May 2016

Answers from Chris Martin

The conversation below is between Jens Lindemann and Chris Martin, formerly principal trumpet with the Chicago Symphony, now principal with the New York Philharmonic. You can find the original post on Jen Lindemann's Facebook page. I copied the text here so I wouldn't forget about it!

Chris Martin



1. Question: Do you do your fundamentals on Bb or C trumpet ? and why
Answer: I incorporate 5 or 6 horns in my regular practice. Each day I play Bb, C, Picc, Rotary C or Bb, and Eb. I often do much of my warm-up on the Bb but am wary of becoming a slave to a certain routine. It's maybe ironic, but the most important part of my "routine" is variation. I like the "depth" of sound and blow I get with the Bb (the point of focus and balance is deeper in the Bb horn than the C). And I find if I'm too many days on just the C the sound gets a little narrow. Balance and variation around your core fundamentals practice is key.

2. Question: How did you develop your practicing skills in college to go from good to great?!
Answer: I played a lot in college. I practiced a lot every day (often too much honestly), played in brass quintets, jazz bands, recitals, all the usual things students do.
An important lesson for any trumpeter to learn is pacing: pacing in a large symphony, pacing in a concerto, pacing in a practice session and even over the course of a longer period of time. My time at Eastman taught me how to balance my desire to perform as much as possible in as many different kinds of musical settings with the necessary practice hours to take care of my fundamental playing. I'm grateful for that lesson, as I'm conscious each day of that balance. Playing 160 concerts a year with the CSO along with chamber concerts and solo appearances requires planning and organization so that I don't lose good basics of sound, articulation, flexibility, intonation.
Regardless of my schedule, I'm in the practice room every morning for a 45 minute nuts & bolts session (and usually another one at night.)

3. Question: With as much as you play your instrument, do you have unsuccessful playing days with the trumpet? And if so, how do you go about making it a successful practice session, orchestra rehearsal, performance, recital etc?
Answer: Sure I have bad days. I try to minimize the severity, so that (hopefully) I'm the only one who notices. Usually tough days for me are the result of fatigue: not so much being tired from one hard concert but an accumulation of fatigue over a period of weeks or months. Once the CSO is in full swing it's like a marathon from September to July. But that long race of a season is peppered with little sprints like a Mahler symphony or a CSO Brass concert or a concerto performance.
Here are some rules I live by during the season.
1) Be ready for the long haul by starting the season or school year already in good trumpet shape. Starting behind is a recipe for fatigue and injury.
2) Stay in good playing shape with regular practice. Especially key are the morning and evening sessions for preparation and recovery.
3) Remember to rest when needed. If in doubt take a session off or even a whole day. It's much easier to make up for a lost day than work through a cut on the lip or a muscle strain-no fun!
4) Practice every style every week: big Bruckneresque fortissimo style, articulate technique as in Ravel or Stravinsky, Baroque piccolo, solo concerti or sonatas, pp accuracy. Be ready every week for anything. (Tip: Michael Sachs' orchestral excerpt book is a great way to survey your various orchestral demands.)

4. Question: What exercises and/or practice routines do you suggest for building up triple and double tonguing (both for speed and smoothness/fluidity)?
Answer: First, speed up your single tongue. The faster, smoother and more effortless your single tongue the more so your multiple tongues. Herbert L. Clarke's One-Minute Single Tongue drill is excellent. Beginning at a tempo that's comfortable but near the edge of comfort single tongue 16th notes for one full minute breathing when necessary but minimizing breaths. I try for a smooth, easy legato at a nice mp-mf with only one breath in the minute. Hold that tempo for a week; then move the metronome up a click or two or four depending on your progress. Over 8 years Clarke worked his single tongue up to 160! For the secondary "Ka" syllable I often think "Qoo". Say those two back to back a few times. Notice how the "Qoo" is more forward, closer to the teeth and helps the air burst through the lips. Practice whatever syllables you like in normal order, then reverse, then alone, any combo. Practice long lines at an easy tempo then short bars faster than is possible. It takes time to get a fast, clear articulation but always have your ideal sound in your mind as you work.

5. Question: What is the most beneficial thing you did in your practice sessions?
Answer: Tough question but here are three that come to mind:
-Long tones with lots of extreme dynamic contrast
-Shuebruk-style attack drills always expanding in range and dynamic control
-Playing along with recordings: either music minus one types or commercial recordings. This helps train our ear to match pitch, color and phrasing-essential skills for an ensemble musician.

6. Question: We all know that 90% of the guys that go to a professional audition will play perfectly or near perfectly. In your opinion what gets you the gig? Especially going to auditions out of college without having played in a professional orchestra before.
Answer: What is perfect? You could play an audition and not split or chip; does that mean it was "perfect"? What about intonation, phrasing, risk vs reward? Did you play it safe so as not to miss? Did you take too many risks and frackfest an excerpt? My point is this: perfection isn't what it's about. These things are crucial to win an audition: sound, musical sensibility, technical control, ability to judge balance, blend and intonation. Not missing any note ever is neither a prerequisite nor a guarantee of victory.
I don't feel I've ever played a perfect audition, but I'm also my own harshest critic. If I'm tougher on my playing than anyone else in the world then I know I've done everything in my power to be ready on audition day. That knowledge builds confidence which in turn builds a sense of freedom: freedom to trust yourself, take risks, and reach for your best performance. That's how you win.

7. Question: What is your warm up routine and what do you think about great trumpet player Adolph "Bud" Herseth?
Answer: Here's the rough outline of my morning routine. As I said before, it's flexible depending on what I need, but here's an overview. The times given include assumed rests as needed.
5 minutes: breathing bag, lip buzz (Stamp), mouthpiece buzz, lead pipe buzz, long tones, vocalises
20 minutes: vocalises, scales (Schlossberg, Arban, Clarke), lip slurs, multiple tongue...Various horns, dynamics, styles, mutes sometimes.
10 minutes: accuracy drills, attacks (Shuebruk, Thibaud etc), intervals: octaves, 7ths, 9ths, 13ths, double octaves (Bai Lin, Schlossberg, etc)
10 minutes: music. Etudes, solos, symphonies, unaccompanied pieces, etc.
Again, this is a rough outline. I try and balance consistency with variety. I never want to feel I MUST do this routine to play, and I always want to finish feeling strong and ready-never tired.

8. Question: In your experience, what has been the most important element for preparing an orchestral audition?
Answer: Make a schedule for preparation with the goal that by the audition day you can play the entire list (and preferably twice through) in any order at any time of day. Making a schedule helps identify holes in your preparation and gives you a body of work to look back on, analyze and feel good about.

9. Question: What was the one thing that influenced your playing the most?
Answer: Listening and matching (or trying to match) the great players of our time.

10. Question: Chris, how you describing your sound with the CSO brass section? How do you think it should be? Some advices about sound?
Answer: I've been in love with the CSO brass sound since I was too young to play. I always try to meet the tradition of this orchestra and its historic sound as far as I can without losing my voice. Adolph Herseth made such an impact here because he was such a unique voice, but his sound wasn't born in a vacuum. He was influenced by Glantz in NY, Mager in Boston, his experiences in big bands and surely many other factors as he created his trumpet voice. You and I are no different. We are each born with a certain sound, but the more we listen and open ourselves to the possibilities of what we might do the further we can expand our own voice.

11. Question: What are some of our tips for expanding range?
Answer: Get up there every day and try! I'm not a natural high note player, so I play up there often. Keep the high range practice short in duration but high in energy and commitment. Think about "streaming" your sound horizontally through high notes. Practice up there slurred or very legato tongue before adding articulation. Strong attacks help the high range. So, if you can blow into a high D connected without the attack, then when Strauss gives you a nice forte accent in Alpine it's cake! (Well mostly.)

12. Question: Is there a better way to get familiar with the etudes when limited on time?
Answer: Slow practice rules for learning quickly. 10 minutes of slow practice equals an hour at a tempo faster than you can process; that's my experience. Slow your tempo and your brain down and you'll learn it right the very first time you read it.

13. Question: You have one of the most fluid sounds ever! What are some suggestions at attaining such fluidity and smoothness in the sound?
Answer: Read Jay Friedman's articles on trumpet playing at jayfriedman.net. The man heard a heck of a lot of good trumpet playing over the years.

14. Question: Do you think aspiring orchestra players in general need to play large diameter mouthpieces?
Answer: Orchestral players should play the largest mouthpiece made. I'd recommend starting with the Bach 1, and if that's too small find a custom shop and open it up bigger. Not really. Mouthpieces are as individual as our sounds. I play the deepest cup I can and still have brilliance and control-sometimes it's a C, sometimes it's a B. Just depends. I play a smaller rim than I did 10 years ago, and I haven't been fired yet.

15. Question: What is the most important skill you need as a section trumpet player? Why?
Answer: John Hagstrom has a terrific interview series in The Brass Herald coming out now where he discusses this. The skills are no different from any other good musician: attentive listening, pitch and tone control, flexibility.
A selfless, flexible attitude is really vital. Playing section trumpet is tough. You're not playing 1st, but you're still a solo voice. Having a confident mindset and humble attitude ready to solve problems is ideal. An orchestral section must also fit in with the brass section, winds and strings, and so being able to listen beyond the confines of trumpets and brass will win you friends in an orchestra quickly.

16. Question: Hey Chris! What do you think is the best (or your favorite) transposition or arrangement for trumpet solo? with or without accompaniment?
Answer: Anything Jens has done!

JensJens Lindemann rehearsing with Brass Band Northwest at NWBF 2014