15 Aug How to dust those summer chops off like a touring pro!
In an effort to inspire my students to step up their practicing coming off of summer (because I’m SURE they all practiced over the summer, right?) I asked some top trumpet players in the business what they do to get ready for a heavy workload such as a tour or a demanding gig. A huge thank you to these guys for providing up and coming trumpet players with guidance and inspiration.
I have material and answers from a few players so far so I’ll do these posts in installments. First up is 26 year veteran as lead trumpet for the world famous Count Basie orchestra and fellow North Texas alum, Mike Williams.
Mike Williams is an American jazz and big band trumpeter residing in Lapeer, Michigan. He is most noted as the lead trumpeter for the Count Basie Orchestra, an esteemed chair which he has held without interruption for more than 21 years. Mike can be heard on numerous Count Basie Orchestra recordings (some of themGrammy Award winners), including the recent “Basie Is Back” (recorded live in Japan) and the Grammy nominated “Ray Sings, Basie Swings,” on which he was a featured soloist. As a member of the Basie Band, he has performed in all 50 states and 40 countries with such notable names as Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, George Benson, Tony Bennett and Diane Schuur. Mike endorses P. Mauriat.
Mike is a native of Shreveport, Louisiana. He attended the University of North Texas College of Music, where he studied with noted trumpeter Don Jacoby, and was a member of the famous One O’Clock Lab Band. In addition to touring and recording with Count Basie, he also performs and records with other noted jazz groups, including Charles Tolliver Big Band.
Mike also played trumpet for several years with the 156th Army Band, part of the Louisiana Army National Guard based in Bossier City, Louisiana under the direction ofDr. Douglas Peterson.
Mike’s website can be found at www.mikewilliamstrumpet.com
Say you’ve got some time off before your next tour or demanding gig. What is your regimen to get ready for a heavy workload after time away from the horn? Does the expected workload affect your routine?
Over the years players can tend to gravitate towards certain workouts or warmups. Exploring what other players are doing is a way to shake up your own routine and find some inspiration. As a long-tenured lead trumpet player with Count Basie, Mr. Williams has a very demanding routine. I’m told he’s also working on a book. After tackling this, I’ll be all over that book.
Mike Williams: We should all know the purpose of the warm-up. We use it to get the air moving correctly, get the blood flowing into the face and lip muscles, get the lips vibrating, get the fingers moving, and basically, get all of these things in sync while feeling comfortable and totally relaxed. This all sounds simple enough. Well, too many times this is not the case. Why?
The problem is that many players forget to use one other organ… the brain. I sound negative in stating this, but it is too often the truth. We must slow things down and THINK, LISTEN, and ACT. Think about what you want to sound like as far as tone quality before you play. Listen to your sound and analyze it. Act to improve it. DO NOT go through the warm-up exercise as if you were performing it for someone. SLOW DOWN. If your first note is a second line “G” and you articulate it in a sloppy manner and/or produce a bad sound, then stop. Think about what just happened and fix it. Do not proceed until you have made an IMPROVEMENT. This is how we become better players. I have heard great performances from players who requested a lesson for the following day. I ask to hear their warm-up and some of them sounded awful, but just kept going from one passage to the next as if to show me how badly they can sound. I would have much rather listened to them work with a few notes until the sound began to improve. So…
Do not just run through your warm-up. Some days for me, I can proceed quickly, and then some days, much more time is required. If I have had an especially taxing performance playing Lead Trumpet the night before, the next morning may sometimes greet me with stiffness. In this case, I may just start out by working with that second line “G” for several minutes until things begin to feel and sound better.
Each day, we must find our technique anew. Every day we start over. The warm-up is like the “Holy of Holies.” It is a sacred time and place that is your’s and your’s alone. Take your time and don’t go through the warm-up for “the sake of the warm-up.” It is only a tool.
Find a good warm-up that works for you and stick with it. Use it every day. Be patient.
The following exercise is basically the warm-up I have been using since 1986. It comes from my first lesson with Don Jacoby and it is exactly the way I remember it. I have often called that first lesson with Jake the most important one in my life. I remember arriving at his home outside of Denton, Texas on a summer day with $20 and trumpet in hand. At the time I was already playing Lead Trumpet in the “One O’Clock Lab Band” at North Texas State University. I had no idea what to expect. Well…he spent the entire 30 minutes teaching me how to play second line “G” to third space “C” correctly!!
The exercise focuses heavily on the correct use of AIR.
CONCEPT of the WARM-UP EXERCISE
First of all, relax and focus. Imagine your sound as an intense beam of light coming from the bell and shooting straight out. If you are in a practice room, tape a piece of paper on the wall directly in front of you and draw a dark dot on it about the size of an aspirin. When you articulate the first 2nd line “G”, imagine that intense beam of light burning a hole right at the “dot.” As you hold the note, constant support of the air and air speed MUST be applied or the “burning hole” will fizzle out. Then, to go to the 3rd space “C”, you instantly speed up the air and increase the length of the “beam of light” three feet farther out to the next imaginary dot.
Remember this very important concept. “The higher you play, the farther out you play.” A good example is this… Imagine that you are on stage during a performance. Pick out a spot on the back wall of the auditorium directly in front of your trumpet bell. Now, imagine the “intense beam of light” traveling from your bell to that “spot” on the back wall. Always play toward that spot. Stay on the beam. This concept is especially important if you must play, for example, a musical passage that begins in the middle register and proceeds into the extreme upper register. As the passage goes higher, the air speed MUST increase toward the “spot(s)” along the “beam” and outward toward the back of the room. (Sometimes I even think past the room to the outside of the building) This way of thinking may help you to keep the same full and “in-tune” sound as you play higher. I have heard many players’ sounds become smaller and smaller as they play higher and higher. Many can play notes in the upper register, but they become small and pinched because they are not using enough air support and air speed. Many of these players have learned to play in the upper register by mostly using the tongue (AH—EE) position to speed up the air. BUT THEY FORGOT TO ADD MORE AIR/COMPRESSION INTO THE EQUATION. Now that I have stressed the importance of AIR by example, we will go back to the basic warm-up that will help us with the total control of the air stream.
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING…use only the AIR speed to change the note. DO NOT use the tongue. Keep it relaxed and out of the way of the air stream. DO NOT wiggle your embouchure or anything else from the neck up. Keep your corners firm and set. The ONLY thing that moves will be the slight contraction of the muscles in your torso to speed up the air flow. If this is done correctly, you will hear a snap/click as you change notes. In the second part of this exercise, you may notice that there is a note (harmonic) missing between the 2nd and 3rd notes of each slur. If you cannot play the three notes in the slur without also hitting that extra deleted note, then you are not using the air correctly.
Now, if you were performing a piece that called for a more legato lip slur, you may want to use a slight tongue motion i.e… “ah, ee,ah, ee.” Also, if you have some “lip trill” to play, you may want to use other combined techniques. But remember, this exercise belongs to AIR CONTROL. To tell you the truth, I don’t use much tongue movement anymore for going from the lower register to the upper register. I focus more on strong face/cheek muscles and air speed and compression.
This exercise, when done correctly, will hopefully improve your total trumpet playing because you will have a better grasp of the importance of …. once more….. AIR!”
Mr. Williams’ routine is no joke. Toward the end of the routine I was sizzling in my upper register but I didn’t even make it halfway through the material as his workout extends up to double C!! In order to really explore this material I gave myself a 36 hour break and hit it with fresh, albeit wobbly, chops. Don’t worry, this routine shook those first wobbles off nicely. This is not a routine for absolute beginners but by changing the register and/or the key, an appropriate level of range and difficulty that is challenging without the running the risk of injury can be found. A bonus: changing key and register will also challenge the transposition chops!
The warmup: This is the “Jake” warmup, named after much beloved trumpet teacher Don “Jake” Jacoby. Mr. Jacoby was before my time at North Texas but his legacy lives on in players like Mike Williams and others (look for the FB page “Memories of Jake”). It is in two parts
In my video I used a metronome during the entire routine but Mr. Williams pointed out this is not necessary for the warmup as you are warming up your air and your “feel”. This is something I have my students do to combat the tendency to short change your long tones by playing them at 250-300 bpm.
In part 2, efficient use of air will get you over the extra partial. I had thought myself a pretty air-efficient player but this exercise pointed out I can do more and this is now on my “listening radar”.
Range and Flex exercise
Valves 123 throughout. Practice only with the metronome slowly at first. Repeat the exercise at least 10 times with a 10 second rest between each attempt, 60 BPM until perfect! Slur entire exercise up-and-down.
The metronome comes in here. You’ll need it. The concentration required to keep your chops vibrating and keeping triplets in time through a range that covers low C# to high C# is daunting. Push this and you’ll crash and burn. Only go up to valves 1 and 3 when/if you’re ready. I wasn’t and I crashed and burned 🙂
Range exercise 1.
Always try to get a full comfortable sound. As you go higher think of projecting your air and sound OUT not up! The higher you play the farther out you play.
Do not proceed to the next chord until the previous one is played with out error.
Each chord has five notes. Make sure you have a full sound on the fourth note, holding a little longer, then go out to the fifth note. If you missed the last note rest and try again. When you miss three times in a row stop! Put the horn down and go away.
Range Exercise 2.
Mr. Williams has posted this one before if you happen to follow his Facebook page. This exercise is used to increase the upper register as well as work on upper register tonguing. All tonguing should be connected as “ta da da da, etc” no short notes. Go as high as you can every day and always rest sufficiently at the end of each scale.
So what have I learned to pass on to my students? Even when you know how important air is odds are you might still not be doing enough! This routine is all about air-efficiency. As you can see in the video when I reach the top of my register I’m sizzling and supporting the note. I believe it’s due to my air and my feel being warmed up.
As mentioned at the top this routine isn’t for beginners but an appropriate level of challenge can be reached by changing key or register. With a routine like this it’s no wonder Mike has held down the lead chair for Count Basie for 26 years! This was an excellent challenge and I thoroughly enjoyed gaining some insight into a veteran’s workout.
I hope you have enjoyed this first installment of Blowing Your Brains Out. In the second episode we’ll be talking to touring Cirque Du Soleil trumpeter Jason Levi. Stay tuned!
All material used by permission of Mike Williams. Video property of Chris Borin. Music: Hello Echo by Chris Borin and The C.A.J.E available on Itunes and CDbaby.
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