Time and time again customers ask us the question, “Does my new trumpet need to have a valve alignment?”
The answer, surprisingly, is yes.
Over the years we have done valve alignments on thousands of trumpets, and other piston valved brass instruments, and all of them have been out of alignment before we did any work. Whenever we do a valve alignment, we keep a record of the position the valves are in before we make any alterations — we measure the horn as it is when we get it. (When you get your horn back after an alignment, these are the measurements that we include on the yellow pre-alignment information card.) With all the data we have compiled over the years, we have created a chart that shows the average alignment of trumpets by manufacturer, which you can view by clicking here.
As you can see, all of the popular manufacturer’s instruments are out of alignment when they leave the factory, and that alignment is constantly changing. The only way to really know how your horn plays, and to keep it playing the same everyday, is to have a valve alignment done.
Why Did I Just Pay Several Thousand Dollars for a Mis-aligned Instrument?
Well, there are a few reasons:
“Close Enough” To Sell
First, even high-end trumpets are made in a matter of hours. It takes us at least 2-3 hours (and sometimes all day!) to properly align the valves. Instrument makers cannot add this amount of time and labor to their production costs. They do what they can to get their trumpets “close enough” to sell at a competitive price, but as we’ve found through the years “close enough” leaves a lot of room for improvement.
Accumulated Factory Tolerances
Second, valves are made of at least 7 parts: the valve body, spring barrel, stem, upstroke pad, valve cap, downstroke pad, and finger button. Each part is made to certain specifications and can be passed through if they fall within a certain tolerance. A good factory keeps these tolerances to within a few thousandths of an inch. For arguments sake, lets assume that every trumpet is made in a great factory that produces parts to +/-.002″ (less than a human hair), and their quality control catches 100% of the parts that fall outside of this tolerance. Even in this case, you have the possibility of each valve being out of alignment by +/-.014″. We get this number by multiplying the 7 parts in a valve by the .002″ tolerance. For reference, we find that valves that are out of alignment by .008″ or more have a detrimental impact to the player.
The truth is, we have measured valve parts from the finest instrument makers in the world straight from the factory and their tolerances on these valve parts are considerably greater than the .002″ in our hypothetical situation above. One recent piccolo trumpet that was sent straight from a factory in the Midwest was out by over .040″!
If you have any questions about our valve alignment process and its benefits, we are always available for consultation over the phone and by email, and, if you are local to Los Angeles, you can bring your trumpet to our shop and we will measure it for free.
If you have any questions you would like to see answered in this series, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and it might be featured in a future blog post!
It was great to have Australian trumpet player Paul Panichi join us in the shop. He flew all the way from Sydney, Australia to work with Bob and our staff on some new mouthpieces and a couple of valve alignments. Paul is a phenomenal player and can be seen and heard everywhere in Australia, from TV shows to major touring acts. Check out his website at www.paulpanichi.com.au to hear some great audio and video clips of his playing.
Paul has been playing on Bob Reeves mouthpieces for almost 30 years. We’re proud to add him to our list of customers.
We’re already a few weeks in to 2013 and, if you’re like me, you’ve already dropped some of your New Year’s resolutions. But that’s OK. There’s no reason to wait until next year to jump back on that horse and start going forward again. Here are some tips I’ve put together that will help your trumpet playing this year. The goal here is not to try to do the entire list, in fact, not every tip may pertain to you. Just pick a few to work on and you’ll soon be reaping the benefits in your playing, and having more fun as well.
So, let’s get going:
1. Restarts are Okay!
Maybe it’s human nature, or maybe it’s just a trumpet player thing, but whenever I take a day or two off from playing I know the next day will be rough. And guess what? It usually was…until I discovered how strongly my thinking controlled the outcome of my practicing. Over the holidays when I had a few days off from playing I decided I would only think positively about the break. It would be a fresh start. It would allow me to refocus my energy on what I do well and unlearn some bad habits. Trumpet playing would be easier and effortless this time, not foreign, forced, and strident.
The results were astounding. I made breakthroughs in my playing that I had been working on for months and even years. What’s even more amazing is that this happened after a break from playing when I would have thought the exact opposite would have happened — I should have regressed in my playing.
Whether you are just getting back to it again after the winter holidays or are laid up with the flu, remember that restarts are okay with a positive mental approach.
2. Back to Fundamentals.
Spend some time this year going back to fundamentals (especially if you are following tip #1). I’m not talking about daily maintenance. I’m talking about going back to page 1. Spend time working on your sound production, your attack, and your breathing. Imagine if you could become 10% more efficient (creating more sound for less work), or be 10% more relaxed while you play? These improvements can only be made by playing fundamentals.
3. Clean Your Trumpet & Mouthpiece.
This tip should be #1 and it will apply to probably 95% of you based on the horns we see here at the shop. Take 30 minutes of your week and give your horn a good bath. If you can’t do that, take it to a repair shop to have it acid washed or ultra-sounded.
Trumpet is hard enough to play consistently day-to-day. When the gunk inside your horn is constantly building up you are spending at least part of your practice time adjusting to it. Get rid of this variable by getting your horn back to the way it should play and maintain it by flushing it out every week. You can also keep a lot of stuff from building up in your horn by using a leadpipe swab after every practice session.
4. Have Fun!
The trumpet is a demanding, unforgiving instrument. If you are a professional trumpet player, the music industry is the same. Whether you are an amateur or a professional, don’t lose sight of the fact that trumpet playing is fun. Don’t focus on the inept conductor or the drummer who adds an extra beat to the measure with every drum fill. When these or similar thoughts enter your mind, take a slow, deep breath and then smile. Focus instead on how the thrill of playing a musical instrument for others, and being able to share your talent, is something that just a small percentage of people in the world are privilege to do. And, you’re one of those lucky few!
5. Take a Lesson.
Our most precious commodity is time. A good teacher is worth their weight in gold because they can improve your playing in less time than you could on your own. Yes, there is a wealth of free information on the Internet on how to play the trumpet; however, you’ll spend more precious time searching, filtering out bad information, and grazing than if you had a guide to show you along the path.
One of my trumpet teachers still takes lessons himself every month. He’ll call up other teachers in the area (many of whom are his colleagues) to take a lesson. He also gets together with out-of-town players who are in the area on tour for lessons. This allows him to always expand his knowledge, improve his playing, and expand his bag of tricks to use for his own students.
6. Get Together With Others
Get together and practice with someone else. This may be playing duets, or you can go through your daily routine and trade off. There are plenty of benefits to this. First, you’ll have more fun than just sitting alone in your practice room like you would be normally doing. Second, you benefit more because you can share experiences, learn from the other person, and you can teach them as well. And third, you tend to have a better practice pace when you work with someone else because you take breathers to talk, laugh, or listen to each other.
7. Set Goals
The start of a New Year is always a good time to set new goals or reevaluate your existing ones. If you don’t have goals for your trumpet playing, start setting them! They may be long-term or short-term. I recommend a combination of both. I set goals for every practice session, jotting them down before I start playing. It may be a tempo I want to hit on a fingering or tonguing exercise, or a difficult passage I want to make easier.
Longer term goals should be written down as well. For some reason, writing them down tends to put them in motion better than just thinking about them. It may be a career goal, like playing in the Chicago Symphony. It may be tackling a challenging piece you’ve always wanted to play. It may be getting the nerves up to play in front of a group for the first time. Whatever your goal is, write it down and start heading towards it.
8. Listen, listen, listen!
I find myself overwhelmed with things in my day that take up my time – work, family, Facebook, sleep, driving. I realized that listening to music has become a much less significant part of my day than it used to. I don’t remember the last time I listened to a Mahler Symphony or Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue from beginning to end without distractions. If you are like me, take a concerted effort this year to make the time to listen. We gain so much from listening to great music that cannot be achieved in the practice room. Hearing great musicians and absorbing different styles of music through listening translates directly into improvements in your own musicianship. Besides, hearing a live concert can be so inspiring that you’ll be reminded of why we do what we do!
Make it a point to get out and perform for people. No matter what your level of progress is, once you know 4-5 notes on the trumpet you can make music. You have the tools to connect emotionally with your audience. I’ve seen beginning band students who have been playing for less than a year make people smile and cry with the songs they play. You don’t have to perform at a symphony hall to move people. Play in church, search out a community band, or play at a local nursing home. When you start connecting with others through your playing, you’ll be inspired to do more, and have a sense of fulfillment that you don’t get from just practicing.
The thrill of playing a musical instrument for others and being able to share your talent is something that just a small percentage of people in the world are privileged to do.
What tips do you have? If you have your own tips I hope you’ll share them in the comments section below.
We are pleased to announce an exciting new project! Twice a month we will be posting a new Jazz Improvisation Etude composed by Howie Shear. Each etude will be based on the chord changes of a different jazz standard and will comprise two complete solo choruses.
These etudes will focus on different aspects of trumpet playing and jazz improvisation techniques. They can be played as stand alone exercises but, for best results, we suggest playing along with an Aebersold or another play-along track, allowing you can hear how the melodic ideas work with the chord changes.
The concepts utilized in these solos are presented in Howie Shear’s books Jazz Improvisation – Simplified and Bebop Vocabulary,which are tools that help you develop your own jazz vocabulary that you can use during improvisation. The goal of these etudes is to show how the simple ideas Howie outlines in his books can be applied and developed in a jazz solo format.
Jazz Improvisation Etude #1: “There Will Never Be Another You”
The first etude features two choruses over “There Will Never Be Another You.” This solo focuses on the following:
Howie Shear received a Bachelors in Education from Fredonia State University in 1975 and a Masters in Jazz Studies from the Eastman School of Music in 1977. He received his Doctorate in Music from the University of Southern California in 2002. He studied with James F. Burke and Raymond Crisara. Howie toured with the Woody Herman Band as lead trumpet player & featured soloist in 1980. After the tour he moved to Los Angeles and worked as a studio musician and soloist. Among the extensive list of artists he has worked with are: The Chuck Mangione Orchestra, Tony Bennett, George Benson, Mel Torme, The Temptations, and The Spinners. He was the musical arranger and lead trumpet player on the Joan Rivers Late Night Show. Howie has also played various shows at the Ahmanson Theater and many jazz festivals around the world where he has held trumpet clinics. Arranger and producer of various jazz albums, Howie currently has his own jazz quartet. His classical work includes playing with brass quintets and choirs, solo church work, and solo work in the studios.
Howie Shear is professor of Jazz Trumpet at California State University: Northridge.