From: "Peter A. Sokolowski" <>
Date: Mon, 9 Jun 1997 16:24:15 +0000
Subject: High Notes:  Lesson with MVC part II (long)

Hi folks-----

The following post from a wise and musical player has inspired me to contribute to this thread.  Those of you who have been on the list for a long time know that I do not like to spout pedagogy (as I consider myself a student and not a teacher of trumpet), but I love to hear what others have to say.  The comments of many on this list have helped me improve.  Since I would appreciate the reports of others who make discoveries which help them fight the dragon, I will do likewise.

Doug wrote:

<<I beg to differ.  I have personally witnessed the development of both  range and endurance in several of my colleagues who dedicated some of their time to a rigorous routine (a crazy program, you would call it).
      Since all aspects of trumpet playing are intricately related, when you improve in one area (range, for example) it IS possible that other areas may improve also (endurance, for example). If one wants to play "high notes", one must practice them. If one wants to have better endurance, one must play for longer time periods. These "programs" provide a model and a method.  The only promises are the ones you must make to yourself.  It takes a firm commitment and a lot of patience to break through the barriers of trumpet playing, whatever they may be for you.  Any help you can get is worth getting.
--Doug LeBlanc Still chipping away at MY barriers.>>

It's been three or four weeks since my lesson with Mark Van Cleave. I am now practicing lip slurs up to high B flat, about a minor third above what I used to do.  Endurance and control are vastly improved, as is dynamic control.  What he told me is NOT  a method of playing high notes.  It's a method of playing the trumpet.

As I said before, my chops when meeting MVC were more or less as follows:  good flexibility, little power, and trouble going from low to high or high to low without an embouchure adjustment.

He recommended two exercises.  The first is playing lip slurs from low C up the harmonic series.  Not very original.  But he told me to do them slightly differently than anyone else had.  Start with a fat, resonant low C, and slowly slur up with a clear *click* between each note.  Next, make each note incrementally softer (the increment does not matter;  as you get better, the increments will become greater, whereas at first, they may be very slight).  This maximizes the muscle contraction, i.e. the largest aperture (loud low note) to the smallest (softer high note).  This prevents "gunning" the upper register and promotes control.  I do this through the valve combos.  MVC calls this his "desert island" exercise.

Since I have (had) trouble going up and down without changing, he recommended that I play only as high as sounds as good as the low C.  That was fourth space E, but already I play this exercise up to high C without loss of tone--up and down.  He said that one *really* has to force the downward slurs to land squarely on the pitch without changing.  So far, this has vastly improved my overall playing.

I had always practiced too softly to develop control, and therefore had an anemic sound and no real power. I guess I thought that loud playing didn't need to be practiced.   MVC told me to crescendo from soft to louder than I can really control and back.  This accomplishes much the same regarding the control of the aperture.  These exercises are not time consuming and have really helped my playing--low, high, soft, *and* loud.  The key is to try to keep close to the pitch throughout the dynamics exercise.  (MVC calls this a "power builder.")

Perhaps as important as the preceding was his advice about breathing. I had tension in the breath, because I had always taken the party line of "diaphragmatic" breathing and used a lot of muscle whenplaying.   MVC told me "just breath like you do when you talk" and voila!  I can play much easier, especially on Concones and other lyrical things which *should* sound easy.

This was good advice, and it vexes me to realize that not only does the "breathe from the diaphragm" advice not work for literal-minded folks like me, it is physiologically impossible.  This has been a big breakthrough in my playing.  My high A flats are roughly where my high F's were not long ago--without any "range" work per se, just more relaxed breathing habits.

Today, I can "warm up" MUCH faster than before, and feel ready to play.  I can also switch from my standard to lead mouthpiece with no problem whatsoever.  This is because I'm consciously using my aperture to control my playing, not any of the outer "macro" embouchure muscles.  I can also play fourth in a big band and enjoy myself and fill out the part--I always used to feel stifled and unable to really fill up the horn with good tone in the lower parts.

MVC explained that I basically had a more correct set for high notes than for low notes, ergo I would feel good on lead--yet not have lots of power--and bad on fourth.  By starting his "desert island" exercise on a high note and going down first, then back up (increasing volume on the descent), I have made progress melding these two setups.  Once this is accomplished, and one uses the *same* approach for the "normal" range, range development should follow the logical and rapid improvement which MVC has demonstrated, since one is *always* working the correct muscles the correct way.  This is why the truly accomplished high-note lead players play better as the night goes on.  It's about finesse, not brawn.

I believe that this is also the premise of Clyde's approach--a very, very sound approach!

Until then, one cannot play high notes as part of one's normal range, because the chops don't know how to, and therefore the brain treats them as if they really *are* different.  Fact is, they're not.  This is also what Eddie Lewis said time and time again.  And he's right too.

As a last word, while we're on the subject of "high note" methods, let me leave you with this:  the "high note" method you use should improve ease in ALL registers, or it's wrong, and you're dangerously wasting your time.  If developing your top range means some kind (*any* kind!) of sacrifice in tone, facility, or intonation of lower notes, then you're on the WRONG path.

It's not how high you play, it's how easily you play.

Cheers, and thanks for the bandwidth,