Part of developing a great orchestral trumpet sound is understanding the relationship between resonance and intonation. In order to play with a good, clear sound, you have to play each note where it naturally produces the most resonance on the trumpet. This is called playing in the resonant center of the note. However, this is not to be confused with the correct pitch of each note. Unfortunately, the trumpet is built out of tune with itself and the resonant center is often different from the pitch center. For example, the first valve is cut short for the notes D5 and F4; the third valve is cut short for Ab’s and Eb’s. This causes F5, A’s, D4, E’s, and C#4 to be sharp without the extension of the slides. Also, C5 and G5 are usually sharp. Since the trumpet does not play in tune, our tendency becomes to use lip strength to bend the notes to achieve the desired pitch. However, this compromises the timbre of the trumpet since bending the note out of the resonant center may cause it to become dull in nature. There is an easy solution to this problem. Since the trumpet has movable slides, you should use them to correct the pitch. I also installed a pitchfinder* so that I can move the intonation of the notes that cannot be altered by the use of slides (C4, C5, G5, etc.).
Here is how I approach the concept of playing in the resonant center of the trumpet. Place a tuner on the stand and play slow scales covering all registers (and dynamics). First, play each note with your eyes closed, obtain the most resonant sound with the least amount of effort–this means that the sound should sound full and effortless while leaving a ringing sound in the room after you stop the note–Then, look at the tuner and adjust the pitch with your slides or pitchfinder while maintaining the same timbre as before. By using the slides to adjust the pitch, you actually reduce the strain on your lips, allowing them to vibrate freely and efficiently. The less you bend the note with your lips, the more resonance you will obtain. (I often find that students use their lips to lower the pitch in addition to the slides. Try to avoid this because by using both lips and slides, you work unnecessarily hard and risk the sound becoming dull. You may just have to use more slide to compensate). When you open your eyes and look at the tuner, write down on staff paper which notes are sharp, which are flat, and which are in tune. Also, write down how sharp or flat each note is (ex. -10 means 10 cents flat while +15 means 15 cents sharp)*. This method taught me all of my pitch tendencies while allowing me to learn how to play in the resonant center of each note without manipulating the sound to play “in tune.” I once again stress the fact that the resonant center of your trumpet may not be the correct pitch center and that each type of trumpet you play (Bb, C, Eb, Picc) will have a different resonant center and require different adjustments to play in tune.
While addressing the resonant center of the sound, also listen for clarity of sound. The most attractive sounds are often the purest ones, meaning without any fuzz or fluff in the sound. There are always exceptions and there have been great players who did not have a pure sound, but for orchestral playing, I prefer clarity.
* I had my pitchfinder installed by Charlie Melk. Please visit his website for more information: www.charliesbrassworks.com
* Use an adequate tuner, or tuner app that shows you how many cents sharp/flat you play. For example, I use iStroboSoft on my iPhone and it picks up the sound quickly and you can even put a noise filter on it so that it picks your sound up better.
This blog will mainly be used to discuss aspects of trumpet playing. Please feel free to comment on any post or email me with questions or topics.