What are they? Pitch bends are the bending of a pitch (usually down) without the aid of the valves. Play a 2nd line G and then bend the note down to an F# without changing the valves.
My introduction to pitch bends was by John Fumo during my graduate studies. The exercise he had me practice was very simple and yielded great results in opening my sound in the middle and lower registers. You simply play long tones bending down a ½ step and then ascending to the original pitch very slowly. Now on the way back up to the starting pitch the main objective is to come up as slow as possible and listen very intently to the sound. Through listening you will find the part of the note that is the most resonant. This exercise helps you find the fat core sound to each note. In other words the horn has a sweet spot where you get the most amount of tone for the least amount of work.
When I first began the exercise I could not really differentiate clearly between the different sounds created by bending the pitch. However, with practice you are able to hear finer and finer distinctions in tonal characteristics. This helped open up my sound tremendously which I desperately needed! (I use to sound like tearing sheet metal in the upper register and I had an airy, brittle sound in the mid-lower reg.).
I continue to practice pitch bends and have found them good for a number of other things as well.
For example, when you find the fat center to the note you are not only finding that particular note’s sweet spot, you are finding the core which connects all notes by varying airspeeds. This is the key to great flexibility. In time I began to realize that this core sound was sort of like a wind tunnel and once you were lined up flush with the tunnel every note is right there in front of you. Everything travels out in a strait line through the core sound. Once you can feel this for yourself you realize that even the greatest feats of flexibility require relatively small amount of movement.
Another visualization I found useful with the bends is to imagine either the air speeding up or the energy increasing through the bend. Another way to view this is to imagine the lower pitch (1/2 step down) is actually further out than the starting note. When descending in pitch there can be a tendency to back off the air. Yes, lower notes do require slower airspeeds, however, I’ve found thinking the opposite simply prevents me from losing steam while going down. This is a great way to develop your support as well. When the acoustics of the horn are fighting back (F# does not want to be open valves) you have to have a supported airstream to blow the horn into submission. This forward motion of the air is critical for efficient trumpet playing and any way we can drill it into our subconscious is going to pay off big time.
The pitch bends also helped me find a more comfortable mouthpiece placement on my teeth. Throughout high school and college I played with the top rim of my mouthpiece very low on my upper lip. This facilitated ease in the upper register but I did not find this set-up practical for well-rounded trumpet playing. For me, part of finding the “sweet spot” was allowing my body to let the mouthpiece ride higher on my upper teeth and open my jaw a bit more (using a closed jaw less for required tension).
With a fatter, more open sound you will blend better in sections as well. If you can get a bigger sound with less work you are able to venture into the land of smaller mouthpieces and still get a generous amount of sound. This will help make playing easier. ALSO – The broader your sound the more you are able to support the lead trumpet player. The more you support the lead player, the more they like you. The more they like you the more you can work! J
I have found that practicing the bends in the ways mentioned above promotes the use of a “pucker” embouchure (disclaimer: I admit I am venturing into ideas I am just beginning to explore so excuse any wild accusations) What I mean is that with slow, diligent work on bending the pitches (particularly by gradually expanding the registers you do them in) you encourage the muscles of the face to position themselves forward, toward the mouthpiece. This creates a nice cushion for the air to move through and the mouthpiece “rides” the embouchure (thanks for the visualization Jay!). Basically you want the muscles to move toward the mouthpiece rather than trying to cram the mouthpiece through your teeth. This leads to greater endurance, increased ease in playing, and being able to play your heart out all night WITHOUT DAMAGING YOUR LIPS! Oh, my!
To get started with pitch bends in your practice begin with simple long tones bent down a half step and then ascend very slowly while listening to the sound. Once you identify what it is you are listening for you can apply the bends literally anywhere in your practice routine. A nice way to work them is any time you flub a note or skate on the pitch in the middle of a phrase, go back and when you get to that note work a bend on it. Once your body can feel that center you stand a much higher chance of landing right in the middle of that puppy next time through.
To all two of you, please offer some helpful ideas!
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