Inconsistent Range

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Frazzle, Mar 22, 2012.

  1. Frazzle

    Frazzle New Friend

    Jan 27, 2012
    England, UK
    Hi all, I'm new to TrumpetMaster so I hope I'm posting in the right section. :oops: I have a query about inconsistent playing ability...

    I've been playing the trumpet for just over 10 years now and am looking to pursue music college sometime in the near future. However, I've recently noticed that my playing is somewhat inconsistent during practise - most notably my range and flexibility. Come to think of it, my playing has always been rather unreliable; some days effortlessly being able to play high C and above, yet on others, barely managing to play anything above the stave without noticeable tension in the neck. I understand we all have good days and bad days but I'm just plain unreliable! :-?

    I don't feel like I'm doing anything different when I have these "off days" so I don't know what's going wrong. I was just wondering if anyone else has experienced this problem for some suggestions as to what might be the cause of this inconsistency. (Could my mouthpiece be too big perhaps?)

    (I practise regularly for around 2 hours a day taking breaks every 20 minutes or so and often having one day off a week to rest/recover).

    Thanks in advance, any feedback would be greatly appreciated. :-)
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2012
  2. Bob Grier

    Bob Grier Forte User

    May 4, 2007
    Greensboro, NC
    Do you have a teacher you see a least once a week. That would be a big help. They would help you develop good playing habits that go a long way toward being consistent. It's not the mouthpiece, your technique isn't solid enough for you to be consistent. Consistency is a result of solid technique.

    It's good to see that you care enough to want to improve. Don't try and do it by yourself.
  3. Frazzle

    Frazzle New Friend

    Jan 27, 2012
    England, UK
    Hey, thanks for the response.

    Yeah, I have a teacher who I see for an hour once a week - it was in fact him that drew my attention to the neck tension. He suggested it was due to improper breathing (shallow inhalation and tension on exhalation) however, having been working on breathing, I still can't seem to be able to stop the neck bulging. It's not extreme btw (no bulging veins, red face or light-headedness lol) but it is noticeable. According to him, if you watch a recording of a good trumpet player with the sound on mute, it should look like they're not playing if it weren't for their fingers/valves moving i.e. nothing above the chest should move.

    The reason why I wondered if the mouthpiece has anything to do with my problems is because I'm using a Bach 1 1/4c which I understand is quite big?

    I guess I'm just on here looking for some other opinions...

  4. codyb226

    codyb226 Banned

    Mar 9, 2011
    Florida, US
    Yes, that is a really big mouthpiece. But it may not be the problem. Dont fix something that is not broke. There are many people that can use a 1 1/4C and hit any note. Do you practice your range a lot? Or just whenever? It may help if you do practice range everyday. Try to find some songs where those notes are used so you can get the feel for playing them in a song and not just a scale.
  5. Phil986

    Phil986 Forte User

    Nov 16, 2009
    Near Portland, OR.
    I don't have as many years playing as you have Frazzle but share in a similar problem, although perhaps not quite as pronounced. It is very hard to pinpoint what is not going right on those off days. My take is that any number of things aren't right and they're not always the same.

    I was lucky enough (!) to have days like that when it was time for my lesson and working on it with my teacher was a most productive experience. What I got from it was that the overall process of sound production and modulation is affected on bad days and that no single element can be latched on to cure the problem on the spot. The only thing that works is getting back to basics, especially breathing. Letting the air flow is crucial, being as relaxed as possible too. When these days happen, I first acknowledge them and prevent myself from forcing stuff to happen that is not likely to happen that day (i.e. the smooth easy playing of "good days").

    This has been repeated countless times by a moderator here but it's worth repeating again: a good daily routine is vital. The routine should include any type and variety of playing that can help to get back to the right way of producing the sound, help to breathe, flow, and form an efficient ambouchure. I have experienced some improvement in consistency since I included in my routine the lip slurs of Arban #22 in the slur section and also 2 octaves slurred major arpeggios, starting on low F#. I do not go higher on the arpeggios than what comes easily and naturally at that moment.

    The problem is definitely worth a good talk with a teacher. Ideally, you should have a lesson on a really "bad" day.

    Best wishes.
  6. TrumpetMD

    TrumpetMD Fortissimo User

    Oct 22, 2008
    Hi Frazzle,

    You ask a simple question, but one that is very hard to answer. I am by no means an expert. But let me add my two-cents.

    - I assume you have a good regular practice routine, that you stick to daily and religiously.

    - I agree with codyb226, that we shouldn't be quick to blame the equipment. But the 1-1/4C is a big mouthpiece. I would talk with your teacher about changing to something more middle-of-the-road, like a Bach 3C, 5C, 7C, 10-1/2C, or the equivalent.

    - You say that you're not doing anything different when you have these "off days". When I have a bad day, it's usually because of what I did the day before (or maybe last couple days). It therefore might be good to keep a detailed practice log. Every time you play, write down 1) the time of day, 2) how long you played, 3) what you specifically played, and 4) how your chops felt before and after playing. See if a pattern emerges between your playing and the state of your chops.

    patkins likes this.
  7. Frazzle

    Frazzle New Friend

    Jan 27, 2012
    England, UK
    Thanks everyone for your replies - really appreciate it.

    @Mike, the practice log is a great idea, thanks. I'll have to get myself a notebook to start keeping a better track of what exactly I'm working on and for how long. I remember using something similar when I was in lower school. No reason why I couldn't start using one again. Also... now that you mention it, I did play in a community concert a couple of days ago :roll:. It wasn't particularly intensive but I guess I can use it as an excuse for the poor performance today anyway lol. The trumpet mouthpiece is definitely something I'll be talking to my teacher about though as even he is only using a Bach 1 1/2c (he didn't give me the Mouthpiece btw - I switched teachers).

    @Phil, thanks for the reply; nice to know I'm not alone. :) I do incorporate slur/flexibility exercises into my routinely practice (although not those particular ones) but I find my neck bulging out at around a 4th space E. Although I don't feel particularly tense as this is still my middle register, the neck does expand somewhat - and I'm told this is wrong. :shock: Looks like I've developed bad technique over the years. Not sure what I'm doing wrong though - maybe I just need to start off lower and gradually build up... Is this what you mean by "what comes naturally at that moment?"

    As for the breathing, my teacher said a similar thing - he got me doing breathing exercises away from the trumpet which seem to be helping. I guess it's a case of doing them regularly.

    @Cody, I avoid dwelling in the upper register or playing too high with my scales/arpeggios because I always end up using tension and forcing the sound which (obviously) has a negative impact. Tbh, I've never really been sure how to expand my range whilst maintaining a good playing technique. When practicing specific repertoire, some days the higher notes sound open and come out very easily, while other times I find myself having to strain only to achieve with a weedy, pinched sound. Maybe it's just fatigue followed by too much mouthpiece pressure.

    Thanks again, all.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2012
  8. codyb226

    codyb226 Banned

    Mar 9, 2011
    Florida, US

    Then you are using too much pressure. I would look into getting 7C mouthpiece. In fact, PM me your details if you want and I will send you free of charge a Yamaha 11B4 mouthpiece. It is basically a 7C but Yamahas system. It is a good mouthpiece, but I just dont use it and if someone else can it will be great. The mp has a smaller rim then what you are using now, but it is widely used mp. As TrumpetMD said, look for a different size. And if you dont like it, you will know that a 7C is not for you. Dont worry, you will not hurt my feelings if you do not want to try it. But it is an option for you. I also have a 5C instead that you could try. It is a bigger rim (not as big as yours) and a fairly deep cup.

    @Mike, you can call me Cody. the b226 is not needed.
    bumblebee likes this.
  9. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    We can travel to New York from Washington DC by going south. The path is not all that smooth and we will get tired and wet.

    The fact that you have 2 hours every day is fantastic. The bad news is that after 10 years you feel that you have little to show for it.

    In any case, something is wrong and the biggest things are the habits that you have developed that need to be unlearned before you can replace them.

    There is no way that we can analyse your playing over the internet, there is no "trick" that anonymously solves any problems.

    What we can do is give you some basic guidelines, things to watch out for and talk to your teacher about.

    I always start with body use and attitude. If our body is not "prepared", there is no big, relaxed breath. Dave Monette addresses this on his website here: David G. Monette Corporation
    You do not need a Monette trumpet or mouthpiece for this to work!

    Once the body is prepared, we need a consistent daily routine just for maintaining what we have. Mine consists of long tones, lipslurs, scales and easy tunes IN THAT ORDER! Next comes repertory, that means the stuff that I am performing next. If any time is left over (usually is), technical studies.

    I always have a glass of tap water in the practice room. If I feel tension, I take a sip. The sip reminds my body of some important things. It is only a mental trigger.

    You could try practicing after a hot shower. This often works wonders when we are in a rut.

    A 1 1/4C IS a big mouthpiece with a fairly sharp rim deemed by some to be "uncomfortable". It would not be my first choice for playing lead, but for solid symphonic stuff, it does offer a breadth of color, of sound sought after in that genre. It does not limit range or endurance and is NOT the source of your problem, that is most likely in your head. Still, a slightly smaller 1 1/2C or Schilke 17 or 18 have often helped change my students focus perhaps giving them a sound more easily heard and adjusted.

    You see, we produce a sound, it reflects off of the music stand and walls, that sound comes back to our ears where the brain processes what we heard, makes adjustments and refines the next tone. Enough practice develops habits to "precompensate" the tone, giving our ears and brains less to do. When range and endurance are on the table, I never start working on range and endurance. They are only SYMPTOMS of other deeper sicknesses in ones playing. Body use first, ears and brains second, daily routine third.

    Your path to getting straightened out needs to calculate time to patch the current bad habits. There is no instant turnaround. However within a couple of weeks, you should be aware of the things that are in the way and be well on the path to having a more solid foundation.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2012
  10. Frazzle

    Frazzle New Friend

    Jan 27, 2012
    England, UK
    Hey again,

    @Cody, thanks for the offer - wasn't expecting that. :-o I do actually already have a Yamaha 11B4 as it was the mouthpiece that came with my trumpet and the first one I played on when I started aged 8-9 :D so I still have it here somewhere... Would it be right to go back to using such a small mouthpiece? Ideally, I wouldn't like to go any smaller than a 3c; I mostly play orchestral stuff so I don't have to play that high or that often and would rather go for a slightly deeper fuller sound. Maybe a slightly less extreme change to something like a Bach 1 1/2c (as Rowuk said) would just help me to cope a little better in the higher register. Anyways, thanks again for your kind offer.

    @Rowuk, thanks for taking the time to reply - there's certainly a lot to think about there and I'll definitely give some of those suggestions a try. What you said about range and endurance being a result of other problems / bad habits is why I avoid practicing it. - Any time I do try to "work on" my range, I feel I'm only making the problem worse by practicing to play with tension. Low tones, slurs and breath attacks however are things I have been focusing on more recently to try and improve breath control/support and decrease this tension in my playing.

    I'll look into trying a 1 1/2c for a while. Being slightly smaller than what I'm currently using without being drastically different, it may help - even if only psychologically. (lol) It's also the mouthpiece my teacher uses so I'll see what he says.

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