Get Out Front!

Your focus needs to be out in front of your bell, not behind the mouthpiece.

This may seem like a simple idea and it is. It is also possibly the most critical aspect in attaining liberation and expressive freedom with your artistic pursuits (in the case playing music with a trumpet).

The idea is this – forget function and you become as efficient as possible in creating the images in your mind. This is a scary thing for those of us who are not familiar with the sensation. When you are concerned with the way your lips feel, or where your mouthpiece goes, or where your breath is going, you become less concerned with what you are playing and more importantly how you want to play it. Now it is perfectly fine to analyze these areas in the practice room but when it comes time to perform we need to learn to “just play.”

This feeling is often described as being “in the zone” or an “out of body experience,” and it is essentially this – a clear mind performing the singular task of musical execution without our (ego’s) help. Perhaps you’ve experienced this with something you have practiced a ton. You’ve really got that lick “in your ear” or “under your fingers” and you can play that puppy without the damnedest concern for how you’re doing it. This feels good.

So how can we experience this more often? Luckily it is a skill that can be practiced and the more time we commit to working on it the more automatic it becomes.

To eliminate the tendency to think about how we are doing something we need to preoccupy our thoughts. Do this by focusing on the projection of your sound outward. You can find a spot in the back of the room and play strait through it, you can imagine your sound filling the room, or as Charley Davis taught me, you can focus on your sound 6-8” in front of your bell. Another variation of this that works great with the anxiety that may arise before articulating a high note or an exposed passage is to imagine the sound originating at the POF. All of these visualizations work great in getting you away from thinking too much about your chops (think about chops and you’re dead in the water).

Another great technique that hard-wires the brain to function in this way is to practice playing melodies by ear. If you are maintaining your POF and thinking in sound you become accustomed to trusting your body to perform the correct tasks in creating that sound. In fact, if your focus is out in front of your bell you HAVE to think in sound since you aren’t thinking about the physical aspects of playing.

If you improvise in this way (playing out front and thinking in sound – aka: by ear) you will be playing great swinging stuff which you have control over. There is a HUGE difference between the guys and gals playing in this way and the ones running finger patterns and memorized licks. We also become aware of which ideas we own and those which we still need to practice.

As the link between our ears and horn gets shorter we are able to get inside our playing and continually develop on deeper levels. This leads to a sound and playing style that becomes much richer and mature over time.

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