Routine: Keeping it Fresh

As promised, here’s a follow-up to this previous entry.

Sound production is the best place to start, because it serves the purpose of a warmup in addition to being the basis for everything else we do on a brass instrument. This broad category includes making a resonant and clear sound in all registers, in all dynamics. Mouthpiece buzzing (and lip buzzing, if you're into that) are the natural place to start. The mouthpiece is the ultimate sound production diagnostic tool, so use it! I like to buzz in all registers of the instrument, from pedal notes to the upper register, as high as I'll be playing on the trumpet. Then on the instrument exercises like the old standbys by James Stamp or Vince Cichowicz are just what the doctor ordered. The quantity of these exercises as well as how far along you choose to go in terms of range are variables that will let you tailor the demands of this segment each day. As with anything, you know best what you need. For example, when I'm getting in a lot of loud playing at work, I don't feel the need to do much at home; whereas when I've got super soft things to play I make sure to check in a bit more frequently.

Flexibility is the next area I like to tackle. Broadly defined, it's the ability to go from one state of sound production to another. Changing notes and dynamics are the two obvious ones, but you can get as detailed as you like. Dynamic exercises like swells, forte-pianos, subito dynamic changes in either direction, all fall into this category. More popularly, this area also includes "lip slurs", a term that I don't particularly like. In Allen Vizzutti's New Concepts for Trumpet book, there's a very good section of these exercises which he titles "Smooth Tones" which I think is a great label. Some good exercises with varying degrees of difficulty are Bai Lin, Michael Sachs's fundamentals book, and the Charles Colin flexibilities book. 

Articulation is the last big area to touch on. The interruption of the airstream with the tongue is a fundamental skill. Ideally this will also function as sound production work too, because it's essentially the same thing with the simple addition of the tongue. Exercises here can be simple Arban-type exercises, simplified and elaborated versions of those exercises (like those spelled out in the Sachs book), all the way to complex multiple tonguing etudes, such as some Charliers. I generally like to keep this simple, but if it’s a growth area for you the door is open.

Lastly, I like to touch on the piccolo trumpet in the first session every day. I’ve got a lot of thoughts about the little thing, but those are another post altogether. For this session, a short amount of time on the horn, addressing all three areas already discussed, will keep you in touch with the instrument and will help to build a base level of condition that will serve you well when you really have to ramp up your piccolo practice for a specific work. 

By having a variety of options to address each of these areas, you can tailor the weight of your first session of the day appropriately for the demands of the day, your general condition on the instrument, and specific needs, either to address what you’re up against in the next little while, or general growth in your playing. For me, I have a routine that I like most of the time during the orchestra season, but when I’m getting back in shape from a period of reduced workload or off the trumpet altogether, I start up very simply and gradually ratchet up the degree of difficulty for each of these areas. It’s a great way to not only get back in shape safely and effectively, but also to see tangible signs of progress, which is always helpful. 

Do you have any ideas about how to break down the technical demands of playing a brass instrument? I’m always looking for new insights into how this whole strange thing works, so please do let me know if you see holes in my ideas here. I know it seems like a dry discussion, but this is the behind-the-scenes reality of the field we’re in. Getting interested and curious about it is the best way to improve!