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Q&A - Visualizing the tonal map on the trumpet

Hi David,

I have been practicing the IFR exercises for half a year and it's great how I am progressing! I have played the trumpet for many years, having started in the traditional way with classic and jazz teachers. With IFR I have really developed my musical feeling and ear a lot in the past months.

One of my obstacles (well I don’t know if it is one) is that I still imagine notes and lines from a music staff while I am playing, instead of the numbers of the chord notes as you describe in your exercises.

Is there any way to switch from one image to the other? Or is there no need to improve this?

Looking forward to your answer and best regards from Austria,
Werner

David's response:

Hi Werner,

As a trumpet player, you will probably never entirely forget the names of the notes as you play them. This is perfectly normal. The trumpet isn't a visual instrument like the piano or the guitar that allows you to see musical relationships in a purely physical way. Every note that you play on your trumpet requires a specific combination of both fingering and embouchure, so there just isn't a good visual image that summarizes all of this into something that you can picture.

I play the trumpet myself and even though I am 100% focusing on the IFR tonal map as I play, I am also aware of the name of every single note I play. I think it's just a basic part of how we think about the notes on the trumpet, and it doesn't have to be a problem. The important thing is where you put your attention. It's fine to know that a particular note is F#. But the important piece of information is that it's note 2 (let's say) in the key in which you are playing.

As far as actually visualizing the sheet music staff, I haven't heard of that before. It doesn't happen to me and I don't think I've ever heard a trumpet student make that comment to me. But again, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe from your classical and jazz training, you have become so deeply familiar with the music staff that it has become literally a synonym for the names of the notes. So the moment you play the note F#, not only are you aware that it's called F# but you also see the visual image of the note F# on a music staff. Again, all of this is fine. The important thing is that you concentrate your mental attention on the fact that you're playing note 2 (in my hypothetical example).

If you're finding it difficult to cultivate this awareness of the tonal numbers (note 2 in my example), then the best thing for you is to practice the singing exercises. Don't worry or criticize yourself for not being able to keep the numbers straight while you play the trumpet. Just five minutes per day of singing the numbers will do more for your visualization skills than two hours of struggling to imagine the numbers while you play the trumpet.

So as a first step to improving this area of your music practice, I would suggest that you just spend five minutes every day singing the numbers of one particular harmonic environment. Once nice coincidence that I often mention is that there are seven harmonic environments and seven days of the week. This sometimes helps people remember to sing in a different harmonic environment every day. Today for example, you could spend five minutes singing the tonal numbers in the first harmonic environment, improvising simple melodies with your voice. Tomorrow you could do the same in the second harmonic environment. Then the third, etc. If you just enjoy this very simple daily practice for a few months, you are going to build such a strong relationship between each sound and its tonal number that I think you'll never again have any difficulty feeling where you are on the IFR tonal map.

And if you run into difficulties, please let me know and I'll be glad to help.

Happy singing Werner!
David