A few months ago, I picked up my trumpet to practice and could not produce a single note. Air leaks on sides of mouthpiece, no buzz at all in center. Ability to see a note/play the note automatically — all gone. I managed to work my way back to near normal using everything I’ve learned in the past, but the problems I thought I had beaten are returning, along with some new issues. I had spent 4 years studying with Jimmie (James) Stamp and learned his methods inside and out. For me, his methods made my playing completely automatic and consistently reliable. Everyday was a good day on the trumpet. Bad days did not exist. I could see a note and play it. Not anymore. So what happened?
A little history first: I aggressively pursued trumpet studies through high school and performance majored in college. Graduated in mid-year and found it’s a really bad time to try to gain entrance to a conservatory. (My instructor wanted me to go to his alma mater, New England Conservatory but that didn’t pan out.) Mid year, everything is pretty much set with the players they admitted for Fall term. I didn’t feel like chilling for a semester and a summer before trying again, so my instructor (Edward Hoffman at that time) recommended I move to Los Angeles to study with Jimmie. (I also studied with Tom Stevens and Mario Guarneri). I played two auditions (San Diego and North Carolina) which I didn’t win and got tired of waiting for the next person to die or retire for auditions to be held to fill their seat. Then, I quit trumpet for 24 years in favor of a graphic design career. I got back on the trumpet in 2002 and played with a couple really fine quintets while living in the Denver metro area.
So what happened?
I’m now in a small town in Western Colorado and moved here knowing playing opportunities would amount to only an occasional solo (but being in the mountains is awesome). There are very few really good musicians this side of the Colorado Rockies and I got invited to play a pops concert with a local community symphony. It’s fun. Easy. No stress. Got to make new friends. Get to play all the high charts the other players can’t touch. BUT, while working on prepping for their pops concert, I noticed my range was dropping. Huh? Inconsistent D? Then, I started missing attacks. Why wasn’t I seeing the note and playing the note automatically anymore — and why splitting so many entrance notes? Maybe I wasn’t practicing enough? Practicing a lot more just made things worse.
Ultimately, through online research and talking to a friend suffering from Long Covid, I attribute all my disturbing playing issues to what Covid did. (Covid because it is known to cause neurological aftereffects and because of the timing of problems showing up after I was sick with it.) I got myself back to close to normal after the pops concert (Sept. 2021), but now I’ve picked up a throat vibration/hum (never had that before) and my range is dropping again. (Normal had been a consistent Eb above the staff FYI).
While searching online to find a different way out of these returning and new issues (I will not do the same thing over and over and expect a different result), I found that every symptom I’ve been dealing with matches something called “embouchure focal dystonia” (thankfully a milder case with no horrible facial spasms). My online search is how I found Greg Spence and Mystery to Mastery and saw that his methods have pulled a few players out of dystonia. I know I’ll have to throw out just about every technique I learned in the past and start over, but I want the throat thing gone and my range back or better. I do hope to come out of this playing better than before with a higher range than ever before as well.
This is my official day 1. Bye, bye Jimmie, you’re being replaced.
Considering a new embouchure “sweet spot”. On the day I picked up my trumpet and couldn’t produce a note, I did find a way to get one to come out — but only to the right of my normal position (which is dead center). Maybe along with learning WindWorks, moving my mouthpiece to the right would be a good idea. Can’t do too much today – I have a 2-hour rehearsal in 2 1/2 hours and need my old embouchure setup to work.
To really get you going, I can recommend an online lesson with Greg Spence. I’m pretty sure that it would be worthwhile. I can say from experience, how difficult it is to lose old bad habits particularly when you are not even aware of them. Greg picks them up in a flash, and invariable it boils down to tension in you technique. Greg will be able to give you a decent foundation on which you can develop by following the Windworks programme.
I’ve played cornet, flugel & trumpet for well over 50 years and probably plateaued about 40 years ago, and slowly declined. Having been on the Windworks programme for about 10 months now, I’m back to (I think) better than ever, and still improving, especially in sound & tone. Like everything, you have ups and downs (including Greg’s coffee moments….they’re the really good days).
I’ve found when I seem to stall a bit, a lesson with Greg gets the progress moving again. And I know from experience, that the pressure of rehearsals and gigs do get in the way of the programme to some extent, but the more you play with Greg’s method, the more it feels natural when under the additional pressure from playing with others (or even that more difficult music where you subconsciously slip back into the old tried and tested (but inefficient) habits). Persevere!
Anyhow that’s my take on it all.
Thanks for replying, hotflugel.
I’ve been considering what you wrote and I could sign up for a lesson, but I think I’ll at least take the time to go through the Largo lessons as many times as it takes for those to sink in first. (I haven’t even cleared the first 8 lessons in the Largo Status stage yet for having to go through them over and over again.) I think putting money into a lesson at this point would not be as beneficial as it would be if I was further along in application of the videos. Even possible incorrect application would be more to work with than I have now. I’ll wait.
Greg talks about using a metaphorical magnifying glass to examine what we are doing, but mine is broken. Right now, I can’t even tell how I’ve been getting from A to B under the Stamp method. I can see no reason to be playing as well as I do or as high as I do, but I do see a reason to change everything away from Stamp. (That said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”, not Einstein BTW.) I want genuinely different results.
And now I find myself no different than a kid looking in the back of the book for answers to a quiz — I found one of Greg’s videos on YouTube about high range and tried what he taught. It works. I played higher notes than I ever have before in my life, but I’ll leave that alone for now. I do believe in laying a solid foundation and not building on sand, so I won’t be jumping levels. But, it’s nice to know there’s something I could try to incorporate (if needed) to keep my high range in place through my end of April pops concerts!
All the best,
I started with just using the online lessons as you did. Problem was, I thought I was flying through the lessons, but really I was just making it work – incorrectly.
My advice is get the lesson(s). Greg will quickly point out what you think you are doing right is actually nowhere close to correct (at least for me).
Good luck, I am very glad I finally started skype lessons.
I will continue to hold off on lessons for awhile. I’m just starting to become aware of the things I’m doing that are creating problems. This is a really good step forward for me. To quote a hymn, “I once was blind, but now I see).
I have a LOT to overcome to get away from the Stamp method. 1.0 brain is fighting me bad tonight. It was fully triggered by playing all CDEFG or GFEDC progressions. Throat tightens, body wants badly to activate. When I can get mastery over this, other stuff should start flowing better. I am by no means speeding through anything at this point. I can’t. I’m only as far as Largo Status Stage Ascending and Descending Slurs and made a failed attempted at the Ascending Tongue Stop exercise. No go on these. I’d really like to hear from other Stamp students (IF any have tried switching to Greg’s method). I will keep plugging on and win the fight over my 1.0 brain.
Thanks for replying, much appreciated.