OK so no DIY this time- instead we’re going deep into the brain- with a bit of technology thrown in.
From the age of about 10 I was a cornet player in a couple of youth brass bands; later incorporating the trumpet and joining orchestras and jazz ensembles. By my teens I usually had four or five band practises a week (and no social life). A side effect of playing all of the time was that my lip was usually in pretty good shape. This lasted until I went to University, where a number of ‘distractions’ meant that I was playing less trumpet, and losing some of the stamina I’d built up for pressing a bit of metal on my lip for hours on end.
The thing I’ve experienced with the trumpet is that it’s a fairly lonely instrument to play unless you’re in a band. Being monophonic, it’s limited to a single melody line rather than the chords that can be formed on a piano or guitar. It’s also a loud instrument- and this was to prove a stumbling block when I moved to London and into a succession of small flats.
I still had the occasional trumpet gig, but these would usually crop up on average once every couple of years. This would result in me attempting a bit of practice, usually with a mute in, and feeling disgusted at how difficult it was to play even simple pieces. The problem was: in my head, I could still play! The musical knowledge and the muscle memory of how the valves worked was still there, but my lip was disobeying me. Coupled with this was a feeling that I was making a horrible racket and disturbing people around me. It’s very easy to feel self-conscious and embarrassed when playing out loud- I suffer from this, so always use headphones when practising keyboards or anything electronic in the house. Fortunately I can now do the same with the trumpet- as the solution was to get a gadget!*
This isn’t a review of the new Silent Brass system as such. It’s not that it doesn’t sound good (it does), or isn’t easy to use (it is); it’s more about the concept and what it does for your brain. The ability to completely blast horrible sounding, split, out of tune notes in the knowledge that no-one can hear you is amazing. Short of a sound-proofed room, or a cabin in a remote location, this is the best solution I can think of for rebuilding brass-playing confidence. If they made one for vocal training, I’d buy it- although I’m not sure that the resulting gimp mask/space helmet would be as practical, or even safe to use. On the subject of practicality- there’s an older Silent Brass model, which is bigger, heavier, and doesn’t sound as good (based on me playing one in the late nineties, YMMV.). So it’s not ‘new’ technology as such- the idea was as good in 1995 as it is now. The best thing is that after a few weeks silent practice, I realised that I haven’t completely lost the ability to play. I’m a former ex-trumpet player. And as a result, I’ve got more gigs coming up.
Flowers of Hell play Truck Festival on Saturday 18th July.
Touring in September. http://www.flowersofhell.com/
Thanks to CDM for this article from Feb 2014.
*the solution isn’t always to get a gadget