Using your air, playing aggresively

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Local 357, Feb 12, 2012.

  1. Local 357

    Local 357 Banned

    Jul 1, 2011
    Its a concept I hammer home with both my students and peers. Main reason? I even forget it myself sometimes.

    The theory being that ALL brass players will shut off the air once in a while. It is after all a natural condition. Like a flinch when someone moves their hand near your face. We duck, cover and avoid the stimulus that appeared to "attack" us.

    While seen most acutely in beginners and intermediate players you can see it many professionals too. Usually during or just before they start going into a downward playing spiral*. First we start playing too cozily in ensemble work. Typically we fear missing a note in an entrance. So we take a little off the tone. It's a recipe for disaster however because this means that we've cut off the air. Presto: a clammed note. Fearful from this experience we play even more "carefully" and ingrain the habit of timidity.

    Band directors are often guilty of producing this timid approach in their students. Caught up in a world of music they forget the psychological hurdles their wind sections go through. So they make statements like:

    "Don't be either the first nor the last note heard".

    Advice which in and of itself isn't totally wrong and does have some value. Unfortunately it can induce excessive fear of failure. This in turn reinforces a habit of timidity. Watch for this in your peers, your students and most especially yourself.

    I like to imitate the player who plays timidly in this evening rehearsal band I belong with. Just last week i took the second trumpet player to task for not putting enough air behind his horn. He agreed with my critique but i took the matter farther by imitating a very timid player in the trombone section. So i bent over my trumpet in a hunch, shook like I was nervous and played a series of weak, putrid tones of clams.

    My young friend got a huge laugh from this as I made my point. Not to make fun of his friend but to point out the weak habit of allowing the horn to "own" the man behind the instrument.

    When I took a lesson from Al Cass way back in the day (best lesson i ever had btw) he had me execute a large inhale and then yell at the top of my lungs the word "HAH". The neighbors must have thought we were crazy. Then he screamed at me again to yell even louder. He had me use my voice in order to release my inhibitions. And to test that i was really supporting my sound. Then when i picked up and blew through the horn his insults began.

    "What's that weak, puny tone you're getting? BLOW dog gone it"!

    The lesson eventually sunk in. The sound of a half crazy old Italian man half in the bag on warm Esslinger beer

    yelling at you in his little shop when its 15 degrees above zero outside on a nasty New England winter afternoon isn't something one soon forgets lol. In the weeks and months that followed I would try and push as much air behind the horn every gig I had. Fortunately I was a five night a week working musician back in those days. So I had the opportunity to immediately utilize this aggressive air support concept.

    In fact it worked wonders for my playing. Because of this lesson with Al I learned to switch from being just a side man to a dominating force within a band. LEADING, not just playing.

    But there were other teachers who helped me along the way. The music educator Mr. John Allen from Andover, MA a great influence. I will pass on his favorite and most significant quote. Among the best I've ever heard:

    "The biggest insult a brass player will ever hear is to be told he's not playing loud enough".

    BURN that concept into the minds of your students. And even yourself if you haven't already. You will see incredible results almost immediately.

    Dominance exudes confidence. Confidence = good entertainment in the minds of the audience. Conversely;

    Timidity exudes weakness. Weakness = poor performance. Even if all the correct tones are played. Which usually won't happen. One is ten times more likely to hit a clam when playing with timidity.

    * Al Cass told me that jazz great Red Rodney came to him for help nearly in tears. Red was losing his chops and in desperate straits. To which Al gave him the same "Sargent Hartman" pep talk he gave me. Only with even more bluster. Within six months Red went on to win some major favorable write up in Downbeat.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2012
  2. catello

    catello Pianissimo User

    Dec 14, 2009
    Winter Park, FL
    Great suggestions. But I would recommend against anyone reading this and thinking that thinking that timidity=quiet and dominance=loud. If you are playing in a section, then you should match the other players and the requirements of the piece. But if you are soloing, then dominance can often be found at the ppp level of sound. Making an audience pay attention to your soft playing, and then blowing them back with a blast of sound (appropriately played, of course) can demonstrate real dominance! But both require, as you mention in the beginning of your piece, not cutting off the air, but controlling and supporting it throughout the playing.
  3. Local 357

    Local 357 Banned

    Jul 1, 2011

    Obviously there is a place to blend. That said my feeling is that when in doubt? One should err on the side of using a bit more air. Especially when in doubt. Musical directors usually don't fully understand this one. Even trumpet playing bandleaders.

    These days I practice both aggressively and defensively. Aggressive is usually in order for jazz, commercial and pop music. Defensively for classical and some aspects of concert bland*. In these you truly don't want to be "either the first or the last note heard".

    However playing too much classical music and thus too much defensive blowing can often induce some form of timidity So I think. At least for me. I've never exactly been a real ace on classical concert music anyway. It just isn't my bag save and except for church and some baroque piccolo work. Consequently I've never really trusted myself on the Haydn in E Flat which truth be told really isn't all that hard of a piece. it's just a lot different than "Jazz Police" ha hah.

    However one day at a jazz big band rehearsal I heard our strong second trumpet player screwing around warming up on the Haydn trumpet Concerto, III movement. Well we have sort of a friendly/competitive relationship as one might expect. Not to be outdone I decided to see just how fast and accurate those quick sixteenth note triplet/arpeggios would come out. Though a tune best played on the E flat trumpet or cornet all I had was my B flat. Worse still I just had my screamer piece in the horn. A really bad combination for executing swiftly articulated intervals.

    Oh what the heck? I decided. We were just fooling around. So i put a little extra air behind the thing. Presto: best and fastest i'd ever played the thing. Wished I could have had that one bottled. You'd have though my first name was "Armando".

    So now old Dennis thinks I'm a crack classical cat. Well what does he know? I'll tell you this though: if I ever have to play that piece in a serious concert I will first spend two to three weeks in advance blowing soft scales and long tones. Then when the time comes? Hope I have enough sense to play the thing a tad louder than preferred. Not grossly loud. Just a bit more volume than called for. Safer.

    Another thing about playing with dominance: Its a style really. Sort of defines your place in the music community. Are you a sideman or an artist? The artist generally plays louder. Often this can cause a resentment among bandleaders. they don't want you to outshine them.

    So screw 'em i said. As Louis Armstrong was known for saying:

    "PP? I always thought it meant 'pound plenty'...

    *Sorry I mean "band" lol.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2012
  4. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    I agree with Local wholeheartedly. Even when playing softly, think big.

    During a lesson with Armando (or Mundy as we were supposed to call him), he had me sing some lick before we started to play. His first comment was "Not Petula Clarke, big like Jesse Norman". Not just loud, but really big. That was also the reason that we had to practice softly - but lessons boldy. The soft playing made the flesh responsive and the ATTITUDE took care of the rest.

    Great thread. From my perspective, the greatest insult is when those you are playing for don't say anything................
  5. Mark_Kindy

    Mark_Kindy Mezzo Forte User

    Jul 11, 2010
    Gainesville, FL
    This makes me rethink how much air I use... most likely not enough. Good post Local, gives some strong things to consider!
  6. catello

    catello Pianissimo User

    Dec 14, 2009
    Winter Park, FL
    I think it comes down to playing with confidence (which is how I read "agressive") or insecurity, which tends towards timidity. The easiest way to get out of a mistake in a jazz solo is to own it and recover like you intended the deviation all along (or take the mistake with humor and move on). You can't do that if you're insecure about your playing. But we (I) have all fallen into the trap where over-thinking a solo or our performance has an impact. Like getting the yips in golf - confidence brings you back (or so I've been told).
  7. coolerdave

    coolerdave Utimate User

    Nov 7, 2009
    San Pedro
    I think it's interesting how we can naturally do some things when we were younger but can have problems with them later in life. Then you go back and rack your brains trying to figure out what's wrong... mimicing old lesson plans to no avail.
    Putting a little juice into the horn is one of them that can be easily overlooked.
    good thread
  8. tedh1951

    tedh1951 Utimate User

    Oct 18, 2007
    The Wide Brown Land
    You blokes and your very generous lessons - another epiphany for me - rehearsal will be interesting tomorrow and Wednesday, I've printed these posts for later review - thank you all. :oops:
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2012
  9. stumac

    stumac Fortissimo User

    Oct 19, 2008
    Flinders Vic Australia
    In our amateur orchestra the conductor often stops and says "Trumpets you are late" at the start of a piece, I have watched them ( I am playing Fr horn) and without exception they are not commencing to breath until 4 and +, consequently late on the first beat.

    Several years ago at music camp our brass tutor was the bass trombone player from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, he would have us all doing breathing exercises before we played and counted in with "1,2 breath now", expecting all to start breathing where the third beat was. This was my first introduction to the concept of "circle of breath".

    Regards, Stuart.
  10. tedh1951

    tedh1951 Utimate User

    Oct 18, 2007
    The Wide Brown Land
    Our BD gives us a breathing hint at 3 by just taking a big breath - we all know what it means - and if we don't breathe, the left eyebrow is raised and we know we are in for it ....................... eventually.

    BUT IT WORKS .......... we shouldn't need it, but it keeps us focussed.

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