After 40 years of trumpet playing, study, and practice, thousands of lessons (taken and given), uncountable numbers of gigs, finally, my chance to contribute to the great tradition of incomprehensible methodology and mythology of the trumpet and jazz. So welcome to the Trumpet Shed, the official blog of trumpeter, educator, composer, and musical director, Scott Belck.
It is my hope you will find something of interest or amusement within these posts. If you have comments or questions, feel free to leave them in comments section or to contact me directly.
Find a beautiful view in a natural setting, whether it be the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona during the magic hour just before sunset or a more modest, though perhaps equally awe inspiring rock bridge in Red River Gorge. Take in the scene. Notice the play of light, the vegetation, all of the elements of natural beauty that blend together to create a stunning vista.
Now, look down. Not just below the scene, but at the area right by your feet. What do you see now? Chances are, it’s not such a breath taking picture. In fact, it’s probably some disappointingly unromantic dirt, gravel, mud, sand, or some combination of random junk that one finds on the ground in any natural environment.*
* (the two pictures above where taken from the same spot in Red River Gorge)
As a serious musician, chances are you have (and will have) spent a significant amount of time and focus working on your sound. Most of the exceptional performers I’ve met can point to a period in their development in which they’ve devoted considerable time and energy to this end. And it’s a never-ending process because the sound you make on your instrument is not only your voice, but, for all intents and purposes, your calling card.
So when is your sound good enough? There are two correct answers at any given time.
Answer #1: NEVER. Answer #2: NOW.
So herein lies the problem. Sometimes, the closer you listen to your sound, worse it sounds. I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve spent over the years trying to “clean up” my sound in the practice room with ponderous long tones or flow studies. That, or fiddling with equipment in an attempt alleviate or mask imperfections or an airy sound.
I tried this approach in earnest while in the throes of battling an airy and inconsistent tone (over the course of YEARS). To be dedicated and thorough, I played hours of long tones, Schlossburg, Chichowicz flow studies, you name it. I can’t say for certain what will work for you, but I can say that focusing on the core of “my sound” in this way either improved nothing, or called my attention to everything wrong or imperfect in my tone. It sucked.
To compound the problem, many practice sessions were so intensely focused on tone, that the business of learning new and challenging music was left to end when I was tired and mentally drained. I became psychologically dependent on long hours of slow, repetitive exercises to feel prepared to play well. I became a Routine Zombie.
Two interesting things started to happen when my practice began to gravitate away from this rigid, “tone-based” way of thinking and practicing. When my practice focus shifted toward making musical lines easier to execute, my sound got better. A LOT better. It was as if I had performed the Jedi Mind Trick on my tone. I let my tone do it’s thing and stopped micromanaging it.
In other words, I took Answer #2 (Your tone is good enough NOW! ) at face value and proceeded accordingly.
The other thing that happened is that music started to get easier to play, since that was now the goal, which in turn freed up the sound even more. When the music got physically easier to play, there were more choices for how to phrase, how to shade and color the line. The process of playing music became considerably more interesting and more fun.
Working on tone is one of the most important aspects of being a professional and an artist. But it can, if you let it, chew up huge amounts of mental energy and practice time. There comes a time in every practice session when you simply must let go and move on to making music instead of just sound.
Happy Mothers’ Day from your friends at the Cincinnati offices of Lip Slur World Headquarters. To celebrate moms everywhere, we proudly give you “The Mother Pucker” a brand new baby lip slur we nearly died while bringing into the world. So when are you going to put down the trumpet and find a real job? Maybe find a nice girl to settle down with. Have you been eating enough? You look too thin. Is it too much to ask you to pick up the phone and give us a call?
Download “The Mother Pucker” HereThe Mother Pucker (18)v2
Here is the first in a series of some studies to add a little variety into your daily practice routine. Play them softly and with as many repeats as needed to make them smooth and effortless.
• Push the tempo (only slightly) as you go.
• Find the groove, then move on.
• Don’t play the entire study in one sitting.
• Add additional articulations at your liberty.
• Rest before you need it. By the time you need it, it’s too late.
The three most important things in jazz are, in order of importance:
This list is subject to change, but for today and the purposes of this blog, it’s iron clad. Yes, we know there’s that thing about what in means (not a thing) if it doesn’t possess that certain, elusive yet undeniable, element of rhythmic buoyancy and syncopation. So to that point, yes, a good melody does swing, regardless of style or genre. Now is also good time to remember the old adage that “all lists are bullshit except your own.”
Let’s start today with 2:46 of absolute beauty and effortless lyricism, perfectly crafted and perfectly rendered.
YOUR MISSION – SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO DIG IT
Anything more you do on this, for today at least, is for bonus points. Just spend a little time playing along with one of the greatest there ever was. Learning cool stuff needn’t be a chore.
Extra Credit Theory Weenie Bonus Question:
What’s going on harmonically on the words:
“I GREET YOU”
Clue – it’s some hip %$#%$!!
Greetings from the Lip Slur World Headquarters home offices and packaging facility in beautiful and rainy Cincinnati. Our CEO is currently on sabbatical, or what we like to call the Witless Protection Program, so the staff here have been up all night making the musical sausage, as it were. We are proud to bring you, ad free, the world premier of “The Schnitzengruben”. Enjoy with our compliments and be sure to wait at least 45 minutes before practicing anything composed prior to the year 1803.
Remember: You can’t spell Schnitzengruben without zen.
A focused and concise trip to the gym for your face (and mind).
Two important things about the title of this blog:
1 — I did NOT conceive this exercise – Vincent DiMartino did.
2– It is my belief, that the concept of the exercise is what makes it extraordinary, not the actual literal interpretation of what Mr. DiMartino wrote (i.e. the exact notes). To that end, I’m presenting his exercise in an adapted form that I have found most effective for my students and myself.
With a wink and nod, the title of “Greatest Exercise” may at first seem like hyperbole. However, I truly believe that the underlying principles of this exercise are THE most effective means of strengthening and building the kind of musical coordination and flexibility that are crucial to playing music well on a brass instrument. What earns the “Greatest” mantle, however, is how effectively and efficiently this exercise targets and works out the chops without breaking them down. In other words, it feels expensive, as if you’re going to pay for it later. But the actual effect is the opposite, you are investing in your chops in a way that will pay out after only a few minutes of rest immediately following the study. In all my years of study and practice, I have not encountered a more effective exercise, not even close.
In teaching, I find this exercise helpful for players to begin to feel the action of corners during a sustained phrase, and make no mistake, this is one sustained phrase. When played at quarter note = 66, it takes over 5 minutes to complete. I do this everyday and can heartily attest to the benefits I perceive in my own playing.
You be the judge.
The beauty of the internet is that everyone with a website or the inclination to type into the comments field on a page can be an expert. It may be helpful to note that Mr. DiMartino, in addition to being one of the best trumpet players of the past 50 years or so, has produced a stable of students, many of whom are themselves top professionals in all genres. So as with all things, always consider the source.
I’m unaware of any specific title for this exercise, so I just call it Constant Set Slurs. It combines aspects of a Carmine Caruso calisthenic with flexibility in a non-destructive way. In other words, although while you are playing it, it feels as though you might be burning your chops (you will feel “the burn”), a short rest 3-5 minutes after completing this will leave your chops feeling strong and centered. It’s like a trip to the gym combined with a day at the spa. And, much like going to the gym, most players, even when aware of the benefits of this activity, still will not have the discipline to do it every day.
This exercise is an example of truly creative thought – forming an analogy or association between two things that no one else has put together previously. And, in my opinion, this concept is what makes the exercise so effective – it’s totally out-of-the box and it’s one fantastic illustration of why Vince DiMartino is one of the greatest trumpet players on the planet, he doesn’t think like everyone else and is therefore not hampered by convention. Developing an understanding of why and how this departure from literal-minded or linear thinking works, can be a liberating step in defining a way to play and practice that is unique and efficient for you.
Click on the link below for a pdf version of “The Greatest Exercise Ever Conceived” – follow the directions.
** Note for practice – to begin with a “High Set” – play a lip slur from 3rd space C to 4th space E above – leave your embouchure in that approximate position, and begin the exercise with that set. Advanced players may wish to set up with a slur from 4th space E to G above the staff.
JAZZ TRUMPET - AUTHOR - EDUCATOR
Rantings of a Trumpet, Sports, Technology...well--an all around geek.