Topics for Trumpet & the Emerging Musician, and tips for practicing

Back in January, I gave a presentation to the University of Iowa Trumpet Studio with regards to trumpet and being a musician as well as "team player" within an ensemble. This is a general overview that could be even more in-depth with more topics, but bare with me on and read what I've provided below:

Topics for Trumpet and the Emerging Musician

ENSEMBLE ETIQUETTE

As contributing member of any ensemble, you must take heed of the “unwritten” rules as a musician. Below are just a handful of rules one must follow that can be applied to any type of ensemble setting whether it be university ensembles or professional.

Rules:

It is important to treat all experiences whether they are amateur, school-related, or professional seriously. You are the professional, and you must act like it.

  • Be punctual! Arrive to rehearsals with ample time for you to warm-up, focus, and adjust to the rehearsal space

    • For University ensembles, it would be ideal to arrive 10-15 early to rehearsals to help set up the room and other tasks

    • For professional ensembles (full-time or part-time gigs), arriving 30-45 minutes early would be ideal, especially if you are a substitute player playing with an orchestra, band, quintet, etc. First impressions matter! You may also run into issues finding parking or hitting traffic, so this buffer time is essential.

  • Be prepared!

    • If music is sent to you weeks in advance, do not wait until the last minute to prepare. Looks can be deceiving, and you may face issues moving forward. Perfection is demanded in the professional setting, and if you aren’t prepared, you may not get called back.

    • You and the rest of the musicians will benefit when all of you are prepared for rehearsals as you will spend more time making music rather than “wood-shedding” or “practicing” parts.

  • Be conscious of your warm-ups!

    • Do you think it’s really appropriate to “practice” your solo repertoire or orchestral/band excerpts prior to a rehearsal? Will playing someone else’s solo bring you one step closer to a higher seat?

    • Is blasting notes obnoxiously OK?

    • Is practicing excerpts from the music you’re about to rehearse OK?

    • Your colleagues may not appreciate a lot of noise if they may be trying to tune or warm-up as well

  • Be focused!

    • Along with preparation, always be paying attention. This means NO CELL PHONES, NO BOOKS, and NO HOMEWORK when at rehearsal. This is distracting and disrespectful to your fellow musicians and conductor. Bringing a score and following along may be OK

    • Actively listen even in ridiculously long rests or tacet movements of a piece. You’ll learn a lot with the music, especially if you have a score. Mark your parts for cues that will help you count your long rests.

    • Sometimes conductors blaze through music and sections; be prepared for spontaneity

  • Be quiet.

    • Unless you have something important to say or ask, do not talk at all. Even in community groups, it’s always good to practice good habits and act professional. There will always be a time and place to socialize, but not when rehearsal is occuring. Before or after rehearsal is when you can chat with colleagues and friends.

    • If you’re talking when the conductor is speaking, you may have missed valuable information of where he/she will begin or what to look/listen/focus on when playing a run-through

    • Even if something or someone in rehearsal is annoying or frustrating you, hold your tongue. You don’t know if what you say will hurt another person or come back to you. Karma...

    • Don’t distract others by:

      • Drawing attention to yourself with making weird noises, counting out loud

      • Being oblivious to social cues

 

What are some expectations of members of an ensemble that you can think of? Pet peeves?

There’s always going to be good gigs and bad gigs. Don’t be pessimistic or act entitled when you’re given a bad part or are part of a lower-level ensemble. Use your anger and frustration as fuel for you to practice more, or as an opportunity to step-up. Always play your best, and you may even influence the musicians around you to better themselves. If you practice and get better, you’ll unlock more opportunities to play with better players.

Don’t take ensembles in the schools or college for granted because you may never have an opportunity to play with good players when you graduate, and will regret not trying harder. These groups are a safe space to make mistakes and learn from them. They create the ideal situation that you yourself want to be in as a professional.

Charlier’s Advice to Young Players

“In an orchestra, be attentive and do not speak whilst a piece is being played (except when absolutely necessary). Keep your instrument in perfect playing order and choose mutes which do not distort the sound in any part of the range.

Do not practice loudly while the orchestra is warming up; especially avoid going through passages in the work to be played -- this is in bad taste. Do not turn pages noisily, especially when the orchestra is silent.

Be in your in time and, during rehearsals, go out as little as possible.

Pull the slides out gently with the valves lowered so as not to cause the compressed air pop.”

SECTION PLAYING

There are so many aspects to what makes a great instrumental section. What are qualities that make a good section? Can you list any thoughts regarding what it means to be a principal/lead player or section player that’s not below?

What is the role of a principal player?

  • Sets expectation, standards, and example of the section

  • Prepared for all rehearsals

  • Leads section in:

    • Splitting/assigning parts (not all the time)

    • Musical decisions (when allowed)

    • Cueing important moments in music

  • Communicates with section, fellow musicians, and conductor with regards to musical decisions and questions

What about a section player?

  • Supports principal player

  • Contributes to ensemble sound

  • Prepared for all rehearsals

  • Sometimes acts as “soloist” or blends the gap between different sections

    • For example, 3rd trumpet sometimes doubles horn parts in orchestral repertoire

And the section as a whole?

  • “Clicking” together

    • Everyone signaling where they are within the music whether it be a multi-measure rest or a rehearsal mark

    • Communicating any issues with music or ensemble to principal player

  • Non-verbal communication

  • Only the principal player should talk; others should remain quiet unless there is a pressing matter

This hierarchy allows for rehearsals to be efficient. If all musicians in an ensemble were to ask questions or provide their own input to interpreting music, rehearsals would be inefficient and go nowhere.

Conductor, Brad Lubman (conducting professor at Eastman School of Music & Founder of Ensemble Signal), explained at Bang on a Can 2018, that asking questions in rehearsal for how to play a certain passage or how to interpret notation/articulation slows rehearsals down. His two cents on asking questions during a rehearsal is that if the conductor doesn’t say anything to you, assume that you’re playing your part correctly. As a conductor himself, he finds it annoying to have to stop rehearsal to answer sometimes insignificant questions.

On the Topic of Practice:

The hardest part of practicing, working on a project, or trying something new is just starting! Things that are unfamiliar to us, we tend to stay away from, or not even attempt such as a new routine, sight-reading, or applying to a job and fearing the unknown. Imagine playing new music or music that you don’t like as eating your vegetables. After a while, you’ll get used to them and may even like it after several tries! It’s good to see what’s out there. Remember Dr. Edelbrock’s phrase, “take the initiative; hope is not a plan”.

Tools to to bring to the practice room:

  • Metronome (Dr. Beat, Korg, etc.)

  • Tuner

  • Phone(?)

  • Recording device

  • Curtains(?)

Do you use any of these tools when practicing?

When in the practice room

  • Be your own “doctor” or “teacher”

    • Identifying and addressing issues yourself in things that didn’t work when practicing will bring you one step closer to success, and to becoming an autonomous and efficient musician. You won’t always have a teacher to guide you.

    • You are your best teacher to a certain extent

  • Avoid distractions

    • Use a device that only has one function such as a standalone tuner or recording device instead of your personal cell phone/tablet

    • **Use a curtain for privacy and to keep people from “bugging you”**

  • Be patient

    • Results may vary just like working out. You may not see the results within a week or two, but perhaps in the long-term you will be fruitful.

  • Laugh at yourself - Ignore the judgement

    • Don’t attach negative emotions to mistakes. It’s all information, and you need to sound bad in order to sound good. Don’t worry too much about what people outside of the room are thinking because you are making progress for yourself, and not others. If someone is sounding bad while you’re walking in the practice hallway, don’t jump to conclusions; that person may be trying something new and/or adjusting to a new set-up of equipment or embouchure change

    • Vince DiMartino suggests to laugh at yourself because we take things a little too seriously at times. We know how to fix the problem as long as we can identify it and provide a solution

      • If you make a mistake in this routine, put the horn down, exhale, think about what to do differently, and try again; do not curse yourself out!

  • Work your a** off

    • A quote from Michael Sachs. We won’t make any improvements remaining stationary (practicing the things we’re good at). Practice the things your bad at so there you are unstoppable. Be the “eternal student”.

  • Keep your phone/tablet/computer in your locker, it’s just a distraction.

    • Is there a time where you are away from technology for more than an hour, other than sleeping?

  • Get weird with your practice space

    • When traveling, you may need to get creative with where or how you practice

      • Pencil exercise

      • Lip flexing

      • There’s no excuse for not practicing. We chose this profession where we must be “married” to our instruments

  • Minimize movement & effort

    • Ed Cord, one of the Professors of trumpet at Indiana University explained playing our horns as a habitual practice similar to getting in your car, starting it, and driving.

    • If you don’t need to move a valve when playing a passage, keep it stationary

    • Press a valve down ahead of time when coming from a rest

Routine Freshness

Whether you are playing the Wiff Rudd, Clarke, Adam, Sachs, or Miller-Arban routine, things sometimes get stale... Why?

"If you’re bored of trumpet, then you aren’t doing your job right; there are so many things to work on! Be honest with yourself." -Dr. Kevin Eisensmith

Suggestions for freshness

  • Add the suffix, “-er”

    • Faster, louder, softer, slower

    • Improve/speed-up your single-tongue to a fast tempo; how fast can you get it to be?

  • Exhale before playing to remove stale air, breathe in fresh air, and get air moving before producing a note

  • Play with other musicians--it doesn’t matter if it’s a horn player, saxophonist, trombonist, you may learn something from their interpretations. Collaborate!

  • Play all exercises as a long crescendo OR a long diminuendo

  • Challenge yourself with this:

    • No impurities in sound

      • Intonation

      • Scooping notes

      • Notes that don’t speak

      • Tone quality

    • No missed notes

    • Play on offbeats only

    • Transpose all exercises (up or down all intervals)

  • Play everything at the piano dynamic OR forte dynamic

  • Change the articulation on each exercise

  • Breathe or sing in between each exercise (rest as much as you play)

  • Play on a different horn like C, E-flat, or piccolo (not too much)

  • Experiment with note lengths & articulations

  • Play with different sounds

    • Warm, dark, and creamy cornet/flugelhorn sound

    • Bright, piercing drum corps sound (don’t do this one too much)

    • Can you sound like a different instrument?

  • Play exercises backwards or in a different order from each section

  • RECORD yourself

    • Play with yourself (recordings)

    • Play back exercises immediately after playing them to allow for equal amount of rest and play

  • BE MUSICAL!

    • Can you make an exercise not sound like an exercise, but a lyrical/characteristic study?

 

REPERTOIRE SEARCH

How do you search for trumpet solo repertoire or ensemble repertoire?

Tools for searching:

  • Google Music, Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, NAXOS Music Library, Google Search

    • Look up your favorite trumpeter or ensemble on any of the services listed above and look for a discography

    • Can’t find what you’re looking for? Use NAXOS Music Library.

    • Search your favorite genre or period of musical history

    • Search different regions like german, Italian, American, Soviet, etc.

  • Trumpet solo wish-list on the studio website

  • Programs (collect them all!)

    • Student/faculty recitals

    • NTC Performances

    • ITG recitals

  • ITG Journal album/music reviews (final pages in each journal)

  • Repertoire lists from University/Conservatory auditions