Saving lip time

“We can only play so many notes on the trumpet”–Bernard Adelstein, former principal trumpet, Cleveland Orchestra

Have you ever wanted to practice more, but your chops are just too tired? Have you tried to taper down your lip-time for an audition or performance, but you still want to practice? Then it’s time to expand your practice modes. Time to start practicing without playing the trumpet. Here’s a short list of things you can do!

  1. Listen. Listen to all kinds of music in general, or listen to your own piece(s) as you are preparing them. In fact, you can record an audition list or a solo ahead of time, and relax as you hear the best version of yourself play. Confidence building and mind-sharpening.
  2. Sing. Sing the music you want to play, and this frees up your mind from all of the fingering and technical limitations of the trumpet. Try to stay on pitch, checking yourself out with a piano, tuner or drone. One way I like teaching jazz, is when I ask a student to sing a chorus or two. Then, when she gets back on the horn, she sounds so much more spontaneous and sophisticated.
  3. Work on fingerings. Either on the trumpet or just on your lap. Combine finger practice with listening or singing.
  4. Vocalize your articulation practice. Herbert L. Clarke, our patron saint of technique, said that he would practice tonguing while walking to and from his rehearsals every day. Practice single tongue, “K” tongue, double tongue, triple tongue, and even exotic tonguings such as groups of five (for Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale).
  5. Breathe. There are whole books and videos on breathing (such as the famous Breathing Gym). Explore them. Relaxed, natural breathing is the way to go. In fact, hitting the actual gym or the “road” to do aerobic exercise is fantastic for you breathing and overall playing.
  6. Organize. Sit down and think about how you practice. Plan your future practices. Keep a journal. These things don’t require lip time, but they make your practice sessions much more effective.
  7. Meditate. Be still, and as random thoughts appear in your mind, gently let them go. Practiced frequently enough, you are improving your attention and focus, which will improve your ability to stay calm in performance.
No tags for this post.

Do your lips respond REALLY well?

We have all been there, right? You play a passage with a leap, a soft entrance, or perhaps you are just not warmed up enough–or who knows what exactly is happening. And, “whooh”–your lips don’t vibrate. No note. No response. Then we say something like, “I’m having response issues!” But do we have to live with this problem? No!

You really have two options when notes aren’t responding. The first is to play louder, because there will be some volume at which your lips will eventually respond. The long-term results of this strategy is that you increasingly require a louder and louder volume to insure that a note will respond. Unnecessary loud playing can lead to stamina and range issues. And even more response issues.

The other option is a strategy that I want to recommend: play soft and rest a lot. It is a strategy best used in the practice room, because it requires patience and lots of time.

Let’s say you’re practicing a Herbert L. Clarke technical study (which is always a good choice), and you’re practicing it super soft, like he recommends. You will inevitably have a response issue. Resist the urge to play louder. Resist the urge to ignore the problem. Instead, rest a few seconds and backup a little. Then try again, insisting on your super soft dynamic. If it still doesn’t respond, then stop. Rest again (maybe longer) and try the same section another time. Continue in this way until the notes respond. THIS is the way to give your body (and lips) notice that your standards are not going to lower for physical limitations. THIS is the way to get your body to adapt to your standards. In your practice session, you will see some improvement, but in the long run you will see a lot more improvement. Your body’s ability to adapt is quite impressive if you give it several weeks to learn a new way. The lips become more supple. The airflow more dependable. Your timing becomes more exact. Your response becomes better.

The only factor you need to concern yourself with is how high and demanding are your standards going to be, and how much time are you going to allow yourself to transform into the trumpeter you want to be.

No tags for this post.