How To Make The Texas All-State Band

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All-State Prep for Trumpet by Eddie Lewis
All-State Prep for Trumpet by Eddie Lewis

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.

Expression

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.

Sound

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

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.

Tone Purity

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.

Sound

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.

Technique

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).

Practice

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.

Summary

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!

20 Responses

    • Eddie

      The TMEA auditions are not rigged. I’m sorry you feel that way. I’ve written a lot about these auditions on this blog and I invite you to read more about it. The TMEA official rules are setup to avoid personal biases. It would require a full fledged conspiracy involving lots of people for the auditions to be rigged.

      • Russell Daniels

        the system itself isn’t rigged but in certain regions the odds are against people more than other regions (aka region 20 Coppell)

        • Eddie Lewis

          I looked up where Coppell is and I have heard people say what you are about the Dallas area. The problem is that there are so many great high school players coming out of Dallas. But I disagree with the assertion that the odds are more against students in that region. I think it is more accurate to say that the odds more against a “mediocre” player getting into all-state. Today, with all the technology we have and the access everyone has to help, there is no excuse for anyone to ever be mediocre.

    • Eddie

      Hello Isaac,

      Students who make it far enough to compete at the area level have are emotionally invested in the auditions. It’s not uncommon for those who do not make it to accuse the “system” of being rigged. I try to help my students understand that the judges are more educated than the students. What they consider “the best” is not necessarily what the students would agree with. So yeah, it can seem to them as if the auditions are rigged.

  1. Kyle Willowood

    Is it true that at TMEA AREA auditions, speed and technicality matter more than musicality?

    • Eddie

      No, it’s not true.

      First of all, the way the audition process is setup, it really comes down to the preferences of the judges. Yes, there might be some judges who prefer technique over musicality. Or it may be the other way around and you might have some judges who prefer expression over technique.

      Secondly, I think one very important point you miss when you look at it this way (technique vs. music) is that you are competing with the best of the best. At that level, I can safely say that you had BETTER have a complete package. It’s not a choice of one aspect being more important than the other. If you want to win, you better have it all…you better have the technique AND the musicality.

      So no, I do not agree with your statement.

      Good question! Thank you for asking.

  2. Luke

    I know that this is an old post but region is coming up soon and I have always wondered about this. I am also part of the area near the valley and year after year at area I have experienced the same thing. Which is what was previously mentioned. I know it is not possible for it to be rigged, but it is always the people that play fast and out of control that advance to state. My lesson teacher is often a judge at these auditions and my band director has many years of experience in the system and they both tell me to prepare musicality above technique for region and then technique above musicality for area. Is there any reason for this bias? I have experienced it two times myself and heard the same for years before me

    • Eddie Lewis

      Hello Luke,

      I have to say it again, because nothing has changed. To make it to state, you have to have a total package. Certainly you are not saying that someone with only technique on no musicality is going to beat someone who has both technique AND musicality? Please tell me you and your teachers do not believe that.

      Here’s what I tell my students, if you want to make all-state, you have to be the best. It’s not good enough to just be one of the best. No, if you are only one of the best, it’s like playing the lottery. You might make it, you might not.

      Every time I have judged (I just judged all-state jazz this past weekend), there were only one, two and maybe three players who floated to the top of the list. And most of the time, the judges agree on who those players are. But if you end up in the middle somewhere, I’m sorry to say it, but there is no consensus amongst judges about which players are worse than the others. Because that’s what it comes down to at that point. The judges have to decide who is bad enough to not make the cut. And your flavor of bad might just be what they don’t like that day.

      However, if there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your audition, if you have an iron clad performance, then you are not in that bunch of players.

      So that’s what I teach. If you are not one of the best two or three in the room, then you cannot complain if you didn’t make it. That’s how the auditions work.

      Thanks for your question.

  3. Akhil

    Hi Mr Lewis I was wondering , I have just made 1st chair in my region for junior high and was wondering my chances for advancing to area and state my 7th grade yeah I had made 8th chair Just wondering

    • Eddie Lewis

      Congratulations for being first chair at region.

      If you are in Texas, then we don’t have area for junior high students. Not to my knowledge. Area and All-State are only for high school.

      That said, if you are in another state that actually has higher levels of competition for junior high, of course if you made 1st chair, the chances are you have the skills to do well at area. However, it is NEVER a good idea to think that way. Each time you perform or compete, it is a new day with new opportunities. You could be 1st chair 100 times in a row, it doesn’t mean you will be first char again on the next audition.

      So you have to be prepared to compete. And the thing is, you never know who you will be competing against. So you should ALWAYS be at the top of your game, no matter what.

  4. Dylan

    I recently made 1st chair all state at region 17. Any idea how the Feb. 11-15 trip will go? I’m just a little curious because it will be my first time going. (The trip in San Antonio)

    • Eddie Lewis

      Hello Dylan,

      Congratulations for making All-State.

      As for how the trip will go, I can only tell you what I remember from the 1980’s. The first thing you will do, after getting checked into your hotel, is audition for chairs. They may have changed this part, but the way it used to be, your chair placement determined which band you were in, first or second band. So it’s very important that you keep practicing if you want to be in a top band or a top chair.

      Then, during the rest of the week you will be rehearsing. You will have some time off to go explore the convention. It’s a great opportunity to check out all of the interesting products and universities. If there is an instrument you’ve been wanting to try out, that’s a great time to do it.

      You will also have opportunities to hear other performances and attended lectures. That was always my favorite part of the trip. I enjoy learning. I’m always hungry for more of it, and there’s plenty to be had at TMEA.

      Then, towards the end of the week, you will have a performance with the All-State band. It will be the best performance you were ever a part of, in terms of the quality of the music. You will be on stage with the best of the best high school musicians in Texas.

      Congratulations again. I hope you enjoy the experience!

  5. Christian-Edward Thibodeaux

    Hello there! I decided that I want to stretch myself for all-state. I feel that it wouldn’t hurt me if I decided to be this persistent in my career as a musician, and I want to impress my colleges as well. However the truth is, I’ve never in my life made an auditiom before, not even in middle school. I made state at solo and ensemble this year, but I feel that doesn’t really say much about me. Basically, I’m a little uncertain about how to properly approach this, since I haven’t been this ambitious before. I’m a little uncertain of how to approach this mentally. I already have confidence in myself, and am already strong mentally, but this just seems so unusual that it’s overwhelming to think about(but I’m more afraid of being average than of trying to make all-state, and I’m actually very passionate about music) I’m currently a sophomore. I actually do not play trumpet, I am a bassoonist, so could I still use these tidbits you’ve provided above in my quest?

    Thanks!

    • Eddie Lewis

      Hello Christian-Edward,

      Yes, of course these ideas will also work for you. I was specifically speaking to my students when I wrote this, but the concepts apply to all instruments.

      I would say that the most important thing above is to find yourself a teacher. Do not assume that your ears are “trained” enough to know when what you’re doing is good enough. Pay someone to tell you when it’s not good enough. And if you get a teacher who only ever tells you that you sound wonderful, then it’s time for a new teacher. Your teacher needs to be your ears until you are good enough to discern excellence on your own.

      I hope that helps.

      Eddie

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