Fast Tempo and old farts



  • So, it's that time of year again when the band starts preparations for the spring music festival competitions. We took gold last years with a march I was able to learn ( Col. Bogey ) and a Disney medley. This year the MD has chosen The Liberty Bell March and The Best Of James Bond medley. No problem with Bond but the march has a faster tempo and more tricky fingering than Col. Bogey seemed to have for me, and man, I am having my troubles with it.
    I am now 4 years into my comeback and the one thing I have not been able to regain is the ability to play fast as I did in my teens and twenties. There is a violinist in his 90s who plays for the local community symphony orchestra and speed doesn't seem to bother him. So if that old fart can play fast, why can't this younger 83 year old fart do it, too ?
    What am I missing here ? Are there musical exercises to help this situation or is it just a matter of bar by bar repetitions, starting slow and gradually increasing speed, until you nail it. The latter is what I have been doing. It doesn't always work to my satisfaction. I'll still flub some phrases I thought I had down pat.
    Or do I just have to face the fact that my lips, fingers, lungs and the brain just have their 83 years old limitations ?



  • It might be your fingers. Doing patterns slowly enough that we can play them perfectly builds muscle memory, and lets us "play" faster than we can read.

    But only if the fingers cooperate.



  • You're an amateur, civic band and you have gradeable competitions? Man, am I against that. BTAIM -- I have a couple of question, George.

    1.) Could you have played that piece at the given tempo when you were younger, or not even then?
    2.) How far, rehearsal-wise, are you into this piece?
    3.) What part do you play in concert band?


  • Global Moderator

    For many years, I had a similar problem - fast fingerings were a nightmare. Then, I bought a cheap euphonium and started playing that in a local band. And hey presto! suddenly I was able to play much faster... seems the fear of fast fingerings on trumpet hindered my practising, and with the euph, that was gone. And now is gone for trumpet as well.



  • Only a year behind George I have similar problems with arthritis developing in my finger joints, I find that having the lightest valve springs commensurate with good action helps, I don't think you can compare finger action with a violinist, their fingers do not have to move far and exert much pressure.

    A typical trumpet valve has 1/2" to 5/8" movement and an initial preload of around 100 grams and final pressure down of around 175 grams according to my measurements.

    I have a French Besson trumpet made by Courtois, the springs were stainless steel and so strong I found it impossible to play without pain in my hand, going through the spring stock of 2 local repairers yielded nothing that would fit, I ended up modifying a set of Yamaha Flugel springs, now 100 grams depress the valves half way and the instrument is a joy to play.

    Playing 2nd trumpet in a 40s style big band and having no trouble with the fast lines.

    Regards, Stuart.



  • @Kehaulani said in Fast Tempo and old farts:

    You're an amateur, civic band and you have gradeable competitions? Man, am I against that. BTAIM -- I have a couple of question, George.

    1.) Could you have played that piece at the given tempo when you were younger, or not even then?
    2.) How far, rehearsal-wise, are you into this piece?
    3.) What part do you play in concert band?

    Hi, Kehaulani. Yeah, I'm a recreational player and not crazy about gradable competitions either.
    To answer your questions:

    (1) I never played marches in my younger years but I could play pretty fast. I did a lot of 50s/60s popular swing material and really loved it.

    (2) Only 3 rehearsals so far. Things are slow because I am not the only older player having trouble. Only played it all the way through once as a band and it wasn't good. But that's not unusual when we start learning to play new material. A slow to medium fast tempo is not a problem. Just the bloody 6/8 warp speed stuff. I have been practicing this piece at home and goes well until I try to speed up the tempo. I have Glaucoma and the small staves on the two pages of Liberty Bell tire my eyes, which leads to playing wrong notes now and then, too.

    (3) There are 6 trumpets in the section of which 3 of us play first book, but the more experienced player does lead work: higher range stuff, solos, etc.



  • @GeorgeB We have programed Liberty Bell several times for performance in our Community Band. Trumpet section averages about 10 players. I am not familiar with all of the parts (1,2 3 ) but possible issues may be:

    What tempo is being used? This is a traditional 120+- type of march. Playing it faster may cause some issues.

    Depending on the part- lower parts (2and 3) may have some fingering combination or sequence issues. Look for alternative fingering solutions.

    Don't play too loud - loud playing and fast fingering are often cross purposed. Try practicing softer and slower until precision and muscle memory are established.



  • @fels
    Thanks for the advice. It's the traditional type of march so probably 120+ but any march gives me trouble. I'm playing 1st, along with two others, and there are 3 playing 2nd/or 3rd.
    I find the two bar intro tricky on the arrangement ( key of G ) we are using. First bar descending goes : G natural, F sharp, E natural, E flat, D natural, C Sharp, C natural, B natural. Second bar ascending/descending, all natural notes goes : A, B, C, A, then jumps up to D natural in the third bar. Should probably be easy, but my brain just doesn't work as fast as it once did.



  • 1.) Could you have played that piece at the given tempo when you were younger, or not even then?
    I ask because if the answer is yes, then age may be a factor. But since it seems not the case, then you have the options you mentioned and - good luck.

    2.) How far, rehearsal-wise, are you into this piece?**
    The reason I asked this, is because of the time factor in choosing a more comfortable piece of music. I don't know how three days fits into your overall time frame, but you might keep an ear out for other problems from other players, as well. It might be more prudent if there are enough other players with similar problems, and enough tine left, to change the music.

    As an alternate, you could give this info to the conductor and ask him, if he's hell-bent on doing that piece, to pick a more workable tempo. There's nothing wrong with this if it still works at a more reasonable tempo.

    • I was conducting a piece once with solo players from the German SWF Orchestra and the trumpet players came to me and asked if I'd take one movement a little slower. They told me they could do it anyway, but that I'd get a better performance if I slowed it down a bit. I didn't like it but they were right regarding the quality. So I took it a little slower.

    As another alternate, lay out on those passages that would sound better without you. Don't let your ego get in the way and be sure you explain to the conductor what you're doing and why.

    3.) What part do you play in concert band?
    Self-explanatory.



  • @GeorgeB said in Fast Tempo and old farts:

    @fels
    Thanks for the advice. It's the traditional type of march so probably 120+ but any march gives me trouble. I'm playing 1st, along with two others, and there are 3 playing 2nd/or 3rd.
    I find the two bar intro tricky on the arrangement ( key of G ) we are using. First bar descending goes : G natural, F sharp, E natural, E flat, D natural, C Sharp, C natural, B natural.

    The first run is almost, but not quite chromatic. Could this be adding to your problems?



  • @Kehaulani
    Thanks. Some good suggestions there. The festival is the 2nd week in April and we only practice once a week and already two have been canceled due to storms. The conductor is a good egg, so if enough of us are having trouble he just might make a change. We've played the James Bond trilogy several times in the past 4 or 5 months. It has some tough parts, too, but I really didn't have much trouble learning it.



  • @Vulgano-Brother
    I practice chromatic scales on a fairly regular basis and at a fairly fast clip. But running into them in an arrangement like this is certainly slowing me down. So to answer your question, yes, this could be adding to my problem.



  • Well, you seem to know what to do, so it just leaves you to do it. But one important thing in time management, is to isolate some of the more difficult passages or phrases. Play them slowly enough to master them at a slower tempo. And don't keep going over stuff you can already play.



  • @Kehaulani said in Fast Tempo and old farts:

    And don't keep going over stuff you can already play.

    Thanks for reminding me, Kahaulani. I do that more often than I should.

    Dr. Mark suggested I play those difficult passages for several minutes with my left hand, then play them with the right hand and they should be easier. I am going to give that a try, too.

    Thanks everyone who took time to offer their suggestions.

    There is practice tonight so we will see how that goes.



  • @GeorgeB said in Fast Tempo and old farts:
    Dr. Mark suggested I play those difficult passages for several minutes with my left hand, then play them with the right hand and they should be easier. I am going to give that a try, too.

    Let us know how it went. I don't see how it would, but he says "Try it", so . .



  • My thoughts on all of this:

    Don't play the passage too slow or too fast, but rather....

    Play it half-fast.



  • Just practice it at the fastest speed you can do it correctly and gradually increase the speed. As others have said, muscle memory should take over if the tempo exceeds your ability to read the music. If it's a physical hand/finger issue, then it may not get significantly better with that approach.

    We played a quintet with percussion arrangement of Liberty Bell as our final number at an outdoor concert a few years ago. No playing under the radar there...lol



  • Well, it's a phenomenon that you can actually progress faster if, instead of continually playing something fast but with mistakes, you play it under tempo but error free. Muscle memory plays the key role here.

    You might already know this, so if you do, mea culpa, but one thing that also might help, and this has to do with facilitating reading, not digital skill, is to 1) read ahead of where you are and 2) read groups of notes, where possible. By that I mean, if you're looking at a fast group of notes that ascends from C to C with an Eb and Bb in it, don't read each individual note. Rather, think of one group of notes, C to C in the key of Bb.


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  • @Kehaulani
    I gave it a try and nothing much changed, but maybe I have to spend more time on it.
    The good new is that a lot of my homework paid off at last night's practice. What I discovered after we played the piece all the way through was that the second two thirds of the piece went quite well for me. So now I can see where I have to focus my efforts and trust in my muscle memory.

    I am feeling much better about the whole thing now, and I credit that is due to you guys here who really care about their fellow trumpet playing members. THANKS !!!!


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