trumpet aerobics

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trumpet aerobics

Trumpet Aerobics is a method of study utilizing the Alexander Technique by F. Matthias Alexander (1869 – 1955), The Pivot System by Dr. Donald S. Reinhardt (1908-1989), and an inner vision technique I developed and call The Target System. For me it has been a New World Method employing systems and techniques long known, not necessarily accepted, and one I’ve discovered.

I came upon these Systems and technique’s as a result of rehabilitating my damaged lungs from experiencing respiratory failure from double pneumonia.

In December 1995, after spending ten days on life support, and having my lungs evacuated of dried infection and blood, resulting from severe dehydration, I was left with extensive scarring of my lungs, chronic bronchitis, and chronic asthma. With an additional hospital stay to receive respiratory therapy, I was released to continue rehabilitation on my own.

My survival was attributed to being a trumpet player and the years of practicing Yogi Ramacharaka’s breathing exercises as described in his book “The Science of Breath”. The health care professionals assigned to my case made it very clear to me they considered it a miracle I was still alive.

With months of rehabilitation underway, I started to discover sensations I had never paid much attention to. Through the use of the Internet, I started to investigate sports rehabilitation.

By my discovery and study of proprioception, I started developing a technique for identifying the sensations I was experiencing as a result of my practice.

Now I’ve been aware of Dr. Reinhardt’s “Pivot System” for many years. In fact, I’ve always noticed while practicing that I pivot somewhat in order to be effective in executing intervals. But I never made associations with what I was now experiencing.

As part of my practice and rehabilitation I became very dedicated to longtones and lip flexibility exercises.

I adopted, as a part of my mental involvement while practicing, a meditative examination comparing my sounds to the sensations I was experiencing.

A result from this personal study was a discovery and an awareness of proprioceptive skills.

These newly acquired, and constantly improving skills, were beginning to point me into a direction of how to practice.

I stopped experiencing fatigue in my practice and in my music performance. My practice sessions turned into workouts.

I started using my mind’s eye to visualize my mouthpiece as a target. From my developing skills I began relating the movements I made (pivots) with upstream and downstream air direction. I noticed my air direction targeting along an imaginary vertical line, running down the middle of my mouthpiece, from the top quadrant of the inside rim to the bottom quadrant.

A sense of position started to develop along the target line representing pitches. I began to visualize the targets similar to those on a dartboard. I could identify and go to these targets with an upstream or downstream air delivery, and be more precise with my pitches. My pitch accuracy began to improve, and the effort needed to play decreased.

I started combining The Target System with the Alexander Technique and, of course, the Pivot System in my workouts.

I started utilizing some simple scale and arpeggio exercises I could play with my eyes closed, so I could focus, concentrate and picture the relationships being developed.

I started applying, what I was now calling Trumpet Aerobics, to Clarke’s Technical Studies, and began to experience his exercises as he had intended. Being sure to “practice carefully, avoiding mistakes, and pounding those valves”, the air exercises Clarke had envisioned began to emerge.

A few years ago I came across a book in the voice studio of a fellow colleague of mine. It was at this local community college, where I was teaching trumpet, that I found a copy of Richard Alderson’s “Complete Handbook of Voice Training”. Alderson’s book gave me the confidence I needed to realize I was on a legitimate road to musical improvement.

Always on the prowl for information I came across a website called “Trumpet Stuff”. Greg Evens’ educational page is loaded with audio and video files of some of the world’s greatest trumpet players. It was here that I discovered a page dedicated to
Bud Brisbois. By way of Nick Brisbois’ page a link brought me to Kevin Seeley’s page. Mr. Seeley had secured a transcript of a clinic given by Bud along with an article of remembrances from friends and colleagues. In the clinic Bud talks about feeling a “sensation”. I submit it here…

"If I were to think of all of these little tiny things that go on or supposedly take place, I'd drive myself crazy. I don't think of things in terms of degrees, it's a feeling, a sensation, it's building. Now if your going to do lip slurs, which are the best builder for here in the world along with building this part, your going to get a sensation. It's a basic idea and basic feeling. (plays shake, and flexibility exercise) As we go higher I pull a little bit more, focusing on the muscles. It's a matter of building the tension and your muscles.”

I gained much confidence in what I was learning and also teaching knowing those statements were from Bud.

But it was Bill Peterson’s remarks that assured me I was on to something.
“Bud would draw a circle, like he was looking at the inside rim of a mouthpiece and then he would pinpoint little spots inside the mouthpiece where he thought of different notes where he would change his airstream. He'd point his airstream at different spots inside the cup.”

Sometimes we find we’re not the true discoverers of a New World.

Now I truly believe we have to make our own discoveries on how we play the trumpet. Taking into account our physical make up, how we learn, and the millions of things that make us who we are, we can accomplish anything as long as we never stop working.

My ultimate goal is to reduce the overall size of my target, reduce how much I need to pivot, reduce the amount of effort I need to produce sound, so I can improve my efficiency as a musician.

The more efficient I can be, the more I can let go and sing.

The following drawing is a representation of what I try to visualize in my head when targeting pitches. The left view is a cutaway view. The dark line between the two arrow points is what we do in slurring. We slide between the pitches. This sliding needs to become a back and forth movement between the two targets. It should sound like blowing up and down on a harmonica. As the air falls into the slots, a note sounds. By slurring your exercises you discover where your targets are located. Some players call it finding your slots.

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