The clinic with Bobby Shew


The seminar room at The Norwegian State Academy of Music was crowded with interested "clinic" participants when Bobby Shew the 28th of March visited the Norwegian Trumpet Forum. Bobby Shew gave full value for the money. For nearly 4 hours he kept the interest and concentration on top amongst all, with talk and demonstrations on the instrument.

If one should characterize Bobby Shews approach to trumpet pedagogy in few words, it is unconventional, reflected and experimental. He emphasized that his view and the methods he used were something he during a long time had found to suit him. By no means is it true that this is suited for everybody, and he also stressed that "you, are your best teacher"

This said, a lot of people find his methods and advice very good, and he is considered one of the most popular trumpet teachers. Many people consult him, and not only so called "jazz people". Many established classical players have paid him a visit. And he says that he is experimenting all the time and always looking for new things. He recommends his pupils to take lessons from as many teachers as possible.

Trumpet pedagogy is, like all other pedagogy, marked by the tradition and the type of style it serves. It is not very strange that such concepts and traditions are very rooted and not discussed. New and radical idees come into being from "outsiders". A good example is the reconditioning in the Nordic skiing; skating in cross country and the V-style in ski jumping, that has forced its way to acceptance in spite of the great resistance among the supporters of the traditional style.

Bobby Shew was from the beginning self-educated, and this is the main reason for his experimental attitude to trumpet playing. In a conversation after the clinic, he said that he went to see people who could contribute with useful information from other fields, like medical, physiotherapy, acoustics and engineering professions.

A back stage meeting with Maynard Ferguson was for Shew a turning point. Ferguson's yoga inspired breathing technique has since then been a great help to him, and it has been a central part of Shews own playing technique and teaching. This was also the case on the clinic, where he handed out a detailed description of his "6- step" breathing technique, which he also demonstrated:

  1. Intake (small), abdomen moves outward slightly, but relaxed.
  2. Intake (large), abdomen moves inward (horizontally) to create wedge position.
  3. Intake (large), abdomen holds position (not tense) shoulders lift straight up.
  4. Grip (isometrically) abdomen muscles, maintaining innermost position (lock wedge tension)
  5. Relax and lower shoulders to comfortable playing position.
  6. Blow (as if spitting rice)
Execution and inclusion of step 2, 3 and 4 depend upon what you are going to play. By doing this 6-step procedure 60 times daily for 21 days it will become automatic and work in one smooth movement.

Shew has an effective and quick warm-up method. In addition to being effective it has the advantage that one can do it in the car travelling to a "gig":

1. Flutter with completely relaxed lips, by blowing carefully with closed mouth (sounding almost like when a horse blows through the nose). This stimulates the blood circulation and removes the acid, and should be done as often as possible, also in breaks during performance.

2. Do "lip buzzing", that is isometric lip vibration, as if you play without the mouthpiece. Not more than 15 - 20 seconds each time. This is also a good test on the lip condition. He said that the lip position when buzzing is not equal to the lip position when playing on the instrument.

3. Play on the mouthpiece with a clean sound.

4. Play something, like scales, on the instrument, and you are ready to play.

He believes that a couple of minutes on each step 1, 2 and 3 are enough warm-ups to be ready to play. This method is also perfect on days when you cannot play, like on travel, vacation, or when you are ill.

That day he had not played, so we got a realistic demonstration on the effectiveness of the warm-up. Shew is a very versatile trumpet player, and he demonstrated how the warm-up gave him direct access to the upper register.

Like earlier seminar lecturers, Shew also spoke a bit about the importance of the mouth cavity. Naturally, he talked a great deal about playing in the upper register. In addition to a proper breathing technique, the mouth cavity and especially the position of the tongue is important to achieve great air velocity and good sound.

Shew emphasized the importance of playing with "a good body feeling". Marathon practice is hardly any good. In addition to fatigue or maybe ruined muscles, the exaggeration leaves a negative feeling, that the body will "remember". On the contrary, practice (and playing) shall give a positive feeling. Fifteen minutes of good feelings and accomplishments are surely superior to a strenuous hour or more of daily boredom and frustration. Have fun with the instrument!

In addition to hand written notes, with music examples and illustrating sketches, the participants also got copies of tree offprints: a) Chops and Changes, b) A positive approach to practicing, and c) You are your own best teacher (Windplayer vol. 7, no. 1). If you know anyone at the clinic we recommend that you get a copy. Then read it in the spirit of Bobby Shew, use your own common sense and do what ever suits you.

Special thanks from the Norwegian Trumpet Forum to Frank Brodahl whose initiative made this clinic take place. The meeting with Bobby Shew gave us new impulses and ideas. And in the way jazz has contributed to develop trumpet playing in a great way, the meeting with the jazz musician Bobby Shew gave a taste for more.