C, in order to play the same pitch on a Bb trumpet, you will have to play one full step higher, or the note D. If the concert pitched material is written in the key of Bb, you will adjust it correctly by playing everything up a step in the key of C.

Interval adjustment-

If you are able to visualize the concert pitch note C, up one full step will give you the trumpet note D.
By using these two methods together you will be able to transpose any concert pitch music after a little practice.

Exercise #1.

The easiest way to learn to transpose is to practice a melody which you recognize for if you make the wrong transposition, you will hear it at once.

Exercise #2.

Usually the wider the skips are the more difficult transpositions.

Exercise #3.

Transposing melodies which are unknown to you become more of a problem.

Exercise #4.

Accidentals are always an issue.

Exercise #5.

Isolated notes are the worst.

Example #6.

Transposing key signature.

Example #7.

Transposing intervals.

Exercise #8.

Putting it all together.

Exercise #9.

Write in your transposed notes before you play them.

Exercise #10.

Write in your transposed notes before you play them.

I hope the above material is helpful to you and for more information and exercises, I would recommend the following material-

One-Hundred-Studies-for-Trumpet

Moving-Transposition

The-Orchestra-Trumpeter

“Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!”

Lone Ranger

To most people my age, and there still are a few left, this cry from the masked man mounted on his pure white horse named silver, brings back fond memories of earlier times. To the younger people, it means there is a new motion picture in town and many may wonder if it is worth spending money to see it.

My wife and I saw the film and loved it. All reports we read indicated that it was going to be a bomb and we were pleasantly surprised when we saw it.

If you are looking for a truly authentic and historically factual story, you will be disappointed. But if you want to spend three hours enjoying tongue in cheek type of humor, I suggest you go see it for even the less knowledgeable will enjoy the scenery, music, and acting throughout the film.

I was so impressed with the production that I returned home and arranged two versions of the famous Lone Ranger Theme (1812 Overture by Rossini). The first will be posted in the morning on our sister blog- trumpetensemblemusic.com and the second will follow two days later. The first was written for the younger players and has been simplified as well as slowed down in order for it to be possible for the less experienced. The second was arranged for an advanced performer and requiring double tonguing and a comfortable “high C”.

No matter what your ability, I welcome you to check this famous solo out and decided which one works best for you.

The Trumpet Warm-up Part II

Trumpet player
Photo Credit: hjones999 on Flickr

Almost very trumpet player has a favorite warm-up routine that works best for his/her needs. Some believe long tones are best. Some believe short flexibility exercises are the only way for them. In my case, I feel that the same routine every day can be tiring and unproductive. For that reason I have been alternation between two warm-ups and will continue with this practice until I find something better.

One of my favorite warm-ups can be found on Jay Lichtmanns’ web site. After reaching his site, click on the heading Brass Music Downloads. Next, enter the heading called Trumpet Studies. From that page you will be able to down load his first entry entitled Mouthpiece Warm-up. Follow his instructions and you are on your way. Remember to practice what you can without strain. With time you will be able to increase your ability to perform all of his material.

Mr. Lichtmann has made available a treasure of information as well as many excellent ensembles and you can download all of this free. He has made available a wonderful collection of his teaching materials and the trumpet world needs to thank him for his efforts. When first starting to use his exercises, begin slowly and add additional exercises as your ability increases. Many times a student will become excited with new material and over do their practicing on such material. It is better to under shoot your practice sessions than it is to play past the point of improvement. Most of Mr. Lichtmanns’ material is written for the more advanced player so don’t over do your ability.

Your next exercise is labeled “Warm-up” / “Mouthpiece & Extreme Bending Warm-up”. This is also a free exercise and I need to explain the advantages of bending notes as he has written. These are for the more advanced players and should be played with the mouthpiece in the instrument. When you first attempt these exercises, you will wonder if the author has lost his mind for the fingering and the written notes do not line up. Your first phrase includes the notes G, F#, G, C, G, E, C, E, G- G, F, E, D, C, B, C. All of these notes are to be played open, no valves depressed. In order to play the second note F# without depressing a valve, you will need to “lip down” from the first note G. Begin slowly and keep practicing until you are able to play an in tune F# with no valves depressed. Once you have that mastered, then try to produce a full, rich sound on that note with the open fingering. I remember this exercise from many years ago when I was visiting with Mr. Schilke in Chicago. He was a strong supporter of this bending practice. You may find that the sixth note (E) is even more difficult than the F#. With practice, this will also become playable. Now for the thirteenth note (D). If you are unable to center a good sound on this note, don’t feel bad. I can’t get it either. What I do is change the D to a G and continue with the line.

The benefits of these exercises are numerous and even though they might not come to you easily at first, keep practicing and eventually you will love playing them. These exercises are not only beneficial for lip control; they are also helpful in developing a good ear and better intonation. An additional advantage is that they relax your lip muscles.

The combination of “Mouthpiece warm-up” and the “Mouthpiece & Extreme Bending Warm-up” is all you will need to accomplish the warm-up section of your daily practice routine. As you develop more strength and endurance, additional lines should be included but at all times remember- “GO SLOW AND LIVE TO PLAY ANOTHER DAY”.

The Trumpet Warm-up Part I

I will begin by saying that this information is about the practice and philosophy of warming up, not the actual material used which will be included in a later section covering music to practice. I will discuss the benefits as well as the techniques used to get the trumpet player ready for his/her daily practice period.

trumpet player
Photo Caption: zbili on Flickr

Even though there might be a few players out there that do nothing to warm up before serious playing, they are far in the minority. It could be that the ones who practiced this life style eventually decided to quit trumpet playing. For the rest of us, the time spent warming up is important to our well being. Many equate trumpet playing to sport activities and there are many similarities, one would be the use of muscles in both activities. No self respecting athlete would suit up and jump right into the competition and so it is true for a musician. In order for muscles to function at their best, they first must be prepared for physical contact. The amount of preparation will vary from person to person but in every case, careful preparation is essential for consistent success.

Warming-up can be no more than buzzing on the way to a gig, or it can be an elaborate play, rest, play a little more and rest routine. Some find benefit in lengthy air building exercises. A good example of this can be found in the book written by the late Irving Bush called “Artistic Trumpet Technique and Study.” In his book, he outlines his technique for warming up with exercises beginning with breathing, then blowing through the lead pipe only, then adding the tuning slide, then adding the mouthpiece and eventually blowing through the mouthpiece and horn. Most of us are not that thorough. Perhaps we should be for Mr. Bush was a very accomplished trumpet player.

Warming up can be both a physical as well as mental exercise. The attitude which you begin your daily practice can have a positive or negative impact on your whole day. I have had days when the last thing I wanted to do was practice. Other days I look forward to the experience. This preconceived attitude will affect the outcome of your daily practice period. If you look at practice as one of those things you have to do, such as brushing your teeth or taking a shower, it can become drudgery. To be productive in your routine of practicing, you must begin with a goal in mind. When the day is over and you have accomplished that goal, you have had a productive experience and the next day should be equally productive. If on the other hand your practice is always the same with the same less than expected outcome, what makes you think it will change? Set your goals at a reachable level and rejoice when you have succeeded. The reason I have begun this lecture on the issue of positive thinking is that we all need to first approach our instrument with the outlook that each day we will improve.

Trumpet Warm Up Part I

  • Begin your warm-up with a goal in mind

“Today I will learn an easy solo”

“Today I will learn the last eight measures of my new solo.”

“Today I will learn to transpose a short melody for C trumpet.”

“Today I will gain more flexibility.”

  • Warm up your breath supply

Sit down.

Take three deep, slow breaths through your nose with exhalations through you mouth.

Take in a large amount of air and begin a long, low, relaxed buzz with your lips.

Inhale and begin buzzing up and down with your lips relaxed until you run out of air.

  • Warm up your lip

Hold your mouthpiece in your fingers and place it on your lip.

Take in a relaxed breath and begin buzzing a long, soft buzz.

Take another inhalation and begin buzzing up and down until you run out of air.

Pick out a popular song that you can sing or hum and buzz it on your mouthpiece.

This completes Part #1 of the warm-up material.

Part #2 will begin with the actual music and exercises which you might find helpful. As I said earlier, your warm-up is a personal thing that is affected by many variables such as time, location and playing requirements. My advice is to try as many warm-ups as you can find and decide on which one works best for you.

Please Welcome to Our Stage “Trombamania”

Trumbamania

Once again I have showcased an exceptional trumpet ensemble from France.

Please welcome the wonderfully talented trumpet ensemble “Trombamania”.

The following information was translated from their web site….

For nearly 15 years Trombamania has created his own vision of chamber music. As confirmed by all the awards at international competitions, Trombamania cultivates a unique and dynamic style, enriched with various artistic collaborations.

After two universally recognized by the public albums, all is needed both in France and on the international scene (Europe, Asia, USA) as a leading group.

Trombamania parallel leads many educational activities, meeting, exchanging, sharing his experience with young enthusiasts.
We invite you to explore our universe and come to us on stage.

Testing A Possible New Way To Tune A Trumpet- Part 2

tunerAfter doing my own tests on this theory, I came to this conclusion-

Matching the pitch of both the bell vibrations and the pitch of the air passing through the lead pipe and tuning slide did make a difference in how the instrument sounded and responded.

The only problem with the thought that the instrument is more in tune with itself is that any change in the position of the tuning slide will have similar affects on your instrument.

I found nothing note worthy in this experiment and would compare the basic sound and response of a Bb trumpet to that of an A trumpet (cornet). Each instrument plays differently as the length of the tubing is extended.

For me, I’ll be back to the old settings and hope I get all the notes on the page this Sunday.