Monthly Archives: January 2014

Extreme Long Tones

I remember my dad always practicing long tones growing up, telling me to do them, and telling his other students the same.  I know he has found them to be super effective in building endurance and stamina in the embouchure.

I found this “extreme” long tone exercise from Cat Anderson (jazz trumpeter with Duke Ellington) on the website              

Cat Anderson was known for his huge range (5 octaves) and credited his “20 Minute G” Exercise for that fact.  See below for the exercise as explained by Jon Gorrie.

“20 Minute G” Exercise

Like a whisper

In his method book from 1973, Cat Anderson instructs the student to play a 2nd line G (concert F) “like a whisper” for 20 minutes. The student is allowed to breathe when necessary, and is also allowed to take the mouthpiece off the lips when doing so.

More than just a high note exercise

Many ‘high-note’ players, including Anderson himself, have claimed that the “20 minute G” is the secret to their upper register. Although practised correctly, this exercise can be much more than an upper register exercise. Played with relaxed breathing and a suitable rest period afterwards, the “20 minute G in a whisper” may aid in overcoming excessive mouthpiece pressure, building endurance, aid control and articulation, and, as Anderson mentions, improve upper register playing.

Resolving tension

The thought behind this is that whilst carrying out this one simple exercise, your mind is free to focus on areas of your body where you are holding tension. Where tension is found, it can then be gradually resolved, leading to a more efficient overall physical ‘setup’.

How to get started

To get started with the “20 minute G”, one suggestion is to begin with the “30 second G”, increasing the duration of the exercise over several days to 1 minute, 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and so on.

The Message Behind the Music

There is no shortage of amazing brass players in the world.  There are those whose technical prowess is just simply unbelievable.  However, I find that these technical feats are not really what I’m drawn to while listening to performances.

One of my first trumpet teachers, Derek Smith, said in the liner notes to his CD, Heavenly Gales, that his playing was always about the message behind the music.   In his case, playing for the Salvation Army Staff Band, it was about the Christian message.   When I listen to his recordings, I hear the love that he has for the Savior, coming through in the melodies he plays.  It is the message that draws me in, and I believe, countless others as well.

Another great musician, Samuel Hsu once said, “Technique is nothing; love is everything.”  Without the personal expression of the performer, there is something missing in the music.  Sure, it may sound good, but it won’t touch the listener.

There is a wonderful recording by Derek Smith’s son, Philip Smith, of the Gershwin tune, Someone to Watch Over Me.  Even though it was originally intended as a secular tune, I feel that Phil has made it about the Lord watching over him, in his daily life.  It may just be my own feelings, but have a listen for yourself.


Why Not Church?

We recently finished all the Christmas/Advent services at my church for 2013.  We did a wonderful piece by Shawn Kirchner (Behold, New Joy!) which was arranged for choir, brass octet, and organ.  It was great having outside musicians add to our musical and spiritual experience this December.  Now that we’re into the new year, I’m more resolved to have instrumentalists play regularly in our church services.

Having guest musicians play in church is a wonderful symbiotic relationship that we (as church musicians/staff and as freelance musicians) don’t take advantage of enough, in my opinion.

1) From the perspective of the church organist (of which I am one), it takes pressure off me by having a soloist or group of musicians, rather than just organ leading all of the service.

2) Given that it’s harder and harder to find good freelance work, instrumentalists can find an easy Sunday morning gig to earn a little extra cash.  There is usually minimal preparation required and not much time involved to play a service or two (rather than sleep in!) on a Sunday.

3) The congregation is always very appreciative of any extra artistic or musical element that is added to the service.  Even as an “every Sunday” musician, I always feel like I am helping the congregation worship and get more out of the service.  So as a guest musician, you will always feel especially welcome and valued and may even find other gigs simply from playing a few times a year in a local church.

Do a search for the local churches in your area, send an email to the minister/director of music, and let them know you’re available to play special music when needed.  Most directors won’t even require an audition!