Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tuning Slide: Sing Your Song

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

If you cannot teach me to fly, teach me to sing.
― J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan

After a previous post I got this from my friend and fellow trumpet player, Steve:
I began to think about the human voice either spoken or sung and I thought about the trumpet voice. I remember being taught that if one could make a good sound on the mouth piece, that sound would be even better on the trumpet itself.
This directed me toward a number of things related to music, voice, and trumpet.
  • The human voice itself is an incredible musical instrument.

    Scat singing in jazz is an excellent example. Some of Bob Dylan's greatest lyrics make no "logical" sense but are an incredible melding of the melody and the human voice singing actual words. The words form the melody as much as the notes. It does take a whole orchestra to match the range and wonder of the human voice.
  • Instrumental music often is asked to imitate the human voice.
    Cantabile- In a smooth singing style
    One could ask whose vocal style should it be imitating? Most composers are thinking lyrical music at that point, but I can imagine an instrumental sound like say folksinger John Prine's gravelly style, the rough edge of John Fogerty, or the smooth as velvet with rough feel of Jim Morrison of the Doors.
  • Many teachers suggest singing the part first before even picking up the horn.

    One said that means when you are playing it on the horn, you really aren't sight-reading it for the first time.
But even beyond the connections of voice and instrumental music Steve points us trumpet players to the trumpet voice itself and our using it in the best, most effective, and most musical way possible. Steve mentioned that if you can make a "good" sound on just the mouthpiece, the horn will only enhance it. Borrowing  a technique I discovered last summer let me add a bit to that.

Pull the tuning slide out and just play the lead pipe. Make it a solid, centered sound of "G" on the staff. Listen and keep it centered. THAT, my instructors have been telling me, is the basic on which all notes on the trumpet are based. The simple act of a solid, centered, even "G". The recommendation has been to do that every day as a start to your playing. Get that in your mind and you have the solid voice of your trumpet and trumpet playing. That brief action on Mr. Baca's part at the Big Band camp literally began a major transformation in my trumpet playing.

It isn't even about the "buzz". It's about the movement of air. All music is the movement of air. It is air vibrating at specific wavelengths, like A 440. I was reminded of this just this past Sunday when I attended (along with Steve) a concert and clinic put on by the Compass Rose Brass from Minneapolis. The trumpet clinic reminded us of this. It is one of those simple foundations of trumpet playing that we often forget. Keep the air moving at that steady pace. Learn how to move the air as needed. It isn't even all about the embouchure, although that is involved. It is about the air.

That in itself is enough to think about when talking about the voice of the trumpet- singing the song through the instrument. It is allowing the sound of the horn, the sound of the air, and the sound in your head to become music.

Which leads to your voice. We have talked about that from the outside when talking about story and song in the past month. But you and I may both have the same song and come from the same place, but our voice will be different. Like those singers mentioned above. No two have the same voice. Or take a song like Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man". A beautiful, mystical, mysterious song- when Dylan sings it. A beautiful "pop" song when even such a talented group as The Byrds sing it.

Even if you are not a good singer, you still sing through your instrument. Think about that a second. My horn becomes an extension of my voice; it is how I can sing. The Compass Rose clinic on Sunday reminded me that we need to think about the song we are playing, not just playing the notes. Think about the meaning of the music; translate that meaning into the way you play the notes; it's your voice, let it sing.

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