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Bobby Shew

Thoughts on
Trumpet Playing
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About the author: Bobby Shew is known as one of the greatest lead and jazz
trumpet players in the business today. Shew has performed with the big
bands of Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and
Louie Bellson. He has done combo work with Horace Silver, Art Pepper, and
Bud Shank. He has also sustained a jazz and studio career in Los Angeles.
Currently he spends a great deal of time on the road as a soloist, teacher,
and clinician. He is a Yamaha artist/clinician.

These notes are a direct reproduction from

Bobby Shew 1976 - date.
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1. Playing Lead Trumpet in the Big Band Setting

Lead vt: To direct the cause of, by going before or along with; to mark the way for; to
be a way or means of bringing something to a particular condition or result.

A lead trumpet player has a number of responsibilities. The job consists of

the following:

a) Interpret the music in the correct style.

b) Communicate effectively with other members of the section and

the band.

c) Consistently interpret phrasing and style.

d) Have the strength to generate excitement through power when

needed, and sensitivity enough to play gently when necessary.

e) Be a good jazz soloist with a natural feel for various jazz styles.

f) Assign the music to ensure that parts are well matched, and
evenly distributed so that the job is fun for all members of the

There are many misconceptions regarding what is required to become a

good lead trumpet player. The most prominent is that good high chops are
the sole determining factor, or at least the most important one. It is true
that maintaining a good high register, at least up to a consistent concert F
above high C, is quite important. However, chops alone will never
determine whether or not a person will be in demand by road and studio

The single most important characteristic of a good lead player is feeling.

The lead player who can play the notes with good control and still emit a
loose, relaxed, and swinging feeling with high energy when called for will
help the band swing as a group. A good drummer and a good lead player

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are essential elements in the make-up of a good band. When these two
players can swing and work together, the entire band will swing, as they will
be able to carry lesser players along until they learn to listen and swing as
well. Jazz soloists who have some chops will make better lead players by
knowing the importance of feeling the music in good time and developing
melodic lines, and understanding chord structures as the chart progresses.

Aspiring lead players can also benefit from learning to play drums.
Naturally, they do not need a full course on drumming. Start with a ride
cymbal alone, then add hi-hat, left hand (stick to snare, toms), and finally
add the bass drum. It isn't as easy as it appears and will definitely help you
appreciate good drummers. This helped me years ago, and I still find an
occasional moment to sit down at the drums for enjoyment and learning.
Each drummer has his or her own personality and style, and you must
learn to listen very closely so you can play with the same feeling that they
establish. If you don't, you'll find yourself fighting the beat, and this will
eventually wear down your chops.

When I am playing lead in a big band, I listen to the drums. My attention

is on the ride cymbal, and then I listen for the hi-hat, which offsets the ride
cymbal feeling. If a drummer is free with time, as in the style of Tony
Williams or Elvin Jones, I have to listen for the overall melodic lines that he
is creating. In this style, there is often a loose, broken, less obvious beat in
the ride cymbal and the hi-hat. Good big band drummers more in the
swing vein such as Mel Lewis, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, and Jake Hanna
play very melodically as well as rhythmically. Their playing is not difficult
to decipher as far as the ability to hear the basic elements of time such as
ride cymbal and hi-hat. It is important to listen, both melodically and
rhythmically to the drummer.

Memorize charts so that you can close your eyes and play the lines as if
they were solos. Glance down at phrases for reference and memorize a
short section at first, then look back at the page for the next section. Play
the charts often enough to know what lies ahead of you. If you listen to the
line that the drummer plays instead of just tapping your foot, you'll find it
a lot easier to make the entrance at the end of the break. (Buddy Rich used
to change the tempo of the tune during a drum break of two to four bars

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just to see if the guys in the band were listening to him. Once I had been
caught a couple of times, I learned how to listen to the drummer!)

When you are playing a melodic ensemble passage, play the line like a jazz
solo that has been orchestrated. This will swing more than if you merely
play all of the right notes somewhere close to the time. Some of my
favorite lead players over the years were Sam Noto, Benny Bailey, Snooky
Young, Chuck Findley, Buddy Childers, and Maynard Ferguson, because
they are all excellent jazz players, and all give off a good feeling when they
play lead parts.

If you're not a good soloist, you should sit down and address this area to be
a better lead player and enhance your musical experience. There are many
approaches to improvisation. The best and simplest that I recommend is
Vol. 3: II-V7-I (working on chord spellings) of the Jamey Aebersold series. I
also recommend the Aebersold volumes on "Jazz Standards" to learn the
tunes everyone should know. There are many other Aebersold volumes
available for all levels of ability. They help you assimilate the actual playing
experience when it's not possible to sit in with a live group. In addition, I
suggest that you play along and listen to a variety of jazz recordings,
including some older Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker, and

As far as tying this in with lead playing, you should spend a considerable
amount of time listening to recordings and live big bands. In doing so,
focus your attention on the lead player and the drummer, and lis-ten to
how closely they are playing together. Are they both playing the same time
(listen to the ride cymbal)? Is the lead player loose and relaxed or are the
eighth notes stiff and choppy? Is the lead player overly care-ful, or does he
swing and generate excitement? This type of dedicated listening will
increase your aware-ness of jazz styles, and will determine your eventual
success as a lead player.

One final area to develop is the ability to know how to pace yourself. The
lead player is very much a guide for the section and shouldn't play unison
lines (they should be marked optional), and sustained lines in the lower
register. In most cases, the rest of the section can cover such lines so the

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lead player can rest. This allows his energy to be conserved for those
sections of the arrangement where he is most needed. It doesn't always
help to trade notes (inverting the chord voicing or exchanging notes with
another in the section), because this can cause the embouchure to spread,
making it even more difficult for the lead player to get back up into the
upper register.

I hope that these thoughts will help developing trumpet players better fulfill
the many challenges which come with playing lead in a big band. My best
to you as you learn and grow!

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2. Four Fundamentals of Troubleshooting for

Brass Players

No brass player will have much success if they do not feel some degree of
ease and comfort when they put the instrument to their lips. The primary
purpose of a responsible, workable warm-up is to ensure this comfort thru
producing a "familiar" feeling. Naturally, a younger player's feelings will not
have had as much of a "track record" so the familiarity factor is
considerably less profound. There have been numerous systematic opinions
as to what kinds of "exercises" should be played in order to accomplish this
warmed-up condition. Most all of them produce a result of some sort,
although not as consistent as one might hope for on a daily basis.

Setting the instrument aside at first, we have learned thru the medical and
sports training professions, that a simple "fluttering or flapping" of the lips
and cheek muscles acts as a form of massage and increases the blood flow
into the muscles. This helps "clean" the muscles of residuals such as lactic
acid, etc. that accumulate from previous playing periods. It also helps
provide oxygen and blood sugar to the muscles, both of which are
necessary in order for the muscles to function at their best. This "muscle
preparation" should be done for anywhere from a couple of minutes up to
perhaps 5-10 minutes, depending upon the individual as well as the desired
condition for whichever playing situation one is preparing for. A few rest
periods intermittently placed will help things settle and will also help you
OBSERVE the improving condition. Naturally, someone preparing to play
lead trumpet in a jazz ensemble would want a slightly different result than
someone preparing to play in a concert band or symphony orchestra.
BOTH, however, could be achieved by starting with the flutter. The
differences would be when the person moves on to actually playing ON
THE INSTRUMENT, the final step in the warm-up. A middle step which
I feel is very important, is to do a bit of mouthpiece buzzing after the
fluttering and prior to the playing on the instrument.

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This is one of the areas of brass playing that causes a great deal of
confusion. Much discussion about the importance of the diaphragm has
sent many a player down the road to confusion, inability, and bleeding lips.
The upper part of the torso contains a large FAMILY of muscles that all
have been designed to function in a teamwork fashion specially when we
do something requiring FORCED EXHALATION, i.e., blowing out
candles, spitting something out of our mouth, OR BLOWING ON A

There are 3 layers of abdominal muscles from the groin to the sternum
(breastplate); there are 2 layers of muscles (inner and outer) in between the
ribs; there are back muscles from the lumbar region upward to the
shoulders; there is the diaphragm just below the lung sacs; and there are
muscles coming-down diagonally from behind the ear which connect to the
top of the rib cage . When a person does a "forced exhalation", the entire
family is activated as a "one- family" movement. They ALL simultaneously
increase their tension levels in order to raise the internal compression level
(PSI) in the lung chambers. This moves the air FASTER which is one of
the first necessary things that must occur when a player moves "upward" in
the register. The area that the player needs to become aware of is NOT in
the diaphragm but in the center of the abdominal muscles, approximately
near the navel. The body has a natural way of centering itself if you only
just try to blow suddenly as if spitting a piece of rice or blowing out a
candle. By learning to control the variance of tension, either isometric for
holding a compression level or by tightening and relaxing the degrees of
tension based upon what you are playing, one discovers that it is really the
abdominal support that controls the air. This ab support certainly
influences the diaphragm but it is NOT the diaphragm alone that moves
the air. It is the FAMILY of muscles, all guided by the abdominal

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Easily the most misunderstood aspect of brass playing is what is "supposed

to be happening" with the lips and embouchure in general when we play.
For years we have been told that our lips are supposed to be buzzing at all
times when we play any notes. In fact, the lips must vibrate but NOT in the
close configurations as when we do lip buzzing. The air, once compressed,
must have a pathway to be released in a controlled manner from the body.

The air actually initially aims at the surface of the top lip, hopefully as far
forward as sensibly possible. When it moves at a high velocity, it causes the
lip to vibrate from the impact of the air hitting it. The air doesn't just go
past the lip, it "spins" into an eddy (a kind of whirlpool) which "bounces
downward" as it spins out of the eddy and this downward movement
activates a vibration on the surface of-the-bottom lip which also then spins
into another eddy. These are called vortices (vortex is singular) and they are
the basis of a "sympathetic vibration" occurring between the two

The closer you put your lips together, the softer, smaller, thinner, or more
"pinched" your sound will be. When you open up the size of the aperture,
the first thing you will notice is the freedom of the movement of the air,
then the opening up of the sound. Once the aperture is opened, the player
must also increase the tension in the ab support to increase the air flow
which in turn must fill the larger gap in the aperture opening. This forces
the player to USE THEIR AIR which IS the more efficient way to play. All
people ever taIk about is AIR but then the confusion hits when they try to
explain how it works and what the player is "supposed to be doing". Soft,
delicate playing requires that the player close the aperture down as the
airflow is also diminished but understand enough to know that when you
"shift gears or hats" as a player into a more demanding situation such as
playing lead trumpet, the key is to balance the support and air flow with
the aperture.

These aperture muscles need to be developed properly as well. The best

exercise I know for this is lip buzzing as long as the player doesn't start to
confuse the tightly pursed lips necessary in lip buzzing with what is

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necessary and different when actually playing. Lip buzzing also must not be
done in long hard sessions. It is best done conservatively, usually 30 second
sessions done around 10 times a day, alot less to NONE on busy playing


The use of an improper mouthpiece equates with trying to drive nails with
a screwdriver. We were all told at an early age to "do everything on one
mouthpiece" and "avoid those mouthpiece traps". Well, I'm here to tell you
that I TRIED that...for years and years. I kept believing that someone
knew what they were talking about . After all of the years in this business,
playing on so many bands, sitting next to so many great and famous
players, I saw a different attitude about equipment. People were always
"looking for the magic mouthpiece"....BUT, they WERE LOOKING !!
The activity of investigating, trying, asking questions about,'s
a great adventure and you eventually really can learn some very important
things about WHAT and HOW to use in the area of mouthpieces, perhaps
different for different situations. Some MAJOR classical players whom I
know use different pieces for different horns such as "C", "Bb", PICCOLO,
etc. Some players switch mouthpieces occasionally even on one trumpet
just to help improve the way they play a certain style of music. Sounds
SANE to me...sorta, 'THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB"!!

You can really help your young students by being more encouraging,
positive, realistic, and INFORMED about making adjustments in
equipment. Simply, if a kid is playing in your concert band, wind
ensemble, or orchestra, it's recommended that he or she play on a lower
compression (deeper cup) mouthpiece. It helps produce sounds that fit the
music better and it makes the student feel greater ease in playing the style
correctly. If the same kid plays in your jazz big band, suggest they find a
high compression (shallower ) mouthpiece which helps that player access
not only into the upper register, but to just get quicker response from his or
her efforts. This translates as ease of playing . Naturally, the "sensible"
thing to do is to try to get a mouthpiece with a similar rim and inside
diameter for both situations. This is pretty easy to accomplish as long as
the student is playing on a standard, stock piece. It doesn't always have to

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be precisely EXACT, just close...."in the ball park"! The younger students
won't so much notice nor be adversely affected by slight differences
whereby a pro will much more likely be more sensitive to minute
differences...but not always!

Don't be afraid TO TRY!! Better to explore and discover than to keep your
head and mind buried in the sand of tradition (and misinformation).



Further Notes on Developing the Trumpet Section

Considering that quite a lot of good material has been written on this
subject, I'm not certain whether or not I'll be able to add much new data,
but hopefully another point of view might be of some interest and
hopefully can be used as a rough guide line to building a musical section.
There are probably as many methods as there are teachers or trumpeters,
but all will be found to contain much of the some material and concepts or
it just won't happen. Any attempts to be more contemporary still require a
strong foundation built on roots that are no different than those established
by Louis Armstrong and many others of that era of jazz.


The section is only a part of the whole, and must not lose sight of this
basic function. All efforts should be directed toward contributing to making
the BAND sound good, not to show off one's own talents such as playing
louder than the others, screaming out tons of high notes, looking good for
the chicks in the front row, etc.. True acknowledgement will come for being
a part of such a good team, and will come to the individual in a manner
that he can take pride in. Each guy in the section has specific duties just as
if he were a member of a football team; he has his own "hat" to wear, and
it doesn't say HERO on it.

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It takes a great deal of hard work on each section member's part to have a
realty exceptional team and if you don't expect it to be exceptional, you
maybe shouldn't be doing it. So, first approach it with the intention of your
section being GREAT and then proceed with that attitude. This will help
keep everyone thinking that way .Any wise lead player knows that his
section can make him sound good or bad. Even if he is very strong and
stable, a poor section can turn a pleasant experience into a lot of brutal
work for that player. I have the greatest love and appreciation for those -
guys that have made me sound worthy all of these years. In addition, an
exceptional lead player can and often must make a lousy section sound
better than it is. Just realize that it will always work better if everyone in the
group jumps in and helps get the job done as musically as possible , as
easily as possible, and as much fun for all concerned as is possible.
Therefore, one must learn to do this without being on a big ego-trip. Admit
to your weaknesses so that you can handle them and grow out of them,
rather than hiding them so that you never confront improving them. Much
confidence can grow out of honesty, and for sure musical integrity will
come from it.

Mental Attitude

As with most people, you will probably experience times of positive

thoughts and times of negative ones. Ideally, it would be nice to have only
the positive ones but I wonder if the game would be quite as interesting or
as much a challenge. So just accept the game and play it without taking it
so seriously as to get up-tight about yourself. If you resist the negative
thoughts or try to fight them, you'll find, I think, that they'll only get bigger
and harder to handle. You've gotta learn to deal with them without shifting
the majority of your attention to them. I suppose one way to do it is to not
try to handle your fears in the middle of playing a chart; best to wait until
after the gig! Your personal involvement with your horn and with music in
general is of tremendous importance to your success and your happiness. I
have often felt as if I were married to music; I am committed to it, and try
to work with it and make it work for me, all the while keeping my level of
affinity high by not blaming my failures/problems on the Art or the
instrument. This kind of emotion-al involvement has taught me much
about myself as a person. I believe that this kind of love for music will

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enable you to accomplish much in a shorter period of time, and will bring
you a great deal of happiness.

You must, above all, maintain your belief in your potential, and never
minimize your abilities at all. Don't get to the point of tolerating ceilings or
limitations as to how for you can go. Your own thoughts will be the only
thing that can and will hang you up. As you develop and reach goals (and
you've gotta learn to recognize WHEN you do reach them), you'll have to
put new goals out in front of you or the game is over. Keep looking
forward to these new and bigger goals and ...AVOID GETTING HUNG
UP ON YOUR PAST ACHIEVEMENTS. Once they're done, they're
over with. It's OK to recall them for lots of good reasons, but if you get
hung up, you'll find yourself sticking your abilities at that level and your
outward growth will slow down. Surety you've seen or met guys who are
musically stuck in a given era or style of music.

The average person it seems spends quite a lot of his time minimizing his
strength and abilities. Therein lie about 90^ of your problems with your
horn. So, the sooner you can become aware of this, the sooner you'll be
able to eliminate it, and therefore succeed in accomplishing everything you
set out for. HOWEVER, there are a few sand traps along the road that will
try to keep you from knowing, but these have no real power unless you give
it to them as in the earlier mentioned case of resisting negative thoughts.
One of the traps in setting goals is that you can skip a gradient approach to
success and find yourself in over your head. If you set such an extremely
high goal and standard for yourself that it keeps you frantically racing as if
to put out a fire, you'll miss a lot of the fun of being a musician, and can
prevent you from being objective about your growth and from enjoying
your PRESENT-TIME abilities. More simply, if ALL you see is your
"ultimate" goal, you'll be constantly putting yourself down as you play in
present time because it'll always be compared to the ULTIMATE goal
rather than to how you're actually playing at that moment. The ultimate
hopefully will always be changing anyway and I dream sometimes about
becoming a "perfect" player, but as long as I keep creating new levels to
climb to, I'll never be perfect and will therefore have plenty of good
reasons to keep playing and studying.

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Communication is the key ingredient in music of ANY type. It really

doesn't seem sane to play to oneself or to the music stand or wall. So the
person(s) at the receipt point is as important to the experience as you are.
It's the emotional reaction to your creation that completes the action. The
emotional communication takes precedence over style and technique. You
need plenty of technique, but only enough to execute what you hear and
feel. SO, study emotions; it'll intensify your playing.

Another area of communication that's very important is in your ability to

communicate with the other guys in the band. In fact, if you have trouble
with this, it'll show up in your playing. You're in a sense "rapping" with
people when you play. If the entire band maintains a high level of
communication, the affinity will be high for each other, the "vibes" will be
right, and the band will swing; It might be worth mentioning here that lots
of people apparently misunderstand communication in thinking that they
must just talk, talk, talk, when in reality, the art of listening is super-
important and can help to smooth, out your relationships with other
people. This then will increase your ability to listen in the section to your
lead player of the rhythm section or whatever. Do you see the point? It all
fits in together and the picture starts to clear up and make sense.

Wear Your Own Hat

As mentioned earlier, each team member has his own specific role, job, or
"hat" to wear in the section and/or band. It's easy to say teamwork, but
very seldom does one see a truly great trumpet team. The following are a
mild, first attempt at clarifying these hats in a basic manner.

Lead Player

The World Book Dictionary, in part, defines lead as: 1. a. to guide; to show
the way by going along with or in front of: b. to serve to guide 4. to be a
way or means of bringing something to a particular conditioner result.

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Clearly it can be seen that a lead player has a big "hat" to wear. It consists

a) being able to interpret the music in the correct style.

b) communicating openly with respect and affinity for the other

members of his section.

c) being consistent enough to provide predictability for the rest of

the band, especially phrasing and style.

d) being strong enough to "crack the whip" to get the band off of
the ground and poppin' rather than merely playing the notes, but
being sensitive enough to play gently when called for (especially
being able to tell the two apart).
e) being a good jazz player because the most musical way to play a
lead part is as if it were a jazz solo in ensemble form. This is how
to make it swing.

f) delegation of power.

Regarding a), this is just versatility and experience. An important point,

though, is that if at any time the lead player has difficulty with the style he
must freely admit it and proceed to find out how it should be done even
ask-ing other guys in the section. It might be that another player could do a
more stylistically effective job and it would be wise of the lead player to
pass the part so the whole section and band sound better on the chart.
Think of the right guy for the job.

On to c), this comes through a lot of experience and lots of listening to

other than the "Top Ten" current bands .Try to get around to lots of
rehearsals and concerts to hear live music and dig how the pros pull it off.
Ask them if you can do it without being a pest .A lot of it is gaining the
confidence and the horn/mouthpiece thing off of your mind so that you
can play without being men-tally distracted by your own thoughts.

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As far as b), it's a common sense thing BUT takes a lot of work on your
part to pull it off. Avoid "games", jealousies, etc.; if they show up; don't
wait for the other guy to straighten it out. All of this junk can really spoil a
dynamite band, and prevent you all from having one of life's greater
pleasures-playing good music with some good friends.

The remainder (d) are mostly a matter of experience where you develop
them, and require much space to go into further here but, I would like to
express a point of view : I would hope that anyone trying to become a lead
trumpet player should hope to be able to swing or cook (mostly a way of
saying good time and relaxed way of executing the part), and not
concentrate so much on just the high register. There are many kids coming
up today that have lots of high chops but I rarely hear a student who can
"lay it down". So, there's work to be done, for sure!

You must, above all, maintain your belief in your potential, and never
minimize your abilities at all. Don't get to the point of tolerating ceilings or
limitations as to how for you can go. Your own thoughts will be the only
thing that can and will hang you up. As you develop and reach goals (and
you've gotta learn to recognize WHEN you do reach them), you'll have to
put new goals out in front of you or the game is over. Keep looking
forward to these new and bigger goals and ...AVOID GETTING HUNG
UP ON YOUR PAST ACHIEVEMENTS. Once they're done, they're
over with. It's OK to recall them for lots of good reasons, but if you get
hung up, you'll find yourself sticking your abilities at that level and your
outward growth will slow down. Surely you've seen or met guys who are
musically stuck in a given era or style of music.

The average person it seems spends quite a lot of his time minimizing his
strength and abilities. Therein lie about 90% of your problems with your
horn. So, the sooner you can become aware of this, the sooner you'll be
able to eliminate it, and therefore succeed in accomplishing everything you
set out for. HOWEVER, there are a few sand traps along the road that will
try to keep you from knowing, but these have no real power unless you give
it to them as in the earlier mentioned case of resisting negative thoughts.
One of the traps in setting goals is that you can skip a gradient approach to
success and find yourself in over your head. If you set such an extremely

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high goal and standard for yourself that it keeps you frantically racing as if
to put out a fire, you'll miss a lot of the fun of being a musician, and can
prevent you from being objective about your growth and from enjoying
your PRESENT-TIME abilities. More simply, if ALL you see is your
"ultimate" goal, you'll be constantly putting yourself down as you play in
present time because it'll always be compared to the ULTIMATE goal
rather than to how you're actually playing at that moment. The ultimate
hopefully will always be changing anyway and I dream sometimes about
becoming a "perfect" player, but as long as I keep creating new levels to
climb to, I'll never be perfect and will therefore have plenty of good
reasons to keep playing and studying.

Support Player

As was stated earlier, a smart lead player knows the true value of having an
exceptional section in l) making his job easier, 2) making him sound better,
and 3) having a good time with the music. So a good support must learn to
be totally unselfish towards the overall team effort and must develop a
terrific set of ears. You must learn to get "inside the head " of your lead
player and play right along with him, but just under; never blow so hard
that you can't hear everything your lead player does, even those little turns
and things that are on the lighter side. Playing up to your lead player
doesn't mean blasting as hard or harder.., the lead player will naturally be
working a bit harder because of being the higher voice. As a section player
you'll eventually find the "slot" where it feels comfortable. If the whole
section is over-blowing, the band will sound rotten, the pitch will make
your spine rattle, and this is a perfect occasion to start having chop

When in doubt, lighten up a bit until you can really hear everything and
then play there! You must have personal and professional respect for your
lead player and be willing for him to be right. He'll have to make the
decisions and keep some degree of order in the section, come up with riffs,
etc., and he'll need every bit of help you can give him, Anyway, that's your
gig! You have a big responsibility toward the band to see to it that you play
the book the very best that you possibly can and you have a big
responsibility towards your own personal integrity as a musician. One last

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thing on this... without a doubt, it's understandable that every section

player would like to have the lead chair, but when it's your time it will
come. The message is: Be patient, be prepared, and be cool! Just go ahead
and have a good time, take your life with some leisure, and enjoy it as a

On the subject of pitch, there are more frequent problems with pitch in
jazz/pop/rock than with more classical forms, many of which are due to
the excess volume that is required and the addition of electronics in the
rhythm section. I think that the acoustic bass is easier to tune with because
of its sound quality; the electronic bass (or fender) doesn't center as well.
There are plenty of exceptions and if you're fortunate enough to work with
a fender bass player that does it really well, savor every moment. A lot of it
is just the overall volume of the rhythm section. It can make you pump
your brains out. Thru much trial and error you'll find your own way of
dealing with it. Just be aware that's it's possibly there, and remember to
avoid blasting just to hear yourself. It makes the problems worse. Also
realize that possibly all of the horn players will be in the same stew, so just
back off and try to get thru it.

Another area that really needs more development is the area -of alternate
fingerings. One needs to master the science of acoustics to get the job done
right however, here are a few things that might get you started. These also
may not necessarily apply to each person or situation, but worth checkin'
out. When you play a high D in an Eb key, it resonates or vibrates
differently than the same high D in a D chord or any other chord for that
matter. In one key you might want to play it open (o) while it could work
better with 1st valve in another key. With this we have the difference in
intervals between the 1st part and the other voices in the chord. A high D
played over an A should work better if played open because the A tends to
be sharp and by playing the D open (also sharp) the intonation will line up
better within the band. Also if the 2nd voice is voiced too close to the lead,
the vibrations are too close to each other and tend to eradicate, at least in
part, the tonal center of the horn.

Just as important is the fact that the A can also be played with alternate
fingerings all of which do similar types of things to the Intervals, which

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incidentally, is what you're doing when you tune up....listening for the
intervals of the voices around you. The lead player, surprisingly enough to
many beginners, gets the strength of his intonation help from the bass
player. And it does well for the rest of the section to listen not only to their
lead player, but to the bass as well. First policy, however, is go with the lead
player. As you expand your ability to hear more things going on at the
same time, you'll start to notice that the baritone sax and bass trombone
will be further support for the pitch if they've tuned well to the BASS, (in
addition to their section leader. Most people run off to a piano to tune up,
but in most clubs the pianos won't be consistent and besides, the band will
tend to settle into its own pitch, mostly based on the bass. Believe me,
there's a lot more to working in a big band than meets the eye. It's not all
shuckin' an' jivin', hangin' around busy being hip, etc.; it takes a lot of
responsibility to the job and yourself, so things like the above are worthy of
your attention. Eventually you'll get to the point of being able to hear any
one or all of the parts in the entire band while you're playing, and being
able to control what you want to hear within reason.

Suggest that each make up a chart of alternate fingerings. Figure them out
on your own if you must, but at least explore the other areas of the horn.
I've thought several times ....wouldn't it be ridiculous if at some time in the
past, someone ,at random, came up with the set of fingerings that are
"accepted by the very finest" and these having been carried on for ages
being the only ones taught, and then discovering that the original chart
had been mistranslated and we've been using the wrong set all these years I
Aside from that, there are many more sounds to be developed on the horn
and all seem to me to be a part of playing it COMPLETELY. Many jazz
players use numerous alternate fingerings in their solos for added ease in
executing certain licks or whatever. The quickest way to start figuring them
out is using the harmonic series of any valve combination. (all of them, in
fact); don't forget to use 3rd by itself. After you've figured them out a bit,
test them at a rehearsal, but keep quiet about at first; don't get into a group
discussion and get other guys in the section favoring you or whatever. You
just want to try them in a natural way to see if they really help. If they do,
then let the other guys know what you've discovered; they'll hopefully be
happy to receive it. Some will, others won't at first (or ever), but go straight
ahead and do your job.

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Practicing has had a bad reputation with many young players(old ones, too)
for as long as there was something to learn, and it's worth trying to figure
out exactly why, because I've never been one for practicing at least in the
conventional ways that we pick up from God knows where. I realized one
day that we are never really taught how to practice or for that matter, how
to even sit down and learn anything at all. Somewhere in the basics of
education, probably in pre-school, children should be taught how to study
so that the doors will always be open for them. As far as practicing an
instrument, it all ties in with one's ability to study.

When you sit down to put together a trumpet section, you had better plan
on a considerable bit of sectional rehearsing, naturally depending on what
level you're working with, but even at a professional level, lack of it can
make or "(break your section. There are many things about ear training
and just playing in general that can possibly be learned only here.
You wouldn't believe the difference in a section that has suddenly had a
sectional after having been together for awhile without one. They shouldn't
be a regimented experience. I don't believe in having the leader there or
any-one as far as that goes. It should be a private meeting of the minds of
the section and should be attentive, purposeful, and loose. NO conductor is
best. In some cases, especially in lower levels of schools, it's cool, but as
soon as you've got them going, get out of their way and let the kids take
their own responsibility for themselves and their section. They'll possibly
goof off a bit, but they'll get into it at their own natural speed and they'll
end up being much stronger in the long run. A couple of embarrassing
concerts will do wonders for getting some sectionals going. At the higher
levels, the familial relationship is vital in executing some of the professional
level music, so it's good to start building the foundation for this kind of
communication at an early age.

As far as more technical things, a guy playing an inside part may never
have the joy of knowing what it sounds like or what it has to do with the
arrangement until he gets to play it in a sectional. It'll help each person
learn to play better pitch, time, phrasing,-all of it in fact. Also a good idea
in school situations is to let everyone get a chance to play a lead chart and

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a jazz solo. Learning is EVERYONE'S right.

If you're able, occasionally record the section and all sit down and listen to
it; you'll find some interesting things, I'm sure. Just avoid getting too
particular about yourself, or rather, whatever you do, avoid getting into a
self put-down trip. Nobody's (fortunately) perfect, but it's OK to try to be
as long as you know that if you ever achieve it, the game's over. I prefer to
play the game. I hope you do, too!

3. General Information on Mutes

One particular area of brass playing that has been overlooked as far as
educational materials is the use of mutes. The average listener and
conductor never notices the finer points that we have to deal with in the
use of each different mute and its individual properties. Perhaps the single
most annoying aspect of each mute is in its intonation, but closely followed
by the alteration of the resistance of the air stream going thru the horn.
Since each works differently, it would be best to discuss each separately.

Harmon mute

Probably the most widely used mute

in contemporary music. It blends
very well with flute, especially when
used in unison, and creates a nice
crisp sizzle or buzz effect. In general,
this mute will cause your horn to play
about one-half step higher in pitch,
so you must pull the tuning slide out
approx. 1/4 inch, although the exact
amount will vary slightly from player
to player depending upon the
equipment used, and it will also vary according to the register being
played, as well as the intensity of the music, i.e., dynamics. In almost all
cases, don't use the stem/cup that comes with the mute when purchased,
BUT DON'T THROW IT AWAY: If you ever find yourself doing real
commercial gigs, Clyde McCoy's "Sugar Blues", or studio work, there'll be

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times when you'll need it for a special sound. There are many things that
can be done to a Harmon mute to alter and improve its sound and
playability if you want to take the time and expense of experimenting. In
the first place, the original mute of this type was apparently named after
the Harmon Company which may have invented it or at least increased it's
popularity to a point of the name association, but several other companies
are now manufacturing the same basic mute with minor changes, the most
significant being the thickness of the metal used.

You'll occasionally run across one of the old orange copper Harmon mutes
and if so, BUY IT (especially if you can find it for less than twenty dollars)!
I recently paid thirty dollars for one and have seen them as high as fifty
and sixty dollars in Japan. It's a very heavy and dark sounding mute and
while not always the ideal sound, will offer some benefits in soloing into a
good microphone/PA system. It doesn't cut as well for section work and
unless everyone in the section has one, can cause minor differences in the
sound and blend. This isn't something that every listener will be aware of
but I can certainly tell the difference inside of the sectional sound. I
personally prefer the thinner metal for sectional work as I think that it
vibrates quicker because of the lightness of the metal and it is also (very
important) easier to hear yourself playing in and therefore easier to tune. It
also seems to have better projection and less resistance (doesn't feel so
"stuffy" when you play into it), and you're more likely to be able to play in
the lower registers, even down to the low concert E.In actuality, any
arranger that writes something for you to play in that register should be
suspended from writing and made to play improperly written material
passages for a month or so as a penalty.

I prefer the EMO mute of this type which is made in W. Germany and
available in most larger cities. If you find one, I suggest that you remove
the black sponge rubber and have it replaced with cork. It'll make the mute
play better. This next suggestion as regards the Harmon mute will
probably make all of the manufacturers cringe and write me nasty letters,
but although tricky to perfect, will really get some delightful sounds out of
a mute. Buy an extra mute rather than using your regular one. Taking a
medium sized screw-driver, insert the tip under the lip of the seam on the
side of the mute. The seam construction will possibly vary from brand to

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brand, but all that you want to do is to LOOSEN the seam. No need to
take the mute apart. When fairly loose, you should be able to spin the two
parts or at least turn them with relative ease. Stick the mute in your horn at
this point and play it. You should feel the entire mute rattling like crazy
which is merely an extension of the little buzz which you normally get with
this mute. Take a pair of pliers and gently squeeze the loosened seam in a
few spots around the circumference of the mute seam. About every inch or
so will be OK. You may have to go back and forth on this process until you
accomplish the precise settings. What you should be trying to achieve with
this is to make the mute vibrate more freely which will give you a little bit
brighter sounding buzz and therefore add considerable warmth to the
sound. Many mutes have a tendency to sound very metallic and I don't
think it's as personal of a sound as with a mute that has been altered.

I actually have a basic design in mind for a new type of "Harmon" mute
which would offer much more than the current ones but as yet haven't
found any millionaires that want to go into production on the project.
Another thing that you might find a bit humorous; my wife told me that
she always found it funny how BEAT-UP our Harmon mutes looked, full of
dents, etc., and that when she first met me and saw me playing, she
thought that I was probably a very careless person because of all of the
dents in my Harmon. It wasn't until later that she saw me take a brand
new mute out of a bag and start systematically knocking dents in certain
areas of the mute that upon asking me I was able to explain to her that I
was trying to change the sound by hammering on it. In actuality, most new
mutes with their perfect shape have a very "hollow" and uncentered sound.
It always feels to me as if the air is spinning around inside of the mute and
fighting for a resistance center. By flattening the rounded corners and then
denting slightly all around the walls of the mute, the air seems to have a
better "grip" inside of the mute and the sound centers much better. This
also will improve the overall intonation of the mute as well as increasing it's
comfortability in playing.

Now, let's go back to the stem/cup and discuss it's use beyond the Wa-Wa
effects. If you can, get an extra stem and remove the cup from it by
carefully using pliers or by sawing it off with a hacksaw. With the cup
removed, you'll find that the stem can be re-inserted into the mute and

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when extended all of the way out, will add an extremely bright center and
projection to the mute. It has a very specific sound and won't be something
that you'll want to use frequently, but can give you some added projection
in a bad acoustical situation or for a special type of solo. This should give
you some basic info on this particular mute and will hopefully make you
realize that there is a lot more to playing with mutes than just sticking them
in your horn and blasting away.

The Cup Mute

Whereas the Harmon mute makes

your overall pitch sharp, the cup
mute does, for the most part, the
exact opposite except that the pitch of
each register can vary a great deal
depending upon the intensity level
being played and the type and/or
brand of cup mute being used. This
mute can be found made from a
heavy fiber-like material much like
masonite, from assorted metals
although usually aluminum, or from plastics. Perhaps even more drastic
than the Harmon mute will differences be noted from mute to mute, and
from manufacturer differences.

I like to keep at least one of several types available, especially for studio
work where a writer is looking for a special sound, my personal favorite
overall is the Humes & Berg MIC-A-MUTE, which is the same as the
basic cup with a rubber ring around the edge of the cup to control the seal
or space near the bell of the horn. This mute also has a soft fuzzy material
covering the inside of the cup area, the purpose of which is to soften the
"wooden" hardness of the sound of the regular cup. I think it offers a more
warm and personal sound and when you learn to control the tightness of
the fit at the "bell, you can still get the intense projection needed in big
band situations. The MIC-A-MUTE is also excellent for close miking

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Another type of cup available is the two-piece metal and fiber Shastock
mute which I believe was popularized by famed trumpeter in the forties
and fifties, Charlie Spivak. It actually works the best when used very close
to a mike for a solo and when adjusted very tightly against the bell. This
mute has the advantage of having a set screw to adjust the cup portion's
distance from the bell, but has the disadvantage of having a metal cup,
which is not a good sound quality for section work or for anything other
than the solo situation. There is a company in Sweden that makes the
Dizzy Gillespie model mutes which, when you can find them, are worth
purchasing although very expensive. The cup in this set is made of a white
plastic and separates into two pieces, one of which looks like a straight
mute and which could be used as one, and another piece which is similar
to a plunger which snaps over the end of the straight to form a cup. It has
a surprisingly good sound for being plastic. It lacks the hard, brittle quality
which makes the metal mute undesirable, and although not as warm
sounding as the MIC-A MUTE, has a very pleasant overall sound and
fairly respectable intonation.

Speaking of intonation, the cup mute offers some bizarre problems to deal
with. Each register has its own pitch, but in general, the cup tends to get
flat as you go up the scale into the register above the staff. A high C for
Instance, will usually be 1/4 to 1/2 step flat and you must learn how to
correct and hold the pitch with your air stream and diaphragm support. A
lot of these problems as you must by now realize, vary from player to
player and you'll just have to learn to be sensitive enough to them in your
own playing to deal with them and
correct them as you run into them.
No two situations are the same.

The Straight Mute

This mute was probably the first type

of mute used in any brass instrument
and has very limited application
today because of the harsh, brittle
sound it produces when played with
excess force. It sounds very good in

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classical, orchestral situations, but its use in modem jazz/big bands is

minimal, although I must admit, I've seen the demand for it starting to
occur here and there.

I use mine a lot with the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut band because the band is
styled after the older Count Basic type of music and the mute adds a lot to
this style, but aside from that, it collects quite a lot of dust. It tends to be a
very harsh mute for soloing with the exception of Latino types of music
where it can really sound good and a cup or Harmon really will sound out
of place to a point of being ridiculous. The best of these mutes are usually
made of aluminum (Alessi-Vacchiano is a good one), and the Tom Crown
Co. in the Chicago area makes them with copper and brass bottoms which
alter the sound a little bit, adding either brightness or darkness to the

Another type of straight mute to get your hands on is the small plunger
straight. This is to be used in eon-junction with the plunger for tightening
up the sound of the wa-wa effect. It takes some skill and lots of practice
and observation to learn how to do this really well. Suggest that you try to
find an opportunity to watch either Snooky Young or Cat Anderson use
this system, although there are many players around that can blow the
walls down with this combination. The straight mute will generally make
you play sharp, although usually not as much as with the Harmon, so a
pull of the tuning slide of approximately one eighth inch will suffice.

The straight mute also will cause some rather strange things to occur with
the resistance. In the lower register you'll feel lots of stuffiness and difficulty
centering the tone while in the upper register, the mute will speak very
clearly. The mute will generally have a "break zone" which is that spot
where the mute just doesn't want to work correctly. It'll feel like you've got a
rag in the bell of your horn. I usually find this zone at fourth line D, fourth,
space E and Eb, the fifth line F (it is usually OK), and G above the staff.
The intonation on these notes can rattle your teeth loose, especially if
you're playing unison in a section.

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The Plunger Mute

A good way to start is by holding the

plunger in your left hand, placing
your hand at the bell with the heel of
your palm resting against or close to
the bell. This should put the plunger
near the bell at an angle with the left
side about one inch from the bell and
the right side further away at about
four inches. With this position you
should be able to produce the basic
sound and then by experimenting
with distance and motion, youll learn to listen to the mate in order to
determine the best spot for the required sounds. Bubber Miley was one of
the first trumpet players to popularize the plunger mute and Cootie
Williams was another of the popular soloists with this mute. If you really
want to learn to use the mute to its best, I suggest that you go to a library
or a friend's record collection and listen to some of these old recordings,
mostly of the Duke Ellington band in the thirties and early forties. The real
challenge in using the plunger mute is in developing your awn personal
kind of sound with it.

This mute has the ability to very nearly emulate the human voice when
used properly. I've actually heard some players like Snooky Young and
Jimmy Nottingham sound like they were talking through the mute while
playing a solo. It just takes lots of listening, practice, and most of all lots of
"soul" or feeling.

Well, I think that this has covered the basic areas of mute use and
understanding. There is certainly a lot more vital information necessary to
a mastery of the art of using mutes and there are many other types of
mutes which you'll run across, and I plan on covering some of these at a
later time, but for the moment, I hope that this information will be of some
help to you.

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(Learning to Improvise on a new tune)

The following sequential process is something I've worked on and been

using with some notable success in teaching about improvisation. Naturally,
some of my students are beginning to intermediate with regard to their
playing levels. Any decent jazz musician would probably tell you that it's
impossible to "teach someone how to play jazz" and I would agree totally if
we look at it in a literal manner especially with reference to the essence of
the art form. However, I know there are many things that can be referred
to with regard to this activity and this information just might open up some
doors of perception for a student and get them headed down the "correct
path" of self-learning and ear training which perhaps might enable them
to learn to improvise well someday.

Most of the young players I've come in contact with are seemingly
searching for some sort of short-cut or magic formula that will make them
sound impressive and that will keep them from playing any "wrong notes".
This is really a big problem with our educational sytem. I've spoken of it
prior and will no doubt continue to speak of it until it goes away. For now,
I'd like to submit the following process as a simple, yet sometimes tedious
and demanding method of getting more deeply involved in the basic
understanding of some of the academic materials used in learning to play
jazz solos.

I think it's necessary, or at least helpful, to be able to understand music in

all stages in order to fully master it. A chord is simply a static SOUND. It
can have duration but it doesn't require motion or movement to satisfy its
definition. The PRIMARY level of understanding must start with a
VERTICAL, or up-and-down way of recognizing each chord. This chord
has primary chordal tones, i.e., 1st (root), 3rd, 5th, and 7th. Even MORE
primary to this is the TRIAD, i.e., root, 3rd, 5th with no 7th. In jazz,
almost all chords have at least the basic four notes aforementioned. Moving
onward, the chord then has extensions, i.e., 9th, 11th, and 13th, either in
natural state or altered as lowered (flat) 9th or raised (sharp) 9th, raised
(sharp) 11th, and lowered (flat) 13th.

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Having dealt with the VERTICAL approach and information, the next
possible approach is more HORIZONTAL. This would include the
addition of the scales from the syllabus that apply to each chord. This
horizontal approach eventually involves forward movement thru various
chords, the scale changing to match each chord "change". This can
possibly lead to more linear motion in your soloing. Once you feel more
comfortable with the chord scales, then the REAL essence of improvising
is moving into true LINEAR playing where you strive for melodies that fit
in yet flow not only thru but almost above the harmonic structure of the
tune. The real beauty of going thru this step-by-step process is its effect on
your ability to "hear" the changes and THE TUNE. Ear training is
probably the most vital (and overlooked) aspect of any musical training
program from my point of view and it is with that point in mind that I've
devised all of the routines & exercises. So much could be written here
about all of this but for now, let's move on to the process. As you put it into
practice, try to find your own personal needs and make your own decisions
as to how to use it. The intent here is not a musical cloning. Learn to

1) Learn the MELODY of the tune. Play it over and over until you can
play it without reading it. If possible (and preferably), LISTEN to a
recording of it hopefully by a GREAT PLAYER. Also if possible, seek out
OTHER recordings of the same tune, even if in a different key and
different style.

2) Get the correct chords for the tune. Fake books are not to be trusted so
learn to develop your ear to check and eventually you should be able to
transcribe the tune AND changes.

3) On a piece of music paper, vertically spell all of the chords. If you're

new at this, start with triads only, then add the 7th after triads are done.

4) On your instrument, play these spellings , up and down. Keep repeating

them until you are comfortable with them, i.e., 1-3-5, 5-3-1, then invert
them in several ways, i.e., 3-1-5, 1-5-3,5-1-3 . The add the 7th and play
them 1-3-5-7,7-5-3-1 up and down. When somewhat comfortable, do the
inversions as above, i.e., 1-5-3-7,7-3-5-1, 1-7-3-5,5-1-3-7, etc. Take your

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time, play them slowly. Use a metronome to help develop rhythmic-"time"

control as you develop harmonic skill. For playing triads, play quarter note
and two eighth notes in each bar.

When there are two chords in a bar, then play two eighths and a quarter
for each chord.
when you go to four-note chords, play four eighth notes on each.

An important point with this routine is to play them at first by looking at

them but then look away from the page and play them by ear,
remembering what you played when reading . This enables your "ear" to
learn them, not only your eyes and fingers.

5) Using a play-along recording (or just a standard jazz recording if you

don't have a play-along), play the spellings along with the recording.
Repeat several choruses until you gain a degree of familiarity and comfort.
Also play the melody several times thru.
It's a good idea to alternate a melody chorus and then a spelling chorus,
back and forth. There is an old adage in music, "Melody dictates
Harmony". They work together but melody always helps stabilize the
harmonic movement thru the tune and helps you develop the "inner ear".

6) Get a copy of the Scale Syllabus and figure out from the chart which
chord scale applies to each vertical chord. Write these out for each chord
on a separate piece of music paper. Play thru them slowly, once again up-
and-down and then reorganizing the position of the scale tones , i.e., play
the notes in several different sequence alternating the intervals around and
around. Extend past just one octave. Alternate & experiment with different
rhythms, i.e., some sustained notes, some 8ths, some quarters, etc. Suggest
you start with 1-2-3-5 of each scale as eighth notes.
Make them SWING!

7) Using the recording, play thru these scales, chorus after chorus being
sure to alternate intervals so it doesn't sound like you're just playing scales.
Experiment with rhythms, etc., as above. It's OK to leave space here and
there... whatever you WANT. Remember, we're playing MUSIC here.
Make things have FEELING.

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8) Go back to your basic spellings of the 1-3-5-7 vertical chords. As you

play the recording, you now need to learn to spot common tones and voice
leadings in the chord progressions. Select any chordal tone from the first
chord of the tune and sustain it as long as it applies as a PRIMARY (1-3-5-
7) chordal tone as the chords go by. This is known as a common tone. If it
does NOT apply, it is no longer a common tone but is now a VOICE
LEADING. That means that if you do not move it to a chordal tone, you
will be playing the "forbidden wrong note". Common tones and voice
leadings will teach your ear the connections between the chords. Typically
you will find simple things like if you pick a 3rd, it will likely become the
7th of the next chord without moving and sometimes the 7th will become
the 3rd. It is always nice to sit back and take a look at these analytically just
so you start to understand the inner workings of tune construction. During
this exercise, you'll mostly be playing only whole notes and perhaps half
notes. These are almost like sustained "string pads" under a melody. Each
chorus start with a different chordal tone so you find several different
"pathways" thru the tune.

9) Repeat this process with chordal extensions and alterations called for in
each chord change. These are considered SECONDARY chordal tones. As
you approach the extensions, it's OK to eliminate the lower basics of each
chord in order to concentrate and facilitate dealing with the extensions.
After some degree of comfort, try combining Primary and Secondary
tones. Always remember THE MUSIC. Try to gain as much horizontal
and linear movement as you gain but try as well to combine vertical with
horizontal -linear lines . Don't forget the RHYTHMIC aspects. It's gotta
feel good!

10) Sit down with some music paper and write several melodies that work
with this chord structure. Try to write melodies as if you were planning on
adding singable lyrics later.

11) Using your ear, play the tune in several other keys, starting with the
melody and then learning to "hear the tune" as you improvise in different

NEXT TUNE!!!!!! ENJOY and Good Luck!

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32 Bobby Shew - Thoughts on Trumpet Playing