Playing Soft

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by gms979, Nov 4, 2005.

  1. gms979

    gms979 New Friend

    Jun 3, 2005

    Posted this in TH, but would love to get feedback here as well...

    So, I recently became aware of a horrible habit that had crept into my playing in recent years....a very narrow dynamic range. Playing 95% at a mf-f level, and only rarely going louder or softer. I've been forcing myself to play soft in recent days, and it REALLY seems seems to have helped with response, control, and eliminating the feeling that I'm "blowing my embouchure" out of position. And when I return to a loud passage, everything clicks more effectively.

    Then I read the who's who list of people I can think of who stress soft playing whenever I read their articles or listen to firsthand accounts. Hakan Hardenberger and Herbert L. Clarke come immediately to mind....Chris Gekker and Hiro Noguchi have talked/written about this alot as well. And I'm sure the list goes on and on.

    What exactly do you all think soft playing does for one's "game?" I have my own theories, but I'd love to hear you all think.

  2. Manny Laureano

    Manny Laureano Utimate User

    Sep 29, 2004
    The keys to a wide dynamic range are several.

    One, is to have your throat area open and relaxed. When you get tight, the effectiveness of your dynamic range is quite reduced. Develop the discipline to stay open while you get louder and softer. Two, you need equipment that stays in tune while you increase or reduce the air you blow. If you feel backed up while you crescendo the pitch will go screwy on you. If it's too big, you'll pinch and go sharp. You have to be sure you have balance that way. Third, you have to know what the tendencies of intonation on your horn are. Do you have a working inventory in your head of in and out of tune notes? This is important as it'll affect your willingness to vary your dynamics subconsciously.

    So, stay open and relaxed and play in tune throughout the dynamic range.

  3. Jimi Michiel

    Jimi Michiel Forte User

    Mar 22, 2005

    I just switched teachers this year and so I'm getting some different view points on my soft playing. I have always loved soft playing, like the end of the first movement of Mahler 5 where the muted trumpet and the flute trade off, or the end of Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande. Both are just truly beautiful when played right.

    One of the problems I'm finding with my soft playing is not getting the volume down, but keeping the sound resonant while playing soft. If you listen to a great trumpeter, you'll notice that when they play soft, they still maintain the same colorful timbre that they get at louder volumes. Just something to keep in mind. In a lot of ways, it's like learning to play high: sure, we can all get up there, but are "usable" range is that which sounds good and resonant. So don't just work on dynamic range, work on your "resonant dynamic" range. Just my 2c.

  4. tpter1

    tpter1 Forte User

    Jan 12, 2005
    Northern New York
    Control. The ability to play at a full dynamic without it "breaking up". Endurance. I agree completely on the response issue (doesn't Hickman use whisper tones for that?); I've also heard people say that one of the best ways to work on developing upper register playing is to play softly in the midde register.
  5. HHansontrpt

    HHansontrpt New Friend

    Nov 1, 2005
    I am by no means an expert. BUT someone who is....has taught me to think of dynamics as a texture in addition to a volume. So, now when I think "soft", I think of a touchable kind of cotton or clouds. Thinking of soft in this way often solves my volume issues.
  6. MGTrumpet

    MGTrumpet New Friend

    Nov 18, 2004
    Maple Grove, MN
    If I might add my own two cents –

    In college I played a LOT of Clarke studies very softly. I found there were many benefits.

    By playing extremely softly, and concentrating on minimizing the “wasted†air (getting the chops close together – NO air in the sound), I feel I was able to make my “drive train†much more efficient. I could play far longer on small amounts of air. I was converting ALL the air to sound. Normal playing volumes required a lot less air. And, if I wanted to, I could play very loud or extremely soft.

    By taking in HUGE amounts of air and playing softly with minimal air flow, I was able to work on relaxing my body to hold large amounts of air for longer periods of time without feeling the urge to exhale.

    I was more easily able to discern what my chops were doing as I played the exercises – was I changing notes smoothly and consistently? And, I was able to feel how my body was responding to my horn and how it responded to me. I felt a much closer “kinship†to my horn. Playing intervals accurately is a lot easier at low volumes than it his when you’re playing loud.

    By playing softly, with light pressure, I was getting lots of oxygen to my chops. I was able to get extremely tired (the larger muscles) but I wasn’t hurting my chops. Invariably, the next day I felt a lot stronger. It seemed that I never had a “bad†day with my chops – they always worked.

    But, since I’m not a pro player now, perhaps it didn’t really mean anything. But that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.
  7. Rick Chartrand

    Rick Chartrand Piano User

    Nov 22, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    I agree with Manny on having an open throat and the disiplin for the correct posture. Embouchure is as crucial as well. I remember in my very early days of playing (seems like a million years ago). Even though I had the correct disiplin and technique in my first couple years of playing, regardless of how hard I tried I couldnt play softly in an effective way, till my lip was developed enough to do it.

    I also think (like Manny) that good equipment is very important as well. That makes it easier to subconsciously control the notes that are a tiny bit flat or sharp. If you have a horn that is to 'off' then its harder and more frustrating to compensate. You can sound good on a cheaper horn, but why bother if you can afford pro equipment.

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