Babies And Bath Water
For years I have been preaching about the importance of NOT
sacrificing other aspects of your playing to achieve a greater range. But I
realized, a few months ago, that I never really spent the effort or the time
explaining exactly what is meant by this. I’ve found that people have a tendency
to nod their heads in agreement before they fully comprehend the meaning of what
they are agreeing with. I’m the same way, so I’m not trying to find fault with
anyone. But I do think it’s important to make this clarification.
Am I Anti-High Note?
Do I have an attitude towards high notes and high note
I know it may have seemed in the past that I am against
getting a better range. Of course, this is ridiculous. I have a pretty good
range myself and I had to “get it”. I wasn’t a natural high note
player. But two things may have caused people to think that I am anti-high note.
The first and most important of those two things is that I didn’t know how to
say what I’m saying in this essay. I didn’t know how to put these
“feelings” into words and I think I tended to get bent out of shape
and emotional out of the frustration of not being able to say what I meant. Then
to make matters worse, the second thing is that I don’t practice range
exercises. I’ll talk more about that latter in this essay, but imagine the
effects it had on people when I got “bent out of shape” talking about
high notes and then told them that I don’t practice range. How easy it must have
been to make that generalization and label me with the “anti-high
Basically, my position on this subject is one of “Don’t
throw the baby out with the bath water.” Don’t throw the rest of your
trumpet playing away just to add a few notes to your upper register. Don’t
sacrifice other aspects or your playing to gain a greater range.
What Does It Mean?
What does it mean when we say this?
“Don’t sacrifice the other aspects of your playing just
to make your range better.”
To me, it really comes down to:
“How are you spending your practice time?”
“What do you work on when you practice?”
“What’s important to you?”
“Where are your priorities?”
Even though I personally do not practice range exercises, I
don’t have any hang ups about people who do. So don’t misunderstand me on this.
Even if you read this entire essay and still feel a need to practice range
studies, know that I’m not saying that you shouldn’t. What I am saying is that
the time you spend practicing should be prioritized in a way which covers the
other, more important aspects of your playing FIRST!!!!
Some trumpet players say they have only about an hour to
practice each day and during that hour they only have time to practice their
range stuff. In other words, all these players EVER practice is range
exercises! THAT is what I mean when I say “sacrificing other aspects
of your playing to get a better range”.
What you practice should be determined by your priorities.
Obviously, someone who ONLY practices range exercises and nothing else
appears to be someone who makes range the top priority. If I have an attitude
towards high notes and high note players, it’s towards these players who only
care about the range and nothing else.
What are your priorities? Do your practice habits reflect
A lot of times I question players who practice only range
exercises and learn that they do this because they don’t know what else to do.
They do have other priorities, but don’t know how to work that out in their
practice sessions. The problem is that an hour each day is simply not enough
time to get in the more important STUFF and THEN work on range.
I’ve said it before and I truly believe it – if you only practice an hour each
day, then you don’t have time to work on range unless you make it your highest
I would say that, if you want to practice range exercises, you
should be practicing at least two hours per day…..and no more than thirty
minutes of that two hours should go towards practicing range.
Why should our practice time reflect our musical priorities?
Well, think about it. What are those “more important aspects” of
trumpet playing? I don’t want to answer that question for anyone but myself. But
here are some of my more important aspects:
My practice sessions reflect these priorities. The majority of
my practice time, from 60% to 75%, goes towards learning literature. You can’t
learn phrasing, style or musicality by practicing exercises. And then for
exercises, long tones, lip slurs, articulation studies and scales are far more
important to me than range studies. If I wanted to practice range exercises, it
would have to happen AFTER I’ve fulfilled these other more important
If I don’t practice these things, my playing suffers. And here
is where we get to the “Throw the baby out” part of the essay. I’ve
been reading, studying, meeting, learning from hundreds of different kinds of
trumpet players over the years. Although there is no consensus as to what
rudiments should be practiced, only an insignificant number of players have ever
told me that they don’t believe in practicing rudiments. So there is a
general consensus that rudiments are important. If you don’t practice some sorts
of rudiments, your playing will suffer.
How will it suffer?
If you don’t work on phrasing and spend all of your practice
time on high notes, you will sound like a trumpet “meat head” when you
perform in public. People think that high note playing is exciting because of
the high notes, but it’s not. The single most exciting thing about high note
trumpet playing is the phrasing. From Maynard to Arturo, it’s all about
phrasing. If you don’t work on phrasing, you will sound like a Jr. High player
with lot’s of high chops. No one will want to hear it.
To me, style is stuff like note lengths, accents, vibrato and
embellishments. Style is what makes trumpet players sound like human people and
not just machines. A player who never practices style and only practices range
will sound crude and unrefined. And I don’t mean that in a stuck up, snobby kind
of way. Sometimes “rough around the edges” is an acceptable or even
desirable style. But someone who doesn’t spend time working on style is someone
who cannot control their style. Most of these players sound awful.
It’s obvious that getting a good sound should be a priority.
Even most of the exclusive high note guys say so. But my point is that time
should be spent in the practice sessions working on sound. If you don’t work on
sound and only practice range exercises, you will be able to play high, but most
likely with such a horrible sound that people will not want to hear it.
Most players I know who have adequate control over their
technique say that it should be addressed on a regular basis. If all you
practice is range and never work on technique, then you will not have the
proficiency to play the music required in a performance situation. What good is
it for you to be able to play high if you can’t play the part? What will you do,
sit back and wait to squeal a high note for the last note of the piece?
Technique gives us the proficiency to play music. Without it, you are totally
useless as a player.
Many of the so called high note methods focus on flexibility
pretty well. So I won’t say much here beyond just saying that flexibility is
important and should not be neglected.
I mention articulation specifically because many of the high
note methods I’ve seen never include any articulation. Think about it.
Articulation is a skill that must be nurtured and learned. If you NEVER tongue
anything, ever, then how will you be able to do so when it’s called for?
It is a sacrifice!
Do you see now? If you don’t spend enough time on these
things, you won’t grow as a player. If you don’t work on these more important
aspects of trumpet playing, it won’t matter how high you can play, you still
won’t be any better of a player than before you could play high. Higher range in
and of itself does not make a person a better player. Greater range without
improvement in the more important areas of trumpet playing only make you more
annoying, not better. Rarely do people mind when bad players keep it to
themselves. But when you play badly, up high and real loud, it’s down right
offensive. It’s not something anyone should ever be proud of.
Is that what you want as a player?
Time Restrictions Summary
Now, getting back to the point I made about time restrictions.
If you practice an hour each day or less, then you don’t have time to practice
range. If you do, you will surely be “Throwing the baby out with the bath
water.” If you have your heart set on practicing range exercises, I
recommend that you increase the amount of time you spend practicing so that it
can include the more important work AND the range exercises. Two hours should do
When I acquired my range, I did it without EVER
practicing range exercises. So, if you are someone who simply cannot practice
more than an hour each day but need to develop a greater range, don’t give up
hope. My approach to gaining better range is one of expanding those other
aspects of trumpet playing to include your full current range. This is the
subject of another essay I call “Use It or Loose It” and I won’t go
into details here. But I felt the need to point out that range exercises are not
the only way to acquire range. In fact, I believe that practicing range
exercises is an undesirable way to gain range. I don’t try to discourage people
from going that route because everyone needs to decide what’s best for them. All
I’m saying is that there is an alternative and for me and many of my students,
this alternative is more desirable than practicing the range exercises.
Other Related Essays:
I have several essays which are tied to this one with a common
theme. For example, if you’d like to see a list of stuff to practice, check out
my Check List page. Another closely related essay is my essay called “Range
Familiarity” where I discuss other benefits of practicing across your
entire current range. Another VERY closely related essay is “It’s Not All
Physical” which explains the importance of keeping musical literature in
your practice sessions.
Here is a copy of a post I sent to TPIN. Basically it’s the
same thing as what I just wrote above. I’m including it here because it’s
significant to me. This was the first time I was ever able to put these feelings
into words. My original intention was to use this post as a model for the essay
and not include it here. But I think the two compliment each other well. So I’ve
decided at the last minute to include it after all.
Subject: Floundering Around on Range and High Notes
Date: Sat, 04 Aug 2001 13:34:51 -0700
From: Eddie Lewis <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Organization: FlashNet User
To: tpin <email@example.com>
Every once in a while I get to a subject that I simply
cannot express my
feelings very well. This high note thing is one of them. I just read my
other post and I didn’t like the way it came out. But I really don’t
know if I can do any better than just flounder.
To me, it really comes down to “how are you spending your time?”.
most of the players on this list “Come Back” players? Most of the
players I’ve taught were terribly short changed in terms of how much
time they had to devote to the instrument. Between jobs and family
commitments, there’s really not a lot of time left to practice.
So, what do you spend your time practicing? What’s
important to you?
Where are your priorities?
If you practice only one hour per day (this is a lot for
most CB players), how much of that time will you spend working on range?
impression, from what I read on this list, that many of you spend almost all
of that time working on range. It’s my belief that, if you have only an hour
or less each day to practice, then NONE of that time should be spent working
on range because there are far too many other things which are much more
I believe that the bare minimum of what everyone SHOULD
practice includes; physical rudiments (long tones, etc.), scales and other
technical studies and an equal amount of literature. I tell my students that
their “Physical” work should be no more than half of their
practice time. If you have only an hour to practice each day, then AT LEAST
one half of that should be spent on literature. Didn’t Jack Taylor just tell
us that “Music is what it’s really all about, right?”? I agree. I
believe that if you’re not putting at least half of your practicing time
into literature, then you are missing the point. What do I mean by
And if your practice time is one hour per day or less, and
you work on physical rudiments, scales and literature, when are you going to
have the time to practice range? There’s no time left. And THAT is what I
mean when I say “Don’t sacrifice other aspects of your playing for
range”. I don’t think many people understand what this means. When I
say it, I’m referring to how you spend your time in the
practice room. If you are short on time for practicing and you spend that
time working on range instead of the “bare minimum”, then you are
indeed making such a sacrifice.
Remember that old saying, “you are what you
eat”? Well, music is the same way. You are what you practice. If you
are not taking care of the “bare minimum”, it will show in your
playing and no amount of range work will make up for it.
Fortunately for me, I figured out these
“priorities” about fifteen years ago and found ways to gain range
without EVER spending ANY time working on it. You don’t have to practice
range to gain range. I haven’t practiced anything range related since that
time, fifteen years ago. And yet, my range has not stopped growing.
So don’t think that, just because you are giving up the
range work to practice the “bare minimum” it does NOT mean that
your range will stop growing. As many people on this list have said, being a
better player is sometimes all it takes to get a better range. Now I don’t
feel like I’m floundering anymore. I think this pretty much sums up my
point. I have NOTHING against practicing range. But the “bare
minimum” should ALWAYS come first. When you’ve finished working on
that, then and only then is it alright to work on range. And if you only
have an hour to practice each day, in my opinion, that’s the only reason to
NOT work on range. If that’s all the time you have, then you have more
important things to work on, things that, if you don’t work on them,
then the chances are the range work won’t be very effective either. That
would be like building a high rise office building without laying a solid
foundation first. How steady will it stand?