Archive for July, 2010

It must have been about 2-3 years ago now that I made a big change in my approach to trumpet playing. I made the conscious decision to solely concentrate my focus on achieving the sound that I had captured in my head – that to most would be called ‘DARK’

If I cast my mind back it was taking a first listen to the magic of ‘Italia’ by Chris Botti that really set me more on that path than anything before it.

It was a light going on in my head (or perhaps off?) that made me think “That’s the kind of sound that I really want to capture in my playing”

Getting ‘Dark’ seems to be a real skill in itself – some people will choose a different horn, a different mouthpiece  perhaps, or even switch to say cornet, flugel or  all of the options.

I first and foremost changed my mindset and started to listen more and more to players that I thought encaptured a dark, soft tone (Wynton Marsallis, Chris Botti, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Bobby Shew on Flugel)

The easy option would have been to maybe switch to say a cornet or flugel – but where’s the challenge in that?

So at this stage I have summarized this concept down to what I call the 3 Slots in Playing Dark:

(To be done in order)

Slot 1 – Back Off

Slot 2 – Listen and Replicate

Slot 3 – Optimize your equpiment

Slot 1 – Back Off

This mainly refers to volume.

I find it’s much easier for the horn to speak – and you listener to appreciate your tone when you are not trying to nail them with High G’s at fff.

Be relaxed and try to envisage your playing your trumpet more like you would your flugel.

Slot 2 – Listen and Replicate

Get some artists who capture the sound that you wish to come close to and really listen over and over again to their sound – Ballads are great for this.

Key Tip – use this material to fall asleep to at low volumes – you’d be surprised what your brain retains even when you are sleeping.

Find some material from these artists – such as transcriptions and learn how to play it with the same style and tone. Once you think you have it nailed start a process where you are recording yourself and play it back to check your progress (Digital recorders are very handy for this)

Slot 3 – Optimize your equipment

This is what I think should be the last step in the process.

You could bypass some of the above and just go out an start buying and testing equipment – but you won’t gain the skill to play ‘Dark’ on multiple different horns.

Here’s my own journey with equipment for your reference – and some comments with each about choice


Started on a Yamaha 6310Z

– Great horn with versatility – played it for around 12 years. I changed to experiment with bore as I never truly appreciated the resistance factor. That, and my mouthpiece was stuck in the horn for 4 months due to a slight bump. (I didn’t have immediate access to a brass repair guy as I was living in Okinawa at the time)

Went to a B&S Challenger I -We were selling them at the time and I wanted to try a larger

Bach 25 style leadpipe with standard leadpipe configuration. With this I found that I could play longer and not have the horn shut down on me over D above the staff. So as a result I managed to expand my range Into almost Double octave territory. (More than likely I was over blowing the Z)

Whilst I was playing this I bought one of Jason Harrelson’s very first Bb Summit Trumpets

Harrelson Summit (Serenity)

I was looking for a Martin Committee at the time and fell for the sales line and hype around these horns – turns out it doesn’t play like a Committee (I can now tell this as I have both to A and B against each other) but has a great soft sound of it’s own. Very hard to break up the tone on this horns – it’s very solid and very consistent across multiple octaves.

I really dig the tone and sound on this horn – it’s biggest weakness is it’s heavy and because so much sound goes out front it’s hard to get feedback from behind the bell. It’s designed to do this by the way – it’s very efficient to the point that it’s too much in some situations.

Martin Committee

This is the benchmark for Dark, smokey and smooth for a lot of other horns. I bought it about a month ago and am still adapting to the way it blows – it’s a lot slipperier than the Harrelson – but can play much softer and longer. I also like the fact that it has a lot of feedback behind the bell. The sound is spot on for many of the situations or music that I love to play – so for me this is getting a lot of playing time at the moment.


Start Point:

Marc 1.5, 2.0 and Shew Jazz, then tried a Bach 3C for a while – too wide and the edge was too sharp for my liking. Discovered Al Cass mouthpieces (thanks trumpetherald!) and went on a buying spree to try to find the perfect size.

Played a whole bunch and settled on the 1-28, 1-24 Cornet with adapter and the very special Diz Cup for Lead style playing.

Travelled to Vancouver in 2009 and met Dr Dave at Wedge mouthpieces – tried a few pieces and locked onto the Gabriel 24 with cushion style rim.

My rotation now stands at:

Al Cass 1-28, Diz Cup and Wedge 24 with Heavyweight Backbore  (I recently bought a Medium Backbore to match some horns better than my usual Medium Large when using the Harrelson)

I’m pretty much exclusively on the Wedge now – they’re awesome mouthpieces and will really help players get that little extra in tone, power and endurance.


Zoom Q3 recorder

I like the Q3 the best as it’s easier to use than the H2 or the H4n (which I’ve owned/own) and you can record video – ideal to see if your body language is interesting or looking kind of ‘off’ which is important when you are trying to look your best as a performer.

So there’s my 3 year Journey down the dark path. The only question left to answer is will others be tempted to follow?