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Playing above “middle F”


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Ben Woodruff
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 15, 2018 7:22 pm    Post subject: Playing above “middle F” Reply with quote

Background: I’ve been playing trumpet for about 10 years on and off with some large gaps and without great instruction beyond middle school / Jr High. Most recently I’ve been playing for the last 3-4 months or so, practicing a minimum of 30 minutes per day, with some days as much as 2 or 3 hours spread across 30 or so minute sessions.

I’ve read all sorts of things and watched all sorts of videos about “what it takes” to play higher. More compressed air (faster air, more pressure, not tension), smaller vibrating surface, being relaxed, not overblowing, playing softly/quietly, raising the tongue, adjusting / not adjusting the aperature, moving the jaw forward, not forcing a note if you can’t get it after 3 attempts, etc. I’ve tried various combinations of my interpretations of these suggestions. Most resources I’ve found seem to be targeted at players who are trying to break the barrier above high C (i.e. nearly a full octive higher than I’m comfortable with).

Try as I might I can’t play well above middle F (i.e. the F that is on the top line of the staff) most days. Sometimes if I’m lucky I can get the G just above that to sound, and if I’m really lucky I can actually get one pitch higher but it isn’t in tune at all. As I play above middle C I often, but not always, feel a tightening in the front right of my neck, near where my carotid artery is.

My question is how do I overcome this, and get above this plateau? I try to relax, but in many cases the only way I can get notes above middle C out are with some tension in this area. Will continuing to practice these notes this way eventually allow me to play without the tension? Do I just need to build strength? Or am I doing something fundamentally wrong, and should I stop practicing like that because I’m only reinforcing bad habits?

I just want to play mostly for my own enjoyment, though I would like to get to a point where I could sign up with Bugles across America or similar. Without having that middle G sold I won’t be able to do that. There are lots of resources for people just starting, and also for people who have gotten to that high C mark and are reaching into the high octive. I’ve found very little targeted at someone like me stuck in the “middle” octave.
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Seymor B Fudd
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2018 1:12 am    Post subject: Re: Playing above “middle F” Reply with quote

Ben Woodruff wrote:
Background: I’ve been playing trumpet for about 10 years on and off with some large gaps and without great instruction beyond middle school / Jr High. Most recently I’ve been playing for the last 3-4 months or so, practicing a minimum of 30 minutes per day, with some days as much as 2 or 3 hours spread across 30 or so minute sessions.

I’ve read all sorts of things and watched all sorts of videos about “what it takes” to play higher. More compressed air (faster air, more pressure, not tension), smaller vibrating surface, being relaxed, not overblowing, playing softly/quietly, raising the tongue, adjusting / not adjusting the aperature, moving the jaw forward, not forcing a note if you can’t get it after 3 attempts, etc. I’ve tried various combinations of my interpretations of these suggestions. Most resources I’ve found seem to be targeted at players who are trying to break the barrier above high C (i.e. nearly a full octive higher than I’m comfortable with).

Try as I might I can’t play well above middle F (i.e. the F that is on the top line of the staff) most days. Sometimes if I’m lucky I can get the G just above that to sound, and if I’m really lucky I can actually get one pitch higher but it isn’t in tune at all. As I play above middle C I often, but not always, feel a tightening in the front right of my neck, near where my carotid artery is.

My question is how do I overcome this, and get above this plateau? I try to relax, but in many cases the only way I can get notes above middle C out are with some tension in this area. Will continuing to practice these notes this way eventually allow me to play without the tension? Do I just need to build strength? Or am I doing something fundamentally wrong, and should I stop practicing like that because I’m only reinforcing bad habits?

I just want to play mostly for my own enjoyment, though I would like to get to a point where I could sign up with Bugles across America or similar. Without having that middle G sold I won’t be able to do that. There are lots of resources for people just starting, and also for people who have gotten to that high C mark and are reaching into the high octive. I’ve found very little targeted at someone like me stuck in the “middle” octave.


In my humble opinion there seems to be "something fundamentally wrong" in the way you approach this. As we, as of now, have no means to watch you try get decent sounds out of your horn the obvious advice should be: get someone with the knowledge look at & hear your efforts. Bad&wrong habits often results in unnecessary tensions.
Perhaps a single skypelesson or maybe 2 could pinpoint what you are doing wrongly! No idea you continue on your own, as you write you might en up only re-inforcing bad habits.
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LSOfanboy
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2018 2:58 am    Post subject: Re: Playing above “middle F” Reply with quote

Ben Woodruff wrote:
Background: I’ve been playing trumpet for about 10 years on and off with some large gaps and without great instruction beyond middle school / Jr High. Most recently I’ve been playing for the last 3-4 months or so, practicing a minimum of 30 minutes per day, with some days as much as 2 or 3 hours spread across 30 or so minute sessions.

I’ve read all sorts of things and watched all sorts of videos about “what it takes” to play higher. More compressed air (faster air, more pressure, not tension), smaller vibrating surface, being relaxed, not overblowing, playing softly/quietly, raising the tongue, adjusting / not adjusting the aperature, moving the jaw forward, not forcing a note if you can’t get it after 3 attempts, etc. I’ve tried various combinations of my interpretations of these suggestions. Most resources I’ve found seem to be targeted at players who are trying to break the barrier above high C (i.e. nearly a full octive higher than I’m comfortable with).

Try as I might I can’t play well above middle F (i.e. the F that is on the top line of the staff) most days. Sometimes if I’m lucky I can get the G just above that to sound, and if I’m really lucky I can actually get one pitch higher but it isn’t in tune at all. As I play above middle C I often, but not always, feel a tightening in the front right of my neck, near where my carotid artery is.

My question is how do I overcome this, and get above this plateau? I try to relax, but in many cases the only way I can get notes above middle C out are with some tension in this area. Will continuing to practice these notes this way eventually allow me to play without the tension? Do I just need to build strength? Or am I doing something fundamentally wrong, and should I stop practicing like that because I’m only reinforcing bad habits?

I just want to play mostly for my own enjoyment, though I would like to get to a point where I could sign up with Bugles across America or similar. Without having that middle G sold I won’t be able to do that. There are lots of resources for people just starting, and also for people who have gotten to that high C mark and are reaching into the high octive. I’ve found very little targeted at someone like me stuck in the “middle” octave.


Hi,

Sorry to hear about your difficulties.

In my opinion this sounds like there is definitely something fundamentally wrong. The best thing to do is find a good teacher and work with them.

My diagnosis (based on the limited information available about you) is that it sounds like you are 'shutting off'. Make sure you are not clamping the lips together, or using excessive mouthpiece pressure and avoid allowing the throat to close off as you ascend (imagine 'sighing' your breath out).

Remember that the trumpet is not really about strength/power/muscle (although they play a part), my 9 year old student can already produce (not in a musical context) a whole octave higher than you, so don't fall into the trap of believing that playing higher is a case of 'building muscle' and developing enormous strength- those thoughts are likely to hinder your progress and lead to over-blowing, tension and inefficiency. What we are looking for is balance, control, relaxation and smoothness, remembering that the 3 octaves available on the trumpet are not particularly far away and the best players achieve this range and flexibility not through developing huge strength to cover such a great distance but by developing balance and efficiency to control what is actually not a great distance at all.

Also check there is nothing obviously wrong with your equipment: if you were using a very small diameter or shallow cup mouthpiece that would be a problem (but if its a standard medium diameter/medium cup mp then there is definitely no need to change!). Ensure your instrument is clean and there is no blockage or obstruction.

If you have any other thoughts or want further advice I am happy to help!

All the best

Edit: can I just say that your honesty is really refreshing. Its wonderful to see a player who clearly wants to improve and recognises their limitations. Too often I come across students/amateur players who will tell you loudly about their 'reliable double Cs', performances of Brandenburg 2 and 'regular lead trumpet gigs', who, when it comes to actually playing to me, exhibit many of the same problems you have described. Cheers
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Ben Woodruff
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2018 5:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you both so much for your kind replies! I was afraid you might say that. I had hoped it would be a simple case of “you need to play more” but suspected it may not be that easy. It sounds like the long and short of the situation is I need to find a teacher. Is there anyone in particular you’d recommend looking at for online lessons for this problem? Unfortunately I don’t know of anyone local enough to be a feasible option... I struggle enough to make sure I get at least those 30 minutes in every day.

I’ve played on two different horns and a bunch of different mouthpieces, from a Yamaha 16C4 to one of Dr Dave’s Wedge 65M (M backbore), all with largely the same results. I’d love to blame the equipment but I’m fortunate enough to have some quality gear and unless my facial structure is such that I just require something vastly different than the ‘norm’ I doubt that equipment is at fault.
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Robert P
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ben Woodruff wrote:
Thank you both so much for your kind replies! I was afraid you might say that. I had hoped it would be a simple case of “you need to play more” but suspected it may not be that easy.

Practice is necessary but won't by itself cure all problems.

Among other issues a concept to be aware of is that you have to be set up so that the lips themselves can create the needed changing tension and then they have to work the right way to create the needed tension. The tension comes from a combination of muscular contraction and added mouthpiece pressure - both of which are subtle. Too much mouthpiece pressure and too little are both counterproductive.

A too low horn angle for example will work against you - the muscles can't come into play the right way. "Right" being defined as the way that gets the results you want. "Wrong" being a way that isn't getting the results you want.

Try experimenting with different horn angles. For example play an easy note, say a G on the staff with a good, full sound and try raising the horn up relative to the plane of your face until the note stops speaking. Then bring it down until it speaks again. Along with this try experimenting with how much your teeth are open.

The mouthpiece is a factor but IMO if things are working okay you should be able to play at least a decent high C even on a large mouthpiece.
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LSOfanboy
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ben Woodruff wrote:
Thank you both so much for your kind replies! I was afraid you might say that. I had hoped it would be a simple case of “you need to play more” but suspected it may not be that easy. It sounds like the long and short of the situation is I need to find a teacher. Is there anyone in particular you’d recommend looking at for online lessons for this problem? Unfortunately I don’t know of anyone local enough to be a feasible option... I struggle enough to make sure I get at least those 30 minutes in every day.

I’ve played on two different horns and a bunch of different mouthpieces, from a Yamaha 16C4 to one of Dr Dave’s Wedge 65M (M backbore), all with largely the same results. I’d love to blame the equipment but I’m fortunate enough to have some quality gear and unless my facial structure is such that I just require something vastly different than the ‘norm’ I doubt that equipment is at fault.


Hi,

In your situation I would strongly recommend finding a way to have face to face lessons. Whereabouts are you based?

Failing that, there are lots of guys on this forum who offer online lessons and, beyond that I know that Adam Rapa and Scotty Barnhart are amongst the superstar players offering lessons over Skype.

One thing I would definitely say is that you should find some consistency with your equipment, in the most respectful way possible you don't possess enough technical ability (yet) to benefit from changes in equipment and all it is going to do is add another variable to your problems. Personally would use the nicer Yamaha trumpet you own and the 16C4. If that wedge top has the unique wedge rim then I would stay away from that for now, not out of disrespect for his mouthpieces but purely because you have some playing difficulties and using, shall we say, 'unconventional' equipment is not a solid place to start from.

I hope that helps and does not come across too harshly in any way.

All the best
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MF Fan
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2018 9:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You don't have an upper register problem, you have a playing fundamentals problem. Putting in more time practicing when you have one or more fundamental flaws will do little more than create and reinforce bad habits. Definitely time to find a qualified teacher to help put you on the right path. Based your description of what's going on with your playing, I suspect you'll find that your embouchure isn't set-up properly, and you're not breathing and supporting properly. You can get by as an intermediate level player with less than ideal breathing technique if you have an efficient chop set-up, but all the good breathing in the world won't help you if your chops are working against you.

As a start, make sure you're taking a full relaxed breath. It's no harder than standing up straight, shoulders back, and do an inhalation like you're about to hold your breath under water. No need to over do it, just a nice deep breath. If you're doing it right you'll notice that your waist and rib cage expand, then your chest rises a little. Don't try to make these things happen intentionally, just take the breath and observe. When you start to exhale through the horn, keep your shoulders back and chest up. No need to "push the air out," just focus on the note coming out of your bell, keeping it steady and full sounding. Start on the second line G so you're able to keep everything relaxed. The tightening in your throat is an involuntary reaction caused by the lack of a full and supported air column. Check out the Claude Gordon forum for lots of good fundamental advice on breathing.
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Ben Woodruff
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2018 10:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I really appreciate the time everyone has taken to reply to me here. It is easy to get frustrated. Having an encouraging community helps. I don't take any of the feedback received harshly. I came for help with a (seemingly) fundamental problem; I don't have any delusions about my skills.

To answer the question about my location... I'm roughly 45 minutes to an hour south of Eastman School of Music in Rochester. I'm sure there are some amazing teachers available in the city, but again I'm not sure it would be practical for me at this stage to travel that far for lessons. If I could find someone in town that might be a different story.

I think the first hurdle I need to overcome is setting up a proper embouchure. I've been watching Charlie Porter's YouTube video on the subject and I think some of the tips he offers may be helpful. Up until now I've always just put the horn to my lips without too much (any) conscious process involved. I see he does offer online lessons, so he may be a good pick. Anyone have an experience working with him via Skype? His YouTube videos seem top notch and I like the way he explains things.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2018 2:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wouldn't hesitate to make a 45 minute sojourn to a top teacher once or twice a month for at least a little while. While I'm not dead set against virtual lessons, I'm inclined to believe that you may get more out of in-person lessons, particularly for what it is that you want to work on.
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Ben Woodruff
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2018 5:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I guess if someone had a strong recommendation on a teacher I’d more seriously consider that option. After some Googling, looking on Facebook Marketplace, and Craigslist I’m not really finding much if anything in terms of private lessons even in Rochester. It would surprise me if there aren’t instructors available, but thus far they haven’t been incredibly easy to find.
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Ben Woodruff
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

For what it’s worth I’ve booked a Skype lesson with Charlie Porter for Saturday. Will report back on how it goes.

Thanks again all.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi,

As far as teachers in Rochester, I would imagine that Google provided a link to the Eastman Community Music School. That would be a great place to start. Some specific names you might consider looking into in Rochester at and outside the ECMS are Herb Smith, Wesley Nance, and Charlie Carr. It is possible that one of them might be able to recommend a great teacher closer to home so that you can get the the help you need without the hardship of having to travel so far, but it would absolutely be worth the drive to work with any one of them, or for that matter, any of the very long list of tremendously capable trumpet players and teachers in Western New York.

I wish you the best on your search - don't delay. The sooner you are in a room with a great teacher, the sooner your practice time can be focused on useful work. Spend too much time looking for guidance online, and you'll chase ghosts forever without really learning anything but new ways to think that you've found the secret today and then be frustrated tomorrow.
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Ben Woodruff
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for the tips PacoTheTrumpeter!
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Nate
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 17, 2018 7:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

An hour south of Eastman might also put you in reach of Ithaca College trumpet faculty. If not the faculty, perhaps they might have a trumpet major/music education major who would be interested in working with you. There are other schools around the region that might also have such resources.

Hope you find a helpful coach -- virtual or F2F. Good luck!
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 24, 2018 7:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

i find progress on trumpet proceeds at a slow and steady pace. the idea here is that if a teacher starts to guide you into a better lip set, you can practice that for a good while before the next lesson. you don't need weekly lessons. this isn't the piano.
you can take skype lessons and choose from some very high level people so you are not necessarily limited to local talent.
this is the best time to be a trumpeter since the jazz age.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 24, 2018 8:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

hello
totally agree with cheiden and paco
don't hesitate, go for live face to face lessons
otherwise, Charlie Porter would be helpful, there's also here on TH John Mohan and many others.
Personally, after having met him in Bremen, i crossed the Atlantic and gone to LA in 1993 to study with Bobby Shew !

best
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 05, 2018 1:00 am    Post subject: Re: Playing above “middle F” Reply with quote

Ben Woodruff wrote:
...

I just want to play mostly for my own enjoyment, though I would like to get to a point where I could sign up with Bugles across America or similar. Without having that middle G sold I won’t be able to do that. ...


I'm late to this thread and -- without addressing the issue of your, as yet, undeveloped upper register -- you can play taps in the (concert) key of G, starting low E to the A above. I don't think that it would be amiss to play it in any key provided that you played it respectfully.

Kanstul makes a a "regulation" bugle in G and a "ceremonial" bugle in G as well as a "regulation" bugle in B-flat and a "commemorative" bugle in B-flat.

Of the Model 50-G G Regulation Bugle, Kanstul writes,

This model is currently being used by the United States Marine Corps, the Patriot Brass Ensemble and the Blue Eagles Total Force Honor Guard at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California. A special variation of this horn was commissioned by The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band of Texas A&M University for use in the elite “Bugle Rank” by senior cadets. These bugles can also be heard at West Point, played by the famous Hellcats, the oldest continually operating military band in the USA.

FACTORY PRICE $245 in lacquer finish, $290 in silverplate (add $66 for Protec gig bag case, $60 for Kanstul 7C or 3C mouthpiece)

Key: G
Bore: .462″
Bell: Hand Hammered Brass – 4 7/8″ Diameter
Slides: Brass
Water Keys: Amado Water Key



-Denny
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 05, 2018 4:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ben Woodruff wrote:
For what it’s worth I’ve booked a Skype lesson with Charlie Porter for Saturday. Will report back on how it goes.

Thanks again all.


Ben,
You are in good hands with Charlie Porter. He will set you straight in short order.

good luck in your musical pursuits !!

tom
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 05, 2018 6:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent. Be careful what you make permanent." -- from an old soccer coaching book
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 05, 2018 9:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am very curious how this story will develop. Maybe the situation is not that bad. Personally I know nobody who can play a 16C4 with only a practice of 30 minutes a day for a few months. And if you can play top line F, the G there above cannot be too difficult. But in fact I think that top line F after such a short time with limited practice and on a, let's say, unusual mouthpiece, is not at all bad. And it is quite possible that playing the 16C4 made everything very difficult resulting in bad habits like playing much too high in the pitch. I have a feeling that our OP is a little bit impatient. Though I am not a teacher nor have the qualifications for that I don't think there is very much wrong. Why can I say that? Because I have ample experience of my own in what you can do wrong.But OK, we are speculating, we wait and see. And a teacher is always good.
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