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  • Writer's pictureJake Boldman

You Want High Notes AND Musicality?!

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Let's Get Right To It

High notes right? Seems to be the right topic to start a lead trumpet blog with. Everyone's most favorite thing in the whole entire big wide world. They boost our egos, make us attractive, and let's be real, they sound bad ass.

Ok so maaaaaybe I'm being a little sarcastic. Except for how bad ass they sound. We all know players who hold high notes as the holy grail of lead playing though. They have a quadruple "X" for days, an ego to go with it, and they want you to know about it. Now, don't get me wrong...I love high notes too. There. I said it. I'm a lead trumpet player and I love high notes and I probably need help. There are just too many other aspects of playing lead that are flat out more important than hitting the high note and they are quite often ignored. I'm not here to tell you we shouldn't enjoy, work on, or care about the upper register, we should! It's a huge part of lead playing. But when we put our obsession with the upper register above musicality, we run into trouble.

Why Care About Musicality?

It's a silly question, I know. Of course we care about musicality! Too often though, musicality is an after thought of your standard (or sub-standard) lead trumpet player that you find in the wild. This isn't inherently anyones fault though. Unless you're one of the aforementioned quadruple X people with an out of wack ego. Then it's your fault.

For the most part, our lack of musicality is due to a lack of education or time spent on the matter. One of my former teachers, Rodney Boothe, always said "Nothing is difficult, it's just unfamiliar". It's important to take the time to study and become familiar with the great lead trumpet players of our time to really understand what made/makes them so great. I'll let you in on a secret: 99 out of 100 times it's their musicality. I want to say it's 100/100 always and forever but nothing is absolute blah blah blah...

Now what do I mean by musicality? There are a few key elements to take into account when playing anything musically. In an effort to connect with the youth of the world, I created this meme that highlights what I think are the most important parts of studying and playing lead trumpet with musicality. The original (@totem_brass) is floating around the internet but I changed the step names on this one to better highlight lead playing. Anyways! This meme is meant to be taken seriously and with a grain of salt simultaneously. It is a meme after all.

STYLE BABY!!! Right at the tippy top. We will dive deeper into how style shapes a bands sound in future blog posts but for now I will say that it takes the gold because it is all encompassing. Every element mentioned here is a part of a band or lead players individual style. Incase the text is too small to read I've written them down here: style, time, consistency, sound, phrasing, pocket, articulation, listening, transcribing, and high notes.

As for the rest of our olympic contestants, they all hold their own level of importance adding to the big picture (including high notes). Again, I will discuss each element as we continue with this blog series.

How to Work on Musicality

First of all, just being aware that it exists and is something to be worked on puts you ahead of the curve. Critical listening and transcribing helped me the most when I began dissecting my favorite lead players' playing. You have to do a bit of soul searching too. Ask yourself questions. Why do I love this passage so much? What are they doing that makes the line sound that way? What makes me happy about this persons playing?

Now you're thinking critically. Sit down with a chart. If it's a part you have to give back either make a copy to write on or write lightly enough so you can erase your pencil (no one likes an overly marked part). Find your favorite recording of the tune and go phrase by phrase, measure by measure, and write down what the lead player is doing on your part. Dynamic shape, phrasing, accented notes, articulations, anything that stands out from just playing the notes on the page. The more we critically analyze music, the more we notice and internalize. We can then take this knowledge and put it into our own bag of tricks for the right moment. It becomes more familiar, and we get better.

How High Notes Fit In

Playing in the upper register is obviously a huge part of playing lead trumpet. We are the top voicing of the band and are heard over everything else, including the other trumpets. It's an important role and one to be taken seriously. We are in charge of phrasing, dynamic contrast, articulation, and style for the whole band. Now, there is no greater feeling (subjective I know but stay with me) than hitting the last chord of a swinging chart and putting the last note note on top of the band, but be sure to take the time to understand your role. The cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake! Woo!

I want to reiterate again that we do need to take the time to work on our range daily. Practicing in the upper register and learning how to play efficiently allows us to play lead without getting injured. There will be a post about how to practice the upper register coming soon so stay tuned!

The Takeaway

The upper register is really important. Don't let that be where your love of lead playing stops though. There is so much nuance and beauty that we can add to the music that we make that it shouldn't stop at how high you can play. Dig into your favorite players. Listen to recordings, analyze charts critically and often. You'll be so used to seeing stylistic patterns in the music that you will start to automatically do it. We want to be able to hear how we're going to phrase a line in our head, before we play it, while sight reading. That's the goal.

*Dan Foster made this. If you don't know him, he is an awesome trumpet player in Las Vegas so check him out!

Thanks for reading! Stay hydrated out there and keep shedding. Leave a comment if you'd like! Until next time y'all



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