I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT

An aspiring jazz trumpet player's blog about jazz improvisation and ear training.

September 18, 2004 Trumpet Technique 0 Comments

Articulation Recordings - Q3/04

Check out Q1/04 for the introduction and first recordings. The introduction is important to understand why I'm doing these exercises in the first place. Also, you might want to listen to Q2.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2004

Just a couple short clips to show my progress with the double-tongued Clarke study and the introduction of double-tongued arpeggios.

iwasdoingallright - audio clip - Double-tongued, with a smoothed 'duh-guh' attack.

I'm getting pretty good with my smoothed double-tonguing in the lower range of the trumpet. As I climb higher in range, things start to breakdown. In the clip above, the first example begins on C below the staff; the second example begins on a G in the staff. The difference is pretty clear. Obviously, my goal is to keep the articulation smooth in all registers.

iwasdoingallright - audio clip - Double-tongued minor 7th arpeggios

I started working on double-tongued arpeggios about a month ago. This type of exercise should strengthen my ability to double tongue over intervals while improving my ability to outline chords in all keys. The example above outlines minor 7th arpeggios, however I also practice major 7th, half-diminished, and diminished arpeggios in the same manner.

January 27, 2004 Trumpet Technique 1 Comment

Merging two embouchures

As I mentioned in a previous journal entry, I've been playing with two embouchures since starting the Balanced Embouchure (BE) method six months ago. I begin the day with BE exercises, but when it comes to real playing, I revert back to my old embouchure. My guess is that every experienced player uses two embouchures (old + new) while developing a dependable BE. After all, we spent several years developing our existing embouchures, so of course learning a new embouchure will take time, right?

I don't know if trumpet players are an impatient group of people, but it seems like many of us (myself included) ignore the common sense approach. Instead of patiently letting our new embouchure develop, we get frustrated, looking for immediate results. I suppose this is a testament to how well BE works. When I first tried it, I hit some really high notes. I was thrilled with the idea that I could play them with little mouthpiece pressure. But, of course, I wanted to use it for ALL of my playing, right away.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. BE takes time. In my case, the frustration continued throughout my initial 4 months of playing BE exercises. While I was getting better at BE, I still found it unusable for regular playing due to poor accuracy and a lousy tone.

The turning point for me began a couple of months ago when I added etude playing to my daily practice routine. Specifically, etudes played ONLY with BE. Any etudes will work, but I personally prefer Charlier's. Each day, I open up to a page and play an etude very slowly. I don't worry about rhythm. I don't worry too much about tonguing either. I just try to play the etude as best I can with BE. I don't even play the whole thing -- just as much as I can while using a comfortable Balanced Embouchure.

There's a reason I mentioned that I don't worry too much about tonguing. For me (and others, it seems), tonguing with BE is a bit awkward at first. If not done properly, it will cause the note to break, forcing me to reset my embouchure. With practice, though, BE + tonguing does get easier. I just noticed that when I didn't worry about it, I felt less frustrated and consequently improved faster.

I still can't play any etudes with speed or great precision (using BE), but I am definitely getting better. More importantly, since I'm using BE to play *real* music, I've noticed that it's gradually getting easier for me to use BE instead of my old embouchure during my normal playing. And, when I do use my old embouchure, it's looking more like my Balanced Embouchure.

January 18, 2004 Trumpet Technique 1 Comment

My embouchure - finding balance

I've been working on the Balanced Embouchure (BE) method since July of 2003. During this period, I've been using two separate embouchures. I use BE for warm-ups, slurs, and when playing etudes, but I typically fall back into my older embouchure when playing jazz. I do this because I still play better (although in a lower range) with my old embouchure.

When I started BE, I found it really tricky to play in the "lip clamp" position. I have a pretty significant overbite (at least 1/3 inch), so it's hard for me to get my teeth to line up in such a way that the mouthpiece forms a good seal. I'd constantly end up with gaps where air would escape. Eventually, I gave up on a full lip clamp (as shown in the book's pictures) and just did the best I could.

After a couple of months doing the exercises, I didn't feel like I was making much progress (looking back, I can see I was probably just being impatient). I figured I needed some guidance from the expert, so I sent an email to the author (Jeff Smiley), along with a couple of video clips showing my version of a BE embouchure.

Jeff responded with several observations and suggestions. Everything he told me was in his book, but now I had things personalized for my embouchure. More importantly, I knew I wasn't making any major mistakes. This gave me the confidence I needed to continue with the program.

It has only been 6 months since I've been working with BE, but I already have positive and consistent results. I find that I can play above the staff with very little mouthpiece pressure. Also, even though I still practice a lot, I have no scarring on the inside of my top lip, nor do I have any noticeable scarring on the outside of my lip.

I know I still have a long way to go, however. The BE version of my embouchure is still pretty unstable. I also find that it feels pretty good in the beginning of the day, but after a few practice sessions, my top lip feels sore. Around this time, my range and accuracy with BE declines rapidly. I should note that my embouchure is looking more and more like the lip clamp pictures in the book, so perhaps I'm just beginning to get it right.

To close this journal entry, I thought I'd post an audio clip of me doing some slurs: iwasdoingallright - audio clip. These were done at the beginning of the day, right after my initial BE warm-up. Yes, the slurs are sloppy, and yes the high notes are very weak... but I'd say the results are pretty incredible considering the fact that six months ago I struggled to play above an E in the staff. If you're wondering what note it is that I'm barely playing at the end.... yes, it's a DOUBLE C!

Further reading: my progress after 2 years, struggles with range and endurance.

January 13, 2004 Trumpet Technique 3 Comments

My embouchure - the early days

In the early days, I played fairly well with a corner spreading, pressure-based, flat-chin embouchure: the higher I played, the harder I'd push the mouthpiece into my lips, and the farther apart I'd pull the corners of my mouth. I pressed so hard, that I always used to have creases/scars on the inside of my lip, where the mouthpiece was pushing my lip into my teeth. I also had a noticeable line (a half-moon) on my upper lip that followed the contour of the mouthpiece.

With this embouchure, my playable range went up to a D above the staff. I could play a handful of these D's every day, with decent volume and tone. My highest squeak during this period was an F above the staff, which I managed to play only once.

By the time I was a junior in high school, I was a pretty good player for my age, so I didn't worry too much about my range. Sure, I had listened to recordings of pros like Miles, Hubbard, and Wynton. I knew that they could all play higher than I could. I figured my range would also improve, as I got older. This sentiment would change once I went to college.

In college, I met lead players for the first time. These guys could belt out F's and G's above my high D, and they'd do it tune after tune. One guy's upper range was so strong that he could circular breathe while holding a screaming high note. I saw him do it once in a concert, while holding an A above high C.

For the first time, I became self-conscious about my own range. Was something wrong with me? Why could they play so high, while my range was stuck at a handful of painful D's?

I asked several of the high note players, including my college trumpet teacher, how they developed their ranges. And more importantly how should I go about improving mine. I got a variety of answers including:

"Range will develop over time, just keep practicing"

During the last two years of high school, I practiced at least three hours a day, every day. During my first two years of college I averaged four hours every day (even more before the blowout). I practiced more than any of the players who gave me this advice.

"Practice range expanding slurs and long tone exercises"

These exercises were part of my practice routine for a year or two. I never played even a half step higher as a result, nor did my existing range become stronger.

"Play more high notes. The more you play them, the better they get"

Believe me, I tried. If anything, my attempts at high notes were doing more damage to my range than good, due to the excessive pressure I used when playing.

"Point your chin down more to make it flatter"

My chin was as flat as I could physically make it. And, if I somehow could get it flatter, I fail to see how that would magically open up my range.

"Practice breathing exercises to strengthen the diaphragm"

One teacher wanted me to spend over $100 on a silly breathing apparatus. I never bought it, of course. I may have been desperate, but I wasn't stupid. I did, however, do a variety of other breathing exercises.

"Blow harder. make the air move faster"

Hey genius, thanks for the advice. I was always amazed that people thought I hadn't tried something so obvious.

"Get a smaller mouthpiece"

One of the high note players (the circular breather) gave me one of his old mouthpieces. He used the mouthpiece throughout his days in the Armed Services, while playing lead in jazz bands. I used the mouthpiece for about 2 years, with no positive results.

...

If you've played the trumpet for a while, you've probably heard a lot of similar advice. I'm not trying to say that none of this stuff works. Obviously it does work for some people. The problem is that it doesn't work for everyone, particularly people with fundamental embouchure problems: people like me...

Read part 2, finding balance

December 26, 2003 Trumpet Technique 5 Comments

My daily practice routine

This routine was last updated on December 23, 2011

WARM-UP

Caruso 6 Notes, followed by Caruso interval slurs (just 2nds so far): I added this to my routine (replacing chromatic long tones) in May of 2004, after attending a masterclass with Randy Brecker. His live demonstration of the Curoso exercises, and the explanations behind them, provided me with enough interest to give them a try. It's June 13, 2004 as of this writing, and I can already feel some benefits. Mostly, I feel this exercise is helping me to develop a more steady airstream. When I do try to play higher and louder, my notes seem to have more power than before I started the routine.

In 2009, I replaced the Caruso exercises with Chicowitz flow studies. After those exercises I work on my range by playing 2-octave scales. I'll start on a low Bb, playing that scale two octaves and then continue up by half notes. Usually I can get to an E or F scale before I'm unable to continue playing the highest notes.

The warm-up takes about 15 minutes and I typically start it at 7:30 in the morning. It is important to include periods of rest in your playing routine. A general rule is to rest as long as you play. So, prior to continuing with the rest of my routine, I'll rest at least 15 minutes.

FLEXIBILITY & TONGUING

Slurs: I play all of the slurs in the "Flexibility - One" section of Flexus. I start these slurs with a BE roll-in embouchure (or as close as I can get) and I focus on using very little mouthpiece pressure. After these slurs, I move on to the Flexando's, followed by the Arban's slurs on page 44 (#22). After all of that, I return to Flexus for a few of wide interval slurs (Flexibility - Three). The final slur exercise I'll do is #22 from the Arban's book's slur section.

Intervals: I'll play through the first 6 or 8 lines from the Arban's book's intervals exercise #1.

Tonguing: I single tongue study #2 from "Technical Studies For The Cornet" by H.L. Clarke. I try to go as fast as I can, with a steady beat and a clean-sounding attack. I typically start at C below the staff and play ascending exercises up to a starting not of A in the staff. I then repeat the exercises, this time with smoothed double tonguing (duh guh articulation). I usually end my tonguing exercises with Arban's expanding interval routine on page 125.

For all of the above, I only play as high as I can go without using excessive mouthpiece pressure. Once I'm unable to comfortably hit a note, I take a break and move on to the next exercise. Occasionally I try to continue where I left off, but usually my chops were right the first time. That is, they already knew I couldn't play any higher ;-)

The above exercises take 15-20 minutes. Since I start early, I'm able to get my warm up and chop-building exercises out of the way well before work begins! Well, actually, work often begins around 6am, but that's another story...

ETUDES

In December, 2011, I added 10-15 minutes of etudes to my daily practice routine. During the etude portion of my practice routine, I'll work on one or two classical pieces that challenge my range, endurance, articulation, or some other aspect of trumpet playing.

EAR TRAINING

As discussed in the ear training portion of this site, I believe ear training is an extremely important, but often overlooked, portion of any practice routine. I try to spend 15-20 minutes each day with a variety of ear training activities.

Random Melodies: I use my ear training tool to play random melodies. I listen and try to play the notes on my horn. Having worked with my ear training tool for several years now (as of Sept 2009), I've gotten fairly accurate with 5-6 note random melodies that use any note from the chromatic scale. After random melodies, I'll often put my ear training tool in Jazz Lick mode, modulating the exercises at about 160bpm. These have been liberating exercises, helping me to move away from the notion that some keys are easier than others.

Simple Song Playing: I use my simple song randomizer to produce random starting notes and song titles. I then try to play the songs by ear, from the starting notes. When playing by ear, it is important to relax. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Don't get stressed out and criticize yourself, regardless of how many errors you make. I find, the more you worry about precision, the less precisely you'll play. Everyone should read The Inner Game of Music, or the book that started it all.

Play-along with recordings: Put on some music and try to play along. Obviously, the same can be done with solos. Pick a phrase and try to play it back. At the same time, try to figure out what key tunes are in, try to figure out the changes, etcâ?¦ all by ear.

IMPROVISATION

I try to spend 10-20 minutes a day improvising (in short sessions). I find that when work gets frustrating, all I need to do is pick up my horn and start playing along with jazz recordings. After a few minutes of improvising, my mind is clear and I'm ready to get back to work. After work, I try to improvise for at least 30 minutes, but there are plenty of days where I have no extra time at all. I have a bunch of Aebersold play-a-long's, but I much prefer improvising with actual jazz recordings.

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