Less Boring; More Practical - Part I: The Upper Register
This week, I would like to share with you the first installment in a series that provides simple approaches to working on technical fundamentals that are, as the title suggests, less boring and more practical for many of us than the miserable task of repeating something from a book a certain number of times. Nothing I will suggest in this series is meant to replace what is found in books of exercises and drills by the likes of Clarke, Schlossberg, Irons, Williams, et al. In fact, I would recommend experimenting with my approaches in combination with work on these standard materials. Use your best judgment. If you are capable of playing every drill in the most musical fashion possible, always tapping into your creative side as you work on them and never succumbing to the temptation to “just get through” something at the expense of producing the best sound you can and reinforcing your best form, then good for you and keep doing what you’re doing. On the other hand, if you are like me, and struggle to derive benefit from a primarily drill-oriented approach to technique acquisition and refinement, maybe you will find some of this helpful.
Today’s subject is a less boring and more practical way to integrate work on the upper register into everyday practicing. If you already have extraordinary control “upstairs” and can play higher tones with great beauty and expression, this probably isn’t for you, but it might help your students who aren’t there yet. The idea here could not be more simple. You don’t need any special books or equipment. Simply take whatever repertoire you are working on at the moment. Select the section you are to practice. Practice it. Every so often, select a note that appears in the piece and is in your middle register. As you reach it, sustain both the sound and your attention to it before as effortlessly as possible slurring through the partials until you have ascended an octave. Then continue slurring all the way back down through the partials until you reach the original pitch. Either stop at this point or keep playing. The benefits to this approach are many.
You are working on high notes in a musical context without the strain of taking an entire melody up an octave or more (also a great exercise, though generally more taxing).
You are getting more done by simultaneously working on learning repertoire and developing technique.
By connecting the middle and upper register, you have little opportunity to create or maintain a false embouchure or otherwise manipulate your setup into something impractical and limited in application.
The mind game of worrying about a leap before it occurs (and thus taking yourself out of the moment and making the leap more of a problem) can be eliminated more easily in this scenario.
Your percentage of successful attempts at producing a decent-sounding example of a higher tone on the trumpet will likely be higher than in a more sterile approach to the task. Over time, this will translate into success in ordinary playing that requires the upper register. Just remember, boot camp doesn’t begin by sending new recruits onto a battlefield where they are shot at with live ammunition by a real enemy. It’s called basic training.
Below are several short audio examples of me, this morning, to give you an idea of what this might sound like in practice. I probably should have warmed up more thoroughly beforehand, but oh well… I am also including a copy of the sheet music. Since I recently purchased a copy of Fisher Tull’s Eight Profiles, the examples come from the beginning of the very first one. I have circled the notes I chose to use in red, and given myself some feedback. I will mention that in a real practice situation, I would go back and repeat most of these to smooth out the ascending and descending slurs. The “G” is a good example of disconnection and significant forcing toward the top of the slur and even before the written note, and clearly the “G#” thought it was too early in the morning for all of this nonsense. You can hear me checking for a full sounding low register during these. If that wasn’t happening at all, I would stop immediately and rest or practice something different. If you have a practice buddy, it would be ideal to do this together and have your practice buddy select notes at random and signal at the last possible moment so that you aren’t as readily able to make unhelpful internal changes, physically or mentally, before it is time to ascend. This approach can easily be adapted for your personal needs, either by making the ascent less or more than an octave, or by building in other parameters such as predetermined changes in dynamic, more rapid glissando-type slurring, half-valving, fluttertonguing, a lip trill at the top, or anything else you can think of.
Thank you for reading and, as always, I welcome your comments and questions below!