One of my all time favourite musical studies is from Donald S. Reinhardt’s ‘Selection Of Concone Studies: number 9. I first came across this wonderful study in a lesson with the great trumpeter Philip Jones, at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, U.K. I was also set it to learn when I was studying with the great trumpeter John Wilbraham. John was a perfectionist and paid tremendous attention to detail. He would study the simplest things for hours on end and his tremendous enthusiasm was infectious. He was always an inspiration to me and his achievements on the trumpet are immense.
John had a great sense of humour. For instance, he wanted to form an organisation called Alcoholics Unanimous. This would be for people who were considering giving up drinking. They would phone ‘AU’ who would immediately proceed to talk you out of it! He was affectionately known as Jumbo. Actually, this was not because of his immense size, but due to his telephone exchange number in Baron’s Court being 747!
I have revisited this study a lot of late and have taken it to pieces still further in my correspondence with the internationally renowned pedagog, Kristian Steenstrup. I also practice the study by changing the key to four sharps, reading down a semitone, transposing up a tone etc. I am looking for more flow of air, efficient breathing, making the best sound I can possibly imagine myself making and as much style and poise as I can muster. I am looking for a nice thick column of air and a nice vibration of the lips.
I am trying to avoid pressurising the sound and making a thin, bright sound. I do not want to blow in a forced manner which thins out the air, causing a thin, brittle, hard sound. A thicker column of air is required here. I think of how I would sing the study. I like to use the syllable touw, both physically and mentally as I sing and play the melody. I deliberately do not change this mental syllable as I change registers, either. Always a wide, open sound. This touw syllable leaves the tongue quite low in the mouth, allowing a thicker column of air to the lips, resulting in them vibrating with a bigger sound. I try to avoid blowing too hard, or too loud. Blow ’round’ and not so hard. The air is not that ‘fast’ but open. Think of the entire study being very round and beautiful. I make sure that as I descend to the low Cs I am singing in the brain so I can perform the manoeuvre smoothly and without force. I keep singing in the head right through this study. Every note must be mentally sung in the head as you play. The thinking, whilst playing, is so similar to singing, except a singer uses the larynx whilst we use the facial nerves to vibrate the lips. I find that control over the lips is impossible to achieve through feel. We have to do it by ‘singing’ in the brain as we play. We don’t develop control by blowing hard or forcing through, but by singing in the brain and supplying wind to the lips. It is far easier to be precise with the embouchure whilst singing in the head whilst playing. We can not manipulate the embouchure through feel as the movements are too subtle and small. Brass players are determined to want to ‘feel’ a certain way when they play. This feel is just a feedback and doesn’t tell the brass player very much. The two things the lips need to vibrate is the song in the brain and a supply of moving wind. If I may get technical now: we have a motor nerve coming down the side of the face, from the brain, which tells the lips what to do. This is the seventh cranial nerve and when we order sound from the brain the signal travels down this nerve to control the lips. We have a sensory nerve which goes from the lips, back to the brain, which tells the brain how the lips feel. People try to play by relying on the reports fed back to the brain by the fifth cranial nerve.
This is not valid information to rely on. The report back from the sensory nerve is already in the past, so what we deal is irrelevant. The only information we need is the signal going from the brain telling the lips how to vibrate. Therefore, what the really great players, the ‘naturals’, have always just thought about how the music should sound and that is how it happens. The rest of us are trying to ‘feel’ our way through. I find that when the ratio of our thinking, between ‘sound and feel’ is tipped in favour of the sound, (the emphasis being placed on music rather than what the embouchure feels like) the embouchure starts to work better and ’embouchure problems start to disappear. Always practice ‘sounding great’. if you start getting a bit tired and it doesn’t sound so good STOP! Go back to the concepts; work with the air, sing through the parts; imagine how good it can sound like; then, when you play again you sound your best. “We become what we do! Play to sound great, don’t practice to get tired!” – Kristian Steenstrup. It’s not about how much you do, or how many repetitions you do, it is about how good you sound whilst you are playing that counts. Let the trumpet in your hand become a mirror of your thoughts. Most of the time, people are working too hard and forcing too much. Unfortunately, this influences the sound adversely. This study is perfect for all the above concerns.
Other matters for consideration:
a) breathe in time at the beginning, on the fourth beat. This establishes a pulse.
b) make sure the fingers are moving precisely
c) when making a change to a difficult high note, make sure you make the preceding low note a thing of beauty
d) don’t be afraid to breathe regularly and deeply
e) blow freely, without force
f) continually mentally sing toh, tah or touw through every note to keep the tongue position low, allowing a free flow of air
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