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High, loud, long . . .

Hi Carl!

I assume you’re familiar with the exercise where you place a pencil between your lips and hold it slightly elevated for a few minutes twice a day. This is supposed to help with compression, etc.  It’s been said that strong lead players can hold the pencil elevated for 4 minutes, those who can just play high C can hold it up for 1 1/2 minutes, and weak players not at all.  So I’ve been working up to 2 minutes over a period of weeks and plan to continue the exercise.  But as I do this I wonder… the pencil exercise may be a measure of a lead player’s strength, but does it necessarily follow that if one works up to 4 minutes he will be able to play high, loud and long?  Do you think the exercise is beneficial or just a novel way to measure what has taken years to develop by traditional methods?

Ken Rodd
Perry, Ohio


“High, loud, and long.”

People are all built differently. Some have thick muscles in their lips and some thin. Some embouchures are built to sustain abuse and some aren’t. For some macho reason a very high percentage of students of the trumpet (which we all are) are wrapped up in trying to play ” high, loud and long”, and using different methods to achieve those goals. The pencil exercise is one of them.

My view is that exercise and practice are good, but the goal should be to find your natural strengths and abilities and comfortable limits. Once you have found them, you can use the pencil exercise and other practice methods to improve your individual strengths and abilities.

On a football team each player is assigned to a position because of their individual strengths and abilities. The left tackle can’t play quarterback very well and the quarterback can’t play left tackle very well. It’s a team effort and everyone has their roles to play. It’s the same in the trumpet section. The goal of the trumpet section is to make it as easy as possible for the lead player.

The 4th trumpet player should have a big sound providing good intonation, matching dynamics and very in-tune octaves. The 3rd  trumpet player should help balance the blend from the 3rd and 4th parts to the 2nd and lead. The 2nd trumpet player is the blocking back for the lead player. This is the hardest chair in the section because he is supporting the lead player up in his register and then has to split some of the lead to relieve the lead player. But the lead parts he gets are usually the worst charts and the least fun to play. 🙂

The 1st trumpet player should keep the overall dynamics of the section at a comfortable and musical level, establish good time by keeping the upbeats alive, and with the help of the bass player, strive to keep the tempo where it started and resist any dragging in the band. After the sensitive and musical things are attended to, then if high and loud is called for or needed, it can be achieved with less effort.

To me “high, loud and long” are unmusical terms and even though they are used occasionally in music they shouldn’t be strived for as goals. For me the heros of a trumpet section are the 4th trumpet players who comes to the gig not thinking of all the high notes he’ll be playing but how much he gives of himself with beautiful intonation and doing his part to support the richness of the music. He has used the pencil exercise to help achieve a wonderful sound in the middle and low register and puts his heart into that 4th part.

Again my point is that everyone is not cut out to play loud high notes and we should all be thankful for that. The left tackle never carries the ball but still loves and enjoys playing the game. We as trumpet players should use these different methods of practice to find ourselves and make us stronger in those areas not just to be able to play “high, loud and long”. There are many roles to be played and your odds of success will be a lot “higher” if you can find what area of trumpet playing you are naturally cut out for then do it. You can then be yourself and at the same time garner respect by doing what you do best. CS

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