A trumpeter's compromise - projecting vs. hearing yourself

Discussion in 'Horns' started by Larry Gianni, Feb 25, 2004.

  1. Larry Gianni

    Larry Gianni Piano User

    Nov 11, 2003
    Los Angeles
    Coming off the "free blowing "and "bell resonance" threads, I'd like to pick up on something that was said briefly, but I'd like to see if it can be further developed... “Trumpet Blowback†or the ratio of (relationship between) the sound the player hears vs. what the listener hears. For lack of a better term at this point, let's call the listener "the audience" and what the bell/trumpet produces "optimum". A little history. As part of my relationship with Calicchio in the second half of the 80’s, I would do clinics and a trade shows for the company. When I did clinics at high schools, colleges, and the unavoidable trade show presentations, one of the first responses from players experiencing a Calicchio for the first time was "Wow, this Calicchio plays great---really bright and clear. There is one thing, though. I can hear the notes bounce back at me off that wall over there, but I don't hear myself playing as well as I do when playing my Bach (or Yamaha, or any heavy-wall trumpet) that I'm playing now. Why?" Well, that's the issue. How much do you have to hear of yourself playing, and how much sound should project?, Would you prefer, if you had a choice, (can't say both) to hear yourself so well that it affects the sound that a listener hears, or, project with such a dense, solid core of sound that all your power and effort generates to the audience and little "sound blowback†comes back to you, making playing a somewhat "Braille-like" experience.. The issue compounds itself with the inclusion in the mix of different bell alloys, different trumpet designs that are available, as well as different bell thicknesses. All these affect your being able to hear yourself, or hearing yourself over the player next to you while playing in sections.

    While growing up in the SF bay area, a San Francisco-based trumpet player by the name of Johnny Coppola (he actually played a LB Martin Committee Deluxe that Maynard had given him when they were on Kenton's band together and was the basis for the Marcienkeiwitz LB Martin trumpet he now offers) told me once (I was a student at the time) that he had a bell made for him by Martin in the 50's. It had no bell bead on it at all, and it was the best projecting bell he ever had, but he couldn't hear himself at all so it was somewhat unusable. Thinking of different brands' bell designs, is that the reason the NY Bach, with its flat, wide, bell bead design, sounds so good to the player, and has such a pleasing, desired sound, but tends to fall off in the projection department, especially when used in a commercial setting. With a modern trumpet, does this lack of "sound blowback" tend to make you lose your efficiency and overblown the instrument? Quite possibly .Can you tell everyone else in the section “Don't play so loud because I can't hear myself playing the part" if your trumpet is somewhat “lackluster†in this department have a better .If you can't hear yourself, do you play from feel instead of from sound and gauge your playing volume by what you're experiencing physically? Well, there are a plethora of questions like this, but here's a little side topic to the question. Do you only think of yourself in choosing a trumpet or the players around you also?

    OK. - phase 2 of the question.

    "Playing lead from the 3rd chairâ€.

    This is an expression used here on the West Coast (and probably other places) when a player, sitting and playing down in the section, is heard better by the 1st trumpet player (and maybe the audience) than he can hear himself. This can occur quite easily because the lead player's ear is 180 degrees from the bell and his section-mates' bells are somewhere closer, more or less, 135 degrees from the outer edge of the bell, so naturally, with all things being equal, you can actually hear your section-mate better than yourself. The only saving grace to this is that a higher pitched sound tends to carry farther, and cut easier, so naturally easier for you and the listener to audibly pick up. Does this scenario sound familiar? I'm not talking about a deliberate act of "burying the lead player" by a fellow trumpet player that is either immature or playing mind games with his section-mates. Again, that's a different topic (but a juicy one). I've also been told, usually by new Calicchio owners on the East Coast, that, for a while, especially by players using darker-sounding trumpets, that they were asked to play more softly ( this was mostly in amateur, community band settings ) because the other members of the section couldn't hear themselves like before. To tell you the truth, shortly after this, most of the other members purchased brighter equipment and because the new trumpet is more efficient, the player can relax and not have to play so physically to project and sound good. As I mentioned earlier, this started to occur mainly on the East Coast as different trumpet brands, including Calicchio, started to drift into the usual Bach mix. TK alluded to this in his post to the Reeves/Calicchio section with his use of a Marc. /Calicchio set-up working on the East Coast with the traditional Bach 37 / Bach 7d set-up, and how easy it was for him to play the parts while his counterparts seemed to struggle to make the equipment fit the job. In the beginning of the 80's, when Schilke or Calicchio or Yamaha Z trumpets showed up farther and farther east, more and more, with the standard trumpet used by the masses was the Bach 37 or 72 with a Bach mouthpiece. (We've talked about this regional gear thing before.) A culture clash of preferred trumpet timbre was seen. So when a player, sometimes a pro, but mainly an amateur (where it seems peer pressure is still quite evident,) who wasn't considered the chosen "lead player†in the ensemble, bought a Calicchio (or other high-efficiency trumpet), this upset the balance of sound that the section/ensemble was used to quite possible because what everyone now heard, from their chair, was the higher efficiency, easier-to hear, new arrival.

    Anyway, back to the original point---what kind of "sound forward/sound back" compromise is necessary so that the player's need to hear/ feel comfortable with what he's playing vs. his need to carry and project with a solid, resonation, dense core to make a passionate statement by his playing is somehow balanced? About sound, feel, and hearing yourself--- Here are two points of view from much-respected players working in Los Angeles. Both with different views about sound, slots, efficiency and "trumpet blowback" --- how to achieve it and how to react when it's not available due to the playing circumstances.

    First – Bobby Findley, who teaches the Caruso Method

    His philosophy is to try to physically emulate what a note, sound, pitch, slot, whatever you want to call it, feels like vs. what it sounds like from behind your bell so you don’t change the way you physically play depending on the environment you are playing in, i.e.:– acoustically lively rooms, dead rooms, big rooms, small rooms , outdoor stadiums, theatres, gymnasiums, etc. - so if the certain pitch or register always feels this way to you, then it will always sound this way to the listener. That way you don’t manipulate your playing to your environment and are always playing in the fattest part of the slot. His overwhelming philosophy about the physical aspect of playing was to always stay in the fat part of each and every note, remember that feeling, and try to feel that way all the time.
    To interject my theory on that after taking lessons from Bobby was to try to think of a note---we are mainly talking about notes over G on top of the staff in my part of the discussion---and to envision the note or slot to be a triangle and to aim for the big, based bottom of the triangle instead of the small, narrowing top of the triangle, which if you got too far to the tip to the note, it turns into the big , broad bottom of the next pitch.

    Second – Charlie Davis and the Adams method

    Charlie’s basic approach, which is the Bill Adams method, is to try to void yourself of how it feels physically and how the mouthpiece is even placed on the embouchure, and simply try to get the best sound possible. Your body and its muscles will work in harmony to get that sound eventually. In essence, put your head in front of the bell instead of behind it. That you can’t mentally command or control all the muscles necessary to produce a pitch, so work backwards from the sound you desire and try to emulate that, and let the body follow.
    What I used to do is visualize myself as an audience member when I was practicing listening to myself play either etudes or exercises in a somewhat “out of body experience†mindset. Closing your eyes seems to really help with this, just like doing the Cat Anderson 20 minute G (note; Cat also advocated practicing his 20 minute note in the bathroom so you could play as soft as you can and still hear the pitch and if the pitch stopped, to continue blowing, whistling the air at the desired pitch, until the pitch started again) Eventually, my practice routines were giving me the results I wanted. If you go to the fundamentals section, Dave Bacon has an expertly described the Adams Routine Theory and basics---it’s really excellent and should be downloaded and saved.

    I was lucky enough to take lessons from both these fine players and tried to implement both strategies in my playing. Usually, I use an Adams mental approach about letting the desired quality of the sound determine how I feel. But when faced with a terrible acoustical situation, I revert to the Findley approach of playing, in a somewhat survival mode, finding the “sweet spot “of the pitch, feeling physically as if my playing situation was normal, relaxing as much as possible, finding the balance, by feel, of the resistance of the trumpet vs. the resistance I must produce, and as you play higher, knowing the sound will carry farther because of the intensity of the note plus locking into the middle of the it’s core and having the confidence to adjust to the feel and not try to fill your surroundings acoustically. When you start to play louder just to hear yourself, “overblowing the roomâ€, as we have all experienced, this starts an exponential downward slide in efficiency and coordination that affects your playing dramatically. Both Carlie’s and Bobby’s approaches have merit and are grounded in real life playing scenarios for both pro and amateur alike, but like any method, has to be tempered to the situation at hand.

    One more thing---in my experience, I can always make a “ lively “ trumpet play darker without a great deal of physicality, but to try to make a dark , non-projecting trumpet heat up can de difficult and taxing. I can say more, but I think you get the general drift of the theme. I always further dissect my own thoughts as the thread matures, so I’d like to stop here.

    Point 1 – project more, hear yourself less, or have your priority in picking equipment to hear yourself as a priority and whatever projection you get is fine.

    Point 2 – if you are a player that likes a trumpet that has dark, heavy qualities, is it important that everyone around you have that same sound so it’s easy to back off and not try to make your trumpet do something sound-wise it wasn’t meant to do?

    Point 3 – Do you gear your playing habits based on how you hear yourself or by how you feel physically when playing certain pitches. (Usually the higher register)?

    OK, let ‘er rip – common, I want to hear from all 700 TMer’s on this one.

  2. Tootsall

    Tootsall Fortissimo User

    Oct 25, 2003
    Yee HAW!
    I'd like to add a couple of comments here, Larry. I agree with you that some horns will "project" out from the end of the bell much better than others. Some horns will "radiate" off the outside of the bell flare at about 90 degrees from the axis of the horn or from the different surfaces of the inside and outside of the bell better than others (back to that photo of the bell resonating at different frequencies). Some horns are just plain DEAD!

    I've had the pleasure of sitting immediately next to our CB lead player who plays a Yamaha 6310-Z; I've also had the pleasure of sitting one, two, or three chairs away beside him. I've had the distinct lack of pleasure sitting immediately in front of him. That thing splits the hair on my head and I cannot hear myself playing whatsoever when I have to be in front! I don't know if I'm playing a Bb or a D...I just hold valve #1 down and hope for the best. Our other 1st player (or alternate lead) plays a Bach 37. He's strong...and has even more range... but at least I can hear myself when I'm playing directly in front of him.

    My initial tendency would be to think that the Z horn, being lighter, would tend to have a higher "secondary resonance" (my own term for the sound that radiates off the bell surfaces) than the Bach... and that would mean that the Z horn would be less efficient in terms of what the audience hears... but apparently this isn't so! The Bach is definitely louder when I sit beside it than the Z horn (in fact I can barely hear the Z horn when I sit right beside him...I like to be two chairs away so I can pick up some of the sound coming out of his bell). So then how do we square this with the commonly held belief that a Bach is preferred because of it's "solid core" of sound that projects to the audience? I have absolutely NO IDEA!!!

    Sure hope this discusson develops to explain this apparent contradiction to me!
  3. dcstep

    dcstep Mezzo Piano User

    Nov 27, 2003
    Whew!! Nice topic and nice setup Larry.

    From a personal viewpoint, I enjoy a horn more when I receive feedback (blowback) from the bell as I play. I want to hear rich overtones and much of what the audience might hear. Comparing my former Yamaha Z to my current Selmer Paris, the Z seemed positively dead. Yet, I know that the Z put out a good sound out front. At the same time, I know that the Selmer also puts out a great sound out front. My bandmates immediately commented on my sound with the Selmer as soon as I used it, unannounced, at a rehearsal.

    You should know that I'm playing almost exclusively commercially, meaning my bandmates don't hear me without a mic. On the gigs, it seems like I don't hear myself without the monitor. So it's a very different experience from community band. Also, you'll realize that most of the added enjoyment I receive is when I practice by myself at home, without the mic and monitor. Just doing Charlier, Clark, Hummel, etc. trying to keep my classical form half way presentable.

    Still, it's important to hear myself and be aware of how I'm blending with the band. The soundman ultimately determines that since what comes through the monitors and what goes through the mains are two different things. My need to hear myself is a survival thing. I try to go by "feel" and move back and forth from the mic to get a level that seems appropriate. If the level seems too low and I try to play louder to adjust, I'll blow my lip away in fairly short order. Instead I'm better off moving closer to the mic, letting the soundman turn me down in the mains and hope that the monitor level stays where it was. Sometimes, no matter how close I am and no matter how I signal the soundman, I still can't hear myself. In these cases, I MUST go by feel and use experience not to overblow and shoot my lip.

    Playing acoustically (without amplification) is much the same, just more subtle. Many, many players don't seem to realize that what's happening out in front of their horns can be entirely different from what they perceive sitting in the gunner's position. Hearing how others sound playing the same horn is useful. Also, I've found that playing into a mirror or lively corner of the practice room can give you feedback as to how the outfront and player-position sounds differ. Bright overtones, in particular, can often only be heard by the player when the sound is reflected back. I compared two Xeno 8335RG horns recently, one in shot-silver the other in shot-lacquer and they sounded exactly alike UNTIL I listened in a reflective room corner. Then the silver sounded considerably brighter.

    Anyway, hopefully this thread will get a few more thinking about how they sound "out front" vs. what they hear in the "blow back."

    BTW, it isn't necessarily a question of good or bad, but awareness. Certain tools will be better for certain jobs, but awareness will allow us to adjust to the circumstances that we find ourselves in.

  4. Larry Gianni

    Larry Gianni Piano User

    Nov 11, 2003
    Los Angeles

    1) I really don't believe that the Bach is all that good as a "projecting-type trumpet " as far as ensemble work goes and is a better blender than a leader as far as sound/projecting quality compared to other brands on the market.

    2) the Yam. 6310z is a wildly " live " trumpet that , when played correctly,
    gets a very resonant, over-tone rich , intense sound, like no other trumpet.The key element is " played correctly "

    I have had the pleasure of sitting next to Roger Ingram when he was playing his Yamaha 6310z ( pre Schilke days ) and all you hear is Roger, both coming back at you off his bell and bouncing off the farthest wall reverberating around the theater.

    I think thou, Roger himself, has alot to do with that phenomenon.He plays so relaxed and in sync. with himself. He'd sound great on a tin cup attached to a leadpipe. He is definitely the master of the "efficient blow".

  5. MPM

    MPM Pianissimo User

    Nov 10, 2003

    Gets so many thoughts roling around in my head. Going to comment on one aspect of your post at a time, just to keep "my"head clear.

    You said ("can't say both") in asking would a player want to hear them selves so well that it effects the projection of a horn, what the audience hears .... NO ... "I" would not.

    "The Audience" is who's paying / listening / or we could even say the 'microphone' is an audience in a recorded secssion. The sound must project / be heard / get out there / get on tape. So ... all other factors being equal, consistant and controlable ... of the two, my priority is projection out front. :D
  6. Tootsall

    Tootsall Fortissimo User

    Oct 25, 2003
    Yee HAW!
    Sidebar: So then back to the discussion of "efficiency"... does that mean that a Z horn (or for that matter, most of the "commercial" horns) are more "efficient" than a Bach or other "orchestral" type of trumpet? That their output of both "direct" and "indirect" sound when combined is greater for a given input?

    Yeah, this is secondary to the primary discussion "here" but is, I feel, highly related being as how it is based on the the overall design of a trumpet and how much of the energy that is inputted shows up as "output sound"... both directly in front of the bell AND "off to the sides".
  7. PH

    PH Mezzo Piano User

    Dec 2, 2003
    Bloomington, Indiana
    Hi, Larry

    I studied with both Caruso and Adam (BTW, there's no "s"). Like you I reconcile the approaches and find that they are surprisingly complementary.

    re: Horns, I prefer to have a resonant sound that projects over one that comes back to me. I think a lot of people choose "dark" sounding gear because it sounds better to them behind the horn or in a small acoustically live room. However, that is not how those sounds usually are heard by the audience or picked up by a microphone.

    I think the key component in how a horn projects has to do with how many high overtones are in the harmonic spectrum. My Bach has a lot of highs AND a lot of lows, so it projects pretty darned well in the hands of a good player. Some horns project because they have the highs, but sound shrill or lack timbral richness because they lack lows.

    To me a good horn is both bright and dark, but it should never be shrill or tubby. My impression on the newer (Tulsa) Calicchios is that they have the harmonic richness of the old ones again...something that was missing on most of the ones made in the "lost years".

    BTW, in working on Mr. Adam's concepts over the years and pursuing tone, my body has learned what it has to do to produce a great sound. It is now conditioned to play the instrument that way, even when I am in less than optimal hearing conditions (dead hall, bad stage monitors, crappy mix in the headphones, etc.).

    However, the first breakthrough I had in learning to play when I couldn't hear myself was when I was working with Carmine. I asked him how I could keep myself together when the drummer got excited and I couldn't hear myself. He had me do a bit of practicing every day (just a little at first) in a walk-in closet with the coats and things hanging around me. I got used to playing easily when I didn't get a lot of feedback. Then I gradually carried this into my other playing in more salutary rooms.

  8. W Scott

    W Scott Piano User

    Dec 8, 2003
    Carson City, NV.
    I'd have to say 'yes' to your last question about efficiency. It doesn't mean that Bachs are a bad horn, it's just that they have their place.

    I know what Larry is talking about when he mentions the problems groups had when most everybody is playing Bachs and someone shows up with a high efficiency horn----or even a horn that sounds a lot different. My community band has nine horns and six of them are Bachs. The six Bachs are playing the 1st and 2nd books. The third books are playing a King 600 (big, solid core of sound), my Director cornet and a Bundy. We do our best to blend, but everybody knows where we are because we sound so different from the Bachs. :roll:

    Anyway, I like feedback in addition to projection. What I see as a good horn is one that resonates well and a horn that does that usually has good feedback. What I also notice about these horns is that they 'vibrate' or 'resonate' well and you can feel this. You can sense when the horn is vibrating well and that seems to be when the horn is playing at it's best. I rely on that feeling quite a bit as our trumpet section is right in front of the percussion and there are times when I can't hear myself play. I rely on the vibrations and my experience to guess that I'm playing on the right note.

    That's my two cents worth.................

  9. lonelyangel

    lonelyangel Pianissimo User

    Nov 8, 2003
    Hi Larry, what a great post, thankyou for taking the time and effort to continue this exploration of the sound of the trumpet.
    Unfortunately, as I am in the middle of my week of working the 'night shift' at Ronnie Scott's (although I am hiting the hay at around 04:00 I am still wide awake at 07:45!!) So right now I am too dog-tired to do your post justice with a thoughtful reply.

    I just thought I'd say that I agree with everything you wrote and also with Pat's experience - both of your thoughts echo my own feelings (which is very reassuring to me) and provoke a lot of thought on my part. I'll get back to you all in a more lucid moment. My typing has slowed down to about 6 words a minute right now - what I really need to do is go outside and give myself a slap across the face with a big wet fish ! :)

    All the best. Noel.
  10. Tootsall

    Tootsall Fortissimo User

    Oct 25, 2003
    Yee HAW!
    How does that song go? "I'm so damn happy that I wish someone would slap me?"

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