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"Brass Instrument Doubling:
If You Hear It - Just Do It!

by Vaughn Nark

This article will address a topic which has been of interest to brass players for many years; THE CONCEPT OF DOUBLING. I will approach the subject from my own personal experience, with the B-flat trumpet being our primary instrument, not focusing on the professionals' "given" doubles which include the piccolo and "C" trumpets and the fluegelhorn. Our new instruments of interest, namely the trombone, baritone horn and the French horn, also require a new embouchure.

A wonderfully insightful conversation occurred years ago between Dizzy Gillespie and a young Miles Davis in which Miles asked Dizzy, "Why can't I play high like you?", to which Dizzy replied, "Because you don't hear up there". Of course these legends were speaking about a difference in register and not instruments, yet it clearly demonstrates that a musicians very conception is determined by how they hear. An innate and intrinsic quality as unique as your own signature will determine whether you actually hear other brass instruments, which may fuel a desire to study and incorporate them in your performances.

An initial barrier which must be overcome before you begin the doubling experience is the concern over what the new embouchure will do to the existing one, especially if a consistent upper register has been developed. Proper common sense can deal with this concern before it manifests itself into fear which causes the barrier itself. I strongly suggest that a brass performer not begin studying another brass instrument while performing professionally at a demanding level. Try to begin when your performance commitments allow for periods of inactivity. Do not put additional pressure on yourself which may strengthen the barrier mentioned above, we can dissolve with common sense. The process we are attempting will have stressful moments and a active performance schedule may adversely affect already altered virgin lip tissue. I can only recount my own experience and hope that it may be adapted to another trumpeter's agenda. In essence we are trying to develop an embouchure within an embouchure.

Begin by playing normally on your primary instrument, in my case the trumpet, for a short period. Rest and then try to produce sounds from the trombone or new horn. Rest again and go back to the primary horn or trumpet. Repeat this process several times, playing for longer and more intense duration while resting for shorter periods in between. Initially you can expect this to have a detrimental effect on your trumpet embouchure. It's at this point that we've reached our moment of truth and must have perseverance. To quote a great poker player, "faint heart never filled a royal flush". Stay focused and you will begin to build our embouchure within an embouchure. In time you'll find that one instrument may actually enhance the other. When you are confident enough to begin utilizing the new instrument, you may be delighted to find that each of the horns you're performing on may develop their own personalities.

In closing, I would like to offer several purely subjective ideas. The value of doubling is that you can offer your audience a wider variety of musical expression via a change of color and mood, which can only enhance your performance. Endeavor to perform on your various instruments as tastefully as possible and never with the "look how many horns I can play circus-like carnival mentality".

I hope this article can be helpful to those who may be pondering studying another instrument. The brass world has had many wonderful multi-instrumentalists including Maynard Ferguson, Mic Gilette and James Morrissey; Who knows, MAYBE YOU!

Yours in music,

Vaughn Nark

Yamaha trumpet clinician
Summit Records recording artist
USAF Airmen of Note (Ret.)

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