About 3 weeks ago I was privileged to be invited to a Trumpet Symposium at the University of Illinois. It was hosted by Ron Romm and Mike Ewald, feature a
Master Class with Jim Thompson.
I'm going to try to provide a synopsis of what I learned, but I'm certain I am not fully conveying the depth of the Master Class. I have to give Mr. Thompson a 5 Star rating. He's an amazing guy. I know he totally turned my head around and filled in many of the blanks I've carried around for years.
At 7:30am on a Saturday morning we were invited to participate in Jim Thompson's Mouthpiece/Buzzing warmup. This basic warmup is gentle and unassuming...but illustrated how to overcome so many of the deficiencies in my playing. I cannot even begin to explain the level of awareness that I've developed in the three weeks since the class.
Jim advocates the use of a B.E.R.P., or similar device installed on the horn where the MP can be switched in and out of the receiver rapidly. This idea of an installed device is so that your hand and body position remain as close to playing position as possible. While buzzing you can also coordinate finger movement without disturbing what you're trying to do with the buzz.
Jim's approach to range and endurance is simple: Play low and soft long tones of moving long tones (i.e. Clarke). Low playing requires a volume of air, but to play softly, you need to control the aperture, lest your air runs out too quickly for longer exercises. The idea is the train the embouchure to make a small aperture...but one without tension. He states clearly that that may take a long time to develop, but insists that once the embouchure muscles learn to coordinate, they will develop the strength to resist higher pressure. Isn't playing high the ability to make a small aperture that will resist a pressurize airstream? If you can do that with a minimal amount of tension, would that not increase endurance? Wilmer, Scooter? Care to comment on the above? I'm still trying to figure the range/endurance stuff out for myself and am at this point just parroting what was said. I hope I got it right.
One thing that has helped me a lot is Jim's approach to using the buzz to change pitch. First, he wants to make certain the embouchure/aperture is set somewhere above 2nd line G (is this note just for buzzing newbies like me?). This seems to minimize chop movement and strength expenditure. When changing notes while MP buzzing, he advocates using the glissando between the notes. He had us increase the airstream (first)to attempt to change the pitch (for upward pitch change) and just use enough face to "meet" the airstream as you gliss. For downward pitch changes, you more or less back off the air. Interestingly, crescendos/diminuendos seem to be accomplished by manipulating the aperture, rather than blowing harder/softer. This was a total departure from how I had been playing.
As part of the above exercise, it was pointed out that we want to approach our trumpet playing as a vocalist approaches singing. They don't have any hard "bumps" as they move between notes. They don't have any external "plumbing" to create partials as we do with out brass instruments. So, the gliss helps us to "vocalize" the notes we are trying to create.
Now when the horn is added, one can continue to try to do the same things, particularly the gliss. The "plumbing" of you instruments will not really allow you to gliss between notes (particularly notes of the same fingering), but the concept of glissing, aided by the changing of fingers or attempting to jump partials (primarily with wind power) now is smoothed out by the attempt to gliss between the notes.
It is worth noting that many, many teachers have pointed out to me that my "musical connectivity" is a little weak and that I should try to "blow" through the notes, through each phrase. Though I have been aware of that concept, I've only been partially successful at musical expression. However, attempting to buzz/gliss between the notes has begun to provide a lyricism in my playing previously missing.
Toward the end of the Master Class, Jim used a doctoral candidate as a demonstrator (who was also a very fine player). The exercise that Jim set up was to have the student move (open valves) though all the partial from low C to high C, but trying to change the pitch by "bumping" the air without the aid of chops or tongues (or with as little interference as possible). The sounds came out nice and full, but a the "changes" were a bit raucous. Following that, the student was allowed to use the face to "follow" the air. The sound remained nice and full, but the transition from note to note smoothed out. The student noted that it felt like his high C was a fifth lower than it felt before!
Following that demonstration, I realized that I could now actually hear when a note was "transitioning" with the air ASSISTED by the tongue and the embouchure as opposed to the "pinched" sound bumping the notes around with the face ( I plead guilty to having done it that way far too long). So, in my mind, I summarize the mechanics as the AIRSTREAM providing the GROSS changes in sound and pitch, the TONGUE proving intermediate changes and the Aperture/embouchure fine tuning everything else.
It seems that I had been approaching the whole thing bass-ackwards. Consequently my range was poor to mediocre, my endurance sucked and I always felt that I was wrestling with the horn... Consequently REALLY damaging my chops last year (couldn't feel my aperture for a month, and its not quite 100% now, 9 months later).
Though I don't claim to have totally absorbed what I learned, I feel that in the three weeks my awareness, sound and musicality have improved immensely. I'm not sure I quite understand the range/endurance thing, but at least I have a different way to approach everything. Hopefully I'm finally on the right track.
Any comments from the pros [Scooter, Wilmer, Leon, Jeanne, John, Nick, Eddie, Michael (etc.)]? I'd love to know if I'm on the right track... Or again sidetracked.
Thanks for listening,