Warm Up and Routine Work

(Origionally posted 11/7/2016)

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.

owever, 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.

Philip Hembree
A Sound Centered Approach to Technical Work

(Origionally posted 9/18/2016)

All too often musicians approach their technical studies purely by how it feels, or by where they should place certain body parts, which causes a disconnection between technical and musical practice/performing. While it is useful to be in touch with how the instrument feels, it is only part of the complete package. By focusing purely on feel, the sound may begin to suffer, and then the technical practice becomes useless. Unless you sound great and play musically, your technique does not matter.Audiences would much rather a musician play with a beautiful, resonant sound and exciting musical ideas than attend a note-perfect performance in which the performer plays robotically, with an ugly sound. All technical work should be centered on sound and phrasing. (When focusing on sound, remember that it includes the entire picture, not just your tone. “Sound” includes style, dynamics, starts and ends of notes, connection, and clarity of articulation) However, the technical practice session is also the time to make physical adjustments to better your sound and ease of playing. If the sound and physical parts of practicing are in balance (more focus on sound, and less on the physical), your results should be positive.

Since the purpose of technical work is to improve your playing so that is will transfer to your daily performing and literature practice, we should ensure that we practice with musicality, a great sound, and good phrasing. If we accomplish this task, then there is a harmonious transfer of technical work to performing, and less time will be spent on technique during the other practice sessions in the day. For example: I hear many students play with poor sound and no phrasing on technical exercises, and when I ask why their sound suffers, they make the excuse, “I am working on finger technique, so it’s ok if I don’t have a good tone and phrasing.” This type of thinking is prevalent, among younger players, but it is detrimental to their musical development because the bad habits formed in the technical session will bleed into their performing. By playing technical passages with a poor sound and without phrasing, two results can occur. They teach their body and minds that when fast technical passages occur that it is acceptable to play without a good sound or phrasing, and play their prepared pieces as such. Or, when they attempt to play a solo or etude covering the technique in question, it falls apart because of the lack of musical technique practice. This disconnection between technical and musical practice is what causes problems in performance and with consistency. While technical work is necessary for improvement and maintenance, we should always place sound and phrasing at the forefront of our thinking.

We must demand that our sound is beautiful, and our phrasing is obvious during technical practice sessions. If practiced intentionally, this concept will help bridge the gap between technical and musical practice and will lead to more consistency when performing. When we approach technical work musically with a great sound, it will benefit our overall playing exponentially.

Philip Hembree
The Art of Double and Triple Tonguing Books

(Originally posted 5/31/2016)

I am happy to announce that I am now offering my new books, "The Art of Double Tonguing" and "The Art of Triple Tonguing" from my website! The 58 and 52 - page books are a compilation of exercises that I wrote while preparing for professional auditions. In the books, I explain my approach to multiple tonguing and how to incorporate it as a healthy part of a balanced routine. I also have divided each book into five sections: Clarity, Speed, Flow Exercises, Flexibility, and Etudes. By dividing the multiple tongue into clearly-defined sections, and addressing each function individually, complete mastery of multiple tonguing becomes attainable. 

Since I wrote these exercises in preparation for auditions, they may stretch the comfort level of most everyone who plays them. However, by learning the exercises slowly and correctly, you may find that multiple tonguing passages in your daily performing become easier. I personally work on sections of each book on a weekly basis and have seen great progress in my articulation over the past two years. While these books are aimed at multiple tonguing, they are also great for single tonguing practice, and provide exercises for bridging the single/multiple tonguing gap.

I hope that you will download the books and that you enjoy working through them as I have! If you choose to purchase them, and find that they work for you, please help me spread the word! You will find the books under the "Books" tab of my website.

Update 7/12/2018: These books can now be found in the online shop

Philip Hembree
Principles of Practice

(Origionally posted 3/2/2016)

In order to become successful at any musical instrument, you must first learn how to practice efficiently and effectively. For me, this process took many years of experimentation, and every day I am still learning what type of practice works best. While the specifics of daily practice are different for each musician, I have complied eight principles that will help streamline and improve your daily practice sessions.

1. Know why practicing is necessary. The purpose of practicing a musical instrument is threefold. They are listed in order of importance. First, practicing should be designed to eliminate any technical and musical problems in your playing that prevent you from becoming the best musician in your field. This is essential if you have aspirations of becoming a professional musician, or wish to win a better job. The musicians winning jobs practice efficiently and spend a significant amount of time working to better their technique so that they are free to express themselves musically. When you take an audition, you are competing against these musicians, and if you ever hope to win, you need to approach your practice as seriously as they do. Second, practicing your instrument serves to maintain your technique at the highest level. Practicing routine maintenance is the only way to keep your technique from regressing. If you are not moving forward, you are likely moving backward – standing still is not an option. Third (while very obvious it is also least important), you should use your practice sessions to learn and perfect the music that you will perform. The reason that this is the least important of the three purposes is that if your technique becomes impeccable, then you will learn and perfect music quickly. All music consists of an arrangement of scales, arpeggios, and other technical exercises. If you practice your technique properly, learning a new work is simply playing a game of connect the dots. However, if you find that your technical work is not allowing you to practice in this manner, you may want to invent exercises that help with the technique(s) in question. It is also wise to practice music that you will not perform, such as etudes. This will keep you well rounded and flexible.

2. Practice only when you have the necessary mental and physical energy to devote to the session. Practicing when you are tired, physically or mentally, can be counterproductive. You may start making mistakes that you ordinarily would not, or your muscles may physically rebel – forcing you to change the way you play (not for the better). A focused, productive session requires an immense amount of mental exertion – more so than the physical part. This means that you should practice during the parts of the day in which you feel most alert. Those times could be in the morning and mid afternoon, or in late afternoon and evening. They are different for each person, so you must discover what works best for you. If you practice while alert, your sessions produce better results than when you practice when mentally exhausted. Similarly, the physical demands of the instrument may limit your practice time. When you can no longer produce a great (not good – great) sound, or when your flexibility begins to suffer, it may be time end the session. Continuing to play may result in frustration, or worse, permanent damage. Remember that resting is equally important as time spent on your instrument. While you may not always have the luxury of playing when fresh, do not put excess strain on your muscles by over practicing.

3. Hold yourself to the highest standard of playing in your field. You should practice as if someone is listening critically to everything you play. You may be accustomed to having people listen to and analyze your performances, but maybe not your practice sessions. If you practice the way in which you wish to perform, you will take the sessions more seriously. Pretend your teacher, or colleagues are listening to your practice, as this will encourage you to bring your sessions into focus and will improve your work ethic. Even when you work on technique, play it artfully and with expression. You play solo pieces musically and with style, so play the technical exercises as you would play a solo or orchestral excerpt. It is unacceptable to play without style and musicality – especially in the practice room, since your practice habits come forward in performances. Playing out of tune, out of time, or with a bad sound, is also unacceptable. Raise your standards and listen to yourself as a committee or a knowledgeable audience would.

4. Have a goal for each session and fulfill it in the shortest amount of time possible. Make your practice sessions goal-oriented rather than time-oriented. By focusing on fulfilling goals in each session, you will not be tempted to over-practice in order to meet some preconceived time allotment. Time allotments help children practice their instruments on a daily basis, but they have unfortunately crept into university teaching. The only qualifications for practicing should be that you make improvement in each session, that you cover your bases with technical work, and that you are prepared to play any piece of music required of you. This takes a significant amount of time each day, but the amount of time should be allowed to fluctuate depending on how quickly you accomplish your goals. For example, your warm up and technical work could take anywhere from fifteen to ninety minutes. Working on a solo could take an equally wide range of time. Once you have worked through the techniques and literature you assigned for that day, stop. However, you may continue the session if you provide yourself with more goals and if you have the energy to continue. It is better for you to practice intelligently rather than practice for a long period of time. There is no glory in boasting that you practice for six hours a day, when you could accomplish the same amount of work in three hours or less.

5. Learn which techniques required daily, weekly, or monthly work. Younger musicians sometimes have the misconception that they need to cover every technique on a daily basis. This inevitably leads to drawn out technical sessions, which can produce high levels of mental and physical fatigue. Instead, you should compile a master list of the techniques required to play your instrument. From this list, pick your weakest couple (3-5) – these are the techniques requiring daily attention. After your warm up (less than 10 minutes in length), work on these techniques from the ground up. This means that you spend time thinking about how the technique works at its most basic level (for trumpet: air flow, muscle movement, etc.). By understanding everything about the technique, you will gain insight on how to fix it. You may even notice that most technical problems are connected through a common source, which, once corrected will improve the remainder of your technical problems. Next, pick several more (7-20)– these are the ones requiring weekly work. Since you should already have mastered these techniques, spend a small amount of time refining them. This work is necessary for maintaining proper technical function. Finally, the remaining techniques on the list are the ones requiring monthly visits. For trumpet, these techniques should include extended techniques, shakes, lip trills, etc. You do not need these often, but it is good to refresh your memory on how to play them. Please note that the three lists (other than the master list) should be in a state of flux. At least once a month, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and adjust the list accordingly. Spend time working on your weaknesses so that they will become strengths. Once they do so, then find another technique to work on daily.

6. Do not play anything twice without fixing something. Another way of putting this is – Make sure that you have a purpose for everything you play. Before you mindlessly repeat a passage of music because “It doesn’t sound right,” think about what you want to change. If you do not have a specific reason for repeating it, then why should you? If you play an excerpt of a piece and scuff a few notes or play out of tune, play that section slower - or out of context - and fix your mistakes. Thinking that they will magically fix themselves on the second time is a risky game to play and you may very well play the passage badly the second time and further ingrain the mistakes into your playing. Also, do not deceive yourself by saying, “it’s just a fluke,” or “that’s never happened before…I’ll be fine.” If it happened once, it can happen again during a high-pressure situation – so fix every problem, no matter how small or infrequent it is. Taking the time to fix your mistakes will produce better and faster results. It will also keep you from re-learning the passage again in the future. The worst feeling is picking up a piece that you learned a month ago and finding that the problems that you “fixed” are still present. It may be frustrating to put in the slow, detailed work, but it will prevent problems down the road.

7. Record yourself every day. This should be an obvious statement to most musicians. In order to assess your playing properly, you need to listen to yourself on a regular basis. When you play the recording, approach it with the mindset of a teacher or a panel of professional musicians. Ask yourself, “Would I hire this person to play in X ensemble?” or, “Would I buy a recording of this?” If your answer is “no,” then ask yourself, “Why not?” Write down your suggestions of what to alter as if you were giving comments to the person playing. Be completely honest and do not make excuses for the playing. However, keep your comments constructive and helpful. After you have written your comments, fix the problems in the excerpt of music with concentrated work (see point 6). Do not play the entire piece again until you have addressed each issue. When you do completely play the piece, have the mindset of a performer and trust that the work you accomplished will have fixed the problems that you heard.

8. Learn the tendencies of each of your instruments. If you play multiple instruments regularly or semi-regularly, it is important to learn their tendencies (pitch, and other). This is especially important for trumpet players who need to play rotary or piccolo trumpet. For example, the pitch tendencies on the rotary trumpet are significantly different from the piston trumpet, and the response and timbre differences can prove misleading. You should spend time working through technical exercises on each instrument you own. The only way to sound competent on each is to play them often.

If you have questions about the content of this article, or wish to see a breakdown of my personal practice schedule (and exercises), please contact me via the contact page on my website, or leave a comment with your contact information.

n addition, in the summer of 2016, I will begin to sell a series of books that help with technical work on the trumpet. The first two books concentrate on double tonguing and triple tonguing and they contain exercises that relate to the practice principles I have listed in the above article. Specifically, these multiple tonguing books help me maintain my double and triple tonguing. They are also challenging enough that, after working through the books, I feel comfortable playing almost any multiple tonguing passage of music in my job.

Philip Hembree
Handling Disappointment in Auditions

(Origionally posted 1/2/2016)

At some time in our lives, we all experience the feeling of disappointment. It can surface after being dismissed during a round in an audition, when you reach the finals and do not win, when you fall on your face during a recital, or when you are in a rehearsal and let your colleagues down. I have experienced each of these disappointments first hand, but there has been one constant; facing and overcoming disappointments has made me a better musician, and person. This article will address the disappointment caused by auditions. Before you dismiss this article because I have won a job, keep in mind that it took me roughly twenty-two auditions before I was able to win.

When faced with a disappointing audition (one you do not win, or one in which you play poorly), there are two choices of how to react. The first is to make excuses for why you did not win. For example, if you do not advance, you could say, “The panel is being too picky,” or “The list was too hard, it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to play it well,” or even, “I played it perfectly, and they should have advanced me – how did person x advance, but not me?” However, this choice of action is completely useless, in that it does not prevent the situation from recurring and will only cause frustration and bitterness. You need to quickly move past the initial emotional response and focus on the facts of the situation. You cannot blame the weather, altitude, time of day, time you spend waiting, or the panel, because everyone deals with the same issues as you, and these factors are out of your control. Instead, focus on the factors that you can control.

This leads to your second choice, which is to ask yourself, “How can I learn from this situation?” Begin by listening to a recording of the audition and objectively writing down every flaw that you hear. If you do not hear any, you are not listening attentively (Even when I listened back to my audition for the Colorado Symphony, I found many improvable parts of my playing). Once you have written down your critique, make a list of the corresponding techniques and address them every day until they become your strengths. Make sure that you work on these techniques from the ground up, meaning that you find the most efficient, musical way to make it consistently perfect. Take the time to work slowly through each technique, ensuring that you can play everything with ease and with a beautiful sound. Eventually, you will have eliminated all your weaknesses, and have control of every technique required to win an audition and successfully play the job.

This was the process that enabled me to win my job, and I still use it to work through my flaws on trumpet. My philosophy was (and is), if I am eliminated from an audition because of a specific technique, I promise myself that I will never be eliminated for the same problem. For example, if double tonguing caused my elimination from an audition, I will work to make it flawless for the next audition. I may be eliminated for something else, but it will not be double tonguing. This actually happened to me in an audition I attended. I did not advance to the finals, but I was afforded comments by two members of the panel. One voted “yes” and the other, “no.” The member who voted “no” told me that he had concerns about my double tonguing and if it had been better, he would have voted “yes.” Since then, I have worked hard to improve my double tonguing and I was even inspired to write many double tonguing exercises, which I have organized into a book…coming soon. I broke down the technique into what I consider to be the four basic types of double tonguing; Clarity, Speed, Fluidity, and Flexibility. By dividing the technique into these sections, I was able to strengthen my double tongue immensely through concentrated practice. These exercises also increased the range of my double tonguing, which improved other techniques - such as my tone, range, control, and overall ease of playing. The next audition that I attended, I won. Double tonguing was the last step for me, but the process is different for everyone.

Throughout my many auditions, I have realized that disappointment can be a useful tool and lead to great improvements. When you eliminate the emotional urges to make excuses, you can objectively focus on improving after each disappointing circumstance. In my career, the most frustrating situations produced perseverance and led to future success.

Philip Hembree