For my first blog post, I decided to talk about an often neglected topic…how to play effectively in the low register. If you know much about me you know that I’ve always been a natural low player, but I have given much thought to my approach and exercises on this subject. Keep in mind that even though I will talk technically about several problems, when I address them in my personal playing, I only think of the desired sound. Too much applied analysis leads to paralysis. However, that is no excuse to not think about problems and address them technically, if needed. We must separate our teaching brain and our technical brain, but that is a discussion for another time.
When playing in the low register, keep in mind that the timbre will naturally become less brilliant than the middle and upper registers. If the timbre dulls too much, we run the risk of losing the center of the note, which affects response, sound quality, and agility. In addition the lips spread too far, magnifying this problem. Yes, the aperture needs to expand in order to produce the lower notes, but if it opens too far, the lips will refuse to vibrate resulting in an airy sound, or no sound at all. The volume of air needed in the low register is only slightly more than the middle register, and if we push too much air through the trumpet, the sound will move out of center. Similarly, if the air is too slow the sound will dull, but if the air is too fast the low notes will sound raspy. It, like everything in trumpet, is about finding a balance unique to your playing.
My solution is to retain the brilliance and clarity of the upper register throughout the full range of the trumpet–keeping a brilliant sound requires the lips to only adjust minimally from the middle register while allowing the oral cavity to expand and air volume slightly increase. This will help match the timbre of the higher instruments, which is especially important when playing second trumpet in an orchestra. Some teachers advocate sounding like a trombone in the low register, but I think that keeping the brilliance of a trumpet will help project and will support the upper parts more effectively. Also, we do not need to play extremely loud in the low register with this approach. Many people tend to over blow and the sound shreds. Play softly until you have mastered full control and the desired timbre, and then increase the dynamic level as needed. Remember, a beautiful, full sound is always the goal.
Here are some exercises that may help:
1) Descending Scales (major and minor).
With the metronome on 90bpm, begin on C in the staff and descend the octave in quarter notes while slurring the entire scale. Make sure that you connect the sound completely between the notes. Strive to keep the same timbre throughout the entire scale, and play at a comfortable dynamic (on the soft side for efficiency). Playing too loud may result in negative results and a bad sound. Next, legato tongue the same scale keeping the sound full between notes. Then play the scale again with two 8th notes on each pitch, then with triplet, and then with 16th notes in the same manner.
You can always then play the scale with a variety of articulations and rhythmic patterns. Also, play running scales descending and then ascending always keeping the same timbre. Transpose this exercise down to pedal F. Use the slide extension to make the F in tune.
2) Getchell “First Book of Practical Studies”
Play Etude No. 1 transposed down a 4th on Bb or C trumpet. Also play it down a 5th with your slides extended. I prefer to play this around 70bpm (or slower) extremely soft with a legato tongue. When I say soft, I mean to the point of no response. However, make sure to keep good air support and sound quality. This helps to teach your lips to find the minimum threshold of response. Feel free to do more etudes in the book, but only do one or two at a time.
3) Arban “Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet”
Pages 125 and 126 in the 1982 version (red cover). These Interval studies help with the flexibility of the low register. For low work, only use the first few exercises on each page.
First with the metronome on 80bpm, slur the entire exercise in quarter notes. Remember to connect each note and move exactly in time so that you train the lips to respond to the register change immediately. Next, slur the exercise in groups of two in the same manner as before. Then legato tongue the exercise keeping the sound going until the immediate change. Finally, play the exercise in 8th notes and then 16th notes.
Once again it is important to keep the timbre consistent and brilliant.
(I adapted this method from Mark Hughes)
4) “K” Tongue and Multiple Tonguing.
Multiple tonguing is an important part of mastering the low register. For this, we need to work on “k” tonguing. For this (and multiple tonguing), use the same exercise presented in number 1 above. However, note that the “k” tongue will sound dull and may not have a good front to the articulation. Try to copy the articulation from the single tongue when doing these exercises. Please be aware that you may have a tendency to spread your lips when working on multiple and “k” tonguing. Try and resist this urge and work for clarity and brilliance.
By working on “k” and multiple tonguing in the low register, you will become more comfortable and confident in your approach.
5) Lip Trills
Another way to gain flexibility in the low register is to trill 5ths starting on C below the staff to G in the staff. Descend by following the subsequent partial fingerings. Begin by slowly slurring between the two notes, keeping the sound full and constant. Gradually increase the speed until the trill is obtained. Remember to use plenty of air and let your lips be flexible.
To further expand flexibility, slur C4-G4-C5-G4-C4 quickly. Continue descending via subsequent partial fingerings.
I hope that some of these concepts and exercises will be helpful. If you have any questions, comments, or any other specific issues that I have not addressed, please email me or comment below and I will respond shortly. Thank you!
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.