What You Should Know In Order To Improving Your Tone Quality (Part #1)

I Never Wanted to Be An Old Trumpet Player-
“And Now I Are One”!

Tone is something every musician should be concerned about for it is the only product we have to offer our listeners. Some tones are small and intimate, such as Miles Davis. Some tones are intensely focused and centered as in the case of Rafael Mendez. To say a person has a beautiful sound seems to be the ultimate compliment but this beautiful sound may not be appropriate for a horn player in a Rock and Roll band. Rather than debate the question of what is a good sound and what is a less than satisfactory sound, I would like to refer to the sound most players should strive for; and that is a more focused sound.

What is a focused sound or tone quality, why is it important and how does a player gain more focus to his/her sound? To more fully understand what constitutes a focused sound, let me share with you some visual/audio aids which should more fully illustrate what we are discussing.

What does a focused sound look like and how does it compare to other tone qualities?

Visual representation of three different embouchure settings.

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Example #1

This example was produces with an excessively loose embouchure and is noticeably flat in pitch.

Example #2

This example was produces with an excessively tight embouchure and is noticeably sharp in pitch.

Example #3

This example was produces with a focused sound and is in tune.

Discussion of the same three embouchure settings.

Terms used

Peaks (highest points in each illustration)

Valleys (lowest points in each illustration)

Contours (general shapes of peaks and valleys)

Primary peaks and valleys (the highest and lowest changes)

Secondary peaks and valleys (similar to primary peaks and valleys but with less amplitude- in this case I am referring to increase distances rather than dynamic change)

Example #1 (Too Loose)

Notice that the primary peaks are very similar to those in example #3 although the peaks drop off more slowly than in #3.

The secondary peaks and valleys are also similar to #3 but do not dip as low nor rise as high as those in #3.

The secondary peaks do not rise above the center line and the secondary valleys do not dip as low as in example #3.

Example #2 (Too Tight)

This is by far the most dramatic change in tone of the three.

Each peak is drastically more rounded.

The biggest difference in this example is the action between each peak and valley.

The majority of the tone is centered close to the base line with very little contrast in highs and lows as in the case of example #1 and #3.

Where as in the case of examples #1 and #3 the middle section is relatively constant, in example #2 this is where most of the tone is located which is caused by the overly constricted embouchure and few overtones are present.

Example #3 (Focused)

#3 is very similar to the characteristics of #1 but the difference tends to be in the more vertical drop from each peak and the extended depth of the valley sections.

The peaks of #3 are also higher than those of #1. Some may attribute that difference to the dynamic (decibels) difference in the recording but I was very careful to match the dynamic representation of each example.

Recorded examples-

Now that you have seen what a focused tone quality looks like as well as hear the differences among the three, in our next post we will show you how to form a more focused embouchure and gain its correspondingly focused sound.

I Never Wanted to Be An Old Trumpet Player- “And Now I Are One”!

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Many years ago I shared my view of old trumpet players with a friend after watching an elderly man struggle to play his part during one of our rehearsals. The thought of struggling to play a once easy passage deterred by advancing years concerned me.

Now I relish every opportunity to pucker and blow for not only are the hard notes easier but all aspects of playing are easier than they were twenty years ago.

What, you might ask, made the difference and I will explain in full detail……

As I got older, I got smarter!

As aspiring young musicians, we all begin taking lessons from more qualified musicians. Some teachers were helpful and some were a waste of time. Some were able to explain short cuts which changed a small problem into a “no problem”. An example was Don Jacoby’s explanation on how to do a shake. Some were psychological concepts to change ones thought process. A good example of this was my lesson with Arnold Jacobs when he told me to visualize myself playing the standard “Stardust” in a large dance hall. Some were easy to learn such as a lesson I had with Prof. John Beer at the University of Iowa where he showed me how to do an upper octave slur more easily. And some, because of the absurdity of the lessons, I learned that not every teacher is worth the spit coming out of my horn!

Now at my advancing age, I am able to spend more time and energy practicing and doing self-evaluations which are very telling. During my time attending North Texas State (University of North Texas to many of you younger musicians) I was diligently spending four to five hours every day practicing. The thought that “More is Better” rang through my ears at the time. If I had known then what I know now I could have spent my time more wisely. This is true for all of us but until we have been through it and are able to look back upon it, we are sometimes blinded to reality.

At this period in my life I am aware of many truths which I will share with you. Please notice that I said “at this time in my life” for the older I get, the more I realize that I am just scratching the surface of what constitutes the best way to play trumpet.

Listed below are a few areas a trumpet player should strive to improve-

Tone
Finger technique
Lip flexibility
Tonguing
Endurance
Range
Sight-reading
Intonation
Music styles

In our following posts we will address each of these topic and make recommendations as to how you can more efficiently practice and improve each area.

Attention all Music Computer Geeks!

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Attention all Music Computer Geeks!

Check this site out today…..

NCH Software

I am not endorsing this company in any way for I just started reviewing some of their software offerings and would like your help in this evaluation. So far I am impressed but what do I know, I’m just a trumpet player in a Rock and Roll band.

Some of the programs are as follow..

WavePad Audio Editor
Edit your audio files and add effects to create professional quality audio files.

Switch Audio Converter
Convert audio files from many different file formats into mp3, wav or wma.

Express Burn
Burn Video and Data DVDs or Blu-ray Discs as well as audio CDs on Windows or Mac.

VideoPad Video Editor
Full featured video editor for creating professional looking videos in minutes.

MixPad Multitrack Software
Powerful multi-track music mixing software for audio production.

TwelveKeys Music Transcription Software
Creates visual representation of notes in any music recording
TwelveKeys is a music program designed to assist musicians as they
transcribe music recordings.
• Create a visual representation of notes in any music recording
• Works with many instruments playing simultaneously
• Slow the speed and loop playback to better transcribe subtle details
• Small download installs and is ready to use in seconds

Carroll Community Wind Ensemble Trumpet Players

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Welcome to part of the Carroll Community Wind Ensemble out of Carrollton, Ga.

The ensemble is a community outreach program of the Carroll Symphony Orchestra that began 3 years ago and has performed at many community events. This is their second time performing with the University of West Georgia. Two years ago they combined with members of the CSO to provide the pit orchestra for the opera Carmen.

They currently have 5 trumpet players in their trumpet section. The photo includes, from left to right, Bob Johnson, Jen Houck and Chris Davis. Their other two trumpet players are Terry Strickland and Lee Ritchie.

The Carroll Community Wind Ensemble is open to any musician that previously played a wind instrument in high school or college. Many have not played in an organized group for many years.
2014-10-15 22.18.41(This pic is of Lee, Jen and Terry from Monday night’s dress rehearsal)

Protecting the Finish of Your Instrument

In an earlier post I covered the essentials for keeping your brass instrument in good working order. This post will cover the importance of keeping the outer service of your instrument in good shape. Whether you have a silver or gold plated instrument or a lacquered or even bare brass surface, it is important to protect the outside from damage and wear.

Bare brass instruments

Instruments without plating or lacquer will eventually turn ugly. The reason that bare brass changes with time is the fact that the brass, when exposed to the air over a given period will tarnish and this tarnishing will distract from the original high luster it had after its first polishing. Brass is a wonderful material for making instruments for it is a relatively cheap material and is very easy to manipulate into curves and flares. It is also easy to solder parts together. After a simple polishing, the brass is beautifully restored to its original high luster. Brass is a wonderful material but, as I said, if left to the elements, it will return again to the dull, tarnished condition it originally began.

The outward appearance might not be a concern to you and many players are seen performing on these instruments. There is one concern which you may not be aware of and that is without a protective layer between you and your bare brass instrument, you run the risk of brass poisoning. The skin will react to the brass in the same way your tongue will react to licking exposed brass. It is not a good idea to play on an exposed brass instrument for that reason. Many performers prefer the sound and response of these horns and I am not going to debate the value of bare brass tone qualities in this article. Many performers will take a lacquered instrument and have the lacquer stripped in order to get the quality of sound that they want. I remember visiting with Mr. Schilke one day when I asked him why he did not offer lacquered trumpets. His answer was short and to the point, as they always were: “You can’t control the thickness of the lacquer as well as you can with silver and/or gold plating. Without this control, you can’t be sure how the instrument will perform”. Again, I have no problem with this choice but do know that the player runs the risk of brass poisoning and areas of contact that will turn green with extended contact just as a cheap brass ring will eventually turn your finger green.

If you prefer an exposed brass instrument, think about the risk and consider coating your instrument often with a good furniture polish to separate your hands and fingers from the bare brass or consider adding a leather cover where your hand makes contact with the instrument.

Lacquer covered instruments

If your instrument is lacquered, it is protected from the air and until the lacquer wears off, it should stay in the same condition for a long time. If the surface begins to wear through or sustains scratches, the underlying brass will eventually tarnish. Fortunately, a stripping and buffing session at the repair shop will bring it back to is original high luster. Brass is so forgiving. To prolong the original surface, be sure to apply a good coating of high quality furniture polish once a year. This will sustain the condition of the lacquer for a longer time.

If you are the type of person that wants your instrument to shine forever and you intend to have it buffed often, forget it. You must remember that each time the repair shop buffs your brass; they are taking a small amount of brass off each time. Eventually you will begin to find weak spots where they leaned a little too hard on the buffing wheel. I have a beautifully playing early Bach cornet which I enjoy playing. It is old, as I am but I will put up with the tarnished areas in order to sustain the original thickness of the tubing.

Silver and Gold instruments

When I bought my first Schilke trumpet, I wanted it to last forever. I asked Mr. Schilke what I should do to keep it in good shape. He told me to only use Tarni-shield on the outside. That is what I started using and I still use it on all of my silver plated horns. It works great and each application has lasted for a long time. The accompanying photo is the original bottle I purchased with my first Schilke horn and there is still enough in there to last longer than I will last. Great stuff, use it.

I will caution you about using this product on your mouthpiece for it will leave a slight greasy feeling on the silver and if you use it on your mouthpiece rim; you might be sliding around on your lip for a while.

Additional protection for the outside of your instrument

Check  the inside of your case for any loose objects which might roll around and scratch your horn. And while you’re at it, check the felt on your trumpet stand for any sharp materials. You don’t want to set your beautiful bell down on a piece of metal for the scratches will be hard to hide from your audience.

Three Cadenzas for Del Staigers Carnival of Venice

This needs no explanation. I just got tired of the same written cadenza and thought some of you might like something different. You will obviously need to take liberties with the tempo of each cadenza, slow at the beginning and fast at the end of each run. The piano part and the trumpet part are in the same key as the original so all you have to do is give your accompanist one of these sheets and take off.

Download here 3 Cadenzas for Staigers Carnival of Venice

Listen to examples Carnival of Venice- Cadenza

Is Live Music Dead- Is there any way we can bring it back to life?

Each day we hear of more musicians losing their jobs. Some reasons given for this epidemic are 1. The economy, 2. Reduced ticket sales, 3. Change in direction, 4. Tracks are more economical. 5. Tracks don’t make mistakes, 6. No one is using horns any more, and the list goes on.

It started with the big bands during the Swing Era from the early 1930’s until the late 1940’s. Men serving in the war were not available to fill the sections of the popular big bands back home. Money and materials were needed for the war efforts. Gas which was necessary for big bands to travel from job to job was also in short supply. It is safe to say that the economy had a significant roll to play in the decline of the big swing dance bands. But we adjusted and downsized to combos. It didn’t take much gas to play a club date down the street and you didn’t have to supply a uniform. Most musicians were paid in cash so your income tax forms were easy to fill out. Bands dropped from 25 members down to a piano, bass, drums and a horn or two. That worked for the club owners. Combos replaced the expensive and cumbersome big bands.

During the next period, we had combos and a few big bands which functioned as performing ensembles with less focus on playing dances and more on playing concerts and making records. Then came Rock and Roll and back to even smaller combos which drew more electricity than ten big bands. Horns were out . but we adjusted. Combos began to bring the horns back with BST, Chicago, Tower of Power, etc. and we were back again. Rock bands with a trumpet, tenor and a trombone became heaven on earth.

I would like to use Branson as an example of the next big decline in live music. When I moved to Branson about ten years ago, there were fifteen trumpet players working full time in the shows in town. Today there are NO trumpet players working full time. I’m not saying that this is the norm across the whole nation but it does seem to be a consistent complaint from my friends in the music field in many parts of the country. The reasons are always the same- 1. The economy, 2. Reduced ticket sales, 3. Change in direction, 4. Tracks are more economical. 5.Tracks don’t make mistakes, 6. No one is using horns any more, and the list still goes on.

Many excellent musicians have begun to change occupations because of the lack of musical employment. I know of at lest a dozen players of the highest level who have given up on music as a profession. What a waste of talent. To dedicate your entire life to your instrument and now in your most productive years decide to hang it up. How sad. Is it time to make drastic adjustments again in order to save live music? It would seem so. I would like to offer a few suggestions as to how we might try to turn this dilemma around and again bring back live music to our areas.

Possible steps to revive live music in your area.

1. Music Performance & Film Trust Funds

The American Federation of Musicians set aside money for the promotion of live music many years ago and this fund is still available for use by members of the AFM. If you are a current member of a local chapter, take advantage of this money for it was first established do what we are trying to do “Promote Live Music in Your Area”.

2. Donate your time and talents to your local schools

Offer to visit your school’s music department and give a free concert or lecture on live music. The students you are contacting will be the consumers of music as they mature. It would be very productive to educate them in the art of live performances. We need to be more proactive in our approach to our art form. To see a real musician performing in their class room could change a student’s direction in life.

3. When’s the last time you were in church?

Few church organists will turn down a qualified musician’s offer to play in their church. Having someone up there in the choir loft is usually a treat for them and you will be taking the load off them during the service. And remember, “if you make a mistake in church, they have to forgive you”!

4. If your community doesn’t have a city band, start one.

You will find it amazing how many players in your area are just waiting for someone to start a concert band. First ask your local band director if he/she would have interest in forming such an ensemble. The director has use of a rehearsal room, a library, names of former band members and a baton. What else do you need?

5. If a concert band is too big, start with a brass quintet.

Even the smallest community will have an old horn player hiding somewhere in town. If they don’t own a horn like many horn players, make arrangements to rent one from a music store. Chances are also very good that the music store has one in the back room they would lend free of charge. Invite the band director to play in your group and he/she will have access to a tuba if you need one.

6. Choose your players wisely- you will see them often.

When the jobs began to shrink in Branson about four years ago, I decided that it was time to start playing again and I formed my trumpet group, the Branson Trumpet Ensemble. The reason for its formation was to give me as well as some of my friends a need to keep our chops up. In the last three years we have been performing concerts in the immediate area and have developed into a very fine chamber ensemble. I have the greatest respect for our members and we have really enjoyed our time together (at least I have). Each player has his own area of ability and we all work together to get the job done. We even make some money doing it.

7. Someday we will be living in a retirement facility.

If you have ever visited a retirement facility and observed the joy in the faces of the residence as you play “Stardust” or watch their feet start to tap the floor as you rip off the trumpet solo to “In the Mood”, you have realized the impact live music can have on individuals. It doesn’t pay in dollars, but it more than makes up in human kindness.

I would like to help but I don’t perform any more.

If you no longer perform and would still like to help promote live music, you can get involved in other ways. The next time you read of a concert being performed in your area, go and tell the promoters what a great concert it was. If there is a combo performing in a club in your area, go and show your support that way. Write a letter to the local paper praising the wonderful concert you heard at the high school last week. Live music needs to have supporters cheering from the side lines just as the local football team needs fans cheering in the stands. The more attention we can draw to the importance of live music, the better.

Is it worth it to make the effort?

If this posting does nothing more than start you thinking about our responsibility as musicians, I would have accomplished my objective. If this posting gets you thinking of other ways to promote live music, I will have made a difference. If, after reading this information, you actually start organizing a small movement to promote live music, I will be very grateful. If you decide to sit there and continue to complain that there is no work and it is the fault of the show owners and club owners, I would not be surprised. In the past two weeks, I have played in my church, played with a polka band in another church, I will be playing a church service in still another church this Sunday, I will play duets with one of my best friends Wednesday morning, the Branson Trumpet Ensemble just played for the fourth year in a row for the Branson Arts Council and we have a concert in two weeks in still another church. Who says there’s no work in Branson? It might not pay all of the bills but at least we are out there “Promoting Live Music”. What are you doing this week?

Bruce Chidester

Branson Trumpet Ensemble

Good Morning Vietnam!

4For the past four years I have been pumping out post after post every other day. Some were helpful (How To Mark Your Music) and some generated controversy (The Disturbing Monette Video) and one I actually had to apologies for (Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks).

Well this “old dog” decided to take the day off and feature a product evaluation submitted to me by a very good friend and accomplished trumpet player by the name of Jen.

Here is Jen’s evaluation of her new Mute Master purchased through A&G Music.

I just received a new mute holder that I really like. We have a lot of quick mute changes in the musical Cabaret that were driving me crazy which made it necessary for me to seek out a mute stand that could conveniently hold several mutes.

After quite a bit of research and discussion I finally purchased one called Mute Master from A&G Music in California. It slides right onto the ledge of a Manhasset music stand and holds 4 mutes and up to 3 mouthpieces.1

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So far, I really like it. The only downfall that I (experienced was that when retrieving my cup mute in haste the cork sometimes caught on the holder and it almost fell off, which could have resulted in some embarrassing noise when holder and mutes hit the floor. I solved this issue by trimming my cup mute cork at an angle at the end closest to the cup. Now, it slides out without catching. Thanks go to Bruce for the suggestion.

I am also considering securing the stand with Velcro tabs for extra security. Another negative with this product was the $24 price tag and the overpriced shipping. They charged me $13 to ship it and the actual cost was only $7!

Overall, I give the Mute Master a thumbs-up and it has really helped me with faster, quieter mute changes.

Finally- “The Perfect Performance Chair/Stool”!

ChairWe all have suffered long enough when faced with the problem of a comfortable chair or stool when performing on stage or practicing.

After spending “almost an entire lifetime” searching for the “PERFECT” solution to this dilemma, I felt compelled to single handedly add comfort and confidence to the world of seated performers.

I spend at least eight to ten hours a day (every day) at my computer and when I finally broke down and purchase a new desk chair, I wanted the best I could afford. As it turned out, the purchase price was not at all what I expected. The chair listed for $250 and was (noticed the operative word “was”) on sale for $97 dollars. I checked today to make sure I listed the correct chair for my readers and found that this particular chair is no longer in stock. But, as you will see, there are several still available with the same features at very reasonable prices.

When stating that this is the best chair/stool, I took into consideration many factors and I have listed a few below.

What makes for the perfect performance chair/stool?

• The seat area must be comfortable.
In addition to comfort, a performance chair/stool should be most comfortable on the front edge where for good posture; a musician will be spending most of his/her time.

• The seating area should be extra wide for those with larger than normal buttocks.
Even though my posterior is about average, I am always looking out for my above average readers.

• The upholstering must be serviceable and of good quality.
When you consider the hundreds of hours we spend in performances and rehearsals, this feature is very important.

• The size and transportability of the seat must be considered.
No matter how serviceable and comfortable the chair is, you should be able to get it to the concert with little effort.

• The position of the legs must be taken into consideration.
As you lean forward to perform, the position of the legs should not interfere with the comfortable position of your feet.

• The cost of the chair/stool should be worth the advantages over traditional solutions.
When you experience the many advantages of this chair/stool, I think you will say it was well worth the expense.

Know, as I said earlier, this same chair is no longer in stock but with careful investigation you should easily find a similar chair in the huge offerings at Staples office supply. I also saw a very similar chair at Walmart last week. Just remember that in order to complete this project, you need to leave the back and arm rests off the seat. The reasoning behind this move is that the complete chair is the most comfortable office chair I have ever sat in and because of that fact; I tended to practice with my back against the chair and eventually began to rest my arms on the arm rests as I played. If you think this is the way to practice, think again young Jedi.
Know, what do I do with this beautiful back rest?

This is the one I purchased.