This question is much like the chicken or the egg issue. Which should be taught first? One camp believes that without technique, nothing can be played and the other camp asks the question “what good is technique if it isn’t musical”. Both have their cases and in this post I will try to bring the two sides to a happy mid point.
Most of my early teaching was geared to the technical approach but as I increase candles on my birthday cake I must admit, all technique can have its disadvantages. One student who stands out as the most gifted technician on his instrument was without doubt the least musical that I have ever worked with. When assigned an extremely difficult solo or etude, this student would go home and the next week would come back and perform it perfectly. It didn’t matter how difficult the material was, within the week he would have it down. Unfortunately it would also be one of the most technically perfect and unmusical performances you would ever hear. On the other hand, I have had students who could bring tears to your eyes with the most heart wrenching performance of an assignment and miss half the notes. Could there be a happy middle ground in our quest for the perfect approach to musical playing? I do hope so and from what I have recently discovered, the answer may be within reach.
Last week I decided to arrange a composition which was far from the norm for my trumpet quartet. I decided to try to arrange the Second Study from the Clarke Technical Studies for Cornet book. This most recognized collection of finger busting patterns is one which proved to be a challenge. I found the repeated pattern to have a Baroque feel and that is how I decided to portray it. By the end of the day, it was arranged, printed and recorded. I was very pleased with the way it sounded. After recording and listening to the playback, I noticed that it began to have a life of its own. After many years playing these notes, I finally started to think of the melody as a melody rather than a finger exercise. Musical articulation and a new approach to the dynamics began to replace the boredom which I usually encounter while dutifully banging down my valves. Shorter phrases within the four measure melody began to surface. This perked my enthusiasm so I began to arrange other studies.
Shortly after posting the second study, I began to receive E-Mails of support from my readers. One such comment stated, “That….was….incredibly…beautiful”
This comment was an inspiration to me for my thinking was now substantiated by others. The technical can also be musical. After several orders for the Second Study arrived, I began writing arrangements for other studies. When considering the Fourth Study I was reminded of one of the comments which described my previous attempts as being beautiful. I had never considered Clarke’s book to be beautiful but after reading through the Fourth Study, I began to see the beauty in this pattern also. I then set out to arrange an even more musical version of Clarke’s material. I have included this arrangement for you and hope this will give you some thought as to the value of a more musical approach to the technical side of trumpet playing.
In closing, I must say that arranging Clarke’s Fourth Study changed my approach to technical practice. I have discovered another level of musicianship which is also reflected in my performances. Some may say this revelation was a religious experience, some may say that I finally got smart. I do know that each time I listen to my quartet arrangement of the Fourth Study; I ask myself, “Where did that come from”?
Listen to example-
The Clarke Technical Exercises written for a trumpet quartet are available as a set of #’s 1 through 5 at….