Getting the trumpet to consistently do what you want it to do is a lifelong process, and there are many legitimate ways to approach playing the horn. Like most trumpet players, I use concepts from several different schools of thought in my own playing, but one of the people from whom I’ve borrowed the most is James Stamp. I’ve recently developed a practice tool that has helped me do a better job of putting a couple of his ideas into practice, and I’d like to share it here (more on that in a minute).
James Stamp was one of the most influential brass teachers of the 20th century, and his approach to the trumpet has only become more popular since his passing in 1985. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a trumpet player who uses a Stamp exercise or idea in their playing, and what’s really interesting to me is that players of every stripe seem to like Stamp.
Håkan Hardenberger is a fan, (see Mark Dulin’s great January 2009 ITG Journal Interview), but so is Wayne Bergeron (see Derek Reaban’s write up of a 2008 Bergeron masterclass). I don’t know about you, but as a trumpet player who strives for proficiency in all types of playing, hearing two names as different as those attached to the same set of ideas perks my ears up.
Most of us know James Stamp’s method book Warm-ups and Studies as well as the book’s ubiquitous “Basic Warm-up #3” (if you don’t know “Basic Warm-up #3,” ask my wife how it goes. It gets stuck in her head like a Disney song).
As I see it, the backbone of Stamp’s philosophy to remain centered at all times, and the specific techniques in Warm-ups and Studies reinforce this philosophy, especially this one from page four:
Keep thinking down going up and thinking up going down.
I had an “A-ha!” moment a couple of years ago while reading Craig Morris’ excellent series of blog posts Stamping It Out. In particular, this excerpt caught my attention (from the second post in the series):
Imagine that you are playing facing a tall brick wall (if you have an actual brick wall, that will be even better). Assign each brick its own unique note. The top brick on the wall is pedal C; the bottom brick is however high you are able to play; Bb, C, or A should be right in the middle. Before you play any note, find its location on the brick wall, and then place the note there when you play. Thinking in this manner improves three things: 1) As mentioned in the book, it helps to keep you from playing sharp in the upper register and flat in the lower register. 2) It keeps you balanced when you play, preventing you from puckering out too much when you are in the lower register, and from stretching too much when you are in the upper register. 3) It gives you a more concrete placement of each note before you play it. When playing the trumpet, we have almost no visual feedback or guidance. If you play the piano, you know where every note is; they are all laid out in front of you. The same thing is true of string instruments, albeit to a lesser degree. With the trumpet, however, we have almost no visual help. But if you visualize the place each note resides on your virtual (or hopefully real) brick wall, then it will reinforce to your body where each note goes, and what is involved in placing it there.
This made a lot of sense to me, and I started putting it into practice. I began thinking of high notes as lower on the imaginary brick wall and low notes as up near the ceiling. Like most players, I struggle with over-tightening in the upper register and over-loosening the chops below low C, so this approach was just what I needed.
The basic idea is similar to what Craig Morris outlines above, but I’ve given each “brick” its own printed note name. While playing Stamp, scales, flow studies and the like, I associate each note I play with the printed note on the strip. Using this tool keep my high register feeling easier and more accessible and my low register less tubby. I’ve noticed a big improvement in ease of playing as well as smoothness of slurs.
My hope is that the Stamp Strip could be useful to other players, so I’m offering it as a free PDF download:
Some assembly is required, but not much. Just cut along the dotted lines, tape the strips together (remember that pedal C is at the top and double C is at the bottom), and hang it wherever you practice the most. That’s it!