Hope everyone is having very happy and healthy holidays.
Thought I would share with you some thoughts I have had recently about my experience, as it may save some of you some time–I hope it is helpful, for what it’s worth.
Lately, I’ve had a great run for the past week or two. I remember sort of falling into a bit of a slump leading up to the Zoom call we did–things just weren’t feeling that good, going that well. A lot of it I think was just that I was busy and not focused / didn’t have a lot of time for the trumpet.
The past week or two has been perhaps the best playing of my life–I feel like I’ve had yet another “coffee moment” as Greg calls them.
I had, as I previously shared, enjoyed a lot of progress/success increasing my effective range from G above the staff for most of my life to an E or F above High C, with an occasional G.
But I was struggling a bit with consistency and my ability to use that range and with articulation.
I did have mostly good days, some great days, and was very happy with my new abilities; but I knew I was missing something–that something I was doing, or not doing, was holding me back from where I knew I could / should be.
Lately, I have had unprecedented control and ability to play my full range at any dynamic level, articulation, etc. And it has almost felt as if I were “cheating” doing it–it felt easier than ever before and more frequently. I’m playing some relatively difficult (for me) things with an ease I never thought possible.
I believe what has gotten me to this new place is the following:
1. Focusing on Shape for each pitch – really paying attention to how the note I was playing felt and sounded and making small changes to Shape (aperture corners, tongue, etc.) to make each pitch as resonant as possible
2. Focusing on using the minimal amount of effort to change Shape – I have played harmonic slurs, paying close attention to making them as efficient as possible, going slowly first–trying to connect each ideal Shape found in step 1 above to the next so that, eventually, I could ultimately play them as fast or as easily as possible
If not obvious, the epiphany I had after experiencing this is that the WindWorks course is actually designed the way it is for a very good reason.
I already knew that, believed it, and I benefitted greatly from WindWorks. But, to be quite honest, I wasn’t following the course closely for a long time. I have limited time to play and found myself most often just warming up, playing a little music then hopping back and forth to various different types of exercises (harmonic slurs, articulation, etc.) with no set structure or agenda.
I’m just an amateur comeback player with no playing commitments, just doing this for fun and for myself. So I have the luxury of making it up as I go.
But, in hindsight, there is a reason Greg had the International Harmonic Slur challenge and has the progress charts, etc. in WindWorks.
I skipped past the progress section of the course more than I would care to acknowledge, not spending much time on it as I didn’t understand why it was important for me to focus on my efficiency of playing middle C to E above it, or the notes above and below those.
As I type this, it is a bit embarassing, as I knew deep down inside that it was in fact important. And Greg explained that it was.
But I suppose many human beings have to learn from experiencing things for themselves and don’t listen to others who went through what they’re going through as much as they could have / should have. All of us parents know what I’m talking about…
Anyway, take it from me–if you want your 2021 to be as Happy a New Year as possible, don’t skip the harmonic slurs section as much as I did. Spend some quality time there, measure where you’re at and monitor your progress. It does matter and is perhaps the key to it all, really.
Important Note – Make sure you approach harmonic slurs with the correct mindset / approach.
WindWorks is not a set of exercises you can play to develop range; it does not work that way.
When I was young, I used to approach harmonic slurs more as muscle-building calisthenics / endurance exercises meant to build our “chops”.
Nothing could be farther from the truth, in my opinion.
Playing trumpet is a matter of coordination, not strength. The only real strength is an endurance strength, and even that is minimized if we play efficiency and don’t fight ourselves.
Instead of treating them as an endurance exercise to endure, pay close attention to the quality of the sound and the feeling of each and ever pitch, slow things down at first and “own” every pitch not moving till you’re happy with it. Play it faster later, once you feel you have the Shape down / things are feeling / sounding the way you think they should.
At the end of the day, what we’re doing is learning, through experimentation, what Shape should be for each pitch and how to move from one Shape to the next in the most efficient way possible (minimal effort).
Separating Air and Shape is key as well–we need to understand what each of those does independent from each other and how to balance the two together.
What that means, specifically, is unique to each one of us individually with our unique physical characteristics, etc.
We can’t mindlessly follow a path to get where we want to go; we must keep in our minds WHAT we are trying to achieve as we are playing the exercises and feel free to improvise / experiment a bit–I think that’s important.
Perhaps on one extreme is completely unstructured practice, only playing what comes to mind–that can be dangerous too; one forum member tried that and it didn’t work out well for him.
I myself tend to be towards that side of the spectrum myself, but I know that about myself and I try to balance that out a bit and play music and written exercises as well.
But playing exercises as they’re written with no personal thought of what it’s about, WHY you’re playing the exercise, etc. is not going to get you where you want to go.
Keeping your head down, doing as you’re told, working hard will not get you there…those are good things mostly, but you must figure it out for yourself and understand specifically WHAT Shape you should form for each pitch and how to move from one Shape to the next the most efficient way possible.
No instructor can tell us how to do that, specifically. They can only look for clues to what’s going on.
WindWorks is a set of guideposts to follow, but each of our paths is slightly different.
Hope everyone has a very Happy and Healthy 2021 and you all accomplish all of your goals.
Very well thought out and written.
Wishing all of you peace and blessings for the new year 2021
Had a slight setback yesterday, but it was brief and turned out to be a positive thing.
I thought again how the most important part of our body / piece of equipment involved with playing this instrument is between our ears–our brain.
I was tied up with work and didn’t get around to playing until later in the day. Rather than approaching the instrument like I have been, patiently paying close attention to the sensations and sound I was achieving as I started playing, and continued to play–I approached it as though I had catching up to do, trying to get through things so that I could get the results that I wanted.
I wasn’t even rushing much at all, it was just a slight difference in approach. It felt like an off day to me as it didn’t wind up feeling as good as the day before. The funny thing though, is that I managed to play everything that I played the day before–I hit the notes. It just didn’t feel as relaxed, as good, etc.
This morning, I got a great start to my day and just paid close attention to the feeling and sound as I released passive air through the horn, trying to cooperate with it rather than force or fight it. This helped me get back to an even better feeling of ease with my playing and an even greater resonance in my sound.
I’ve had an even greater sense of ease playing above the staff, an ability to play very softly or very loudly, ease of articulation, etc. It really has felt incredible. I am very grateful to Greg and others on this site for the help I have found at WindWorks. I’m not a great player, but all any of us can ask for is as much freedom as possible to start with that we can use to play whatever it is we want to play.
I remember a couple Christmases ago reaching a low point where I almost threw my instrument across the room–which would have been the end of playing for me. Now, I feel as though I have finally mastered this thing, at least the whole embouchure setting…there’s always more to do… But the ease with which I’m playing must be optimal; it is incredible. Now, I just need to not screw it up and work on other fundamentals of the instrument.
I saw somewhere a video or quote from Christopher Martin saying that we must learn how to play everyday–I like that, I can relate to that now. Our bodies are in constant flux, we start from a slightly different place every day and our “reed” is flesh and bone, which are not constant. We have to see where we’re at everday, and feel and listen to what the instrument is telling us.
I remember my teacher when I was young, who tried an embouchure change on me in high school but that and nothing else he / we tried worked. He was a great player and reputable teacher, but for some reason nothing worked. He eventually passed me on to another teacher and I never found my way. Eventually, I decided I had reached the end of the runway and it was time to grow up. I went to college and focused on developing marketable skills. No regrets, I’m happy. And I don’t blame anyone for my failure.
I remember him telling me to roll my bottom lip in to play higher–in fact, I just ran across old manuscript paper with his lessons on it with that written on the pages.
Similarly, Clarke wrote about the movement of the lower lip in his “Setting Up Drills” book.
The “rolling in” of my bottom lip led me to failure, tilting my head back, bell to the floor, all sorts of manipulations / overblowing, tightening the lips to compensate for the excess air, etc. etc.
Now, I don’t think of it as much that I’m moving the lower lip–although I have been thinking of this as I have been experiencing what I have been lately, this new ease of playing. I can understand how someone would think that it’s the lower lip that’s moving…and it very well may be. But if it is, it’s very subtle, very gradual.
I believe Greg’s description of “Shape” to be the best explanation I have come across. He also mentioned a “milk spout” thing with the bottom lip, which I am experiencing lately. Again, it’s subtle, natural, and I’m automatically doing it instinctively in response to the sound / sensations of playing and to more efficiently move from one Shape to the next or obtain the best sound possible. Anyone can do what I’m doing–the key is experimenting with an open mind and paying close attention to the sound and sensation, not trying to follow a book or description anyone else is giving. I believe it’s helpful and important to hear others’ perspectives, they are valuable clues / insight, but they usually make more sense AFTER realizing what works for me.
I have also been thinking about how Charlie Porter and Vince Di Martino talked about keeping the corners tight. This seemed a different approach, contradictory to Greg’s explanation to keep things relaxed, etc. But now I realize it’s not–it’s another way of saying “aperture corner tension” and firmly engaged corners is what makes the Shape the most accurate for each pitch AND allows us to more efficiently move from one Shape to the next.
The guideposts are there:
1. What shape produces the best pitch (for each note)
2. What movements can I make, or not make, in my embouchure that will make the movement from the pitch I’m on to the next pitch the most efficient? Experiment with doing as little as possible (“Less Is More” – Frank van der Poel, Greg’s 1% Rule, etc.).
By focusing on these guideposts, I was able to get from my slightly less ideal experience of playing back to feeling better than ever.
And, of course the WindWorks course / exercises–they are laid out well and I get why they are laid out that way more than ever before. The Singing C exercises, progress charts and articulating on each pitch–making sure we have full ability on every note, that we’re not unecessarily engaging anything in our body that is hindering things.
That’s my plan on “teaching myself how to play everyday” as Christopher Martin says.
Fortunately I am having a similar epiphany and everything is starting to feel easier.
Also I must admit to not sticking strictly to Greg’s method, dipping in and out. The shape thing and aperture corners have been such an important change in my methodology and with less mouthpiece pressure is enabling me to move throughout the range so easily.
My New Year’s resolution is to improve my lip slurring. I have embarked on playing a transcription of Bach’s Unaccompanied Suites, BWV 1007-1012,and it requires superb lip slurring.
I think it will be a 5 year project.
Happy New Year to all.
Awesome Colin! Congrats! Just watched an interview last night of Eric Myashiro last night–he said Maynard told him he never worked on range with range exercises, he just kept raising the key of the music he was playing till he was playing above the staff, etc.
Thanks John, I can see you’ve put a lot of thought into your post. I got my trumpet two days ago and will follow your recommendations when I practice! I’m not new to playing an instrument but new to brass instruments and it’s been fun and interesting getting aquainted after practising with a leadpipe the past few weeks.
Glad to hear you got your horn! Congrats and good luck. Yes, my posts usually wind up being very long… I have just given it a lot of thought over the past couple years. I had a great end pf 2020 and this morning again was a new high for my playing.
I’m very grateful for what I have learned on this site and hope I can help others while I continue on my journey.
I think that spoke to a lot of us glad to hear your encouragement.
It seems to be a circular process:
make a bit of progress then spot some tension creeping in or galloping in! then back to the easy stuff and do it more carefully with more insight
Happy new year to everybody
It definitely is a circular process, one we’ll never be done with.
I saw Tom Hooten ( LA Phil) and other great players (Phil Smith) talk about watching out for tension creeping in.
I myself seem to have it less and less often now as I replace it with more and more memories of playing relaxed and experiencing the amazing freedom and resonance possible above the staff.
I proved my theory again yesterday, I played some harmonic slur exercises (Arban), focusing more on quality of sound than speed at first.
I believe the sound should be our guide to what specific shape we should make for each pitch with good air and we should strive also for the Shape / movement to make that is the most efficient possible.
The work I did yesterday seemed to make a difference today, making things feel and sound even better.
I finally feel free, a bit, to focus on other things and not think about Shape as much anymore, I feel like I finally have it down. I need to work on my range a bit further, but very happy for now with what ive got.
Planning on working on articulation and music/phrasing a bit. And, of course continuing with working on harmonic slurs / WindWorks exercises–excited to continue that progression.
Well done Jonnel
You got a great thread up here and running. I like your nice clear action points – minimum effort transitions/ slurs feeling the shape . I read somewhere today that rather than fighting the trumpet we should “make friends” with it. After reading your piece I see that it is easy to take that a step further – make friends with each note…
all the best for the year ahead – steve in helsinki…
Thanks Steve, Happy New Year! I hope things are well in Helsinki. Things in the U.S. are interesting right now…but I am hopeful that the worst is behind us, for the most part.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying the ride I’m on quite a bit and am more and more connecting various dots of things I’ve learned done, it feels very much like it’s all coming together in my playing and I’m realizing more and more WHY I’m doing certain exercises and the brilliance of those before us.
Clarke, for example, was to me when I was younger more of a fingering exercise and I would tense up and blow harder as I ascended.
Now, I am realizing that they are in fact brilliantly written flow exercises that help us learn the proper Shape for each note and how to transition from one to the other and the brilliance of playing them multiple times in one breath is for us to learn how to balance Shape and Air–the Ying and Yang of the trumpet.
I am now sensing the moments in which I, at times, incorrectly transition from a cooperation with the instrument / balance of Air and Shape to over engaging the lips/face muscles and blowing air.
Greg’s focus on Releasing the air (passive air) through the aperture is such a huge part of this–without that, I wouldn’t have figured it out.
It is a very subtle difference, at times it seems as though it’s a “knife’s edge” between playing correctly and not–going back to old habits. So much of it is mental and inside our minds as well. A willingness to fail is very useful too–prioritizing relaxation, openness and quality of sound over control and ensuring I hit the note has helped me learn just how open / relaxed I can play and it’s much more than I ever thought possible–I first gained success a couple years ago playing above the staff, high C and beyond but now it’s pretty amazing when things are going right.
I’m glad if the thread is useful. All the best.