What Questions Do I Have?

To create a framework for my research I wrote a series of questions which have over time, produced further areas of research for future discovery. After looking through my initial questions it became clear that I should reduce and refine my study so as to keep the focus on the performance aspect of the research. Many of the original questions, considered too far outside the focus of the main study, can be found in the Background Research section.

Other authors and musicians have carried out investigations into the keyed trumpet, notably Reine Dahlqvist and Edward Tarr. With their discoveries in mind, I decided to reduce the amount of academic research I was doing and concentrate on the practical areas that have not been fully explored by others.

What refined questions do I have?

After refining my original ideas I was left with four main questions, which have become the foundations of my research.

Can I learn the instrument from historical sources?
       Do tutors from the period exist?
       Are there any contemporary accounts of the trumpet being played?
       Do we know how the trumpet sounded as described by someone at the time?

In my experience, it is not entirely possible to learn the instrument strictly from historical sources. It is extremely difficult to learn a new instrument after already becoming skilled on another without employing previously discovered knowledge. Isolation of the information we have already used to progress on the first instrument is almost impossible, thus this information will certainly have an effect on the way we approach learning another, however subconscious this may be.

At the start of the project, my aim was to learn the trumpet from a tutor or method book contemporary to the instrument’s development in the early 1790’s. However, it quickly became obvious that although tutors do exist for the keyed trumpet, they all post date Haydn’s trumpet concerto. If we consider that the keyed trumpet was a brand new invention, with very few people aware of its construction or knowledge of playing it, then it is no surprise that tutors do not exist from this early period. Only when the instrument became more popular, particularly in Italy, did method books begin to be published.

Having realised this, I decided to refine my research even further to study the trumpet as if I were approaching it as a contemporary to the first performer on the instrument.

Contemporary accounts of the trumpet being played do exist. These have for the most part been investigated by Dahlqvist. Whilst providing an interesting insight into the way the instrument was critically received, they give little in the way of practical assistance to my study.

Despite this, we can draw from these sources accounts of how the original trumpet sounded at a specific performance. Characteristics of the instrument documented by listeners include a weak low register and poor tonal quality on some notes. Many of these observations have been validated by my research whilst others pose a somewhat difficult question;

If I can achieve an effect that to my ears is more successful than that described by a contemporary listener, do I continue to pursue that route until I have ironed out the weaknesses of the instrument itself? Or do I accept that weakness as a necessary idiosyncrasy of the instrument and leave it at that?

Is it possible to approach learning the instrument without employing any preconceived ideas derived from my skills and knowledge as a modern trumpet player?

As discussed earlier, I have found it difficult to completely ignore the influence of my modern musical education. However, I believe it is possible to choose between approaching a problem using that education, or considering the input from my modern studies and consciously taking an alternative route, often influenced by my experience of learning the natural trumpet.

Taking a modern approach to playing the keyed trumpet often results in failure. The instrument appears to respond better when not treated like a modern trumpet, which of course it is not. Furthermore, although the instrument is capable of playing chromatically, it still functions best in its home key of E flat. Discover more

A certain part of any research must involve exploration and pursuit of alternate ideas and theories, even if the result of these divergent investigations is failure. This idea is supported by the qualitative methodologist John McLeod in his book Quantitative Research in Counselling and Psychotherapy. He states that in ‘experimental research a failure to support the hypothesis can be seen as a discovery, a first step in the direction of a new proposition about the phenomenon being studied.

Although McLeod’s research concerns itself with the epistemological basis of psychotherapy, many of his ideas are applicable in general, to other practical based research fields including my own. In terms of my study, trial and error have played an important role and discovering the limits of the instrument has been as much about finding out what doesn’t work as what does.

In order to find boundaries, we must establish a point beyond which nothing more can be seen, realised or achieved. Naturally, these points are not fixed, and are subject to change, based on the discovery of new information which may have a greater or lesser impact on that which we have already studied.

This idea is explored by Maria Pereira in her article; My Reflective Practice as Research, in which she uses the terms Framing and Re-Framing to characterise this same process.

I began to learn the keyed trumpet simply by playing, deciding first to work out how to play scales, writing down the fingerings for each note as I found them. Finding the notes themselves was a case of experimenting and opening various keys until the note I was looking for appeared. As I worked through the scales, I noticed that some notes could be played with alternate fingerings and that there was usually an optimum fingering for a specific note, even if there were several combinations. Sound and intonation of the particular scale were important factors in deciding which fingering to use, although I tried to write down all of the combinations I found.

Once I had written down a few scales I could begin to guess the notes for other scales and then try the fingerings out. To complete this stage, I wrote down a chromatic scale and filled in the fingerings before playing it through to check if they were all correct. This scale would provide me with a reference for learning the repertoire.

Listen to the scales

Download the fingering charts

It is difficult to measure the extent to which my knowledge of the modern trumpet effects my playing of the keyed trumpet. The instruments are naturally related and the process of playing them is practically the same. My sense of pitch and what a given note should sound like are probably the most effected by my modern playing, although developing an awareness of how the instrument ‘wants to be played’ has greatly influenced my approach.

Are there characteristics of the instrument itself that imply certain artistic choices?
       Speed of movements
       Ornaments available (upper note/on the note trills etc)
       Sound (loud vs soft playing)
       Precision of attack

As I have become more focused on playing the instrument, I have been able to experience and accustom myself to physical and acoustical characteristics that have shaped the way I approach playing the trumpet.

In a recording made during my very first encounter with the instrument, I approach the trumpet as I would do a modern trumpet, playing straight away with a big sound and firm attack. This results in a very inaccurately pitched and uncontrolled sound, unusable in performance. Over time, and through my interaction with the instrument, I have discovered a more suitable and aesthetically pleasing way of playing, focussing on a more subtle approach and a less aggressive, more informed idea of the sound world appropriate to the instrument.

Listen to the recording

Learning the instrument without any lessons, using a tutor or even a fingering chart has given me a very valuable insight into not only how to perform on the trumpet, but also how to improve on what I have learnt. For the most part, the trumpet has more in common with the natural trumpet than the modern instrument. As a result of evaluation and reflection on my playing, I realised that a different approach was required, in addition to an innate knowledge of the physical properties the instrument possesses. Recording has helped a great deal with my reflection on the playing process and has assisted my choice of further directions for the research.

An even tone is very difficult to achieve throughout the register, especially as the holes are of differing sizes and often produce impure intonation from their respective harmonic series. Discover more. It is tempting to force the instrument to obey our modern concept of consistency of sound. However, I have found that the best results come from a combination of improvement through work (ie practice) and allowing yourself to be guided by how the instrument responds to being played. This refers back to the idea of the relationship between the performer imposing their will, and the instrument presenting how it wishes to be played.

With regard to playing repertoire, it is increasingly obvious that the optimum fingering for a note must be discovered and used. Despite this, an awareness of several fingering combinations is very important as the fingering for A’ for example, is not necessarily the fingering for all A’s. Discover more

Furthermore, extremes of volume are also quite difficult to achieve, and for the most part, are not all that necessary in order to perform the repertoire. If we consider the size of Haydn’s orchestra compared to that of a modern symphony orchestra, there really is no need to play double or triple forte in order to be heard. The sound world for which the keyed trumpet was designed, is reflected in the characteristics of the instrument, and forcing the trumpet to play outside of its acoustical properties distorts the environment it was designed to perform in, not to mention the quality of any playing.

When I first began to play the instrument I realised that I was splitting more notes than I was hitting. A more subtle approach to playing was needed and when I rethought my technique the results were much more satisfactory. The instrument, using as it does, the top portion of the harmonic series, where the notes are closest together, only needs to be overblown slightly to prevent accuracy of pitch. As a result, I found that by attacking notes less strongly and controlling the air to create a less ‘symphonic’, or modern approach to sound, I was able to dramatically increase the quality of my playing. Once again, recording, in addition to conscious and immediate analysis of my playing, was key to the constructive evaluation required to improve my skills on the instrument.

Listen to the effect this has in the second movement of Haydn's concerto

The clearest indication of a need to understand and adapt to the characteristics of the keyed trumpet, came as I investigated the most common ornament found in the repertoire, the trill. As on the natural trumpet, these ornaments are most effectively performed with the lips. Despite the obvious advantage of the keys, which do allow the performer to alternate notes by opening and closing the holes, they are of limited use when trilling as the opening of a hole tends to weaken the sound. As a trill is often used as a decoration before a cadence it naturally draws the attention of the listener. To use a weak sound at this point would be weakening the melody at a key moment and so achieving the best sound possible for the trill is very important.

Listen to the opening of Haydn's concerto

In the early stages of the study, I could not understand why Haydn had written a trill at the end of his opening phrase for the trumpet. Whenever I played this passage, the trill which I was playing, by opening and closing the fourth hole rapidly, sounded very weak and insecure. If the original trumpet had sounded so badly when performing trills the composer would not have written one at such a significant point in the piece, if at all. After experimenting with various combinations of holes and lip trills I have concluded that the best way to perform these ornaments is to play the beginning of the trill using an open hole, then cover it to lip trill the rest of the passage. This has proved the most successful way of achieving a good sound on these occasions.

Listen to the effect created by lip trills

There is not as yet, nor ever likely to be, a definitive rule to cover performance of ornaments from this period of musical change and evolution. How to play a trill is largely dependent on individual tutors or method books and varies from instrument to instrument.

Much debate can be entered into regarding whether a trill should be started on an upper or lower note. Although this idea has little impact on the physical act of playing the trumpet (and both approaches are equally possible on the instrument) an awareness of this issue is important in order to aid our interpretation of the repertoire.

The question of greater interest to me is from which perspective did Weidinger perform his trills? Was he, educated as he was in the manner described by JE Altenburg (1795), an advocate of musical ideas more in common with the Baroque? Or was he more forward thinking in his approach and looked to woodwind of the time for his stylistic interpretation?

Will I play the repertoire differently on the modern trumpet, with the benefit of any knowledge gained from the experience?

Other researchers have established lists of the repertoire composed for the keyed trumpet. I am interested to find out whether any knowledge I may gain from the experience of learning the instrument is transferable to the modern trumpet, and equally, whether this knowledge will in turn, affect how I interpret the repertoire.

As this research is on-going, there are still too many musical choices yet to be taken to truly determine the extent to which either of these points will affect my playing. However, I am confident that the more I am able to stand back from the research and view it critically and objectively, the more the conclusions I draw will impact on my interpretation of the music for this instrument.

An interesting point raised by this research concerns the value of performing repertoire as a historically informed musician, compared to performing in a contemporary style. Does musical interpretation have to be fixed to its time of composition or can it be acceptable to adopt a more fluid approach to interpretation?