A Second Opinion

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Batman, Nov 18, 2013.

  1. Vulgano Brother

    Vulgano Brother Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 23, 2006
    Parts Unknown
    Good morning, Batman!

    First comment (grab a pencil for this). Ready?

    Picking up a pencil is pretty easy, right? What were you aware of as you picked up the pencil? Were you concentrating on the arm movement to bring your hand within range of the pencil? Concentrating on grasping the pencil? Getting it into position?

    Set the pencil down and pick it up again, this time concentrating on every muscle you use, every movement. Is picking up the pencil still easy, or is it more difficult?

    Imagine yourself asking someone to pick up a pencil. How would you react if they asked you about the transfer to a writing position, if the ring finger should be touching the pencil during the transfer or not?

    I don't know how you would react, but my reaction would be, "Dude, just pick up the friggin pencil!"

    Do you see the correlation here? You are approaching the trumpet more like Aristotle rather than Plato, cleaving the art of trumpet playing into little chunks while your teacher is trying to get you to see more of the whole. Don't feel bad, yours is a common malady.

    I spent a good deal of time trying to wrap my mind around Zen pedagogy for the purpose of teaching trumpet. It works to some degree in achieving an "ahha" experience (also known as Satori.)

    What your teacher is trying to do is based on the premise that if the sound is right, the chops will follow. Concentrate on the sound when you play, not your chops. All these Aristotelian chunks describe the symptoms of good playing, not the causes.

    In case you are wondering about the RAY OF POWER:

    "The finicky thing about air is that, yeah, we must learn the mechanics but then forget about them, because under the stress of performance, as tension sets in, our bodies will lie to us, and it will feel like we're moving huge amounts of air, breathing deeply and supporting when in fact, we are not!

    For this reason, I rely on some Vulgano Voodoo and the RAY OF POWER. It involves the Root Chakra, which is located directly at the base of the spine, also known as the coccyx. The chakras have their own mystic qualities, I guess. I don't know for sure, but they do seem to be located in parts of the body where bunches of nerves meet. (The Vulgano version is situated half way between the places we do our number one and number two in the restroom.)

    In practice and in theory, imagine (and feel) a ray of some sort (red is the most common mystic color associated with the root chakra) shooting down into the ground while playing. For high notes, imagine (and feel) a more intense ray. If we practice this sitting in a chair, we can notice all kinds of muscles come into play, which happen to be the same muscles used to 'support' the air stream. By taking attention off of the mechanics and experiencing the mysterious, magical and not yet patented RAY OF POWER we can avoid some of the tension involved in 'trying hard.'

    Nothing mysterious and magical here really, but the RAY OF POWER does permit me to play with a relaxed but working body."

    To replace the "lip" in lip flexibility, I like the "magic bubble" concept:

    "When we play a note, the air column inside the instrument has defined and mathematically predictable areas of high pressure and no pressure. In physics these are known as nodes and anti-nodes. The higher the tone, the more of these nodes inside the instrument. With a horn of sufficient light weight, we can play a long tone we can gently run a finger around the leadpipe and/or bell and feel some of the vibrations. Change to a different harmonic and that place will move.

    Now for the esoteric part. Playing a long tone, we can shift our awareness to inside the trumpet, and imagine/feel a point of resistance somewhere inside the horn. I call these 'magic bubbles.' To slur up, we can "blow" this magic bubble further away, backing off will allow the magic bubble to return to its place closer to the mouthpiece.

    Our body will memorize the feel of these notes and nodes much more quickly than the cognitive control of several variables can. Remember that the embouchure is (or should be, in the Zen Vulgano philosophy)formed in part by the note that it is playing."

    One last observation. Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!" "Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
  2. Dr.Mark

    Dr.Mark Mezzo Forte User

    Apr 5, 2011
    This is the best post you've ever done. With a gentle hand you have shown the way. You blended Aristotle, Plato and a touch of Gestalt with shmeer of common sense. Young freshman person, listen to the words.
    "Like this cup, You are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
    Super job VB!! Grab a beer, you've earned it!!! What the heck, I'll grab one with you.
  3. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

    Jan 28, 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    I am against concentrating too much on embouchure, when the focus should be on channeling your energy through your chi and hearing the note you are going for. Be one with the note. I have never and never will concentrate on my tongue placement, the arch of my palate or the purse of my lips. I relax and concentrate on my airflow. In so doing, all else falls into place. My range came from the breathing factor and practicing... a lot.

    The only time I use vowel sounds is when I am saying the words to the song when I play, and that is to channel the rhythm feeling of the phrase, not to translate lip flexibility. I don't know how else to put it, but Chris Botti stated the first 30 years of playing was crap. In the last 10 years (now 40 years of playing), I am finding it comes natural. When you get to natural, you leave crap behind.
  4. AKtrumpet

    AKtrumpet Piano User

    Jun 4, 2010
    Analysis = paralysis. Focus on your music and your air and you will be fine.
  5. afp

    afp Pianissimo User

    Oct 9, 2013
    Roseburg, OR
    I have to say that on the surface I disagree with Mark's comments, as well GM and VBs comments. The idea of Zen and oneness with anything as a learning tool creates a very negative response with me, and I think students should respectfully question everything. But the idea of simply writing off Mark, GM and VB and ignoring what they say seems like a copout. The question in my mind is WHY do I disagree with their approach?

    Part of it has to do with understanding how I learn and function, and the doorway to my success is always through logic, understanding, and discipline. I really connect with people like Reinhardt, Pops, and even Claude Gordon in terms of finding a systematic approach, analyzing everything, then synthesizing the pieces into a approach that works for a particular person. To that end, broad generalities like "think about the sound" or "become one with the note" or "it's all air" are not very helpful to me until I have mastered the smaller pieces. Conversely, concepts like tongue arch, air support, tone quality, precision, etc ARE meaningful and helpful to me. My END state is indeed caring only about the sound and being one with the note, but I must start by analyzing the components that make the sound good. Now I DO recognize that not everyone learns the same way, and while the Zen approach doesn't work for me, I assume it must work for some.

    My experience in teaching hasn't been teaching trumpet, but for 11 of my 24 years as a USAF pilot I taught others how to fly jets and how to teach others to fly jets. USAF pilot training is a very demanding course of study. It was enough of a challenge just to get accepted into the program. Not only did candidates need to have graduated college with good grades, they also had to be physically fit. They need to be able to perform under intense stress--many mistakes during pilot training were much more serious than just embarrassing yourself at a concert.

    The goal was to get these kids up to a consistently safe and proficient level of flying as soon as possible--it is expensive to fly jets. Flying jets is art and science. We required the students to have an in depth knowledge of the systems of the airplane they were flying, know ALL maneuver entry parameters, know all operations limits; and emergency procedures needed to me memorized to the point that an error when reciting a critical action during an academic situation would ground a student for the day.

    We broke everything down into it's components. A loop in a T-38 required you be in the middle altitude of your assigned airspace at 300 knots, then you would go to mil power, push the nose over 20 degrees and at 500 knots--with at least 10,000' of area above, you would start a 5g pull straight back on the stick. You would look left and right to make sure your wings were level (or else you wouldn't really be doing a loop). When you were vertical you needed to be at about 300 knots and you needed to come across the top at 160-170 knots with at least 10,000' to the bottom of the area. As you broke vertical you'd throw your head back, find a section line, and pull straight through. As your speed increased so would the g loading (which you kept an eye on). You needed to make sure you didn't go out of the bottom of the area, over-g, or break the sound barrier as you finished the maneuver. If a student couldn't describe most of that, especially the airspeed and altitude parameters, he/she didn't get to fly that day. As you gained more proficiency you would gain fluidity in your maneuvers, but you were ALWAYS aware of you airspeed, altitude, g-loading, and your area orientation.

    I was qualified in three diverse types of aircraft during my career, and when I had achieved a consistent level of proficiency then I started to notice some Zen like and "oneness with" like experiences. I would find myself adding and reducing power in a C-130 on an assault landing BEFORE the airspeed indicator moved. I could actually feel the aircraft change before the change registered on the gauges. In the T-38 I would find myself instinctively reacting to proper way--usually when my student had just done something dangerous. In the T-1 I found myself making aggressive moves to ensure a mild outcome.

    None of those things could have been accomplished if I had not immersed myself in the basics, sought to understand all I could, asked lots of questions, and exercised discipline.

    I failed in trumpet the first time around. I simply did as I was told, didn't question anything, and didn't progress. They finally decided I just didn't have the chops for trumpet, switched me to French Horn my senior year of High School, and I quit after my Freshman year at Univ of Oregon. I did make it to the 200 level on Horn, but Horn isn't what I wanted to play. When I came back to trumpet 20 some years later, I applied the same approach that allowed me to develop a high level of skill as a pilot. I will not pretend to be at the level of you pro players out there. My existing teacher is a real deal pro player so I know what the standard is. However, using my pilot approach I have an octave more of solid, in-tune range than I did when I was obediently following instructions as a High School student. I play lead in my local community jazz band, and I am expected to nail High Gs consistently. My teacher subbed for the third part player for the last two shows of the full Broadway score of "Fiddler" this past summer. After we finished the show, he looked at me and said; "you played the hell out of that lead book" and said I had developed into a very good first part, Broadway score player. All this from the guy who couldn't play above the staff in High School.

    Now after that long and needlessly verbose post describing why I think as I do, I have a question. Is my approach really 180 degrees from when Mark, GM, and VB are saying, or are we just talking about different spokes on the same wagon wheel?
  6. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

    Jan 28, 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    There is a reason Chris Botti stated for the first 30 years as a trumpet player that he sucked. He began to let it flow and concentrate less on the technical skills over those subsequent years. Initially, we do need to develop technical skills, but there is a point where a performer does not get hung up in technical skills and learns to concentrate more on the performance, and can control sound to a point that goes beyond technical skills application. This is concentrating on the performance. Forming the notes to communicate the emotion. This is were the focus should be. This is the carriage. The spokes on the wheel make this carriage move forward.
  7. Sethoflagos

    Sethoflagos Utimate User

    Aug 7, 2013
    Lagos, Nigeria
    After a few months of participating on this website, it seems to me that beyond some very basic mechanics, the actual techniques of playing are highly individual, largely subconcious, and particularly amongst the more experienced players, visualised in highly abstract concepts that are inexplicable, possibly meaningless to others.

    We don't really seem to get back to a common frame of reference until we discuss the end product - the sound. Between the basic mechanics and the sound, is your own personal universe where you are the only person who understands the question, and you are the only one who can provide the answer.

    Hence the question "Will wiggling my ears give good vibrato?" is a question you just don't ask. Whereas "How does my vibrato sound?" is a good question. Don't mention the ears.

    Thanks to this website, and a semi-jocular comment by one of the members, I learnt how to double-tongue properly after 40 years of failure in that department. After a couple of days researching speech articulations, it turns out I articulate 'ku' differently to most people. Small tongue shift and problem solved.

    So discussing problem areas in general (ie don't presuppose the answer) can help, but working out the minutiae of technique is your own private journey.

    My two cents worth
  8. Dr.Mark

    Dr.Mark Mezzo Forte User

    Apr 5, 2011
    Hi afp,
    You stated:
    "I have a question. Is my approach really 180 degrees form when Mark, GM, and VB are saying, or are we just talking about different spokes on the same wagon wheel?
    I think if we look at the way we all teach, there is a commonality. In your situation, if a student continually asks questions BEFORE they have a reasonable knowledge base, then that is a waste of time and loss of instruction. That's really dangerous in your field. My guess is that the students you have, have been weeded out, know how to interact with the teacher and deserve to be there. They are experienced at asking the right questions and avoid asking questions about areas of study they have no idea about. Questions are good in the proper context. Questions that have answers that the student can not appriciate is a loss of time and is often seen as an insult to the person teaching.
  9. Comeback

    Comeback Forte User

    Jun 22, 2011
    Fort Wayne, IN
    Trumpet playing seems to me to be much more a continuum than a circle. Perhaps what we have in this discussion are simply points of view expressed by players on different places on their personal continuums. Two years into my comeback I find myself identifying more with perspectives expressed by Blaine and Seth today, and aspiring to become the sort of player one day that can express myself through my trumpet in a manner consistent with what Dr. Mark, gmonady, VB and others have written.

    As a post-secondary educator, I try to avoid dogmatism. I encourage my students to question what I teach because I believe that as students engage with new information in this manner they make new knowledge their own. But there is certainly risk in this; ill-prepared students asking uninformed questions derail learning experiences quickly. I recognize much value in what Dr. Mark has written in his advice to our young OP. So much swings on what the student brings to his/her learning experience by way of preparation and attitude, as well as what sort of approach the teacher uses.

  10. Batman

    Batman New Friend

    Jul 2, 2013

    Despite the disclaimer in my OP, I seem to have come across as arrogant and inadvertently pissed Dr Mark off - apologies. You obviously do things quite differently in the States but over here in the UK, I'm not going to get "flunked" for asking questions in my trumpet lessons and I really don't see why being inquisitive is a bad thing. When I do ask questions, I don't tell my teacher he's wrong or that I don't like something he has said, I just sometimes enquire (in a polite why) why he's suggesting I try a particular thing in an attempt to get more out of my practice time in between lessons. Surely this is better than blindly following without understanding.

    Vulgano Brother, thanks for taking the time to write all that down, you're obviously highly knowledgable. The concept is... a little abstract and not how I am used to thinking about playing the trumpet (I'm not a spiritual person, particularly - I tend to be quite a realist and take a more 'practical' approach to things). However, using visual aids seems to be quite a popular thing and obviously works well with some people so I'm not going to knock it until I've tried it. You said a lot in your post there so I won't attempt to address everything but you've certainly given me a lot to think about! Thank you very much for sharing your insight.

    Ignoring any comments about me questioning my teacher in lessons, as we obviously don't see eye to eye on that, the general consensus seems to be that I'm over analytical and need to think more about the end result (sound) rather than the steps involved. - That's what I'm taking away from this anyway. I'll give that "Ray of Power" idea a go as well. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

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