Welcome to Weekly Trumpet Tips:
Please always feel free to respond / comment on any of the tips listed in these weekly posts. Your input may help clarify details for someone else!
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Tip #1 – Set Realistic Practice Goals for Yourself!
One of the biggest problems I have come across in my practicing is that when I set a really lofty goal, and don’t meet it by “X” day, it’s a discouraging feeling! That automated recording goes off in my head – “see, you can’t do this… you’re not as good as you think you should be, etc.” From there, it’s a downward spiral into not practicing or slowing the pace down. And every failure becomes magnified 100 times.
Here’s what I propose – pick a skill that you would like to improve… let’s use range and improvisation as 2 great examples.
First – RANGE:
Determine what your “all day / everyday” range is… high C? G / A on top of the staff? Doesn’t really matter how high or how mid range it is… we have to have a “baseline” to start with. Let’s use G / A for this discussion.
Instead of thinking, I’m going to be able to “use” E’s above high C by the end of the month, start with B / C. Range tends to not grow exponentially. That’s like going to the gym and expecting to be able to bench press 300 in a month or less when you’re really struggling with 100.
Now – employ a practice routine that emphasizes both range AND endurance up to your “all day” range. Major scales, classical etudes, play-a-longs, etc. Anything that keeps the horn to your face and makes you play throughout your range is the right kind of work. Just sitting in a room blaring out high notes will NOT get you to your goal! I tried that… I got older – not better. 🙂 But also understand that “REST” is also a key ingredient to this success. 50% work / 50% rest.
Second – IMPROVISATION:
Let me first start by saying that THIS skill is a biggie in today’s world! In my humble opinion, it’s FAR more important than range! There are a lot of high note guys sitting at home with sandwiches waiting by the phone… but (at least here), the soloists are the guys getting gigs. You don’t have to be Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, or Arturo Sandoval… but you should have competence working through changes.
Again – much like range – set your “goal” to be attainable. We don’t want to think long-term on this stuff… we need to think small baby steps (see last weeks tips for a refresher HERE ) in order to make long term progress. Neither of these skills is easy – if they were, we’d all be doing it! But they are both GREATLY worth-while!
Let’s say that you’re a total novice with improvisation, (but you understand how to swing lines in a jazz trumpet section). Make a goal that in one month, you’ll be able to follow the changes competently over a basic blues progression. Understanding how chords work in conjunction with each other gives you the foundation to venture off into more involved material. Your first goal is to understand what the chord symbols mean… Jamey Aebersold materials have a great nomenclature enclosed. You can understand pretty quickly and easily how things are constructed.
For me – improvisation is MUCH more involved than range… kind of like the difference between a quarterback and a line-backer. A QB is responsible for moving the ball down the field and promote scoring. The line-backers job is to push the opponents around and stop them from doing their job so the QB can do his. High notes = line backer… improv = quarterback (at least in my eyes).
Now to practice… apply the nomenclature information to the chord changes that you’re looking at. Learn the scales that are associated with each chord. Listen to the rhythm track before you attempt playing along, and see if you can follow the changes with your eyes and ears. If you can’t do that – you’ll never be able to “play” over them and follow. When you start to play with the recording, just stick to basic chord tones – the root, 3rd, 5th, 7th… so if your first chord is a C7 those notes are; C, E, G, Bb. Once you can play those, then move into what’s known as the “extensions.” The 9, 11, and 13’s… they create an interesting (sometimes dissonant) sound, but will give you an idea of what “flavor” or color you’d like to produce by note choice. Next – incorporate rhythmic ideas along with note choices. Don’t just run scales… start simple. Be adventurous – use your entire range, octaves, and also use SPACE! Don’t feel like you have to fill every second with notes. Complement the recording… don’t bury it!
Basic blues progressions are 12 bars… so make your goal for the first week to be able to play over (and not get lost) the first 4 bars. Second week, over the first 8, 3rd and 4th week over the entire chorus. RECORD yourself! This will give you a good footing for establishing practice habits that will encourage growth!
Tip #2 – Digest Small Bits of Information Daily
To go hand in hand with Tip 1, and not keep you here all day reading, when working with improvisation, start by running scales, arpeggios, etc. that are relevant and memorize them. The more you can get things to flow naturally, the more likely it is that they will “happen” in your soloing. Same holds true for range… the likelihood of really “nailing” a high note that’s not in your comfort zone under fire is really low! It “can” happen, but you certainly can’t count on it. So look to make things relaxed and natural.
“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because
someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
— Warren Buffett: American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist
Have a GREAT week!