Five Reasons to Pursue and Practice Experimental Techniques

This week’s Five Things Friday post was written by trumpet player and composer, Megan DeJarnett.

Megan DeJarnett HeadshotMegan DeJarnett is a Los Angeles-based composer-trumpeter who has spent her life in the thrall of a good story. Throughout her musical training, she has prioritized communication – the composer telling a story to the performer or audience through the score, the performer commenting on the music aurally or visually, and the audience’s response to a piece all figure prominently in her creative practice. Megan has dedicated herself to the creation and performance of new music, collaborating with composers around the world as a soloist and a co-founder of Phantom Collective, a student-run chamber brass ensemble at CalArts. She has premiered new works across the United States, including at the 2016 National Trumpet Competition, and has studied trumpet with Edward Carroll and Matt Barbier. Megan’s creative work focuses on bridging the gaps between composer, performer, and audience through physical, idiomatic, and textual means.

Megan holds a BM in Theory and Composition from Arizona State University and is currently in pursuit of her MFA in the Performer-Composer program at CalArts. She is constantly seeking out new collaborators; her work can be found at

In my time as a composer and performer, I’ve met countless brass players who will gladly go up against Hindemith or Bruckner or Mahler and can multiple tongue until they’re dizzy, but who shy away from studying and improving their extended technique. And I can’t blame them! Extended and experimental techniques can be daunting to approach, especially when you’re not sure what you’ll get out of it in the long run. Below are five of my biggest reasons why extended technique is an invaluable addition to any brass performer’s practice: 

1. Get to know your horn – and yourself – better. It can be easy to reduce your playing to where your notes center and how much ping is in your articulation and how you’re phrasing something, but do you know where on your horn it’s easiest to find a split tone? How comfortable are you playing with your valves unscrewed? What happens when you run out of air and you have to sustain the same note for twenty more seconds? Can you play a just intonation piece that relies heavily on seventh-partial tuning? Do you have a crappy mouthpiece around that can hold a bassoon reed? Diving into extended techniques requires you to know your horn’s tendencies and your own capabilities as a human body, which can have a fantastic ripple effect into your other styles of playing.

2. Reinforce your classical chops. Most extended technique can be worked on through slight modifications to your favorite Arban’s exercises. Use your lip bending to pursue split tones. Flutter-tongue your way through a Bordogni etude to work on your airflow and lung capacity. Play a tricky passage with your horn tuned down a septimal comma to get your ear used to a different tuning. If you’re constantly pushing yourself beyond what you need for your everyday playing, suddenly Jolivet doesn’t look so scary anymore.

3. Expand your repertoire. Whether you’re looking at a monster of a work like Michelle Lou’s Honeydripper or a subtly shifting microtonal piece like Catherine Lamb’s overlay/smear, pursuing extended techniques will open new doors and introduce you to music you’ve never considered before. And with more repertoire to work with, you can put on stylistically diverse recitals and stop hearing “it’s been played this way for three hundred years” when asking for feedback.

4. Open yourself up to collaboration. Because extended techniques can take a long time for a performer to fully realize (and because techniques and abilities vary from one instrumentalist to the next), experimental composers often will collaborate with their performers for extended periods of time. It’s a great opportunity to facilitate the creation of new music and form partnerships that can last decades. There are plenty of women composers in experimental music, so this is a great way to diversify your programming, too.

5. Develop a new aspect of your artistry. As performers and musicians, we’re at our best when we have more to learn and discover. Opening ourselves up to nontraditional styles and techniques allows us to grow into more nuanced, effective artists and reach new audiences. And when we’re having a good time, so are our listeners!

If you’re looking for jumping-off points to start your own extended technique journey, you can learn about split tones in this book by trombonist Matt Barbier (free to read and download!) and multiphonics in Jen Baker’s release, Hooked on Multiphonics. Best of luck!

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