Driving Straight Through Your Sound

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Speaking of Analogies

In my most recent trumpet lesson post called Trumpet Analogies, I wrote about why trumpet and other brass teachers use so many analogies. Today’s post is about one of those analogies.

How to Get a Good Trumpet Sound

Straight RoadIn the context of sounding good on the trumpet, I tell my students about how I used to watch my father driving when I was a young boy. I remember how puzzled I was to see him turning the steering wheel on the straight roads. The road was straight and he was driving straight, but he was constantly moving the steering wheel, left, right, left…it didn’t make any sense to me.

How could we be going straight if he was turning the steering wheel?

Of course, the answer to that question was that my father was making minor adjustments while he was driving to insure that the car stayed straight with the road. I remind my students that cars do not drive straight by themselves. There is no position on the steering wheel that will always make the car stay straight on the road. Because of road conditions, weather, and the constantly changing nature of any vehicle, these minor adjustments are necessary.

Stay Straight for a Great Trumpet Sound

These are precisely the same types of minor adjustments we must make while we are playing the trumpet to get a great trumpet sound! The road conditions of our musical journey are constantly changing, so there is no right way to play. Obeying vague instructions such as “open your teeth” and “pucker your lips” is the musical equivalent of trying to hold the steering wheel in one position in hopes that you will drive straight. Playing a certain way all the time and holding to that regardless of the musical environment will eventually take you off the road and into a ditch. You must constantly adjust if you are to sound good on the trumpet.

You Can’t Drive Blind

Another aspect of this concept is that, in order to drive straight, you must have your eyes open to see if you need to adjust the steering wheel. The equivalent to this in trumpet playing is listening to your sound. I am convinced that 90% of bad sounding trumpet players do NOT listen to themselves as they play the trumpet. They “drive blind.”

If you want to sound better on the trumpet, you must first see (hear) where you are going and then you must see (hear) where you are. The minor adjustments you make must be based on the discrepancy between the two. If you know what you want to sound like and you hear that you are not sounding like that, then you must do something to point you in that direction.

Making a good sound on the trumpet is a complex issue. Much of it is physical, but as I pointed out in my Trumpet Analogies article, most of those physical mechanics are hidden from our view. The only way for us to be certain we are driving straight through our sounds is to open our ears and listen to what’s coming out of the bell. If you sound good, when you sound almost like the professional trumpet players you’ve been listening to, then hold all of those mechanics in place. But when the sound suffers, you need to adjust the mechanics until you are closer to that “sound model” that you have in your mind.

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