Saturday, October 16, 2010

My Trumpet Gear History

My horns(L to R): Bach 72, Bach 43, Kanstul 1525, Old Couesnon

Blog# 59: My Trumpet Gear History

I thought I'd take a second to share my thoughts and history with different trumpet gear. I usually avoid talking about gear because with trumpet. It really is the player making the sound, the horn is just the microphone(it amplifies the sound of your lips). Searching for the perfect horn is pointless; you'll never find it. I just try to find something that works and go with it.

I have to admit, I have certain fear when it comes to trumpet gear, mouthpieces etc. My chops are pretty sensitive, so when I switch trumpets or mouthpieces, I feel off and like I can't get my sound together like I want. Even if I start playing too much flugelhorn, that can make my trumpet chops feel off. This has been the case ever since I started playing trumpet when I was a kid. I'm a one horn, one mouthpiece kind of guy. And the few times I've changed gear over the years, I usually have a fairly long adjustment period(I usually have to find where all the notes exist on each horn). So to some degree, I've tried to avoid learning too much about mouthpiece throats and trumpet bore's, and I try to keep my mind on making whatever instrument I'm playing work for me.

My Gear History:

I started playing trumpet(though I had no desire or motivation at the time) at age 6. The first instrument I owned was a Conn Director trumpet(you can find them on ebay for $25!) with a Conn 4 Mouthpiece. I think this trumpet was my uncle's when he was a kid. I played this horn and mp all the way into high school. Sophomore year my parents bought me a brand new silver Yamaha 6335 and a 11C4 mouthpiece(that came with it). (11C4 was yamaha's version of a Bach 7C). This was a REAL horn compared to the Conn Director. I played the Yamaha for 4 years(last 2 of high school, first two of college).

Junior year of College I was studying with John Swana and he let me play his old Bach trumpet during a lesson. This was an incredible horn so I decided to sell my yamaha and buy a Bach(which I purchase used from John's friend who buys hundreds of trumpets on ebay). I got a used Bach 43 (made in the early 90's). It also came with a Bob Reeves Valve Alignment, and the fastest valves I've ever felt. Around this time I also was involved in my first 'Mouthpiece safari'. I tried tons of mouthpieces and settled on a Bach 5C, which I really liked, and still think is a great mouthpiece. I played this Bach 43 trumpet and 5C for the last 8 years. I also bought a Couesnon Flugelhorn on Ebay that I played during my college years which I played during that time. I had an awesome repair guy in Philly, Bret Gustaffson, who put a trigger on the 3rd valve slide. Unfortunately, Bret moved to Australia :(

The exception during that 8 year period was I bought a new Bach 72. I felt this horn was a bit darker and had better projection. The downside is it required more effort to play. I played it for about a year until I took it to a repair guy in NYC to clean and he offered a discount on a valve alignment that ended up pretty much ruining the horn, at which point I went back to the Bach 43. Also for those 5 years in NYC I started playing a Kanstul 1525 Flugelhorn(which was the sound I was going for on Flugel at that time). Plus I also found it annoying that the Couesnon leaked oil on my hands. I played the Bach 43 and Kanstul Flugel on my first Album, 'Connections'.

Two years ago my trumpet friend Eric gave me a Monette B6, which I've been playing since. Occasionally I play my old Couesnon(I got a plastic thing online to keep from getting oil on my hands). Recently I've been playing my Bach 72(the one the repair guy messed up). The valves still suck and I'm not in love with it, but It still projects better than the 43 and is a bit darker. Hopefully I can get used to it, I don't want to have to try out trumpets again. (In fact, even when friends want me to try out their new horns, I usually pass.)

So that's my gear history!

Written out, it sounds like a lot of equipment, but it pretty much boils down to:

Conn Director w/ Conn 4 --------------- 10 years

Yamaha 6335 w/ 11C4--------------------4 years

Bach 43 w/ Bach 5C------------------------8 years

(Monette B6 mp for 2 of those years)

Bach 72-------------------recently(we'll see if I go back to the Bach 43)


Couesnon w/ Bob Reeves 43.5DF-----3 years

Kanstul 1525 w/ Bach 5A-----------------4 years

I dunno, a horn is a horn, you still need the person to play it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Voice Leading in Composition

Blog # 58: Voice Leading in Composition

One thing that I think is very important in composition is voice leading. I write almost all my songs on piano, and most of the time I find a chord voicing that I like and then I experiment with voice-leading. Coming up with a good line for the top voice(melody) and bass movement that I like too, and then filling in the inner voices. Seeing how many notes you can keep the same too. I think you can come up with some really beautiful progressions this way, and it will also help out if you're writing parts for larger ensembles. Its funny, because its essentially the same technique you learn in school when studying classical harmony IE 'Bach Chorales'.(who'd a thought that stuff would actually be useful?)

I remember tons of Music Theory classes while I was at Muhlenberg College and later NYU, doing harmonic dictation or 'figured bass' chord progressions. (I always had tons of red marks for 'parallel 4ths' and 'tritone movement'. The beauty of being out of school, is I write what I like, and I can break the classical rules whenever I want to and just let my ears guide me.

Try writing a tune as if it were a 4 part 'Bach Chorale', just use 7th chords, #5's, #11's, Altered Chords, whatever you want instead of boring triads. Its one great way to start writing tunes.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Trumpet Secrets

Blog # 57: Trumpet Secrets:

Trumpet is a very strange instrument. I don't know any other instrument which requires the type of discipline that trumpet does. You have to practice every day for years and years just to get a decent sound and if you are slacking, the trumpet lets you know IMMEDIATELY. Everyone has heard the old adage:

if I take one day off I notice,

if I take 2 days off my friends notice,

if I take 3 days off the audience notices.

or Dizzy Gillespie's famous line:

"Somedays you win, and sometimes the trumpet wins, and it goes on and on like that until you die...and then the trumpet wins."

I thought I'd take a second to share a few little tricks I've learned.

My first trumpet Secret is if I'd had a really rough gig the night before and my chops feel beat-up. I'll do a very slow warm-up while drinking some hot tea. I think drinking the tea while warming up helps me slow down and take more rests between exercises as well as getting the blood flowing in my lips. I try to save this for the morning after a hard gig, when I know I have another one the next night. I try not to over use this trick because I don't want to 'spoil' my chops or make it a habit.

My second trick is for when the trumpet 'just isn't happening'. I use this trick every so often when I feel like my chops aren't responding or when I just can't get satisfied with my sound. I'll wear a pair of headphones while I'm practicing. (not the kind that completely cover your hear, just the kind that go over the top of your head and sit on top of your ear). This kind of muffles the sound, and lets you focus on the notes themselves, as opposed to your sound. This way you can work on your phrasing and lines without obsessing on imperfections in your sound when you're having one of 'those days'; and this way you'll still have a productive day.

Years ago I used to use an Alto Horn Mouthpiece to buzz on the morning after a hard gig. I thought this helped loosen my chops. It may work for you, but I haven't used this technique in a few years. I liked it for a while though during my college years.

Obviously the real key to good trumpet playing is consistency. I studied with Laurie Frink for 2 years('05-'07 and still see her occasionally) and she gave me a wealth of exercises that keep my trumpet playing together. My playing has become so much more consistence as a result of our lessons. I have 3 different warm-ups that are all different lengths depending on how much time I have. The most important thing though that I always tell my students is, 'If you want to play consistently, you must practice consistently', and I think the last time I took a day off from the trumpet was back in '03 when I had my wisdom teeth taken out(and even they got infected because I started practicing again too soon). All the tricks in the world won't shortcut hardwork, but the ones I've shared above can help out a little bit.

Please share your 'Trumpet Secrets' under Comments