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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I had some fun writing this for Trumpet Magazine Online, a publication that has most of its following in Europe. I thank my students both in my T5 Mastercourse and the New England Conservatory and their hard work, which reminded me of these lessons – I often need to remind myself that they work for me too!.
What’s the biggest difference between a recorded audition and a live audition? You have the ABILITY (double edged sword here) to record it as many times as you want or have time to with a recorded audition. When it is live, you get one shot. Most of the recorded auditions now are being asked to be done straight-through, with no edits. This takes more planning and preparation than being able to record one selection at a time. It also gives us as the listeners a better overall idea of your playing.
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!