Making the most of our scales

There are thousands of trumpet students out there right now who are getting ready for scale proficiencies at their schools. They will have to play their scales dozens of times (or hundreds) before they will be ready.

They also have to work on other tasks: long tones and buzzing. Slur exercises, slot placement, vibrato. Don’t forget timing drills, articulation practice, soft playing, loud playing, and high notes.

There are thousands of trumpet fundamental and technique books to help with these other tasks, but we probably can’t afford to buy them all (although I would like to). But we can adapt our tasks to basic patterns we learn in our scales. Instead of just going up and down those scales the same way, why can’t we change things up a little? Here’s what you can do with scales:

  1. Use different speeds. Using a very slow tempo basically makes a scale exercise into a long tone study. And I hope it goes without saying, please use your metronome as much as possible.
  2. Use different dynamics (especially soft).
  3. Use different basic articulations. Slur, legato tongue, marcato, and staccato. If you single tongue every note many times, then you really refine your basic articulation.
  4. Have you tried “forte-piano” attacks? How about sforzando?
  5. Use “pooh” attacks.
  6. Using a metronome, play each successive note on beat one of a 4/4 measure. Rest in between. Time your breathing.
  7. Play your scales with triple tongue (perhaps one or two triple-tongues per note). Use different degrees of crispness/smoothness.
  8. Play your scales with double tongue (one, two or four double-tongues per note). Use different degrees of crispness/smoothness.
  9. Try bending each note (or the top and bottom notes) down 1/2 step and then back up–each time trying to come back to the most optimal slot of each note.
  10. Try singing your scale (use a drone set to the pitch of the scale). Finger the notes on your valves while you singe. Think about your vocal tone quality. Try different articulations.
  11. Try putting your mouthpiece in a B.E.R.P., and then set a drone to the pitch of your scale. Then buzz your scale while playing the fingerings. Try this will all of your articulations.
  12. Try playing all of your scales two octaves. Can you play some three octaves? Remember that it’s okay to “squeak”!
  13. Use vibrato.
  14. Lip trill every note.
  15. Flutter tongue.
  16. Play your scales in thirds. Fourths. Fifths. Sixths. Sevenths.
  17. Play the scale for one octave, but on each note, slur up an octave and then back down.
  18. Play your scales “upside down” (start on the high note, go down and then back to high note).
  19. Push in your tuning slide, but try to still play in tune.
  20. Pull out your tuning slide, but try to still play in tune.
  21. Play with different vowel sounds.
  22. Play all of the church modes.

I’m sure there are more things than these. And remember that this concept applies to arpeggios, Clarke studies and any basic kinds of patterns. Use your imagination!

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Lately, I have been feeling a little guilty about not blogging regularly. Of course, this happens to so many blogs. I let Trumpet Journey’s eighth birthday go by last weekend. Not even a “happy birthday” from me, which is a little ironic, since I send birthday wishes to Facebook friends, some of whom I don’t even really know that well!

I haven’t had much time to write, and I have gotten used to not writing. But more debilitating was the feeling that I was becoming irrelevant–that my ideas were not worthy. I have been noticing a rapid increase in great trumpet writing (Jason Dovel for instance), podcasting (The Other Side of the Bell is fantastic) and new video recordings (think of all the great pandemic etude recordings of Jim Wilt, Chris Smith, Andrew Bishop (posted on Facebook), Jack Burt and, of course, Håkan Hardenberger). Nevertheless, I have been experiencing a growing need to communicate more with my friends, students, colleagues and the whole trumpet world.

So, let’s get to it today. I have some advice for myself, as a trumpeter and a blogger, and for other trumpeters out there who might be struggling with a similar block:

Halfway is better than no way. 

This sentence cuts straight against our perfectionist ideas. Here are some examples:

I don’t want to practice if I don’t have the full hour. I don’t want to pick up the baroque trumpet if I don’t have any gigs in the near future on it. I don’t want to practice jazz because I just sound like an amateur. 

Can we forget that way of thinking? Let’s enjoy the trumpet and enjoy where we are. After all, we don’t WORK the trumpet–we PLAY it, right?

We do need to still make plans and follow dreams, of course. We even need to be organized. But we should be flexible in our plans–if we can do just a little of what we set out to do, that can be enough. Absolutely enough.

Oh, and by the way, happy belated birthday, Trumpet Journey!!



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