Using Technology to Improve Your Trumpet Playing- Using an oscilloscope

Visualizing Your Sound

Many times I am asked , “Who do you think has the best trumpet sound?” Some would say Clifford Brown, some would offer the name Maurice André, Bud Herseth or “Bix” Beiderbecke. Everyone has an opinion but the real question should be, “Why do they have the sound we strive for”? Some say the secret to a good tone quality lies in the equipment used and some believe that the resonating chamber in each person is the reason. Whatever the reason and whoever you are speaking of, one thing is a known fact, through technology, we can easily SEE the difference in good and bad trumpet tone and with simple equipment, time and the desire, we can improve our tone quality. Continue reading to find how you can accomplish this improvement overnight.

Required equipment-

• Computer
• Microphone (internal or external)
Audacity program

Getting your recording program to work.

• Read the instructions
• Read them again
• Call the service number for help

How to use your recorded signal.

I will assume that you have installed your free Audacity program and have been able to see your recording on your screen. Viewing an audio signal is amazing for all those jagged peaks and valleys will be helpful for you to actually SEE your tone on the screen.

Exercise #1- Producing and recording your best sound.

• Play your best sustained note into the microphone as you record your playing.
• Again, on a second track, play with the worst sound you are capable in the same manner.
• Cut out a representation of both tracks (about two seconds of signal) and save them/ or cut out the beginning and end sections you are not going to use.
• Take the magnifying tool and enlarge the signals as much as you need. You can use the photo at the top of the page as a guide.
• Notice the difference between the two images. The best tone will be represented as extended high peaks and the poor tone will have more of a mushy look to it.

Now you know what a good tone looks like and what a poor tone looks like. So…what do you do next?
You have illustrated the difference, visually what the two look like and now we need to move one step further to reach your goal of the most beautiful sound made by man/woman.

In order to make your next move, you will have to acquire an oscilloscope. You may ask, “What is an oscilloscope?” At the beginning of this series, I used a picture of an oscilloscope as the opening photo. Check back if you are not familiar with the term and as you look, I’ll wait here for you……

….Welcome back.

The reason you will need an oscilloscope is that even though you have seen the difference in tone quality on the computer screen, using an oscilloscope will make it possible for you, through the process of bio-feedback, to practice widening and improving your tone. The image that you captured in your Audacity program gave you information at that moment in your recording. What we want to do now, through the use of an oscilloscope, is give you a visual indication of your tone in real time.

Exercise #2- Playing into an oscilloscope.

• Read the instructions
• Read them again
• Call the service number for help

Exercise #3- Using Biofeedback to improve your tone quality.

• Play your best note into the machine.
• Notice how the signal widens as you increase your volume.
• Generally the more overtones you are able to produce, the higher the peaks become.
• Do not confuse increased decibels with improved tone.
• Keep your volume the same as you change your embouchure.
• Most often, a more relaxed embouchure will produce more overtones and consequently a bigger sound and an increase in decibels.

Continue for ten or fifteen minutes and mentally absorb what you are doing. Each time you play a note into the machine, you are given a visual readout of what your tone has registered. Once you understand what is going on between you and the oscilloscope, begin to widen your range of notes and apply what you have learned in the middle register.

I first began using the biofeedback exercise in my own playing. Then I began letting my students play around with it. In a very short time, each student was able to open their sound to the point that everyone could hear the difference. Each student gained a bigger, more centered, richer tone, using less effort.

After working in my studio one summer at UNI, I got to the point that I could add so many overtones to my sound that it actually became painful to the ear. It is possible to exceed the use of overtones and begin to develop a tinnier, disturbingly edgy sound.

Disclaimer- The information posted above is from my own experience and in no way should it be used as a guide for the selection of any particular oscilloscope.

Before you purchase, beg, borrow, steal or rent a unit, seek advice from someone who knows the difference from one unit to another. The oscilloscope I used is the same model as the one on our first post. You can find many units on EBay but before you make your purchase, be sure that it will function properly in this situation.

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.

2 thoughts on “Using Technology to Improve Your Trumpet Playing- Using an oscilloscope

  1. Maciej

    After I had read your post I wondered if there were any oscilloscope apps for the PC on the web and indeed there were. I like Scope best but even Audacity can show you real time oscilloscope visualisation of the sound input to the sound card. All you have to do is to start recording your sound and then zoom in until you see peaks and downs. To have a better view, you can increase the size of the widget that displays the graph. Is it significantly different from the feedback provided by the equipment you know from practice? Would you recommend it?

    Thanks for your blog! I found there a lot of useful information and ideas to make my trumpet playing more interesting. I’m still just a beginner and having access to knowledge from an experienced musician and trumpet teacher is of great value to me.

    • Bruce Chidester

      Thank you for visiting our site and I will “Scope out” Scope this evening.

      I just celebrated my 70th birthday and I have been playing my horn almost constantly from fourth grade on and I still consider myself a beginner,

      If you want to see a REAL musician, go to this site…….

      I will be posting my second page on him very soon.

      If you have any questions that I can help you with, please feel free to send them.

      Be sure to check out my other site which has a ton of free trumpet sheet music…………

      Keep practicing and don’t forget the long tones!

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