Whilst I have been incapacitated by a recent dental operation and laid up with just about the worst cold I have ever had, I have been thinking about various discussions I have had of late with other players and students. In the past, I have tried every trumpet method, book and system. As I get older (and hopefully become a better & more accomplished player and teacher) I have been trying to develop simpler and easier ways of practicing.
I have said ‘Be Gone!’ to all wicky-wacky methods and have cast aside anything that doesn’t make me sound immediately better. I take no heed, whatsoever, to advice that doesn’t involve sounding great, either! It is no good someone telling me to put the mouthpiece here, or squeezing muscles there or hold these muscles tight etc. I have absolutely no interest in that stuff. I remember the great Jerry Schwarz, “… I don’t care how you do it, so long as it sounds right!”
In fact, someone recently told me to ‘practice to sound great, don’t practice to get tired.’ With this in mind, the old adage ‘It’s not what you practice, or how long you practice, it’s how you practice that counts,’ takes on more meaning.
I try not to think about embouchure, or what playing the trumpet feels like, during performance. Learning to rely on what playing the trumpet feels like is irrelevant and will do your head in.
Go by sound and the embouchure problems will soon clear up, in my experience. However, I do try to maintain good posture and to use efficient breathing.
I also adhere to the famous saying by the great Arnold Jacobs, ‘It is not what you sound like, it’s what you want to sound like.’
I do warm up the chops a bit, usually with a variety of those Chicowicz Flow studies, not for any reason other than they are easy for me to begin by sounding good and playing musically.
Once I have good sound and vibration off I go. That’s it! If my chops are already in at the start, and those days are all too few, I just go to the music right away.
At the moment I am really enjoying a particular Arban study. Call me old fashioned but I haven’t come across anything better! I can already sense young players hurriedly turning to the back of ‘The Arban Cornet Method’ ready to find this wonderful study. One of my old teachers, John Wilbraham, used to refer to ‘The Arban’ as The Yellow Pages!
I can sense those enthusiastic students wondering about how technique is acquired and how to maintain playing to a full time professional standard… ‘He gets to play a lot of first cornet and first trumpet with a great symphony orchestra.’ ‘He plays all that fast, hard contemporary music with Ensemble 10.10.’ ‘He gets to play all those high notes on the piccolo trumpet.’ ‘Composers are sending him new works to play for solo trumpet.’ ‘His students seem to play easily and enjoy their playing.’ ‘He must practice for hours and play loads of hard technical stuff’… Or perhaps they might just not be interested at all in how I do it.
I don’t practice technique for hours, nor do I warm-up for hours. I don’t practice in the extremes of range or extreme dynamics for hours either. I like to play something like the following study a lot, though. For me this is what technical practice is all about. I breathe about every 8 bars, sometimes four if I want to practice my intake of breath and the retaking of breath. I slur some notes, sometimes and I always very those articulations. I change the rhythm too. I may do a ‘dotted rhythm’ for instance. I also practice it single tongue, back tongue only, double tongue and backwards double tongue. I don’t play it fast, but a nice steady tempo. I practice either side of a medium dynamic, but not to extremes.
The main thing I do when playing the study, is ensuring I make no gaps between the notes, so that each choice of articulation is at least as perfect as the others – always smoothly, even if I use a more pointed articulation occasionally. I don’t make gaps, aside from breathing, at all. I try to play as easily and efficiently as possible. I don’t want to ‘work hard’ when I play, I want to enjoy playing music. However, I always try to play with the very best sound and level of perfection that I can imagine, never mind play. I always try to sound better…
There is no magic in this exercise, indeed it couldn’t be simpler, really. It allows me the freedom, like the Chicowicz, to sound as good as possible, in an easy way. My strength comes from this efficient, relaxed way of playing. Don’t waste years trying to improve playing the equivalent of ‘weightlifting’ and ‘stretching out’ for trumpet players. It doesn’t work. I should know. By the way, on a rehearsal and performance day, I will maybe just do, say, four run throughs of the Arban study. I don’t want to leave my ‘chops’ in the practice room!
Someone recently told me that Adolph Herseth does something fairly similar. He knew a thing or two about sounding great. Here’s some late footage of ‘Bud.’ Bear in mind that here in 1997, live in Cologne, he had been Principal Trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orhestra longer than our UK National Health Service had been in existence… He eventually retired in 2004 at the age of 83!
I don’t see the need for further unmusical technical practice. I will play a study, or a movement of a piece, or just practice bits and pieces of stuff I am ‘perfecting’ for work. Then I go to work and enjoy making music. The music IS the technique!
That’s it! It really is…
Brendan’s latest solo project – world premiere of a brand new major work for solo trumpet and double bass by international award winning composer Ailis Ni Riain.
We are then going ‘on the road’ and taking the new work on a tour of Northern UK cities. Come along…
Delia Derbyshire Day is an international convention to celebrate this pioneer of electronic music, who not only composed the Dr Who Theme but also provided so much impetus to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.