Marching Band Woes

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Subito Piano, Aug 15, 2010.

  1. Subito Piano

    Subito Piano New Friend

    Aug 15, 2010
    Hello everyone,

    I'm a section leader in a college marching band. I've been a pretty competitive trumpet player for many years (3 years of all state band, multiple honor orchestras). However, I've run into some trouble since entering the marching band. I know that marching and doing choreography while playing can wreak havoc on the chops, as it has happened to me for the last two years.

    This summer, however, I have been determined to build up my endurance and range for the upcoming season. I am having the following problems, and would like to know what advice you guys have. I play on a Bach Strad Model 72 and use a Bach 3C for practice and a Shilke 14a4 for the screaming notes. Here are my main problems:

    1. I am a downstream player, so marching with the horn parallel to the ground poses a huge problem. Right now I am faced with the choice of altering my embouchure for marching or playing very awkwardly with my head tilted far back. Any suggestions?

    2. To build up endurance for the season, I have been testing out the PETE system. I definitely feel an increase in my endurance, but am wondering if this is a worthwhile investment of my time. What other methods are tried and true for developing endurance, preferably in less than 2 hours a day?

    3. Any suggestions for improving range would also be appreciated. I can hit high Es and Fs for about a span of 10 minutes, and then it is downhill from there. I understand there is no way to vastly improve endurance and range in a few short weeks, but any step in the right direction would be most welcome.

    Thank you for your suggestions!
  2. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    let's back up a bit, you know what the deal is by marching, have managed to become section leader but claim havoc with your chops. What is wrong? Can you not play the part?

    1) If you are really downstream, then you are stuck with that. Get a horn with a bent mouthpiece receiver, putting the mouthpiece at the right angle when the horn is straight so that you do NOT have to mess with the embouchure. It probably wouldn't help short term anyway as changes could mess your playing up for YEARS!
    2) The PETE is no better or worse than many other methods. If you have times where you are not allowed to be loud, devices like this can get extra time in during the day.
    The tried and true method for more endurance is more time behind the horn, not playing until you are wasted and taking frequent breaks. Our embouchures rely on fine motor activity, not body building. Endurance comes from proper breathing and body use. Swimming and Yoga can help alot here.
    3) range is improved by the things that help endurance. True upper register is almost NEVER a function of the embouchure alone. Any real changes in the way your face works can WIPE OUT the season. My approach is to develop in an evolutionary instead of revolutionary way. Get your breathing and body together!!!!!!

    Finally, I have only met a couple players that really get along with a 14A4A on the field. There just is not a whole lot of room for the swelling when your chops take a hit. Try your 3C for a couple of weeks after you get a horn with a bent leadpipe.
  3. DaveH

    DaveH Piano User

    Nov 27, 2003
    You can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you can also get a bent mouthpiece as well? Here's a thread about the subject...there may be others.

    However, I don't think I'd try it myself - if you want it done properly...I would consult a technician who has some experience, has done it successfully before, and has the right tools.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2010
  4. Solar Bell

    Solar Bell Moderator Staff Member

    May 11, 2005
    Metro Detroit

    Just another reason to NOT be involved in marching band!
  5. Ed Lee

    Ed Lee Utimate User

    Aug 16, 2009
    Jackson NC
    The usage of P.E.T.E. is ONLY 5 minutes per session per instructions. Personally, I see no need for more tha 4 such sessions per day. Such is NO substitute for practice !

    As for marching band ... the only problem I had with it was the songs we played at fff or eve ffff were written at most for F with lower tones as well. Immediately afterward, it was very difficult for me to play ppp or pppp, let alone pp. I was then playing gigs at night after football games until we got lights installed around our football field and the games were played later (my high school senior year).

    As for the "downstream" I too would have a tech bend a mpc.
  6. Scatmanblues

    Scatmanblues Pianissimo User

    Jul 19, 2010
    West Texas
    If you want to build chops and endurance for marching season, you should be spending as much time working your marching fundamentals as your playing fundamentals. I saw nothing in your post to indicate that you are doing any work to build your core stability and marching fluidity, and those two things are the KEY to marching and playing without beating your chops to death.

    I don't care how good a player you are, if you can't isolate your shoulders/arms and head from the rest of your body while marching you are setting yourself up for trouble -especially with the lead book.

    Quick test -find a big mirror and face it. Now, put your horn in playing position with mouthpiece to chops. March 8/5 towards the mirror and focus on looking at the reflection of the top of your head and end of the bell in the mirror. If either is bounding up and down at all you are not isolating your upper body while marching (thus putting excessive and unpredictable strain and pressure onto your chops with every bobble). If you're doing that, you'll have no endurance no matter how long you can play sitting or standing still.

    Your goal should be to march towards the mirror and have no visible bounce in either your head or horn. When you can do that moving forward, then do the same marching backwards. Then work crab steps. Then march forward and backward parallel to the mirror, but with your upper body turned towards the mirror going in both directions. Then practice making direction changes without letting the horn bounce or move.

    Now, some tips for how to get there:

    1. Your hips are key. If you lower your hips even a little while moving it will allow your legs to absorb more of the shock of the steps. Stiff legs = bounce. You can still maintain an upright posture in your back and shoulders while doing so.

    2. Stretch, stretch, stretch. The more flexible you are in your legs and lower body, the easier it is to move fluidly and twist into position. You'll be amazed how much easier it is to turn your shoulders perpendicular to your hips with a week or two of good stretching exercises.

    3. Build your core. Strengthen the muscles of your core with solid exercises (plenty out there such as Yoga, Pilates, or if you don't want to do that good old-fashioned push-ups and sit-ups) and they will improve your stability and allow you to march longer with less fatigue. It will also improve your balance -a key factor in staying stable while playing and moving. Another trick to work the core and improve balance -stand at attention with the horn in playing position. Now, pick up one foot and put it next to your other knee with your toe pointed down. Stay there for 5-10 seconds, then alternate feet and do it again. The goal -as always- is to be able to move from foot to foot and have no movement in the horn or head.

    4. Perfect your glide step. You want to move lightly ACROSS the field, not step ON the field. I don't know which type of marching step your band teaches, so I can't give you specific advice, but a universal truth is that the goal is to tread lightly, rolling from the heel to the toe smoothly, with as consistent a step as possible. You should be able to close your eyes, put your horn to your face, and march 8/5 for 10-15 yards and land within an inch of the yardline every time. If you can march that far and accurately with your eyes closed, you'll know you've smoothed out your step and balance.

    5. DON'T EVEN BOTHER PLAYING WHILE DOING ANY OF THIS UNTIL YOU HAVE ELIMINATED THE BOUNCE!!!!!! If you have to march and play at rehearsals, fine, but while doing this individual practice you want to build GOOD habits and only put the playing to the marching AFTER you have built a strong foundation of marching fundamentals. Even after you have gotten comfortable and stable you should practice marching alone every day to maintain the body and muscle memory.

    6. Introduce playing the horn slowly. Start by doing straight marching while playing long tones. Listen for wobble in the pitch from your steps and focus on being as smooth as possible. Don't move on until you can play scales in whole notes with no wobble while marching. Then, do the same with half notes, then quarter notes, then eighth notes, and finally your marching music. Do the same marching forwards, backwards, while making turns, with crab steps, etc.

    7. Plan to spend AT LEAST an hour a day working marching fundamentals if you want to see any real improvement in only a few weeks. Even then, it can take the entire season to really build the habits you want to develop. If you only march in the fall, and you don't have a long history of marching fundamentals behind you, you'll need to do this before every season.

    As for the downstream playing, just how low are we talking? Also, is it your FACE pointed down, or only the horn. If it's your face, no need to change the chops, just reposition your head. Anything close to level while standing still should work with a tilt of the head rather than a change in embouchure.

    I suspect part of your problem may be more balance and a weak core than that your head is too far back. If you still can't comfortably play AFTER you've smoothed out your marching, improved your balance, gotten your core stronger, and improved your flexibility THEN I'd look at an equipment or chops change. I've marched with people who naturally played with the horn fairly low and none of them ever changed their chops or equipment for marching band.

    Good luck,

  7. crazyandy88

    crazyandy88 Pianissimo User

    Nov 3, 2007
    Fayetteville, AR
    I had the exact same problem and never really did anything about it. I just cranked my head back and mashed it to the face...our horns had to be at 10 degrees over parallel. Now I know why I had so many problems throughout my college career. I was reinforcing bad habits every day on the field and they carried over into every aspect of my playing. I haven't marched in exactly one year tomorrow. I still have to really keep myself in check every time I practice. Do anything you can not to tilt your head back because that restricts your air passage. Also don't result to cramming the horn into your top lip to get the angle you want. The bent mouthpiece will help both of those. I found that I was pushing really hard from my abdomen and back to play because of all the tension in my throat...take time after every marching session to hit a practice room and return to normalcy. I thoroughly hated marching practice...performance was fun as always. Just remember that there is sooooo much more music to play than what will fit in a flip folder so make sure you sound good in those settings too.
  8. Subito Piano

    Subito Piano New Friend

    Aug 15, 2010
    Thanks so much for all of the suggestions. Although we march with the high step, I'll definitely be doing the mirror test to improve my playing and marching. I also like the bent mouthpiece idea. Might even try out some of the new Cat Anderson techniques.

    Looks like my future will have lots of lip slurs and marching!
  9. Scatmanblues

    Scatmanblues Pianissimo User

    Jul 19, 2010
    West Texas
    I'll be honest that I have no experience with a bent anything on a horn (except one time when someone stepped on my bell in pep band...hehe), but I would again suggest taking care of creating a solid base and smooth marching approach before messing with anything that would reposition or reprogram the playing fundamentals I hope you've spent years developing. Just guessing here, but if you bend the lead-pipe or mouthpiece your hands will then be higher when holding the horn and the pressure on your chops will come from a different angle (more downward than straight back) thus creating exactly the sort of embouchure change you're trying to avoid.

    And if you still bounce when you're marching, guess what? No equipment change will save your chops and endurance from the abuse of the bouncing.

    What you were likely feeling wasn't about having to blow harder to overcome a closed throat (doesn't happen), but instead a weak core that was stressed by the demands of having to hold the body upright while moving and also control the air supply to the horn. You didn't need to get more air or force the air, your abs and back just couldn't provide the amount of control you were used to getting for your air flow while simultaneously trying to keep you from losing balance while marching. Again, a problem fixed by practice focused on building solid MARCHING mechanics and developing a strong and flexible body that can then support both your upper body and the air flow.

    Playing a trumpet well requires a high degree of fine-motor control. That CAN'T happen while marching without a solid base to work from, and that base is your marching fundamentals.

  10. StoporIlltoot!

    StoporIlltoot! New Friend

    Jan 7, 2010
    Cincinnati, OH
    The summer before I started college marching band, I hardly touched my trumpet. However, I ran several miles a day, swam laps, and worked out quite a bit. When band camp began, I was more than prepared for the physical demands...but the whole trumpet playing part hit me like a ton of bricks for the first few days.

    It tore my chops to pieces, and at one point I actually felt like my front teeth were going to break and fall out. I switched from downstream to upstream about halfway through camp, ditched the Bach 3B, and went to a Schilke 6a4a on a .470 bore horn. It took some adjusting, but I suppose that as the damage healed and I began rebuilding my chops, the process occurred in a way that yielded a surprisingly clean tone quality that was appropriate for marching band. It was also highly consistent, my range went up substantially, and my endurance shot through the roof. It worked out quite well for long as I was playing lead/first part in the marching band. I wasn't playing in concert band that semester, so I had a bit more freedom in that regard.

    This was one of those rare occasions in life where an act of sheer desperation seems to work out. Everybody's physiology is different. I think the embouchure/positioning change yielded this result for me because it placed my jaw forward, and really, really opened up my throat.

    Another college marching band tip: if yours is one of the bands that uses those ugly ("Dinkles?") black marching shoes, ditch 'em. I never had a single pair of those that didn't wear out in one season (soles looked like Belgian waffles by October) and if the turf was even slightly damp, a rapid pivot would put you on your rump on national television. My solution was Adidas Sambas ($35-40 at shoe store), and a can of black gloss urethane bumper coating spray paint ($5 at Auto Zone). I never polished mine...just wipe off & hit 'em with the spray paint when needed. They looked brand new every game day. Dinkles insoles are glued in to the shoe, Adidas are not - you can go out and buy the exact insoles you want just about anywhere.

    Those Dinkles will work just fine if you want to be like the old ladies that stroll the shopping mall at a tortoise-like pace every morning before the stores open. Indoor soccer players swear by Sambas for a reason!

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