High Range Trumpet Methods- Introduction

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.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

6 thoughts on “High Range Trumpet Methods- Introduction

  1. Christopher Knitig

    I have to thank you for this post. It is very comforting to hear a professional trumpet player speak candidly about range. I am a older comeback player and I try to practice an hour a day of “air time” , meaning I only count the time that I am making sound and not the rests in between. With all that practice my useful range is only d above high c. What has changed is everything I can do below that point. As I have learned to play with less pressure my endurance and double and triple tongue have improved notably. But range? Not really. Probably the most frustrating thing about that is I enjoy playing baroque music and a reliable high g would be most useful.
    Reading you post helps me relax about that and continue to focus on musicality. ….and I have plenty of room to improve there too. My goal is an hr and a half of air time giving thirty minutes for scales and long tones. 30 for music that I want to play and 30 for work in the Arban book.

    • Bruce Chidester

      As we get older (I’m 71) we tend to get smarter. Also, no one expects a trumpet player to be even able to empty a water key any more at my age. That’s were we have them for there are many more wrong notes to be played before we reach that final tacet.

      One area you might want to check is the opening for the air.
      1. Firm corners
      2. More opening for air
      3. Don’t think about playing higher, visualize blowing “farther”.
      4. Rest as much as you play
      5. Work up chromatically and stay on your top note for at least a month before adding the next one

      …just a couple thoughts.

      Thanks for your comments and be well / live long!

  2. Jim Hatfield

    I’m 73 and have been playing off and on for 65 years. My useable range is D above high C. It’s only in recent years that I realized I was playing on too large a mouthpiece, using a spread aperture, and not fully understanding that resting as much as you play doesn’t mean playing until exhaustion and then taking a nap.

  3. Tim Eaton

    Hi Bruce, came across this blog and enjoyed it so much I wanted to thank you for the rational discussion. I have been playing in bands various and sundry for many years, both on and off the road. I’ve collected all or nearly all of the methods, fad devices and equipment a foolish trumpeter can aquire and still; it all does come down to what you have been given in your DNA. This means of course brain and brawn and how you use them. I would add only this: generally speaking, the more you play, the more you can play. Assuming adequate amounts of rest, that is. Sorry for the caveates, but it is an art, not a science. Your results may vary.

    • Bruce Chidester

      Thanks for your comments and those who have spent some time on the road know what you are saying.
      Fortunately all my playing is now only in Branson.
      One theater was only 7 minutes from my house.

      Stay well and live long my friend.

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