How Good Does A Trumpet Have To Be?

If you ask most trumpet players this question the answer is usually “I need one better than the one I’m playing on now!”

But is this a true evaluation of our current instrument?

To fully understand what I am about to say, I will approach this question from two different perspectives;

How good does the instrument have to be to satisfy its player?

and……

How good does the instrument have to be to make a difference to the listener?

How good does the instrument have to be to satisfy its player?

Every musician wants to be able to perform with the best instrument for to use one of lesser quality would produce music of a lesser quality. Few would argue this conclusion and for that reason most of us are constantly revaluating our playing ability and forever looking for another instrument which would improve our performances.

If your valves are not functioning properly, a newer instrument may be the answer. If the tone quality is not what you would consider acceptable on your present instrument, another may be your solution. If moving between notes seems more difficult than you expect, perhaps a newer or different model would solve this issue. We are constantly evaluating our output and measuring possible improvement with another instrument. Each of these examples can be justified for none of us would enter a race with inferior equipment when so much is on the line.

If, while performing, the musician has in the back of his/her mind the possibility of a valve freezing, a possible sloppy slur between notes or a question as to the quality of the sound escaping from ones bell, that musicians concentration will wander and in most cases, mistakes will be made. There is no doubt that worrying about the proper functioning of one’s instrument is something no musician should have to deal with.

But…….

There are many musicians who blame their playing problems on a perfectly functioning instrument instead of realizing the problems are not caused by the instrument but stem from the performers lack of practice!

Too many musicians have convinced themselves that all of their problems can be corrected by purchasing a “new and improve” mouthpiece or perhaps the purchase of one of the “bright and shiny, never fluff” trumpets offered on EBay. I am convinced that the percentage of victims to this utopian philosophy could be as much as 50% of the trumpet world today.

I have more times than I can remember heard from players who purchase extremely expensive trumpets who have convinced themselves that all of their problems will be solved with the new instrument. Almost all of the same people, when demonstrating their new purchase, seem to play exactly the same as they had with their old instrument. One such player, after shelling out more money than I had paid for my first car, tried to justify his purchase to his wife by telling her that he made the purchase as an investment for as he put it “the value of this instrument will only go up”. The value of the same instrument actually went down and he eventually sold it at a loss to another sucker.

In concluding this section of my post, I will admit that playing on an inferior instrument will not manifest into your best performance and on the flip side; don’t condemn a perfectly good instrument for your laziness and lack of discipline.

Now on to point #2…..

How good does the instrument have to be to make a difference to the listener?

Could it have been possible for the late, great trumpet player Mr. Adolph Sylvester “Bud” Herseth to perform brilliantly on a student model trumpet? Of course he could have! Mr Herseth could have sounded great on a mouthpiece inserted into a section of garden hose with a funnel at the other end! To illustrate this even further, let me share with you an experience I had while a member of the faculty brass quintet at the University of Northern Iowa several decades ago…..

Once upon a time, many years ago in a far off land called Iowa, I needed my Schilke trumpet repaired and due to the fact that it would be in the shop for a couple weeks, I needed a replacement for our daily quintet rehearsals. A quick trip to the university’s instrument store room produced a solution to my problem; a fairly new Yamaha student model trumpet. I did not share the dubious pedigree of my replacement horn to my fellow quintetians and continued to rehearse with them for the next two weeks. Then one day, a fellow member asked if I had purchased a new horn to which I responded “no, not yet. I’m just trying it out to see if I like it”. No more questions were asked and no one ever knew that I was playing on a student level horn. This is just another example of the limited thinking one could entertain when considering the necessity of a new and improved instrument. The lower level trumpet was nothing close to the superior quality of my Schilke, yet to the ears of my colleagues, little difference, if any was detected. If I remember correctly, I even performed some concerts on that student level instrument.

In concluding this section of my post, I will admit that every musician needs the best instrument they can afford to perform as well as possible. Inferior quality instruments will hold a musician back but do not try to justify a better instrument if the problems lay with your own lack of ability or preparation.

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.

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