I was browsing the Carl Fischer Publishing website the other day, and the book I Used To Play Trumpet: An Innovative Method for Adults Returning to Play, by Larry Clark, composer and Editor-in-Chief for Carl Fischer, really caught my eye. I was intrigued, so I bought a copy.
As described in the title, this method book is for people who played the trumpet in the past, perhaps in high school, but haven’t played in many years. The aim is basically to help people work their chops back up and be able to play for their own enjoyment. It is not for beginning musicians. This 48-page book features warm-ups and technique exercises, familiar songs to play, and a data CD that includes play-along tracks and piano accompaniment sheet music.
I found this to be a good resource for someone who hasn’t played in years and is a little intimidated by the thought of re-learning their instrument. This book makes things very accessible, and contains a good bit of information and music without being prohibitively long or complicated. It even opens with a fingering chart and brief music theory review on the first few pages, allowing the player to refresh their memory on, for example, how to count sixteenth notes or what exactly a marcato articulation means.
The first pages of actual music are long tones, and warm-up exercises such as lip slurs and articulation studies. The text encourages the player to play these exercises every day, to build tone and stamina. Following these are major and chromatic scales, and scale-based technical exercises. This all accounts for the first 17 pages. The rest of the book is comprised of 1- or 2-page solos of varying difficulty, based on a range of pop, folk, and classical melodies such as Aura Lee, Scarborough Fair, Two Tickets to Paradise, Entr’acte from Carmen, Stars and Stripes Forever, and Tuxedo Junction.
I like that this book has a little bit of everything. I appreciate the fact that basing all the solos on common, well-known melodies encourages the returning player to work through as many of them as possible rather than sticking with a few of the easier ones. I like that there’s an accompaniment CD, so the player can experience the fun of making music with an ensemble. I wouldn’t change anything about this method book, but I do feel it would benefit from the addition of just a few things.
As the associate director of a community band, I know very well what a returning player sounds like and what some of the weakest points are. Intonation and accuracy are usually the biggest problems. It would have been great if Mr. Clark had added a page on the benefits of using of a tuner and metronome, and how to best use them. A short section on controlling one’s embouchure in order to achieve better sound quality would be helpful, with some corresponding exercises such as free-buzzing, mouthpiece-buzzing, and lip bends. Not everyone learned about these things in high school, and those who did may have forgotten.
Another addition I would like to see is that of instructions or suggestions on how to play the exercises. There are only two sets of instructions in this entire book. On the Long Tones page: “Play all exercises on this page extremely slow, every day!” and on the Chromatic Scales page: “Play with a variety of articulation combinations and slurs.” That’s it. There’s a fine line between simplicity and wordiness, and I feel like this is too far on the side of simplicity. A few extra instructions or reminders wouldn’t go amiss, and could help the player remember to go for (and how to acheive) clean articulations, a steady tempo, good intonation, etc.
In summary, I Used To Play Trumpet is an accessible, engaging method book for someone who just wants to start playing again for their own enjoyment. I actually plan to give my copy to my dad, and I think it would make a great purchase or gift for any former high school trumpet player who wants to start noodling around again. (Note: There are also books for trombone, flute, clarinet, sax, violin, and cello.) However, for someone who wants to work their chops back up with the goal of joining an ensemble, such as a community band, church orchestra, or big band, I’d recommend supplementing this book with a handful of lessons with a private trumpet instructor. This can help you really develop your skills, prevent you from creating any bad habits, and will allow you to be a more productive and balanced member of an ensemble.