Sliding My Way to Success

by Rob Walker

 

I have been a professional trumpet player for decades and have always maintained reasonable facility on the horn. While primarily a jazz soloist, my playing experience includes performances with such diverse acts as Ray Charles, The Temptations, The Moody Blues, Natalie Cole, and Wayne Newton, to pit orchestra work on Chicago and Spamalot. Regardless of the amount of practice and devotion, trumpet players inevitably reach plateaus in their lifelong pursuit of performance improvement.  Recently I have been enjoying extended range and endurance, better intonation, and increased agility in my trumpet playing. My secret? Trombone!

 

Until recently, I had not spent much time playing trombone for fear it might interfere with my existing trumpet embrochure. This fear is seemingly held by many trumpeters. While woodwind players easily bounce from instrument to instrument, brass doubling is indeed less common for brass players. I began playing trombone in a Monday night big band a few months ago. At first, I was busy worrying about positions and making all the pitches. I am over that learning curve and am enjoying my new brass instrument. I soon realized that my trumpet playing had benefited as well. 

 

Former Maynard Ferguson trumpeter, Nick Drozdoff says he too sees benefits to his trumpet playing as a result of his doubling. He begins his practice day with about an hour of bass trumpet playing, a ritual he says is shared by another Chicago jazz trumpeter, Art Davis. Nick finds that playing the bass trumpet is relaxing after a tough gig. He says it allows him the ability to focus on HOW to use his embouchure.

 

Lead trumpet guru and Jupiter trumpet artist, Paul Baron has developed a routine of buzzing a trombone mouthpiece to alleviate some lactate build-up, bruising, and swelling he sometimes encounters in the demanding lead trumpet chair of touring Broadway shows. The larger buzzing surface seems to relax his trumpet aperture after a particularly demand stretch of playing. Like many doublers, he finds that doubling requires dedicated practice to the art. He also sees it being easier to move from trumpet to trombone rather than the other way around.

 

John Legend, R.Kelly, Boys II Men, and LL Cool J are just a few of the acts with whom Philadelphia-based doubler Stephen Tirpak has performed and recorded. He is a proficient doubler and even plays souzaphone! He started playing bass trumpet in order to “fix” his trumpet embouchure and enjoyed the ease with which he can play.  He never tires when playing trombone and has found that playing the trombone has indeed provided him insight into his trumpet embouchure.

 

Other doublers that come to mind include Maynard Ferguson, Ziggy Elman, and Mac Gillette, the original Tower of Power trumpeter and trombonist. Each have made doubling a part of his career. Of all the doublers, that most amazing has to be Australian artist, James Morrison. Not only does he double, he plays both trumpet in the same tune, trading four phrases with himself! A extraordinary opportunity to see a person double with an astounding level of proficiency can be had by visiting http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6w4X7ktwWTY&feature=related.

 

Playing trombone can be a valuable learning experience for trumpet players. I have found that my lips are much stronger now after playing trombone for a few months. A stronger, tighter trumpet embouchure can do nothing but improve accuracy, pitch, and range on the trumpet. I would encourage those who have not tried the trombone to give it a try. Here a few pointers for beginning doublers.

1)      Start with Trumpet. Play trombone only after playing trumpet when just starting out. The temporary swelling of the chops from the increased surface area makes it difficult to jump back into the smaller mouthpiece. This will change over time, but it will be difficult at first. Gradually attempt to switch back and forth. Eventually, muscle memory will take over and switching back and forth will be possible. Ultimately, playing trombone first is preferred as it naturally increases airflow and strengthens a greater span of muscles.

2)      Concentrate on airflow. The trombone airstream is much more free flowing that the resistance laden trumpet. The playing of long tones with increasing dynamic levels will strengthen the force of the airstream. This increased air support can only benefit trumpet playing.

3)      Practice double and triple tonguing. The mouth cavity seems to be more open on trombone allowing for greater tonguing facility on trombone. Once that feeling is committed to memory, revisit double and triple tonging on trumpet. With a focus on the more open throat as demonstrated when playing trombone will greatly improve trumpet tonguing.

4)      Practice lip slurs.  By playing through a series of lip slurs on trombone,  one can concentrate on developing tighter corners and overall setup. More importantly, aperture control is vital to playing in the high register on trombone. By developing improved aperture control, the trumpet aperture will benefit from increased strength and efficiency.

5)      Focus on Pitch. Trumpet players are inherently less focused on each pitch since each has only three valves to push and pitch is seemingly automatic. Playing trombone requires listening to each pitch and adjusting each slide position to guarantee accurate intonation. Once this becomes habit, trumpet players will be more adept at listening to each pitch played on the trumpet as well.

 

Trumpet players spend countless dollars on new mouthpieces, lead pipes, horns, and embouchure visualizers, all to seek a slight improvement in tone, pitch, or range. By playing trombone, these improvements will be permanent! Enjoy the journey!

 

About the Author

Rob Walker is a professional trumpet player now residing in Boise, ID. He has played with such acts as Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Four Tops, The Moody Blues, The Temptations, and Wayne Newton. He has played in the pit with Chicago and Spamalot. As a composer, his music can be heard in Disney’s feature film College Road Trip, High School Musical III, and on NBC’s Friday Night Lights, ABC’s One Life to Live, and CBS’s Shark. He is a member of the International Trumpet Guild , American Composers Forum, and ASCAP.  Rob is a Professional Performing Artist for Cannonball Trumpets.

 

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