Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Sabbatical Story, Part 2: France

The second week of November, I flew from Corfu, Greece, to France, for a week of recitals and residencies at three French conservatories, in Lyon, Tours, and Montluçon.

Historic Montluçon, France

On November 8, 2021, I was in residence at the Lyon Conservatory, as a guest of Arnaud Schotte, Professor of Trumpet at the Lyon Conservatory. The day before my residency at the conservatory, Arnaud took me to coffee, and I enjoyed catching up with him about our many mutual friends and contacts. (As it turns out, Arnaud went to school in the United States at the Purchase Conservatory in New York, where he was a classmate of my recent University of Kentucky student Jeff Barrington.)

In the French system, students of all ages can enroll in conservatory, and the Lyon Conservatory has a total of around 70 trumpet students! I began the day with a 9:30am master class. About an hour into the class, I asked Professor Schotte how much time we had left, to which he replied, "We should stop by 12:45pm." While at first that sounded like a very long class, this turned out to be the shortest teaching day I had in France!

Jason Dovel with Arnaud Schotte in Lyon, France

After the three-hour master class, we walked to a nearby restaurant for a delightful French lunch, where we were joined by Lyon trumpet artist Thierry Seneau and the conservatory's wonderful collaborative pianist. We then headed back to the conservatory for my afternoon recital. I played the same recital I had previously played in Greece in the United States.

Trumpet Recital at the Lyon Conservatory
View of Lyon, France, as seen from the hilltop Lyon Conservatory

On November 9, I was a guest artist at the Francis Poulenc Conservatoire in Tours, France, as a guest of professor Arnaud Juchault. (In planning this tour I had to be careful keeping straight my emails with Arnaud Schotte in Lyon and Arnaud Juchault in Tours!) I enjoyed meeting Professor's Juchault dear family as well as staying in their beautiful country home during my visit.

I started the day in Tours by teaching a warm-up class and then taught an afternoon master class in which most of the conservatory's students played a solo piece or etude for me for feedback. I was especially honored that many of the Tours students had prepared my original compositions to play for me! At the end of the day I coached a trumpet ensemble made up of some of the conservatory's youngest students.

Presenting a master class to students at the Poulenc Conservatory
With students at the Poulenc Conservatory
Arnaud Juchault with Jason Dovel

On November 10, I visited the Conservatoire André Messager in Montluçon, France, as a guest of professor Andre Bonnici. I had more free time in Montluçon, and Andre was kind enough to give me a wonderful tour of his charming town. Montluçon could be a Hollywood backlot for a movie set in the 1200s - only it's the real thing! In addition to enjoying the historic town, I also really enjoyed having meals in Andre's home with his dear family.

Andre really organized my visit well and a number of local educators and students from other conservatories attended the day's events, which was organized along the lines of an American "Trumpet Day" type festival.  I gave a master class from around 1pm - 6pm and then played a recital at 6:30pm.    It was a wonderful day!

View of Montluçon, France

Posing by Louie Armstrong at the Montluçon Music Museum (Museum of the Musiques Populaires)
Andre Bonnici and Jason Dovel

With some of the Montluçon students after my recital

A trumpet student performs during the day's festivities in the conservatory recital hall

It has been such a wonderful opportunity to live, perform, and teach in Europe for this sabbatical. In the upcoming blog post(s), I hope to share some tourist-y things I did apart from the trumpet, as well as share some insights on things I learned on this sabbatical.

Jason Dovel is associate professor of trumpet at the University of Kentucky and a Yamaha Performing Artist. He is host of the annual UK Summer Trumpet Institute held every June in Lexington, KY (USA).

Monday, November 22, 2021

Sabbatical Story, Part 1: Corfu and First Tour

In Fall 2021, I was granted sabbatical leave from the University of Kentucky to serve as Visiting Professor of Trumpet at Ionian University in Corfu, Greece. I am so grateful for this opportunity and thankful for UK administrators who support important professional development projects. (Thank you Dr. Pelkey and Dean Shanda.)

Corfu is a Greek island that lies west of mainland Greece and east of Italy. Ionian University is located in "Old Town" Corfu, and the Department of Music Studies itself is located on the historical Old Fortress grounds. I can not imagine a more scenic place for music study!

View of the Old Fortress in Old Town Corfu, with the Ionian University music building circled in red
Restaurants along Old Town Corfu's famous Spianáda Square

Harbor just a short walk northwest of the Old Fortress. Sea is the Ionian Sea, mountains in background are mountains of mainland Greece

Standing on the south side of the Old Fortress (music building on opposite site)

Ionian University did not begin courses until the first week of October. So, prior to departing for Greece, I played four solo recitals in the United States: at the University of Kentucky, Western Kentucky University, Arkansas State University, and University of North Texas. (If you'd like to take a listen, the livestream capture from the WKU recital is still available online here)

With my friend Dr. Sarah Herbert, Professor of Trumpet at Western Kentucky University (Bowling Green, KY)
With University of North Texas professor Dr. Raquel Samayoa and UNT students (Denton, Texas)
With students at Arkansas State University (Jonesboro, Arkansas)

After my recital tour, I flew from Lexington to Athens, Greece. Prior to starting my service at Ionian University, I had a wonderful time catching up with my Greek friends that I had met in previous trips to Greece.
Lunch near Athens with Gerassimos Ioannidis, George & Mirto Babarakos

After a brief visit in Athens, I flew to the island of Corfu and got settled in my apartment, which is located near the New Fortress. (The music department is about a 10-minute walk away, by the Old Fortress)
View of Old Town Corfu from the perspective of the New Fortress

At Ionian University, I have enjoyed teaching weekly trumpet lessons to the ten trumpet students, weekly studio classes, and also guest lectures in other courses, especially music composition courses. In these other courses, have taught about extended techniques, early music, and how to compose and arrange for trumpet and other brass instruments.

Jason Dovel with trumpet students at Ionian University

Standing by the entrance to the Ionian University Department of Music Studies
Inside the Ionian University Music Dept
Ionian University trumpet studio class

Students Prodromos Vourliotis and Xristina Livana perform during studio class (by coincidence, they both in high school studied with George Babarakos, my longtime Greek friend who I met for lunch in Athens in the earlier picture above)
Dinner with the Ionian University trumpet studio

The students at Ionian University are very eager to learn and have been great to interact with.  The repertoire they bring to their lessons is largely the same materials you would find in an American trumpet studio: Long tones by Vincent Cichowicz and Bai Lin, Charlier etudes, Concerti by Haydn and Hummel, as well as sonatas by Hansen, Kennan, etc.

On Wednesday, November 3, 2021, at 7:30pm, I played a faculty trumpet recital at Ionian University. The university press release for this event can be found here. This was the first live concert in the Ionian Academy's Ceremonial Hall in 18 months!

With students following my IU trumpet recital.

I am really enjoying my sabbatical so far and plan to share "the rest of the story" on this blog in the near future. More coming soon, stay tuned!

Jason Dovel is associate professor of trumpet at the University of Kentucky and a Yamaha Performing Artist. He is host of the annual UK Summer Trumpet Institute held every June in Lexington, KY (USA).

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Vocal Phonation Modes for the Brass Player


Singers have a well-codified system of vocal phonation modes that may parallel sound production for the brass player. Study of these modes may help brass players produce sounds that are more resonant and more colorful.


Brass players and singers have much in common. For both groups, an actual part of the human body produces the sound. For the brass player, it is the lips; for the singer, the vocal cords. In both cases, flesh is activated by the flow of air, and the faster the oscillation of that tissue, the higher the pitch. In both cases, the diaphragm, thoracic, and abdominal muscles modify the respiratory system's natural process. The sound of a singer's vocal cords vibrating prior to passing through the oral cavity sounds quite a bit like a brass player buzzing their mouthpiece. (Steenstrup, 18)

Singers have a long and robust tradition in exploring the science of sound production, a tradition that in some ways is superior to what we know about sound production in brass instruments. For today's blog article, I would like to focus on some basic ideas of vocal sound production, and how they might inform our thoughts about brass playing. In particular, I would like for brass players to explore how they may be able to develop and explore new tone colors, in a similar manner to how singers do this with vocal phonation modes.

For starters, four principles regarding sound production for singers should be noted:

 1. The vocal cords are a singer's reed, and they consist of the thyroarytenoid muscle and a membrane that covers it.

2. Adduction is the "closing" movement of the vocal folds, coming together.

3. Abduction is the "opening" movement of the vocal folds, separating apart.

4. The sound quality (timbre) is largely derived from the balance of opening and closing phases.  If the closing phase is longer than the opening phase, the sound will be brighter (richer in upper harmonics). If the opening phase is longer than the closing phase, the sound will be darker (lacking in upper harmonics). (For a more in-depth explanation of harmonics and tone color, check out the video I made last year on this subject.)

Process of Phonation

The phonation process involves the opening and closing phases of the vocal cords in response to the air, in a manner quite similar to that of the brass player’s lips. Since I am not a singer, allow me to directly reference a well-respected vocal pedagogy source: Agostoni writes:

“During the expiration the vocal cords are drawn together by the adductor muscles; the subglottic pressure pushes them apart, while their elastic recoil and the decrease of the lateral pressure due to the increase in kinetic pressure (Bernoulli principle) close them again, thus generating a periodic flow.” (Agostini, 105106)

Types of Phonation

Vocal phonation is the process by which the vocal folds produce sound. Vocal pedagogues know that the timbre of a singer’s voice is determined by the type of phonation they employ. In the standard voice pedagogy textbook, The Science of the Singing Voice (1987), Johan Sundberg introduced four types of phonation: breathy, pressed, flow, and neutral. Since that time, other modes have been described, such as creak phonation and falsetto phonation.

Breathy Phonation

Breathy phonation is when there is a higher airflow (and according to Boyle’s law, inversely, lower air pressure)  and a low adduction force. A great deal of air passing between the vocal folds that are held together by a smaller adduction force means that the vocal folds likely do not come completely together. This causes air to pass over the vocal folds that is not used for vibration, but rather, is heard as noise. Therefore, the unvibrated “noise” is perceptible in the sound quality, leading to a “breathy” timbre. This timbre of breathing phonation has a lower intensity of the upper harmonics.

Substituting "lips" for "vocal cords," and keeping the air in common, we can conjecture a brass playing equivalent of breathy phonation. Indeed, brass players get an airy sound, lacking in upper harmonics, when lips do not come completely together. Said another way, an airy sound may be the result of a lack of muscular contraction of the lip muscles and/or an aperture that is too large.

My friend and former University of Kentucky trumpet professor Vince DiMartino sometimes uses the term "blow-by" to describe this phenomenon for trumpet players -- Air that passes between the lips unvibrated and is heard as noise. It would seem to me that the “DiMartino Blow-by” and traditional vocal breathy phonation have much in common.

Pressed Phonation

Another vocal phonation mode is pressed phonation. If the vocal cords are pressed together with a high adduction force, combined with a higher air pressure, the closing phase is longer than the opening phase, which would result in a stronger intensity of the upper harmonics, which may be perceived as a "strident" or "bright" sound.

The brass playing equivalent of pressed phonation could be considered to be the strident sound, strong in upper harmonics, that results from the combination of lips that are pressed very tightly together, with high air pressure.

Flow Phonation (also called Resonant Phonation)

Flow phonation is the most resonant method of vocal phonation. Characteristics of flow phonation include high airflow, and a high but balanced subglottal pressure. Flow phonation is the most desirable method of singing and results in a balanced spectrum of harmonics.

The brass playing equivalent to flow phonation could be when airflow and lips are working together, perfectly in balance, to produce the most resonant sound quality.

Other Modes of Phonation

Vocal pedagogues also describe other modes of vocal phonation. Creak phonation is when there is a strong adduction force but at a very low frequency; this is the result of irregular oscillation. This is also known as “vocal fry.” Falsetto phonation is where the vocal folds are stretched and the vibrating surface is quite thin; this results in much higher pitches. (I’m not sure if there would be a direct equivalent of this phonation for brass players, but it sure would be nice if there was a quick way to pop up the octave!)

Changing Colors

While “flow phonation” may be the most ideal method for producing a resonant sound, singers may intentionally use other modes of phonation to change their vocal color, for expressive purposes. A singer may use breathy phonation for a breathy, intimate timbre. A singer may use a pressed phonation to achieve a tense, strident sound to convey anger.

Similarly, while brass players should also strive for physical efficiency and their most resonant sound production, they should also explore methods for producing a variety of tone colors. Changes in airflow, air pressure, and adduction force can also yield changes in a brass player’s timbre. For example, a jazz trumpet player may purposely allow some air to enter their sound to obtain a more diffused timbre. Conversely, a brass player may press their lips together with a high adduction force in order to create more upper harmonics in their timbre.

Changing to Stay The Same

Another important thing brass players can learn from singers is the importance of changing to stay the same. Since the amount of air remaining in the lungs is constantly decreasing over the course of a musical phrase, the relationship between airflow and the vocal cord tension is constantly changing. Agostini writes,

“To produce a pitch of constant loudness and pitch the subglottic pressure must increase, while the vocal cord tension must decrease in order to keep the pitch constant.”

For brass players, a takeaway is that maintaining a note of the same volume and pitch is not a static process, but rather one in which we must change in order to stay the same.

Focus on the Music, Not on the Muscles

One conclusion that could be drawn from this information is that more focus should be put on the musician's specific control of their musculature -- but nothing could be further from the truth. Singers should not attempt to directly and mechanically control the stiffness and tension of their vocal cords. In the same book that codifies vocal phonation modes, Sundberg writes,

"We do not need to bother about the extremely complicated maneuvers we perform. We just perform them unconsciously, and what catches our attention is the end result, the sound." (Sundberg, The Science of Singing Voice, 18)

In a similar way, brass musicians need not worry about the specific musculature involved when they are performing. Rather, this information can be used as a diagnostic tool to address and correct problems.

Good Playing is Easy

My teacher Keith Johnson would often say, “Good playing is easy,” and I believe the singer’s concept of flow phonation reinforces this notion. Since vocal flow phonation is achieved through less contraction of the laryngeal muscles and less air pressure, it could also be described as the type of sound production that requires the least physical effort. Said another way, the most resonant sound quality may best be achieved through a method that is also the easiest from a physiological and aerodynamic basis.

For Future Researchers

While these phonation modes have been well researched by vocal pedagogues, more work is needed in the area of brass pedagogy. I believe there are many parallels between singing and trumpet playing, and this is a golden opportunity for future researchers. Ambitious and creative doctoral students who may be reading this blog may find this an area not yet adequately explored by brass researchers, and quite possibly a great topic for future dissertation and scholarly article work.

The author would like to extend a special thank you to Dr. Elizabeth Arnold, Associate Professor of Voice in the University of Kentucky School of Music, for her contribution to and feedback on this article. 

Jason Dovel is associate professor of trumpet at the University of Kentucky and a Yamaha Performing Artist. He is host of the annual UK Summer Trumpet Institute held every June in Lexington, KY (USA).

Sources/For Future Research

If you'd like to take a look at what vocal cords look like "in action," check out this YouTube video:

Modes of Phonation Website:

Types of Phonation (With cool sound files for examples):

Dovel, Jason, Exploring Trumpet Tone Color,

Agostini, E and Ambrogio, G. Sant, The Respiratory Muscles, Mechanics, and Neural Control, 1970.

Proutskova, Rhodes, Crawford, and Wiggins, "Breathy, Resonant, Pressed - Automatic Detection of Phonation Mode from Audio Recordings of Singing,"  Journal of New Music Research (2013)

 Steenstrup, Kristian, Teaching Brass (2nd revised edition), Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus, 2007.

 Sundberg, Johan, The Science of the Singing Voice, 1987.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A Short History of the Earliest Trumpet Books

Jean-Baptiste Arban (1825–1889) published his Grande méthode complète pour cornet à pistons et de saxhorn in Paris in 1864. This book remains one of the most important (and frequently used) trumpet books in the world -- but there are many books that came before it, most of which are often overlooked. This week's blog will explore 14 trumpet books that antedate Arban's method. When possible, external links are provided to the full text of the resource.

Excerpt from Magnus Thomsen's trumpet book from 1598

Magnus Thomsen: Music book for trumpet, 1598.
Henrich Lübeck: Music book for trumpet, 1598.

The earliest books of trumpet music are those by Henrich Lübeck and Magnus Thomsen. These are both dated to 1598. Described by Michael Gale in his Historic Brass Society Journal article (cited below) as "manuscript notebooks," these books contain pedagogical exercises as well as notated trumpet ensemble music that would have been normally improvised. It's peculiar that these books remain somewhat unknown, as they are both scanned and available as free downloads at the Royal Library of Copenhagen website (external link). The existence of these two books has been known for some time, and Peter Downey published editions of the works of Lübeck and Thomsen in his 1983 doctoral dissertation (cited below).

Casare Bendinelli, Tutta L'arte Della Trombetta, 1614.

Casare Bendinelli (c. 1542–1617) was from Verona, Italy. He served as principal trumpet of the Viennese court from 1567–1580 and then played for court in Munich, Germany until his death. His book, Tutta L'arte Della Trombetta manifests the first example of clarino music for trumpet. This book was compiled in 1614 and  it is generally regarded as a collection of music from his time working at the Bavarian Court in Munich. His book notes the rules for trumpet ensemble improvisation and contains over 300 sonatas.

Replica of Bendinelli's trumpet by Anton Schnitzer (Photo Courtesy Jared Wallis)

A trumpet owned by Bendinelli survives to this day; it was designed by Anton Schnitzer in Nuremberg, and Bendenelli gave it to the Accademia Filarmonica of Verona in 1614, the same year he compiled his book.

Jared Wallis demonstrates his Schnitzer replica (Photo Courtesy Jared Wallis)

Title page to Fantini's trumpet method

Girolamo Fantini, Modo per Imparare a sonare di Tromba, 1638.

Girolamo Fantini (ca. 1600-1678) published Modo per imparare a sonare di tromba..., in 1638. The English translation of the full title is "Method for learning to play the trumpet in a warlike way as well as musically; With the organ, with a mute, with a harpsichord, and every other instrument." According to Igino Conforzi (in the HBSJ article cited below), five print copies and one manuscript survive.

This book is important for many reasons, including Fantini's use of unequal articulation syllables, such as te ghe and ta da, as well as his expansion of the instrument's range. The music in the book also includes some notes outside the harmonic series. Modern players who want to learn the valveless natural trumpet most certainly should explore this resource.

Henry Meredith's 1984 doctoral dissertation (external link) is a thorough study, translation, and edition of Fantini's book. 

Excerpt from Hyde's Preceptor

J. Hyde A New and Complete Preceptor for the Trumpet and Bugle Horn, 1795.

The first English trumpet method was written by John Hyde in 1795. The contents of this book were recently recorded by the University of Kentucky Baroque Trumpet Ensemble (available here on Itunes: external link)

Hyde's book contains solos for trumpet and bugle, as well as trumpet ensemble music for two, three, and four natural trumpets. It also includes  pedagogical instructions as well as repertoire for the English slide trumpet. 

University of Kentucky DMA student Clinton Linkmeyer is currently working on a modern edition of this book as part of his doctoral dissertation, which should be available in 2021. Currently, the manuscript is available for free online via the University of California (external link).

Johann Ernst Altenburg. Versuch einer Anleitung zur heroisch-musikalischen Trompeter- und Paukerkunst (An Essay on the Introduction to Heroic and Musical Trumpeters' and Kettledrummers' Art), 1795.

Johann Ernst Altenburg (1734–1801) is perhaps the final representative of the golden age of natural trumpet playing. While it was published in 1795, it is generally agreed that it was written around 25 years earlier. It is a must-have for any serious trumpet student. The book offers details of the trumpet guilds and fellowships, and provides information on systems of training. (Teachers were to take on only one student at a time, the student lived with the teacher and took several lessons per day during a two-year apprenticeship.) It provides a detailed account of the instruments, roles, and techniques in the trumpet's history. The full text of the book can be found online at this external link.

Coverpage to Dauverné's trumpet method

François Dauverné (1799–1874)
 Methode pour la trompette (1857)

François Georges Auguste Dauverné (1799–1874) was the first trumpet professor at the Paris Conservatory. His famous pupil, Jean-Baptiste Arban (1825–1889) was the first cornet professor. 

Natural trumpet quartet in Dauverné's method

Dauverné's book includes pedagogical material for the valvless natural trumpet as well as music for the early valved trumpet. The full text of Dauverné's method is available at this external link.

19th Century Books

Excerpt from Buhl's method

Buhl, David, 
Théorie ou tablature de la trompette à pistons

In both its title and contents, Buhl's trumpet method clearly represents the transition from natural trumpets to valved trumpets, though Buhl himself did write for valveless trumpets as well. In fact, David Buhl is perhaps best known as the composer of Salut aux étendards, a cavalry trumpet's call that was later adapted by John Williams to become the modern Olympic Fanfare theme -- recorded here by the University of Kentucky Baroque Trumpet Ensemble (external link).

Fingering chart for three-valve trumpet in Buhl's method

Buhl's method includes a standard fingering chart for a three-valve piston trumpet that closely matches modern fingering charts in use today. The full text of Buhl's method is available at at this external link.

Cacciamani, Raniero, Instruction method for the valve trumpet, 1853.

Another 19th century book is Raniero Cacciamani's Instruction method for the valve trumpet. I am personally the least familiar with this book, and was unable to obtain a complete copy for this blog post, but according to Friedrich Anzenberger's 1993 Historic Brass Society Journal article (external link) the book is divided into three sections: a section for natural trumpet, a section confined to C major, and a section that utilizes the full chromaticism of the valved trumpet. Exercises from Cacciamani's book are included in Ed Tarr's The Art of Baroque Trumpet Playing (Volume One).

Concert Announcement for the World Premiere of the Haydn Trumpet Concerto

Keyed Trumpet Method Books

It is generally well known that Anton Weidinger performed on a Classical keyed trumpet and that both the Haydn and Hummel trumpet concertos were written for him and this instrument. However, it seems that in many circles it is believed that the keyed trumpet's usage was limited to Mr. Weidinger and these two pieces. This is not true. At least five method books were published that included pedagogical material for the keyed trumpet. These include:

Araldi, Giuseppe. Metodo per Tromba. (Method for trumpet), 1835.
Asioli, Bonifazio. Transunto del Principj Elemntari di Musica...E Breve Metodo per Tromba con Chiavi. (A survey of the rudiments of music... and a short method for keyed trumpet), 1825.
Nemetz, Andreas. Allgemeine Trompeten-Schule. (General trumpet method), 1828.
Roy and Muller. R. Cocks and Co.'s Series of Modern Tutors for Wind Instruments with New and Complete Scales...Tutor for the Keyed and Valve Trumpet, with Airs and Duets., ca. 1839
Roy, Eugène. Mèthod de Trompette sans Clefs and avec Clefs (Method for the trumpet with and without keys), 1824.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are interested in historically informed performance practice, or just have a general interest in the history of trumpet pedagogy, these are important and accessible resources. I hope you have found this short history of our instrument's earliest written resources helpful, and encourage you to follow the external links to explore these books in greater detail.

Jason Dovel is associate professor of trumpet at the University of Kentucky and a Yamaha Performing Artist. He is host of the annual UK Summer Trumpet Institute held every June in Lexington, KY (USA).

Sources/For Further Reading:

Friedrich Anzenberger, Method Books for Natural Trumpet in the 19th Century: An Annotated Bibliography, 1993 Historic Brass Society Journal (external link

Igino Conforzi, "Monarch of the Trumpet": New Light On His Works (Historic Brass Society Journalexternal link

Peter Downey, The Trumpet and its Role in the Music of the Renaissance and Early Baroque, 3 vols. (Ph.D. diss. The Queen's University of Belfast, 1983)

Michael Gale, "Remnants of Some Late Sixteenth-Century Trumpet Ensemble Music (Historic Brass Society Journal: external link

Henry Meredith, Girolamo Fantini's Trumpet Method: A Practical Edition, 1984.  (external link)

Edward Tarr, The Art of Baroque Trumpet Playing, Schott Publications, 1999.

John Wallace, The Trumpet (external link

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Practice Room Alternatives

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” Henry Ford

Social distancing has meant the closure of numerous schools and buildings, and many musicians now find themselves unable to access their usual practice space. In particular, students are having difficulty finding a place to practice, as even schools that are reopening for in-person classes are imposing significant restrictions on practice room and classroom usage.

Below are my top ten practice room alternatives. I wrote this with brass players in mind, but many of these are good options for other musicians as well.

10. Practice mute

It seems the most common practice room alternative is the practice mute. Many different types of practice mutes are available, and they certainly will soften the sound of a brass instrument. However, this is my least favorite option— for a brass player, playing in a practice mute is very unlike playing the instrument itself. The resistance and intonation of a practice mute are often problematic.

Once in a lesson with Barbara Butler, I blamed my poor playing on having been on the road and mostly using a practice mute in the preceding weeks, to which she responded, “Get rid of it, practice mutes are career killers.”

While practice mute practice may be a good option for use on an occasional basis, most musicians will want to find a better long-term solution.

9. Practice igloo

A great practice room alternative is the practice igloo, also known as the practice cave. Phil Smith and Joe Alessi made this humorous YouTube video about how they use a practice igloo to practice when they were on the road with the New York Philharmonic. 

Essentially, take a bunch of pillows and blankets, stack them up on a bed like an igloo, and then play your instrument into this igloo. It works surprisingly well and quiets the sound without creating the unnatural resistance of a practice mute.

8. Practice dresser

The practice dresser is my variation of the practice igloo. When I'm traveling and staying in hotels, if the room has a chest of drawers / dresser for clothing, I like to fill it with clothing, blankets, pillows, etc., and then extend the dresser drawer just slightly. I then place the rim of the bell (only) into the dresser, rest it gently at the front of the drawer, and play freely. (Many dressers have little cutouts, meant for your hand to pull, that are the perfect size to rest a trumpet bell.)  Coupled with the hotel room's rolling office chair, this makes for a comfortable setup for a good routine where you can play freely without the resistance of a mute, and without disturbing your neighbors.

7. Practice bucket

There are several varieties of the practice bucket, but my favorite is the one described in a recent social media post by Matt Anklan, trumpet professor at Ohio’s Miami University. This is an easy DIY project and supplies needed included a Home Depot bucket, twin mattress pad, 99¢ clamp from Home Depot, and one zip tie. Another version of a DIY practice bucket can be found here.

Matt Anklan demonstrates his DIY practice bucket

6. Open outdoor area

Parks, university green spaces, empty parking lots can all make for good practice areas. My institution, the University of Kentucky, recently set up several tents for outdoor student practice.

UK trumpet student Madison Barton practicing in an outdoor practice tent

5. Parking Garage

If you live in a metropolitan area there are probably many parking garages all over your city.  It’s not difficult to tuck into a corner with a music stand and practice.

4. Alternative spaces in an apartment complex

Perhaps your apartment complex has a basement, clubhouse, rooftop, laundry area, or other space where you can freely practice without disturbing your neighbors. If not, try to find a closet on an exterior wall (not shared with a neighbor) and play into a thick array of clothing.

3. Whisper Room

I recently was sent literature on the Whisper Room, a SoundIsolation Enclosure. These come in various sizes and can be a way to have a regular practice room in your apartment. 

2. Empty church

Churches have a lot of spaces that are great for musicians. Sanctuaries, classrooms, offices, etc. A large reverberate sanctuary is one of the best places to practice because you feel better about your playing (reverb) and are practicing in a space closer to an actual performance situation.

1. Live where you can practice freely

In my opinion, the best alternative to a practice room is to seek a place to live where you can practice. Whether this is a house or an apartment with thick walls (or understanding neighbors), it really is ideal if you can practice in the same building that you eat and sleep. Not only does this cut down on the hassle of the travel, scheduling, and availability associated with external practice spaces, but you have the added benefit of being able to take more breaks and practice whenever you want.  Ultimately, my advice to musicians is to remember their need for a time and space to practice when they seek a new place to live.


Jason Dovel is associate professor of trumpet at the University of Kentucky and a Yamaha Performing Artist. He is host of the annual UK Summer Trumpet Institute held every June in Lexington, KY (USA).


Wednesday, April 08, 2020

School as Leisure

Etymology is the study of the origin of words and their meanings. In studying the etymology of the English word "school," we find two origins: the Greek word skohle, meaning "spare time, leisure, rest" and the Latin word schola, meaning "leisure for learning."

In the Middle Ages, most individuals had to work as soon as they were old enough. In order for families to survive, most children needed to contribute to the family income soon after adolescence. Only a minority of the population (usually sons from rich families) had the opportunity to use their leisure time to go to "school."

In the 21st century, school can seem anything but leisure, especially for the university student. Demanding course loads, part-time jobs, employment uncertainty, rising tuition costs, and exploding student loans all seem to put stress upon a young person's decision to go to school. These days, school and leisure may seem like opposites.

In an unprecedented way, COVID-19 and social distancing are imposing a new type of conflict between school and leisure. As teachers and students alike now find ourselves isolated at home for weeks and months, we perhaps have much more unscheduled leisure time than we expect -- yet, we're also expected to keep up our scholastic obligations. Students are moving out of their dorms and home for the summer; normally this would indicate months of leisure and rest, but at this juncture these students are still expected to finish all of their academic commitments. How do we reconcile school and leisure?

A Posture of Leisure

To be clear, I am not advocating lower standards or a lack of commitment to academics and artistry. Quite the opposite; I'm advocating a posture of leisure to our efforts -- a posture that brings us joy; a posture that inspires us to pursue our studies with passion and excellence.

In Kelly Rossum's book Trumpet Roshi, he writes:

Roshi was speaking to his students during sosan,
"The essence of play is joy.
If you do not find joy in playing,

you may be performing.
This is for you to decide."

Perhaps our COVID-19 social distancing may force us to rethink how school and leisure time might co-exist. To be sure, there will be many disappointments, challenges, and frustrations as we move classes online. But maybe this is an opportunity for us --  not only to re-tweak our syllabi to finish out the school year, but a bigger opportunity for students and teachers alike to envision a new and better path forward.

Ways for Instructors to Make School Feel More Like Leisure

Since many universities around the country have announced their COVID-19  response as online-only instruction, professors are dramatically reshaping their courses. As we tweak our syllabi and course requirements, let this be an opportunity for us to realize where we can do it better. Those requirements we nix due to online limitations can perhaps be nixed altogether. Replace assignments that simply require students to regurgitate with ones that challenge them to create; inspire students to mesmerize audiences of the future rather than memorize facts from the past. And our concern for the student's health, and a desire to teach them in the context of their overall wellness -- let's keep doing that long after COVID-19 becomes a thing of the past.

Ways for Students to Make School Feel More Like Leisure

Stay on schedule. One of the pieces of advice I see frequently shared on social media with regard to surviving isolation at home is the importance of setting an alarm and maintaining a regular daily schedule. There are many reasons for this, including the promotion of positive mental health.

Many students are reluctant to make a regular schedule because they are afraid it will limit their free (leisure) time. But the opposite is true. By making a regular schedule and sticking to it, you take ownership of your time, and will end up with more control and more leisure time. (This is much like gaining control of your finances by making a budget.) And what's more, you'll enjoy your leisure time more, when you don't have the guilt hanging over your head of "I should be ______ right now instead...."

Know that your applied teacher can help make playing your instrument physically easier for you. One of the reasons being a music major may not feel leisurely is the physical challenge of learning a musical instrument. While it can be fun, playing an instrument (or singing) can at times feel like work. Your applied teacher has the training to make this easier for you. Sometimes, the changes your teacher suggests may initially feel uncomfortable; in fact, sometimes new approaches may seem much harder at first. Trust your teachers. Know that they want to make it easier for you. When playing your instrument is easier, it will feel less like work, and more like leisure.

Remember your star is just beginning its ascent. Recently, when John Wittmann of the Yamaha Corporation visited the University of Kentucky, he told our students, “Don’t compare your chapter 2 to someone else’s chapter 15.” It’s easy to get discouraged when we compare ourselves to those whose star has perhaps ascended higher than ours. Remember that you did not come to school to show how much you know. You came to school to learn.  Relax, know that time is on your side, and eventually you will get to your chapter 15 – and beyond.

Find ways to turn boring or frustrating experiences into positive, productive opportunities. For example, if you feel you’re in an ensemble where you’re not playing very much or not being challenged, find ways to be engaged. It’s often easy to complain about ensemble experiences. Rather than join in the complaining, find ways to be positive and productive. For me, I like to try to transcribe in my head what other instruments are playing. Or maybe I’ll work on my posture (Alexander Technique). Or maybe I’ll try to learn from the conductor’s rehearsal or stick technique. Rather than be bored, consider this leisure learning; Enjoy your ability to explore and learn in these new ways, on your own terms, and at your own pace.

Have an attitude of gratitude. Lastly, be grateful. Be positive. Show appreciation to your teachers. Show respect to your colleagues. Relish the opportunity to take this time in your life – this leisure time – and learn. Be grateful for the opportunity to pursue your passion, and know that the challenges and bumps along the way will make you stronger.

Final Thoughts

Many of us in the arts chose to go to school to turn our avocation into our vocation. Unfortunately, in some cases, school turns that leisurely avocation into an onerous obligation. Yes, absolutely, students need to be held to high standards, and universities should offer a robust and diverse curriculum; nevertheless, there may be some areas where we have been doing it wrong. As we navigate this new world of social distancing and online courses, let us not merely seek to fill our leisure time with the programs of school, but also to fill our schooling with a posture of leisure.

Jason Dovel is associate professor of trumpet at the University of Kentucky and a Yamaha Performing Artist. He is host of the annual UK Summer Trumpet Institute held every June in Lexington, KY (USA).