The Importance Of Long Tones for Trumpet/Brass Players
Note: I have one of my instructional videos embedded in this blog post.
Recently I was on a family trip. I was away for a 8 days. Some time ago I made an agreement with my family that when I was on any sort of non business trip with them I was NOT to sneak a pocket into my luggage with a practice mute! I have heeded this request diligently. I WAS allowed to bring a mouthpiece, a ring visualizer and even some plastic practice valves along. Thus I was able to basically maintain my chops a bit while away.
However, I have always felt like I was still pushing the trumpet geek thing a bit too far, even with these items. In this trip I stuck a couple of mouthpieces into my computer bag along with a screw on mouthpiece rim.
I never took them out of the case. I didn't play a note or even form an embouchure or buzz my lips for 8 days!
It was great. I felt a little anxious on day one, but got over it.
Then there was the comeback. I practice a great deal and I am a bit practice dependent. Before gigs I practice between three to four hours. On non gig days, I'll rack up five or more. My timing is FACE TIME, by the way, not including rests. A five hour practice session will take all day. It is my job, after all.
After this little break I had some down time, so I wasn't too worried about being off my game a bit. I did some careful practice (only 2.5 hours) on the Monday after I got back. I ran it up to 3 hours on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I got a message from a band leader in Green Bay, Wisconsin, about 45 minutes from I live half time. She asked if I could play on Thursday night. I figured, "let's see what happens."
Yes, it was a public performance after some down time, and I didn't feel on my A game, yet, but the trumpet section was excellent with three solid lead/high note players and a fine jazz player who can also cover lead. I showed up early enough to set up on 4th. These are nice guys, and they know what I can play, and I knew they'd pass me a solo or two and even some lead. It was set up to be a very pleasant evening.
Here is how it played out. My CHOPS were fine! On Monday and Tuesday, my lips felt a bit 'foreign' to me, but by careful and judicious use of long tones as the underpinning of coming back after a week off, they came back almost immediately.
This wasn't always the case for me. I used to try to never appear in public performance for a minimum of a week after any significant down time. Things worked my better for me this time. Now, my JAZZ technique felt a little clumsy, yet, but it wasn't too bad. I felt a bit like I had mittens on - my finger technique was lagging and my ideas didn't' want to flow, yet.
However, my chops felt top notch and had no problem covering my usual range. I played all 4th trumpet with a couple of nice solo opportunities - screamed out some DHC's on one. The 2nd to the last tune of the evening was LaBarbera's arrangement for the Buddy Rich band of Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. This is a notoriously brutal lead trumpet part, and the lead player (who had played all the lead all evening) handed that one to me. It was no problem. I even hot dogged a couple of sections (trumpet geeks will immediately know that I took some unisons up an octave) and the ending was solid.
With the lengthy prelude, let me explain, in part how I did this.
The first trick was LONG TONES. IMHO, long tones are extremely important to any trumpeters maintenance/development of his/her physical game. Now, I will write some text outling my ideas, but let me paste in a video right here.
This video outlines very clearly how I do my long tones, but I have added to it considerably in my current practice session. Here are a list of the extra things I do.
A.) I practice them down to triple pedal C.
B.) I use a metronome set at quarter note = 60 bpm.
C.) I stick with soto voce all the way down to the triple pedal C.
D.) I use my altissimo set on all of these and I maintain an anchor tongue position all the way down. ( I explain my anchor tongue position on a couple of my other videos).
E.) I work on these for 20 minutes, take a break for 20 minutes and repeat this process picking up where I left off, until I have completed the entire process.
On a daily basis, I spend the first hour of my day on long tones. One certainly doesn't have to do this, but I really like the way it sets up my chops for the rest of my practice.
Let me reiterate a couple of things. I take breaks in all of this, even those these are fundamentally very easy to do. I think it is important to get the horn off of your chops a bit while working out. Also, I do NOT switch embouchures in order to make the pedals easier to blast out. In fact. I'll even introduce a few little slurred sections from double pedal C, to pedal C to low C to C in the staff and even to high C (all sotto voce) just to make sure I can do all of that without a reset. One can certainly reset for the pedals with mostly upper lip in the mouthpiece to honk them out, but, for me, the benefit is to train my high note embouchure to work all the way down, and I do mean ALL the way down!
Now, the prelude to this long tone discussion was to discuss, in part, what I do to comeback after some down time. This is a big part of it. In addition to long tones I have a huge spread sheet of exercises that I try to cover during any given week, but the big pieces of coming back after some down time are soft long tones and soft practice in general, even in the upper register.
On a side note: my long tone exercise was developed for me by one of my teachers - Neal Dunlap. Also, many of my ideas about playing sotto voce - so softly that I am just barely above the volume of break up - I got from my dear friend and mentor, Warren Kime. Also, I know of many other trumpeters who use this technique. This is not particularly unique or special. IMHO, it is common sense.
Ok, that is it for this week's blog. I'm going to continue this discussion in the next few blog posts.
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