Construction course for the beginning trumpeter
I teach many students every 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 comes from (well, I guess we could do it with Maynard Ferguson), but it’s typically the area where most students, old and young, want to improve.
Unfortunately, students are often pressured to play high. A first-part trumpeter in high school is expected to play up to a C above staff; sometimes up to a D. Since the student doesn’t want to let the director down or make a fool of himself in front of the rest of the band (the trumpet is a very loud instrument and mistakes project as much as correct notes), he or she will do whatever it takes. thing to create these high notes. Often the wrong method is used. The most common is to use 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 great deal of pressure, my two front teeth became loose with a grinding noise one day while I was playing. After five trips to the dentist and $5,000.00, I began researching ways to play with less pressure.
Many factors must be considered before attempting a range building exercise. One factor that is often overlooked is how the student holds the trumpet. The student should be aware that the trumpet should be held gently in 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 wearing the pinky ring on the right hand.
Once this is established, a correct mouthpiece should be formed. Much controversy has always been present about the perfect embouchure. However, one that often works well is a combination of a smile and a frown. The student is asked to smile and then slowly purse their lips while continuing to smile. The result is an embouchure with firm corners and a center loose enough to vibrate (after all, to play a trumpet you have to vibrate your lips).
Finally, I will reveal the secret to correctly developing rank in students: AIR. This frequently used generic solution really works. It is common for many teachers, when all else fails, to blame air support for the problem. In this case it is air, but it is also a combination of other techniques.
To begin with, the student must get used to breathing deeply. To observe what the student thinks is a deep breath, ask them to take one. Most likely, he or she will breathe hard and fast, and her chest will visibly swell. THIS IS INCORRECT! The student is only using half of her lung capacity. I like to use the analogy of breathing like a baby. Every time she watches a baby breathe (especially when she sleeps), her stomach rises and falls. Observing this, we can conclude that we should breathe to the bottom of the stomach (or you can think of dropping the diaphragm). Try this: have the student breathe into the stomach; tell them to inhale and point to their toes. They will probably still be breathing hard and fast, but it will be deeper.
To improve this, we must help the student to breathe more openly. My favorite tool to use for this is an empty toilet paper tube. Try this: take the empty toilet paper tube and put it into your mouth (about 1 inch of the tube will be in your mouth). Seal your lips around it and inhale. First, you will notice how much air you are inhaling, and second, you may notice that the back of your throat feels cold. THIS IS HOW ALL BREATHING SHOULD BE DONE! Have your students try this out. It may be funny or ridiculous, but it will help. As for breathing without the toilet paper tube, ask the student to imagine that they have a baseball in their mouth. Ultimately, this will also lead to more open breathing.
Now that the breath has been covered, you can focus on the range. The best range building exercise I’ve ever used is one I got from Bill Adam’s routine. This exercise involves starting on a second G line, playing it as a long tone, and then expanding both ways in long tones. For example, you would start on G and then play F#, then G#/Ab, then F, then A, and so on. Go as high as you can safely go and as low as you can (pedal pitches work great for range exercises). Also be sure to play each note as one long tone. You can 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, you’re not only building range, but also getting your lips used to the different partials and developing your ear by playing long intervals. It should also be noted that low notes are just as important, if not more so, than high notes. A good three-dimensional sound should always be achieved.
The most important part of this drill is not to play higher than is comfortable for you or the student, as you could injure yourself. To avoid this, tell the student that the embouchure (lip position) should never change; just the amount of air. As the range expands upward, air must be pushed from the diaphragm (stomach) muscles.
I’ve used this method with beginners, and now all of those students have a comfortable range of at least 14 after 2 months of weekly lessons (average range for beginners is a range of 7 after a year). With this method, the student will be on their way to playing solidly in all ranges.