About Me - December 21, 2009

Seven-year anniversary

All of my anniversary articles: 2 years - 3 years - 4 years - 5 years - 6 years - 7 years - 9 years - 10 years - 11 years - 12 years - 13 years

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.

JAZZ LESSONS

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.

EAR TRAINING

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.

EMBOUCHURE CHANGE

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.

Comment by Ryan

I'm sorry to hear you had problems with the new mouthpiece.

As several other people have mentioned (both here and on the trumpet forum you linked to when you first discussed getting the new mouthpiece), your main concern should be to develop a single embouchure setting throughout the range of your instrument. Being able to play those two- and three-octave scales without stopping to take a breath and/or make lip adjustments partway through will serve you much better than any single mouthpiece ever would.

That being said, once you get over that embouchure hurdle, I wouldn't count out the fact that there may be a better mouthpiece for you than the 14B4. But don't cross that bridge before you come to it. Think of it this way--you wouldn't spring for an expensive pair of sports shoes when you're still just learning to master the basics of your sport. When the basics are out of the way, you can reward yourself with the fancy equipment--and you will be skilled enough to truly appreciate the benefits that equipment offers.

Comment by Rick

Hi Ryan,

I totally forgot to write about my embouchure change! I just added a new paragraph on the subject. I'm already able to play those scales with the new embouchure when my chops are fresh. The problem, though, is that I can barely play above the staff anymore when chops are fatigued. My old roll-in embouchure may have been a crutch, but it did at least give me a little more life in the upper register.

-Rick

Comment by karim

Hey Rick,

It's good to stick with an mouthpiece that feel good to and get the sound you want. I know some cats who used screw-on rims with different cups. Also i'm been praciting out the Max Schlossberg book and about to get Colin lip flex book. Picking through the execrcises to see what works my embouchure.

Comment by Paul UK

Rick,

65M may feel right before you tire and build up fatgiue (by overpractise or overpressure) as it did for me. I use an E65MS, shallower bowl cup and flatter rim. Sounds great in an 8310Z.

(I also play a Warburton 4SV/7 for higher music).

You are right, you need at least a week if not a month to fully test a mouthpiece out. I borrowed some Wedge ovate rim tops looking for an answer to high note endurance and stability, they were not right for me long term BUT did show up my reliance on lip roll to make an aperture. My crooked lower teeth and soft lips have made it so that the mouthpiece is critical to successfully playing through 1-2 hours.

For help on the high notes, GRs Z mouthpieces and Warburtons SV tops work well, but there are many other workable combinations - the equipment must balance out.

Note that I was playing a 5M/8 in Bach trumpets before and moved up a mouthpiece size on the medium bore 8310Z. This helped my endurance considerably. It actually took me 3 months to get used to blowing the 8310Z.

Comment by Mus14

It is good that you are getting back to the elements that will make you a better musician. So you used to study jazz trumpet in college? Keep up with your practice regime and I hope to keep hearing you play.

Comment by Tom

Hi Rick,

Wonderful website! Regarding the Yamaha 14B4, I had the pleasure of visiting Yamaha's music store in the Ginza district of Tokyo where I was allowed a practice room, a professional trumpet, and a rack full of 25 mouthpieces. After playing a couple scales and notes on each, it was easy to sort them into three piles: bad for me, good for me, and not-sure-yet. Eventually it was down to two, and the winner, by blind testing, was the 14B4. I could reach four notes higher and sound richer throughout the octaves than ever before.

Also, thanks for the ear training application!

Comment by Norman H.

Rick -

Playing trumpet is like weight training. If you do 100 reps in a single sitting, your muscles are being broken down - not building up. Similarly with the chops. I switched from long practices to many short practices of no more than 15 min per day. Within three weeks I was strong enough to play high C every day. Within three months I was able to play a 3 hour band practice (not constant playing) whereas before 40-60 min was the maximum my chops could handle. I currently have a practice trumpet and practice mute at work. After a 15 min morning practice at home before going to work, I do three 15 min practices in my office at work. Then I finish the day with a 15 min practice after I come home.

Have switched from a Bach 3C to a Bach 7DW, but may experiment with a 6D or 5D soon.

I also do 5 minutes of the "pencil exercise" each evening just before bed (check it out on YouTube).

My range and endurance is now as never before. After 3 months of new regime I'm currently am up to high E and adding maybe a semi-tone every few weeks.

Your milage may vary of course,

- Norman

Comment by jesus-peru

Note: This following comment was originally in Spanish. With the help of Google translate and my own efforts, I believe the following retains the original meaning. Unfortunately I can't really help with the mouthpiece recommendation but maybe another reader can make a suggestion.

---

Hi rick, greetings from Peru, I also wanted to let you know that I played with two types of GR mouthpieces, the 67l and the Zony1. The first was recommended to me because I played before with a denis wick 1cw. I liked the 67l at first because the sound that came out was quite rich, very precise, but I did not have much flexibility on the lips. I then decided to contact a counselor a shop in Madrid and this person recommended the GR Zony1. At first everything was fine until I felt the same problems as the previous mouthpiece. I'm in a dilemma. Can you recommend me a another GR mouthpiece for me, because I like the sound of this mouthpiece. Thanks in advance and I hope you can help me a lot.

Comment by Mike

Rick,

It is great to hear about your journey. Over the years I have experimented with two or three dozen mouthpieces and many more horns. Of course, when you change horns you often have to change the mouthpiece. However, over the years since I first et Gary Radke back in 2002 I have played GR mouthpieces off one on for the past 13 years. I have played primarily the 65M and 65Z* for some time now. However, for variety I still try and play other mouthpieces occasionally. There are some fine mouthpieces out there - including Patrick mouthpieces. I occasionally play the 5with a 3C cup and an 81M. However, I always go back to the GR. my suggestion is that you do some Stamp. Also, I would work on long tones in each of the registers. Also, I would experiment with placement and pressure of your mouthpiece. You want a good vibration. The GR is an outstanding moc. You need to work with it and learn to trust it.

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