Thursday, March 08, 2018

Tuning Slide: 3.37- Summarizing and Moving On

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
In the past three months (December through February) I reviewed a good number of the summary statements we put together at the closing session of last summer’s Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop. Directly or indirectly here they are, alphabetically arranged, to jog your memory.

• Always have a relaxed breath. Warm, moist air
• Always play with your best sound
• Animals can’t change emotion- we can.
• Be comfortable being uncomfortable [Expect the unexpected]
• Be yourself at your full potential- Example of the rose, Inner Game of Tennis, p. 37
• Best way to go 1000 miles is to take first step
• Can’t do it alone
• Circle of influence is important
• Have to schedule the not urgent/important or it gets lost
• Hear it, study it, make it become natural
• If you panic you will die
• Just have fun! It will happen faster.
• Keep a journal/log
• Listen to your body.
• Negativity is exhausting. You will be negative about others if you are negative about your self.
• Never give up
• Never put out someone else’s light to make your light shine brighter
• Obstacles appear if we take our minds away from the goal.
• Only see our path of dots going backward
• Power of ask
• Setting goals (short, intermediate, long term) for practicing etc.
• Shoot high- don’t sell yourself short
• Taking the theoretical and making it real.
• The way we do anything is the way we do everything
• Therefore make good dots
• There’s always time to practice
• Trumpet’s a skill, but it impacts everything.
• When given opportunity to share- do it.
• Worst sin is feeling sorry for yourself- because it’s all about me
• Your best trumpet playing hasn’t happened yet
• Your best trumpet playing is only a thought away

An impressive list of ideas and thoughts that can keep us all busy for years. Take a look at it again and see where you might need some prodding- then do it.

Oh- this year’s Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop is less than five months away! I’m already registered and excited.


This month’s series I am calling
Myths, Misconceptions and Holy Truths.

It is easy to live under many misconceptions and myths. They are often based on seeming common sense or just plain old personality quirks. Over the past three years of digging into trumpet playing in many ways that are completely new to me, I have faced a few of these. Each Wednesday this month I will start with a myth or misconception I or others around me have had, talk about it, work with it, then summarize it in what I am calling a “Holy Truth.” You’ll get the picture.

My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.
-Various sources

A few trumpet players were having a discussion. As is often the case it turned to mouthpieces, perhaps the single most common area of discussion among us. We all have had experiences and all have our opinions. Opinions are, of course based on our subjective look at what has happened to us.

The question became, “What mouthpiece do you use?” The usual answers were there: Bach 3C, Bach Megatone, Schilke 14A4a. Discussions then wandered around to “cheater” mouthpieces, that is those that give an advantage for use when high register lead playing is a necessity. Again, we shared experiences.

“I just never felt comfortable with….”
“I liked it but my lip seemed to collapse with…”
“I got better range and endurance for the first time with…”
“Did you know that so-and-so has only ever used…”

Just for the fun of it I looked up Schilke’s list of standard trumpet/cornet mouthpieces. There are 53(!) and 11 heavyweight mouthpieces! That’s just one manufacturer!

Mind boggling and probably confusing as hell to anyone trying to figure it out. But we all have our opinions and they are, of course, right. Until we change our mind because we think there must be something better out there.

Looking for the better mouthpiece may be the #1 task.

But what really got me thinking was a very simple question. One of the trumpet players wondered if getting a mouthpiece that improves your upper register would hurt your mid-register playing, up to the G at the top of the staff, for example.

Well, I guess it could if you used one of the really upper-register-type mouthpieces for all your playing, but on a more general level, I am not sure why it should. Here’s why…If we are truly working on our overall sound and musicality, the equipment we use will not be the most important thing. It will be the practice and the sound.

Which brings me around to the misconception or myth this week:
the exaggerated importance we put into equipment as the magic bullet that will turn any one of us into the next Doc or Maynard.
In our pursuit of being a better musician, however each of us defines it, we may at any given time think that a different horn, a different mouthpiece, a different lead pipe could push us that one bit closer to Doc or Miles. Yes, a better horn or mouthpiece can make a difference in our playing. An old clunker horn that has too much (or too little) back pressure or valves that are poorly made will not sound as good as a good horn. Yes, a different mouthpiece may work better for you. I am even told that a model of a horn by the same manufacturer can even be different depending on the year it was built.

It can also degrade our playing if we think that all we have to do is get a new (fill in the blank) and all will be great.

The Holy Truth for the week then is simple:
  • Equipment is not the answer.
Okay, let’s amend that, equipment alone is not the answer because it can make a difference. But at the heart of it is the sound we make and the practice we put into it.

The question about a mouthpiece that improves upper register hurting middle register is a good example. A year ago I bought a new mouthpiece that has definitely increased my range and endurance. I am, as I said in last week’s post, hitting upper register notes I would never have thought possible with greater endurance. It also has a brighter and better projected sound. My wife, a non-musician, noticed that right away. I like it. AND, it has not caused any problem with my middle range because I made sure it didn’t.
  • I did not concentrate on the upper register. I continued to do my routine of expanding long tones starting at G on the staff. I kept going higher while maintaining the lower end. I made sure that I did not sacrifice that middle range.
  • I also concentrated on the sound I was producing in that range. I was letting the mouthpiece and the horn work together. When I am playing they have to be a single unit. Together they produce the sound.
  • Finally, I also worked on pedal tones. Guess what- I am also playing pedal tones better than I ever have. I realized that unless I was truly using a “cheater” mouthpiece to get to the upper range, the whole sound has to be there. Pedal tones are one of the “secrets” of high register playing because they help with the flexibility of the embouchure. Makes sense.
I will admit that I continue to look at mouthpieces as ways of improving my sound. After all, I am a trumpet geek. But it is going to have to be significant for me to spend the money on it, after all, again, the Holy Truth is

Equipment is not the answer.

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