TCE and Superchops, same or different?

I was recently involved in a discussion on Facebook with a trumpeter called Chuck Par-Due. Chuck knew Harry James when he was younger and received some help and direction from this great master of our instrument. About that he said the following:

When I was 16 years old, Harry James taught me the embouchure I still use almost 50 years later. Harry very clearly taught me that the bottom lip is the power center of the embouchure. He also told me to tongue through my teeth. Thirty years ago, Jerry Callet told me that my embouchure was perfect.

He went on to ask how his playing is different from the Tongue Controlled Embouchure and the following text is my attempt to answer that question. Essentially, Jerry Callet’s Superchops embouchure as he taught in the 1980s was figured out by watching Harry James play, and echos all that Chuck said, quoted above.

Chuck has some great videos of Harry James on YouTube, so be sure to check them out!

What’s the difference between Superchops and TCE?

After a very brief chat with Chuck Par-Due in the early hours of this morning I have thought a little more about something that has been on my mind a lot lately.

As a teacher of the TCE I feel that I need to be a strong example of what this technique can do for someone as a player. But in a more general sense I am aware that “text book TCE” isn’t necessarily how I play 100% of the time.

I’ve been studying, practicing and learning from Jerome Callet’s methods, and Bahb Civiletti, and any one else I end up talking with (like Lee Adams, who I’ve learnt a lot from by reading ancient forum posts he wrote) for seven whole years. I began using the TCE or MSC full time in November 2012. The thing is, and you’ll see this online in people sharing their experiences, that the TCE system as it is presented to the world doesn’t give you a full tool-kit for playing all sorts of music. I frequently play in rock/pop/function bands, a big band, a latin/funk fusion band, a salsa band, symphony orchestras, chamber orchestras, solo classical, and dixieland/trad jazz. To expect to use identical technique for all of this would be pretty naive.

When we look at MSC/TCE as it’s presented to the world it is a system of playing based almost entirely around the technique of spit buzzing. This produces a clean, powerful articulation; centered tone with vastly improved intonation; and an overall very efficient set up that results in an easy high register. As a player who came from a conventional British music education, all of this was stuff that I needed to make my life as a professional player easier. It is, however, not how the majority of people play and they are often off-put or even offended by the strident tonal quality that basing all of your technique around a spit buzz results in. What TCE lacks is an adequate explanation of how to play lyrically, and legato. This isn’t me saying that it isn’t possible, but we do need (heaven forbid) to address the subject of air flow.

That’s where Superchops comes into the equation. In recent months we’ve been referring to the original 1980s Superchops as “LSC”, so I’ll do that to save my word count and to differentiate from the 2007 MSC method. Jerry Callet’s books and videos can often be hard to understand the first few times you read or watch them and something that I’ve taken to doing over the last few years is transcribing or re-writing them so that I can understand the key points in the text, or hear all of the things you might miss in his recorded lessons. My ebook Exploring the Double Pedal Register is a result of me doing that with the Trumpet Yoga book.

Something that Jerry said in one of the lessons on the LSC video was: “Just concentrate on more air and more resistance to that air”. It ties in with text from the book, in which he said (paraphrasing from memory): “I think of doubling the wind power for every octave I ascend” and “Always blow harder the higher you play and resist the air. Do not allow it to enter the cup of the mouthpiece”. This, coupled with the heavy insistence on physical relaxation, both in the upper body and throat, and in the chops, is probably one of the foundational teachings of Callet’s life work.

The problem is that on the surface it appears to be contradictory to TCE, and certainly “True Power Trumpet” as taught by Ralph Salamone. We do, as I explained before though, need to be aware of air flow. And it’s what leads me to think than any dogmatic approach, including an entirely spit-buzz based MSC/TCE/TPT is insufficient for musical playing.

So coming back to my playing… what do I do? Well I play with my tongue anchored to the bottom lip at all times; I spit as a basic means of articulation; I practice, among other things, Bahb Civiletti’s 5 articulations to build strength, co-ordination and flexibility in the tongue; I use my bottom lip, and chin, as a control mechanism for pitch but I’m aware that it works in conjunction with the forward tongue – this control is something I cultivated by practicing Einsetzen/Ansetzen double pedal tone exercises; I describe blowing the trumpet as “a controlled release of pressurised air”. All of this comes from the various eras of Jerome Callet’s teaching, but it doesn’t come from any single part. I’ve needed Trumpet Yoga, Superchops and TCE to get a complete playing system that I can use to produce a range of sounds and ways of expressing music.

So… when someone asks “what’s the difference between Superchops and TCE?”. I think that they’re both parts of the same thing. Superchops (LSC) teaches us about aperture control, lip-to-lip compression and air control. Trumpet Yoga sets you up to learn LSC without too much complicated direct manipulation of the chop setup. And TCE is a highly advanced form of articulation which gives you a very clean sound and unbelievable control over slotting harmonics. My advise to anyone wanting to learn this way to play is to start with double pedals and learn to tongue through the teeth. For some that’ll be all they need to turn into a kickass player. Others might not like it and a few will get bitten by the Callet bug and end up crazy like me.
Have a nice day everyone!

Which Books Should You Read About Brass Embouchure?

Recently I saw a post on Reddit’s r/trumpet group in which someone asked which books they should read about embouchure. This blog post is simply me sharing my answer to that question. I figured that as I took the time to write it then I should post it here too.

I see reading the following list of books, of which there are fifteen mentioned, as a basic requirement for anyone who wishes to call themselves an expert in brass embouchure methods. There are actually a significant few well-known trumpet methods missing from this list, because the question was specifically about embouchure. I also think that the world of brass pedagogy would be completely different if teachers were to read and try to understand even half of the books on this list, but I rarely meet another brass player or teacher who’s heard of even a couple, which says a lot. (I was offered a job teaching the oboe for South Gloucester Music Service once and I was told that all I need to do is stay one lesson ahead of my pupils. Clearly they don’t care if their teachers know anything about the subject they’re being paid to teach. Needless to say I turned the job down.)

Which books should you read about embouchure?

The answer to this question depends on your intent. If you are genuinely looking to learn to understand the various ways that different people have understood embouchure and how its teaching has changed over time then I’d recommend reading at least all of the books I’m about to mention.

If you’re looking to learn so that you can improve your playing then there is something I’d recommend first.
Jeff Smiley’s The Balanced Embouchure – This book presents a modern understanding of basic embouchure function in a way that is practically applicable through a series of exercises. It draws on knowledge from a wide range of sources and combines them in a way that requires minimal decision-making or self-awareness on behalf of the learner. A lot of people who come to me for embouchure help have broken the ice with this method because it shows you that you can experiment and make quite drastic change without losing any of your current ability.

If you want a good overview of the most comprehensive studies of brass embouchure from the last century then I’d recommend reading the following three books:
Jerome Callet’s Superchops (The one from 1987);
Roy Stevens’ Embouchure Self Analysis;
Doc Reinhardt’s Encyclopaedia of the Pivot System;
These three will show you the work of three important teachers who dedicated their entire lives to the study of brass embouchure. They are all completely different and contradict each other significantly. All of these people have taught players who went on to be some of the best in the world.

Jerome Callet had a bunch of other books and videos, but two that are worth reading are Trumpet Yoga and Trumpet Secrets. The latter explains an embouchure method called the “Tongue Controlled Embouchure”, which is what I teach. More info about that can be found on http://tonguecontrolled.info/

Other noteworthy books include:
John H. Lynch’s A New Approach To Altissimo Trumpet Playing – Very well written. Describes a system not too dissimilar to Superchops, but with some interesting remarks on the problems that players cause themselves when playing;
Pops McLaughlin has a couple ebooks I like: Tensionless Playing and The 4 Octave Keys;
Walt Johnson’s Double High C In Ten Minutes;
Bob Odneal’s Casual Double High C;
Herbert Clarke’s Setting Up Drills – This is important because this book includes the embouchure instruction that Claude Gordon cut from his explanation of Clarke’s description of playing;
Claude Gordon’s Brass Playing Is No Harder Than Deep Breathing;
Carmine Caruso’s Musical Calisthenics For Brass;
Kristian Steenstrup’s Teaching Brass.

On top of this there is a YouTube video of Bobby Shew describing the basics of his playing mechanics that I’d recommend. It’s about 2 hours long and well worth your time. The link for that is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-Am03K7QDI
On the subject of YouTube content, Lynn Nicholson makes some interesting videos. He does a lot of generalisation and most people really struggle to make practical use of the things that he teaches. What you’ll find from reading the books above is that he is mixing a few incompatible ideas in his MF Protocol but clearly makes it work for one specific application.

I could also mention a few ITG Journal articles if you’re thirsty for more, and more general books about trumpet history and science… but I think there’s enough here to keep you busy for a few years.

You’ll find a lot of people online who can play well and swear by one system, claiming that none other even works. This is an ignorant approach and I would tend to avoid them, just like anyone who says that breathing or more air is the answer to everything. At the end of the day everyone has different experiences and different problems with their playing. The solutions to anyone’s problems could be the opposite of someone else’s. There’s also the fact that some people just aren’t musically aware enough to make progress. The most important part of learning to improve as a trumpet player is the ability to listen to what comes out of the bell and say honestly whether it was really what you wanted to happen.