Most trumpet players approach the flugel in the same way they approach their trumpet- put it to your face and blow! Although this works, it might not be the best way to get the most out of your instrument. As I covered in my last post, the two instruments are constructed differently and their use and even playing style are different.
Both the trumpet and the flugel horn are played basically the same. Both also play the same range of notes with the same fingerings. The difference between the two lies in the application and playing style of the player. The flugel lends itself to the ballads and the trumpet works well on the up tempo “shower of spit” type of playing. For those of you who are now saying to yourself, “I can play just as fast on the flugel as I can on the trumpet”, so can I but I choose not to do so for the fast notes on a flugel tend to get blurred and lack the clarity that the trumpet exhibits. I have the same thinking about fast notes played on a tenor sax as apposed to fast notes played on a tenor sax. Most people would agree that Charlie Parker “Bird” would have sounded great on either sax but the alto fit his tremendous speed which would have been lost if he had performed the same notes on a tenor. Even though I’m sure many may disagree with me on this last comparison, I feel very strongly that the flugel is best suited to the ballads and the trumpet to the more speedy passages.
The range of the trumpet and flugel as I have previously stated is the same but I will add that I can play higher on my flugel than I can on my trumpets. This is also true when I play high notes on my cornet. The cylindrical instruments seem to play easier in the high register. I can also play higher on a euphonium than I can on a trombone even though they are the same length. One problem I also find when playing in the upper range of the flugel, the notes are easier to play but are also harder to play in tune. Moving from one high note to the next seems to be easier but I also find that those same notes have less center to them. Another problem with playing high notes on a flugel is the fact that the flugel’s highest notes start to sound like a trumpet and if you want that sound you should be playing on a trumpet.
Intonation on flugels is the most often complaint we hear. Advancement in flugel horn design has improved very slowly as I stated in my previous post and intonation is at the top of the list for most complaints. One solution would be to purchase a flugel horn with four valves. The fourth valve will allow you an alternate set of fingerings which could improve your odds at getting your notes in tune. One disadvantage of the additional valve is the additional weight to the instrument. I have owned four valve flugels and along with the additional fingerings, the added fourth valve will also allow you to increase the number of notes at the bottom. The extra length of tubing will give you several additional low notes which is handy, especially if the arrangement extends below the traditional low F# on the three valve instruments. Whether you choose the three or the four valve instruments should be bases on the improved intonation, added weight and added cost. After owning and playing both styles and I most often prefer the three valves and use the slides to help with the pitch problems.
When playing your first note on a flugel, you will probably be amazed at how easily it speaks. The reason for this is that the flugel mouthpiece has a different cup design than the trumpet mouthpiece. Trumpet mouthpieces have a rounded bottom in the cup and a flugel horn mouthpiece is shaped more like a funnel; more similar to the inside of a French horn mouthpiece. The air tends to flow through a flugel horn mouthpiece more easily than a trumpet mouthpiece. In many ways the flugel horn is closer to a French horn than it is to a trumpet.
Your decision as to how to hold a flugel is something you will have to determine. Some hold it like a trumpet and others play them with the most unusual hand positions. Your final decision as to how to hold your flugel will come with time. One thing you should consider when deciding is how easy is it to move the valve slides if they are equipped with levers to extend the slides. Most flugel horns have a spring loaded mechanical addition to extend the third slide. This is something you should definitely have on your instrument. My current flugel is a Conn Vintage 1 and the low D is not a major problem to lower but the C#, as with most three valve instruments, requires that the third slide be extended all the way out in order for the instrument to play in tune.
I have been asked many times, “How much time should I practice on my flugel horn”? When you first purchase you new flugel (or used), you need to spend some time on it in order to get used to the change in resistance, intonation and response. After you have become good friends with the instrument, set it aside and keep the valves oiled until it is needed. Seldom do I hear of any trumpet players that spend a lot of time practicing on their flugel. If you have an upcoming recital or an important recording session, then you get it out a few days before and reintroduce your self but you needn’t practice it as much as you do your trumpet.
This concludes my post on how to play the flugel and in my next post I will discuss some of the top flugels on the market today.