The Secret: Dynamics
The following is from a renowned studio pianist, arranger and producer from Nashville for over 40 years. He was the first pianist to be included in the Country Music Hall Of Fame; he has played on more hit albums than one can easily count. He is also a long-time friend for over 50 years. We were both in the same Navy band together, playing all over the world. Here are some of his ideas on what has contributed to his long success in the music business.
Question from Dan:
“You've told me the story of how you happened to go to Nashville in the first place, but how did this opportunity come up in the first place? Was it your ability to play "Giant Steps" at breakneck speed flawlessly? Or your ability to impress audiences with your technical expertise on the piano? Or, perhaps, was it that you have a natural gift that moves people musically? I believe it's the last one on the list.”
Answer from Ron:
"I have no secret, but I do have a wealth of “soul” and “feel” knowledge which I gained from listening to Ray Charles and Ramsey Lewis since I was a little bitty baby. I bought my first Ray Charles record in 1956… “Drown In My Own Tears”. And, guess what it all boils down to… I mean, aside from the subtle “heart-tugging” chord voicings… Dynamics. Yes. Dynamics.
Melodies and lyrics are what people notice and what they fall in love with … they can sing along with the records. But, what they don’t notice… what they don’t realize is this… dynamics is what makes them “feel” it. Dynamics make them move on the inside. Imperceptibly, yes, but move they do.
Dynamics is the key to all my arrangements, whether rhythm section arrangements or strings and horns. If there is any “secret” involved in what success I have had, it is what I call “implied dynamics”. It has little to do with “louder and softer”, the typical answer to “what is dynamics?” This is another conversation altogether, so I’ll move along."
- Ron Oates
Dan Jacobs: Writings
by Dan Jacobs
Just as the photographer deals with light, the musician deals with sound. Sound is your signature; your identity; your musical voice that facilitates communication of your message, and it stems from inside you. And what is not widely recognized is the fact that your sound is a reflection of what you hear before you play the note.
Hear the note mentally or even practice humming the note before you play it and what you play will sound more like you.
To change your sound, first change yourself. External changes are monitored by internal changes . . . always.
- Dan Jacobs
On Art and Artists:
"When, through some alchemy of specious argument and vacuous logic, some attempt to reduce all life to a mechanical stimulus-response existence while seeking to minimize or eliminate any real human contact and interaction, then they have become the enemy of free people.
For when the dreamers cease to dream, when the curiosity and imagination of poets, writers, painters, musicians, and other artists is abandoned or laid to waste through neglect or abuse, then the aesthetics and beauty of the culture deteriorates to its crudest and most savage forms.
And we will have lost our greatest resource for sustaining life, existence, and survival. For in art – and in the artists' willingness and ability to create – we find kindness, honesty, forgiveness, beauty, truth, and the highest quality of aesthetics otherwise singularly missing in our lives."
By Daniel Jacobs
"Singers and Musicians are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day-to-day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime.
Every day, they face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get real jobs, and their own fear that they'll never work again.
Every day, they have to ignore the possibility that the vision they have dedicated their lives to is a pipe dream.
With every note, they stretch themselves, emotionally and physically, risking criticism and judgment.
With every passing year, many of them watch as the other people their age achieve the predictable milestones of normal life - the car, the family, the house, the nest egg.
Because musicians and singers are willing to give their entire lives to a moment - to that melody, that lyric, that chord, or that interpretation that will stir the audience's soul.
Singers and Musicians are beings who have tasted life's nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another's heart.
In that instant, they were as close to magic, God, and perfection as anyone could ever be. And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes. ”
- David Ackert, LA Times
TRUMPET HIGH NOTES by Herbert L. Clarke
This is an excerpt of a letter written to a friend by Herbert L. Clark, cornetist, in 1940. In it he describes a "stunt" that he used to play higher, even when his chops were tired. - daniel jacobs
Here is the letter:
"There is a trick I used to practice when travelling with Sousa, when my lips did not seem to respond, after being up all night with local town bands, and playing my usual solos the next day. By practicing this “stunt” carefully, knowing just how to get each interval correctly from high “C” up, I have often reached two octaves above “G” in the top space of the scale. Sometimes higher.
This takes no strength, power nor strain. It is so simple that one is astounded at the results. Of course one must have a good embouchure and control of the lip muscles. It is difficult to explain, but easy to demonstrate, and is scientific.
When you form your lips to produce the above “G”, just touch your tongue, very slightly, to your bottom lip, the tip, which throws the tip of lower lip up towards the tip of upper lip, using such power. The tone is produced to the inside of upper mouthpiece at an angle of 45 degrees, instead of blowing straight into the throat of the mouthpiece as one does in playing the cornet.
Try it, after you have gotten the idea. I can do it without any embouchure, any time. But it must be practiced to get results.’
Yours in the Faith,
Herbert L Clark
This short article by internationally renowned trumpeter Roger Ingram, is a "must-read" for any aspiring or veteran musician; written by one who has been in the trenches of the road musician at the highest levels, for longer than some have been alive. This article contains gem-stones of enlightenment born of hard-won experience. I loved it and you will too.
Cut and paste this link to read the article:
“Weakness is your friend; strength is your enemy. Weakness will help you use all of your potential. Find minimal states of tension and effort when you’re not playing. Don’t play by efforts, but concentrate on sound with “minimal motors,” that is, without stiffness. Make muscle movements resultant and not causative of playing.”
- Arnold Jacobs, “Thus Spake Arnold Jacobs”
LISTEN THEN CONCEIVE
By Arnold Jacobs
When I first learned to play a brass instrument (the bugle) there were no brass teachers in the small town where I lived. My mother, who was a fine professional pianist, played bugle calls on the keyboard. I learned them by ear, and I learned them well. I learned them by listening to the notes and then conceiving them. That was the training of my brain. I was not involved in playing correctly, just in sounding good; it went very well. – Arnold Jacobs
Arnold Jacobs (June 11, 1915 - October 7, 1998) was a orchestral principle tubist player for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chicago Symphony for 44 years.
Jacobs was considered one of the foremost expert on breathing as it related to brasswind, woodwind, and vocal performance.
Legendary American trumpeter and author of a ground-breaking embouchure method for trumpet Roy Stevens said: “
If you truly love the sound of your instrument, you can never get bored or exasperated to the point of quitting.”
Wayne Bergeron (Part 1 – Horns + Other Stuff)
Woodwind & Brasswind Contributing Writer - Tony Guerrero
Wayne Bergeron is one most well respected musicians alive today and is currently setting the standard for how to be a consummate studio and live player. I could use up all my space here just listing his stunning resume, but instead I’ll refer you to his website at http://www.waynebergeron.com. I had the chance to interview Wayne and ask him about the gear he’s using these days.========================================
TG: What is your main trumpet these days?
WB: The Yamaha 8335LA, which I helped design.
TG: And what sets that horn apart for you?
WB: Well, what originally happened is that Bob Malone approached me about becoming a Yamaha artist and the idea of designing a custom horn. I tried some of the Yamaha stock line and found some stuff that I liked, and then we modified and built parts from there. It was designed to be a horn that anybody could play for any style of music. For example, I know they’re being used in the Orlando Symphony as well as by a lot of jazz players and lead players as well, so I feel we succeeded in that. It’s just a good, solid all-around trumpet. It’s a little more open-blowing, a medium large bore but more on the open side because that’s what I’ve always played and gravitated to. It’s probably a bookend to the Bobby Shew trumpet (YTR-8310Z) from Yamaha. It shares a lot of the same parts, the same bell, just more open out of the first valve. It shares the same lead pipe taper as well, it just starts and stops at a different place. So, the front and back end of the horn are very similar to the Bobby Shew horns.
TG: What about some of your secondary horns?
WB: I have a Yamaha C trumpet, the YTR-9445CHS Chicago model, which I play. I actually have a Yamaha student model cornet that I’ve had for years, long before I was affiliated with Yamaha, and I can’t find anything I like better than that. I think I paid $300 for it, used! It’s just an instrument I love, so I’ll play that on occasion. And then I have a Yamaha four-valve long bell piccolo trumpet (YTR-9835) that I use quite a bit. Of course, I still have my old Kanstul trumpet, but I’m really just using the Yamaha now.
And your flugelhorn?
Again, Bob Malone at Yamaha asked me about contributing to the design of a new flugelhorn model (the YFH-8315G). I told him what I didn’t like about most flugelhorns: that they play flat on top of the staff, which is kind of the opposite of the trumpet. So, Bob put a tapered lead pipe on that horn, instead of a straight tube – more like a trumpet. It actually went through a bunch of redesigns in Germany and Japan, but we ended up going mostly with Bob Malone’s original.
I have always liked Yamaha flugels, but when I played this horn for the first time, I couldn’t put it down. I love it!
All the Yamaha flugels are pretty good. I had a Shew model (YFH-8310Z) I liked a lot, but for me the 8315G is just great. It’s got a heavier bell, and I think it has a nice complex sound. And the intonation is great.
Tell me which mutes you’re using.
Well, I have an arsenal of mutes, like most guys. I probably have four or five of each type, and I switch depending on the situation or who I’m playing with. For my harmon mute I have a new Best Brass copper harmon that I just purchased and really like a lot. I heard Matt Fronke play a solo on it and I loved the sound, so I bought one the next day. I have a Charlie Davis harmon that I like a lot, especially for theater dates. It’s probably the most in-tune harmon. I have a Leblanc and I like it’s sound, and a great sounding Bobby Shew mute. Usually, the shorter harmons have the better sound but more pitch issues, the longer the harmon the better in tune it plays, but it may lose the character.
I’ve used the Charlie Davis one for years, but I’ve been eyeing the Best Brass when I’m sitting next to Jamie Hovorka, who plays one.
That mute has a good sound. It’s really good on the pitch – a little bit sharp but very negotiable. It’s kind of the best of both worlds.
Have you checked out the Soul-O Tone mute?
I have one and have done a little endorsement for them. It was intended as a solo mute, but I also use it as a bucket mute. I love it for solos though. If I were playing “American In Paris”, where it calls for “velvet mute” I might use it on it’s open setting.
As for straight mutes, I have a barrage. I have a Charlie Davis. I have some of those Bach plastic mutes, which work great in the theater shows, because they play in tune and have a nice barky sound. I have a fiber Marcus Bonna that I like a lot. And again, I decide on the mute depending on the situation, like if I have to match the other players.
For cups, I’m kind of a purist. If I could find a Ray Robinson I’d use it, but they’re hard to come by. So the Humes & Berg red and white mutes are the classic and they give you what you want.
Any particular valve oils?
I’m not a valve oil snob, but I really like the Yamaha Light Synthetic oil right now, especially for a new horn. They have a “vintage horn” oil, too…it seems to last the longest. I’ve used other synthetic oils, I’ve used Al Cass for years, and the Ultra-Pure oils seem to work great.
What about any “can’t live without” accessories?
I just bought a Snark Tuner and I love it. The perfect size, they aren’t jumpy, nice and bright. Now a bunch of guys are using them. Tuners don’t lie, man! You can say you’re in tune all you want, but they don’t lie.
Finally, anyone in particular you’re listening to right now?
I listen to a lot of cats. My favorite classical players right now are Hakan Hardenberger and Sergei Nakariakov – just don’t ask me how to spell them. Trumpet players in general, probably too numerous to mention. I was on a big Nicolas Payton kick for a while based on his “Dear Louis” record. I’m kind of a traditionalist - I like the swinging players. Probably my favorite jazz player right now is Til Bronner. I just can’t stop listening to him. It’s just beautiful playing, intimate, chops, feel, he can be fluffy or clear. Of course, I was very influenced by Maynard and Doc, and then Vizzutti. Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw – I was listening to Woody this morning and thinking, “Man, he died way too soon.”
I just admire anybody who plays the instrument. You being a trumpet player, you know – the dedication and everything that goes into it to play it any level, just to make the sound. I mean, what other instrument requires you to work so hard just to make the friggin’ sound? Beginning piano players sit down and, boom, they have the sound of a piano. A beginning trumpet player has to listen to two years of farting noises before you can make music! No wonder so few stay with it. So, I admire anybody who does this!
Thanks, Wayne, I appreciate your time and willingness to talk to the readers here at Woodwind & Brasswind.
Sure, man, any time!
WORDS OF WISDOM:
"A picture paints a thousand words, but music expresses that for which there are no words."
By Paul Griffin
EVERYBODY HAS BAD DAYS
While I'm on the subject—everybody has bad days. It's just that what we try to do, as actively working professionals in different genres, is to develop a type of consistency so that we can walk on stage and be very disappointed in our own physical abilities that night—but the audience doesn't know it, because you play musically.
Other nights, when everything is so easy, you can't understand why you ever thought it was hard; then we take all kinds of musical chances, and I like to embellish a bit, and do lots of things that I hope are exciting. - Allan Vizzutti,
interview with Les Tomkins, 1989
Copyright © 1989, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved
MUSIC AND MELODY
When it comes to the fundamental musical element of melody there's a very fine line between predictability and boredom. Too much repetition leads to boredom while on the other hand too much variation leads to obscurity. Either way you can lose a listener. It was the legendary Composer/Conductor Leonard Bernstein who in his book "The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard" first turned me on to the concept of language and speech being intimately connected with musical melody. The fact that we speak with a constant rising and falling of speech patterns (not monotones) is strikingly significant. Bernstein suggested that there is an innate universal musical grammar that we all posses and understand. This concept resonated deeply within me.
A few years ago while having a conversation about jazz and the swing beat with Composer/Arranger Ralph Carmichael and he said to me "David, when you were just talking to me you weren't speaking in 'straight eights' - your speech was syncopated!" How boring and monotonous would it be if all of our speaking was strictly in a 'straight eight' feel? Thankfully when we speak there is an "infinite variety" in both the intervals, rhythmic pulse, and dynamics. When we listen to music we are listening for something to speak to us, to communicate and say something!
For Saxophonist Kirk Whalum music is something that must speak to the soul. "I think when people hear me, they say, “Oh, wow, I thought you said something.‟ And that’s what some of the old jazz cats had. ... Arnett Cobb would say to me, “You know what? You ain’t saying nothing.‟ Just like that! “You ain’t saying nothing. You’re playing too many damn notes and you ain’t saying nothing”! ‟ I needed somebody like him to help me get that.”
I hear so many talented jazz artists today who are well versed in "jazz insider" language that only seems to speak to those familiar with jazz theory. The melodies and harmonies are so outside the box that I want to ask them "what are you really trying to say?" How much dissonance being played today is a direct expression of a jazz musicians heart and soul? Are they just playing scales, trying to be clever or are they really saying something? If you go too far outside the box you can easily lose the average listener. To me this is what has really hurt jazz with so many potential listeners. Sure you can go as far out as you want melodically, harmonically, or rhythmically but are the 'un-initiated' going to listen? Is it going to speak to them and if so what's the message? This is the real dilemma facing jazz musicians today.
CIRCULAR BREATHING as a tool to build chops!
By Larry Meregillano, Bach trumpet artist and author.
Have you ever wondered how nearly every great trumpet player who was celebrated in the past or is currently enjoying a celebratory status has been able to circular breathe seamlessly and effortlessly?
I say it is because it is a natural progression of playing correctly.
If you have read my E book or have seen my video posts you will hear me speaking about "resisting the air" whereby the muscles of the face are relaxed and are allowed to respond to the compression of air with corresponding tension as the air is focused and driven through a properly aligned vibrating surface.
Nearly every great trumpet player that I have analyzed has air pockets in the face. Many would say DO NOT PUFF YOUR CHEEKS !! I say, PUFF AWAY!
Let the musculature relax and respond to the tension as you compress the air within the oral cavity. This action brings other muscles of the face into play allowing for further muscular development.
O.K back to the subject of circular breathing., In order that we play efficiently we must continue the compression of air that is supplied by our lungs. We must continue and further the compression process utilizing the muscles of the face as they literally squeeze the air into a focused compression that is channeled by the lips (orbicular muscle) into a high velocity stream of air.
How did Rafael Mendez and others play without any change in their sound while exchanging air from the oral cavity with the air from the lungs? Because the compression of air is not generated by the gas tank(lungs), It is generated by the muscles of the face!
The energy level never slows as the face compresses the air through the vibrating aperture.
Circular breathing forces the issue as you must be able to maintain enough compression within the oral cavity without the use of the lungs. This requires the same type of development that I advocate with the isometric that I developed called The Hermetic seal exercise
ll brass players should drink plenty of water. The "chops" are made up of dermal tissue (aka skin). The skin of the average adult contains 60-70 percent water. Keeping your body well hydrated helps to keep your chops supple and flexible. Also, staying properly hydrated aids in alleviating any undue stress to the skin surface of the lips due to possibly overblowing or overplaying. I know this because I've been a trumpet player for 49 years. I drink 4-5 quarts of water per day.
Dear Trumpet Brothers. You can easily analyze yourself into mediocrity. Instead let the sound be your guide and concentrate on the feeling of playing the trumpet correctly. This tangible muscle memory should be reinforced by a daily routine that includes all aspects of trumpet performance. I.E. range, Tonguing., flexibility, and velocity studies.
By Larry Meregillano, Bach trumpet artist, clinician and author
OLD FRIEND OR RATTLESNAKE?
"When I open the case I don't know whether I'm going to pick up an old friend or a live rattlesnake." - Pee Wee Irwin
Pee Wee Irvin was prolific as a studio musician, performing on radio and in recording sessions. He played with Benny Goodman in 1934-35, then with Ray Noble in 1935; the next year he joined Goodman again, taking Bunny Berigan's empty chair. In 1937 he again followed Berigan, this time in Tommy Dorsey's orchestra, where he remained until 1939. Erwin led his own big band in 1941-42 and 1946. In the 1950s he settled in New Milford, New Jersey and played Dixieland jazz in New Orleans, and in the 1960s formed his own trumpet school with Chris Griffin.
THE EVILS OF OVERBLOWING
Roger Ingram, world renowned trumpet master, author, teacher, Jupiter trumpet artist.
The other day, one of my students asked me if I have ever damaged my chops from playing or ever had any chop problems. I actually had to think about it. I told him the answer was “no.” During my entire playing career, I have never even so much as bruised my chops from playing; I don’t even have a mark on my chops. He thought that was rather odd considering some of the unusually demanding and (seemingly) loud things I have recorded throughout the years. I suppose it could be perceived as being odd in a way…
I was fortunate. I started playing as a kid in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s. I studied with many fine trumpet players including Bud Brisbois, Laroon Holt and Bobby Shew. They cautioned me early on about the evils of overblowing and playing too loud. Later on, I had the opportunity to work with Jon Faddis a few times. He talked about the same things in his own way.
Trumpet players are notorious for overblowing the horn. This is because we all live behind the bell. Don’t over-blow. Become aware of your volume levels and always default to a medium volume. Also, make sure your medium is really a “medium” too. A trumpet projects much more than what the average player is aware of; it’s louder out front than you may think…
Then the same student asked me why I only teach and perform with school bands now. He wanted to know why I don’t want to travel on the road any longer. I gave him two reasons. First, I told him that I had already done all of that. Secondly, I told him there’s nobody I’m really interested in touring with these days. Basically, everyone I ever wanted to tour with (and did tour with) has passed on.
I still play a lot and I still get the opportunity to do a fair amount of local recording. However, I feel I’ve become relaxed now. I’m content to do what I do and I enjoy being with my family and teaching. I still get out 2 or 3 times a month during the school year to play with high school and college bands, but the days of sharing the tour bus and traveling all over the planet with kids half my age who are having their first beer(s) are over with. I’m not so interested in the competition any more. Also, I have other business interests.
Play an efficient medium bore trumpet. That’s all anyone needs and it’ll save your ass every time. Medium isn’t large and it isn’t small either.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU PICK UP THE HORN
There are times when it (the trumpet) treats you so sweet and nice that everything comes out just perfect. Then you come back to it the next night, rub your hands together and say to yourself you're going to do it all over again. You pick up the horn, put it to your chops and the son of a bitch says: SCREW YOU!!!!!
Trumpeter Roy Eldridge, commonly nicknamed "Little Jazz", was an American jazz trumpet player.
His sophisticated use of harmony, including the use of tritone substitutions, his virtuosic solos exhibiting a departure from the smooth and lyrical style of earlier jazz trumpet innovator Louis Armstrong, and his strong impact on Dizzy Gillespie mark him as one of the most influential musicians of the swing era and a precursor of bebop.
MATCHING RESISTANCEIt isn't about how shallow a cup that you can play or which new model horn is on the market. Its about being able to match the resistance of that open tube called a trumpet with your ability to maintain the compression of air as you channel it through the vibrating aperture. Properly matched your sound and range will increase on any equipment that you may choose to play.Larry MeregillianoBach trumpet artisthttp://www.trumpetlegacy.com
Trumpets are for extroverts - Lee Morgan
THE MYTH OF THE "BEST MOUTHPIECE"
One of the most difficult ideas to get across to people is that there is NOT a BEST embouchure.
People ask me to teach them the embouchure Chase used or Maynard used or.... used because they don't have even a basic understanding of what that really means.
Everything we do from tongue arch to mouthpiece choice affects some aspect of our playing and is a compromise.
Every compromise changes our abilities, sound, endurance, range...
Plus these compromises have to interact with OUR lips and NOT our teachers' lips or our heroes' lips.
We have to make OUR compromises based on OUR bodies and OUR current abilities and NOT on how Bill Chase or Doc or Wynton did it, because you don't have Bill Chase's lips.
You also can't base your practice off of a working pros practice because if you could already do what they did then you would already be a pro. Meaning; doing what they do will likely ruin you because you didn't do the years of prep work to survive it. They built up to it over years and you want to adopt it in a day or week.
People will say things like so and so doesn't do that. Always pointing out world class extreme players, that have nothing in common with them.
They like to point at pictures of Maynard playing a double high c and say look he is tense. They then build their entire structure basing their low c tension on his double high c tension. Then they wonder why they get tired so fast.
They also like to point out people who practice 12 hours a day and wonder why their 30 minutes doesn't get the same results.
It is called common sense people. If you don't have any, then rent some. I charge by the hour. LOL
Lastly YES you can pay less than I charge for lessons but the kid you pay has NOT learned the things I posted above. You are paying for him to practice teach and learn what not to do.
By Pops McLaughin
BOOK REVIEW of “Chops” – by Larry Meregillano
Larry Meregillano is amazing! Not only is he an international trumpet master, but with his new book “CHOPS”, Larry has successfully demystified the trumpet, making his mastery available to anyone from the beginner to the seasoned veteran.
He is impressive, not only with the clarity, brevity and humanity of his writing, but how effortlessly he takes the mystery out of playing in the extreme high register on the trumpet. No ivory-tower approach here, just the real stuff from a consummate professional who practices what he preaches every day!
The book has something for every player. I got more benefits out of reading his introduction to the book than a whole text on the subject by others. One small adjustment (if it's the right one) can make such enormous changes that it puts the fun back into playing trumpet!
Dan Jacobs, Ph.D.
Excerpt from the new trumpet book, "CHOPS" describing "THE HERMETIC SEAL."
“For the purpose of this discussion let me define my jargon. The word platform will mean the teeth while the word feet will mean the muscles and flesh of the lips.
Having a solid, even foundation (your teeth) for the footprint (muscles and flesh of the lips) of the mouthpiece is important.
However, having a broken, uneven, crooked platform is not an insurmountable challenge. The optimum way to play is to have as many feet (points of hermetic seal) as you can achieve with your individual mouthpiece placement upon the platform (your teeth).
Get your mouthpiece out of the case and place it on to your mouth. Make sure that you feel comfortable with no sharp edges digging in.
Place the mouthpiece to your lips. Do not buzz. Instead, I want you to close off the back of the mouthpiece with your finger and compress the air. Of course the air will not go anywhere as you now have a closed tube.
I want you to form a hermetic seal (airtight) in between the mouthpiece and the lips. As you compress the air, the muscles of the face will resist the air and contract with tension. The lips should be puckered slightly forward. At this point the mouthpiece should feel like it is bouncing on a soft cushion of muscle.
Let me illustrate the position like this: Place your lips together by saying “M”. Feel with your tongue the relaxed nature of the corner muscles. From this position say the syllable BUH (like YOU with a B).
This places your embouchure in the most optimum position, unfurling your lips into a pucker. Feel the corner muscles? They are in a locked position yet they are still relaxed. As you tighten the corners, feel just how much more corner muscle comes into play in the unfurled position!
Now I want you to blow gently creating a closed but compressed elastic space of air within the oral cavity and the muscles of the face. If you have successfully created a hermetic seal and can now feel the muscles of the lips protruding slightly forward in a relaxed pucker, and if the mouthpiece feels bouncy on an elastic ball of muscle, then you are on the right track.
This is by far the greatest and most tangible demonstration of what it feels like to utilize the correct muscles for the upper register and, indeed, to play easily and effortlessly throughout the range of the trumpet.”
UNDERSTANDING SLOTS AND HOW TO LEARN THEM
At some point in your growth as a brass player, you’ll hear of a reference to “playing the slots” or “slotting your notes”. Of course, it will probably not be understood until you get some sort of explanation. So this article is my attempt at trying to clarify what this means and to do it in a way that you can understand it well enough to do a “search and discovery” in the practice room for practical use in performance.
Since we are always dealing directly with the physical universe with our bodies and instruments, it is necessary to start by stating in simple terminology what’s going on when we play. The science of physics ( of which I AM NOT an expert and certainly NOT a physicist ) is a vital area to focus on in getting started. In this field, there is a subject called fluid dynamics. This is simply a matter of air flow vs. resistance. When we take in air and then compress it, we are creating air pressure within the lungs. Then we must turn it around and force it out of the lungs, through the trachea ( throat ) and into and through the oral cavity ( mouth ), on into and thru the mouthpiece and finally through the horn. Our overall goal is to be able to control the velocity ( speed ) of the airstream. The greater the compression, the greater the velocity can be created. Anatomically, there are many muscles in action to produce this velocity. These muscles are part of what is referred to as thoracic muscles, or as we refer to our main torso as the thorax. More needs to be explained about these muscular functions but that’ll be in a different article on breathing and the respiratory system in general.
So, as the air moves upward and over the tongue surface and soft palate ( roof of your mouth ), it will hit the inside of your top lip and push it forward towards the cup, allowing the air to go into the cup of the mouthpiece. As it enters the cup, some of the air will come back towards the lips in a “backdraft” action, simply stated. This causes the top lip to vibrate back and forth and while doing so, an eddy ( whirlpool ) will be forming around the inside of the top lip which activates a sympathetic vibration in the lower lip. So now both upper and lower lip surfaces are vibrating with an aperture ( opening ) between them to allow the air to flow on into the mouthpiece and then into and through the horn. It is the action of these lip vibrations that produces your sound. The instrument is more of an amplifier of those tones produced by the vibrations.
There is another thing that needs clearing up here and that is a semantics ( word definition ) issue. People often talk about lip buzzing and tell students to buzz their lips. This is defined as the lips squeezed much tighter together and producing a thin buzzing sound much like a bee or wasp. This is a great way to build muscle tone for the three primary muscles ( orbicularis oris, depressor, and buccinator ) that surround the embouchure area and that are essential in helping you develop as a player. BUT, when you are buzzing, there is almost no air flow that can allow you to perform. Buzzing is like doing situps to build strength but you must separate the lip surfaces and create an aperture in order to play. If your lips are touching when you try to play, you will have problems.
Okay, so perhaps over simplified, that’s how the machinery works for you to play. As the air moves into the horn, the mouthpiece and tubing “resist” the flow to varying degrees , depending upon their design factors. A larger, deeper cup and a larger bore horn will not resist as easily because there will be a degree of compression / velocity lost by the lack of resistance. I remember when I was early on learning to play, other players always spoke about horns having too much resistance, being “stuffy” so there was a tendency to gravitate to larger bore instruments thinking they would play more freely. And surprise, surprise when they merely found themselves working harder to play and losing some endurance as well. It turns out that resistance is your friend, not your enemy. But until you understand how it all works, you’ll be struggling with equipment choices as well as just about everything else that pertains to playing with ease and success.
So, what is a slot? Another very simple definition is a note that is BALANCED. That means machinery-wise, the balance between airflow and aperture size. These are all pertaining to two obvious aspects, DYNAMIC and REGISTER.
Regarding dynamic first of all, I often try to explain that rather than paying attention literally to the traditional dynamic markings of f’s , m’s, and p’s. These are merely visual and it is extremely difficult to precisely estimate the difference between p, pp, mp , etc. All they are referring to is SOFT. Then there is the f group. f, ff, fff all refer to LOUD. In MANY cases, this merely becomes OVERBLOWN and leaves the world of sound and enters the ugly world of NOISE!!! In between those, we have our friendly mf. That means MEDIUM.
So we can look at 5 different dynamics: TOO soft, soft, medium, loud, TOO loud!
By approaching things this way, it forces you to use your ear to fit in with what is going on around you and getting a better blend with the other players. You must learn to INTERPRET the page markings to understand the three workable and desirable dynamics of SOFT, MEDIUM, and LOUD and to avoid the two extremes of TOO!
The second aspect is register. This means low register, middle register, and high register. Ultimately, one can learn these elements of control well enough that you COULD look at your horn as having only one register from bottom to top. It IS POSSIBLE! So, a little bit of physics. The high register requires faster moving air and the opposite for the low register and then everything in between. Remember that we are striving to control our velocity. Faster moving air creates faster vibration in the lip surfaces which in turn produces higher pitched notes. It can be somewhat equated with a guitar string or a piano string except that our lips are one size whereas the strings on a piano vary in thickness and length, depending upon the register. What WE do is to vary the tension in the lip surfaces by using the muscle tone derived from having been on a very good program of lip buzzing as stated previously. And we vary the aperture size base upon the two items, dynamic and register.
So, when you play a note and it does not center well, doesn’t produce a full-bodied sound that FEELS centered and “locked–in” when it is played, you have no slot. EVERY note on your instrument is subject to the physical laws of overtones. These can be difficult to understand at first because you don’t initially hear them until they are missing. A note not centered will not have the ideal resonance that the overtones bring into the sound. These overtones add the “shimmer”, the “life”, the “prettiness”, the “clarity” to any note. Every note has various frequencies ( vibrating waves ) in it. There are higher ones, mid-range ones, and low ones. The lower register focuses more on the lower frequencies which move more slowly and then the opposite in the higher registers. Faster frequencies, brighter sound. We must learn to be aware of them when we practice and work on them consistently until they become second nature to us. By doing so, you gain a much higher degree of control over your sound quality and that also affects your other primary aspects of intonation, endurance, range….all things that add up to our BIG goal of EFFICIENCY. That is what the great players have mastered and to the degree that they have NOT, they might be able to play quite well by just determination and persistence but their endurance might suffer as well as their intonation, quality of sound, etc. So, following is a simple little drill that you need to start incorporating into your practicing. You’ll see that I believe strongly in starting in the middle register and working in both directions until your control extends to the concept of the “one register”.
Be warmed up but not tired. Take a fairly full breath. Play a G2 ( second line ) at an mf dynamic ( medium ). Gradually and slowly at first, drop your jaw with small increments of movement. You'll eventually experience two things …..More open sound and freer moving air. If you continue dropping the jaw, you'll reach a point of "too far" and the sound will start to shatter, get airy, and the pitch will drop. Plus, it will just FEEL wrong. Then raise the jaw back up until you get the two items back in place. So, somewhere in the "middle" you'll find your "sweet spot" where the two things are the best. That's called a “slot". It's where your airflow and aperture size become balanced acoustically ( physics ). This is where you'll get the maximum overtones in your sound, the richest resonance, the best center to the pitch of THAT NOTE AT THAT DYNAMIC. This is where it will SOUND GOOD and FEEL GOOD. This is a great definition that applies to gaining efficiency. It means getting the most product out with the least amount of effort, no extraneous pinching, pressing, grunting, squeezing, and mostly no PRAYING. I like to call them the three P’s ….. PINCH, PRESS, and PRAY!
So, repeat this several times until you gain good control of THAT NOTE at THAT DYNAMIC. Then increase the dynamic to loud and do the same thing repetitively to the same point of familiarity. Then do the same with soft dynamic to the same result. Learning to control ONE NOTE at all three dynamics is the beginning of learning to control ALL notes at all three dynamics. Simple, eh? Another good idea when you are initially learning this technique is to NOT avoid doing the TOO SOFT and the TOO LOUD. Your body will become very aware of the feelings you experience when playing these. Generally speaking, playing softly causes the average player to hold back in a state of fear and caution, being careful to not play too loudly. The action of holding back is a form of withdrawal and is NOT what you should be doing. Fear comes from not knowing. Knowing comes from experimenting until you DO know. If you avoid the mistakes in practice, you’ll never understand them well enough to solve the problems associated with playing that way. So, play the TOO SOFT and TOO LOUD until you recognize how bad they feel. AND THEN , omit them from your habits.
This exercise when done properly and musically becomes your lip or better stated, "jaw vibrato". Eventually you must start playing phrases utilizing the slot control device. Once you can really control this ONE note, second line G, move up the diatonic scale to A, repeating the process, and of course keep moving upward through this one scale to the first ledger line A above the staff. Then you should start moving downward to low C. Then perhaps starting on 2nd line G again, ascend to high B, and once centered go to high C. By this time you have the two octaves from low C to high C pretty well locked in. Now do this chromatically up and down to lock these other adjacent notes in as well. You’ll find that the majority of your playing and most of the beautiful music will fit in these two octaves. If you can play these well, you have a decent enough setup of mechanics to start extending your range above high C but keep everything gradual, half steps. If any note you go to does not center properly, DO NOT continue on but rather stop and handle the problem. I like to call this the “wipe your feet” rule. If you step in something that stinks, wipe your feet before continuing on because if you don’t , everything else you do will contain that stink. With a horn and embouchure, the stink is in the sound, the lack of slotting. Simple, eh? After these basics are established, you must start to open up the intervals but once again, be gradual. The wider the interval, the greater the challenge. There’s nothing to be gained by allowing your greatest enemy, your EGO, to try to run the show. Take your time and learn correctly.
I sincerely hope this article helps you understand how to start taking control of your playing by addressing the need to learn to slot and gain maximum efficiency in performance. Wishing you great success.
December 25, 2014
When I was very young, I thought of myself as a trumpet-player. Period. I was obsessed by the trumpet. I practiced day and night. I reached a level of playing that was as good, or maybe even better than most of the guys in my hometown, Philadelphia. I was a TRUMPET-PLAYER. The trumpet was the most important thing in my life. I did not need friends. I did not need family. I was a TRUMPET-PLAYER.
I grew older, and found out that I could play with the best of them, I mean, other trumpet-players. Somewhere along the way I discovered Music. I then became obsessed with trying to make music on the trumpet. My role models were woodwind players and singers. I strove to make my playing as suave and sophisticated as the very best of them. I was now a TRUMPET-PLAYING MUSICIAN.
I had little people skills, I was always complaining about the other guys. Why can't they play like me? Then I got married, and still had no tolerance for my fellows. I started to see, because of my relationship with my family, that the trumpet had to be second to my family.
What a shock! I found through some soul searching that my whole outlook on life had changed. I was no longer a TRUMPET-PLAYER, but I am PERSON.