If you are a high school trumpet player in the state of Texas, NOW (February) is the time to begin preparing for next year’s All-Region/All-State auditions. Does that surprise you? Some students think they can’t begin preparing until the music is announced, but they are wrong. During this time, between the end of solo contest and the last week of July, you should be working on the general aspects of your playing which you will not have time to work on after you begin working on the audition etudes.
Some people believe that sound is the most important aspect of trumpet playing. I disagree. While I acknowledge that sound is important, it is not as important as expression.
During the months between February and August, all serious high school trumpet students should be working to improve their ability to express themselves. They should learn about things like phrasing and vibrato. They should be practicing different styles of articulation and experimenting with how they can use those styles to better express themselves.
The Texas All-State band audition system is setup in a way that favors general musical aspects over specific. Because of the way the system works, expression is even more important than an occasional missed note or inaccurate rhythm (I stress the word occasional here because more than a few mistakes comes across to the judges as being a different general aspect – sloppiness – which is a deal breaker for all auditions).
As my student, you will make expression a priority in the context of preparing for the TMEA All-State auditions. I will teach you the mechanics of phrasing and vibrato now so those things will feel more natural to you in August when you begin practicing the trumpet all-region music.
Although sound is not the most important aspect of trumpet playing, it is a general aspect and remains the second most important aspect in the context of auditioning for the Texas All-State bands. There are three aspects of sound that should be equally addressed during the months leading up to the release of the music.
Tone quality is the harmonic composition of your sound. We really don’t have time to explain this in detail, so let’s just say that tone quality is where we talk about having a dark sound or a bright sound. When your band director tells you that you have a pinched sound, he’s talking about your tone quality.
For the Texas All-State auditions, having a dark or bright tone is not nearly as important as having a good or bad tone. Bright and dark can be equally good and I let my students play which ever way sounds good to them. But a pinched, nasal tone is just a bad tone and you will not make the Texas All-State band like that. The same is true for people who have dull, dead tones.
One of my strengths as a trumpet teacher is that I help students who have truly awful tones. My approach to helping students improve their tone is different from other teachers. I will admit that it takes longer my way, but the benefits are worth the wait.
What is tone purity?
Sam Trimble used to describe tone purity in terms of percentages. If you have 50% sound and 50% air (fuzz), you have bad tone purity. We want to strive for 100% sound and no air.
Do you have a fuzzy sound?
This is important for you to know. It is possible to have a good tone quality but poor tone purity and for that reason, the things that help improve tone quality will not improve tone purity. If you have a fuzzy sound, if you hear as much airy noise coming out of your bell as you do trumpet sound, then you need to work on improving that right now. Don’t wait until the All-State music is announced.
In a masterclass at Rice, several years ago, Jim Thomson told the audience his definition of “sound” and I have adopted that definition to use with my students. He said that your sound is your tone quality PLUS a collection of other various musical aspects. Sound is tone quality and vibrato, articulation, note lengths and dynamics.
In working on sound, improving tone is obviously the first step. But it cannot stop there. If you have a wonderful tone, but terrible articulation, then your sound will still be terrible.
As my student, one of our goals in preparing for the All-State music before it is release is to develop and perfect a technical proficiency equal to the technical demands of previous year’s etudes. In the past, I used to use etudes from the books that the etudes have been chosen from, and with some of my more advanced students I continue to do that. But the etudes are never comprehensive enough. No single etude covers enough technical aspects of trumpet playing to fully prepare you for All-State.
That was the main motivation behind writing my book, All-State Prep for Trumpet. The etudes in my book are at least as difficult as the Texas All-State etudes for trumpet, but most of them are short. I have modeled the etudes in All-State Prep for Trumpet after Pottag’s and Getchell’s etudes. They are short but each etude has a very specific objective.
My first student to finish the All-State Prep for Trumpet book did so during his eighth grade year. He made first chair in his eighth grade region band. He made first chair in the freshman region band. He has never placed lower than third in any of the all-region ensembles, including jazz ensemble, orchestra and band. As I write this, he is in San Antonio right now, at the TMEA convention, rehearsing and performing with the one of the All-State ensembles (I haven’t heard which one yet).
I wish I could say that all of my students have had equal success with the All-State Prep for Trumpet book, but that would be a lie. No book ever written can make All-State for you. No teacher has ever been capable of making All-State for you. You have to do the work and the books and teachers are there to make sure that your work is effective, efficient and stylistically appropriate. Having a good book and toting it around like a luck charm will do nothing for you if you don’t spend enough time practicing.
When I was in high school, I practiced an average of about two hours per day. This was before I learned about the benefits of resting one day per week, so I averaged a total of fourteen hours of practice per week. With that amount of work, I was able to make the Texas All-State band twice.
To make the Texas All-State band, it is not good enough just to be able to play the music. That’s where many students fall short. They practice the music until they can play it and they think they are done. But the students who make All-State practice the audition etudes long after they can “play it.” They practice with the objective of being able to perform the music flawlessly no matter what conditions they may face in the auditions.
In your lessons, we will work together to help you move beyond just playing the music. We will look at the music from a variety of perspectives in an effort to play the music at the highest possible level under any circumstances.
Private Lesson Teacher
Something else that is very important if you really want to make All-State is to take lessons with someone who knows how to teach the audition etudes. Yes, I know that there are some students who make All-State who never took lessons. If you think you are one of those who can pull that off, my question to you is, “How sure are you that you are?” What if you are not capable of learning the music well enough by yourself?
Your trumpet lesson teacher is there to pass down wisdom and knowledge that their teachers passed down to them. When you take private lessons, you get to learn from your teacher’s mistakes and from your teachers’ teacher’s mistakes without having to make those mistakes yourself. Trying to make the Texas All-State band without a teacher is the musical equivalent of “reinventing the wheel.”
Another major problem with not studying with a private lesson teacher is that you are not musically educated well enough to know when you are ready. Your ears are not developed enough to discern All-State quality performance. One of the jobs of the teacher is to be your ears while you are developing your own.
To make the Texas All-State is not an easy task. While I do believe that anyone could do it, most do not have the time, patience or will power to do what must be done to get there. That starts with desire and your passion for music should carry you through to the end. Go for it. Let’s see what you are made of!