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The Secret to High Notes-Part 1

September 27, 2011

All right trumpet players, let’s talk about high notes.

First, let’s deal with 2 of my favorite excuses about why you can’t play as high as you’d like:

1)  You’re born with it.

  • That’s right, if you weren’t blessed with a Double-C at birth, you’ve got no shot.  This is my personal favorite.  It’s the greatest cop-out in trumpet.  In any beginning band section one kid will have an easier time making a good sound, another kid will have an easier time coordinating fingers, and another kid will have an easier time playing higher.  All teachers seem to agree that you can practice towards a better sound and better fingers, so why is it such a leap to think you can also practice your way to better range?

2)  If I could just find the right mouthpiece then all of my problems would be solved.

  • For you equipment junkies, read this carefully:  There is no magic mouthpiece.  Certainly the right equipment can make your job easier, but it is no substitute for dedicated, smart practice.  “Right equipment” is a relative phrase.  Just because a player you admire plays a certain mouthpiece does not mean it is the right mouthpiece for you.

Feel free to add your favorite excuses in the comments.

Now that we’ve gotten rid of the excuses, here’s the secret:

There are no high notes

I know, now you feel cheated.  Follow me on this and it will help.  If we can agree that a 3rd space “C” is not a high note (and I think we can), then since “C#” is only a 1/2 step higher, it certainly doesn’t qualify as a high note either.  And “D” is only a 1/2 step higher than “C#”, so it can’t be a high note.  Well, “Eb” is only up another 1/2 step, so it can’t be high.  You can keep going as long as you’d like.  Now we know there are no high notes.  Now what?

Now we need a better mental picture.  Because of the way music is notated, it’s very common to picture high notes as “up” and low notes as “down”.  This leads to 2 very common problems:

  1. Over-relaxing to play low.  Players will let go of all support and get that really special tube sound so familiar to beginning band directors.
  2. Over-tightening to play high.  Players will tighten up every part of their bodies just to squeeze out a note they think to be high.

So forget up and down.   Now go and look at a piano (it’s okay, I’ll wait)……..

Is it any harder to play high (or low) on a piano?  No.

Why?

All of the notes are right in front of you

That’s your new mental picture.  The entire range of the trumpet is right in front of you.  Now you only need one thing to access it:

Coordination

It’s not just air, or just tongue arch, or just any other single thing.  It’s coordination.

Part 2 (Coming Soon!) will deal with how to build that coordination throughout the entire range of the trumpet.

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26 comments

  1. Mr. Tartell – I think you’re a spectacular player. I’ve heard you live in several situations and I love your sound and your style.

    However, to play devil’s advocate – the opposite would be true, then, wouldn’t it? Where does it stop just being coordination? Why can someone as talented and awesome as Brian McDonald stand in amazement at Jim Manley? Why didn’t the greatest high note player in history – MF – have a great night every night?

    I’ve talked to most of the great high note players – personally. They all agree with you, to a point. However, several have told me they did NATURALLY play high. Maynard certainly naturally played high. Wayne B. naturally played high at a very young age. Many others, as well.

    TEETH have a huge influence on playing high. It’s just physics and physicality – it just makes sense. Why can Scooter do it so easily and other GREAT trumpet players can never do it? Is Scott more “coordinated?” Possibly, but I’m guessing not.

    To say natural ability and physics have nothing to do with trumpet playing is as – excuse my boldness – silly as saying anyone could run up the same NFL quarterback records as Peyton Manning… some people are just “born” with more natural ability. Same with trumpet players.

    Every singer can improve. Every trumpet player can improve his or her range, no doubt. I’m 49 years old and my range has improved immensely in just the last couple years due to taking a couple lessons with great players and heeding their advice. However, not every Tenor sounds like Domingo or Pavarotti – no matter how much coordination they obtain…….

    Some people have it naturally – some people ACQUIRE it because they overcome “overcomeable” obstacles. However, some people are not going to overcome physical obstacles to their playing consistently above High G. Stan Mark was a pretty good ole trumpet player. He had a high G. A damn good one. But, he didn’t consistently feel comfortable playing above that – could he have become a Double C player? Maybe – maybe not…

    Well – this has been fun. I look forward to your “part 2!” JPZANK


    • James,
      Thanks so much for the kind words and taking the time to read and comment.

      Although I appreciate your devil’s advocate argument, it doesn’t hold up. First, to answer your why Maynard (or anyone) didn’t have a great night every night: Because we’re human. This means we don’t operate at the same level every moment of every day.

      Second, regarding players like Maynard and Wayne, who did play high early on: there’s a lot more to their success as world-class players than being able to play high early in their careers. Follow me here:
      -Because someone played higher in 7th grade, they got to play 1st parts.
      -Because they played 1st parts they got more experience playing in the upper register.
      -Because they got more experience, they gained more opportunities.

      Then the cycle repeats.

      For students who are struggling in 7th grade:
      -they play 3rd parts
      -they get less opportunity
      -they can get frustrated
      -they can lose interest

      Also, I never said that natural ability and physics have nothing to do with trumpet playing. However I don’t believe that teeth have a huge influence on upper register. I also don’t believe every successful lead trumpet player was just more “gifted” than the players around him. The success of any individual is much more complicated than that. I (also) know a lot of well-known trumpet players who have made a good living playing in the upper register. We’re all different shapes and sizes. We all use different equipment, and sometimes, techniques to get there. I’m not saying my way is the only to play, just that it is a way to play.

      I use the word coordination on purpose. Too often, especially on the internet, trumpet players get caught up in one thing (air, equipment, tongue arch, lip position, etc.), when without the coordination of a lot of factors, playing the trumpet is not possible.

      My point in the post is that too often, trumpet players are looking for excuses rather than solutions. I’m offering solutions. To anyone reading that can’t play a high ‘G’ and just decided it wasn’t possible, I’m saying that it is.

      -Joey


  2. Maybe we should talk to Malcolm Gladwell about this?

    I’m happy to see you’re keeping this blog going. My offer is stil on the table to help you with your book.


  3. How come I can’t do a shake from low F# to Quad C# dude? 🙂


    • Scott,
      Thanks for the excellent question. The answer is obvious- because you suck.
      Joey
      (Before anybody accuses me of berating readers, realize that I am a highly qualified professional that goes to great lengths to analyze each request and carefully word every response to give the best possible advice)


      • Outstanding!


  4. Joey. Thanks for your response. I’m in agreement with almost all of your comments above. My only thought is your belief surrounding lack of importance concerning “teeth & the high register.” Certainly it isn’t the only important attribute, but it can certainly be a huge obstacle. I personally know what an obstacle it can be.

    I absolutely agree with you about “high range not being the end-all” to trumpet careers. Actually, I believe if you’re a one-trick pony you won’t have a very meaningful career at all. I certainly won’t attend TWO concerts by a high-note only player. Maybe one, but not two!

    Thanks for your blog and your comments. Very meaningful!

    James


  5. Hmmm…. I knew there had to be a simple explanation….


  6. Hi Joey,
    Someone on tpin posted a link to your blog, so here I am. I don’t know if you remember me, but I studied with you for a few months back in the early ’90’s when you lived in Kalamazoo, MI. I was just becoming a serious comeback player then. I like your analogy of playing high notes on a piano compared to high notes on a trumpet. I’ve used a similar one, but I think of the guitar. You play higher notes on a guitar by shortening the strings on the fretboard–not by strumming harder, tightening up, or going through any other weird contortions that we trumpet players tend to do until we figure out how dumb that is. I’ve learned lately that you can really do all of your playing and blow the walls down with a very relaxed setting and basically a conversational blow if you can learn the coordination to lengthen or shorten the vibrating surface of your lips similar to the way the guitar player moves his fingers up and down the fretboard. I still don’t have the highest range–strong high F and I’m just breaking into the high G+ territory, but I know that I just have to continue learning to keep my cool and break a lifetime of bad habits up there. As far as some people calling high note players “one trick ponies”, I have never seen that phenomenon. Every trumpet player I’ve known of who really has it going in the high register has really got it going in every aspect of trumpet playing. Once you learn the natural way to play the trumpet everything works better.
    Take care Joey,
    Chris Rysenga

    PS: It doesn’t look like you are playing Monettes anymore. What are you playing?


  7. […] The Secret to High Notes Part 1 Part 2 Joey Tartell […]


  8. thanks a lot 4 ur advice,but i want a little of how coordination exercise done.Thank u


    • thanks 4 the advice but a little more on coordination exercise


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  16. I’m going to play Devil’s advocate too. Joey – are you able to play the Maynard part of Bill Russo’s “Titans” on par with how Maynard did it? How about “Maynard Ferguson”?


  17. Wayne B. told me once, and it did more to change my concept of my overall playing than anything else, that no matter how hard he worked on it, for however many years, with the best trainers available, he would never be able to run a 10-second 100 yard dash.

    When I realized natural ability and talent were both certainly, if not completely, needed to play really well in the upper register, I gave up. And when I gave up and accepted what I could do well on the trumpet, that’s when the components of my trumpet playing about which I DO possess some natural talent and gifts began to rise to the top.

    It was the best piece of trumpet advice I’ve every received.

    James Zanker


  18. I think many of you are misunderstanding his point. His post isn’t meant to imply that anyone can be Maynard Ferguson or Wayne Bergeron, just as not everyone will be a Peyton Manning or Albert Einstein. His point was that people often make excuses for why they can’t do something as opposed to telling themselves they can and working towards it.

    If you think you’re going to miss a note, you will every time. But if everyone approached every note as if they could play it like Doc Severinsen they’d find they could play much better than they thought. By approaching the horn in a more positive way each time you practice, you can slowly increase your overall abilities and be able to play “high.” After all, playing most any instrument is about 90% mental and only about 10% physical.


  19. Thick chops and long teeth usually don’t equal upper register success.
    There is a definite physical element to this.
    That’s why a young kid can pick up a trumpet and squeal out doubles, while guys who have played for decades cannot do that.
    Yes it can be developed, to a point.
    You can be a human air compressor, but if you are blowing that air into the back of very long front teeth, it’s an exercise in futility.
    Great article, thanks..

    Vic D


  20. […] The Secret to High Notes-Part 1 […]


  21. Dear Joey,

    I have recently been paying attention to your video demonstrations and suggestions. They make a great deal of sense to me. I have begun the “4 Steps to Double C”. I like the way you present the material and I love the tone and sound quality that you produce.

    When I do the 4 steps, my goal and mental picture is to play with an open and free sound, without strain and without excessive inward arm pressure. For a long time I have been trying to overcome a receding lower jaw when I ascend past high C or D. When I recede, my lower lip (which is quite thick) curls up and over my bottom teeth. My lower lip then winds up behind my upper lip, and everything is out of alignment. The back of my tongue goes up too high and my throat closes up.

    So I can play a good strong E over High C with a pleasing sound with my jaw out and lips aligned. The mouthpiece pressure is equalized, I’m not straining and it feels solid and effortless. However, when I try to play F,F#, and G, my jaw starts to recede. I realize that this is a habit that has been with me for years and it”s not going to change in a short period of time. I am patient and determined however, and believe I can change.

    Should I stay on the E and work with it without strain and without sacrificing tone? Do you feel I may be able to keep my jaw out and my teeth aligned, at least up to a solid A over High C eventually. That’s all I really want right now, but I wouldn’t mind going higher as long as I can make it musical and I don’t hurt myself.

    Thank you so much for your time and expertise!

    Patrick Fraracci
    pfraracci@yahoo.com



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