Range Frustration Issues for a "New" Player.

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by cloudnine, Jan 22, 2010.

  1. cloudnine

    cloudnine Pianissimo User

    Jun 5, 2008
    First, some background: I've been playing for a little over a year and a half. I'm a university student and music major who started my program as a guitarist, but when I fell in love with jazz I also fell out of love with guitar and madly in it with trumpet. In June of '08 I decided to pick up a trumpet and loved it instantly. I decided shortly thereafter to make it my main instrument and devote all of my time and musical energy to it.

    I love playing it. I love the instrument. I love the sounds it makes and the amount of passion, energy, and shaping you can do with the instrument. My favourite jazz artists are trumpeters. I've been practicing a ton almost every day, as well as 3 hour rehearsals twice a week and private lessons. I try to do 2-3 hours a day, and I admit they're not always extremely structured practice sessions, but I do a reasonable amount of work on long tones, lip slurs, scales, etcetera.

    I've seen a marked improvement in almost every area since I started. Tone production, intonation, finger accuracy, the whole shebang. But one thing that has barely improved at all is my range. I'm not talking real "range" here - I mean basic, above-the-staff stuff. My usable range is basically low F# to F above the staff, and even that one's tough after 2 hours of playing. Sure, I can grasp at Gs, Ab/G#s, As, but to say that I've really "hit" them would be a lie.

    It's been getting monumentally frustrating. Certain heads and transcribed solos are out of reach because they contain Gs and above. I've gotten to the point where Fs are pretty consistent. For some reason, however, after that, it becomes extremely iffy. Even F# is often absent, and Gs are 50/50 at best. Whenever I try to get up to a G and hold it for long tone work, there's a lot of what I describe as "crap" in the sound - it seems like there's a lower fundamental pitch as well as some strange air sounds. It's not a "pure" sound and I definitely don't "own" it like I want to. I don't understand why these magically begin at about F-G.

    I don't care about screams or hitting high Cs every bar (though it's a future goal) - my intent is to have a decent USABLE, dependable range. I'd settle for an A/Bb right now, and I want to HAVE the note instead of HIT the note. I'm getting so utterly frustrated with it that it's really affecting my practice sessions and my motivation.

    I take lessons through school with an excellent trumpet player, and while he's given me some pointers, I'm wondering if there's any advice, exercises, routines, tips or potions that will open up the range. I'm NOT searching for instant fix-its - just ideas that will hopefully help me work towards opening up things up there.

    I've focused on not clenching my lips to compress the aperture and instead trying to push extra air from my lower abdomen, trying to metaphorically create "faster air". Is this correct? Also, sometimes I can blast F#/Gs if I really focus, but they sound out of character with the rest of my playing, and I want the ability to use dynamics and keep my lines at an even keel without having to shove tons of energy into high notes.

    I'm really sorry for the novel I wrote. If you can imagine each word as one practice-room F-word every time I cracked an F# or G, you'd be about there. :-)
  2. Phil986

    Phil986 Forte User

    Nov 16, 2009
    Near Portland, OR.
    How many years of practice did it take you to get to a decent level of control and accuracy on your guitar? The way you describe it, it seems you're working way beyond your embouchure's abilities. I'm no teacher but I'm pretty sure that the "crap" in your F# and G is pretty typical of tired/stressed lips. The more you impose on your embouchure from there, the less you'll progress.

    One thing that's very frustrating about the trumpet is that it takes a number of years to even get to the point where you have acquired the physical means of working many hard hours on your instrument. Whether you like it or not, you're not at that point and, to my knowledge, there is absolutely no way to rush this process. Improving range and endurance is a fine balancing act that takes years AND good guidance. Trying to force it will bring you nothing but frustration.

    What you're going through sounds identical to what I experienced when I started. I know that I worked against myself and slowed my progress by trying too hard too early.

    I would advise you to perhaps reconsider the role of the guitar in your education plans, at least until you have the means to change for the trumpet. The switch to trumpet at university level as a music major sounds to me like something next to impossible.
  3. gbdeamer

    gbdeamer Forte User

    Oct 16, 2008

    Since you're a music major I'll assume that you've got a good grasp on theory, musicianship, etc. That puts you way ahead of the curve compared to most "beginners", but it could possibly hold you back a bit. Your brain wants to do a lot more than you're physically able to do right now, so you may be short-cutting your fundamentals so that you can get to the fun stuff.

    Most beginners are learning about music (scales, whole notes and half notes, key signatures, etc.) at the same time as they are learning the instrument, so the evolution can be more gradual. You're looking to accelerate that, and in my opinion the best way to do that is to concentrate on basics.

    Instead of practicing almost every day, practice EVERY day. Spend a significant part of your daily practice on the long tones, lip slurs, and scales that you're not doing regularly now. Build the foundation. All the jazz trumpet players that you listen to now have spent years on those things, so you have too as well.

    The basic stuff can get boring, but building a solid-regular routine now will pay dividends later. I'm not a pro, so there are days where I only get 1 hour to play, and on those days I make sure it's my "basic" routine of Clarke, Arban, Schlossberg, etc.

    Just my opinion...
  4. equivariant

    equivariant New Friend

    May 25, 2009
    I can't offer any advice about trumpet (I have benn playing for an even shorter time than you). However, if you fell out of love with guitar cos you you fell in love with jazz, maybe you should take a listen to this video

    YouTube - HD ArtistWorks Guitar Project Episode 3

    The whole vid is interesting, but the really good stuff starts at 4:23, when they perform a guitar duet of a jazz classic that is more often associated with the trumpet. Sorry for the off topic post, but as a guitarist who has also had his head turned by the trumpet, things like this make me realise that the guitar can also be a great jazz instrument.
  5. veery715

    veery715 Utimate User

    Mar 6, 2007
    Ithaca NY
    Fourth year back after nearly 50 off, A above the staff is good, Bb OK, but still working to get higher. First year, E and F were difficult. Second year G became a target.

    A whole step a year, probably less practice than you. But it takes time and you cannot rush it. Patience is not the trumpeter's strong suit, but you need to cultivate it.

    One thing you might try is to raise your set point - a la Pops McLaughlin: Trumpet, trumpet lessons and trumpet books by Clint Pops McLaughlin.

    Maybe, if you can, start your day with G above the staff. Be careful, as other advice here on doing more damage than good is sound.

  6. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    habits are built with thousands of repetitions. Start practicing softly and you will do your face a real big favor. That would be my recommendation where to start,
  7. ska

    ska Pianissimo User

    Sep 12, 2009
    Don't climb up in range too hastily. It's better to get the hang of it at lower heights so it's easier later in high range. Of course that doesn't mean you can't train your range at all.
  8. dhbailey

    dhbailey Piano User

    Jul 28, 2009
    New Hampshire
    Your college's music department allowed you to switch major instruments in the middle of the degree? Without auditioning you on your new instrument? I find that very hard to believe! Of course, it's not impossible, depending on the nature of your music department, but still very difficult. How about recitals? Don't you at least have to perform a solo as part of a convocation concert with other majors?

    You say you're taking lessons with an excellent "trumpet player" but you don't say if that person is the department's trumpet teacher (or one of several) or if he's just another music major like you. If you've changed your instrument to be trumpet, shouldn't you be taking lessons with a faculty trumpet teacher?

    Remember that just because your "teacher" is an excellent trumpet player, that doesn't mean he's an excellent teacher.

    Rowuk's advice to play softly is right on the money -- and it really sounds as if you are pushing yourself way too hard to get those high notes. They come with time and with the correct combination of posture, breath control, embouchure strength, musical maturity, and most importantly, with time. Don't get frustrated with what you can't play -- be enamoured of what you *can* play and keep working to get better at that, while working on the basics, and you'll find that slowly but surely your high register will start to happen.

    In the meantime, go ask the faculty trumpet teacher for advice.
  9. cloudnine

    cloudnine Pianissimo User

    Jun 5, 2008
    I don't think I'm stressing out my lips too much. I never go crazy on them and use them until they ache, or anything. I take quite a few breaks in my practice sessions and am careful not to tax them beyond their limits.

    It's definitely a challenge, but I'm up to it. I certainly don't think it's "impossible". Am I at a disadvantage? Absolutely. Just means I have to work harder than the next guy to get where I'm going, and I'm okay with that.

    Therein lies part of the problem, and as my teacher has pointed out, my mind's ahead of my ability on the instrument. That can definitely make for some major frustration, as there's things I know I can execute theoretically but not physically (I suppose that's always the truth, though!)

    I definitely practice every day. I think you're on to something as far as the very, very basics, though. I had a lesson with an excellent player and teacher yesterday and we stuck to what was essentially one exercise for an hour with lots of breaks. By the end, I was learning what it feels like to properly play above the staff and was hitting the occasional high C with reasonable clarity and control. It's just tough wanting to explore all this wonderful new music and material!

    No argument here. It's just not the instrument for me. I've heard great things, jazzy and non, being done on the guitar. I think it's because I began playing it at 15/16 when I was into rock, and when I explored/transitioned into jazz, I didn't like it as much in that context.

    I definitely make this a focus in practice - not playing ridiculously loudly, a solid mf but with good tone and focus in the sound. Both of my teachers have reminded me of this, and I try to remember it even in the context of jazz orchestra at school.

    My music department is definitely not the most "formal" of departments. We have world-class players on staff, but they're extremely open-minded and receptive. When I e-mailed the head of my department at the beginning of last year and explained my situation, he was very understanding and allowed me to continue the program with trumpet. It didn't hurt that we have a dearth of guitarists and very few trumpet players.

    I took jazz theory with him this year, and he was very pleased with my progress.

    I've performed twice so far in our department's workshop concerts.

    He's the department's teacher, yeah. He's a reasonably good teacher, but unsurprisingly he's used to working with more advanced students. He's been very accommodating, though, so I can't fault him for that. Is he the best teacher in the world? No.

    But I am also taking lessons with another local player who is a prof at the "best/most prestigious" university in the city. He, on the other hand, is an excellent teacher and really knows how to explain basic concepts slowly and succinctly and is very focused on teaching good habits and how it should feel to play properly, moreso than my department's teacher. The only caveats are that he's expensive and his availability is limited.

    I try not to get too frustrated with range issues. After all, 95% of the music is below the G, and it's not like there aren't infinite possibilities in the staff with which to make awesome music and great jazz phrasing with. I'm not obsessed with range, but it's a major roadblock in achieving what I want to do. I'm trying to work with it and around it, ensuring I have good habits down. I know it'll come, but it seems to be slow-going.

    I will focus more on soft playing fluency, though. Thanks to both of you for that.

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