LOW NOTES! It’s been a huge part of my professional life since leaving school in the late 90s. Having held two 4th trumpet jobs and two second trumpet jobs, I have always been comfortable below the staff and continue to be so.
In every audition, you’ll have to show you can play in the basement and Carmen is the most commonly requested excerpt that covers that range. There are others: Shostakovich 5 and Piano Concerto, Beethoven 5 second trumpet, Dvorak 8 second movement, Tanhauser, etc, but the focus here is Carmen.
When I was in The Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra, Tage Larsen and I became good friends and remain so today. I remember talking with him about low notes as we prepared for the CSO fourth audition and what he said stuck with me: “Lets face it, they want the notes that are at the bottom of our range or off of it (in the case of low Fs) to sound like real notes. You don’t want people who play other instruments on the committee to look at the trumpet players on the committee and say, Hey – is that supposed to sound like THAT?” So with all excerpts that require that half step below low F#, take special care – MAKE IT SOUND LIKE A REAL NOTE!!!!
With Carmen, there are multiple ways to get down to the low F in terms of the fingerings and the slides – this video clarifies what has worked for me over the years (simpler is better, as you will see).
Think of playing the low F like a basketball player being able to dribble between their legs – you don’t want to try that skill out in a game for the first time. You would develop it behind the scenes until it is pretty consistent, and THEN use it in a game situation. It may still feel challenging when it comes to doing under the pressure of someone defending you, but at least it is a skill you have already learned. Same thing here – get the pitch and sound right on the low notes, THEN practice it more or less in context.
A couple of things to remember – we tend to play flat when we play below the staff and our pitch often sags as we descend. Bear those things in mind when going through these drills and your low notes will start singing with that spinning sound in no time!
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You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. I am 46. I don’t think of that as old, but I have been working in full-time orchestras now for over 23 years. I left school in 1998 to start working and yet, in the last three years, I have learned more about how to play the trumpet (and thus, how to teach the same stuff) than at any other time in my life!
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Playing a brass instrument is like shooting free throws…Steve Nash is the second-best free-throw shooter of all time at 90.43%… just behind Steph Curry, depending on the week! Nash shot 90% on his first free throw and 91% on his second free throw. That one percentage point difference is smaller than the other players in the top five who were all 3-5% worse on their first free throw. The first free throw is harder because the player needs to access long-term muscle memory. Once they have shot their first, the muscle memory is pulled from their short-term memory which lends the higher percentage to the second shot.
I have met and worked with many fantastic trumpet players since spring of 2020 via Zoom: American, Canadian, Asian, Australian, Spanish, and British players; older players and younger; amateur and pro. I feel lucky to have been able to help so many people from the safety and convenience of our respective homes/countries. Even now that it is safer, I am still thankful for the Zoom interface and its ability to reach far and wide. I wanted to share some info on how you can make your distance learning lessons go smoother from a technological standpoint.