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Building Range for the Beginning Trumpet Player

I teach many students each week, and all of them are interested in one thing: playing high notes on the trumpet.

I’m not sure where this fascination that higher is better came from (well, I guess we could Maynard Ferguson for this), but it is typically the area that most students, old and young, want to improve on.

Unfortunately, students are often pressured to play high. A first part trumpet player in high school is expected to play up to an above the staff C; sometimes, up to D. Because the student does not want to disappoint the director or look foolish in front of the rest of the band (the trumpet is a very loud instrument, and mistakes are projected just as much as correct notes), he or she will do anything to create these high notes. Often, an incorrect method is used. Most common is using too much pressure.

Some pressure is required to play the trumpet. However, too much pressure can create problems, such as loose teeth and fatigue. As a victim of too much pressure, I know firsthand the dangers that can occur. After 15 years of playing with a large amount of pressure, my two front teeth came loose with a cracking sound one day as I was playing. Five trips to the dentist and $5,000.00 later, I began researching methods on playing with less pressure.

Many factors must be accounted for before attempting a range building exercise. An often over-looked factor is how the student holds the trumpet. The student should be aware that the trumpet should be gently supported by the left hand; the right hand is only used to press the valves. The student should avoid putting a “death grip” on the trumpet with the left hand, and should avoid using the pinky ring on the right hand.

After this has been established, a correct embouchure should then be formed. Much controversy has always been present on the perfect embouchure. However, one that usually works well is a smile-pucker combination. The student is asked to smile, and then slowly pucker the lips while still smiling. The result is an embouchure with firm corners and a center that is loose enough to vibrate (after all, to play a trumpet one must vibrate the lips).

Finally, I will reveal the secret to correctly developing range in students: AIR. This often used, generic solution actually does work. It’s common for many teachers, when all else fails, to blame the problem on air support. In this case, it is air, but it is also a combination of other techniques. To begin, the student must become used to taking a deep breath. To observe what the student thinks a deep breath is, ask him or her to take one. More than likely, he or she would breathe in loud and fast, and his or her chest would visibly swell up. THIS IS INCORRECT! The student is only using half of his or her lung capacity. I like to use the analogy of breathing like a baby. Whenever you watch a baby breath (especially when sleeping) his or her stomach rises up and down. By observing this, we can come to the conclusion that we should breathe all the way down into our stomach (or you can think of dropping the diaphragm). Try this: have the student breathe down to their stomach; tell them to breathe in and aim for their toes. They probably will still take in a loud, fast breath, but it will be deeper.

In order to improve on this, we must help the student take a more open breath. My favorite tool to use for this is an empty toilet paper tube. Try this: take the empty toilet paper tube, and put it inside of your mouth (about 1 inch of the tube will actually be in your mouth). Seal your lips around it, and breathe in. You will notice first off how much air you are taking in, and secondly, you may notice that the back of your throat feels cold. THIS IS HOW ALL BREATHING SHOULD BE DONE! Have your students try this. They may find it funny or goofy, but it will help. As for breathing without the toilet paper tube, tell the student to imagine that they have a baseball in their mouth. This will ultimately lead to more open breathing as well.

Now that breathing has been covered, range can be focused on. The best range building exercise I have used is one that I obtained from the Bill Adam routine. This exercise involves starting on a second line G, and playing it as a long tone, and then expanding out both ways on long tones. For example, I would start on G, and then play F#, then G#/Ab, then F, then A, and so on. Go as high as you safely can, and as low as you can go (pedal tones work great for range exercises). Be sure to also play each note as a long tone. You can either assign a specific number of counts (such as playing each note for 8 counts) or just play them until you run out of air. By expanding out, you are not only building range, but also getting your lips used to the different partials and developing your ear by playing large intervals. It should also be noted that low notes are just as, if not more, important than high notes. A good, three dimensional sound should always be attained.

The most important part of this exercise is to not play higher than is comfortable for you or the student, as injury could occur. To prevent this, tell the student that the embouchure (lip position) should never change; only the amount of air. As the range expands upwards, the air should be pushed from the diaphragm (stomach) muscles.

I have used this method on beginners, and now all of those students have as comfortable range of at least a 14th after 2 months of weekly lessons (the average range for beginners is an interval of a 7th after one year). With this method, the student will be on his or her way to playing solid in all ranges.

Don Stinson is the owner of Don Stinson Brass. He performs throughout the Chicagoland area, and teaches privately to beginning through advanced students. For more information, visit http://www.donstinsonmusic.com.

Contributed by: Don Stinson
Contributor e-mail: donstinson@aol.com
Contributor organisation: Don Stinson Brass

Outside of your music lessons - Practicing

Practice makes perfect. These three words are heard every day and time after time these words are ignored. But why? Music is such a vast subject that for anyone, even the professionals, mastering it is near impossible. With years of work one can be very knowledgeable in specific areas of music but it would take more than a lifetime to fully understand every aspect of an instrument or music theory.

With that in mind hopefully people should start to understand that having a one hour lesson once a week is not even close to enough to gain substantial progress and development on a musical instrument.

This series of articles offer tips on practicing music which will hopefully demonstrate the benefits, enjoyment and fulfilment that can be gained through practicing music.

1. Goals are key. It is human nature to take pride in reaching a goal whether a promotion at work or winning a competition. If you have a set goal to reach you will be more willing to put in the work required to achieve it. Some examples of goals could be to learn the latest song you’ve fallen in love with, to be able to sight read in a certain key, to develop faster, more technical playing or to reach a certain exam grade before a certain period.

2. Little often is better than a lot occasionally. One key point to remember is that repetion is the quickest way to learn something due to your brain and muscles ability to develop and store a so called ‘muscle memory’. It will take a substantially longer time to learn and retain your new knowledge if you practice for a long period but only occasionally. See tip 3 on how to easily incorporate regular practice sessions into your daily routine.

Another benefit of practicing a little often is that your concentration levels are kept up throughout your practice session. Brass players will understand this the most – after playing a trumpet or any brass instrument for approximately an hour your lips start to feel numb which in turn begins to restrict your playing abilities. The knock on effect of this is that the longer you practice without a break, the more harm ultimately you will cause yourself – both mentally and physically – it will knock your spirit and could even do damage to your embouchure. Obviously this applies to all instrument groups; as is well documented repetitive strain injury is common among musicians. The primary cause of this is improper technique but as the name implies too much repetition through a movement can create serious effects. Therefore if you are practicing for longer periods be sure to take regular breaks – 5 to 10 minutes for every 50 minutes for adults and 10 to 15 minutes for every 25 minutes for children.

3. Routine. Imagine this – every morning you wake up, maybe make a cup of coffee or sort through the post and eventually at some point you will go to the sink and brush your teeth. Now most people do this without any thought – it is just something that gets done. This is the effect of getting into a routine. If you set aside a time each day to practice, away from distractions if possible, you will get into this routine making it much easier to practice, it becomes a part of your day to day life.

4. Practice with a partner. Most humans love competition – especially if you know you are the winner – and by tapping into this you’re making your practice session less of a chore and more of a game. Set challenges between you both and find some reward for the winner. The other benefits are that you gain an outsiders opinion and criticism on your playing, the opportunity to practice duets and you will have some company rather than being locked away in your bedroom.

This is just a glimpse at the different methods you can adopt to improve your practice and in the next article I will demonstrate some more music based tips to help you improve; using a metronome to develop your internal body clock, a fun method for scales and arpeggios and how and why you should be incorporating sight reading and music theory into your practice sessions.

For now just focus on your desires and on the reasons why you started music and give the tips above some thought.

This article is free for reproduction providing it remains in its original form and an active link to http://www.realmusicproduction.com/pl.php is present.

Edward Droscher is the founder of Real Music Production and works to develop music education systems privately and in schools. For more information or details on music instruction please visit http://www.realmusicproduction.com or email info@realmusicproduction.com

Contributed by: Edward Droscher
Contributor e-mail: info@realmusicproduction.com
Contributor organisation: Real Music Production

Choosing the right music teacher

Learning an instrument is one of the most enjoyable activities you can do - it creates a sense of fulfilment and of pride. It can get tough at times with practicing and learning never ending pieces of information.

The best way to learn an instrument is to find a music teacher. In fact the best way to learn anything in life is to find a tutor and to take on the task head on and learn from actually doing.

People say that you learn from your mistakes – partly true due to the fact you know what NOT to do but I believe there is a key point missed here – at least you are actually DOING something.

A teacher is someone to show you the path, the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. At the end of the day they know what they are doing and talking about – you probably don’t – and it’s because of this, the fact that you put all of your trust into your teacher, that you should be very careful about ensuring the teacher you choose is up for the job.

Here is some advice on choosing your teacher and what to look out for.

1. Previous Experience. It is essential that your teacher has previous experience. There are two types that count – performing experience and teaching experience. It is important that your music teacher is actually a musician – the best reason I can think of why is this – imagine instead of learning an instrument you want to learn how to scuba dive. Would you let yourself be taught by someone who has studied diving from books but never actually been under the water? If your teacher shows that he has performed music it gives you some guarantee that they are of a high enough standard musically – chances are they wouldn’t have been hired if they couldn’t play their instrument. The second is teaching experience. After discussing how it is important for your teacher to of actually been involved in music it is also important that the have experience in teaching music. Teaching is a completely different art to performing. Most musicians tell me that they learn more through teaching than they do from any other source - when you teach you instantly reveal your own weak points. The opposite of this is true as well actually – how many times have you heard someone who recently passed there driving test say ‘you don’t learn how to drive until your out on the road on your own – after your lessons and test’ (This carries over to a future article – Why performing is critical to your progress as a musician.) So – make sure your teacher is both a musician and a teacher.

2. Attitude. Often people ask for character references – estate agents, employers – most people looking to hire someone. This is also true for finding a music teacher.

The hardest part about teaching is succumbing the frustration of ‘well I know how to do it, why cant they’.

Learning is much easier in a friendly environment – did you ever notice that the teachers that had a laugh and were fun often taught you the most? In human nature it is common to be stubborn and resilient and it is a teachers personality and character that helps connect with you therefore making the experience enjoyable thus increasing the productivity of your lesson.

Although it is not generally going to be possible to get a reference from a teacher but use your first lesson as a trial. Get to know your teacher a bit and get a general feel for the lesson – if you have fun and enjoyed every minute then you’ve probably found a good teacher character rather than if it was drab and boring.

If you can talk to some of your prospective teachers other students. See if they enjoy their lessons and what there overall comments are.

3. Flexibility. Again this covers more than one topic – flexibility as a musician and as a teacher.

In the long term you are going to begin expanding your musicality. For example – wood wind players generally begin learning one instrument, maybe clarinet or saxophone. Eventually, and if thy want to pursue music, they will begin learning other woodwind instruments as it is common for, say for instance a saxophone player, to play clarinet, flute even through to oboe and bassoon.

Because of this you are going to want a teacher that can provide this in the long term. After months and years of lessons with your teacher you won’t want to find that in order to progress further you need to find a new teacher and again begin to create the bond that you would have developed with your current teacher.

Positive things to look out for are: • If your teacher still has lessons and practices (even the most professional musicians still have lessons – see the beginning of my article – Practicing music – what to do outside of your private music lessons to find out how it is impossible to learn and master every aspect of music) • If your teacher teaches more than one instrument (be wary of teachers that teach, for instance, trumpet and flute – whilst musicians do end up playing completely irrelevant instruments they generally will stick to teaching their primary instrument.) • If your teacher is still an active musician – this is a gray area because where it is easy to assume that your teacher, not an active musician maybe is not good enough to perform music, it is possible that your teacher prefers teaching than performing. The benefit if they are still an active musician is again they will be learning constantly and they will still be an active teacher during this period.

To a lesser extent the other flexibility to look out for is there organisation in regards to lessons. It is positively advised that regular lessons – or regular anything – is good for you. Regular exercise keeps you healthy, regular sleep keeps you alert and regular lessons help improve your musical playing.

If your teacher will constantly phone up to re-arrange or misses lessons or is late for your lessons it will have a negative effect on you. Psychologically the fact that you haven’t got into a routine with your lessons and the fact that you keep getting let down will make you less enthusiastic towards your music lessons.

So find a teacher that offers many years of tuition rather than a limited number of months and someone who will keep regular dates and hold his promises of this dates and times.

Hopefully this article will give you some food for thought if you decide to find a music teacher and just remember that unless you are enjoying and learning your instrument – maybe you need a new teacher.

This article is free for reproduction providing it remains in its original form and an active link to http://www.realmusicproduction.com/teachers.html is present.

Edward Droscher is the founder of Real Music Production and works to develop music education systems privately and in schools. For more information or details on music instruction please visit http://www.realmusicproduction.com or email info@realmusicproduction.com

Contributed by: Edward Droscher
Contributor e-mail: info@realmusicproduction.com
Contributor organisation: Real Music Production

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