Q: How should I test a new trumpet?
What follows approaches the ideal for testing sound, response, intonation and resistance. There are few things in life that can be experienced at the ideal level, but try to get as many of these things together as you can.
1) Test the horn with at least one knowledgeable friend. You need someone to listen and compare. The sound is different on the audience’s side of the horn.
2) Try to make arrangements to test the horn in a hall that you will be playing. Some horns sound better in different settings, so you should try the horn out, if possible, where it will actually be played.
3) Make sure to take with you
- your old horn for comparison’s sake
- a tuner
- music with which you are familiar and which you would probably play with the new horn
1) Check for dents, dings and finish problems.
2) Check out the valves for the feel. Oil if necessary. Rock the valves back and forth to see if there is excess looseness. Make sure the stems and valve buttons are screwed in tightly.
3) Check the valve caps, water keys, and slides to see if they are movable and functional.
4) Check for valve leakage by removing a slide crook, placing a finger over the outlet port, and blowing on the leadpipe. To test the entire horn for leaks, you can put a soft rubber ball into the bell and blow on the leadpipe. This also helps to check to make sure the water key corks are sealing. It is not very illuminating to test a horn with a leaky water key.
5) Pull out the second valve slide (push the valve down first) and look in the ports. When the valve is pushed down, all you should be able to see is the inside of the valve bore. If you can see any of the exterior of the valve itself, the valve is way out of alignment and the horn will not play as well as it should if the valves are aligned. Kinda like test driving a car when one of the cylinders isn’t hitting.
6) Check the seal on the valves buy pulling out each valve slide half way, then depressing the valve. If the seal is satisfactory, there will be a light “thunk” made as the vacuum is opened by the valve.
7) Check the condition of the leadpipe by removing the tuning crook and looking through the pipe for dirt or corrosion or red rot.
Playing the horn.
1) Play a few long tones in the middle register. Bend pitches until the center is found and the horn resonates as much as possible. Play a few long tones very softly.
2) Play a few long leisurely scales at mp over the range of the instrument to check the uniformity of the sound throughout the horn’s full range. Slur some and tongue some to see how easy it is to get the horn to speak. Play a couple as soft and as loud as you can.
3) Check intonation. Play several octave intervals in the mid range. Often the defects in intonation in the higher range is more a result of the horn/mouthpiece match, than it is of the horn itself. Schilke recommends playing the B major scale, a scale notoriously out of tune on many horns. If you’ve brought a tuner and are in a quiet location, playing the normal range of the instrument on the tuner will reveal the horn’s individual tendencies and weaknesses.
4) Play some lip slurs and shakes to determine the flexibility and response.
5) Play a few scales or arpeggios to try the high register to see how the horn responds and the resistance encountered.
6) Play the music that you’ve brought to see how the horn performs on music that you are familiar with.
7) Listen to what your knowledgeable friends say about the sound, let them help you by instructing you what to play again or to adjust. Alternate playing your old horn with the one you are trying out, giving the friends time to respond. Have the friends move around the hall, listening both beside you (as a player in your section might) and at the back of the hall.
Go out and play a bunch of horns. The one that sounds the best, feels the best, and you can afford–is the one to buy.
© 1999 by James F. Donaldson
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