This post is “aimed” at younger players but perhaps all of us can benefit from “recalibrating our sights” now and then.

As an undergrad, I had the great fortune to study with IU trumpet professor-legend, William Adam.  We spent most of our time working on his legendary “routine” but we also spent a good part of every lesson playing out of the Getchell Book 1 of practical studies.  I always thought this a bit beneath me but dutifully traded fours with Mr. Adam for probably 15 minutes of every lesson.  While at the time I felt like it was a bit of wasted time, I always felt great, chop-wise, after doing it.  It wasn’t until last week, (28 years later!) that I think I finally got what he was going for and now understand why it feels so great after playing a couple of pages of Getchell!

Take Aim

In certain ways, music is like target practice and the notes on the page are like moving targets.  Take for example the first half dozen studies in Getchell book 1.  For the most part the melodies are simple diatonic lines within an octave consisting mainly of quarter-notes and half-notes.

If each note is a target then each target also has a bulls-eye.  Here is an example of me playing this excerpt the first time hitting the targets and the second time (hopefully) hitting some bulls-eyes.

The trumpet itself can act as a kind of funnel, taking our scatter-shot shotgun blast of a note and funneling that information to the approximate pitch.  The difference between my first take and the second was I was more efficient on the second take by going straight to the bullseye and not using the horn to funnel me there.  Playing this way is a lot like hitting the sweat spot on a tennis racquet or golf club.  When you miss the sweat spot you may still get the ball kind of where you want it but if feels like a stone.   When you hit the sweat spot you hardly feel the ball and the stroke feels effortless and thus much more efficient.  This is the same scenario with playing the trumpet.  Playing efficiently and consistently in the sweat spot of every note not only sounds more resonant and easy, but will also really help your endurance.

Ear Training

The key to musical marksmanship is ear training.  Period.  We all know that we should hear the note before we play, or sing through our horn, or sing the phrase before we can play it.  These are all good pieces of advice but never really “hit the mark” with me.  Primarily it’s because I can’t sing.  I can hear the right pitches but have real trouble reproducing them with my voice.  What has worked for me as a substitute is buzzing phrases in question on my mouthpiece.  (Others have found whistling easier than signing.)  Take this challenge; play the excerpt above on your trumpet, wait a minute or two to clear your ears then play the excerpt on your mouthpiece.  Be very honest with yourself and hear if you are hitting each pitch dead-on with just your mouthpiece or are you scooping into the notes from the “north or south” of the pitches.  Play it a few more times on your mouthpiece till you are comfortably hitting bullseyes on most of the notes, then immediately play it on your trumpet.  Most people say they get the sensation that now it felt like “the notes came out easier” after this little exercise.

More challenging melodies may require you to go back and forth between two intervals to get that relationship in your ear.

Playing Clean

This may sound simple but it’s a truth and will help.  Your horn will play better when it’s clean.  Think of it this way; the inner walls of your trumpet are resonant metal, the gunk in your horn isn’t.  A perfect analogy that I can point to in my office is, well, my office.  I have sound absorbing panels spaced on the walls of my office.  The walls are hard and the panels are soft absorbent material.  The panels are obviously there to deaden the sound in an otherwise reflective room.  The gunk in your horn will act the same way as sound absorbing panels.  I have a couple of posts on this site dedicated to horn cleaning if you are interested.