The Importance of Listening and Developing a Sound Concept


After listening to many clinics, podcasts, and masterclasses, as well as talking to friends, one concept remains consistent in all these forms of information/knowledge distribution: sound and/or tone is one of the most important aspects of being an instrumentalist. As Dr. Dennis Edelbrock simply explained it, "sound is our signature". Without a good sound concept, how can one move forward in their musical and instrumental development? Another pedagogue and well-respected trumpeter, Jim Pandolfi, explained that if you have a good sound and tone, you will not suffer from intonation woes and will also find that playing the horn will be much easier and effortless! If you'd like to hear more about Jim Pandolfi's concept and views of sound, check out this Monster Oil Brass Chats interview.


The answer to this question is simply LISTENING! How are you supposed to know what good trumpet playing sounds like if you don't have good references? Listen to trumpeters you look up to and enjoy listening to, listen to trumpeters your teacher recommends, and also listen to non-trumpeters as well. You may find qualities from different trumpeters you like that you would like to put emulate in your own playing. It's OK to pick and choose. As for non-trumpeters you should listen to, this is for you to develop a musical (phrasing) concept. I'd recommend non-trumpeters like jazz vocalists, vocalists from various Broadway musicals, opera singers, violinists, cellists, and etc. 


Although YouTube is a fantastic source of many excellent recordings, it is not the best place to hear superb audio fidelity. Even Spotify and Google Music are great but fall short of great audio quality. The compression of the video and audio cause the recordings to have a lower quality than what you would find on a record, cassette tape, or sometimes CDs. I would suggest visiting Naxos Music Library (you will need a subscription), downloading high-quality recordings from iTunes (yes, you will have to pay for each track or album), ripping music from a CD, or listening to vinyl records or cassettes with a good set of speakers or headphones. I'm not that much of a stickler when it comes to audio quality, but if it bothers you and your listening experience, do any of the listed. Even just upgrading your set of headphones or earbuds to a more expensive or higher quality set may improve your listening experience. Same goes for speakers. Computer/laptop speakers and smartphone speakers are great if you're on-the-go, but having something a bit bigger and with larger drivers and bass will make a world of difference to what you're listening to.


From my own observations and experience, many students neglect to listen to recordings to supplement what they're practicing or preparing for their lessons with their private instructor. A teacher may mention listening to recordings to students, but not remind them consistently as it is assumed that they are doing so. For lessons I've taught the past 2 years at University of Iowa to both majors and non-majors, I made sure to assign "listening assignments" to the students so that they could further develop their sound concept. It's important to take time off the horn as you do practicing on the horn. Practicing doesn't necessarily just mean playing your instrument; it could also mean listening to music or doing score study on pieces you are working on. Remember that developing your own unique sound and listening will take time. It may take longer for one person to produce a sound that is favorable to him/her than another person who is much quicker to emulate a sound desired. There is no race on this important aspect of playing any instrument; it's a characteristic of being a musician/instrumentalist that we all must continue to improve on no matter where we are in our musical careers. In this post, I've embedded a video of a recent recital performed by David Krauss (principal trumpet of Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in NYC) and Chris Martin (principal trumpet of New York Philharmonic). I've also embedded a trumpet listening playlist containing many different styles of trumpet playing for anyone who wants a variety of music listen to. See below. You can also find these playlists in the Resources Page if this blog post gets bumped down by a newer one.

Enjoy the recordings provided here in this post, but remember to always be curious and to expand your palette of recordings outside of what's provided here and outside of what your teacher or others tell you. If you have suggestions of videos to be added to this listening playlist, comment below and I'd be happy to add them.