Is it impossible for some people to develop good tone?

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Trumpeter3197, Aug 8, 2013.

  1. Trumpeter3197

    Trumpeter3197 New Friend

    Jun 30, 2012
    I play jazz/lead trumpet in high school and I'll be a junior this coming year. I play lead in my high school's top band, which is very competitive, and have made lead in several different regional and state jazz bands because of my range, sight reading abilities, and overall playing technique. However, my tone is among the worst (if not the worst) of any serious, practicing, dedicated, high school musician like myself. I use a pretty shallow mouthpiece for playing lead, which I can get a bright and decent upper register tone on, but my mid-register tone is nothing short of horrific. I've had 4 different private teachers in the past 5 years, 2 classical and 2 jazz (currently studying with jazz teachers), and they have all noticed my dismal tone for my otherwise much more advanced all around playing skills. They have given me lots of different advice, including small technique changes such as not using the pinky ring, playing with the tips of my fingers on the valves rather than flat fingers, and using a more relaxed embouchure that puffs out slightly when I play, as well as different exercises, including long tones, lip slurs, soft playing, playing ballads, and mouthpiece buzzing.

    The part that has shocked and continues to shock many of my bandmates, teachers, and myself, is that none of this has worked. And this is not the typical "it's not working fast enough" frustration, it literally has gotten ZERO results. When I started trying to work on improving my tone in 7th grade, 4 years ago, it was very airy and weak sounding, since then it has gotten clearer but now has a choked, dying duck-like sound that hasn't changed since I started working on tone. No, the mouthpiece is not the problem; I normally play on a semi-shallow piece for lead work but I have the exact same choked, disgusting tone on mouthpieces as big as a 1 1/4 C, only with a slightly darker sound. Watching my friends, specifically trumpet players around me, all who have worked hard in the past few years but none harder than me and all having great tones, is getting extremely disheartening and making me skeptical about continuing with trumpet if my tone doesn't get past elementary school sounding level. Even as a primarily lead player and jazz improviser, I believe tone is the most important and most noticeable aspect of someone's playing, and with a tone like mine it almost makes my other skills on trumpet a waste.

    Is there anyone out there who has this problem or is familiar with it? Like I said, among all of the musicians I've met in my school and through other local ensembles I've met, I have yet to hear an experienced, dedicated player with a tone even close to as bad as mine. Is it even possible to fix??
  2. barliman2001

    barliman2001 Fortissimo User

    Jul 5, 2010
    Vienna, Austria, Europe
    Have you any experience of singing? I suspect no. Get yourself a good vocal coach and start training your voice. As soon as you understand the rudiments of using your body as a musical instrument, you are on the verge of success for trumpet playing - in fact, all brass and most woodwind playing. The system is basically the same: A tube - be it your windpipe, a trumpet, or a tuba - acts as a resonator for the noise produced by some kind of vibration. In the case of singing, the vibration is produced by your vocal chords; and there, too, you can produce ugly, duck-quacking sounds, usually by constricting. But if you open up... you end up like Pavarotti in "Nessun Dorma". The same is true for brass playing - with the slight complication that here, the vibration is not only shaped by your lips on the mouthpiece. It is actually shaped by your inner mouth, your palate, your tongue and of course your larynx as well. Treat the trumpet as if it were an extension of your voice. And if you need more advice - you know where to find me. And if you have the courage to post a video of your playing, someone here might be able to help specifically.
  3. AKtrumpet

    AKtrumpet Piano User

    Jun 4, 2010
    Physical changes will not do a thing to solve your problem. Listen to recordings and emulate.
  4. Haste2

    Haste2 Piano User

    Jun 16, 2010
    That's pretty unusual to have a good upper register sound, but bad with the low notes. I'm sure it's better than elementary school level! Are you able to play soft in the upper register? How's your flexibility both high and low?

    I would do what AK suggested. Revolving your practicing around playing with your best tone possible will ALWAYS yield results over time, especially if you try to sound like any particular player you choose. Even emulating non-trumpet players works. Anyway, back when I had a bad tone I was wondering why it was so bad. The reason? I didn't make an effort to play with the best sound possible. I was too worried about perfect intonation, etc.

    Doing mostly soft playing (as soft as reasonable) in the first part of your practice session does a load of good. For me, it helps a LOT to do a 20-minute routine of primarily Clarke exercises early in the day, then practice everything else in a later session. Or, you could try a few minutes each day playing long, breath-attacked notes so soft that the note just barely starts to form in your bell.
  5. VetPsychWars

    VetPsychWars Fortissimo User

    Nov 8, 2006
    Greenfield WI
    I will disagree to say that a kid is a kid and your body at 16 is almost never the body you end up with at 26.

  6. Ed Lee

    Ed Lee Utimate User

    Aug 16, 2009
    Jackson NC
    My quick take is to listen to yourself which is almost impossible without recording. An iPhone would help, but a Zoom HN 4 would be 100% better. I just don't believe you're as bad as you think you are ... but I agree that tone throughout the range of an instrument is #1 priority.
  7. VetPsychWars

    VetPsychWars Fortissimo User

    Nov 8, 2006
    Greenfield WI
    Tascam IM2 works well with iPhone. :-)

  8. Dale Proctor

    Dale Proctor Utimate User

    Jul 20, 2006
    Heart of Dixie
    Maybe playing lead on a small mouthpiece so much isn't helping any. Did you ever have a better tone, like before you dedicated most of your playing/practice time to upper register stuff? I had a really nice tone until I beat up my lips playing 1st trumpet in a busy big band for a number of years. I don't regularly play in one any more, and my tone has returned to something I like.
  9. kehaulani

    kehaulani Fortissimo User

    May 14, 2011
    Hawaian homey
    I notice in the list of suggestions the teachers past have given you, there's no mention of tongue placement. Since you seem to be almost a high-note specialist. Is it possible that your tongue is placed far forward and up (extreme “teee”) to assist the high notes, but so forward that it restricts the fullness of your sound, otherwise?

    Regarding your use of mouthpieces, perhaps the change for you at this stage in your playing between a shallow mpc and a 1.25 cup is just too great for you to manage. Also, what's the ratio of playing/practicing between each mpc? Too much of one at the expense of the other?

    @barliman – spoken like a true Austrian/Bavarian brass player. Huge tone first, other stuff later. OP – listen to the barliman. He's got some good points regarding tone, although personally I'd condense them down to a more succinct concept of air support.

    - barliman, I noticed in your profile that you added “Austria” after “Vienna”, as if it would be necessary to remind an American membership where Vienna is. Harrumph. We're not stupid. Everybody knows that Austria is where the Kangaroos are.

    Regarding, “That's pretty unusual to have a good upper register sound, but bad with the low notes”, I'm not so sure about that. Just to illustrate in the extreme, either Manny Klein or Ray Triscari (can't remember, we were all together) were telling me about the Time-Life big band series of recordings they were playing on and that the soloist on “I can't Get Started”, although a first-call LA studio guy, couldn't get the first three pick-up notes out with any quality. So the trumpeter sitting next to him actually played the pick-up notes and then the soloist picked it up from there on.

    There are other good suggestions above but one of the first things that went through my mind when I first was reading the original post was if the OP had a very clear concept in his mind of the sound he wanted throughout the entire range of the trumpet. Without a very clear concept in your mind's ear, it's difficult to do what you're aiming for. As a saxophonist, I also listened to violists and cellists to develop good tones on alto and tenor respectively. And on trumpet, you can't just have “higher, faster, louder” in your ear if you want a nice fat sound in the middle and lower registers.

    And lastly, (as the cheers go up) @ Tom's post, “I will disagree to say that a kid is a kid and your body at 16 is almost never the body you end up with at 26.” And what about us over 60 types who, try as we may, never seem to end up with a body of 26. :-P
  10. Juarez-MA

    Juarez-MA Pianissimo User

    Mar 14, 2012
    I believe AKTrumpet was referring to what the OP mentioned: sounds like posture in general.

Share This Page