My experience learning to play pedal tones correctly
In Systematic Approach to Daily Practice and Brass Playing is No Harder Than Deep Breathing, Claude Gordon explains the correct way to add the pedal tone register to your practice routine. When I began to practice the trumpet again after a 15-year layoff, I knew that the CG method was the one I was going to stick with. His simple, straight-forward approach just made sense to me. However, when it came to pedal tones, his directions put me off a little bit. Actually, they didn’t make logical sense.
It boiled down to his comments about the ‘bad’ pedals (C down to G flat), and how you should approach them when you first begin playing them:
- They will be flat (maybe as low as a fifth); this is correct!
- Don’t try and lip them in tune
- Let them stay flat until the ‘feel’ develops naturally
My first thought was, “YEAH, RIGHT!” (Sarcasm emphasized) I believe that you have to do something before improvement occurs. For instance, you won’t naturally develop fast single tongue speeds unless you actually try to make the tongue go faster when you practice. So I naively starting dismissing the notion that the feel for playing these ‘bad’ pedal tones would develop naturally without trying to lip them in tune – without doing ‘something’. Actually, it sounded like the perfect way to develop really great sounding, flat pedals!
I was spending about 3 weeks per lesson in Systematic Approach to Daily Practice, letting the ‘bad’ pedals stay flat, per the directions. It didn’t take long for this to get really annoying, because it’s difficult to hear the correct pitch for the other pedals when you’re almost a fifth too low on the ‘bad’ pedals. After continuing like this for about 4 months, I began Lesson 8. That’s when it happened, and I wasn’t even paying attention!
I was on the third day of Lesson 8, and my mind was not completely focused on what I was playing (early morning). When I went down to the pedal C chromatically from pedal D, it was a little flat, but not more than a half step. At first it didn’t register with me what had just happened. After another couple sips of coffee it dawned on me that the C was almost in tune, and I had done nothing (consciously) to get it that way! When I tried again, the C was still there, almost in tune, and I noticed that what had changed was my tongue level and air – without trying to lip it in tune!
My subconscious had completely taken over and made the adjustments necessary to play the ‘bad’ pedal tones correctly. I was astounded. I had left them flat and didn’t try to lip them in tune, and after 4 months the ‘feel’ developed naturally – just what those illogical instructions said would happen.
That was the day that I became a total believer of the systematic approach to practice taught by Claude Gordon and Herbert L Clarke.
“If there ever was a secret to brass playing, it is the tongue.”