10 All-State Trumpet Tasks to Do Now!
If you are a high school student who wants to make All-State band or orchestra next year, then you can’t afford to be slacking right now, during this lockdown.
We recently released a couple of Behind the Wheel videos (7 Tips for Lockdown Motivation and Lockdown Trumpet Revelations) that should help you with the motivation to practice. In this current video, 10 All-State Tasks to Do Now, we will discuss what you should be doing with your practice time.
1 Listen to Recordings of Etudes
If you’re not new to my work, then you already know that listening is the first answer to a great many problems on the trumpet. This is for many reasons. When we listen, it helps us form a mental “image” of what we are trying to do in our minds. In that sense, listening serves as a musical compass, guiding us on this journey of mastery. Without the compass, it is easy to waste time heading in the wrong direction.
Thanks to YouTube and other streaming services, you now have access to a lot of recordings of trumpet etudes. I have even created a playlist on YouTube of some of the etude recordings that I like best.
Keep in mind, if you are listening to someone who is not a high quality player, then your etude listening time is being wasted. I will not name any of the ones I think you should NOT listen to. Not publicly because that would not be polite. But I will tell you that there are some bad recordings out there.
Here’s the thing… as a high school trumpet player, striving to become an All-State trumpet player, your ears haven’t been trained yet. You probably won’t recognize the difference between a great sounding etude and an impressive sounding etude (they are not the same). If you want to be an All-State trumpet player, you need to sound great, not impressive.
And a lot of people get that wrong. It’s easy to get that wrong.
Remember that your judges for All-State are going to be university educated trumpet players. They are not listening for what impresses high school students. They are looking for the great, All-State trumpet qualities that indicate that you are qualified to play in the All-State band.
So, I strongly recommend that you initially use my playlist instead of doing random searches for recordings of trumpet etudes. Click the button to go to that playlist:
Also, please note that there are a LOT of wonderful recordings that I did NOT include in my playlist because they have speaking on them. Great players who deserve to be on this list but I was specifically looking for recordings without speaking.
2 Improve Your Sound
This is probably one of the most crucial tasks on the list. I tell my students that, no matter how skilled they are as trumpet players, they cannot be an All-State trumpet player with a bad sound. As a task to accomplish before you begin working on the All-State music, improving your sound is paramount!
In All-State trumpet contests, a bad sound is a “deal killer”. In other words, a bad sound will nullify all of your other All-State level skills.
And in case you were wondering, that’s one of the reasons why we put “Listening” first on the list. Listening is one of the most important things you can do to improve your trumpet sound.
We won’t go into all the things you can do to improve your sound here. We have other blogs and videos for that. Just know that it’s at the top of the list for a reason.
3 Improve Your Phrasing
If I was your judge, your sense of phrasing would be more important to me than your sound. However, I think my All-State judging days are over. Even for the jazz stuff. I judged at a variety of levels for decades. It was always something I did for my students. I wanted to have the knowledge and wisdom that I’m sharing with you now. I wanted to see behind the scenes so I would know what to tell people who need help preparing for All-State.
Phrasing is what takes notes and turns them into music. Without good, expressive phrasing, everything you play will sound offensive if it isn’t perfect. And even then, you could play everything else perfectly and not get first chair if one of your competitors has good phrasing.
To the students it often seems unfair. Even to the point of accusing the audition of being rigged. When someone who made more mistakes gets a higher chair than someone who didn’t make any mistakes at all, you assume the audition was rigged.
That’s because you don’t understand the importance of phrasing.
When you phrase well, in a convincing, expressive way, minor flaws in your playing are forgiven. And I don’t mean that they are intentionally forgiven. When you phrase well, it has a mesmerizing effect on the listener. Music with good phrasing makes that “human connection” that I’m always talking about. Once you make that connection, your performance is no longer about how perfectly you execute the music. When you phrase well, the judge now sees your performance as a living, breathing, human thing, not as a random collection of notes.
I am convinced that music that doesn’t have that human connection forces the listener to hear what you are presenting. When you present notes, the listener (judges included) hears notes. And the judge is highly trained at hearing everything you could possibly do wrong with those notes.
In contrast, if you use convincing, expressive phrasing, then, through that human connection, the listener hears a human being. Not notes!
4 Learn and Master Vibrato
A good vibrato, paired with a great sound and beautiful phrasing, tells the judges that you are ahead of your time. I tell my students that we want to be so mature sounding that the judges need to send a room monitor to make sure you are not a college student or pro trying to prank them. That’s how mature you want to sound.
And you don’t sound mature by being impressive. You don’t get this from playing the etudes faster. You don’t get this from “nailing the high notes”.
Having a great sound, using expressive phrasing, and mastering an appropriate sounding vibrato are three of the four things that make you sound like a mature trumpet player. And an All-State trumpet player is a mature trumpet player.
The good news is that the more listening you do (to great trumpet players), the easier it is to get a great sound, to develop better phrasing and to master appropriate vibrato.
5 Master All 12 Keys (not scales)
What you guys do for scales in band is a great start. The problem is when you think that’s all there is to it. Scales are only an introduction to the keys. To master all twelve KEYS you must practice more than just the scales.
The reason you need to do this goes far beyond just having the technique required for music in each of those keys. Yes, that is part of it. But something happens to your musicianship when you have mastered all twelve keys. The way you hear music changes. Your understanding of music changes. You develop a big picture understanding of how all of this stuff fits together.
And this has a huge impact on your performance.
With my students, we use my Tonalization Studies to master all twelve keys. This change that I am talking about usually happens after the second and third times through all twelve keys. I typically have my students do the Tonalization Studies two times through every key while reading the music. Then, when they have passed off each of the keys twice, then I have them pass them off again by memory.
The students who have made it that far have all experienced the transformation I’m talking about. Having that kind of mastery of all twelve major keys has a profound effect on their musicianship.
To be an All-State trumpet player, this kind of transformation would make a very big difference. The music would be easier to learn and you would struggle a lot less to play it well.
6 Practice Major and Minor Arpeggios
The Tonalization Studies are powerful, partly because they contain twenty of the most used building blocks of music. Arpeggios add to that collection of building blocks. If you master all twelve major and minor arpeggios, then you will find learning the All-State music to be a lot less difficult. It will take you less time to learn the music and this will help you become a lot more competitive.
7 Increase Your Range and Endurance If Necessary
I hesitated to list range in this article because I don’t want anyone to think I am one of those “range is important” people. Range is not as big of a deal as so many trumpet players try to make it out to be.
AND in fact….
A lot of the posturing about range is actually making things a whole lot worse, not better. The “gotta get higher” mind set is ruining trumpet players all over the world.
So, the reason I’m including this here is ONLY because, if you are one of those who wants to work on range, NOW is the time to do it. Don’t wait until the music is released and then try to play that high when you know you can’t.
I know that sounds like I am conflicted. I said range is not a big deal, but then I say don’t try to play the high notes when you know you can’t. For me this is about short term vs. long term. If you are using a long term, systematic strategy, then what I wrote stands true: range is not a big deal. But if you are one of those who feels like you need to reach for the higher notes because now some increased demand is sitting there in front of you, then you reap what you sew. Right?
8 Improve Your Rhythms
A lot of these tasks in the list are meant to help develop your skill and musicianship so that, when the music is released, you don’t have to work so hard and spend so much time practicing it. If you want to be an All-State trumpet player, you cannot afford to be learning new skills when the music is announced. You cannot afford to spend time learning to be a more mature player after the music is released.
The same is true for rhythms. It’s not so much that it takes a lot of time and effort to learn new rhythms. It’s more that those rhythms sound different when they are new to you. You will sound less confident with the rhythms if that’s something you only first learned a month ago. Right?
If you want to be an All-State trumpet player, you need to have experience with a lot of rhythms. You want to go into the music already feeling like an “old pro”.
9 Read a LOT of Etudes
Which brings us to our penultimate task. One of the ways you can become better at the rhythms is to expose yourself to those rhythms in as many etudes as you can. If you don’t have etude books, now is the time to get them.
An internet friend of mine, Pops McLaughlin, has posted a number of free, public domain etude books on his website. You can get there by clicking the following button.
Aside from just learning rhythms, if you spend a lot of time just reading through trumpet etudes, it will all become more natural to you. It will become “old hat”. That way, when the music is announced and it’s time to practice specific etudes for All-State, then you will spend a lot let time learning the music. That will give you more time to focus on the more important aspects of your performance.
10 Practice Lyrical Etudes
Task number ten is an extension of number nine. Make sure that a good number of etudes you practice are lyrical etudes. The most popular lyrical trumpet etude book is Concone, but there are others. If you’d like something more modern, Phil Snedecor has published a book of lyrical studies that is very nice.
The lyrical etudes help you develop the musicianship we have been talking about throughout this article. Remember, if you desire to be an All-State trumpet player, then you cannot just play the notes and rhythms correctly and expect to win a spot in the All-State band. An All-State trumpet player is a mature trumpet player. An All-State trumpet player plays with a great sound, expressive phrasing and an appropriate vibrato. The lyrical studies give you an opportunity to exercise each one of those mature abilities.
As you can see, each one of these tasks is aimed at improving YOU as a trumpet player. That is what you should spend your time doing right now, during this time before the All-State music is announced. Make yourself a better, more mature trumpet player now because you won’t have the time to really focus on that when the music is announced.
This is especially true during this lockdown.