Philip's tips - What I've learned and what I'm learning!

About getting better
Expanding your range
Getting better as a ‘pro’ and staying good
Nerves and Anxiety
Playing it right
Using recordings
What I’m learning

About getting better

For the young player.

Practice – plain and simple. Without it you won’t improve. A lack of improvement is the biggest reason that young players give up. You need a ‘Team’ behind you led by your teacher and assisted by your family (note to the family – paying for the lessons is an investment in your child and your money. Seek a healthy return on this investment by supervising practice time). With this team behind you will see good progress and enjoy playing much more.

“…paying for lessons is an investment in your child. Seek a healthy return on this investment by supervising practice time…”

For the more experienced player.

You should now know what needs to worked on to get better. However; a rut is easily fallen into and breaking free is difficult as you return to the same problems. Ok some straight talking! When I need to address a problem I go back to basics and let this knowledge of the basics straighten out the problem. For instance ‘…I keep on mispitching a G#...’ I am simply shaping my embouchure incorrectly, articulating too harshly and or overblowing. The trumpet will give you what you feed it! I need to listen to myself and play like I know how to.

“…if you can do it once you can reproduce it every time…”

Really start to listen to yourself, feel how the incorrect notes and correct ones feel when you are playing, get in touch with your physiology. We all feel a cracked note, but only after it has occurred. Guard against the ‘crack’ by getting to know how the right notes feel, get to know how ‘you’ play the right notes.

“…if you can do it once you can reproduce it every time…”

When it comes to improving or correcting phrases in the music you are studying, record yourself or ask a trusted friend to listen to you play. Recording yourself can provide a wealth of information and startling results. You get to hear it from a neutral point of view, where you rush/slow, areas of poor intonation, areas of good phrasing, great articulation, I can list many more. But the point is it allows you to hear ‘how it is’. The pressure from recording yourself can encourage you to knuckle down and produce a good performance. If you can do it once you can reproduce it every time.

It’s tough to ask for some help from a friend or peer and a trusted peer who is also a musician can offer valuable insight into how to play your current repertoire better. Don’t regard it as a ‘lesson’ and if advice is offered listen and use what is useful.

Expanding your range

Not everyone can and will be a screamer! If really high notes don’t come to you with some ease stop trying to scream. You’ll hurt yourself and potentially damage your ability to play notes that do fall into your range. Play what you can to the best of your ability, solid dependable players attract work.

“….preserve the show, use an instrument that can deliver the high notes….”

If you need to play some high notes in a concert or gig set, experiment with some smaller mouthpieces or change to a smaller trumpet. There is no shame in preserving the show buy using an instrument that allows you to deliver the high notes.

Some players can do the screams, good for them, you have greater value in other areas, improve on that.

Getting better as a ‘pro’ and staying good

This is where I seek guidance and will continue to. I get help from many different sources, from my colleagues (not just trumpeters), from my wife (yep, smart lady) and from what I tell my own students.

If you give lessons, listen to what you tell your students. It makes sense but we often skip over the basic stuff and concentrate on material we are playing now. Practice what you preach! If you ask them to breathe more give the task to yourself as well. Give yourself all the tasks you give them and return to playing the basics well.

Play your scales! The four veggies of playing a musical instrument, they are a practice session in themselves, don’t nod in agreement, practice them, now!

“…being part of a top sounding team is a big buzz…”

Drop the ego

You are working! you are doing what you’ve always wanted to do, stop competing! But keep the goals.

I’ve stopped worrying about not being able to scream, I’ve a colleague who can do that. So now I’m more concerned about maintaining the good reputation I have as a solid and reliable performer in multiple genres. I love to play Principal but being part of a top sounding team as a section player is also a big buzz.

All this has helped me relax my attitude and concentrate on staying good and getting better for my own good and that of my career. I want to be better, and now I can chase this and I have the skills and the people around me to make this possible. My peers and colleagues support me and are excited to hear it happen. Happy times!

“…listen to what you tell your students and use the advice on yourself…”

The Pro Trumpeters Maintenance Diet

Try it, it’s not magic, but it will maintain you, particularly when you are working and giging hard.

‘Hardly any time’

Scales – 15 minutes.

Flexibilities (diaphragm pushes) and interval exercises – 15 minutes.

‘A nice gap to sort some stuff’

Scales – 15 minutes

Flexibilities – 15 minutes

Repeated notes (articulation) – 15 minutes

Exercises from a book – 15 minutes.


All the above

Then –

Choose some repertoire than you can keep in your bag to pull out and use on any of the above.

Really work it for 45 minutes, paying attention to not interrupting the air, back off on your chops, and think air. Upping the stamina or maintaining it is all about air, chops will never become ‘like steel’.

Blow soft long notes – 15 minutes.

It’s doing ok for me, it is sensible and sustainable.

'Coming Home' tour rehearsal

Nerves and Anxiety

This is a career killer! I’ve played with people who were (nerves stopped them playing) way better than I, but I’ve scored gigs because I can handle anxiety.

“….find your relaxed and happy place, no need for pills to take the anxiety away…”

Recently I played on a big tour that required me to play front of stage with the headliner and a piano, no music to 8,000 people each night. To play each show near perfect I would conjure an image of me rehearsing at home in front of my kids, happy times! Exactly! I would put myself back there each show and a smile would come to me especially recalling when they would shout ‘here’s the big tune’ and applaud heartily when I finished the last note. I use this ‘place’ all the time, you have a place like this too, no need for pills to take the anxiety away. Practice conjuring up a relaxed state by employing an image that is happy and relaxed. After a while you can use this technique at will and equip yourself with a valuable advantage.

'Coming Home' tour rehearsal

Playing it right

Nothing replaces reading and playing what you see. Interpretation can come later.

“…play what it says, no decision making needed….”

Playing the music well and without mistakes is about following the instructions - ‘reading what it says’, no decisions are needed, concentrate on what you see. Playing a musical instrument well is a challengein itself, don’t bring unwanted things into the act of playing like unwritten notes.

The confidence to play with style and in style comes from the ability to play what you see.

Using recordings

Recordings are a great source of inspiration, and a fine way of learning orchestral style.

“….adopting another player’s style robs you of your own…..”

This being said be your own player and develop your own style. Adopting another player’s style robs you of your own and can stifle your own development.

Recordings are a very useful way of learning and understanding how in particular the Baroque and classical repertory should be played. Have you considered why most orchestral vacancies are filled by more experienced player rather than College graduates? Because the excerpts played at audition are the correct style, tempo and dynamic. Ask your College or Youth Orchestra conductor to help you, they will be more than happy to assist.

What I’m learning

What I should have done back then…..

“….build a more sensible and sustainable practice regime…”

My scales! Long notes! As with most students there is a desire to hit the hard stuff hard, the Arban, flash French sonatas, big beefy German repertoire. I ‘m glad I got to know it but I neglected my conditioning. Long notes, SLOW scales, SLOW flexibilities. Why did I have to do everything fast!

I now advise my better students to take a look at their practice regime and build more ‘sensibility’ and ‘sustainability’ into it.

What I’m learning now I’m working….

“….why did I have to do everything fast…”

Take it steady. Like my eldest son’s favorite book quote “slow and steady wins the race”. I can maintain my standard and lift it by taking care of my good basic command of the Trumpet.

Lighter tongue and more air = better pitching.

Breathe whenever you can and to you capacity

It’s a wind instrument, not an embouchure instrument, steady on the chops.

Repeated notes = better relative pitch.

Read it through without the instrument, get a head start.

There’s bags more but you see where I’m going, be friends with your talent and get to know your playing. You will save some less than ok performances if you know where the good notes are.
Philip Cox
©     2012     Author: Web Pros