Beware of playing lead in a big band!

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Bloomin Untidy Musician, Apr 15, 2008.

  1. wiseone2

    wiseone2 Artitst in Residence Staff Member

    Nov 19, 2003
    For some reason, clarity of thought seems to go out the window when trumpet players talk about playing the trumpet. If your playing is in good shape you should have no problems playing any chair in a big band......except the creative chair. Playing strongly in a big band is no different than playing strongly in ANY situation.
    It's about musicianship and leadership, not blasting and showboating.
  2. NickD

    NickD Forte User


    OK,sorry for being vague. Let me try to explain.

    By "form" I mean the combined effects of proper breathing, how you are using your lips or forming your embouchre, keeping you body relaxed save for those parts that are actually supposed to be doing the work (your shoulders should never be tense while playing, nor your legs, etc.)

    For example, I use two slightly different embouchures when I play. Sometimes when I'm flat out getting sleepy on a long late gig, I'll forget what I'm doing and mistakenly use one where I should have used the other. USUALLY, nobody knows this has happened but me! ;-) Usually....

    As to being self-taught, I am of the belief that we are ALL fundamentally self taught. Even when working with a great teacher, he/she is coaching us and giving us ideas, but the actual learning is the hybridization of ideas in our own head. That happens even if you don't have the opportunity to work with a teacher.

    OK, cool! I gotta split for the ol' day gig.


  3. bigtiny

    bigtiny Mezzo Forte User

    Aug 14, 2005

    thanks Nick,

    I had a feeling that you meant 'form' in general, but I wanted to make sure. Makes perfect sense to me!

  4. Bear

    Bear Forte User

    Apr 30, 2004
    Sure, don't warm up on the highest note you can play! HA. I see many crazy people doing that in the mindset of of "Well, I'm going to be playing it so I might as well warmup with it." It makes no sense.

    As far as "playing lead" my opinion has already been stated by others like Wise and Nick. Lead playing ought not be really that different than orchestral playing or principal parts in a wind band, chamber group, etc. The only difference is in the style, sound, and some range.

    Take care of your fundamentals and they will take care of you. Don't be speciailized. There are hundreds of players that can play high, but only a few that can swing the tar off the road and have solid time and fundamnetals. Lastly, don't think of it as "playing" lead. You are just playing another aspect of music. It's all about the music.

    Keep blowin',
    Tim "Bear"
  5. NickD

    NickD Forte User

    Gosh, I love a good metaphor!!!

    "Swing the tar off he road!" COOL! Of course, in Missouri, where I grew up, "tar" is how we pronounced "tire," so that works, too!

    Tim, you raise an important issue. You don't need to warm up on high notes. So far today, I've practiced 1:25. I've got more work to do on the horn as per another thread, but so far I have NOT played above a high C or louder than a mf (and I don't mean M.F.).

    Once in a while when I get to some gigs, I might pop out a high note in a green room just to remind myself of the feel and sets I use. But this is only for a split second. These are also NOT my first notes of the day. Sometimes, some folks might think I don't warm up much when I get to a gig. I don't, but I NEVER show up cold anymore! When I show up for work on a Saturday, I've already played some 3 hours or more. I can take it out of the case and let 'er rip becuase I'm ready to go.

    Of course, everyone who wants to play lead needs to learn HOW to play the higher notes. That does require practice, but, once again, you're developing a form more than muscle. Once you get the feel and the form internalized, you're not going to forget it. You don't need to practice high notes all day long for fear of forgetting how to do them. This was a hard learned lesson for me. It took a long time for me to get that through my thick skull, but it did, eventually, and I'm a much more peaceful player for it.

    OK, that's it for now!


  6. BergeronWannabe

    BergeronWannabe Piano User

    Feb 6, 2007
    I agree...and what's worse is playing them BOTH in one night at our concert! ug :-o talk about playing smart...what really helped me was not overblowing and different mouthpieces.
  7. trumpetdiva1

    trumpetdiva1 Piano User

    Jun 6, 2004
    I was originally trained as a classical player and eventually switched to lead trumpet playing (which I no longer play). I had a natural knack for high notes and the basics but not for swinging. When I used to play the lead part, it really helped out for me to listen to all of the charts and then play along with them to get a sense of the style. I listened to many hours and hours of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Mel Lewis/Thad Jones, Glen Miller, Buddy Rich, Benny Goodman, Charles Mingus, and other big band recordings.

    As far as chops were concerned, I was studying with Laurie Frink at the time and so I had a good sense of the fundamentals to get me through hours of lead playing. She gave me a ten to fifteen minute rehearsal routine that I went through on big band rehearsal days. It ended with doing a chromatic scale from low C to G over high C and then immediately back down to the low C. That made me feel prepared to play charts at the beginning of the rehearsal going up to a G. This happened to me twice--once in Pennsylvania, where I played regularly and the second time subbing in a New York City church rehearsal big band--where I had to play a high F or G within the first ten to fifteen minutes of rehearsal. It can happen! Of course, that is just my experience. Everyone is different. I used what Laurie Frink called “recovery” or holding a low f-sharp out for some time whenever my chops felt tired or fatigued and needed to be refreshed.

    So, knowing the fundamentals (Caruso and “Flexus”) and learning the style from listening and playing with others who know it well was important to me for learning lead trumpet.

    When I asked Laurie Frink which aspects of trumpet playing are most important, she told me that "it is all important." I think that she would think that way about lead playing.

    Last edited: Apr 16, 2008
  8. iainmcl

    iainmcl Pianissimo User

    Nov 4, 2006
    New Zealand
    Lets not forget that sometimes a sound man/woman can be the make-or-break of a band. I've been on several cruise-ship bands that sounded pretty good until a less-than-average sound..person was attched to us. I played 2nd, but was called on (a lot) to play the lead book. I could play a bit of lead stuff before then, but being put in that position taught me a lot about how to pace myself throughout a gig. Now I'm back on land and still able to handle a "land" gig without dieing.
    Having a solid section behind you is definitely something worth hanging onto as well.
  9. Original_Username

    Original_Username Pianissimo User

    Mar 5, 2008
    Beijing, China
    Well, right now in my jazz band the brass section is made up of 1 trombone and 2 trumpets who have to make up for 4 trumpets and 4 trombones. I'm usually lead trumpet, but I split it up evenly w/ my friend cause I'm better at soloing even though we have the same range.

    Unfortunately, I'll have to assume responsibility for both 1st and 2nd Trumpet in my school's big band, because all the incoming freshman don't have the chops or the experience to really play jazz. It's kinda disappointing.

    Anyways, when I'm reaching for those high notes in both my solos and normal playing I try not to focus on lip and use my air. Helps me get up WAY WAY past the high C's and boosts your endurance a ton. Like today when I consistently hit an octave above the high C for my solo. It was at this point when I realized that I've been listening to WAY too much Maynard Ferguson.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2008
  10. bairdstudio

    bairdstudio New Friend

    Apr 10, 2008
    I completely agree with this statement. Its Fundamentals of trumpet playing people. Im a straight up legit classical player... However, over the past year have built up my lead playing chops up to currently at high A and its a strong powerful sound. While I'm still at a point of working on actually leading, style etc. I feel tha I am not having any inherit problems come back on me from playing more lead/co-lead and just just all around more jazz.

    Well I'll take that last statement back. The only problem I've had to address is that sometimes my short articulations for classical playing are a bit too biting and short. However, that problem lasted the length of a private lesson I was having and I adjusted and haven't had any problems since. Matter of a fact I've take those high chops I've developed for screaming lead playing and take it over to my classical mouthpiece and playing. i.e. getting that nice rich, soaring and floating sound of the high register that's characteristic of classical trumpeters.

    Overall, I feel that more lead playing has improved my trumpet playing all around in all styles. Classical/orchestral, musical theatre, big band, duet and solo playing. Basically, its a matter of knowing what it is that you want and hear coming out of the bell of your trumpet. Its keeping up the basics of playing. Still breaking out those Charlier etudes, the orchestral excerpts, Concone transpositions, scales, Clarke studies, etc. Playing them tastefully. Then practicing and adapting those same studies to lead playing and chop development.
    Its intelligent practicing, and preparing. Hearing what you want to play and how you want it to sound.

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