What I Learned About Playing the Trumpet in 2010

Yes, I know this blog is coming in March of 2011 and 2010 seems like FOREVER ago. My bad. Turns out I’ve got so many things going on that I haven’t had a second to think about blogging this year. That being said, here’s a post I’ve been wanting to share for a while – What I Learned About Playing the Trumpet: 2010 edition.

-You can’t be creative & critical at the same time. I continue to learn that better trumpet playing comes directly as a result of letting go of judgement and critique of myself while I’m in the process of playing. My dad has told me this phrase a ton of times and I’m slowly getting it more and more. When I let my sound and my overall level of playing be what it’s going to be in a given moment – imperfections and all – I can then finally operate out of a creative mindset which ultimately leads to better playing. (Inner Game 101…)

It’s all about the air. Whenever I run into trouble with consistency, upper register, clarity, etc. I’m almost positive now that it’s because I’m not letting my air do the work. I often try to manipulate the sound while I’m playing (my next point…) and therefore my air can’t work like it’s supposed to. Not necessarily more air either – just using my air stream efficiently and like I would take a natural breath.

I should approach playing with the goal of being totally in control at all times, while letting my sound be utterly “wild” and “free.” This is a beautiful dichotomy to me: while I must be in control of what’s happening all the time (having a “closed hand” approach with regards to concentration), my sound must always have the maximum amount of uninhibited energy and forward motion (having an “open hand” approach here). For a long time I believed that to get this kind of freedom in my sound I have to totally let go of my mind’s control over the sound and over what I’m playing. This was my idea of “concentration.” However, I’m discovering more and more that true concentration means that my mind is in total control at all times. The best playing comes from a concentrated/focused mind that has its imagination deeply fixed on a free, energetic great sound (whether loud/soft, high/low, etc.)

-Doing the Adam Routine in the morning is not a warm up. For a long time I think I believed that my daily Adam routine serves me as a warm up to get my air, chops & mind going for the day. After re-reading some excellent posts on TrumpetHerald.com by Pat Harbison (Trumpet Professor, Indiana University & Bill Adam Forum moderator), I was reminded clearly that the Adam routine isn’t a warm up at all. In fact, I think this goes totally against the mindset that Mr. Adam seeks to foster. Rather than seeing the routine as a warm up, Harbison suggests that it is more of a time to “get in phase with the trumpet.” This means that the trumpet obviously isn’t going to change, we do. So every day we need to orient ourselves to the trumpet with regards to air, control, and concentration. I love these great quotes from Mr. Harbison,

“I don’t NEED to warm up and I don’t even NEED to practice. Practicing shows a lack of self confidence. I like to practice though.”

“Any good player (and definitely any pro) needs to be able to play well (to be “warmed up”) 5 minutes after they get out of the car and hit the stage or the studio. However, the deeper I get into my playing day (and the more of my daily routine I work through) the better I will play.”

-Long tones are my best friend. For real…long tones unlock the depths and nuances of the sound and the more I do them the deeper I get into what this thing is supposed to sound like.

-Upper register playing really doesn’t take more air. Those who were around me while I was at UW-Eau Claire know that upper register was something that only started to click my last year there. As I continue to build my range and try and get things more consistent I continue to learn that it’s not about putting more air into the horn. Rather, it’s about putting relaxed air into the horn that is moving forward.

-I need to be more diligent about playing a soft set each day. I’ve definitely become better at practicing softer but I need to continue to strive for more lyrical etudes and flow exercises. Just like how long tones unlock nuances of the trumpet sound, soft playing does the same and really teaches me to use my air correctly and efficiently.

-Conscious Rhythm (as well as evenness to the sound & a songlike, lyrical-ness to playing) comes from surrendering to the “time.” Todd Coolman – world-class bassist/educator & my professor at SUNY Purchase –  says it well when he says, “time is a never-ending continuum that is always happening – you just have to join in.” I think another way to illustrate this concept is the idea of a relay race. When a runner is coming around the turn and you have to take the baton from him, you obviously don’t stand still and wait for him to give it to you. If you did that you’d ruin the momentum that he’s already gathered and you’ll fall way behind the other racers. Same thing applies to “time.” It is always occurring and therefore I don’t need to create time myself (if I try I wreck the flow that is already naturally happening). I just need to join in, step for step, with wherever the time is at. When we do this, we surrender ourselves to the time and it almost “pulls” us as we let it dictate our playing. I’ve found that, for me, this results in an incredible difference in my execution, ease of playing, lyrical-ness of my playing, and the evenness of everything I play.


**to note, I’m surely not an expert in trumpet playing now. I definitely don’t have things figured out and I’m far from being the player I want to be. Rather, these are certain things that have been incredibly enlightening to me in the past year and have drastically changed how I approach playing the trumpet. Please feel free to question or comment in any way, especially if I wasn’t clear with my words.