Select Problems and Solutions with Advanced Players
1. Playing musically
I would say this has mainly to do with dynamics. My best players often play music at a very similar dynamic level. Dynamics should be changing almost constantly in music (unless otherwise indicated) and it is up to the performer to add dynamics to the music that are not written. Rubato, weight, and vibrato are important as well. Students should not be using vibrato until they have developed a very good sound that is very consistent and a relaxed way of playing. Vibrato cannot create a good sound or even help a sound; a player must be able to play beautifully and musically with or without vibrato.
2. Practice habits
Practicing is the most important component of getting better. Refer to the Practice Guide on my website. Too many students do not get better when they practice. They often run things but do not actually fix any problems. They must problem solve to figure out how to play things well. They must slow things down so they can play something successfully, as progress has to come from success. They must achieve three “perfect” repetitions on a passage before increasing the speed or difficulty, and must achieve three “perfect” repetitions on each new tempo before moving forward. Upon achieving the desired tempo, they must do many accurate repetitions to make the new skill automatic. They must practice often in short sessions and must practice as though they are performing; in other words, they must always “go for it”.
3. Lip slurring and flexibilities
Students need to work on playing slow lip slurs smoothly, easily, and without sliding between pitches. Air is the most important component to executing lip slurs smoothly and easily. The student must increase his/her air while ascending, blowing through the slur, while staying relaxed. Young students tend to decrease air upon slurring. At first, to execute an ascending slur, a student may make an abrupt air change that results in an accent. Eventually, the student should work to change air quantity and speed smoothly, not abruptly. The tongue is of great importance when lip slurring; lip slurring exercises are sometimes referred to as tongue level exercises. The tongue will rise as one ascends, and lower as one descends. To play smoothly, the tongue should be placed such that it does not have to move far to change notes, and it should change smoothly, not harshly. To avoid sliding, the player should wait as long as possible to change notes and then change quickly. Changing quickly without accent can be a challenge. Faster lip slurs, known as lip flexibilities, are used to develop strength. One should work to get the tongue and air to do all the work and minimize how much the tongue has to move to change notes.
4. Lyrical playing
Slow lip slurring is part of developing the skill of lyrical playing. One should also play songs like those in the back of the ArbanComplete Conservatory Method or from a set of songs by Concone. Playing as though you are singing is a very important concept. Listen to singers. Emulate them. Strive to play as smoothly as possible (no accents unless indicated). Strive to have as beautiful a sound as possible. Say something with what you are playing. Sing!
5. Soft playing/response
Students just don’t do enough soft playing. They should be playing long tones softly. They should be playing Clarke’s Technical Studies softly, slurred and legato tongued. Having good response on soft attacks and soft legato tonguing is very important to good trumpet health and efficiency. A note should speak as though you are starting a car with just a slight turn of the key; a little amount of air should produce a tone and an immediate attack on any note. Lower notes and higher notes are harder and therefore good to practice for response. Students should practice this skill; at the beginning of a practice session, the student should attempt to play a low F# pianissimo. Or perhaps a top-line F. Once attempted, the student should leave the trumpet for five minutes (it is this down time, when one’s chops get “cold”, that makes attacks more difficult). Then, the player should try again, perhaps a different note. Becoming secure with this type of practice will result in a very secure player. Coming in on a note after an extended period of rest can be very scary; security in this area will eliminate this fear. As part of the warm-up, and at the end of the day, the trumpeter should establish easy response on soft legato tonguing, not through forcing, but through relaxed repetition.
See the section on tuning tendencies. Students should use slides whenever possible to help intonation. This of course is not possible when notes are flat. Students will need to learn to “lip up” notes by directing the air stream upwards. Then they will need to strive to develop the same quality of sound while lipping up as they do when playing through the center of the horn. Students will need to lip down notes that are sharp and cannot be helped with valves.
7. Playing too much
Several of my serious high school students are so serious that they practice too much. More specifically, they are not getting enough rest. I have found that serious students who have trouble in the upper register are either forcing or not getting enough rest. If a student sounds tired, it can be because he/she is not practicing enough or not practicing intelligently. Have a discussion with the student about his/her practice habits to determine which one is true. If one is practicing a lot, tell the student not to practice when the lips are tired. Encourage the student to practice in shorter segments and rest more frequently. Adopt the habit of resting for as long as you play. Every time you play a phrase or an exercise or an etude, rest for as long as it took you to play the phrase, exercise, or etude. Rest is what makes the lips stronger. Every day, the student should feel stronger than he/she did the previous day. If this is not true the student needs to rest more.
This is connected to #7 in that there is a way to develop the ability to play for longer periods of time. I am discussing endurance not necessarily because it is a common weakness with advanced players, but because students generally don’t know how to build endurance. The first step is to actually work on building endurance. Some students complain about not being able to play for long, but they are not working on increasing how long they are able to play.
Some simple ways to build endurance (endurance exercises should be done as the last playing of the day):
Sightread one etude a day, always making sure to play from beginning to end without stopping.
At the end of every day, play through a piece of music that is about a page long, making sure to play from beginning to end without stopping.
You may take a piece and see how far you get before you get noticeably tired. On five days over the course of a week, play to this spot as the last thing you do at the end of the day. The following week, see if you can add a line or several measures, or one measure. Continue with this weekly process until you can play to the end and still have strength left.
A more advanced process would be to take a set of etudes and play them back to back with timed rest in between. You may try to play five etudes with five minutes rest in between each one. Do this once a day for five days during one week. Then, decrease the rest time to 4½ minutes for one week. As your rest time gets shorter, you will need to decrease the time by smaller intervals. Strive to play the five etudes with only 20-30 seconds rest in between.
One must be careful with endurance practice and not go too far. The student should stop when he/she gets tired, and if he/she is getting weaker and not stronger over several days, the student is doing too much.
In other practice, it is best to stay as fresh and strong as possible. This should be a priority.
9. Single tongue speed
Some students need to increase their single tongue speed. Try this exercise, originally developed by Herbert L. Clarke.
Find the tempo at which you can single tongue sixteenth notes on second line G continuously for one minute, taking relaxed breaths as needed. Decrease the tempo by 20 clicks and do this exercise once a day for a week. Focus on making your tonguing more efficient; try to decrease the distance the tongue moves away from the teeth, minimize the tongue surface used, keep it relaxed, and let the air drive it. After a week, increase the tempo by 8 clicks or so for the second week. By about the fourth week you should be back to your original tempo, but it should be much easier now. Continue to increase your speed weekly; you will need to decrease the increment of increase. Eventually, you may only be increasing your tempo by one click per week. Your goal should be 120. You will find that all of your tonguing, including multiple tonguing (particularly triple tonguing) will be easier and this may also help you feel more relaxed in general while playing.
10. Transposition and different pitched trumpets
Serious trumpet students will eventually need to learn to transpose music. Common intervals are up a half step, whole step, minor third, major third, and perfect fourth as well as down a half step, whole step, and minor third. The C trumpet is the next most commonly used trumpet and is used frequently to play orchestral music.