How/Why Early School Stage Bands Ruined Many Fine Trumpet Players

young playerOnly through a careful look at past history are we able to understand what we do and the reasons we do them. This is especially true when trying to understand mistakes we have made in music education. I will try to explain my thinking as one who was there and watched it happen.

During the 1960s the school stage band movement began to blossom. Heavily influenced by professional big bands such as Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Thad Jones, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Bill Watrous, Don Ellis and others, high school band directors began to collect illegal record copies of these bands and began to compete in contests offered by early colleges such as my alma matter the University of Northern Iowa. In order to be competitive with their rival schools, these directors continued to build their libraries and challenge their students in their trumpet and trombone sections. As these arrangements began to filter down to the smaller schools, students with lesser abilities were expected to perform at the same level as the original professionals and the more advanced high schools. This pattern began to take its toll on the trumpet players across the country.

Not only were the best players in each band asked to perform at the same level as professional musicians, eventually the better players graduated and the second chair players the next year were again expected to play the same difficult parts their senior year. This unreasonable expectation took its toll on many very talented second chair players by forcing them to play in the upper register which was far beyond their capabilities. So much for music education.

At the same time these struggling young players were opening up cuts on their bruised lips, their directors began to inquire from professional players what was needed to increase their struggling young player’s higher range. The answer was usually the same, “you need more air”. Because of this “prescriptions over the phone” mentality, we began attributing all playing problems to the lack of air. SO MUCH FOR MUSIC EDUCATION! Seldom were other possible areas considered such as lack of flexibility, endurance, physical limits, equipment, personalities, etc.

When judging Jazz festivals at that time, it was not uncommon to hear more than one high school jazz band attempt to perform such big band hits such as Channel One Suite (recorded by Buddy Rich), Pussy Wiggle Stomp (by Don Ellis) or MacArthur Park (by Maynard Ferguson). Notice my carefully selected use of the word “attempt”. Unless the school was from a major area in the state such as DesMoines or Iowa City, the result was less than acceptable. When such advanced arrangements were attempted by smaller, less advanced schools, the results were most often miserable.

The reason for this unfortunate development was not in the student’s lack of ability to play the music nor was it in the music itself. The fault lay squarely in the shoulders of BAD BAND DIRECTORS! Too many lazy, ego feeding directors were more concerned with winning a first place trophy than thinking about what was best for their students and music education in general. Doesn’t this sound very similar to some sports coaches who will work a student to exhaustion in an effort to complete a winning season and in doing so keep their job? Lest one accuses me of making complaints and not offering solutions, I have listed a few ideas which might save a young trumpet players chops in Jazz ensembles today. If you think this is not a problem today in music education, start reading the trumpet bulletin boards and you will find students pleading for advice to help them in the same position today.

Conceptual solution to the problem of trumpet student abuse in Jazz ensembles today-

1. Band directors need to develop music programs, not their own egos.
2. Band directors need to recognize their student’s limitations and strengths.
3. Band directors need to begin to select contest music earlier in the school year.
4. Band directors need to ask fellow musicians for advice in music selection.
5. Band directors need to encourage students to begin arranging themselves.
6. Band directors need to commission charts especially written for the strengths and weaknesses of their ensemble.
7. Band directors need to be creative when programming music instead of following the usual programming.
8. Band directors need to take a chance on something new instead of following the herd.
9. Band directors need to better utilize solo players when their ensemble is weak and feature the ensemble when solo players are limited.
10. Band directors need to visit with their principle and superintendent to let them know the reason you have chosen to take a stand for better music education rather than try to add another trophy to the schools trophy case.

Practical solutions to the problem of trumpet student abuse in Jazz ensembles today-

1. Spend time rewriting a difficult arrangement down a second or third. A big, fat high C sounds bigger and fatter than a thin, mousey high D.
2. Give your strong tenor sax soloist one more chorus to solo and in that way your trumpet section will be able to rest a little bit longer.
3. Start using two lead players. Let the weaker player play lead on the low stuff and rest your other lead for the high stuff. By using two lead trumpet players, you might be breaking in your next seasons lead player.
4. Remember the rule, “10% less volume equals 20% more endurance”. If this sounds new to you, it should. I just made it up, but it works.
5. Judges who are worth anything recognize the difference between a well-rehearsed ensemble and one that relies on the “higher, faster, louder” approach.
6. Performing a record copy of a professional ensemble means that you will be compared to the original recording and you will always loose in the comparison.
7. Judges are impressed when it is announced that the next composition was written or arranged by a member of your ensemble. Be sure to take the time to introduce the student.
8. Have enough confidence in your band to kick off the chart, then stand to the side and let the band do their thing. Flailing your arms like a wounded bird does nothing for the judges so save it for your home town audience, they always appreciate it.
9. Always announce the soloists name before or after a chart, it lets the judges know that you at least remember their names.
10. Always include sight reading in every rehearsal. The time you spend doing some sight reading in each rehearsal will be a big payback when preparing new music each year.

I might have been a little strong on the responsibility of the jazz band directors in our systems, but who else is in charge?

How To Make Upper Slurs Smoother

title page to upper slurs 001Many trumpet players find it difficult to perform upward slurs smoothly without catching all the notes between the bottom and top note. Most feel it necessary to crescendo into the top note when in fact, “it is easier to slur up using a decrescendo”. This seems contrary to nature and for that reason I have included exercises to help you with the problem.

The first time I was shown this easier way to smoothly slur up was during a lesson I had with a great trumpet teacher and good friend, Mr. John Beer at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. After a short time listening to me play, he noticed the difficulty I was having when slurring to an upper note. His comment was brief and to the point, “You’re making a crescendo to your top note instead of a decrescendo”. This had never been pointed out to me and after just a few attempts my slurring world had been turned around.

Through the attached exercises and a small amount of practice, I hope you will have the same success I had that day in Iowa City.

I have included 10 levels of exercises in order to cover all players abilities while practicing these exercises.

Instructions for the use of these exercises

1. Everyone must begin with level 1, no matter what your ability.

2. Dynamics have not been included for a reason.

3. Most players may begin to find it more difficult on level 4.

4. If level 4 is a problem, stay on that level until you are able to make the slurs without playing the notes in between.

5. On level 5 you will need to accent the notes indicated with force.

6. On level 6, again you will need to accent the marked notes and imagine you are bouncing off the bottom note to the upper note. Be sure to exaggerate the dynamic changes.

7. If you are unable to perform this level with ease, stay on this page until it becomes natural to you.

8. Level 7 will be the majority of the player’s most difficult page and for that reason continue on this page until you are able to play it with ease. This is the level where you will learn the correct method to accomplish your slurs. If you have skipped ahead to this page before playing all of the previous pages, shame on you.

9. By the time you are playing measure 334 on level 8, you need to keep this point in mind, “your bottom note should be at a f dynamic level and your top note should be performed at a pp dynamic level”.

10. Level 10 is your ultimate goal and should not be attempted unless you are able to perform all the previous levels with ease. The goal on level 10 is first to play each slur with ease with the accents played on the bottom note. After this has been mastered, begin to minimize the accent to the point where the slur is made without the accent.

What we are striving for is a better control of the lip muscles used in slurring upward. The vast majority of players who are able to follow these exercises have been able to develop upper slurs with ease. There will be a few players who are still unable to slur upward and not play the notes along the way. My instruction to those few players would be this, “did you follow all of the instructions and all of the exercises”?

Upward Slurs

How to Become a Great Trumpet Player for only $184.40 plus tax

185.00Becoming excellent in any field requires a great deal of time and effort and becoming a great trumpet player is no exception. Contrary to many opinions found today in the media; to only have the desire to succeed is many times not enough to accomplish your goal. I will address the several technical areas of trumpet playing and make suggestions as to how you may be able to gain skills in each and thus become a better musician.

The Lip

Trumpet players depend on lip and facial muscles to perform their art and for that reason; they must develop both strength and flexibility. Just as a distance runner depends on body muscles to accomplish his/her goal, the trumpet performer also needs to train their muscles. Both athletes must develop strength as well as flexibility.

Developing lip strength- Most trumpet players will agree that building strength in the trumpet embouchure (lip muscles) requires exercises such as long tones. A sensible application of long tones plus increased work load will increase lip strength and endurance. To accomplish this goal, I would recommend the following book- http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/Daily-Embouchure-Studies/3553725?aff-id=449113&aff-link=plg1

Developing lip flexibility- Strength without flexibility is similar to a weight lifter who has become muscle bound (having inelastic, overdeveloped muscles, usually as the result of excessive exercise). To increase this element of your trumpet playing, I would suggest this series of exercises http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/Twenty-Seven-27-Groups-of-Exercises/162458?aff-id=449113&aff-link=plg1

The Fingers

In order to function successfully as a trumpet player you will have to develop speed and coordination in the three fingers of your right hand. Every note will depend on your skills at moving your valves up and down as effectively as possible. Not only will you be required to move quickly, but your movement must also be coordinated in order to change pitches cleanly. One book stands out as the bible for developing speed and valve coordination and that book is http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/Technical-Studies-For-The-Cornet/95485?aff-id=449113&aff-link=plg1

The Air

Just as the importance of the embouchure can not be over emphasized, neither can the importance of developed breathing skills. Air to a trumpet player is the same as fuel to a race car driver. Trumpet performers must- 1.Take in great amounts of air in short amounts of time. 2. Be able to sustain long musical phrases while all the time making them sound comfortable and relaxed. This requires training and is contrary to our natural instincts of tidal (natural) breathing skills. To accomplish this goal, inhale fully and play each line in one breath. When this becomes easy, slow the temp down or increase your dynamics. To accomplish this technique, I would recommend the following material- http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/First-Book-of-Practical-Studies-for-Cornet-and-Trumpet/1428167?aff-id=449113&aff-link=plg1

Reading Skills

In the field of trumpet playing, few areas do not require the performer to be able to read music quickly and accurately. The expression “close enough” is used often to make light of a misread passage but “close enough” is not acceptable on stage. There is only one way to increase your reading skills and that is accomplished by regular reading of “new” material. Please read my blog on this subject at- http://www.thetrumpetblog.com/tips-for-improving-your-sight-reading/

Also to that end, I would recommend the following exercises- http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/The-Complete-Sight-Reading-Etude-Collection-for-Trumpet/5265841?aff-id=449113&aff-link=plg1

Articulation

Articulate (To utter by making the necessary movements of the speech organs)- As applied to trumpet playing, the term articulation refers to the movement of the tongue required to start individual notes in a musical passage. The articulation required by a trumpet player will range from very subtle legato (sustained) notes to short notes at a very fast (prestissimo) tempo. In order to develop these skills, I would recommend the following material http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/Double-and-Triple-Tonguing/5268664?aff-id=449113&aff-link=plg1

Extreme Ranges

The skills required to accomplish the high as well as low registers of the instrument require attention and in many cases, the two extremes are compatible and sometimes complimentary to each other. Sustained high note playing tends to stiffen the lip muscles and sustained practice in the low register tends to relax the embouchure. I would suggest the following book- http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/systematic-approach-to-daily-practice-sheet-music/96591

http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/Practical-Studies-for-Clarinet-Book-2/1427626?aff-id=449113&aff-link=plg1

You might wonder why I am suggesting a clarinet book for trumpet practice. The upper range is great and you will have to make adjustments for the note that go below the playable range of the trumpet. The unusual intervals will also be helpful to your playing.

Endurance

The development of endurance requires a gradual increase in “mouthpiece on lip” time. To accomplish this goal, I would suggest you visit my article “Rest as Much as You Play” which can be found at- http://www.thetrumpetblog.com/rest-as-much-as-you-play/

In that article, I suggest this book which should be practiced in the manner described in my article- http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/Practical-Studies-for-Clarinet-Book-1/1427577?aff-id=449113&aff-link=plg1

Tone

Trumpet players are constantly making reference to tone or timbre (the quality of the sound produced by the player and instrument. I invite you to read my posting on “Embouchure” at-http://www.thetrumpetblog.com/the-correct-embouchure-why-we-teach-it-incorrectly/

Much of the material deals with the definition and description of the correct sound or tone. To help develop this component of trumpet playing, I would suggest the following material- http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/Melodic-Studies-for-the-Trumpet/18106111?aff-id=449113&aff-link=plg1

Intonation

Pitch of every note should be of great concern to a musician but unfortunately it is taken too lightly. Each performer is affecting the outcome of every player around him/her. You are to be expected to play in tune at all times and to reach that goal; I recommend the following- http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/Ear-Training-for-Trumpet/19134552?aff-id=449113&aff-link=plg1

Also visit my blog information at- http://www.thetrumpetblog.com/how-to-play-in-tune/

Playing in Time

Rhythmic accuracy is also a factor many time overlooked. Each and every note must line up precisely at the correct time in a composition. The slightest inaccuracy will give the performance an off balance, awkward feel. You must hit your note at the exact time it is supposed to happen. To that end, I would recommend this book- http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/Music-Speed-Reading/16356611?aff-id=449113&aff-link=plg1

Vibrato

Nothing can add to the overall performance like a well executed vibrato (A tremulous or pulsating effect produced in an instrumental or vocal tone by minute and rapid variations in pitch). And on the flip side, “nothing can distract to the overall performance like a poorly executed vibrato. I have searched the internet for material to recommend when working on vibrato but I could not find anything worth listing. “Looks like I know what my next blog will cover”. Stay tuned for more information on vibrato.

Warm-up

There have been long discussions on the importance of warming up before your regular practice routine and I would suggest the following routine as an effective warm-up to include in your daily practice-

http://www.thetrumpetblog.com/the-trumpet-warm-up-part-i/

http://www.thetrumpetblog.com/the-trumpet-warm-up-part-ii/

Practice Routine

Each player has his/her favorite practice routine and feels everyone should incorporate that routine. Please read my post on this issue at- http://www.thetrumpetblog.com/do-you-ever-get-tired-of-practicing/

I would recommend the following method- http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/systematic-approach-to-daily-practice-sheet-music/96591

Transposition

Most trumpet playing does not require a skill in musical transposition (an event in which one thing is substituted for another) for “what you see is what you get”. But in the every day life of a symphonic musician, transposing one note up or down is a regular occurrence and transposition skills are expected. Even in commercial situations transpositions are needed. When a singer has range problems, the accompanying instruments can be asked to “take it down” a step or two. To prepare yourself for this situation, I would recommend the following- http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/The-Orchestra-Trumpeter/3558012?aff-id=449113&aff-link=plg1

Listening

Listening to other trumpet players is essential to your improvement. If you don’t know what a good sound or an advanced playing style is, how can you advance? I have selected four different performances of the same piece so that you can compare each player’s style. Select the player you prefer and start listening to other recordings from this artist.

Three performances of Haydn Trumpet Concerto, 3rd mvt.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASB6hFUat4g

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XryvsJOIAKA&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emUOjj5o4J0&feature=related

WHY DO WE MAKE MISSTAKES? PART #9

downloadErrors in Sight Reading

Sight reading can frighten players due to the uncertainty of the unknown. I tend to enjoy sight reading new shows live because of the rush of adrenaline and the uncertainty of what might happen. You should also know that I enjoy catching five foot long snakes, racing motor cycles and photographing bears close up.

To a younger performer the only opportunity one has in school to sight read is usually during a band contest where each band is expected to read new music for the first time. The amount of pressure on each player in this setting is far less than playing a show live even though the concern is similar.

Making mistakes in a sight reading environment is to be expected, even in a professional setting. What you can do to increase your odds for a better outcome can vary from your preparation before the performance as well as actions you may take during the actual program. I have listed a few preparations below which will help improve your chances for success.

Preparations before sight reading-

Read “new” material daily.
Read “new” material daily.
Read “new” material daily.

These three suggestions will greatly improve your sight reading ability. Pay close attention to the two last suggestions which are the true secrets for success.

Preparations during sight reading-

Make sure that your music is clearly visible.This is especially true for trumpet players playing shows for in most cases, the lighting is very poor. If you have a chance, bring your own stand light to the performance. I prefer using a piano light because of the added illumination and don’t forget to bring an extra bulb and extension cord.

Check out the key signature. The first thing you need to do when reading new music is to check the key signature of the piece. Be sure to check any changes in the key signature and mentally record where these changes occur.

Check the time signature. This is one spot where many younger players forget to check. Don’t be the only one in your ensemble to come in on beat four when in fact there were only three beats in a measure.

Repeat signs are very important. A friend of mine visits my studio about once a week to play duets. He is a very fine player and I enjoy doing battle with him each week. One of his many skills is sight reading and before starting any new material, he carefully looks over the page to locate any repeats; whether double bar repeats, DS, or DC repeats. He seldom makes a mistake when these repeats come up while playing. I can guarantee that you will be singled out for your excellent sight reading skills if you anticipate and successfully perform the correct repeat while all of your friends mess up.

Quickly recognize the form of the music. Whether you are playing a march with the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus or an up tempo swing tune on one of the Branson stages, recognizing the form is very important. Most arrangements have some repeated or similar material throughout the composition. When you recognize these repeated sections, don’t spend a lot of time reading through them. Quickly check out the non-repeating material first and you will save time.

Be able to pick out the “hot spots” quickly. When I say hot spots, I mean the areas were most players will stumble. The most vulnerable spots are those that look darker on the page. They are usually the fastest notes which will require more ability to recognize and read in tempo. Another dark spot would be modulations. In order for a composition to change key, it requires the addition of accidentals. These accidentals will slow your reading down and for that reason, scan the page ahead of time for any modulatory sections.

Recognize unusual rhythmic patterns. When learning to sight read, you will learn that the pitch of the note is far less of a problem than recognizing and performing a rhythm which you are not familiar. Rhythm patterns will sow your eye down whereas note pitches will not, no matter how fast the notes fly by.

I strongly suggest that you take the time to read a post I did entitle, How to Mark Your Music for this is a very helpful article that you should read and practice.

The best sight readers are the musicians who are able to read ahead of the notes that are playing. Most players are reading one or two measure ahead and the very best have developed the ability to read even farther. The finest example of this is a trumpet player by the name of Dennis Schneider, professor emeritus of trumpet from Lincoln, Nebraska. During a Missouri Trumpet Festival, I watched him demonstrate his ability in a lecture on sight reading. Not only was he able to read several measures ahead, but he demonstrated to the conventioneers that he could actually read four “lines” ahead. We were all amazed at his reading skills.

In closing I have one addition piece of advice when sight reading. If you drop a note or two, let it go. Continue to concentrate on the music as before and trudge onward. There will be time later to share your thoughts about your mishaps.

WHY DO WE MAKE MISSTAKES? PART #8

imgresNervousness

I would list nervousness as the most difficult condition to overcome when striving for perfection in your performances. Some people thrive on the added excitement while others fold under the pressure. Between these two extremes we find most of us constantly testing our limits.
Playing in a nervous condition can be the result of many factors including the conditions listed in the first post in this series. Let me reintroduce those situations now-

1. Lack of preparation.
2. Lack of concentration.
3. Physical limitations.
4. Distractions
5. Fatigue
6. Equipment failure.
7. Environment changes

Each of these factors can add to a performer’s nervous condition. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, let me direct you to these previously posted articles which will address the condition of uncontrolled nervousness while performing.

Stage fright

Controlling your nerves

WHY DO WE MAKE MISSTAKES? PART #7

eartharrows_rgb1_t0Environmental changes-Conditions and changes in conditions many times will lead to playing errors which we had not considered or prepared for.
You might ask what kind of environmental changes could occur and I will list a few.

Environmental changes-

1. Weather

This is a true story. The names have been included in order to illustrate how stupid some trumpet players can be. I accepted a playing job which was scheduled the day before I was to perform the Joseph Haydn Trumpet Concerto on campus. As it turned out the gig was outside in subzero weather where the mouthpiece stuck to the lip when playing. The gig was the Farm Progress Show in Western Iowa in the middle of December with an actual temperature of -10 degrees. We played to a few people who were interested in seeing the new Ford Tractors. Needless to say, by the time I entered the stage to perform the concerto, the lip was not working at all and I stumbled through it.

2. Untested lip creams

Our Faculty Brass Quintet was scheduled to perform a recital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on the Coe College Artist Series. That concert was to be on Sunday. The day before, I spent the whole day in the field with my German Short Hair Pointer participating in dog field trials. Oh, did I mention that it was in Iowa in the middle of December…..again. While the quintet was driving from Cedar Falls to Cedar Rapids, I mentioned to the other trumpet player that my lips were a little chapped. He offered to loan me his “New” ChapStick which had just come out. I thought nothing of it until we reached the concert hall. Little did I know that I was allergic to the “New” ChapStick. We began the concert and by the midway point in the first number, I raised my hand and announced that I could not get another note out of my horn. The concert was over.

3. Too hot to perform

While play one of many Ringling Bros. Circus shows, a friend of mine complained of having trouble playing. Due to the fact that he was playing the third cornet part, I was surprised. After closer examination we decided that he was a completely dry embouchure player and because of the heat in the stadium, the perspiration on his lips caused his mouthpiece to slide from its usual position. No matter how often he mopped his face with a towel, his problem would not go away. This is just another example of environmental changes causing mistakes in ones playing.

4. Too cold to perform

This past year, I performed in a pit during a new show in Branson called “Wartime Romance”. The orchestra was not in its usual location because of staging requirement. Our location was behind the scenery and limited to a very small area off the risers. During our first performance, I noticed that the air conditioning was blowing directly on us from underneath the stage. The breeze was a constant cold and everyone was freezing from the draft. That would have been enough of a problem if it were not for the fact that I had a very exposed solo at the end of the show where I played a very slow a cappella trumpet rendition of taps at a very moving point in the show. There I was playing an unaccompanied, soft, heart wrenching solo of taps as my fingers were numb, my arms were shaking and my nose was running. Each show, I dressed with a heavier layer of clothing, trying to stay warm during the ten minute rest before taps was to play. My solution to the problem was adding long underwear, heavy socks and a piece of cardboard strategically placed in front of my stand to deflect the direct breeze flowing into the pit area.

5. Too loud

Somewhere in my past, I decided to learn to play a harp (harmonica) and performed a few times with bands in the area. One such band invited me to play with them in a local club and I accepted. That night I was able to hear the band easily from the parking lot outside the club and I knew I was in for a very bad evening. As I opened the door to the club, the volume of the band was overwhelming and painfully loud. Even before I was asked to join the band on stage, I had deeply imbedded my industrial strength ear plugs into my ears and hoped for the best. When we finally got to my solo, it was impossible to hear myself no matter how much I crowded the mike or blew. I am convinced that I missed every note I struggled to play due to the fact that I could not hear anything other than five out of tune, crank it to 10 on the dial, guitar players. That was the last time I played with that group. Your environment can affect your playing even when you think you have thought of everything.

6. And if you still need examples of how your environment can affect your playing, check this out ….

Making mistakes while performing will happen and in some cases we have little control over our surroundings. But each time we have these mishaps, we learn from our mistakes and hopefully guard against it happening again.

Why Do We Make Misstakes? Part #6

A_Black_and_White_Cartoon_Man_Sleeping_on_His_Feet_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_110106-148556-090053Fatigue

Athletes work to stem off fatigue and in doing so increase their endurance. Trumpet players are similar in that without strong chops or embouchure, a player’s amount of time being able to play music is limited. What I have noticed since beginning to play trombone is that most trumpet players tire much more quickly than do trombone players. I’m not saying that trombone players don’t complain of tired embouchures for they do, but the trumpet embouchure tires more quickly than does the trombone embouchure.

Fatigue can be seen not only in the lip muscles but also in the back, the arms as well as the whole body. Muscle fatigue can be traced to playing mistakes and a player needs to strengthen these muscles in order to lessen mistakes caused by this fatigue. Increased practice will usually solve this problem.

But what can be done when you have added to your practice routine and you still make mistakes because of fatigue? Below I have listed a few suggestions which might help stem the tide of mistakes caused by fatigue.

Suggestions to help lessen mistakes caused by fatigue-

• Get plenty of rest the night before a performance
• Drink plenty of water an hour before you perform
• Drink coffee only if it does not make you nervous
• Take a few slow, deep breaths through your nose before you enter the stage
• Take a shower before you leave for the concert
• Brush your teeth before you leave for the performance
• If you can’t shower, at least wash your face before the concert
• Do not over eat before you perform
• Sit quietly in a comfortable chair a few minutes before entering the stage. As you sit, concentrate on your back, arms and neck muscles and feel each area as it relaxes into the chair.
• “Finger” through your parts slowly for the last time before entering the stage to assure yourself that you know your music completely.
• Moments before you enter the stage, say to yourself, “No one knows this music better than I”.

Even with all this preparation, realize that you are probably going to “drop” a couple notes along the way. Also realize that you are human and in being such, you will make mistakes on most of your live performances. That’s the reason recorded tracks are so popular.

WHY DO WE MAKE MISSTAKES? PART #5

bad chairEquipment failure

Fortunately the number of equipment failures can be listed on one hand so solving these issues can be easy to cover.

List of possible equipment failures-

1. Valves will stick, period (THIS IS A RECENTLY USED WORD REVIVED FROM OBSQURITY BY YOUR PRESIDENT).

The number of times a valve has hung up a trumpet player would be hard to estimate but I’m sure it is in the tens of thousands when you consider the number of trumpet players performing. A stuck or “hung-up” valve can not only produce the wrong note but will also hang on the players mind as to when it will happen again. The solution to this problem is not as easy as it might sound for even when oiling your valves before entering the stage, it does not mean that a stuck valve will not happen. Sometimes dirt, lint, grunge or other material can work loose from tubing and lodge in a valve while you are playing.

Do not clean your instrument the night before you are to perform. It is better to clean your instrument several days before your performance to prevent the possibility that you may dislodge dirt which may get into your valves. The act of cleaning your instrument will improve your chances of things working their way into your slides and it will also make a difference in how your horn will perform. I remember a student when asked the last time he had cleaned his horn and his response was, “last week”. I knew this was not true and marched him down to the instrument repair room to run a cleaner through his horn. The amount of garbage which exited his instrument would make a horse regurgitate. After returning to my studio to continue his lesson we found that his upper register had been lowered by a fifth and his tone had greatly improved. Take my advice and clean several days before unless you enjoy finding that your range has been decreased by a fifth.

2. Water key accidents.

Seldom do we ever think about our water key for what could go wrong? Play a note on your instrument and while playing, open your water key. I’m that sure in some obscure “1960 New Art Music” someone could find this affect written in a part but for the average listener, it’s not something one looks forward to hearing. In a situation of a failed water key, you will not have time to whip out a new one and repair the spring during a four bar rest. My advice would be to keep a rubber band handy where you could quickly rap one around your water key and continue with your material.

3. The music stand from hell.

Manhasset music stands are the stands of choice by most musicians and are famous for dependability and versatility as well as split lips, dented foreheads and audience laughter during concerts. As you decide to raise your stand just a smidgen (THIS IS A RECENTLY USED WORD REVIVED FROM OBSQURITY BY YOUR PRESIDENT DURING THE BILL O’REILLY INTERVIEW), the top of the stand comes loose and your music and stand shoot into the air. It’s not the stand’s fault. Every stand needs to be maintained but few receive such care. Before you perform, check to make sure the stand you will be using goes up as well as down easily and the upper part is tightly secured to the adjusting pole.

Another use of a music stand is to support the assortment of mutes you will be using while you perform. My advice to this misguided habit is this, “DON’T”. If the stand fails you and dumps all of your mutes on the floor during a recital, I guarantee you the only thing people will remember about the evening will be the mutes. It is much safer to barrow a percussionist’s table to support your mutes for they will be much more secure than if placed on a music stand.

4. Check the lighting before starting your program.

This is an important issue which should be one of your first priorities before you begin your program. All the work you have put into your recital means nothing if you are unable to read your music because of an ill positioned spotlight.

5. Check your chair position when performing with an orchestra.

Last Summer I had the good fortune to perform in a wonderful orchestra and had the chance to play a few solo measures on cornet. All went well on every rehearsal and I was looking forward to the concert. At least until I was re-positioned behind an overly squirmy bassoon player. Each time I re-positioned my chair to more easily view the conductor, the %#@*$# bassoon player would anticipate my move and repeatedly move to a new blocking position. Even as I played my little cornet solo I was still ducking and bobbing to see our conductor. The best advice I can give you in this scenario is to include super glue in your trumpet case for problems such as this.

6. Don’t forget to select a comfortable chair.

A dear friend of mine who played and taught trombone at our university would spend several minutes before every rehearsal, trying every chair on stage until he found one which had the correct angle to the back of chair. When one was not acceptable to his liking, he would set his trombone down on the floor and begin to pound the chairs back into submission. After several poundings, the chair would finally give up and agree to the angle my fellow musician liked.
Some chairs can be a real problem so do not minimize the importance of your comfort as you perform.

7. Tape your pages together.

I have seen too often a musician turn a page of their music and find that they are on the wrong page because their pages were out of order. It only takes a few minutes to prepare each page in the proper order and those few minutes may save all the work you have done in preparation for your performance.

8. Back to the %#@&*^+#$@ music stands.

“NEVER PLACE AN INSTRUMENT ON A MUSIC STAND”. Don’t even think about it. And don’t place an instrument on a piano. Piano players usually scold you by saying “This is an instrument not a table”. To which you are not supposed to respond with “That’s funny, you play it like one”. The response to that comment is a silent one where the pianist quickly lifts the lid and smiles as your instruments slide to the floor. ADVICE: Do not anger a piano player, they have ways………

I have personally experienced all of the above situations and this last entry will be left open for anyone else to contribute. Let me know what equipment failure you have experienced which led to mistakes in your performance.

Why Do We Make Misstakes? Part #4

images (3)Distractions

As I stated earlier, distraction and the lack of concentration are usually related.

The distractions I am going to cover here are the ones that creep into your playing even when you are concentrating to your fullest during a performance.

#1. Where did my music go?

You have practiced your part and are able to play it perfectly 10 times in a row with no errors. You are concentrating as you have never concentrated before. You are physically on top of your game and suddenly the music blows off the stand with a sudden gust of wind. This is a distraction which could have been avoided with the placement of one cloths pin.

#2. Where’s my mute?

The first movement of your perfectly prepared and executed Concerto has just finished and as you reach for your mute to begin the second movement, you realize that your mute is still in your case in the band room. If you think that this could never happen to you, I had the same thought until it actually did happen to me during my graduate recital in DeKalb, Illinois many decades ago.

#3. Babies will be babies.

Even the best concentration cannot silence a baby crying in your audience. Each time the mother has temporarily solved the problem with a bottle, play toy or a motherly rock (not the mineral type), those little smoke alarms always go off one measure before a difficult passage. A solution to this problem is not easy. The chance that the mother and baby are not one of your relatives is slim so before your important performance my recommendation would be to set the ground rules with your relation in this order. 1. Suggest that they sit in the back row just in case the kid doesn’t like trumpet playing. 2. At the first whimper, get the mother and child ready to vacate the premises. 3. When the child takes its first inhalation for a “big one”, be out the door and have it closed before the next cry can be heard.

#4. Thank you for your applause but could you please wait until the end of the concerto instead of clapping after every movement?

This is a very common error for audiences who don’t get out much. If this happens to you, don’t let the thought of it continue for you now know that it will continue to happen throughout your whole program. When it does happen, make the most out of it. When they start clapping, this will give you a little more time to empty your water key and get a little more lip rest.

#5. Will you please take your hands off me?

This actually happen in Dallas one summer while performing with the State Fair Band of Texas. I was taking my position in the back of the open air concert area, preparing to play my off stage solo, when I was approached by a security guard. I had heard stories about this situation before but never thought it would happen to me, but it did. As I tested my valve for the last time and began to take in a large breath the voice thundered out, “What are you doing here? You can’t play your trumpet now the concert is going on”. As my entrance came closer I told the guard that I was part of the concert and as I began my solo, his hands were on me and I couldn’t decide if his forceful grip or my need to laugh were the strongest. This was not a problem of concentration; this was more of a martial arts contest. I got it done and after I had finished my solo he apologized. To make sure you are able to perform under these conditions, prepare yourself with at least a brown belt in Karate.

Wait a minute, I need to get this call.

Ask your audience before you start your performance to silence their phones or they will be shot.

A distraction may be defined this way-

1. (often passive) to draw the attention of (a person) away from something
2. to divide or confuse the attention of (a person)
3. to amuse or entertain
4. (Psychology) to trouble greatly
5. (Psychology) to make mad

Pay close attention to the last definition for sometimes this may be the outcome of your performance.

Why Do We Make Misstakes? Part #3

downloadPhysical limitations

“Not all horses are race horses”

This was one of the many comments given to me by a former boss while teaching at UNI. This came from my first employer by the name of Dr. Myron Russell. I respected this older gentleman in many ways. He was intelligent, kind, honest, and fair in all he did. I miss his conversations and his wit and this statement was one of those simple comments which could change a person’s outlook on everything.

The statement “not every horse is a race horse” can apply to trumpet players also. Not every trumpet player can be a lead player or a solo performer. Even though we are told every day by talking heads on television that “you can be anything you want”, it is not true. Some people are destined to be second chair players their whole life. I am a good example. When I’m asked to join a new band, the first thing I find out is which chair I will be playing. If they say lead, I find out how high the parts go. If the lead part exceeds a D or Eb, I inform the leader that this is out of my comfortable range. It would be better to pass up a job because of the range of the lead part than embarrass myself on a part out of my comfort zone.

Some players are gifted with a high range and others are not. In my case, the second chair is my favorite location for a couple reasons. I have enough range to play lead when the first player needs a break or if a solo needs to be played. Around Branson I have been able to perform with many bands and have the reputation as a good “second trumpet” player in a big band setting. Combo work is different for the only trumpet usually is limited to a D, as are musicals. Playing a second chair position requires a different mindset than a lead player. Second chair players must have the following strengths.

A second chair player must be able to-

• Sight read well
• Play jazz solos on call
• Be able to adapt to any lead chair players style
• Adjust and improve any intonation problems in the section
• Anticipate errors in the section before they happen

As I get older, other physical considerations come to mind. Another fellow musician suggested that I try playing on a bar stool during a combo job. I thought that his use of a stool was because of his age. Later, I found myself needing assistance because of a motorcycle accident where I injured my leg. After one combo job using a stool, I never tried standing up all night again. If you have an opportunity to sit the job out on a bar stool, do it. The evening will pass very quickly.

Physical limitations may limit one’s ability while the same limitations are surmountable problems for others. A student of mine came to me and informed me that due to a farming accident, he was missing the third finger of his right hand. I asked him to play for me and instead of using his missing third valve finger, he used his little finger. I was amazed! He functioned as well as any of my students. I have very fond memories of students who, when faced with physical obstacles, have overcome them.

Another of my students came to me and as he played, I noticed a pronounced budge on one side of his neck. We visited about this and I suggested that he see a physician to make sure there would not be any damage to the neck while he performed. The physician cleared the student and for two years he continued playing with this budge. Shortly before his senior recital he complained about neck pain and said he sometimes spit out blood. Again I asked him to see a physician and the report he received was not good news. The Dr. told him to stop playing the trumpet in fear that he may rupture his throat. I agreed with the diagnosis but the student was determined to finish his degree by playing the recital. In his next lesson, he showed me what looked like a wide dog collar. The student was so determined to finish his requirements that he had a leather-smith fabricate a leather collar which he snapped on when he played his horn. The collar worked, he played his recital and finished his degree on time. This was another case where physical conditions may stop some players and in other cases the performers accomplished what they wanted to accomplish.

Physical limitations can be obstacles too large to surmount. You may not be a lead player but there are other things you may excel at. You may have physical limits that might slow you down but not stop you. Limitation in any form will test one’s dedication and perseverance.