Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2002 13:27:45 -0700
From: "Reaban, Derek" <>
Subject: Double G

It took me 28 years to arrive at this note!  I played a great G major scale last night and with very little effort, I arrived easily on the top G. And it was glorious!  The sound was relaxed and easy, just like the lower octave!

Actually, it took me about 3 years of dramatically rethinking the way that I approach the instrument, and then 3 months of applying all the concepts that I've been reading and writing about to arrive at my successful turnaround.

In the past, I always found that when I would think about or try to play at the top of my range, I would "bottle-up" my air (i.e. completely stop the flow) and become very tense, and my embouchure would not be able to vibrate due to this lack of air.  I would top out between a D or E, and I always felt like I had to "push" the air out as I ascended. Tension was keeping me from playing efficiently, plus by not understanding the underlying principles to successful sound production in all ranges I was not able to make any progress in eliminating this tension.

By spending a considerable amount of time thinking about why the different components of my playing were not allowing me to achieve the seemingly effortless playing that I hear from great symphonic trumpet players, I very slowly "fixed" everything that wasn't working efficiently in my playing set-up.  I've always heard that it's extremely difficult to "think" about many things when trying to play the instrument. In fact, thinking too much when playing is a hindrance to musical expression.  By thinking away from the horn, and then focusing on each concept in a methodical way to "ingrain" these new thought processes as I practiced, I was able to incorporate these "best practices" into my playing set-up slowly, and one at a time.

I always hear fine players say that, "It's not hard to play in the upper register".  I never really believed them.  Well, based on my wonderful success last night, now I do believe them and here's why.

Extremely soft playing is crucial to developing response as well as developing and controlling a small aperture necessary for playing efficiently in the upper register (many players discuss this, but I think I would site Jim Thompson and Herbert L. Clarke as my primary references).  Then "connect with the horn on a relaxed level everyday" (Chris Gekker's words).  Find and discover how to arrive at the pitch center of each note (this allows a big vibrant  sound for a fraction of the air required to play off center, and we all play somewhat off center until this concept is learned and applied) (I reference Charlie Schlueter as a well known name advocating this, although I know that all really great players do this).  When playing long lines of music or etudes, always stay above the "Zero Pressure" line to assure no tension is introduced by playing down too far on the air supply in the lungs (i.e. never "empty the lungs" when playing music, play above the point where you feel the need to "push" the air out) (this is all Arnold Jacobs). Hear the sound in your head (more Jacobs, and great players of his era).  Solfeggio will help more than anything else that I have found to make this happen.  Rest as much as you play and practice in short sessions with sufficient time between sessions (Eddie Lewis, Greg Alley, as well as the some of the greats: Maurice Andre, Conrad Gozzo).

If I had to think about all of these concepts at the same time, I would fail.  By really understanding each of these concepts (pp playing, relaxed delivery of the air, pitch center, "Zero Pressure" line, Solfeggio, rest), and spending a little time each day making it an integral part of my playing, I have finally broken out of my shell and discovered that playing the trumpet really is easy!  Now I don't have to fight the physical production of sound on the instrument, and I can just spend time on making music.

In the recent ITG Journal article, Ron Modell said that he had a chance to talk with Mr. Herseth as a developing young orchestral player.  He was amazed at how many different ways Mr. Herseth could musically approach the same piece of music. Mr. Herseth commented that, "after I can play through a piece 15-20 times in a row without an error for my four basement walls, then I'm ready to explore it musically in many different ways for different audiences". (I paraphrased somewhat).  By applying the principles that I have been working on to make playing easier for me, I finally believe that I'm ready to begin applying some of this advice from Mr. Herseth.  Before I discovered that playing could be easy, advice like this was just terribly defeating to me, because my playing set-up was broken and wouldn't allow me to ever play through anything 15-20 times without a mistake (I'd be lucky to get though something twice).

I'm finally free to start really exploring the symphonic literature knowing that I'm playing in an efficient manner, similar to how all the greatest players approach the instrument.

So, it really isn't hard to play in the upper register, or anywhere on the instrument for that matter.  I just needed to allow myself to really understand how the great players do what they do, and then figure out how best to make that happen for me!

P.S.  It's hard to jump up and down with excitement in a written forum, but that's what I'm doing.  YeeeeHawww!!! I played a DOUBLE G!!!!

Derek Reaban