Potentially unhelpful, slightly grumpy, but totally honest observations about the trumpet, music, and miscellaneous s*** written from my admittedly totally limited perspective and offered free-of-charge by recovering ex-university professor Brian Shaw
Now that I’m out of the “I’m a professor at a major university so I have to always pretend to know what I’m talking about” business, uh, I mean, my college trumpet teaching career, I’m feeling a little freer to say what I really think, without the fear of being exposed as a charlatan who really doesn’t know what he’s doing. That’s why I’m calling this blog No BS by BS. I’m not saying I’m 100% correct about everything I write. I’m just saying this is what I believe, and telling you what in my experience has made me believe it; Stephen Colbert might say it has its own “truthiness".
So in that spirit, here goes:
The most important thing I taught myself to do on the trumpet was to learn to play in the high register.
Before you start posting your angry comments and sending me outraged emails, please read that sentence again, in its entirety. The most important thing I taught myself to do on the trumpet was to learn to play in the high register.
I didn’t say that the most important thing anyone ever taught me to do on the trumpet was learning to play in the high register;
I didn’t say that the most important thing in trumpet playing was playing in the high register;
and I certainly didn’t say that the most important thing in MUSIC was playing in the high register.
If you’re still not following, what I meant to say (and could have, of course, edited the above to say, but then I wouldn’t have had a clever and mildly controversial opener to this blog, which is probably why you’re still reading this) is that I am grateful that I taught myself how to play in the high register. Because, frankly, I’m not sure anyone else can teach you how to do it.
I think that playing in the high register (for my purposes here, I mean above high written C on Bb trumpet, two ledger lines above the treble clef staff.) is something that you either figure out or you don’t.
I do believe that other people can help you make it easier, more efficient, expand upon it, etc. But I don’t think anyone can actually teach you how to do it. I believe that it’s just one of those things that you have to trial-and-error your way into. You have to want it badly enough to just keep trying – all while listening to other players do it – until it works. And keep doing that thing that worked, then try to make that thing easier and more consistently reliable. You might even receive some good guidance from a teacher or friend along the way. But you must sow the seeds yourself.
I believe that some people just don’t think it’s all that important to play in the high register, so they don’t work it out. They aren't crazed with the obsession needed. They can play high enough for the repertoire they’re interested in playing, and choose to leave the rest for others. Those folks probably hear some (most) high note players and make faces in disgust at how musically vapid and tasteless it can be. (And honestly, most of "screamer" players are probably on the tasteless side… didn’t it take a group called the “Tasty Bros” prove this by taking gratuitous high note recordings to their logical conclusion??) Anyway, back to my point: That’s totally OK. You can have a pretty great career without spending much – if any – time above high C (concert). And furthermore, I also think that too many trumpet players – especially post-pubescent blonde high-school-aged Maynard Ferguson wannabes – think the high register itself is too important. If you don’t believe me, go to any instrument exhibit at any music conference for evidence of this phenomenon. (Oh wait, that was me. Dammit!)
But if playing well above the staff is important to you, all I’m saying – here, anyway – is that I believe you’re going to have to figure it out for yourself.
Stay tuned – for my next BS post, I’m going to try to show you how I learned to play high – or at least how you can teach yourself to play high: Not by talking about the mechanics of how it works – because I’m not really sure I know – but by sharing how I did it. (And yes, I realize the irony in this attempt to teach what I’ve claimed is unteachable.) I will also make the case for why I believe it is important to do the slow, messy work necessary to sort the upper register out.
See you next time.