Practicing both range and improvisation?

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Trumpeter3197, Jul 14, 2013.

  1. Trumpeter3197

    Trumpeter3197 New Friend

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    I'm primarily a big band/jazz player, playing in big bands and jazz small groups. I just finished my sophomore year in high school, and since my freshman year when I was made lead trumpet in my high school's big band by a stroke of sheer luck, I've been doing some intense range practicing and chop building. This has turned me into a great lead player, from a range maxing out at a weak high D/E and terrible tone when I came into high school, to making lead trumpet in my All-State jazz band just a few months ago, with high G-A range and a very strong tone and projection in the upper register. I did this by working almost exclusively on strength and technical exercises throughout my freshman and sophomore years, 1-3 hours a day, adding more as my endurance improved. The only problem with this, as I realized last year, was that my improvisation was terrible (obviously having never worked on it), and as I started listening more to the great jazz trumpet players, I started wanting more and more to be a jazz player as well.

    So, as anyone who has taken this path of being both a lead/extreme high note player and a jazz soloist knows, this is a pretty hard goal for a high school player like myself. I started playing trumpet in 3rd grade, but I never really started practicing until 2 years ago, so my practice endurance is not quite at the point where I can do the intense and long practicing of both range and improv that I want to do. Since about 2-3 months ago, I developed a new practice routine where I would do my normal range, strength, and tone exercises for about 2 hours, then break for 2 hours, then practice improv for an hour (practicing licks, transcribed solos, and playing tunes out of the real book with backtracks). The problem with this is that it would be too tiring on my chops, and although my improv started to get better, my range hasn't really increased since I started practicing improv seriously, although my endurance has. One hour of improv practice is also MUCH less than I would like to do, and I find myself forcing myself to stop practicing improv because if I go too much over an hour my range and tone starts to suffer.

    My question, now, is directed mostly to players who have chosen a similar path as me of being both a lead player/high note specialist and jazz improviser or anyone who thinks they can help me out. Is there a better or more efficient way to practice both range and improvisation? My range/strength exercises now are very intense, and worked wonders throughout the beginning of sophomore year, so I think practicing improv on the same day just counteracts the principle of resting to build muscle. Is it possible at all for someone as young as me to meet these practice desires, or will it simply take time to build my endurance to the point where I can do 2+ hours a day of both?

    Sorry for the overly long post, all responses are greatly appreciated.
     
  2. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

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    First of all let me say, wow, what great goals you have set. But yes, I now can do it all but it took me 40 years to get there, but I was not as dedicated and focused as you. You are truly amazing to set this goal so early in your career. As for me, my concentration was first on improvisation, than on lead playing. Actually, the lead playing goal was forced on me by scoring the first chair in the first band for the Colorado State Statesman when I started graduate school there just after college. Playing lead was real work in Colorado, coming originally from Cincinnati as the altitude had it's effect on me and in my first rehearsal, we started a Stan Kenton tune on high E held for 5 measures. Oh, I played it strong and loud, but not sure for how long as the next thing I remember after first attacking the note was being lifted off the floor after passing out.

    So I started with improvisation (no range building other than my classical lessons at the U. of Cincinnati College Conservatory-CCM). But my improv was initially motivated for a rock band I was in. It was just a lot of playing and working out with Blood Sweat and Tears; Chicago; Tower of Power records that got my improv chops together. A fella in my rock band was also at CCM and suggested I start playing in the Jazz band at UC to improve in my improv skills. I did and was put in a quintet, (as well as second, third horn in jazz band) and just that experience was helpful. Mind you, I was not doing anything like you for range building other than working on my Classical exercises. I was REALLY focused in improv. So you can imagine my surprise when I became lead at Colorado State. I owned a solid high F and that was enough (that and a Jet-tone) mouthpiece to hold the chair down. Then I moved to NYC and studied with Claudio Roditi, where my focus was entirely on improv, where he had me transcribing solo after solo of jazz greats as my lesson assignments (I chose to study sax players as I wanted to develop a different sound on trumpet). And so I did well for those 30 years.

    It was when I started with my current quintet, the Eddie Brookshire Quintet, that I was FORCED back into lead playing. See, Eddie, an elder statesman of jazz and jazz professor at the University of Dayton, kept pushing and pushing me to join his jazz orchestra as well. He insisted I play lead to build my chops toward more strength with the quintet. I was reluctant and turned him down for a year or two, as I had visions of how much work it was to play lead while at Colorado. But since I had my improv under my belt, I spend about 1-2 hours a day on endurance with working on breathing, relaxing more when I play, and working through our lead charts the kept us into the second G above staff range. About every other month, I could incorporate a half step at a time to where I now own the Bb below double high C. Oh sure the double high C is only a half step away, and I can hit it more often than not, but I still do not own it (that Harrelson SWE Summit is looking more and more like a done deal for me).

    Now, I have both a solid improve ability, AND a range nearly to match that skill, and to maintain both, during some of my soling, I take off into the stratosphere (yes even on my flugelhorn). So moral of the story, it is hard to work on both at the same time. There is a reason the 2nd trumpet gets all the solos, partially because lead work is demanding, and partially is that the second horn typically has exceptional improve skills. Give yourself time, and you will get there. If you are at this time in your life, happy with range, than start concentrating on improv and through some high notes in just to maintain. If you want some samples of my work on mp3 recordings, give me an email that I can use to attach them to, and I can give you an example as to how I have now used this range to add to my improve.

    The great Eddie Brookshire was right, with his many years of wisdom behind him. I have become a stronger, more dynamic player as a result.
     
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  3. Trumpeter3197

    Trumpeter3197 New Friend

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    gmonady,

    Thanks for the in-depth response. Having had experience practicing both though, would you say there is a "better/worse" way of going about it? i.e. practicing either range or improv first with x hours break in between. Like I said, 2 hours of range, 2 hours of break, then improv was too much after the range work I did, so I've been thinking about doing improv first in the morning, taking a 6-8 hour break, then doing range at night. Do you think specifics like this matter, or is it all gradual?
     
  4. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

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    If you can get a big enough break in between sessions where fatigue does not set in, then yes, you can do both. I myself found it rewarding to concentrate on one, then move toward the other. I tend to be more productive when focusing/concentrating on a specific learning goal. But that is just me. If you can multi-task AND have the rest in between, there is no reason why it cannot be done this way. HOWEVER, my word of caution, is if after the break, you have trouble with your control (no matter at what range you are playing) then STOP. This means fatigue has set in, and you will never progress if fatigue is noted in your practice routine.
     
  5. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

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    By the way, your goals are honorable. Building my range has afforded much more creativity in my improvisational playing. Not only in reaching more notes, but increasing range has afforded me more ability to skate around more in the range I already have. Notes become so much easier, slotting more precise, stamina more enduring, control exceptional, and the ability to bend notes without loosing them... priceless.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2013
  6. EdMann

    EdMann Mezzo Forte User

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    I'm sort of with you on that. When I came back to the instrument, it was like I was in college all over again; barely a D or Eb over high C, bare improve skills and the first band I joined asked me to play the jazz chair. I was forced to learn on the fly. As a by product, the range started coming in. The stamina required to play long choruses is the stamina needed for playing the full range of the instrument. Of course the basic tenants apply: low pressure, even sound, a good routine (I use Stamp now) and knowing when to put it down. Also, the undercurrent of what gmonady said is the time spent playing with others. Practicing is great, but you won't get gig chops by just practicing, imo.

    ed
     
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  7. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

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    :thumbsup:
     
  8. kingtrumpet

    kingtrumpet Utimate User

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    I might interject to Trumpeter3197 --- that if you get fatigued, REST is actually beneficial. ME TOO have been working on range, and endurance (although I'm 3 decades older than you) --- there are some days, where I know I pushed TOO FAR the day before (and although that is NOT quite up to owning the Bb below the Double High C like my good buddy GM) --- there are days when the HIGH G is not quite up to par, or it fades fast. ---- FOR ME, I have found that playing a day of easy soulful stuff, and some improve in the staff can give the chops much needed rest, you can also transpose some music, listen to music ---- but also playing in the staff, I can play longer, and feel that greatly helps my ENDURANCE -- and YES!!!, I believe it also helps in my range (by either not wearing myself out, or by giving my embouchere a little high note rest) ------ just saying
     

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