The warm up and routine session are the most critical practice sessions during the day since their effectiveness will greatly determine how easy or difficult the trumpet is to play. A comprehensive routine will add consistency to the regular, daily performing done by the musician. Unfortunately, many musicians (myself included) become too busy (or too lazy) to incorporate a proper, well-designed routine into their schedule. While forgoing a formal routine session for a few days is necessary during a time of heavy playing (to prevent injury from over-playing), a thoughtful short warm up will suffice until the musician has ample time to devote to a routine session. Playing without an adequate warm up and routine session for extended periods of time will likely lead to frustration and regression in the technical aspects of trumpet playing. Balancing these two sessions with the rest of your playing duties will contribute to a long, healthy, fulfilling career.
There must be a difference between the warm up and the routine sessions, as they have different purposes. While the purpose of the warm up is to prepare the musician for the day’s work and to prevent injury by overexertion, the routine session serves as a time of learning and experimenting in order to increase the effectiveness and ease of techniques used during performances. The common approach to routine is to put the session in the morning in order to “start the day with correct technique.” While there is merit to this approach, it is not the only way, since the morning may not be the best placement of the routine session for every player. For example, musicians with performing jobs need to sound fresh for early morning rehearsals and may not be able to devote the time to a full routine session before the first rehearsal of the day. Therefore, the (short) warm up should suffice as a reminder of how to play the trumpet and allow the musician to freely play the rehearsal or performance with ease. Then, later in the afternoon or evening, the routine session should be scheduled.
The overarching criteria for the warm up is that it should be as short as possible in order to prepare the musician for the day’s playing.*How to know when you are warmed up: When you can easily play your full range with a great sound and clear, easy articulation.* This can take anywhere from five minutes up to forty-five minutes depending on the condition of the players’ lips from the previous day’s (or week’s) work. There are days where I feel ready to play almost immediately, but on some days I must work longer to regain control over the trumpet due to heavy playing the day before. The warm up is highly personal and should change as the player changes with time and age. However, I focus on these steps in the warm up (these are examples and the specific exercises with each section change every day):
1) I ensure that my breathing is strong, exciting, and without tension. I do not have any specific exercises besides taking a breath as if I were to play a C in the staff at mezzo forte to forte and exhaling while picturing a great sound. When I practice breathing with a great sound in mind, I am taking the conscious focus away from the breath and move it to my imagination (where the sound originates), thereby allowing the breath to become as natural and free as possible to create the desired sound. I repeat this “exercise” until I feel satisfied that I have reminded myself how to breathe.
2) I start in the middle of my range and slowly slur scales up one octave, down to the original note, down to the octave below, and then back to the starting note while focusing on air flow, ringing sound, and smooth connection between each note. I then transpose the scales upward as high as I can play. I will often stop on pitches I feel are not resonant and improvise on scalar patterns around the note(s) to enable it to resonate correctly.
3) I play the scales again with various articulation patterns – First, I single tongue four 16th notes on each pitch, then single tongue the scale with running 16th notes to incorporate flexibility. Then, I will double tongue the scale with four to eight 16th notes per pitch. In this session, I work to make sure each note speaks clearly and easily while not over-tonguing or forcing.
4) I will spend some time playing lip slurs. I prefer octaves, since if I can slur them, I can handle pretty much any other slur during the upcoming session(s).
By this point (and usually earlier in the warm up) I feel comfortable playing whatever pieces I have to rehearse or perform in the upcoming session. While the exercises change each day, my ideas of warming up remain the same. First breath and sound, slurring, articulation, then lip slurs. I also use a variety of dynamics and styles throughout the warm up.
The purpose of the Routine Session should be to make the trumpet as easy as possible through the systematic removal of technical problems by sound-driven experimentation. For example, if you change a part of your playing and it sounds better, continue playing in the new manner; but it the change produces a worse sound, keep experimenting until it sounds better than before.
However, you should first determine what parts of your technique need the most work. I have a running list of techniques that I wish to improve upon. I evaluate and update the list at least every month to ensure I am focusing on the technique that give me the most problems. For example, here is a past list:
1) Soft Articulation: ST, DT, TT in all registers, but focusing on upper and lower.
2) Changing registers without changing approach – Arban p. 125 exercises.
3) Range building exercises utilizing the partial system (starting low and progressing higher).
4) Articulation in upper register – not relying on tongue arch.
5) Overall – using the same intensity of air in all registers (faster in the low register to facilitate the upper register.
The more detailed your list can be, the faster you will improve and eliminate the problem. When I practice these issues in my routine, I either make up exercises that focus on the problem areas, or I will pull out etude books that cover one or multiple techniques. The idea of the routine is to spend the least amount of time on each category to make it better. Short, daily work with improve a technique quickly while allowing you to work on multiple issues at once.
When practicing routine, it is best to ensure that the approach is one of ease and reliance on air – not solely embouchure. By relying on air and letting the embouchure be free to vibrate, the sound will become more resonant and many techniques will become easier in the long-run. I also approach the trumpet the same in each register and dynamic level in order to play more easily and efficiently.
Remember that you should always practice the way you want to play, not the way you currently play. In the routine session, failure is a great tool. When I am attempting to make certain techniques easier, often I will fall off notes, crack notes, or otherwise not sound great. When this occurs, I simply reset and focus on the approach and the desired sound. Then I play the exercise again and most times it improves. The reason the exercise failed is because my body has not adjusted to the new manner of playing. However, given the correct approach over time, I have found that my body will adjust to the new way of playing and I sound better than I did before. Sometimes adjusting to a new playing style takes time and you should push through the inconsistencies for the benefit of the end goal – but only if your overall sound and ease of playing improved. If you changed a technique and it does not sound better or make it easier to play, then it may be prudent to keep experimenting until you achieve your desired sound. Just because a technique works for someone else, does not mean it will work for you!
By developing a routine specific to your individual needs, you will find that progress comes faster and easier than when blindly following another teacher or player’s routine/warm up. How we approach the trumpet is vastly more important than playing specific exercises. If we make the trumpet easy to play, we will enjoy it more.
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.