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It’s the musician: Philosophizing out loud


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thecoast
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 10:01 am    Post subject: It’s the musician: Philosophizing out loud Reply with quote

Even cheaply constructed, poorly designed instruments sound good when played by a good musician. For example, Trent Austin and Charlie Porter have posted on YouTube comparisons of cheap instruments with very expensive ones. Doesn’t matter what these guys play, they sound amazing with variations that (in Charlie Porter’s vid) were attributable to mouthpiece way, way more than to instrument. Is it just that trumpet players are, by nature, gear heads? Or is it that our subjective experiences of playing are portrayed as objective reality? In other words, what makes people say ‘this is a good horn’ (with the implication that it is good objectively, good as a matter of universal fact)? Why don’t we say, ‘this works for me’? Musical experience is, by nature, so subjective, so individual or personal as performers. I think that trumpet and other instrument makers capitalize on our collective marketing gullibility. Take a truly gifted, great musician and have him (usually) play a particular brand and it seems to be that, rather than attribute greatness to the musician, we attribute it to the instrument. It seems to me we are way more likely to want to get that instrument than to want to practice like the musician that made the instrument sound so good.
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Steve A
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 10:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There's no question that the player makes the music, not the trumpet. However, while I enjoy those comparison videos and think they do a good job of showing how a good player sounds good on any instrument, I think it's misleading to put too much weight on the way it seems when they play by themselves, and only play what they choose to play.

I think some of the differences between good and poorer instruments aren't really shown until you have to use them under pressure and with other people. On your own, you can probably shade sound or dynamics, or timing in ways that let you work around tuning or timbre or response issues, but when you're playing in a group setting, where everyone else is playing standard gear, and you have to play someone else's notes with the right sound at the right volume, and when the conductor cues you, the room for anything less than a reliable instrument gets very small, very quickly.
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JayKosta
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 10:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There seems to be an ingrained belief that money SPENT on a gizmo guarantees its WORTH.
Versus the time devoted to practicing.

Jay
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thecoast
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 10:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Steve A wrote:

I think some of the differences between good and poorer instruments aren't really shown until you have to use them under pressure and with other people. On your own, you can probably shade sound or dynamics, or timing in ways that let you work around tuning or timbre or response issues, but when you're playing in a group setting, where everyone else is playing standard gear, and you have to play someone else's notes with the right sound at the right volume, and when the conductor cues you, the room for anything less than a reliable instrument gets very small, very quickly.


Very interesting. Has that been your experience?
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Steve A
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 11:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

thecoast wrote:
Steve A wrote:

I think some of the differences between good and poorer instruments aren't really shown until you have to use them under pressure and with other people. On your own, you can probably shade sound or dynamics, or timing in ways that let you work around tuning or timbre or response issues, but when you're playing in a group setting, where everyone else is playing standard gear, and you have to play someone else's notes with the right sound at the right volume, and when the conductor cues you, the room for anything less than a reliable instrument gets very small, very quickly.


Very interesting. Has that been your experience?


I won't say that I play at Trent Austin or Charlie Porter's level, but I play for a living, and have sometimes tried different gear (leadpipes, or instruments) that seemed totally serviceable in the practice room that were obviously unworkable as soon as I played them with other people, and I don't think this is an unusual experience.
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kehaulani
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 11:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Is it just that trumpet players are, by nature, gear heads?"

No. Those players that hang around on the internet too much (some present company excepted), and have too much time on their hands, are.

Most of the professional musicians I've known for over half a century, look on their instruments as tools not as collector items or prestige make/models.

That's not to say there aren't very good players who don't change horns or mouthpieces but . .
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BGinNJ
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 11:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Personally I'll buy an instrument because I enjoy the experience of playing it, whether it's the sound or ease of playing, or just the refinement, that it's "nice". I usually convince myself it has a specific niche function, too. I'll sell one for the same reasons. Whether bandmates or audience (when I had those) notice a difference doesn't really matter.

That is, if I recorded myself playing a student trumpet and then a nice pro horn, it will probably be hard to tell apart. The nice pro horn will be more fun and less work to play, though!
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thecoast
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 12:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

kehaulani wrote:
"Is it just that trumpet players are, by nature, gear heads?"

No. Those players that hang around on the internet too much (some present company excepted), and have too much time on their hands, are.


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OldSchoolEuph
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 1:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

BGinNJ wrote:
That is, if I recorded myself playing a student trumpet and then a nice pro horn, it will probably be hard to tell apart. The nice pro horn will be more fun and less work to play, though!


I have recorded myself on quite a few different horns, and found a significant difference - due in large part to how hard I have to work to get what I want from the horn. One of the reasons I keep several horns in active playing shape all the time is because different uses are easier on different horns.

So sure, a really strong player can muscle the horn better than me, but why would he/she want to work that hard?
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Bflatman
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 2:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have never played an instrument that did not sound great. I am not saying this to try to elevate anyones opinion of me it is just the way it is.

Most any instruments tone can be manipulated with mouthpiece and embouchure to sound anywhere in a broad range of tones from bright to dark.

I am nothing special dont sell yourselves short on this. A good player will be more than capable of making any instrument sound good.

I am utterly convinced that almost every musician in this site has the skills necessary to do this. I have been trying to tell people in here this but so far without success. I could name a couple of dozen players in here who are streets ahead of me in ability.

The only real differences between instruments are instrument articulation and timbre richness and core and the quality of the valves and the design and the build.

When played as a solo instrument the tonal differences in instruments can be masked but when played together with other instruments and attempts are made to blend with them the differences are revealed starkly.

I was privileged to experience this first hand when I played a cheap and bright peashooter trumpet in a cornet section in a brass band. I did not have a cornet so I had to make the trumpet work.

I managed to bring the trumpets tones very close to cornet tones but it was in the blending where the issues lay and not in the basic tonality or the playability.

When you listen to a good player on an instrument you cannot draw any meaningful conclusions about the instrument they play unless the instrument is so bad as to be unplayable.

When Fred plays on instruments x y and z I hear Fred on each I dont hear subtle differences in the instruments I can only hear their basic tonal differences.
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PH
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 2:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

kehaulani wrote:
"Is it just that trumpet players are, by nature, gear heads?"

No. Those players that hang around on the internet too much (some present company excepted), and have too much time on their hands, are.

Most of the professional musicians I've known for over half a century, look on their instruments as tools not as collector items or prestige make/models.

That's not to say there aren't very good players who don't change horns or mouthpieces but . .


Yes!

I would add that I believe the OP overestimates the value of the mouthpiece.
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thecoast
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 5:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

PH wrote:
kehaulani wrote:
"Is it just that trumpet players are, by nature, gear heads?"

Most of the professional musicians I've known for over half a century, look on their instruments as tools not as collector items or prestige make/models.

That's not to say there aren't very good players who don't change horns or mouthpieces but . .


Yes!

I would add that I believe the OP overestimates the value of the mouthpiece.

Actually, in the OP, I did say that in Charlie Porter's video, the main difference was the mouthpiece. And I would add that he sounded best on the mouthpiece he liked the best on all three horns. But my original point was that it's not the instrument, it's the musician. On the other hand, there is no music without the instrument (including the mouthpiece).
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shofarguy
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 10:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

In this forum over the 15 or so years that I've been a member, numerous posters have used the phrase, "It's the Indian, not the arrow." This seems to be another of those threads that puts that idea forward. Well, I've just spent almost 24 hours of these past two days with a full-blooded Hopi Indian doing some work in Flagstaff, AZ. On the way home, our conversation touched on how his people make bows and arrows.

They use only Black Oak branches for the bows. They look for a certain size and shape of branch. I learned that part of the process of preparing their bows includes rubbing animal brains into the wood to make it flexible. He told me the Hopi name (which I can't pronounce) for the specific bush they use to make their arrow shafts and described how they work the shoots of these plants to straighten them as they dry into a usable, straight arrow shaft. I thought it was fascinating. So, while I agree that it is the Indian, I learned that a good Indian goes through a whole litany of very intricate processes in order to make the best arrows he can so he can be the best hunter for his family.

In a similar fashion, I know first hand that Harry Kim used to buy up used Claude Gordon Benge trumpets off the internet so he could try the various slides from those horns on his own instrument to see if he could improve how his trumpet played or sounded. He also told me that he made it a habit to go into music stores and try different brands of mouthpieces of various vintages, just on the chance that he could find something to add to his sound. When he decided to switch to a Bach, having played one he really liked at the Conn-Selmer booth at NAMM one year, he arranged with Rich Wetzel to try out many (and I understand it was MANY) individual horns before he found one that was close to Rich's personal horn that Harry had sampled at the show. Now, I've had the incredible honor of playing beside Harry and I've watched innumerable videos of his concerts with the Vine Street Horns and Phil Collins from more than 15 years of touring. I won't be the one to lump him into the category of Amateur Gear Head.

Then, there's a certain top-call "Incredible" lead player who used to endorse a now defunct Southern California manufacturer's instruments. When said player was approached by the world's largest instrument company, he asked the now deceased founder of the now defunct musical instrument company what he thought said player should do, since the player loved the instrument he was playing at that time. The response from the now deceased brass master was to take the opportunity to make as much money as possible and go with the world's largest instrument maker's offer, since the now defunct manufacturer couldn't hope to match their competitor's compensation.

It took a full year for the world's largest instrument manufacturer to produce a suitable trumpet for this Incredible lead player and it has been said that, when he could avoid the scrutiny of those seeking to enforce his contract agreement, this player would revert to playing the horn from the now defunct company, because he felt it was much better.

So, I think it's one thing for a professional trumpeter to take up a garbage horn in order to demonstrate that one can make music on just about anything, but it's quite a different matter when that same celebrity player meticulously chooses the instrument he prefers to use himself (or herself).

The best Indians become that way because they care about their arrows.
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thecoast
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 11:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

@shofarguy
I couldn't agree with you more in shofar as the arrow analogy is meaningful.

I guess it's just that I have learned something from the comparison videos by various musicians (not just trumpeters) that I had suspected all along. It's one thing to keep looking for something that improves one's sound. I know what that feels like. It's like I know there's something that would make playing easier or sound more one way or another--it's a sound in my head. And I know there must be some combination of design, material (metal, plastic, garden hose ) to get to that just right sound. I resonate with the story you told of Harry Kim.

I remember having a Kanstul C trumpet I bought while deployed to Iraq. I had it for 3 years, and I just never felt right with it and ended up selling it to a happy new owner. I also remember some friends' kid who got this trumpet that, when I saw it, looked (in my ignorance) terrible. He said it was a $2,000 horn. But it was raw brass, which was/is a thing for some people. To me, a gleaming finish is beautiful. The $2K horn looked like it had lost all its finish and needed to be taken to a shop to get polished, or some lacquer or silver or something.

I guess I might sniveling about the marketing hype and the unjustified costs in what ultimately might just be musically meaningless differences. To borrow your analogy, some arrow makers charge for their bows and arrows as if those arrows could transform a lousy archer's terrible aim.

As another poster said, one gets what one likes because one likes it. If one sounds good and is happy, that's what matters.
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hibidogrulez
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2020 11:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Personally, I'm going back and forth on this. My current opinion is that ultimately, a great player can make anything sound the way they want to. But that doesn't take into account how much effort it takes them to do so. Gear can certainly make that easier. Secondly, a lesser player can greatly benefit from switching gear, if only to help them to take hurdles they have great difficulty overcoming otherwise, or to keep them motivated to continue practicing.

I count myself among the second group. At some point, I was really stuck and unable to improve no matter how much I practiced. I played a Bach 1 1/2C at the time and I was finally fed up and decided to 'cheat and get a mouthpiece for high notes'. Even the retailer reminded me that no mouthpiece would do that, yet my skill was so poor at the time that I found one that improved my range by 3 whole tones (only an A above the bar though). If I hadn't found a mouthpiece that day, I might have quit playing altogether out of sheer frustration.

Since that day, I've bought and Olds, more mouthpieces and finally the AR mouthpieces I play today. Each change has brought me better sound, range or endurance. I've recently made a recording of myself and found that the differences in sound, range and playability between the 2 trumpets and mouthpieces (even shallow vs deep) are very small. But even on my old mouthpiece, on my Getzen, I now sound way, way better than I did back when I first decided to go for new gear to fix my problems.

So gear helped me become a better player...but I cannot claim at this point that it makes a significant difference in how I sound. But I do find that I like playing and listening to myself on my new gear more than I do playing my old gear (even if nobody else hears the difference), and it keeps me motivated to play.
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delano
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2020 12:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bflatman wrote:

The only real differences between instruments are instrument articulation and timbre richness and core and the quality of the valves and the design and the build.


Who cares about details like that
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Bflatman
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2020 1:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

hibidogrulez you are quite right, this is the single most persuasive argument in favor of changing gear.

We can sound the way we wish easily and immediately by choosing the most suitable gear instead of expending far more effort manipulating the way we use less suitable gear to get the sound that we want.

It is a given that if you sound good naturally on for example a 7c and you get your natural tone on that 7c, then it makes little sense to not change to the 7c and then have to spend loads of effort achieving that same sound on a 1c assuming you can do it.

Just change the gear and cut out the effort. But the point is this, as you become more practiced doing something the effort it takes to do it reduces.

I find it easier for me now to brighten my tone up or darken it down at will without changing gear and it takes less effort the more I practice it.

Yes at first it was hard. No it did not remain hard.

I totally agree lesser players and students need all the help they can get but accomplished players can set aside the gear choices that they matured on as players and free themselves to grow in new directions.

Yes I choose the most suitable gear as a foundation but I am not bound by it.

And I choose to do this not because it is easy but because it is hard.
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OldSchoolEuph
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2020 5:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bflatman wrote:
And I choose to do this not because it is easy but because it is hard.


Yes, JFK motivated us to be first to the moon, but then we realized what hard meant and have steadily retreated from space ever since as a nation.

I choose what makes it easier for me to concentrate on playing better. I have enough challenges to overcome without adding equipment to the list.
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Shawnino
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2020 5:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm no good but I take my music seriously.

I don't see why I shouldn't try to keep an eye out for any equipment that might help me improve myself.
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Brad361
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2020 6:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

JayKosta wrote:
There seems to be an ingrained belief that money SPENT on a gizmo guarantees its WORTH.
Versus the time devoted to practicing.

Jay


I don’t think that’s an ingrained belief among people who are actually accomplished, and who have arrived there through practice and study. Sure, kids and/or inexperienced players might buy into that, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near a universal belief.

Brad
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