Blog #101: Trumpet and Getting back on Track
Its hard to explain to non-trumpets the daily upkeep that goes into maintaining your sound and technique. Even musicians of other instruments will never fully understand what it takes just to keep your trumpet playing together. To give you a little perspective, every other day I do 2 hours of exercises, drills and whatnot just to maintain my chops before moving on to actual music(and on the other days I still do an hour of this sort of stuff before moving on).
The way I always explain to non-musicians the need to constantly practice trumpet is like this: Blood flow in your mouth and lips is the second most active place in your body, your brain is #1(look up these facts if you like). If you get a cut on your arm, it takes a while to heal, sometimes a week or even two, yet if you bite your lip, or cut somewhere inside your mouth, within two days its back to new. This is all due to blood flow. So if you're trying to maintain your muscles in your face, and the grooves on the inside of your lips from your teeth and where the mouthpiece makes contact to your lips, you need to keep doing that so that it doesn't revert.(or at least is my explanation). I remember in high school when my practice habits were more sporadic, if i'd take a few days off the inside of my lip would feel uncomfortably smooth inside....and sure enough my technical ability on the instrument would have greatly deteriorated.
With things in a constant state of flux, it can be assumed that things will occasionally get 'off', sometimes your lips and embouchure just won't feel right(even with daily practice), or you might have a hard loud gig that distorts your sound the next day and leaves your lips feeling beat-up. Sometimes your embouchure will feel fine, but sound like crap, other times it will feel like crap and sound fine. If you have enough records by any trumpet player, you can tell when they're really 'on'. For me the key to doing my daily exercises is to bring some sort of order to the chaos, and I feel very stable and consistent as a result.
I know for the past few days i've felt off, and I've been playing long enough to know exactly why. One thing I really avoid when I'm practicing is playing high and loud, mainly because I'm not super into that high brassy sound that most people associate with the trumpet. Its important to practice all sorts of things as an improvisor so your mind can take you anywhere without the limitations of the body. For me this means practicing the stuff I don't necessarily like to practice: playing high and loud. So I pushed pretty hard this weekend and then for the past 2 days felt a bit off. To quantify what I mean by 'off', for me it means my sound feels a little spread and I get a little distortion in my tone usually around A in the staff, and my high register feels like more work. No one around me seems to be able to hear it, but I can. It can make me miss things that I'm trying to play, or just feel like I'm not playing as smoothly as I'd like.(once again, no one can seem to tell when i'm 'off' but me which is good). Man, trumpet is WEIRD!
Anyway, studying with Laurie Frink and being observant of what will put my chops out of wack has really helped me learn how to get back on track. Laurie gave me some stuff a while back, mostly playing chromatic scales very quietly, that will put everything back together and in no time, my sound feels back the way I like it. Today for instance, knowing that I felt off the past 2 days, I played 30 min of chromatic scales very quietly with low F#'s also super quiet, took a break, then played chromatic scales and a mild volume, for 20 min, took a break, then played major scales at a mild volume for 20 min. By the end of this, everything was really starting to feel and sound great again.
I guess what I'm saying is: its important to know what will get you off track and what will put you back on track. Its a reality that we're all going to get off track from time to time, on our instruments or in our life and its important to know what to do to fix this.
PS: My last blog was #100!!! Isn't anybody going to Congratulate me!!