What Defines Us?

It is a common saying among trumpet players that it is our sound that defines us. Although I do consider sound to be a very high priority, I disagree with the saying. Sound does not define us nearly as much as the literature we know.

I came to this revelation after decades of believing the traditional saying. It is from my experiences as a professional player that have given me this rather contrary idea that it is our repertoire that defines us and not our sounds. I remember when I first came to Houston and an older, more established player criticized me saying, “Players like Eddie Lewis sound fine, but they don’t know any tunes.” He was wrong. I knew plenty of tunes. I just didn’t know the same tunes as he did. But his comment is what stimulated my thoughts in that direction.

Think about it….

If a trumpet player has a beautiful orchestral sound but only literature he knows is dixieland music, is he an orchestral player or a dixieland player?

If a player has a rich Harry James sound but only knows brass quintet literature, is he a dance band player or a brass quintet player?

In my line of work, I don’t have the luxury of making those decisions myself. The people who hire me are the ones who decide what kind of player I am, and I can tell you with 100% certainty that they hire me more because of my repertoire than they do because of my sound.

The same thing is just as true for brass quintet gigs as it is for jazz stuff. Most of the brass ensemble gigs I play are sight reading gigs. The fact that I know those charts and know the style they are written in makes me an asset to the ensemble. I could sound one way or another, it wouldn’t matter. What matters most is that I can do the gig without messing up, and I couldn’t possibly do that if I didn’t know the lit.

I don’t teach serious orchestral students. There are a lot of wonderful teachers in the area who teach that style of music and have many years of experience at it. But I spent ten years of my life training to be an orchestral player. And yes, a lot of effort goes into producing a good sound. I agree. But that is a given for the orchestras today. If you don’t have a great sound, you won’t get in, PERIOD! From what I’ve heard from my teachers and from the people who I know who are in that line of work today is that it is your familiarity with the literature that makes the biggest difference.

In that sense, this is not an original idea of mine. People in the orchestral world have been teaching the lit this way for years. I am just pointing out that, when it comes to defining who we are, it is the literature that makes the greatest impact.

As a teacher, I take that part of my role in the students’ developments very seriously. Yes we work on mechanics. Yes we work on sound. Yes we work on general musical concepts. But the most important thing we do in the lessons is to work on literature.

A large part of my teaching method focuses on using practice techniques to learn and perfect literature. In the lessons I stress the importance of beginning a constantly growing repertoire. The more rep the student has, the more valuable he or she becomes.

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Book Review: Trumpet Collection

Trumpet Collection by Bernard FitzgeraldTrumpet Collection

Bernard Fitzgerald

When I referred this collection of solos to a student, I did so mainly because of the price. Most of these solos are considered standard pieces from the beginner and intermediate trumpeter’s repertoire and to get them all for under $25 is a great deal. But when the student ordered the collection and brought it to his lessons, I was surprised to find that it comes with a CD of all the piano parts. What was originally a great deal on solo music had then become a wonderful deal on a play-along package!

I believe that literature should constitute at least fifty percent of our practice time and that the highest form of literature for the classical trumpeter is solos like the ones in this package. Trumpet students should be working on solo literature from the time they are beginners. There is such a wealth of material available to us and it’s a shame that not enough people take advantage of it.

(Please see my post about what defines us as trumpet players.)

This Trumpet Collection by Bernard Fitzgerald includes the following trumpet solos:

  1. Adagio and Allegro Marziale by George Frideric Handel
  2. Allegro Gia mi sembra from the opera Lotario by George Frideric Handel
  3. Aria and Allegro by A. F. Tenaglia, J. P. Krieger
  4. Aria and Bourree from the Passion Oratorio and Solo Sonata in G  by George Frideric Handel
  5. Italian Suite by A. Scarlatti, A. Caldara, S. De Luca, F. Durante
  6. Allegro by Jos. Fiocco
  7. Sonata VII by Arcangelo Corelli
  8. English Suite by R. Bernard Fitzgerald
  9. Purcell Suite by Henry Purcell
  10. Adagio and Allegro from Sonata in E by George Frideric Handel
  11. Largo and Allegro from 6th Flute Sonata by George Frideric Handel
  12. “Let the Bright Seraphim” from the oratorio Samson by George Frideric Handel
  13. “Sound an Alarm” from the oratorio Judas Maccabaeus by George Frideric Handel

You can purchase it HERE.

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Recapturing Old Content

One of the things I’ll be doing on this site is bringing back some of the content I had originally removed from EddieLeiws.com. I started today by adding one of the old book reviews from my original site.

I have a lot of old content tucked away on my hard drive. Some of it will need some touching up. Others are ready now to be posted. I won’t be posted ALL of the old stuff. There were legitimate reasons why I took most of it down. But there is a lot of it that is more appropriate for blogging.

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Book Review: The Secret of Technique Preservation

The Secret of Technique Preservation – Ernest S. Williams

Publisher: Charles Colin
Copyright: 1980
No. Pages: 16

Two pages of text and fourteen pages of exercises which include:

  • Exercises for Limbering Lips and Fingers
  • Major Scales
  • Trills
  • Minor Scales
  • Chromatics
  • Exercises for Lip-Flexibility
  • Studies in Attack
    • Single-Tongue Staccato
    • Double-Tongue Staccato
    • Triple-Tongue Staccato
  • Intervals
  • Chords
  • Diminshed-seventh Chords
  • Whole-Tone Scales
  • Augmented Chords

The text on the second page describes the “Daily Routine” concept with its application to trumpet playing, and quotes Paganini with, “Every day I have to find my technique anew.”

My Comments:

This book was one of the very first books I used in college with Sam Trimble. Although I haven’t used any of it’s exercises in over a decade, the concept I have of what a daily routine is and how it works comes directly from my work in this book.

I continue to practice a daily routine which includes a warm-up but focuses more on development and maintenance than it does on the physical process of warming up. In that way, my daily regime is strongly influenced by “The Secret of Technique-Preservation”.

I would also like to point out that much of John J. Haynie’s published material is the same, in content, as this book is, but organized according to keys as opposed to being organized according to similar exercises.

Available at Dillards Music

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Daily Routines for Trumpet

Daily Routines has been my most successful book. As of this year, I have written sixteen trumpet methods and continue to sell most of them through our online music store called Tiger Music and also at lulu.com, but Daily Routines has always been our number one seller. It has helped literally hundreds of trumpet players with the physical aspects of their playing; range, endurance, flexibility, articulation and sound.

The Daily Routines book is a collection of seven graduated routines starting from beginner and progressing to virtuoso. This graduated organization makes it easy for trumpet players to grow their strength over time without radically changing their daily practice habits.

Each routine includes exercises for lip buzz, mouthpiece buzz, long tones, lip slurs, articulation and multiple tonguing. The exercises are always practiced in this precise order and I always tell my students that it is the order of the exercises which is most important and not the exercises themselves.

There are a number of trumpet teachers across the country who regularly practice the Daily Routines book and we are working on a distribution list for recommending them as teachers of this method. Please stay tuned for more information.

Here are a few links for more information about the Daily Routines book:

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Avoiding Virtual Schizophrenia

Getting connectedSitting here over the past several days since I started this official blog, I have been struggling with the whole blogging architecture thing. I realized that the reason I resisted moving to a blog format was because of the push for smaller posts and the fact that everything is listed in reverse order.

First of all, I have never been one to write short essays. Almost everything I write is considered “too long” on internet standards. The conventions almost all say to write content that doesn’t require scrolling. They say that people lose interest if you write anything more than a few paragraphs and I have a bit of a problem with that.

They say that you should break longer topics into smaller, individual posts and I would be cool with that IF those topics weren’t listed in reverse chronological order. And really, the way I see it, if someone doesn’t have long enough an attention span to read more than a few paragraphs, then how many of those people will be inclined to click through to the next previous post. Yikes! It bugs me that hey would be forced to read the stuff in reverse order.

But that’s the nature of a blog, am I correct? The whole point is to present your writing in a way that naturally ages over time. If people become regular visitors, they will go to that top post because it is the newest. The assumption is that they have already read all the previous content that appeals to them and are waiting for our newest revelations and words of wisdom.

I have to admit that this is not WHY I’m using a blog. My objective here is to avoid V.S. (Virtual Schizophrenia). My online presence goes all the way back to 1993. I currently run an array of different websites and participate in a variety of forums and community sights. I enjoy contributing to each of these, but it has become increasingly more difficult to keep up with it all. In an effort to centralize and simplify my online content, I decided it was a good idea to have a centralized hub for that content and link to it from each of those other sources. In this way, I hope to be able to connect with more people with less effort.

For that reason, my posts will tend to be long, just as they have always been during my almost two decades online. In that sense, I am not really using this blog as a blog. It’s just a place for me to deposit content that can be linked back to from a variety of different sources.

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Study Guides to Pass the Torch

For several years I have been writing study guides for my students in an effort to help them maximize their practice time. I started doing this in 2006 when I was out of the country for the month preceding solo contest. Because I knew I would be gone during that time, I designed step by step instructions for each of those students so they would know what and how to practice while I was gone.

When I returned, I realized I had created a system of communicating practice strategy to the students and I began using the study guides regularly for any long term projects they were working on. Most typically these were competition pieces but not always.

The study guides have worked well for these few years but I’m concerned that the students have become complacent in taking part of the planning that should be invested before working on a major piece. As with most of what I do as a teacher, the study guides were originally intended as an example for them. I didn’t mean to actually do all of the planning work for them. But that’s how it worked out in the end.

I am happy to have used the study guides and I will continue to use them with the students who have never done anything like that before. But now is time to pass the torch. It’s time to give the students who have been using these guides an opportunity to begin planning and writing those plans on their own. My job is to teach them, not to always do the work for them.

One study guide I have done every year for the past five or six years is for the All-State band trumpet audition music. This year I have no new high school students and it’s time for the high school students I do have to begin making these plans themselves.

I will blog again later about how well this goes. I’m actually quite excited about the change of procedure.

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