The problem I want to focus on today is that we’re stuck in a system that is propping itself up. A lot of teachers and players have never conceived of, or worked on, the entire range of the trumpet as fundamental pedagogy. Since they haven’t done it, they consider it “different.” Then there are players who play in the upper register that might not have great fundamentals in other areas, like sound production. These people will also tell you that the upper register is “different.”
So, to grossly overstate for clarity’s sake:
The “legit” players will say that they would have to give up sound quality for high range.
The “lead” players will say that they would have to give up high range for sound quality.
And since Teacher X or Player Y says it, and they’re good, it must be true.
It’s not true.
Let’s take a look at the Arban’s book. If you’re a trumpet player, you should already have, and know, this book. There are sections that address a number of very important issues for trumpet players. It is an excellent book that should be in every trumpet player’s library. That being said, Mr. Arban wrote this:
One may easily ascend as high a B flat, but the B natural and the C ought to be made use of very sparingly.
Even with E.F. Goldman adding that high D had become commonplace, and Claude Gordon adding that the range of advanced players extends to double C and above (in their editions of Mr. Arban’s book), the exercises never changed. Since Mr. Arban thought of C as the top of the trumpet range, and that it should only be used occasionally, his entire book reflects lack, ignoring the upper range of the trumpet.
I regularly see people post some version of:
“90% of music is below high C”,
which may or may not be true, but doesn’t seem like a good excuse to not be able to play 10% of music. The post is usually accompanied by the idea that everyone should focus on playing the trumpet fundamentally well, and not worry about high notes.
There is also a lot of “pedagogy” out there trying to show you why high notes are different, and how to be able to play them.
Because the pedagogy has been so “either/or”, trumpet players continue to believe it, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. There are so many great players, playing a wide variety of styles, that play with great sounds throughout the range of the trumpet, it’s shocking to me that people still cling to the idea that high notes are somehow “different.”
If you’ve read Parts 1-3, you’ll see this concept again and again:
The entire range of the trumpet is one thing.
Once you conceive of range this way, then the fundamental approach to the horn clarifies, as the focus is to play the trumpet one way, allowing yourself unlimited potential growth, and much more musical freedom.
As it’s the beginning of the school year, now is a great time to think about how and why we practice. If you’re in school, there is a lot asked of you. There are the time commitments of being in all of your classes and rehearsals. Then there’s the work associated with classes, rehearsals, and lessons. All of that is important. But if you only focus on what’s right in front of you, it’s possible that you can get frustrated and lose track of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
This can happen in our daily lives, especially while we’re in school. It can be frustrating to sit in a practice room working on whatever is most difficult for you (for me it was piano- learning the proper fingerings for scales made me want to throw the piano out the window). It is very easy to go to the “will I ever really need this?” question about any single aspect of school or work that you find tedious or difficult.
That’s because all of that is the Little Picture. Don’t get me wrong- the Little Picture is important. This is what you’re doing right now for the immediate future: homework, learning music for an upcoming performance, learning material for your lessons. You want to do well in school, sound good in performances, and be prepared for your lessons.
Here’s the hard part- You shouldn’t let the Little Picture obscure the Big Picture. The Big Picture is the overarching reason you’re doing all of this work. You get to decide what the Big Picture is. Please let me offer some advice:
Make the Big Picture a concept, not a goal.
If you make your big picture a goal, like winning a certain job, then as soon as you achieve it, you’re done. My big picture is to be a great trumpet player, musician, and teacher. If my goal was to play lead on Maynard Ferguson’s band, I would have been done with my Big Picture before I was 30. If it was teaching trumpet at a great music school, then I would still have been done before I was 40. Make no mistake, those are things I wanted to do and am happy to have done. But those were all Little Picture things.
Stay aware of both the Little Picture and Big Picture.
When you lose sight of the Big Picture, it can feel like what you’re doing is pointless, and you’ll never get anywhere. My career is going well, but it wasn’t exactly a straight line. I worked at America Online for a short period of time, taught kindergarten for a year, and worked for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Education Department.
Invest heavily in every Little Picture.
As hard as it can be, take every step in your potential growth seriously. I have lots of rules. One of those is: Knowing is generally better than not knowing. When you encounter those parts of your education that you don’t like, don’t care about, find difficult, or any combination of those- take the time to do the work and, even if you never see any concrete benefit from it, you’ll be the better for it.
If you can operate this way, you can’t help but continue to grow.
Now get to work. And never forget why you’re doing it.
If you know me, you know I’m a sports fan. If it’s competitive, generally I’m interested (except soccer, which is ridiculous). Once, when I was on the road in Jakarta, I was in my hotel room practicing and my roommate (not a sports fan) walked in- glanced at the TV, which had the Asian Badminton Championship on- then looked at me with exasperation. I took the horn off of my face and said, “C’mon, I hear Malaysia has a real shot at a medal this year!” He was not amused.
Way too often, musicians compare themselves to athletes. I’ve already discussed how ludicrous that is here: Musicians Are Not Athletes. One of the aspects that musicians and athletes share is accountability. To oversimplify, I’ll put it this way:
You must practice to get better
My job is teaching trumpet at a university. That means teaching college students how to become professional musicians. There’s a lot that goes into this. It’s not just playing the trumpet well. It’s also about how to conduct yourself in the professional world. With that comes a lot of accountability. Not just for how you play in an ensemble, but for your actions and interactions with others. Sort of like a coach.
Here are the facts of what happened at Ohio State recently:
Urban Meyer, the head football coach, denied knowing about domestic abuse allegations against one of his assistants.
After a report came out stating he did know, Mr. Meyer wrote, in an open letter to “Buckeye Nation”, : “I have always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures when I have learned of an incident involving a student-athlete, coach or member of our staff by elevating the issues to the proper channels. And I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015. I take that responsibility very seriously and any suggestion to the contrary is simply false.”
An investigation by Ohio State found: “Although Coach Meyer and Athletic Director Smith failed to adhere to the precise requirements of their contracts when they concluded that they needed to await a law enforcement determination to file charges before they reported the otherwise disputed claims of spousal abuse against Zach Smith, they did so based upon a good faith belief that they did not have sufficient information to trigger a reporting obligation or initiate disciplinary action in the absence of law enforcement action.”
Urban Meyer was suspended for 3 games.
So let me see if I can sum this up for you quickly:
Urban Meyer lied- “I didn’t know”
When caught in that lie, he lied again- “Okay, I knew, and I reported it”
When the University caught him in both lies,- “Okay, I knew and I didn’t report it”- he’s given a slap on the wrist.
This isn’t the kind of accountability Urban Meyer demands of his players.
In short, Urban Meyer is not being held accountable for his actions. Ohio State has made the cowardly decision that winning football games is more important than their integrity, and in this case- an abused wife of an assistant coach. Even at Ohio State, the majority of the football players are not going to the NFL. What these college students are learning is that if they win enough games and make enough money for the university- the rules don’t apply to them.
Shame on you, Ohio State. Your players and fans deserve better. I hope they ask for it.
Recently I met with a high school student who was visiting IU. As he was packing up, he asked me if I had any advice on developing confidence. As our time was short, I hope that my answer didn’t come off as flippant. I told him:
No one can give you confidence. It’s something you have to build.
As a teacher, I can give advice and tools to help build confidence, but eventually the student has to take ownership. If I give a student tools and exercises, telling them that once they complete them that they will be confident, I’m lying. What is most important in the process is that the student is aware of how they’re doing.
I try to make confidence into a logic problem. Let’s say there is an etude a student has never seen. I will ask how confident they are in their ability to perform the etude. Usually, it’s fairly low. Then I will give the student one week to prepare it, with tools on how to prepare. After the week, I ask how confident they are. Some will say very confident, while others will still say they are not confident at all. What’s the difference? The students who used the preparation time to not only learn the etude, but understand and believe that they are able to play the etude, have done themselves a great service. Too many people ignore the second part.
So here’s the logic:
If you are practicing something, you should be getting better at it.
If you’re getting better at it, you should have more confidence in your ability to perform it.
So….if you believe that you are practicing well, but you’re not gaining confidence, you have one of two problems. Either:
You aren’t practicing as well as you think, or
You aren’t paying attention to the progress you’re making.
It can be easy to focus on the nuts and bolts of:
playing all the right notes in the right order
playing in good time
because all of those things are important. Too often we focus exclusively on what still needs work, instead of also including what has improved. Make sure you’re looking at the big picture. After working on a piece of music, ask yourself if it’s better than when you started. If the answer is yes, then give yourself some credit for doing good work, and realize that you should now have increased confidence, as you know you’re heading in the right direction.
If this sounds overly simple- good. It’s not complicated (that doesn’t mean it’s easy!). I’ve found that people like to make concepts that they find difficult as complicated as possible. Making difficult concepts as simple as possible helps me know that a solution is not only possible, but something I can achieve.