Testing the new Yamaha YTR-8310Z by Bobby Shew
After so many decades of watching and listening to trumpet players trying out various instruments in music stores, at conferences, trade shows, etc., I decided to try to organize an article on horn testing that I think, and hope will provide some sensibility to the testing process. A test session that is done without a reasonably clear understanding of how our bodies, our brains, and our minds function, will more than likely result in a disappointment or mis-understanding of that instrument being tested.
As we know, we are all “creatures of habit!”
From childhood we establish patterns on how to function. It starts perhaps with crawling to walking to running and EVERYTHING else that we learn as we develop and grow. These patterns, simply referred to as “habits,” are actually a combination of muscles and nerves and scientifically/medically activated as “neuro-muscular” patterns that are firmly established in the multitude of neurons in our brains. The medical field for many years thought that “you cannot teach an old dog a new trick,” but we now know very well that this is not true. In recent years, the subject of neuroplasticity has become highly visible with effective, related techniques being developed as a means to change old habits or overcome habits deemed “bad.” By the way, these habits all submerge to the subliminal or subconscious level and are often referred to in the saying as someone being on “auto-pilot.”
Don’t be on “auto-pilot” when testing a new instrument.
It is common for your body to be on “auto-pilot” when testing a new instrument, because those established patterns being subliminal, do NOT know that you have picked up a different instrument. Your conscious mind is well aware of the different horn but the physical way you will play the horn will come from the subliminal “auto-pilot” files. If, for instance, you have been playing on a large bore instrument, your body will approach the new horn with the same physical patterns that it has been using on that instrument. As you may or may not know, the Yamaha “Z” is a step-bore trumpet based on a medium bore valve casing assembly, so it is quite different when compared to a large bore trumpet. Since this is a rather unique design, the natural tendency will more than likely be to over-blow the “Z,” causing a bad reaction -- feeling that the horn is “stuffy.” The larger bore instrument requires a larger quantity of air to activate the desired response but that amount of air is far too much for a smaller bore instrument. In other words, you cannot put a liter of water (or air) into a half-liter container. When you try to do this, it will naturally back-up on you and feel tight or stuffy.
As you probably have experienced, most trumpet testing done by people at trade shows has them immediately trying to see how high they can play. In most cases, the failure that results comes from a lack of understanding of how to properly test a new horn. However, there IS a smarter way to do a test. In MY opinion, I suggest beginning ANY play-test process in the middle register, at a mezzo-forte dynamic. I feel that playing the F concert scale (on a Bb horn) starting on line 2 of the staff is an ideal place to start because it represents the MIDDLE register of what would be a well-developed range of a good player. The extreme lower and upper registers are the most difficult to master and starting too low can cause difficulties as can starting too high.
The next steps after, playing the F concert scale with several repetitions ascending and descending at mezzo forte until reasonably comfortable, is to play the same scale again at a forte dynamic with similar repetitions until once again reaching a point of comfort. Finally, the same scale should again be played at pianissimo, repeating it until feeling reasonably comfortable. Doing these steps will give you an amazing amount of awareness of the adjustments that will be necessary in order to attain the best results from this new instrument. After gaining this realization, you can start to extend the registers, in both directions if desired, but still using the three basic dynamics and repetitions in order to expand awareness. The logical next process would be from low to high C. I hope this method of testing helps you. (By the way, it will work on ANY brand and other types of horns as well, i.e., low brass, woodwinds, etc.). Thanks, and good fortune with your testing. Bobby Shew