One of the most asked questions from students is this, “How can I learn to play high notes?” Seldom do players ask how they can improve their tone, endurance or any of the equally important areas of development. While giving clinics both with the faculty brass quintet as well as individual clinics, I have often been asked, “How high can you play?” My answer to that question was usually “I can play one note higher than I am asked to play”. Although they seldom understood what I meant by the statement, my response did answer the question. I have never been a high note player. At my very best I was able to play an Eb above double C. To many that sounds impressive but when that was accomplished, I was a graduate student at North Texas State and I was determined to work up to my first double C. I got there, I exceeded my goal and shortly there after returned to my usual range of reasonable D above high C. Upper register playing has always been a struggle for me and that is why I am very content being a decent second chair player in a big band. I have been blessed with good chops (not exceptional), above average reading skills and an acceptable ability to improvise. I was told by one of my music department director’s years ago, “Not every horse is a race horse”. His statement to me was directed toward one of my students but the inference fits me very well also. So if I am not blessed with high chops, why am I posting information on how to increase your high chops?
Some are blessed and the rest of us sweat.
If you are one of the fortunate that sail through the air with the greatest of ease, I am envious. For the other 80% of us, this article has been written. I am reminded of an experience in Lancaster, Texas one afternoon when a young man (10-12 years old) wandered into the band room where I was teaching private lessons. He asked the usual questions and I handed him my trumpet after he asked what it was. This total non player’s first note out of the horn was around an F above high C, with no effort. When I speak of the gifted 20%, this young man was best example I could offer. With no past experience or knowledge, his first note was higher and more effortless than what I could play. “Life is not fair and then we die”.
If you are among the 80% who work for every half step, you may find this post helpful for as a member of the same group, I understand what you have and will be going through to reach your upper goals.
Traditional approaches to high range playing.
When we first began to play our instruments, we were limited to the number of notes available for us to play. As we continued to practice, more notes were possible. After years of regular practice, the increase in number of upper level notes began to slow. The low range was not a problem for obvious reasons but what used to take a few months to increase was now taking years and eventually that ceiling stopped moving up.
A traditional approach to high range improvement would be an extension of what we were using at the beginning of our career as a musician. If high C is a good note, then continue with your same exercises until you can play a C#. That’s as traditional as it gets. You work and work until you get the next half step then you repeat until satisfied. That’s not rocket science, dude!
In my next post, I will be demonstrating this concept in a very fine method book written by the late Bud Brisbois called Trumpet Today. This is a wonderful method and an example of the more traditional approach which I have described above.
The introduction of the use of pedal tones to improve high range playing.
Many years ago, we were introduced to a new concept of lip development called pedal tones. Everyone at the time began to fill practice rooms around the world with these, unmusical, low frequency sputters which sounded more like an outboard motor than a musical tone. Top musicians joined the fraternity of pedal tone players and we all were using different versions of this technique. It did and still does have value in increasing your high register and in a following article, I will compare the attributes of two of these earlier methods- Double High C in 37 Weeks by Roger Spalding and Systematic approach to Daily Practice by Claude Gordon. Both of these methods have been very beneficial to thousands of struggling players, including myself.
Current sources for upper range improvement.
The market for high range playing instruction is constantly building. Many of the new ideas are just revamps from earlier methods. Some are quite distinct and helpful. Many are a waste of time and money. Many times the gifted high range player thinks that they are obligated to share their great ability with the world but forget that some of us are not able to accomplish what they find easy and consequently this information is useless to many of us. If you have ever frequented a trumpet convention, picking this player out of a crowd is easy. All you have to do is follow the screamingly high noise and there the person will be, expounding on how, with only five minutes and his book, you will also be able to play notes only dogs can hear. When you are visiting with such a person, be kind but don’t believe everything you are told.