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"Todays squeaks are tomorrow notes"

Updated: Sep 22, 2019

Let me preface this post by saying that I do NOT consider myself a "lead player" or a "commercial player". I am predominantly hired as a classical trumpet player. However, I do feel comfortable talking about, teaching, and playing in the upper register in a multitude of situations.

In a lesson with one of my students I was asked if I can help them increase their upper register (shocking request....). My go to response to a question like that is "What is your most comfortable high note that you can hit 100% every day?". This student responded by saying "I can usually play an Eb above high C." I responded "Ok, can you play that for me right now?" The student then proceeded to play a Cichowicz exercise to a thin sounding Eb. I then said "Excellent! Now just play the Eb alone." The student looked at me like a deer in the headlights. This then prompted me to say "If you can't come in on it, then you don't own it." I was stressing to that student that it is not enough to just be able to "get up there" and kind of play those notes. If you are looking to increase your range and be able to play in that tessitura efficiently then we have to spend time learning what those notes "taste" like.

The "Taste of a Note" is a phrase that I picked up from my undergraduate teacher Dr. Richard Rulli. The taste of the note is simply knowing what that note feels like to play. Another way to look at it is muscle memory. I have had numerous conversations with Ryan Beach, principal trumpet of the Alabama Symphony, about the similarities between practicing trumpet and weight training. If a professional weightlifter wants to lift a certain amount of weight in a competition, they aren't going to spend all of their time lifting below that weight. They will work up to it and preferably past so they are comfortable lifting that weight in the competition. Practicing in the upper register is no different. If you have never tried to come in on an F above high C then how do you expect to do it? Once you feel comfortable playing that note by leading up to it (flow study, arpeggios, scales, etc) then this is where this exercise can help.

I have divided this exercise into 3 levels. Level one most people should be able to play relatively easily. I try to focus on playing as softly as possibly while exerting the least amount of effort. Julian Kaplan, principal trumpet of the Kansas City Symphony, has a phrase that has stuck with me for a long time. He said " Try to make everything cost less. You only have a certain amount in your trumpet allowance each day and you want it to make it last. Make everything cost less." That is precisely what we are trying to do with level 1. Use minimal force and support the sound with the air. Once you feel comfortable playing the level 1 exercise try level 2 up to whatever note you can. This level is written up to F because (in my opinion) every professional trumpet player should be capable of playing that note (if not higher). With level 2 try to play at a louder dynamic and really articulate the notes quite aggressively. We are wanting to get more air... pressure (oooohhhh, bad word...) behind the tongue. This will aid in the ascension into the extreme upper register. Level 3 is more or less an extension of level 2 but now we want to increase the dynamic and try crescendoing through the eighth notes to the quarter.

In all of these exercises sustain the quarter note as long as possible. Also, please feel free to modify this exercise in any way you would like. With all of the exercise that I use for myself and that I write for my students I try to make them trumpet Swiss army knifes. Change the dynamic, articulation, tempo, rhythm, play lower, play higher, etc. I hope that this post was helpful. I will be doing a blog post every week (hopefully...) about different subjects in music or trumpet playing. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me through this webpage. HAPPY PRACTICING!!!

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