Weekly Trumpet Tips 7/19/16

Trumpet Shadow

The Shadow

Welcome to Weekly Trumpet Tips:

(1) Range Extension Practice

(2) Sound Man Nightmare!

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Tip #1 – Range Extension Practice

In 2008 I started this blog to talk about my quest for an expanding range as well as my growth as an adult trumpet player making his living by playing and (at that time) teaching.  I have since achieved all of my range goals from “back in the day” and have set new goals.  But one of the things that I learned on this journey upward was that there is NO set amount of time that it will take each individual player to accomplish ANY goal they set when it comes to playing trumpet!  It’s been an amazing journey in the 8 years since my first post and it only seems to be growing in excitement, intensity and “amazingness!”

As this is the case in most summers, I hear from 1 or 2 random high school students from nearly all around the world asking how they can increase their range by the time the impending school year starts.  My answer is always the same and nearly copied and pasted anymore… there is NO guarantee that if you do Exercise A, B & C, that you’ll expand your range by a 3rd, 4th or even an octave within 6 weeks or 2 months.  It’s true!  I had TONS of bad habits (and still do to some degree) that was holding me back when I first got serious about this journey… and then there was the equipment advice that I finally followed and it worked for me.  That does NOT say that it will work for anyone else… another big lesson learned.  Equipment choices are very personal – horns, mouthpieces and even mute choices.  It all depends on what sound you’re going for, what your physical make up consists of and how many habits YOU have.

So… for kicks, I recorded a practice session last week of me working on range.  It was a good day and didn’t repeat until yesterday – briefly!  Range expansion is about breaking bad habits, building familiarity with air requirements and facial requirements, building the necessary support muscle and losing the fear!  That’s right… LOSING THE FEAR!  It will be months (?) before I can actually utilize these ridiculous notes in any capacity… they require consistency, smart practice and knowing when you’re tired and when to rest.

DISCLAIMER!  This is NOT clean by any stretch… I haven’t put this out on social media (and won’t) because it’s sloppy and not something I want to show everyone.  But – I am putting it up here for your viewing… I watch it to see what was going “right” that day… pinching has always been a massive problem for me and while I still see some movement, it’s not as bad as the days where these notes are non-existent.

Hope you enjoy and can learn something about your own playing characteristics from watching…

Tip #2 – Sound Man Nightmare!

I have briefly written about this in the past and want to clarify how absolutely miserable one BAD sound man can make a gig for any musician or performing act!  The sound man’s first job is to make the artist he or she is mixing for, happy… an unhappy artist / group will certainly be detected by the audience quickly and can create bad blood between said sound engineer and group!  The second job is to make the audience happy!  A well balanced mix that can be comfortably heard – but not blaring to the point that it drives people out of the room!  Unless you’re playing death metal…

The biggest problem I have come across with sound engineers is that they are frustrated musicians who learned how to “kinda” run sound gear because they weren’t committed to playing their instruments… harsh thing to say I know, but ask a few bad ones and find out their history!  Therefore, they can push buttons and kinda mix guitar, bass and drums – depending on the room and the alignment of the stars… but throw a horn player into the mix and they are totally lost!  Most will NOT admit that they don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to mixing horns and they make it painfully obvious when the horns can’t be heard or the mix is so off balance that the horn player can’t hear anything past the guitar!  Now keep in mind, obviously this is not ALL sound engineers… but it’s extremely common to run across a sound engineer that doesn’t know what they’re doing.

My best advice to you is if you’re in a situation playing-wise that you have ZERO control over who is running the board, first try to find out how much they know.  I usually ask for a specific microphone and gauge their response.  I am NOT a fan of the all too typical microphone used for trumpet in this area – The Shure SM-57.  I think it makes the horn sound thin and unappealing!  I prefer using / asking for a Shure SM-58… it’s a very common microphone and most sound companies have a supply of them.  BUT – most of the sound guys here think it’s a “vocal only” microphone… If I get any pushback from them on my request, I’m pretty certain they don’t know a heck of a lot and therefore I don’t expect much.  A plexiglass shield that you can clip onto your microphone is a pretty good idea – as are ear plugs and preparation for a night of no monitors.  Therefore, you need to remember that your instrument carries very well and it doesn’t require you to over blow / blow out your chops!  Play to the front of the stage and nothing further… if the sound baboon is paying attention, they’ll turn you up in the mix – but don’t bet on that being the case.

My sax player told me a horror story of when he was touring with Wayne Newton… Wayne picked up a violin during a show one evening and tested it… it was turned off.  He was trying to get the engineer’s attention and failing to do so.  A band member inconspicuously left the stage, went to the sound booth and found the engineer deeply engrossed in an article he was reading in a magazine. DURING the show…

If you’re leading your band and are dealt a bad hand concerning a sound man… be prepared!  It’s an insult to the artist when they have to work with someone who doesn’t care about their performance – OR the bands.  Usually the young sound snobs think that they are the most important beam of light in the room and don’t realize that the artist is the main draw for an audience… and without an audience, we’re ALL out of work VERY quickly!  I personally am offended as a musician and an audience member when an audio engineer is dull witted enough to not listen to his / her artist!

I wish I could say that this is abnormal in most playing circumstances, but it’s not!  If you’re ever in this situation… just remember to play to the front of the stage (if you have no control) or, if you’re the main act, refuse to work with an incompetent engineer and make sure the organizer and venue are aware of it!  Sadly, some will try to be cheap and hire a warm body to sit behind the console.  A bad engineer can make a great artist sound really bad very quickly – and with all the social media these days it’s not a good idea.  Protect your craft!

As for worrying about what other people might think – forget it. They aren’t concerned about you. They’re too busy worrying about what you and other people think of them.

Michael le Boeuf – Author and Professor

Have a GREAT week!