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  • Nick Drozdoff

Trumpet: Music Context Challenge- or "Why I Want EVERYONE to be ABLE To Play DHC!"

What follows are my personal OPINIONS - just my point of view.

I have to open this blog with a disclaimer/confession. I am completely guilty of the things I am expressing concerns about in this blog. I am not proud of that, but I need to clear the air on that immediately. This blog, is in fact, a part of my making an effort to get past this issue.

Next, this seems to be much more of an issue for jazz/commercial players than classical players. I have heard very few legit players get into this in even remotely the same way.

Finally, after reading this blog, you'll see why I want EVERY TRUMPETER to be able to play DHC and beyond! I everyone can do it, then it is just another note, and we can just take care of making beautiful music instead of obsessing over just ONE SMALL FACET of playing trumpet.

HIGH NOTES: What's The Deal?

I've noticed a trend on the various online trumpet forums: high note challenges. How long can you hold a DHC; how loud can you play a DHC; THC (and I don't mean the pot kind!!) challenges; and on and on.

It is all a lot of fun, and like I said above, I'm as guilty as anyone else in participating in those challenges at one time or another. What the heck! It's all just innocent trumpet gymnastics, and that is cool.

However, you don't find piano players posting videos of themselves just plinking out notes at the far right end of the keyboard or violinists just playing random high harmonics. You only rarely hear of sax players showing videos of themselves biting the reeds. Even trombone players are rarely bitten by the high note bug. So, why do we, as trumpeters, feel the need to do this - over and over? I'll circle back to that later.

For now, I want to put out a NEW general challenge.

A New Challenge: Play some music in context that is just MUSIC!!!

Let me articulate a bit more about this. When I say music in context, I man I would really love to hear you EXPRESS YOURSELF in a complete musical sense. It doesn't even have to be accompanied. It doesn't even have to be devoid of high notes, if that is part of your self expression. I just love getting to hear each of you just PLAY MUSIC and not just one note. Here are some more specific challenges.

12 Bar 12 Key Blues challenge:

How about a blues challenge in which you play a chorus of improvised blues, one chorus and then move around the cycle of 4ths? Do this WITHOUT ACCOMPANIMENT and make sure the listener can clearly hear the 12 bar form clearly outlined in your improv. This is not easy to do, but in the context of a challenge, we'll get to hear you express yourself - share your musical voice.

Rhythm Changes Challenge:

Do exactly the same thing as the Blues challenge, but on Rhythm Changes. Again, to do this without accompaniment is tough, particularly if your improvised solo is to actually outline the chord progression.

Tune In 12 Keys Challenge:

Here is an easier one to start with: a tune in 12 keys. Just play a tune - ANY TUNE, without music and cycle it through all the keys, by ear. This is less about expression and bit more about aural/technical prowess, but at least we'll get to hear a bit more about your music.


Recently, one proponent of high note challenges put out a simple bossa track and challenged folks to improvise a solo that stayed UNDER high C and included a low F#! Bravo! I really enjoyed that. There were many nice entries.

I trying to trigger more of this sort of effort. The high note challenges are a lot of fun, but we're musicians, not athletes!!

For Me...

For me, it has always been about some need for validation. I'd hear my peers gushing over somebody demonstrating "high note prowess," so I felt the need to do it, too. I still have a lot of those clips left up on YouTube. There is some educational merit to them, if you get past the obvious grandstanding. I actually have taken a few down, but not all.

I was also beguiled by the idea that being a high note player meant I was some sort of beast - trumpet equivalent of a tough guy. The old "he sure has strong chops" thought was something I relished, even though I knew better. The knowing better part is the fact that it is TECHNIQUE or SKILL as opposed to PHYSICAL STRENGTH. Anybody can play high notes if they just sit down and figure out HOW to do it. It's not like dead lifting 800 pounds or running a sub four minute mile.

Ripping out high notes at the drop of a hat on solos was my stock and trade, and to a certain extent, still is. I am trying to be VERY careful about doing it, now, though. I TRY to just use them to pepper up a solo as opposed to just lingering up there with the old hey look at me vibe going on. Occasionally, I'll get up there and sort of get "stuck" if I do so too early in a solo. Old habits seem to die hard. I am really trying, though.

I am now trying to consider the context of the solo. On the end of One O Clock Jump with the Shout Section Big Band, Brett Dean actually AKSED me to do the screaming on the end of it. It took me a while to hit on something decent to play up there. The context works there. On a tunes like Corner Pocket or L'ill Darling, it is NOT in context to wail away, so I don't.


I see it personally as an issue of balance in taste. I have developed some certain skill sets and I really want to use them, but there is a time and a place for those skills. I have reasonably decent technique, but musically it doesn't make sense to improvise blistering strings of 32 notes all the time. Even Freddie Hubbard, who really WAS capable of such things, slowed the ideas once in a while. He had balance, and this is something I'm striving to develop.

Ostensibly, this is what I am working in on trying to find my own sound. I need to balance those skills sets that are important to me and superimpose those skills onto a developing ear for the harmonies. I'm not there yet, but I'll get there.

Athletics versus Artistry:

Whenever I see a great high note artist just rip a high note and throw their a arms up in a great flourish or flash a "take that" sort of look at the others in the section, I see that as the trumpeters equivalent of "spiking the ball" and doing an end zone dance. I don't even care for that with athletes (I used to be one...). I am genuinely puzzled by it with trumpeters. Are we musicians or jocks?

Of course not all guys do that sort of thing. I've never seen Wayne Bergeron get all excited about playing a high note. The same with Jon Faddis.

My take away from the many artists that I genuinely admire who DO make a big deal about hitting a high note is this: they're just having fun. I guess, I'm OK with that from guys like Arturo or Maynard, who could not only deliver in the altissimo territory, but they could also deliver with every other aspect of trumpet playing.

The CONCERN for me is when the AUDIENCE is only interested in the high notes. I have a bootleg recording of a performance I did with Maynard. The quality of the recording is awful (some guy had a cassette player hidden in his jacket). He was playing REALLY well, but the guys sitting around the recorder weren't all that interested in his lines. However, when Ferguson went for a high note and nailed some crazy note way over DHC, they'd cheer and scream like some guy just ran 60 yards for a TD. It was NOT about the music. I was bothered by this on Maynard's behalf. I wanted to say, "listen to everything hie's doing! It's ALL good."

I have the ballad CD that Arturo did with Chris Botti. He is very subdued and doesn't play high notes. He plays with that sublime beautiful tone he is (or should be) also know for. How many of you, upon hearing that CD went through it looking for the high notes, only to be, perhaps disappointed, that there weren't any? I have to admit that I did, until I realized what it was all about. It is really beautiful. Perhaps the balance tipped too far the other way on that project. That is a matter of taste. IMHO, it is beautiful. His Clifford tribute is even more sublime.

This is what I LOVE about Doc Severinsen. Yeah he is a high note player, but he would balance his work. It wasn't JUST about the high notes. Dizzy was the same way. Even the great Clark Terry could uncork one now and then, but he NEVER just lingered up there.

I am worried that trumpet playing is drifting towards athleticism as opposed to musicianship. I fear that the internet has caused a tip in the balance and might need to get nudged back.

We are ALL, first and foremost, MUSICIANS and ARTISTS. We should be using our extended skill sets to make ART not SPORT.

This is not easy to do, but the challenge is half the fun of getting there! That is how I am trying to look at it as I learn how to be a better musician.

As stated at the very top, these entire diatribe is MY OPINION and just my personal feelings. These are not to be mistaken for facts! Good heavens, no! This is just my point of view. You certainly don't have to even consider it. I most definitely did not intend to offend anyone, and I don't think I said anything actually offensive.

Also, as mentioned at the top, I want to teach everyone how to achieve DHC's. In fact, seeing all these DHC videos DOES have a significant good side. More and more people are figuring out how to play high notes. The more that can do it, the less of a big deal it will seem to be and playing the extreme upper register will become just what it should be - another little piece of playing trumpet. Go to my educational videos and I show you how I figured out how to do it myself. We are actually getting to the point where everyone will be able to do it. Then its on to making music!

In the end, its all about achieving TOTAL mastery of the instrument - low notes, high notes, loud notes, soft notes, technique with scales and chords, timbre adjustments to add color to solos, and on and on. Trumpet playing has so much more to offer than just high notes.

I will say this: when I see my internet peers posting videos of bone chilling high notes and four octave glissandi, I AM IMPRESSED and get a kick out of it. What I THEN want to hear is the same player just playing a nice solo in the context of making music. If some high notes pop out - cool! I want to her you all PLAY!! I personally love that. To their credit, some of the young lions of high note posting ARE starting to share contributions that address their music making, and that is thrilling to witness.

Respectfully submitted..

Nick Drozdoff

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