As the year comes to a close, it time for another anniversary article. The following article marks the end of seven years since I started playing the trumpet again.
MY PRACTICE ROUTINE
For the past few years, I've been working on the same basic exercises every day when I practice. I'll start with a ten-minute warm-up, followed by twenty minutes of slurs, interval, and articulation exercises. About a month ago, I was re-reading my 2009 Atlanta Trumpet Festival article and decided it was time for a change. Following Kevin Eisensmith's advice, I'm now incorporating the practice of new literature in my daily routine. Every other day, I'll focus on a few etudes or characteristic studies (e.g. Arban's, Jacome, jazz transcriptions, etc). On the in between days I'm still doing my old set of exercises. Hopefully the new material will bring new challenges and improve my rate of progress. It's probably too early to tell how this will impact my playing, but I do know that some of the characteristic studies that were giving me problems a month ago have already become easy to play.
This year I took my first jazz lessons since I was a jazz studies major in college. Two of the lessons were with jazz trumpeter, Joe Gransden, and two were with jazz saxophonist and educator, Mace Hibbard. I recognize that I have a lot to learn from other musicians, but I also know that I don't have enough free time to take regular lessons. Actually, I have enough time for the lesson itself, I just don't have enough time to thoroughly practice the lesson material. For example, it's been about 6 months since my first lesson with Mace Hibbard and I still haven't worked through bass lines in all 12 keys. I mention this every year, but the scarcity of time remains the biggest challenge in my comeback journey.
I'm always amazed at the progress I'm making with ear training. It's especially fun when I hear a tune or part of a jazz solo and I can just pick up my horn and play it perfectly. I can't always play the notes accurately by ear, but each year it's getting easier and easier. Thanks to the jazz lick mode of my free online ear training tool, I'm now able to hear and play more complex melodies that contain altered tones. If you're an aspiring jazz musician who needs help with ear training, be sure to give the jazz lick mode a try. Just look under the "Each box is a..." dropdown of the Melodies tab.
RANGE AND ENDURANCE
At the 2009 Atlanta Trumpet Festival, all of the clinicians mentioned that they practice playing high as a regular part of their daily practice routines. To date, I haven't done much practicing in the upper register aside from some slurring exercises, so I decided to add scales to my daily practice routine. After a ten-minute warm-up, while my chops are nice and fresh, I play ascending two-octave scales until I'm unable to comfortably reach the high notes. Sometimes I can't go any higher than a two-octave D major scale, but at least twice a week my chops reward me with a nice two-octave E or F major scale. I've even had a couple of days where I can play a three-octave G scale. Frankly, the high G is a barely audible squeak, but it counts!
I've made a little progress with endurance, but my chops still tire out after ten or fifteen minutes of jazz improvisation. That's because I focus entirely on playing the notes at the expense of chop preservation. In other words, if I hear a G at the top of the staff in my head, I'm going to play that G even if it means I have to use excessive mouthpiece pressure. I know, I know. Bad, Rick.
At the advice of Alex Yates, I made some changes to my embouchure a couple of months ago. This single embouchure has replaced the various roll-in states that I used to play on as a result of trying the Balanced Embouchure method several years ago. While I prefer the simplicity of using a single embouchure, it hasn't exactly revolutionized my playing or anything. In fact, I think I play a little worse now than before. Then again, I'm so used to playing poorly that I might have forgotten exactly how bad I was! Anyway, I've been working to strengthen the corners of my embouchure (I even bought a PETE), so maybe the new embouchure will improve as time goes on.
YET ANOTHER MOUTHPIECE UPDATE
As a final treat for the holidays, I now present you with another fascinating mouthpiece update! As you may recall, I bought a new GR 65M trumpet mouthpiece in October. I used the GR mouthpiece exclusively for 6 weeks and I'm sorry to say that I liked it less and less as time went on. The GR mouthpiece made it a little easier to play notes in the upper register, but in an odd twist of fate, I found myself struggling to play notes below the staff. My beloved low register, which had always welcomed me with open arms, was turning on me!
I might have stuck with the GR mouthpiece for a little longer, but I couldn't ignore the way it thinned out my sound. I hadn't noticed the thin tone when originally playing the mouthpiece because I had tried it in a room with vaulted ceilings and dazzling acoustics. In my small practice room, however, the thin sound was instantly apparent and undeniably unpleasant.
After six weeks on the GR 65M mouthpiece, I was so annoyed by the thin sound that I decided to do a sound trial with the GR and some of my other mouthpieces. I selected a few of my old mouthpieces, including the Yamaha 14B4 that I was playing prior to switching to the GR mouthpiece. I asked my wife to listen as I played some jazz lines on each mouthpiece. I started with the Yamaha 14B4 and then played the GR mouthpiece. Within 5 notes my wife told me to stop playing. In her ever so delicate manner, she said it sounded terrible, except she used more colorful language. I repeated the test a few more times, varying the order of mouthpieces, and every time my wife cringed at the thin sound of the GR mouthpiece, while she consistently preferred the warm tone of the Yamaha 14B4. And there you have it. Since it's such a hit with the ladies, I'm back on the Yamaha 14B4.
This experience has definitely taught me that I can't evaluate a mouthpiece in a single playing session. Like all trumpeters, my chops respond differently each day. Some days I can play high with greater ease, some days I have more endurance, and some days I can barely play anything well at all. I can't really tell how a mouthpiece will perform long term unless I can try it on a variety of these chop conditions over a period of several days. And I definitely need to try the mouthpiece in my practice room. Now if only I can find a mouthpiece with the sound of the Yamaha and the efficiency of the GR. The search continues.