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I hold a Doctorate in trumpet performance and pedagogy, but playing and teaching trumpet isn’t the whole story of my musical involvement! I also sing professionally with the Lancaster Chorale, teach music technology and music theory at Otterbein University, compose music, and teach a variety of musical topics privately. Call me for lessons; performance on trumpet, French horn, or as a singer; or to write for your next production!
DMA, University of Oklahoma, 2013
MM, Wright State University, 1999
BM, Capital University, 1997
- Teaching, Mentoring or Workshop Facilitating Philosophy
“If you want to play trumpet better, stop playing trumpet!”
Wait—that doesn’t make any sense… Yet I have said it many times to my trumpet students. It almost always earns me a puzzled or even a shocked look. It even sounds like a bad thing to say, considering I make a good portion of my living teaching trumpet lessons. So what am I talking about?
What we think of when we talk about “trumpet playing” is actually not helpful for a performer: proper embouchure tension, proper breath support, proper fingerings, correct rhythm, correct high notes, and on and on. In the midst of trying to control all of these complex elements, where is the space for music? And right there is the problem with “playing trumpet:”
When we focus on the process
instead of the musical result we wish to accomplish,
we miss our goal.
Fine, but what should we do instead?
Play music, not trumpet!
When one of my students is “playing trumpet,” that is, focusing on the process rather than the result, the quickest way to bring their attention back to the music is to have them sing. We will sing the music together, or one after another, and when the student switches back to trumpet, the result is an immediate, startling improvement. Almost as if by magic, we hear better intonation, articulation, and musical line; those high notes and low notes speak more easily; and best of all, the trumpet tone sparkles more! And those improvements are free: We didn’t have to buy a “better” trumpet or mouthpiece, we just had to sing. Singing draws our attention away from the “how” of playing trumpet and onto our musical goal.
Accurate singing is also the most efficient way to program the musical goal into our minds. Think of this comparison: How much more smoothly you are able to speak your mind when you know exactly what you want to say versus how you may stammer and pause when you aren’t quite sure what to say? If you have sung your musical passage well before you play it on the trumpet, your mind has the information it needs to deliver the best musical result.
MANY, if not most, trumpet playing troubles are the result of thinking about how to play the trumpet rather than what music we want to play on the trumpet.
“It’s the Harold Hill ‘Think Method!’” exclaimed one of my students after I explained this concept to him. (He has a good sense of humor and was referring to the main character in Meredith Wilson’s musical The Music Man.) However, you’ve heard the proverb that there is “no such thing as a free lunch,” and that applies here too.
In order to play at the highest level possible, you must still work on all of the technical details of the trumpet, including slurring, tonguing, range, dynamics, musicality, floating the sound on large amounts of wind, and so forth. However, you must perform all of these details using the very best singing in your head you can muster! Additionally, you need to work diligently on the accuracy and beauty of your singing. The trumpet can only respond as well as you can clearly imagine the sound—to borrow a phrase from Arnold Jacobs, “The instrument in your hand follows the instrument in your head.”
Does it sound like you now have twice as much to practice as before? That’s not exactly true. This method of using accurate singing to “program” your mind prior to playing the trumpet is actually the most efficient way to achieve your musical goals. There are no shortcuts in learning to play the trumpet well, with the exception of singing.
Let me encourage you to stop playing trumpet today! Instead, play music on the trumpet, and you will find much more pleasure and less frustration in your practice and performance.
Time to go practice.
Jesse Heetland, DMA
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