Note Shapes

Note shapes is a very important part of what makes up a player’s style. It’s never good enough just to play the notes. It’s never good enough just to play in tune. The notes need to have a shape which is appropriate for the music. 

What is “Note Shape”?

Basically we are talking about the dynamic curvature of the notes. In old fashioned “Electronic Music” classes twenty-five years ago we were taught that every note had an A.D.S.R. A.D.S.R. stands for Attack, Delay, Sustain and Release. For us as trumpet players, we also have attack, sustain, delay and release. This is what gives a note its shape.

I remember when I was in school, long before recording studios went digital, when the teachers used hand drawn shapes to give us an idea of what a good note should “look” like. Nine times out of ten a
good trumpet note should look something like this:


Notice the general shape looks something like a rocket. There’s a burst of air at the beginning of the note, followed by the main body of the note and then a smooth release. 

This is NOT the only stylistically correct note shape. It depends on the musical context. But it IS the most common note shape and also possibly the most difficult to master. That’s why we put so much
emphasis on it as teachers.  There is an historical context for this particular note shape. Trumpets were traditionally teamed with drums and even read the same parts as drums in the earliest history of our instruments. This rocket shaped note is consistent with the natural note shape of a drum. Only, it’s not as natural for the trumpet to play this way. 

With the revolution of digital recording, we now have the ability to see these note shapes visually in the studio. I remember the first day I saw my own note shapes on the computer screen. It was a proud moment. I smiled as I recognized the very same shape my teachers taught me to use in my playing. On the computer screen it looks something like this:


Today, as a contractor (the person recording artists will call to hire musicians to record), I can easily see who is playing with the right note shapes and who is not. If I see that a player’s tracks look like this:

noteShape03Then I know this player doesn’t have the skills I’m looking for as a contractor and I won’t hire them again. This is something they should have learned when they were still students and isn’t really
anything they can fix in the studio. So it’s time now for all of you to start working on these note shapes. We will talk about this in our lessons for sure, but think about it between now and then. See if you can recognize these note shapes in the players in your band. See if you can distinguish the ones with drum shapes from those who with waw – waw note shapes.