Practice techniques

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






S-M-P

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In March of 2015 I attended a masterclass given by tubist, Charles Villarrubia, at the Northwest Brass Festival. I had met Charlie, briefly, years before when we were both in Boston and knew him to be a spectacular tubist, even so, I was stunned by his insight and artistry.

At the masterclass I asked Charlie for a few ‘light-bulb' moments; that is, words, instructions, or excersizes that his teachers had employed that had an immediate impact upon him as a player. The techniques he described came from not just tubists, but from a myriad of sources including violinists, singers and other wind musicians. This receptive approach is one of his strengths; his curiosity leads him to seek out new ideas and he accepts productive methods from wherever they come. His response provided some practical tips, and also exposed some of the roots of his success.

He mentioned in passing one of the secrets to his success: his practice routine. He is in his studio at 8:30am warming up everyday. He doesn’t practice when he feels like it, he practices on a set schedule which is nearly unchanging. To instill this ideal into his students he requires them to fill out a practice schedule every week. Not a report on how many hours they practiced last week, but rather exactly when they will practice in the coming week, i.e. scheduling practice as firmly as any class they might be taking.
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His first tip relates to the importance of practicing fudamentals. His early practice session begins with work on exercises from The Brass Gym such as tonguing, slurring, scales, range and endurance--every day. As he drives to his studio at the University of Texas, Austin, he performs breathing exercises, so that when he walks into his studio he is mentally and physically prepared.

The practice technique that he learned from Marianne Gedigian, a flutist and his wife, is the 'Fermata Method.' One plays the first two notes of a phrase adding a fermata to the second note. If the note with the fermata sounds great, then one begins again, this time placing the fermata on the third note. If the fermata note is not great, one repeats until the tone is perfect--the tone, not the note. The musician continues this process until the phrase is complete. This technique is especially helpful for conquering large intervals, i.e. not letting the distance from the previous note impact the quality of the note on which the fermata rests.

For technical passages he likes to practice at 70% speed. If one practices more slowly the fundamental connection of air to note can become distorted. Charlie finds that around 70% of tempo allows him to maintain his usual technique but also overcome difficulties with fingers.

S-M-P comes from his days as a student, when his teacher, Neal Tidwell, tubist for the New Orleans Symphony, would frequently write this on the top of an assignment. S-M-P stands for Sing-Mouthpiece-Play. When Charlie was assigned an etude, he was required to sing, then buzz on his mouthpiece, then, finally, play each phrase on the tuba. This gets to the core of Charlie’s strength as a musician. He doesn’t simply play tuba, he sings music. His core intent is to deliver a musical idea, and he happens to use tuba as his basic tool: his musical impluse is rooted in the lyricism of singing. What is most impressive about a performance by Charles Villarrubia is that, even in the most technical music, such as the Carnival of Venice by Arban, one is most impressed not by his formitable technique, but by his beautiful, lyric tone.

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Fast practice

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Jason Sulliman has posted a great video on fast practice. Rather than starting slowly and clicking up the metronome, fast practice involves starting at tempo but with only a small portion of the passage, gradually adding notes. My favorite method is to start at the end of a passage and to keep adding beats to the front of the lick.
Check out his video on Youtube:
Jason Sulliman fast practice video