Greetings from the Cincinnati offices of Lip Slur World Headquarters, where our two sons, and heirs the vast sarcastic lip slur empire, are finally of age to sit and watch the entire 3 glorious hours of the Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.” Since this is the corporate model upon which Lip Slur World HQ is founded upon, we thought we’d share this “Godfather” inspired lip slur, a flexibility that you can’t refuse from someone who did 10 years hard time in an Italian Festival band – Saluti!!
Download “Leave the Tongue, Take the Cannoli” here:
“A practice session is like a fight. The object is to finish as quickly as possible with the least amount of damage to yourself.”
When many brass players sit down to practice music or technique of some kind, generally they are following a specific set of instructions prescribed by either the author of the method, or a general practice approach learned along the way. Often, scale studies, long tones, chord studies and etudes are practiced with the same basic approach or mindset, and the session proceeds linearly through the order of what is being played. With this comes a general “middle of the road” approach to dynamics, intensity (both physical and musical), and tempo.
In my opinion, the most common causes of excessive fatigue and frustration in practice sessions, are a lack of a solid sense/awareness of pacing and a failure to differentiate and make necessary accommodations for higher intensity training necessary for physical and musical development. With this, comes an overestimation of the amount of high intensity playing really necessary for “chop” development. For any kind of practice, it is helpful to ask the question “What’s the least amount of this I can do and still receive the maximum musical or physical result?” If some is good, more may NOT be better.
Understanding which Mode you are in when working on a study or musical passage will greatly improve the chances for success in a given practice block, it will help determine the necessary rest and recovery time, and it will aid in setting up realistic expectations for what might get accomplished.
There are far too many “things” to practice in a given session for most of us. Look for simple and elegant solutions to get to working on MUSIC as quickly as possible.
3 Modes of Brass Practice
1st Mode – Repair
Required by many players after high intensity professional work or practice (e.g. Session players, Broadway show players, circuses etc.)
It is important to differentiate between high level professional players who play music that demands a very high level of intensity/volume and those who over-play the dynamic requirements of the music through lack of awareness or over-eagerness.
2nd Mode – Low Intensity Flow and Technical Work
• Chop Neutral – Clarke style approach to music or fundamentals
• Repetitions are non-destructive
• Rest returns chops to a basically fresh state
• I place upper register development in this category
3rd Mode – High (or Higher) Intensity Training
3a – Higher Intensity Volume
3b – Speed Work
3c – Endurance Work
Let’s look at a simple way to turn one octave of chromatically expanding Long Tones into a focused and organized training session by adding a degree of elevated intensity/volume, a tuner, and a timed component with rests using an interval timer.
The second example of training will introduce an element of increased speed, a limited number of repetitions that go past the point of clean execution, with an accelerating metronome. For this we will use a basic circular chromatic exercise in the style of Clarke.
Training with Simple Expanding Long Tones
Here is a common exercise that has been around for decades. To be sure, there is benefit in simply playing the exercise as written and not over-thinking it, and for developing players, this might be fine as-is. However, to transition from just “playing” the exercise to conceiving it as a training session, we must push our way out of the comfort zone in some way. This is my way of doing that, you may come up with your own!
Training Mode – 12 Minutes to Glory or Ignominy
• Each tone will be 45 seconds (timed) with 15 seconds rest (timed)
• Play each note only slightly louder than is comfortable – in other words: “Lean In” to the sound so that you can feel your chops working and waking up, but no louder.
• Using a tuner or tuner app (I use and recommend Tonal Energy) play at what you believe is the center of the pitch WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE TUNER!
• When it feels like you are in the center of the note – look at the tuner.
• Look away again and try to hear the center of the pitch as you continue to “Lean In” to the sound.
• Push the pitch sharp and then flat and try to return to the center of the pitch as you hear it. Do NOT fret if you are sharp or flat, only try to hear the centered pitch.
• During the 15 second rest period, empty your spit valves, take a shot of Rye Whiskey or espresso, or both, and look reverently to the heavens to thank me for bestowing such a hip exercise on you.
• Rinse and repeat for one octave or 12 minutes, which ever comes first.
• Rest 5-10 minutes.
• After 10 minutes —STOP practicing exercises and get on to learning some music!
This is another simple way to turn routine, circular, technical practice into “Training” by pushing the limits of TEMPO.
• Start at a manageable tempo and accelerate each rep. by one or two beats per minute (BPM in the picture above). Choose a fixed number of reps that allow you to push beyond where the study can be executed cleanly, but not so many reps that it turns into (to put it impolitely) a complete shit show. The point is to scuffle and scramble to keep it together at a tempo beyond your comfort zone.
• Rest 15-30 seconds (Timed) and continue
• This process can be done with any technical study.
By being intentional with your practice, understanding what mode you are in prior to starting, and maintaining the awareness to keep your playing in that particular “zone”, you may find that the results of your practice are significantly improved and consistent.
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.
Developing musical range on a brass instrument is more than just playing higher notes. Range, like most other aspects of playing, is a technique. It must be thoughtfully cultivated and developed. For me, it’s about having the ability to practice and perform musical lines in the upper register in a non-destructive way. To do this, we need to become acclimated to hanging out in the upper part of the instrument and to do so in a way that improves our ability to navigate musical shapes and lines.
The technique of slotting or clicking partials can be one of the most effective methods for improving the upper register, and when done correctly, can be executed without an excess of strain or fatigue-induced mouthpiece pressure. To that end, we must divorce range from power and practice getting from one note to the next with the maximum amount of ease and grace and the minimum amount of movement and heartache.
I was first introduced to this concept by the great Dominic Spera, but I really didn’t understand it until years later when studying with Vincent DiMartino.
I wrote this etude based on my favorite Max Kopprasch etude, but written over the chord progression to Django Rheinhardt’s “Montagne Sainte Genevieve” played here with an Aebersold track from his “Django” album.
I’m working on soft and varied articulation in F# minor, long phrases, endurance (4pages worth), but mainly trying to make my “lead” setup sound warm and resonant in the mid and lower registers and secco staccato at the end. I had difficulty getting rid of the stale air by the end of page 3 and had to shorten a couple of phrases.
The etude in the original key as well as up 1/2 step into g minor is on my website for free. If you want the track, buy the mp3 for 99¢ on Amazon or iTunes at the link below.
Played on a Powell Custom Gallery Trumpet
Patrick 91s Top with a Pickett C4 Commercial Backbore cut for Bob Reeves Sleeves: #5 Sleeve
Happy New Year Everyone and Greetings from Lip Slur World Headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s time to WAKE UP and begin the new year with a fresh start, so here is something to wake your face up in between the coffee and bloody Marys.
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The latest offering from Lip Slur World Headquarters. This is not your grandfather’s sarcastic lip slur book!
Book is $29.95
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and during the sound check, the bass player was laying down the groove to Parliament’s “Do That Stuff.” As the saying goes, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail and when you’re a purveyor of sarcastic lip slurs, everything sounds like a flexibility study.
Here’s a link to the original groove. It drops about 30 seconds into the track and is in the key of E, of course.
Looking for someone to help take you playing to the next level? Can’t help you there.
Do you want to make playing in the upper register simple and easy? Not so much there either. Takes work and thought. Plus, you have to be able to do it “in traffic”, that is, in an actual live musical setting, on demand, in time, with human people. Not just on the internet into your phone.
Looking for something new to practice? There we go.
SUMMER PRACTICE RESOLUTIONS, BITTER REGRET, AND VERMOUTH
Each year at this time, teachers and students alike begin to post and share ambitious and exhaustive summer practice regimens. Although they are meant to inspire, these “best laid plans” tend to take on the character of those old drawings of flying machines that were doomed to plummet straight down from the edge of the boardwalk into the surf. Yes, summer is a great time to finally get the practice hours in that seemed so hard to come by during the academic year, but often, players can find it even more difficult to get jump-started without the structure of a busy schedule. Combine this with an imposing and unrealistic musical check-off list, and let the avoidance mechanisms kick in.
One such practice summer schedule I recently witnessed online, was the musical equivalent of “This summer, I’m going to lose 2,150 lbs. and 42 dress sizes, play “Giant Steps” in all 13 keys, compose my first two symphonies left-handed while spending the days serving the community by lighting fires for the poor.” If that was my to-do list for the day, I’d stay in bed. The fantasy summer practice schedule, like its cousin, the New Year’s Resolution, quickly makes its way to the guilty scrap-heap of failed enterprises without so much as a running start. What to do?
PLAY SOMETHING PRETTY, PREFERABLY EASY
As an accomplished practice-avoider, procrastinator, and otherwise distracted human, I’ve developed a summertime practice coping mechanism that seems to work for me. Here are the basics:
• Set the bar as low as possible. By defining success in modest terms, you may have a shot of at least accomplishing one thing today. Yes, this is the opposite of the “New-Year’s-Resolution-Ironman-Ninja-Warrior-Conquer-the-World” approach, but at least it has the potential side-effect of getting you started with minimal dread and guilt and offers the promise of a realistic and fulfillable goal. It may be difficult to lose that 2,150 lbs. if you can’t put the fork down just once.
• Play something, don’t practice something. I like to start by playing along with a catchy tune from one of the great Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks (see below). Just put on a track and play along, try to pick out the melody in real-time, don’t worry about missed pitches. Stop to figure out the pitches if necessary, but just try to learn the melody. This can be MUCH easier than “transcribing” an improvised solo, after all, it’s just picking out a tune.
When you play in this way, YOU are accompanied by the world’s greatest singers on tunes written by history’s great songwriters, arranged by legendary arrangers. This has the added benefit of making you sound better by association.
Set your timer, and just do this for about 10 minutes. If you are like most folks, after ten minutes, you will probably want to keep going just a little longer which is totally cool. Or, you may be ready to move on to other material, either way, you’ve already spent 10 minutes sounding pretty good playing great music without having to knock yourself out.
Here’s today’s assignment — Play along and learn the tune to:
“Yesterdays” by Jerome Kern. Performed by Ella Fitzgerald. Arranged and Conducted by Nelson Riddle.