GUIDELINES FOR TRANSITIONING FROM Bb TRUMPET TO HIGHER KEYED TRUMPETS
By DAVID F. COLEMAN
Most young trumpeters experiment with higher keyed trumpets at some point in their development. While most of us start out on Bb trumpet or cornet, we generally reach a point where musical demands and natural curiosity intersect, and an instrument in another key catches our interest. With a bit of coaching (and common sense!) the transition can be a comfortable and natural part of a young musician’s growth.
In orchestral playing, C trumpets are the norm, with other instruments in higher keys (especially piccolo trumpet) commonplace. For those with a stronger interest in Jazz or commercial playing, instruments other than Bb trumpet and Bb flugelhorn might not be a regular part of their working lives, but for others higher pitched trumpets will become a core part of their musical career.
A solid foundation on Bb trumpet is essential. It is important that students have:
-A solid and consistent Bb6 or higher.
-A mature, well-centered sound, using a medium to large mouthpiece.
-Good intonation and an awareness of intonation tendencies of all trumpets.
-Good general technique—finger dexterity, articulation, flexibility, etc.
-Familiarity with transposition.
-Basic sight singing ability/solfege, diatonic melodies with some chromaticism.
-No embouchure issues.
With these basic prerequisites in place, transitioning to a higher pitched trumpet should be fairly straightforward.
Transitioning to C Trumpet
Transitioning from Bb trumpet to C trumpet is not terribly difficult. C trumpet retains much of the same sound and feel of Bb trumpet, but adds a brilliance and focus, making it a popular choice for performing solo, chamber and orchestral literature.
-It’s probably best to have a professional trumpet player that plays C trumpet regularly help you select an instrument. There is enough difference between Bb and C trumpet that an inexperienced student will be unlikely to make a wise choice. For a first C trumpet, stay away from anything too exotic or expensive. Consider a gently used professional-grade horn. Opt for a name brand instrument in common professional use, and use a medium-size or larger mouthpiece.
-The student will need to modify their sound concept a bit. Listening to live music that includes C trumpets is very helpful, recordings, too.
-Don’t worry about transposition right away. Get comfortable with the sound and feel of a C trumpet first via etudes and other material. After a few days, try reading Bb trumpet parts (down a step, add two flats).
-Chipping the first note? Try singing the pitch before playing it.
-Some C trumpets work best with fourth space E fingered 12, and Eb fingered 23. Some work best with open and 2nd valve. Spend a little time with a tuner and enlist the help of an experienced professional before deciding which works best. Mouthpiece choice, especially backbore, can alter these pitches as well as others.
-Reference a tuner from time to time, but don’t stare at the tuner while practicing. Ears first, tuner second. Play the trumpet, not the tuner.
-Once you feel comfortable playing C trumpet AND transposing down a step, consider playing C trumpet instead of Bb in your band, chamber group or wind ensemble. Do this only with the conductor’s blessing and only if you can transpose accurately and quickly. Don’t bring the rehearsal to a screeching halt because you are struggling with transposition.
-After a month or two, put away your Bb trumpet, and play only C trumpet for a week. The first couple of days will feel a bit odd (especially the warm-up) but soon C trumpet will feel as comfortable as Bb.
Transitioning to Piccolo Trumpet
Over the past 50 years or so, piccolo trumpet has evolved from a specialty instrument played by a few to a standard part of the trumpeter’s toolkit. Generally pitched in Bb/A, there are many excellent brands, widely available at a variety of price points. Once again, it’s a great idea for the novice to get plenty of help selecting an instrument, as piccolo trumpet feels and sounds much different than Bb trumpet.
Relative to their Bb trumpet mouthpiece, almost everybody uses a smaller mouthpiece on piccolo trumpet. My suggestion for a starting mouthpiece is to keep the same rim size, but use a flatter cup and a more open backbore. After a while, you may want to try other mouthpiece options, but over the years I have found this is a good way to get started.
Avoid cheap piccolo trumpets. It’s hard enough to play the demanding repertoire associated with piccolo trumpet without the added burden of sketchy intonation, a shrill upper register, or an unfocused low register. When selecting your first pic, look for a brand/model commonly used by professionals.
-Start slowly and gently. The Bach 2nd Brandenburg Concerto has been around for several hundred years. It will still be here when you’re ready to play it.
- In the beginning, concentrate on playing simple melodies with a beautiful sound and great intonation. Most of the time, stay in a range that is comfortable for you.
-Rest at least as much as you play. This is a demanding instrument. When you are too tired to play with a good sound and good intonation, put it away for the day.
-Occasionally reference a tuner. Continuously reference your ear. Consider alternate fingerings. There are good piccolo trumpet books by David Hickman and Gerald Webster, as well as others.
-Don’t practice piccolo trumpet in small, acoustically dead rooms. A larger space with a bit of reverb is a much better choice. -
-Practice difficult passages and awkward transpositions on Bb trumpet first, then an octave higher (or M7 if pic is in A) on piccolo trumpet. Less fatiguing by far.
-You’ll need to get good at transposing down a fifth, as well as other transpositions.
-Take it easy on FF passages. Piccolo trumpet projects quite well, but quickly loses brilliance when overblown. Plus, playing too loudly is very fatiguing.
Transitioning to D/Eb Trumpet
A good D/Eb trumpet is an important tool for just about any trumpeter performing solo, chamber, or orchestral music. Generally, these instruments come with 2 bells and 2 sets of valve slides, one for D and the other for Eb, but with a common leadpipe and valve section. Often the instrument plays a bit better in one key, with the other key being something of a compromise. It’s not too hard to find an instrument with both sides quite useful, though, and this duality makes the D/Eb trumpet a very useful tool.
Eb trumpet is used for Haydn, Hummel, and Neruda concerti, as well as many orchestral passages. In the low and middle range, it retains much of the warmth of a Bb trumpet, but in the high range can sparkle much like a piccolo trumpet. It can be a great choice for playing in smaller chamber orchestras, as it makes lighter, delicate passages more comfortable.
D trumpet is a great choice for performing the lower trumpet parts of Bach’s oratorios such as MAGNIFICAT, B MINOR MASS, CHRISTMAS ORATORIO, etc. Other orchestral passages are more comfortable on D trumpet (Stravinsky’s PULCHINELLA comes to mind, as do the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart).
-Most of the better D/Eb trumpets are (in my opinion) tuning bell models. They seem to play better in tune, and the ability to use different bells on the same instrument is a nice option. I have three different Eb trumpet bells, each with different qualities. My favorite is a Bach 239 C trumpet bell.
-Get some help from a pro when choosing a D/Eb, just like choosing a piccolo trumpet or a C trumpet. An instrument with good intonation is critical.
-There are lots of good used D/Eb trumpets available. Often, they are purchased for college recitals, and then seldom used again. Check eBay.
-Several companies make 4-valve Eb trumpets. While these are very useful for a variety of things, it probably makes more sense to start off with a 3-valve horn first. If you find yourself using Eb a lot in orchestral playing, consider a 4-valve instrument.
-Eb cornets are used in brass bands. They are quite a bit different from the D/Eb trumpets discussed here, and probably merit a separate discussion.
-In starting D/Eb, much of the advice previously given regarding piccolo trumpet applies: Concentrate on making a beautiful sound, on accurate intonation, and on developing a concept of sound appropriate for the smaller instrument. Rest at least as much as you play.
-Most players use a mouthpiece that is similar in cup and rim size to their Bb and C trumpet mouthpiece. I find that the shorter David Monette Eb mouthpiece improves intonation considerably, but other players have their own preferences.
A few Closing Thoughts:
-Play every instrument you plan on using in performance every day. If you don’t practice the instrument on a daily basis, it will always feel a bit foreign to you. Become so comfortable with higher keyed trumpets that you are solely focused on making beautiful music. Transcend the horn.
-Once you’ve selected instruments and mouthpieces, forget about the gear for a while. Focus on your own improvement. There will ALWAYS be different horns, mouthpieces and other gear available.
-Find a good teacher that has substantial professional experience playing higher keyed trumpets.
- On smaller horns (D/Eb and piccolo trumpet), don’t worry too much about high notes right away. Concentrate on sound, and gain comfort and facility on the instrument. Play simple music well, and then work on high range.
-Do not neglect low range on these smaller horns. Piccolo trumpet literature regularly calls for low F (that’s D4 concert pitch) on A piccolo trumpet, as well as lower notes. The fourth note of the Haydn Concerto is low G (low Bb4 concert pitch) on Eb trumpet. These notes need to sound great, too.
-Have fun! These smaller horns are a blast (pardon the pun) and can add a new pallette of tone colors to your playing. As you gain familiarity with each new instrument, let it show you how it wants to be played. Each of these instruments has a unique personality.....it’s up to you to discover this personality and share it with your audience.
Copyright DAVID F. COLEMAN, JUNE 2016. All rights reserved.
Commissioning and Premiering New Music
By David F. Coleman
The relationship between composer and performer can be extraordinarily rewarding. It is among the most symbiotic of artistic collaborations, with the vision of the composer brought to life by the performer, and given continued life via recording and continued performance. It is also potentially a source of great conflict over issues such as money, intellectual property rights, egos, and differing artistic concepts. Most (if not all) of these conflicts can be prevented via a bit of advance planning, a clear contract, and a substantial amount of flexibility and good will from everybody involved.
For purposes of discussion, it makes sense to break down the commissioning process into several distinct phases:
1) Initial contact and discussion between composer and performer.
2) Discussion continues on to type of work— form, length, instrumentation, extramusical considerations, specific performers, etc.
3) Agreement on total fee, payment schedule, title, and completion date.
4) Secure funding.
5) Contract, which covers performance rights, recording, payment schedule, premiere performance, personal appearances by composers and performers, and all intellectual property related to the new work. Contract should be as detailed and specific as necessary.
6) Rehearse, premiere, and record new work.
7) Broader dissemination of new work; includes publishing, performances by other artists, Internet availability, etc.
It is in everybody’s best interest that this entire process be as smooth and trouble-free as possible. Toward this end, it is critical that open communication be maintained, and that a true “meeting of the minds” occur before anyone signs a contract, commits funds or starts composing.
Let’s take a look at the seven phases previously listed and examine each in greater detail:
1) Initial contact and discussion between composer and performer.
The initial discussion can be initiated by either the composer, the performer, or by a third party acting as “matchmaker.”
• Don’t be shy! It is in everyone’s best interest that the conversations start and move ahead. Composers want their music performed and performers want new and interesting music to perform.
• Reach out in any way that suits you. If a face-to-face conversation makes you feel anxious, send an email or pick up the phone.
• Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by the status of a performer or composer. Often the most successful performers and composers are the most open to a new project or a different approach.
• You have nothing to lose! Remember, the worst thing that can happen is the word “no,” which often means “not now, maybe later.” In the event you are turned down, ask if they can recommend someone else.
• Look for hidden abilities and interests. Find a film composer that wants to write a string quartet or a rapper that has a beautiful tenor voice well-suited to art songs. Sometimes an artistic opportunity is more important than money.
• Persist. If at first you don’t succeed…
2) Discussion continues to type of work.
Assuming everybody wants to work together, the next step is to settle on the specifics of the works to be created and premiered.
Key points include:
• Type of piece, i.e. concerto, chamber work, opera, mixed ensemble, hip-hop, music for dance, incidental music for video or stage production, etc.
• Instrumentation, vocal range(s) and types, specific performers.
• Length of work.
• Extra musical considerations, i.e. lighting, staging, use of video technology, other technology.
• Musical specifics, including style/genre, ability level of performers, strengths/weaknesses of performers, available rehearsal time. Is the work to be cutting-edge contemporary or more traditional? Standard notation, or some proprietary system, or not notated?
• Does the work center on an event? Maybe the dedication of a new building, or perhaps an event honoring a group or individual.
3) Agreement on total fee, payment schedule, and completion date.
It is critically important that all financial discussions be as open and candid as possible. Although there are varying personal and cultural factors that influence the way each of us approaches the topic of money, arriving at a mutually acceptable fee with a minimum of drama is the main goal.
A few key points:
• Performers: Prior to initiating discussions with a composer via Steps 1 and 2, do a bit of research. See if you can find out what the fee range is for the composer you are considering. Simply asking the composer is often best or perhaps a discreet inquiry to individuals or organizations that have commissioned the composer in the past.
• Composers: Don’t be shy about asking for a realistic fee. Make a rough estimate of the time needed to complete the work, multiply that by an hourly rate, and add any additional expenses such as travel and printing. For example, 100 hours to complete work @ $85 per hour = $8500.00. Add $175 for printing and $750 for travel to the premiere for a total of $9425.00. Obviously, if there are other costs, add these as well.
• If you cannot agree on a fee but everyone is still interested in working together, table the discussion with the understanding that you will talk again at some point in the future.
• If not enough money is available for a larger, longer work, consider a shorter work of smaller scale.
• Allow plenty of time for the completion of the work. It is not unusual for composers to be committed several years in advance.
• Payment typically consists of a deposit upon signing the contract (perhaps 50%) with balance upon completion of the piece.
4) Secure funding
Now things get interesting! Locating funding for commissioning music is not easy but certainly not impossible either. With a bit of creativity and persistence sources of funding for new music can be accessed.
• Start early, both in your planning and fund raising. Most funders commit their budgets several years in advance.
• Look for funding locally, regionally and nationally.
• Look for partners. Seek out organizations that have (or could have) a vested interest in commissioning or premiering your piece.
• Who has funded the composer previously? They might consider doing so again.
• Consider crowdsourcing. Offer an audio or video recording of the premiere to anybody funding at or above a certain level.
• Offer a signed copy of the score title page to anyone funding above a certain level, a framed copy at a higher level of funding.
• Front row seats at the premiere for top funders.
• Lunch or dinner with the composer or performers for top funders.
• See if a prominent individual will chair your funding efforts, and perhaps deliver opening remarks at the premiere.
• Understand that it is unlikely you will receive 100% of your funding from a single source. Cast a wide net.
A formal and binding contract is essential. Take everything both parties have agreed to and put it in plain, clear language. Have a lawyer review the document if possible.
Points worth noting:
• Some funding sources need to see a contract in place in order to consider you for funding. If so, Steps 4 and 5 obviously will be reversed.
• A contract is not an excuse to get overly legalistic with one another. It’s pretty unlikely that anybody is going to sue anybody else over this document, as the amounts of money are not that large and everybody involved would just as soon avoid the drama and bad karma surrounding a lawsuit. Be cool. Talk. Relax.
• It may be necessary to include a clause indicating that the terms of the agreement are dependent upon receipt of sufficient funding. In fairness to the composer, include a requirement that he/she be given adequate notice if funding is not received.
• The composer almost always retains ownership (copyright) of the piece, so make this clear in the contract. Also, spell out recording rights and performance rights, as well as publishing rights. Consulting an attorney with a detailed knowledge of intellectual property law might be a good idea.
• Cover any other way the piece might be disseminated.
• Spell out deliverables, including score, parts, midi files, audio/video, and anything else delivered by either party to the other. Include dates and other specifics.
6) Rehearse, premiere, and record new work
This is fairly self-explanatory. Once a new piece has been delivered, the main focus is on the premiere and recording. This is the fun part, the reason for everything that has transpired up to this point. Enjoy!
Make sure to record the premiere, audio and video, as high a quality level as possible. If you can only manage a few well-placed iPhones (on tripods, please, no hand-held video) then this will have to do. Don’t let anybody post anything online unless you approve. A separate audio or video recording session is also highly desirable.
Composers have varying levels of involvement during this phase. Some take a hands-off approach, preferring to let the conductor and/or performers interpret the work as they see fit. Others prefer a more detailed involvement. Make sure everyone understands what to expect, and that everybody is comfortable with the role they will be playing during this phase.
7) Broader dissemination of new work
Hopefully, Steps 1 through 6 have resulted in the creation and premiere of a wonderful new piece of music. What now?
At this point, the work will live on via additional performances, as a published work, or as a recording. Everyone involved in the commissioning and premiere should work together to disseminate the work as appropriately and as broadly as possible.
A few suggestions:
• Social media is a great way to connect with audiences and colleagues that may have an interest in the piece. Always include a link to purchase or donate.
• With the composer’s permission, offer to “loan” the piece to another ensemble or artist. They, in turn, let you “borrow” a piece they have commissioned/premiered. The result is more performances of new music for wider audiences.
• Post a sample of the work to YouTube, with a link to purchase a recording or to donate.
• Make sure that organizations focused upon new music are aware of your activities, e.g., Meet the Composer, Chamber Music America, ASCAP, BMI, various composer consortiums, and college-level composition teachers.
• Commission the work as a consortium with other organizations or ensembles. This lowers the cost to each organization and increases dissemination of the work via multiple performances for multiple audiences in geographically diverse locations.
• If the work is a concerto (or heavily features one instrument or voice in a solo capacity), make the solo part available at no cost to well-known teachers and performers. Include information on purchasing the full score and parts.