Be a Trumpet Superhero

Being a good trumpet player is demanding. The instrument seems so unreliable. Endurance is such a factor. There is too much competition. Some pieces always seem to resist practicing. For these reasons and many more, I often have wished for trumpet : the kind of powers that seem beyond the average player. If I could only have one or two , I would be unstoppable!

Before I set out to get a trumpet superpower, I want to brainstorm, list as many trumpet superpowers as I can think of, and consider which one would be the best.  Of course, traditionally, superpowers come by some freak accident, but let’s imagine that you can acquire one by diligent hard work.

Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way–the raw, physical ones that young trumpeters probably want the most. I’ll name them, as if they were actual Super Heroes.

1. Super Chops.

Maynard Ferguson was the epitome of Super Chops!

Maynard Ferguson was the epitome of Super Chops!

This is where you can play high and loud. Dubba C’s? No prob. You can get this power by playing long tones. Remember to rest as much as you play.

2. Iron Chops. Very similar to Super Chops, only the emphasis here is endurance. Long tones, very soft. Rest.

3. Eagle-Embouchure. Un-human accuracy on cold entrances and angular passages. This is acquired by practicing things like scales and interval exercises. Playing baroque natural trumpet will do the trick.

4. Elasta Lips.

My son, Owen Curtis, drew this flexible nautilus superhero playing trumpet.

My son, Owen Curtis, drew this flexible nautilus superhero playing trumpet.

Flexibility plus. You can slur anything, and lip trills and such are easy-peasy. Get this by practicing lip flexibilities. Charles Colin, Bai Lin, and many others. Rest at least as much as you play. You don’t have to play every valve combination.

5. Wonder Tone. The most beautiful natural tone. Like velvet for the ears. Soft playing will help with this. Also, experimenting with lip bends. A natural sounding vibrato can really help.

6. Nano Sound.

My son, Felix Curtis, drew this superhero playing trumpet very softly.

My son, Felix Curtis, drew this superhero playing trumpet very softly.

The ability to play softer than anyone you’ve ever heard. Able to sneak a supportive counter-melody in without covering up the main melodic line. Although Nano seems like the runt of this group of superpowers, it is really quite effective. Get this by practicing softly, of course. But REALLY softly and slowly work on H. L. Clarke Technical Studies. So soft that you are right at the edge of not getting a sound.

7. Fantastic Fingers. Just what you think–fingers that can move fast, but also move at the right time. Practice with a snappy banging finger technique some of the time. Practice with fluidity some of the time. Practice all kinds of scales and patterns.

8. The Articulator.

Herbert L. Clarke was amazing: he could single-tongue at mm. =160 for a 90 seconds in one breath!

Herbert L. Clarke was amazing: he could single-tongue at mm. =160 for a 90 seconds in one breath!

Single tongue, double tongue, triple tongue and any combination, very even, very tasty, very fast. If you follow Herbert L. Clarke’s advice, you’ll practice continuous tonguing for a minute, gradually increasing your speed over time.

But then there are the less obvious superpowers. These are more powerful than the first category in many ways.

1. Super Ears.

Did you know that Louis Armstrong had fantastic ears? He transcribed whole recordings--all the instruments--to his band to teach them a new song that they wanted to play.

Did you know that Louis Armstrong had fantastic ears? He transcribed whole recordings–all the instruments–to his band to teach them a new song that they wanted to play.

This superpower enables you to hear a descending minor seventh or a half-diminished seventh or the sequence of chords in a phrase. Sometimes this superpower even has absolute pitch knowledge. Practice listening to, and playing back on the trumpet intervals and chords and their inversions. Practice melodic dictation, first with few notes, then with more. Practice playing along with recordings. Lift solos, jazz and otherwise. Use a tuner when practicing, for developing the ears and trumpet finesse to play with great intonation.

2. Lieutenant ListenRCA dogNot to be confused with Super Ears, this superpower knows hundreds, if not thousands of recordings. It knows the way all the great trumpeters play. You have to take time to listen–try it while exercising, driving, working at the computer and go to lots of live performances. LISTEN TO RECORDINGS OF YOURSELF, TOO.

3. Mega Metronome. This superpower enables the trumpeter to never drag the ensemble down. It even has a good idea of what mm = 92 or 120 or 72 sounds like. Religiously use your metronome. Check it. Double check.

4. The Ensembler. Canadian-Brass-6Rare gifts of blending, balancing, agreeing on a beat, coming to a consensus on pitch, dynamics and style and the abilities of this superpower. You have to join or form a small group. Do it. Do it now.

5. The Practicer. This is perhaps the strongest superpower in this category. The Practicer is weak in the short term, but given enough time, it can overcome all the archenemies of the trumpet. This superpower has two main components: organization and dedication. The way to get in your practicing is to figure out ahead of time, what and when you’re going to practice. You want to be a practice master? Keep a journal.

 

Finally there are the very obscure trumpet superpowers. These are, in fact, the most powerful of all.

1. Sergeant Shameless. This superpower has the unique ability to try something new or daunting without concern for possible embarrassment. Feeling awkward about playing in front of people? Play for your friends. Then masterclasses. Then book yourself into all sorts of recitals. Does your school require a recital? Plan on a few more to get ready (play at retirement homes, churches, etc.).

2. Dr. No-bored. When you have this superpower, you can work on the most mundane exercise without loosing interest. Day after day. No-bored never gives up. Remember that simple pleasures are the best. Tiny little improvements can keep you going. Relax, you’ll get there. Remember, too, that everyone who wants to master trumpet playing has to put in his or her 10,000 hours (at least).

3. The Re-framer. This superpower made up the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” There is always a silver lining. Trumpet example: You just injured your lip and can’t play. This is a great time to listen to your favorite recordings (or practice fingerings, tonguings, etc.). Don’t hold on to disappointment. Be flexible. Transition easily to new patterns if the old ones need a break.

4. The Joy Wonder.

Al Hirt was certainly a joyful performer!

Al Hirt was certainly a joyful performer!

This power is finds music fascinating. Endlessly amazing. This is absolutely the most powerful of all the superpowers. It’s okay. Let yourself go and enjoy the thing that brought you to music in the first place: music.