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Tip #1 – The “Fixes” Can Be HARD To See!
Hey Guys & Gals, as I continue my quest as a student of this art form, I constantly seem to run into morsels of information that at first make me feel dumb and angry that I initially missed them, but then I come to realize that sometimes the best hiding places are in plain sight!
Take this for instance… if I were to just come out and tell someone the exact method I used to fix a problem with my playing, the most common answer would be something along the lines of “ya, exactly!” Continued with a long speech about how that’s what they had to do, etc.
So here’s a couple of MAJOR problems that we run into as trumpet players, and some rather simple fixes that have to be followed exactly… deviation can cause further confusion and frustration.
Problem #1) Pinched tone in upper register –
Fix #1) Understanding that the aperture is not just where the air comes through, but also where the tissue vibrates to create sound is what will help clear this up. By moving the lips physically closer together inside the mouthpiece, and keeping the aperture less rolled in or tight, you’ll clear up your sound immediately. The hard part is making THIS the habit vs. pinching the lips or rolling the vibrating tissue in and away from the air stream making it tighter skin and less willing to vibrate naturally. Seeing someone demonstrate is the best way to really get a good picture in your mind.
Here’s the rub – conventional wisdom would tell the student that they have “EMBOUCHURE” issues or that they are closing their throat, etc. when truthfully the problems are coming from lips that are too tight and un-responsive. All the “embouchure” training in the world won’t fix that until you have awareness of the root cause.
Problem #2) Losing Track of Where the beats fall in cut time or double time –
Fix #2) By DRASTICALLY slowing yourself down (and using a metronome) allow yourself to be very literal with counting things out. When we move to cut time in most circumstances we are going from 4/4 to 2/2. One great way of processing this is to understand that your foot has to go up and down to be able to continue that pattern. In 4/4 time, our foot hits the floor 4 times, in 2/2 time, our foot hits the floor 2 times. You can still think if 4/4 – but count beats 2 & 4 when your foot is in the air. By starting slowly, you’ll give your brain a chance to grasp the concept and you’ll fix the problem much quicker than trying to sit there and play through the issue.
Most problems don’t necessarily occur behind the horn… they start in our brains! If we don’t fully understand what we’re doing, we set ourselves up for potential issues down the line. And the issues get bigger / deeper as we keep banging our heads into brick walls by doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
So this week’s first tip is to find the EXACT issue that you’re having in your playing. Most things that seem huge start with one small issue or misconception. By going straight to the source of the issue, you can root it out with careful, conscious practice… and it will take far less time than you might think!
Tip #2 – Playing Opportunities Sometimes Have To Be Created!
I get great comments, suggestions, and ideas from reading what you have to say in response to my tips. But one in particular caught my attention this past week because it’s a common thought pattern for a great many musicians – trumpet players especially.
This comment talks about how there are no playing opportunities in the posters area, and how it is very difficult to find the drive to continue to practice when there are no places to play.
I TOTALLY understand exactly what is being said… and would have been at a total loss as to what to say in response even just 1 year ago. But I made a life-altering decision last year to jump out of my comfort zone and tackle the biggest challenge of my playing career. I decided to leave the comforts of the cover band I had been playing with for 22 years (less the year with Boss), and start to learn how to improvise, be a band leader, and create my own group. An extremely daunting task for someone who has only been a lead trumpet player / side man all of his playing life!
Now just because I made that decision doesn’t mean that the gig opportunities started pouring in because I live in Austin, TX (the self titled live music capitol of the world). In fact it’s been quite the opposite. Being a “musician” first, I didn’t have the slightest idea on how to get out and actually start performing. Being “IN” a band usually means that someone else is handling the booking, etc.
So with much loving encouragement and a gentle nudge from my wife, she started to show me that “selling” my product (me / my music / my band) was no different than selling anything else. Whether it be hamburgers, cars, shoes, or widgets. I had to create a package that people would look at, contact the right folks, and stay on it until I was given an opportunity.
I think having no place to play is no different from having a lot of places to play in an over saturated market. That creates the mentality of “why should I pay you “X” when I can hire 10 other groups for 1/4 of your cost?” Keep in mind – I do this for a living…
Here’s where I’m going with this – if there are no places for you to get out and play that are easily seen, then go out and be creative. Perhaps pull a band together and go “gather” in a park with some tip jars out (providing the local law doesn’t have something to say about that). Whether it be a brass band, jazz band, concert band, or a cover band… you can start at the most basic level and grow into something bigger. And remember – music heals the heart, soothes the soul, and quenches our thirst for creativity.
Have a GREAT week!