Know Your Vincent Bach Mouthpieces

Have you heard of Vennture Mouthpieces? Doug McVey is making a big name for himself in the trumpet mouthpiece world and it’s absolutely deserved. As well as making his own lines of fantastic brass instrument mouthpieces he is a real master of custom work. His VennCAD software is available free-of-charge from his website and enables anybody with an idea to combine cups, rims and backbores to create the mouthpiece of their dreams. If you’re interested in mouthpieces then I’d recommend you take a look. I also highly recommend you listen to one of the many interviews that he’s doing at the moment such as this one: Trumpet Gurus Hang Podcast

I was taking a look at the wealth of information available in the VennCAD software recently and thought it would be interesting to revisit a topic that I have discussed before. In one of my earliest posts about Vincent Bach mouthpieces (click here) I made a reference to how not all ‘C’ cups are created equal.

Something that Doug discusses differently to the marketing materials of most trumpet mouthpiece manufacturers is the topic of a mouthpiece’s cup volume. He’s less bothered than most about the shape of a cup, or the diameter of a rim, but what the volume of the cup is and the consequences that this has on the acoustic properties of the instrument. The volume of a mouthpiece cup will change the frequency of the sound that is produced when you tap the end of the mouthpiece with your palm. This “pop frequency” is a good way to compare the sound that you can expect to be produced when you put that mouthpiece into a trumpet. As this experiment is performed without the variable of the player being involved, it can give you an objective understanding of the physical properties of the equipment without the need for subjective opinion interfering. He’s much better at explaining this than I am so I suggest you go and listen to the podcast.

There is a lot of interesting information to be uncovered when considering a mouthpiece as a three-dimentional shape, rather than a product of its two-dimentional components. For example, a Schilke 15B (which I had in my rotation for years) has about the same cup volume as a Vincent Bach 11C. That’s not information you’ll find on a comparison chart, or that you’d instictively believe by looking at them.

Interesting observations

The points I thought people would find interesting are what follows, and I won’t ramble on too much about what it all means. In terms of cup volume, here is a chart of some popular Vincent Bach mouthpieces listed by size. Who knew that a 7C is bigger than a 1-1/2C? That’s not the only thing most players would find surprising. All measurements are in cubic inches.

An awful lot of players choose to play a 3C because they consider it to be fairly medium in size. In the grand scheme of things, when you consider other brands, it is. But clearly when comparing it to other Vincent Bach mouthpieces, it is not – even the 10-1/2C is bigger! There’s a lot of talk along the lines of how it’s easier to play than a 1-1/2C, but still big enough to get a “legit sound”. Again, this is true, but I am pretty confident that players also think “It’s bigger than a 7C, so that makes it alright. I won’t be criticised by everyone for using a small mouthpiece.”

I find it pretty funny that teachers tell pupils that they need to move onto a bigger mouthpiece and then unknowingly move them onto a smaller one, often more than once!!

Other factors

Of course there’s more to a mouthpiece than just the cup size, but a the effect of a backbore and throat combination can often have counter-intuitive results. In the interview Doug explains how a larger backbore actually creates a brighter sound. This is interesting because often we tend to think of a backbore in terms of balancing the resistance that it provides when we play, but may end up making a choice that takes us in the wrong direction in terms of the desired sound.

If you consider something like a Vincent Bach 1-1/4C with a 24 throat and a 24 (larger) backbore. Compared to the stock design, the larger throat reduces the brilliance (higher overtones) in the sound, but the larger backbore would encourage them, thus the two would cancel each other out to a degree. The mouthpiece may feel a little more ‘open’, but it would end up sounding basically the same as the stock model.

When you read the earlier Bach mouthpiece manuals (that I shared in my previous post on the subject) you can see that Bach intended his various cup sizes to match various different sizes of trumpet, rather than thinking of people playing the B-flat trumpet in different styles. That’s why some might say that there aren’t really any traditional Vincent Bach mouthpieces that are ideal for playing lead trumpet, for example.

Anyway… I said I wouldn’t ramble so I’ll leave it here.

~iii<0

One (Mouth-) Piece To Rule Them All

The purpose of this post is to discuss my experience of having used a single mouthpiece for professional playing over a relatively long period of time.

Some history

Like many trumpet players I like mouthpieces. I really like them. Over the years I’ve owned a lot of them and my preferences have changed over time from one extreme of design to another. A major shift in my habits and opinions happened when I first began learning from Jerome Callet in 2012. I should also say that a lot of experimentation has been fuelled by other players that share the enjoyment of experimentation with mouthpieces. As a result of what I learned from Jerome, and from Bahb Civiletti, I am quite happy to pick up most mouthpieces without any immediate loss of ability. It tends to be the changing habits over time that come from choice of equipment that would cause me to suffer, but that’s a subject of its own that I could write another post about (in fact, check this one for some of my thoughts about that). There will be more on this subject later on.

When I try to list the mouthpieces that I used exclusively for any period it gets very difficult very fast. I used a Vincent Bach 1-1/2C for nearly five years in my late teens/early twenties and then the next longest period would have been eighteen months that I used the TCE-RC, about eighteen years later. There were six-month periods when I only used a Bach 3C, Jerome Callet’s Superchops 4 (when changing my approach to playing) and I used Bahb Civiletti’s TCE#3 a lot over a four-year period, but not exclusively. I had the Callet Superchops 3 in rotation for five or six years but exclusivity is the key to this discussion.

Despite having owned and used many differing designs, I know with certainty that the times when I stuck with one mouthpiece for a long period were my most consistent and probably most enjoyable. Having said that, the topic isn’t as simple as it sounds. My experience could lead one to believe that my advice should be to choose a mouthpiece and stick with it for a long time. However, as a professional freelancer I need different tools for different jobs. It would not be practical or appropriate to use the same equipment to play lead trumpet in a big band and second trumpet in an orchestra. There have been times when I’ve had to do this on the same day and it’s not at all uncommon to do both over the course of a weekend.

You may know from a previous post (click here) that when I brought out the TCE-RC mouthpiece in January 2019, I then used it exclusively, for better or worse, for a little over a year of professional playing. In my description for that mouthpiece I wrote that it was intended as an 80-90% solution and that you may need to swap for certain extremes of playing. Whether or not this is true must depend completely on the individual, their sound concept, the music they play, and their approach to playing; I made it work, I played a wide variety of music and I learned from the experience.

What I’ve learnt from using one mouthpiece exclusively

Pros:

The main advantage, and maybe only advantage of using one mouthpiece exclusively is consistency. Consistency is very important for a brass player. Simply put, as your equipment always feels the same you are always going to know what to expect when using it. Even writing this down makes it seem like a stupidly obvious statement. Why would you change the equipment if there is a chance that you wouldn’t know how it is going to feel when you play? Well… maybe consistency is closely related to stagnation. It’s easy to stop learning about yourself and your instrument by imposing limits. It’s a delicate balancing act between pushing yourself to improve and maintaining the standard that is required of you as a performer.

Doc Reinhardt wrote about what he called Sensation Theory in his Encyclopaedia Of The Pivot System.

Sensation Theory is the approach to the instrument whereby the player relies primarily on feeling rather than on sound to produce his notes. Generally speaking, the more completely the dependence on feeling the player can achieve, the more accuracy he will acquire.

When describing the process of warming up he goes on to say that it is simply returning to the point where things feel as you know they should. The quicker a player can return to the correct feeling of playing, or homeostasis, the better. Following this theory, it is logical to assume that keeping the physical equipment the same is the best route to take. An alternative view is that if you are likely to use more than one mouthpiece, or trumpet, then you should do equal amounts of practice on each.

The real question that should be addressed is whether the advantage of a consistent feel outweighs the potential disadvantages.

Cons:

Put simply, my opinion regarding the disadvantage of using one mouthpiece exclusively is that the player will end up compromising their playing for the sake of consistency. Common knowledge on the subject of mouthpieces says to choose one that gives you a good sound and that everything else will develop over time. Having known a lot people who chose a Bach 1-1/2C because it sounded pleasing and still struggle with range, flexibility and endurance after decades of using it, I would have to suggest that this wisdom is not based in objective reality. Anything as large as a 1-1/2C belongs in the category of specialist orchestral equipment and unless you’re a professional orchestral player there is probably something more suitable for you. I’m not really aiming that statement at professionals who make a large mouthpiece work well but let’s be honest, there aren’t many of those either. That’s a subject that goes much deeper.

For me the TCE-RC seemed ideal in the practice room. It has a centered sound, easy note production and requires that you play in a disciplined way to get the most out of its use. However, because I play a wide variety of music there were always situations where it wasn’t the best tool for the job. Playing second trumpet in a Mahler symphony for example, which I had to do during the time I was using the mouthpiece exclusively. Similarly, although I can play my full range on it, it wasn’t intended as a lead trumpet mouthpiece and playing the lead part in a big band was not as easy as it could have been.

Conclusion

If I were to give some generic advice it would go something like this:

  • Have a mouthpiece that you know well so that when trying something new you can make direct comparisons with it.
  • Have a mouthpiece that you know well so that you can be consistent in performance.
  • The longer you have a mouthpiece the more you will learn about how you can make it work, or not work.
  • By all means experiment with mouthpieces but don’t get into the habit of swapping mouthpieces constantly to try and maintain your level of playing.
  • Learn what your equipment is good for and use it for that.

Players who specialise in high-note playing tend to recommend that you use a mouthpiece that enables you to do the job and then learn how to play it with a good sound. Those who specialise in classical playing tend to recommend that you choose a mouthpiece for its sound and then learn how to make it work. In my opinion choosing something in the middle will not give the best of both worlds but in fact the disadvantages of both and advantages of neither.

In an attempt to keep this post on-topic I’ve had to stop many trains of thought and delete a lot of opinion – hopefully I’ve left you with something helpful. Please check back for insightful edits!

~iii<0

Thought Experiment: The Modern B-flat Trumpet Is A Piccolo?

Come with me on a journey through time and space as we explore the modern trumpet through a different lens. I hope with this short article to present an idea that allows us, as trumpeters, to practise with an altered perspective and to hopefully gain some ability as a result.

The modern trumpet and cornet are usually described, in modern times, as being the same instrument (except for the mouthpiece and the number of 180-degree bends in the tubing). Detailed analysis of modern and old cornets and trumpets has demonstrated this to be fact. Actually, contrary to popular belief, many modern trumpets are more conical than cornets and vice versa.

Personally, having played both instruments for most of my life I tend to see the difference between the instruments as a matter of musical style. Switching from one to the other happens similarly to switching between a classical and commercial style on the trumpet (it’s all in your head). The true innovation of the historical cornet was to make the soprano brass voice fully chromatic. Emphasis in cornet methods is upon the finger technique and the ability to play fluently in the lowest two octaves of the instrument, which makes sense seeing that these are the things the cornet could do that the ancient trumpet could not. On the subject of “trumpet vs cornet” that is all I have to share, but it was important to mention as it paves the way for my opinion about how we could think about playing the trumpet.

The modern trumpet is normally taught just as I describe the cornet above. As a chromatic instrument that people learn to play by changing fingering and slowly growing their range, diatonically, one note at a time. This may make sense when you look at the instrument, but in antiquity this approach was not possible. On the instrument that we commonly refer to as a “natural trumpet” there was only the harmonic series, so people first learned to play a single note and then subsequent notes by manipulating the embouchure. Instantly people studied the embouchure from the start.

Regardless of methods that people follow or ideologies that their teacher follows an aspiring player on the modern trumpet will eventually be given flexibility exercises, or “lip-slur” exercises. For many, these exercises are the only gateway to embouchure development and they may play for many years before they begin practising them. Considering this fact alone makes it obvious that so many modern trumpet players struggle to understand the basic mechanics of embouchure – the topic is pretty much avoided by all teachers (except for those dreaded ones who go around screwing people up with their half-baked theories about flat chins and jaw alignment).

When studying transposition many pupils have asked me why it is that in order to play music written for the trumpet in F we transpose the music up a perfect fifth, rather than down a perfect fourth, considering that the trumpet in F was a longer length of tubing. The trumpet in F doesn’t get talked about very much in current times, but I believe understanding the way it was played could assist us in developing or indeed changing our understanding of the B-flat trumpet and performance of certain classical repertoire. The simple answer to the question, of course, is that the trumpet in F, although it had valves and thus making it fully chromatic, was essentially the highest pitched natural trumpet, plus valves. If you were to play a written middle C on a natural trumpet in C then it would be the fourth available harmonic, and it would sound the same pitch as the same note on the piano. As you shorten the tubing, raising the pitch for the other common natural trumpets (D, E-flat, F, G) the pitch of a written middle C also raises. Hence a middle C written for the trumpet in F would be played as the note G, the second available open harmonic, on a modern B-flat trumpet.

My proposal is not complicated, or in any way clever, but if we were to take the modern B-flat trumpet and compare it to its predecessors (natural trumpets or F-trumpets) rather than its country cousin (the cornet) then what we would have is an instrument that would be thought of as a piccolo. If the fourth harmonic on a natural trumpet is a middle C, then we could read any music in the same way on the modern trumpet too. Of course at this point it just sounds as though I’m suggesting that we just play everything an octave higher than written, so allow me to suggest another idea.

If we were to forget the natural trumpet and focus on the trumpet in F then what we have is an instrument the same length and with the same fingerings as a French Horn, or more specifically, a single horn in F. What I suggest is that anyone playing the modern B-flat trumpet can and should learn to play music from a basic french horn tutor book, which is easier to get hold of than an authentic F-trumpet tutor, but transpose that music such that you are using the same harmonics and fingerings that the book suggests. Thus the relationship between the B-flat trumpet and the F trumpet would be the same as the relationship between an E-flat trumpet and a B-flat trumpet is thought of today.

Practically speaking this is still, in one sense, a transposition exercise. But it shifts the focus of the instrument back a little closer to what it is – a small trumpet. In any case I believe this to be preferable to thinking of the B-flat trumpet as the largest of a set of ridiculously short trumpets/cornets that people use because nobody taught them about embouchure.

Reflecting On A Successful Year, 2019.

It’s January. This means that, in the UK at least, it is time to fill out the tax return again. Of course, I could have done it many months ago. Considering that the country was in lockdown and I wasn’t doing much of anything else. Actually, that’s not wholly accurate as I was working pretty hard getting the openArbanProject off the ground, teaching the TCE online, learning to program computers in Python, making websites and building my own desktop environment. Only a couple of those things relates to my music work and, as you can tell, my taxes were not on my radar!

Although going through all of my records, creating spreadsheets and counting milage for a year’s worth of gigs and private lessons can be pretty tedious, it also gives me a chance to reflect on the previous year and check whether any semblance of a career path is being followed.

Looking back at 2019 (and early 2020), I can say without doubt that is was my most varied and successful year as a freelance musician to date. On the classical side of things, I performed the Hummel Trumpet Concerto with an orchestra, played in two Mahler Symphonies, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The year was finished off playing in a ten-piece brass ensemble that accompanied the Brockenhurt Choir with arrangements by a colleague of mine, David Bertie. Just before the nation went into lockdown I played in a week’s run of Samson and Delilah with the Bristol Opera. In times of normality I still get classical gigs every couple of months, but this year had some particularly good moments.
In the more commercial field I had regular gigs with my band Mango Factory, including a couple of festivals. Regular rehearsals through the winter really paid off for us and I’m looking forward to getting back to that after the pandemic. I became a member of The Big R Big Band and we had a bunch of great gigs for swing-dance and vintage/nostalgia clubs. I played a few times with The Bare Souls, and a handful of engagements with Backbeat Soundsystem. I particularly enjoyed working with Backbeat because they have a very mature style and a lot of performing experience. Hopefully in future some previous members of that band will look my way when looking for a horn section! Another band I’m a member of is Fiesta Resistance, an authentic Cuban Salsa band. We had a few more bookings during that year including Cardiff Food Festival and some private engagements.
Other than all these great gigs I was also first refusal for a couple function bands from Bristol. A lot of professional musicians don’t tend to publicise that they do this sort of work but these days it is real bread-and-butter for freelancers. Personally I enjoy providing a service to the public and learning a few special songs for a client can really add to their event. This year the wedding scene was busy to say the least. I was out playing every weekend from April to November with often up to five gigs per week. These gigs were all over the country, literally from the south coast to Dumfries and from Fishguard to somewhere near Norfolk. I certainly got about, and it was fun. Thankfully I get on with the players in these bands or those hours on the road wouldn’t have been so enjoyable!

My teaching also went pretty well, picking up a bunch of new TCE converts all over the globe and selling a lot of eBooks. For those who don’t know, I’ve now split this website and its eBook store into two. The new online store can now be found at NeotericBrass.com.
On top of this I should also mention my TCE-RC trumpet mouthpiece, that I used for nearly all of the gigs listed above, both classical and commercial. There were occasional days when I experiemented with other mouthpieces, or changed to a deeper cup to better match those I was playing with, but I mean once or twice out of a whole year of playing. Invariably I found that because I am so accustomed to the TCE-RC, I wanted to get back to it as quickly as possible after trying something else – a real lesson in consistency was had there.

Looking back at all this whilst doing my accounts and thinking of the experiences, I’m really happy that I’ve been able to build up the friends and contacts over the years to make it possible; but there is also a flip-side to this experience that’s worth taking on board for anyone who is considering becoming a professional musician.

It would barely have been possible for me to work more during this time. Maybe I could have fit a few extra pupils in, or chosen weddings over my more artistic pursuits. But in terms of time and fatigue I was flat out and couldn’t have sustained this pace forever. In September 2020 I began working a day job out of necessity. All of my gigs since March 2020 have been cancelled and there’s not much hope of them coming back this year. I did not have enough teaching to make a living from it so I looked in another direction for earning money. I started a job for minimum wage and I was earning what would have amounted to about £18,500 per year. In my busiest year to date as a professional musician and teacher, who also happens to occupy a niche in that market too, I earned little over £19,000. After expenses, on paper, my profit was about £13,500. That was the most I had earned in fifteen years doing this job. I could never afford to buy a house, or plan for a meaningful future.

I’ve thought about these figures quite a bit since having a day-job and I realise now the true cost of the badge-of-honour known as “being a professional musician”. Obviously I’ve known for a long time that I didn’t earn much money, and just accepted it as a way of life. But comparing my earnings to what is considered by most as barely enough to survive, and realising that I was coming up short by comparison for my whole adult life has given me a slightly different perspective.

It will be interesting to see how the music scene rebuilds after the coronavirus pandemic, and I absolutely intend to be a part of it, but at least for now I think I’ll be keeping my day-job too.

Does a better trumpet make you play trumpet better?

This is a topic that I’ve found myself discussing with people a few times recently. I think that instinctively people already know the answer but there is a lot of confusion out there over the definition of “better”, which is (of course) subjective. There is such a thing as a better trumpet for playing one style of music or another, but this post is more about better and worse quality instruments overall. In my opinion, unlike confusion about playing techniques, this confusion is caused by the marketing of instrument makers rather than by our traditions and misinformed knowledge-of-the-crowd.

A simple answer

When approaching this topic I am always reminded of a conversation I had with Trevor Head whilst on one of his instrument repair courses some years ago. When asked about how different things like the weight of an instrument or whether it is silver plated affect how it sounds, he responded by  proposing the following experiment: If you were to take a professional player and a novice player and give each of them two instruments, ask them to stand behind a screen and play you the same excerpt of music on both instruments then a listener would always be able to tell which person was playing, but not always which instrument was being played. You would also find that some listeners may prefer the sound of one instrument or another but couldn’t tell you for certain which instrument it was.

A little about instruments

I was recently having a conversation with a friend of mine who plays the bass. We were talking about how the pitch of a note produced by a string is basically influenced by three factors: the thickness or weight of the string, its length and its tension. He was explaining to me how it is possible to get such a deep sound from a bass ukulele, which is a tiny instrument compared to a double bass. He then asked me how this compares to trumpets. Some people imagine that the lips of the player are equivalent to the strings on string instruments because they vibrate to make sound, though whilst the tension and thickness of the lips certainly do have an effect on resonance and tone, the comparison is a misunderstanding. The equivalent to the string is the column of air inside the trumpet.
Modern instrument designers understand very well that it is the shape of this air column that is the primary influence on the intonation of a trumpet, i.e. how the various harmonics relate to each other and how well tempered these intervals are. Interesting people to research on this topic would be Bill Cardwell, Richard Smith, Renold Schilke and Jerome Callet.
So what would happen if you were to simply increase the size of this air column? Comparatively if you imagine the sound of an old “pea-shooter” trumpet from the 1930s-40s and the sound of a flugel horn then essentially the result would be that you gradually move from sounding like one to the other… but this is an observation of tone and not so much about pitch. The pitch would also drop as the instrument increases in size, but I don’t think that this is the important thing to take note of. When you increase the size of the air column you may end up with an instrument that’s freer blowing, that makes a bigger sound, but the compromise is that it may not slot notes so well and intonation may suffer too.
In looking for recordings to illustrate the point in the previous paragraph I watched a number of videos that showed what I describe next. Have a watch of this great clip with Trent Austin demonstrating a Buescher trumpet and I’ll continue: ACB Buescher Demo.
In all of the videos that I watched about the tone of older tightly-wrapped trumpets the player ended up switching mouthpieces to show different tonal qualities. This is because small differences in mouthpiece design make a much bigger difference to how an instrument performs and sounds than the whole trumpet. I demonstrated to my friend how my Stomvi Master trumpet sounds with my own TCE-RC mouthpiece, which is small, and an RPS 18C4, which is a large classical mouthpiece design. He could hear a distinct change in the number of overtones present in my sound between the two mouthpieces, and he also observed that I needed to push my tuning slide in to play in tune on the bigger mouthpiece. The thing that was less obvious in this demonstration is that it isn’t simply the position of one note that changes when you pick a bigger mouthpiece, but also the relative pitch-centre of the harmonics as well. I would argue that most traditional mouthpieces that people use today are too old-fashioned and as a result not designed to play in tune in certain pitch ranges.
What I’ve established so far in this section is little more than the fact that the size and shape of an instrument and mouthpiece combination can affect the player’s ability to play with good intonation. The important point is that if you have a low-cost or vintage instrument that does not play well in tune then every note you play could be a drain on your technique. This is very tiring and can have a pretty detrimental effect on stamina. In this case I would argue that all players could play better on an instrument that is well designed to play in tune, compared to one that does not. It’s also important to choose a mouthpiece that doesn’t compromise the intonation of your instrument, even for the sake of a “nice” tone. But is that everything?

a matter of philosophy?

Before I get into this next part I will start by saying that it is not my place to criticise the hard work and research of others. I don’t doubt that anyone who devotes their life to making and selling brass instruments has done plenty of their own research and development and that they honestly believe that their work is the best solution to trumpet-players’ problems. The interesting thing is that when two people look at the same problem and conclude that the solution is the exact opposite to each other then there’s an interesting discussion to be had.
The example that I’ll use here refers specifically to AR Resonance and Callet Trumpets, their marketing approach and opposing design solutions. There are other companies worth a mention; such as Harrelson Trumpets, Lotus Trumpets and Monette; and they’ll get it in due course.
On their website AR Resonance state about their mouthpieces:

We DON’T want the player to acclimate to our mouthpiece, we want to serve the player with the best solution they feel to be the right one. We’ve been through all that crazy stuff and we concluded that we must not be told what to think, do or feel, we want to be in control.

Contrary to this, Jerome Callet’s promotional material says:

[These mouthpieces] were specifically designed by Jerry to help players struggling with chop problems. [They] are small and unforgiving so they work like a bold ‘stop signal’ to close down as soon as your proper embouchure starts to lose its grip […] chop problems are immediately identified and avoided!

These statements represent opposing attitudes towards the way that people play. Callet says “if you don’t play properly then you won’t be able to make this equipment work. It is your responsibility to play correctly and you will be rewarded”; AR on the other hand basically say “play however you want and our equipment will make you sound better”. Obviously these are just my knee-jerk interpretations and my opinion is biased, but there is an element of dishonesty in the AR Resonance statement. Players will acclimatise to their equipment and if they’re already over-blowing a collapsed embouchure then it will make their problems worse, not better.
What’s really interesting as well is that AR Resonance mouthpieces are designed around a very large throat and feature a shortened backbore/shank to compensate for the intonation consequences of this design. Jerome Callet’s backbores, as described on the website linked above, were known to have a longer throat and backbore to solve intonation issues and to aid projection. His latest line of mouthpieces also featured a smaller than standard throat (#29 drill size). It seems that if you don’t wish to work on your technique then you should use a short backbore with a large throat and if you care enough to learn to play better then you should use a smaller, longer throat and backbore!
Jerome Callet was well known for saying that most manufacturers were not actually capable of testing their own instruments because they could not play well over the whole six-octave range of the trumpet. Let’s say for a moment that you’re a good professional player and you make a trumpet that enables you to improve your current range by a fifth. Does this mean that it’s helping you to play better? What if you could have learnt to play more efficiently and had the same result? Maybe you would find that this new instrument doesn’t sound as good overall when compared to you playing better on your original instrument. The real question is whether or not this matters. To me it does.

Telling lies to make money

Like I said in my mini disclaimer above – it’s not my place to criticise someone’s beliefs or hard work, but in the case of the following video this famous trumpeter is unashamedly grandstanding in his attempt to sell his trumpets. He does not demonstrate how he would actually sound when trying to play his best on the “lower quality” instrument: Lotus Trumpets Promo.
Ironically in this next video you can hear that his trumpet is not better than others when played by a good trumpet player. The comments also reveal that the Lotus trumpet is not rated highly by those who’ve left their thoughts: Trent Austin Superhorn Showdown. Trent Austin does state that he loves this trumpet, and I’m sure it’s fine as they are built by Andy Taylor, but the marketing is very disingenuous and not to mention disrespectful.

All about efficiency

When discussing the topics of good instruments and good playing then inevitably the subject of efficiency arises. In the simplest of terms I usually define efficiency as “putting less in but getting more out”, but apparently this isn’t universal. To some trumpet players it can mean “how efficiently can I put as much air as possible through the trumpet?”. I don’t want to argue the matter of right and wrong here, but it’s so easy to see that we still have a lot of ideas to unravel before the general standard of trumpet playing and teaching can improve.
Jason Harrelson talks a lot about what he refers to as “Standing Wave Efficiency” in the design of his components and custom kit-trumpets. Jason has put a lot of time into improving the efficiency of his instruments through damping and preventing loss of energy through the walls of their tubing. You can learn more about that in this video: K.O. on Heavy Bracing. Funnily the only comment on this video at the time of writing is Harrelson trying to refute what K.O. has to say. In the interest of fairness, here’s is his definition: SWE Explained.
These two videos demonstrate the same points of contention mentioned above in reference to mouthpieces. Whilst one is talking about accurately playing in pitch centre to create a resonant sound, the other is saying that if you buy his instrument then it’ll do that work for you. I think it’d be easy to go round and round in circles on this issue for quite some time, also discussing how the same opposing views exist in pedagogy: Is it the player’s responsibility to learn techniques to improve their playing, or should they focus purely on music or breathing and allow the rest of the system to figure itself out? Which of these is a more efficient way of learning?

A conclusion?

My opinion is that it is common for people to seek the path of least resistance. There are plenty of people out there who are willing to take your money in exchange for an instrument or mouthpiece that is easier to play, but won’t make you play better.
Changing how you play is difficult and it takes time, but it is the only way you will improve as a player in the long term. Both equipment and ideas that result in you playing more accurately will also result in you playing more efficiently but it’s also easy to take any one idea too far. A brilliant projecting sound is good in the right musical contexts, but when you’re in an ensemble that puts a premium on blending and not standing out then you could come unstuck fast.
To answer the question in the title: Playing well on an average instrument will always sound better than playing badly on a good instrument. When looking to buy a trumpet judgements should be made based upon sound and intonation first. Just like with a mouthpiece, doing the same thing and expecting different results will only get you so far. Sometimes a drastic change that results in you learning how to play differently can teach you more than years of routines that promise longer-term gains …and sometimes not.

How Copyright Spoils Music Education

My relationship with music education is fairly long. I first began volunteering in a training band when I was a teenager and during my year out before going to music college I took on the responsibility of running it. I was teaching occasional lessons whilst I studied and teaching was something I began doing straight away once I finished my degree. Like many musicians in the UK, faced with the unknown post-college mystery of how to make a living from music, I studied for a post-graduate teaching qualification as well.
After working off-and-on as a classroom music teacher for a few years and knowing the job wasn’t what I wanted long-term I left that job and went on to working as a peripatetic instrumental teacher for a small local music service. To cut a long story short, in the last twenty years, off the top of my head I can think of twenty five schools and a university that I’ve taught at, a handful of training bands and community music groups I’ve coached and I honestly don’t know how many private pupils I’ve worked with, but I’ve easily worked with hundreds of people so far.

Having worked in this field for this long there are certain things you see over and over again. It’s easy to be cynical about the job and try to assign blame to government cuts, the education system in general, cultural shifts or short term fads, and these are genuine issues, but overwhelmingly I believe that music education can succeed on its own merits provided that people have access. Music is a huge part of the modern world and it isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Sure, there are things we need to figure out, such as how the system is going to evolve without the peripatetic music system that resulted in the last few generations of musicians (see this post for more info on that topic). But there are thousands of talented and enthusiastic teachers out there right now who’ve adapted very well to teaching online during lock-down and will also adapt to whatever system we choose to build next, once they realise that looking to the past or waiting for the government to make a U-turn on budget cuts is not how we’re going to survive.

What I want to discuss instead is a problem that has existed in the world of music since at least as long ago as the invention of the photocopier: systemic piracy of published musical works. How I want to discuss this topic is probably different from other opinions that you frequently hear, but even if unpopular it is an opinion that needs considered as a part of the bigger picture.

I believe that the copyrighting of beginner’s music books, when written for the sole purpose of education fundamentally undermines the work that we do as music educators. Let me be clear about what I’m saying here: I do believe that composers, arrangers and writers should be paid for doing their job. There is a place in the free market for people to create unique, high quality resources for education and those who wish to dedicate their time to this work need to be paid. But basic music theory and simple melodies written for beginner instrumentalists has been done. In fact it has been over-done. It is all the same and most of it is bad. I’d love to think that people keep publishing books for beginners to improve on the old and outdated ways but this is not the case. In fact the new books are often worse than the old ones because more effort has been put into an engaging visual appearance than quality instructions or musical content. There are a lot of issues at play here and I think that people’s behaviour in terms of sheet music piracy is a result of the current system, not a reaction to it. Allow me to paint a scene:

Over the years I have taken on a lot of trumpet pupils who had their first lessons with other teachers. Although there are exceptions, the majority of the time this is how it happens: I turn up to a school and wait for a pupil to arrive. For ease of writing I’m going to name this pupil Jordan. I ask Jordan to get out his trumpet and sheet music. He opens his case and what I see is an instrument underneath a pile of squashed photocopies. He takes out these photocopies, makes a sad attempt to flatten them and then puts them on the music stand. “What’s all that?” I ask. “This is my pieces” is the reply. I have a quick flick through the crumpled pages and what I see is one or two sheets of long notes, some hand-written scales or maybe a photocopy from the ABRSM scale book, and then a few pages copied from a variety of easy trumpet books. To the untrained eye this music looks completely random but I instantly notice a page from Time Pieces Volume 2, another from The First Book Of Trumpet Solos, and a third from Easy Jazzy ‘Tudes. “Just done Grade 3, have you?” I ask. He nods. Bearing in mind that the last exam season finished around May and now it’s mid-September I ask Jordan what he has practised since the exam. “My last teacher [let’s call him Mr Smith] was going to get me the music for Grade 4” comes the response.

Now lets break down this situation. There are a number of things happening, all of which result in a negative learning experience for Jordan.

  1. Mr Smith has no problem with making photocopies of music and distributing it to all of his pupils.
    This is not unusual. There are a few reasons that he could give that seem obvious enough:
    – If had asked Jordan to buy the book then it could be weeks or months before he did… What would I teach him during this time?
    – I won’t teach them out of a beginner’s book for long, because as soon as I can I’ll get them on to exams and they won’t need it any more.
    – Exams are expensive enough, but you have to buy three books for an exam and only learn one tune from each book then it’s a waste as well.
    Generally speaking every reasons that I can think of for people distributing photocopies this is either for convenience, financial (i.e. the parents can’t or won’t buy the a book – maybe this necessity wasn’t explained to them when their child decided to take up the instrument), or the result of the teacher being dependent on the exam system because they don’t know what else to teach (this is a problem of epidemic proportions in my country).
  2. The pupil has clearly gone for at least six months with no new learning material. How can we expect pupils to practise if they don’t have anything to work on? Even if Jordan’s parents had taken him to a music shop then everything is sorted in reference to the exam system. There are no obvious books that an un-knowing parent could just pick up and if they call Mr Smith, or ask the shop assistant for advise then we soon get redirected back to the exam system for gauging difficulty… There’s no mention of what music interests Jordan, because that is not a part of our system.
  3. Jordan could have only been playing for a year, or maybe he’s been playing for three or four years and he has been led to believe that playing a musical instrument is about taking exams and nothing else. Maybe Jordan took Grades 1, 2 and 3, which means that over a number of years he has played a grand total of nine short melodies. But hopefully Mr Smith was astute enough to notice that Grades 1 and 2 are not really very different from each other and skipped at least one of them. Unfortunately that would mean that Jordan has learnt even less music. This may seem like a crazy exaggeration but I didn’t make this story up, it has happened to me more times than I can remember. Oh, and even though Jordan passed his Grade 3 exam, he couldn’t sight-read Twinkle Twinkle Little Star if his life depended on it. He has not been taught a single thing that would result in him becoming a musician.

In this situation I’ve only described the work of one bad apple in Jordan’s musical experience, but unfortunately of the twenty-five schools that I thought of earlier on, fewer than five of them had a school band, choir, or orchestra. The schools were primary and secondary schools and in both the private and public-funded sectors. So don’t go imagining that these kids are learning other aspects of music elsewhere… this thirty-minute lesson, of which they are usually only allowed to receive thirty in an academic year, is all that they get.

Looking back at what I’ve written so far it sounds like I have a pretty big issue with the exam system, and I do, but I don’t blame it for the problems I’ve attempted to describe. In fact the subject matter here is the books. I think that the real reason that teachers would rather photocopy these books than make their pupils buy them is simple. They aren’t worth buying. This is not a criticism of any one book (though there are some I could easily give you two-thousand words of criticism about). This is a criticism of the practice of taking simple melodies, transcribing them into easy-to-play keys and churning them out by the thousand to sell to people who won’t use them in the long term. The Prince Of Denmark’s March, written out as a sixteen-bar piece in the wrong key, just so that it can be learnt and played in a twelve-minute exam is not worth paying money for. Any trained musician could produce better learning resources for their pupils if only they realised that that’s what their job is. Teachers like Mr Smith instinctively know this, and that’s why they have no problem with stealing.

It’s certainly questionable whether anything I’ve said here really matters other than noting a sad abundance of poor education. When I think about the books I had and the process I went through when I was learning to play then I remember curious times of flicking through pages looking for some tunes that I could manage to figure out and have a go at playing. I remember listening to a Wynton Marsalis CD and then trying to learn the Carnaval of Venice even though I could only scramble through the first page. That kind of curiosity and the learning that comes as a result isn’t really something that Jordan would experience because if he doesn’t have the books then he can’t flick through them. Curious or not, he’s at a dead end.

But here’s the thing… There is a lot of music out there in the public domain that could easily be turned into free, legally shareable educational materials if only people had the motivation to do it. In the trumpet/cornet environment alone there is the Arban book, with over two hundred melodies and duets in the back, plus plenty of technical material, all out of copyright because it was written over a century ago. For those who are fed up with hearing me go on about that there is also the St Jacome book, which is a more enjoyable and completely comprehensive guide to learning to play. There are centuries of classical music and folk music in the public domain that could be transcribed for any instrument and used for teaching but very few people seem to do it.

Writing out music is an every-day part of my job as a musician and teacher. For me it is easier to write out some tunes or technical exercises than to have to rely on someone else’s “wisdom” to tell me what to teach. I see it as part of the reason that I’m allowed to charge the amount that I do. I don’t charge that much because I have qualifications, I charge because teaching is more than the half-hour per week that I spend with my pupils.

I think I could probably ramble on for longer, but that’s not really going to achieve anything. I have begun dedicating my time to writing out public domain music for use as educational resources and if you’d like to know more about that then pop over to the openArbanProject website. I also wrote a blog post about that earlier this week and I encourage you to read that for further explanation about my reasoning behind all of this. I believe that if there is enough high-quality, free of charge, free from copyright, material available for teachers to download and use, then we can start to move them away from toxic habits and lazy teaching. The future of music education will definitely be different from how it is today and if we can lower the barrier to entry by providing an abundance of resources to pupils then hopefully it will also be better.

An argument for GNU Lilypond and the openArbanProject

What is the openArbanProject?

I recently began working a new project that I have named the openArbanProject. Strange name, right? Well this way of naming things is a reference to something called camel case, which is a naming convention often used by computer programmers… why I’d do that will become obvious soon.
The openArbanProject has an initial goal of recreating Jean Baptiste Arban’s Cornet Method in a format that is easy to read, edit and share; and that is also legal to do so.

Being free is not about your money

There are already public domain copies of the Arban Method in existence (published in 1879 and 1893 respectively), but they are pretty poorly typeset and low resolution. As a result there are a lot of people who share pirated copies of the various editions of the book online that are not public domain. Even if you have a pirated copy that is nice to read on your tablet or computer, you still don’t have the means to make your own version of exercises or the legal right to do so. With the openArban book you will be supplied with both readable PDF files and the lilypond code to easily make edits that you have the right to distribute and even sell if you wish.
Alongside the openArban book any other public domain music can be created and shared in this way including but not limited to classical concerti, Clarke’s Technical Studies, or anything you can imagine. As a proof of concept and educational resource, the Trumpet Concerto in E-flat by Haydn is available for you to download now to use as you wish.

Why Lilypond?

I imagine that the next question people would ask about this project is why I’ve chosen to use GNU Lilypond for this project. Isn’t that more work than necessary? Here are my reasons:

Looks are important

First of all I chose to learn to write using Lilypond because I wanted an easier way to consistently typeset music for my eBooks. As with any kind of document preparation language (a more famous example being LaTex), if you type something in the same way then it’ll be presented in the same way every time. This means that you could set global rules for a score, piece or book and making adjustments to those rules will automatically restyle the entire work. This is something that is not possible in Sibelius, Finale, Dorico or MuseScore and, because of their nature as a WYSIWYG editor, never will be. I’ve been using Sibelius since it first came out on the Acorn Archimedes computer in the 1990s and even wrote a course for learning to use it when I was at music college in 2001. It’s not through lack of experience that I decided to change. I still use Sibelius for arrangement work and will go into more detail about that soon.

Low barrier to entry

I’m a fan of learning. Not just because I’m a teacher, but because I’m aware that without learning new skills we cannot evolve as people. We live in a world that is changing at a faster rate than people can learn and developing your niches keep you relevant. Spending years studying and learning about Jerome Callet’s trumpet methods have demonstrated this to me perfectly. I have a broader understanding of my instrument than I did when I graduated and on top of that I’ve written books and taught people from all over the world. None of this would have been possible if I had decided to stop learning at some point in the past.

Learning Lilypond can be quite a steep learning curve in the beginning but in a few hours I was happily typing out Arban’s book with ease. Adding details and edits to appearance are things I’ve picked up on a case-by-case basis and the more I learn the more I want to know. Lilypond has very extensive documentation and a vibrant community of users so if there’s something I can’t figure out myself then the answer isn’t far away.

I’ve been using a specialist piece of free software called Frescobaldi to create my scores. It helps with my coding by making it easier to read, rendering the score in real time and including a whole bunch of shortcuts for discovering how to add basic details to the score, transposing (including some very complex options) and more. I have made a demonstration video that is linked at the bottom of the article.

If you don’t wish to use this software then anyone with a basic text editor can write Lilypond scores. I could even write scores on my mobile phone at a bus stop and then compile them when I get home. Basically anybody can learn this skill at absolutely no cost, which is empowering.

The scourge of vendor lock-in

Vendor lock-in is something that affects almost everybody in the modern world. Most people aren’t even aware of it but they will have experienced it at some point and brushed it off as normal, accepting the fact of being controlled by a large company as just the way things are, or a cost of doing business. This is something that affects every single aspect of technology but I’ll try to stay on topic here and give you an example relevant to my day-to-day work as a professional musician.

Vendor lock-in, in simple terms, is what happens when you are reliant on a service provided by one specific company to enable you to do whatever it is that you do. Usually escaping from vendor lock-in will incur great personal cost. This could be financial or just needing to put considerably greater effort into achieving the same things without this company’s product. The reason that this is bad is because as a customer you are forced to follow the changes that a the company decides are necessary in order to continue doing your work. This may mean that you have to buy new software even if the software that you use still works perfectly for your needs. A good example of this is that in a few years ago Apple decided to change the way that the Core Audio system works in their High Sierra operating system. This meant that if you were still using Logic Pro version 9 then you needed to fork out for a new version of Logic Pro X. The stinger is that many users applied the “Free Upgrade” to MacOS High Sierra before they found out that their software wasn’t going to work any more. People might not be concerned about the £150 upgrade for Logic, but I can remember when Sibelius cost £700. There’s no wonder than Sibelius once had such a huge problem with piracy that they would pay people for reporting other users who had unlicensed copies.

Sibelius is currently the most popular sheet-music writing software in the circles that I work in. This includes both education and arranging work that I do for bands. I frequently hear people asking what version of Sibelius someone else uses because, for example, they still use version 7 and files created on version 8 or above won’t open. Is there a technical reason for this? Probably not! Considering that, minus the formatting, Sibelius can open all sorts of other files including midi and MusicXML. Why would their own file format change so drastically from one version to the next that they are completely incompatible? It’s just the company asserting its control over their customers and they’ve been pulling this trick for over twenty years. If a band pays me to arrange music for them I have to provide scores in a file format that they can edit or pass on to other arrangers in future, which means I need use Sibelius. In this case, I am a victim of somebody else’s vendor lock-in! My only other option is not to take on this work.

How does this affect the openArbanProject? One of the first things I created for the project was the soloist’s part for the Haydn Concerto linked above. There is already a copy of this work and many others available on IMSLP, but the engraving files have been written in Finale, which means that if you want to legally use them then you need to buy the software to do so. It also means that at some point in the future you will no longer be able to get software that opens these files. In order for the work of the openArbanProject to survive long term it must be done with open source software that will continue to be freely available to anybody in the future.

Want to know more?

Below is the video mentioned above in which I explain and demonstrate more about my workflow with Lilypond. If you wish to download the work that has been published so far then take a look at the openArbanProject website. Thank you for your interest. Please share.

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.

Is There Actually A Trumpet Method By Jerome Callet?

Is There Actually A Trumpet Method By Jerome Callet?

A short discussion by Richard Colquhoun

Jerome Callet was a truly unique figure in the world of brass pedagogy. He was a constant innovator in everything that he did; instrument design, mouthpiece design, embouchure methods, trumpet teaching. I have spent most of the last decade digging around online, chatting with his ex-pupils, travelling to Europe for lessons and conferences and studying his books and videos. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve dug deeper than most would ever be willing. Most people don’t even get past the initial shock of somebody sharing seemingly mad ideas and praising pupils who don’t sound very good (to the untrained ear). For some reason I just trusted this old guy’s experience and my trumpet playing has been immeasurably changed in this time.

I think that Jerry’s influence in the brass-playing world will never really be recognised for what it is. This is partly due to him being hard to understand (Trumpet Yoga seems quite nonsensical the first few times your read it) but also because he had the decency not to shout from the rooftops when he had helped some (very) famous players who then went on to teach his ideas without giving credit where due.

Celebrity endorsement?

There’s an awful problem relating to Callet’s teaching that I’d like to take the time to clear up. Many  of his pupils or followers would make wild claims such as “Maurice Andre used the Tongue Controlled Embouchure” or Harry James, Roy Eldridge, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Bud Herseth, Phil Smith… the list is endless. All of these claims are based upon misunderstanding of how Jerry taught and my two cents on the subject read like this: Jerry developed his methods by watching and listening to great players, copying aspects of their playing and sharing what he discovered. When he saw or heard a player use their tongue on their lip he would tell pupils and show them photos as proof. He would also play recordings of great players to show how some ideas which are taught about how a trumpet should sound are incorrect, and that these great players all share certain tonal characteristics that come from playing efficiently with a resonant, articulate sound. These great players, however, did not “use TCE”; nobody that hasn’t actively chosen to study and learn the technique is using TCE by chance. There is clear video evidence of Louis Armstrong doing things that Callet taught and his unique tone is even quite TCE-esque (you can here that same kind of brutal compression that Ralph Salamone has in his sound), but he didn’t “use TCE”, TCE exists because of studying how players like Louis played. I know it’s pedantic semantics, but these kinds of errors are what gives advocates a bad name. Many of Jerry’s pupils wanted to argue with others about the merits of the things they’d learnt and in doing so would make wild claims that ultimately just lead to more criticism of the ideas.

Having a relatively clear understanding of a lot of the ideas that Jerry taught over the course of fifty years I can see why crazy claims about famous players get made though. Here’s another example: I’ve seen a video of Håkan Hardenberger giving a masterclass in which he teaches the exact same thing as Jerry does on his 1987 VHS Superchopsjust for a moment. Håkan holds on to the sides of a student’s face in the same way that Jerry would when trying to encourage a pupil to let go of mouth corner tension and stop flattening the chin. He also mentions the problems that the player is causing with their tongue that Jerry describes in all of his books. I wouldn’t dare to suggest for a second that Hardenberger knows anything about Superchops because it would be a stupid thing to say. But I would point out that he studied with Pierre Thibault, who did have lessons with Jerome Callet. Callet designed his Opera mouthpiece for Pierre, who wrote about the benefits of double pedal tones in his own books. Callet has definitely planted seeds that have grown throughout the international brass-playing community that most will never realise the source of.

His own worst enemy?

The problem with Callet’s endless innovation was that he didn’t only contradict most traditional teachings about brass playing but over time he contradicted himself a lot too. In fact, when you talk to people that he taught over a period of time the same story keeps coming up:

“Every few weeks I would go for a lesson and what he would teach me would be completely different from what he had taught the last time. It was very frustrating and often disheartening.”

Often there were just little tweaks to tongue position, or where the bottom lip would be before you place the mouthpiece; but there were also massive changes to the whole system. In the days of Trumpet YogaBrass Power and Endurance, and Superchops a lot of emphasis was put upon building up wind power. A big part of the teaching was that if the embouchure didn’t work properly then it wasn’t possible to use all of your body strength to play. Later on, all of this had changed… During the 1990s Jerry realised more and more what an asset the tongue could be as a part of a brass player’s embouchure. Putting an exact date on when he changed his ideas from holding the tongue flat in the mouth after each attack to anchoring the tongue on the bottom lip is basically impossible with the knowledge that I have at this time, but that shift in the basic set-up of the lips and tongue changed everything because the fundamental result of the method became efficiency and centred sound rather than strength and power.

Like I’ve said before, there still could be those who disagree with what I have said. Someone I mentioned earlier in this post still goes around chanting “Tone, Power, Range and Endurance” like in the days of old, but he’s not a professional performer and appears to lack perspective when it comes to the bigger picture regarding trumpet playing techniques. The thing that I find almost ironic is that in his pursuit of easy Double High Cs Jerome Callet may have accidentally stumbled upon the easiest way to just be an all-round great-sounding and efficient trumpet player. But the thing that is missing is a definitive method.

“I vowed to myself [that] if I could achieve this dream of mine, I would share it with all brass players.” – Trumpet Yoga, 2nd Edition, 1986.

Although it could be seen as quite heroic and self-sacrificing to constantly change and innovate your method; the unfortunate longer-term problem is that now that Jerry has died, he hasn’t left an obvious legacy. Unlike the books of Claude Gordon, Roy Stevens, Herbert Clarke, Schlossberg, or Arban; you cannot go to Amazon.com and buy one of Jerry’s books or mouthpieces. These method books have all become pretty mainstream because they are easily available. All of Jerry’s books are now out of print and at the time of writing you can only buy his latest mouthpieces from his website. On top of this, to the best of my knowledge, there are only four people in the world who advertise as teaching Callet’s methods (and one of them isn’t very good at it). Will the fruits of half a century’s hard work be lost in obscurity? Maybe.

I’ve been teaching the TCE, specifically to those who ask for it, for a little over two years. It doesn’t sound all that long, but I’ve interacted with a lot of people in that time. Overwhelmingly I tend to find people who are confused, in a mess of conflicting methods, and who don’t know what to practice. Even those who have heard of TCE cannot explain what it is, which is why I created my tonguecontrolled.info and started writing books.

Conclusion

I remember writing in a previous post that maybe the wisdom of Callet will live on through derivative methods. But a part of me thinks that except for being embodied in the man himself, that’s how it has always existed. I really think that those who have found the most success from studying Superchops or TCE are those who could already play, or who had already studied music before picking up the trumpet. This isn’t all bad, because I think the same of many other famous pedagogues. My college teacher Philippe Schartz is a truly world-class trumpet player (he’s on Spotify, go and listen to him!) but his teaching was not focused solely on the scripture of one guru. He taught me from Arban, Maggio, Clarke, Gordon, Stamp, Irons, and that was only the technical side of playing – music came on top!

I find it sad that so few people today understand what Jerry was after. The most important lesson he taught was about listening to the great players and learning to hear when people (especially you) were playing incorrectly. This one thing appears to be what’s missing from all other methods, regardless of their other merits.

“Very centred and brilliant where you can hear the total resonance of the sound. Solid, but never overblown.” – Jerry describing correct trumpet sound.

To answer my original question: Is there actually a trumpet method by Jerome Callet? I would have to say no. I think there are a series of guide books and videos that outline the development of Callet’s opinion of how to best play a trumpet.

Edit: I decided to revisit this post after writing and include the following quote. It comes from a book called Beyond Arban, written by Jerry Callet in 1991. I think it’s the simplest explanation of his general principals and a good starting point for anybody interested in improving their brass playing.

Do not play with stretched lips and tight mouth corners. Firm your lips as you ascend in range by sliding your lower lip up and over your bottom teeth, pressing it up and under the top lip. You cannot do this if you stretch. Teeth should be open about 1/2 of an inch in all ranges but for the higher range the jaw recedes slightly to allow the entire lower lip to slide up over the lower teeth edges.
The smaller the aperture between your lips, the better you will play. A small aperture with the lower lip pressing against the inside of the top lip will make both lips very thick under the mouthpiece rim.
Remember two very important rules:
1 ) Always tongue through the teeth. striking the lower lip. Tonguing behind the teeth is wrong and causes problems.
2) Teeth must be open in all registers.

If you’re interested in learning more about the work of Jerome Callet then I’m always open to talk with those who want to learn more about it. Use my contact details above, or find me on social media. Thanks for reading!