The State of the Trumpet Address

I’ve always been blessed and/or cursed with a desire to do things in the simplest way. In my life there have been a number of things that I may have become obsessed with shifting people’s opinions about. Usually it’s just because I think there is an easier way of doing things but for many people the idea of change is a bigger hurdle than the change itself would be. So maybe it could be said that for me the concept of “Learn, Unlearn, Re-learn” comes naturally. This concept is one that comes straight out of Mixed Mental Arts. I like this podcast and the community it has spawned not only because it encourages self-reflection and a thirst for knowledge, but also because those involved have a good way of explaining things that I feel but have been previously incapable of putting into words.

Any frequent visitor to my website will have noticed that it has been nearly five months since I published a blog post. It certainly isn’t that long since I wrote one, but I haven’t written anything that I’m happy to share. Despite receiving a lot of positive feedback for my writing and more readers of my posts per month than pounds that I earn in that time, I feel that in an attempt to share the fruits of my reading and playing experience I may be contributing to a system that I do not wish to be a part of (i.e. a trumpet-ideology pissing match). Subscribing to a modern and yet-to-be widespread method of playing puts me in a position whereby I go out of my way to find multiple sources for any ideas that I promote. I’m sure that I present a balanced set of arguments, backed at least by quotes and sources, if not evidence. But as I am about to explain, this isn’t always enough.

Something else that comes up on the podcast is the concept of internet echo chambers. The internet has allowed everyone access to more information and different ideas than ever before but using services like Twitter, which allows you to select who you follow, and Facebook that actively censors your news feed so that you more-often-than-not see things that you like, creates an environment where you’re only exposed to groups of people that agree with what you say. This can give somebody the impression that they have all of the knowledge that they need and prevent exposure to ideas that could help them grow. Whilst listening to Mixed Mental Arts I often notice myself finding examples of the things they talk about in behaviour on the Trumpet Herald Forum. The forum contains a bunch of self-moderated sub-forums dedicated to specific teachers and pedagogical ideologies. If you’re in the wrong place and you suggest an idea that isn’t in line with what a certain teacher taught then your post just gets deleted. All questioning of the guru’s wisdom is thwarted and in many ways this can prevent newbies from ever understanding how their thinking differs from the ideas being discussed. Naïve realism rules the roost and the idea that somebody could learn from cognitive dissonance in totally unheard of (Naïve Realism is the belief that we see the world as it really is and anyone who disagrees is somehow bigoted or misinformed).

One problem that I believe we’re all dealing with is ego. Let’s not lie about it this one thing: Trumpet playing is hard! I would go as far as to say that the trumpet is one of the most difficult instruments to play and it’s absolutely true that most who try it fail. Whilst music students with other instruments can concentrate on playing and learning about music, brass players have to spend a lot of time cultivating their technique just to make the instrument work at all (Radiohead weren’t wrong when they sang Anyone Can Play Guitar!). This is then compounded by the problem that for many, playing for more than a couple of hours per day is a physical impossibility because their embouchure gives out. It’s not hard to understand therefore that when a trumpet player gets really good at playing that they believe that they’re in possession of the holy grail. This is where the fundamentalism kicks in – if something works for me then everything else must be wrong. Quick, shut the doors, lock the windows, no further learning is required here.

I want there to be no doubt about what I’m going on about here. In a way my ambitions and desires are at least twofold. When I’m wearing my teacher’s hat I want to be able to look at the brass teachers and the education systems that are out there and see a team of enthusiastic experts sharing their experience and knowledge in a way that enables learners to question, think and grow into a better generation of musicians and teachers than have come before them. When I’m wearing my enthusiast’s hat (by which I mean someone with a thirst for knowledge about this crazy instrument I play, who wants to share with and learn from others for the benefit of all, write a crazy blog, be a better trumpeter, take over the world…) all I want is an environment where I can discuss modern ideas, demonstrate current techniques, debate the heroes of the past and come out the other side without feeling like I’ve been bickering with children. The unfortunate truth is however that neither of these two situations are currently a reality, but when I think about it I see the problem and solution to both situations is the same. People believe that the day they leave school is the day that they stop learning. Many teachers out there were taught in an era before the internet made the sharing of knowledge so easy. In those days learning required effort and it was expensive, plus exposure to alternative playing methods from the other side of the world was rare. Well anyway, if you can play or teach well enough to get paid then why do you need to be any better?

There is also a problem that I’ve tried to discuss in the past but I know I made a bad job of it and have since removed the blog post and it goes like this:

  • Many of the great pedagogues from the past taught and adjusted their methods on a pupil-by-pupil basis – Good.
  • Those people are now dead – Shame :.(
  • Neither their books or their past pupils are capable of offering true representations of what those people taught – Fact.
  • People are out there promoting these books and their limited experience of their teachers as the last word on trumpet playing despite the fact that it’s obviously not true – Stupid.
  • There is a better understanding now of how instruments work and how to develop playing technique than when those pedagogues were alive – No really!

I’m not saying that your hero was wrong, but if they were alive today then they would be continuing to build on their knowledge with current ideas so buck up kiddo because your fundamentalism is holding you back.

It baffles me why people are so defensive about the teachings of their heroes. In a recent interview on The Other Side Of The Bell Greg Spence talks about how he has been shunned from the Claude Gordon community because despite teaching techniques that come directly from Gordon’s books he also suggests that players should use tension in their embouchure. Indeed that is all it takes to be ousted. In a blog post on the MMA website Hunter Maats discusses defensive behaviour and suggests that it is a result of insecurity. It’s quite a simplistic explanation, but if the shoe fits, you wearin’ it. I don’t understand what people have to be insecure about unless they can clearly see evidence of their beliefs being wrong and if that is true then why not dig a little deeper and find out more? Or stick your head in the hole, whatever…

In the past we’ve looked at the world of trumpet playing in terms of national schools of playing. The way that anyone learned to play came straight out of the music colleges and traditions in their locality and this made for some interesting variation in styles and approaches to playing and teaching. Globalisation and the internet have changed that. The availability of recordings, books, and direct contact with experts from anywhere on the planet has put us in a position that in the MMA community they refer to as “Humanity’s First Family Dinner” and we all have to learn to tolerate each other’s company because unlike your on Twitter feed you can’t chose to unfollow this one.

~iii<0
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Franquin, transposing trumpets, Bahb Civiletti & the TCE

Recently I’ve been reading a little about the old French trumpet player and pedagogue Merri Franquin. In 1912 he invented a four-valved trumpet in C. The fourth valve worked differently from the standard three in that it raised the pitch of the trumpet by a tone – like a backwards first valve. The purpose of this valve was twofold. First of all it enabled the player to play a trill on any note using this valve; and secondly it addressed the tuning issues on the low D and D-flat. The advent of the movable valve slides (credited to Theo Charlier in 1900) solved this issue in a mechanically simpler way and combined with many players seeing the new trumpet as a “cheater’s instrument” (where have we heard that before?!!) it never gained widespread popularity.

Something else that was common at that time was trumpets with a A/B-flat transposition key. You can still find these instruments on eBay and lying in cupboards but unfortunately they’re rarely in good playing condition.
Today I dug out one such trumpet in a school that I teach at. It’s a small bore instrument with fixed valve slides and a crumbled bell. It’s quite a leaky trumpet at the tone it produces is pretty fluffy as a result. An interesting thing is that because of the bore size it fits nicely into my model “long trumpet with a small mouthpiece” preference that I mentioned in my previous post about mouthpieces.

To show how this works I made a short video of me playing an excerpt of Telemann’s Trumpet Concerto in D that you will find below. The video doesn’t have any talking on it so I will give a  short explanation here:
In a lesson with Bahb Civiletti last year he suggested to me that in order to gain the accuracy, centered pitch and stamina for baroque music I should practice all piccolo pieces on the standard B-flat trumpet. To many this will sound ridiculous, but playing with the Tongue Controlled Embouchure allows me to do this without the physical effort that most use to play in the high register.
In this demonstration you will see me play an excerpt from Telemann’s concerto, ascending to an F above Double C on a century-old, worn-out, leaking trumpet in A.

For more information about the Tongue Controlled Embouchure visit http://tonguecontrolled.info/

For more about Bahb Civiletti visit http://tce-studio.com/

Enjoy! ~iii<0

Trumpet Mouthpieces: One or More, Big or Small, Should do it?

One or More, Big or Small, Should do it?

A discussion by Richard Colquhoun about the differing attitudes towards choices of
trumpet mouthpieces for performance and their use in pedagogy.

Introduction

In April 2016 I travelled to Belgium to meet with Bahb Civiletti. Bahb is one of the world’s pre-eminent baroque trumpet players and his The Art Of The High Baroque album features some of the only recordings ever made of certain solo repertoire on a natural trumpet (the fruits of him having studied with Jerome Callet and Friedemann Immer can also be heard on his YouTube Channel). Over the time that I spent with Bahb one topic of conversation that came up a few times was that of trumpet mouthpieces. I was quite keen to hear Bahb’s opinion on this topic partly because it is often a point of contention between trumpet players, but also because Jerome Callet asserts quite a strong ideology in terms of mouthpiece choice and I was curious whether this had rubbed off on Bahb at all.

When asked he joked about people’s obsessions with trumpet mouthpieces and told a story about how he once challenged a room of people to find a mouthpiece that he couldn’t perform the first sixteen bars of the third movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto on; apparently they couldn’t (including a french horn mouthpiece). On a more serious note he stated that one could learn to play anything they want to with any mouthpiece and that the only reason you may have to change is to get an appropriate tone colour for the music you’re performing. He also recommended to avoid discussing mouthpieces with other trumpet players as these things always end in an argument. Since the popularity of my article about Vincent Bach mouthpieces I’ve been trying to write a more general follow-up and, like many of my articles, I have a number of failed attempts in my drafts folder. The other day I met with some trumpet-playing friends and the inevitable debate began. By the time the discussion had finished there was no clear movement in anybody’s opinion. Plenty of good points were made but these decisions tend to be intrinsically tied to deeply held opinions based upon very different levels of experience, exposure to ideas, and goals when playing the instrument. What you will read here is my attempt to describe a few conflicting attitudes that people have towards choice of mouthpiece that I hope will be helpful not only to make informed decisions, but also in understanding why no choice you make will ever please everyone you meet.

Idea 1: One Ring To Rule Them All

A particularly prominent voice in the trumpet pedagogy world is Claude Gordon. Claude’s philosophy is that once you have addressed all aspects of playing technique in a systematic, progressive way then you will be a competent player and that all abilities are inevitable. He says in his book Brass Playing Is No Harder Than Deep Breathing that an aspiring trumpet player should buy one good mouthpiece and stick with it. This is a conclusion that he came to after spending much of his playing career searching for the “perfect mouthpiece” and his intention behind the advise is to warn others not to make the same mistake, which would be to believe that a change of equipment is of equal value to quality practise. His recommendation for a sensible mouthpiece is one with and open backbore, longer v-shaped cup and a wide throat. Claude talks against using mouthpieces that feel tight, or provide resistance. Claude Gordon’s general rule is that the physical side of playing should be focused mostly on wind power, which goes a long way to explain his ideas about mouthpieces. In musical terms, students of the Gordon school believe that all variations in tone that you may want can come from your intentions as you play. This is a very common idea that Arturo Sandoval does a good job of demonstrating it in this video.

Jerome Callet is another famous American trumpet pedagogue. In his teaching he puts a lot of emphasis on the idea of correct sound. To him there is only one correct sound that one should strive to make on the trumpet, regardless of the genre of music you play. He teaches that in attempting to create “a big orchestral sound” many players force their tone to “spread”, which in turn leads to over blowing. His philosophy puts a premium on efficient use of air, stressing that Harry James (often used as a model for tone) only used as much air as was necessary to get the job done. On the subject of mouthpieces Jerry also believes that players can and should only use one mouthpiece. Contrary to Claude Gordon’s teaching, disciples of Jerry favour mouthpieces with shallow cups, long tight backbores and small throats. Callet also alludes to the need for a mouthpiece design to be “balanced”, but I’ve never found an explanation of what he means by that.

Idea 2: The Right Tool For The Job

Whilst consistency is important in your practice and goals as an instrumentalist many believe that choosing one mouthpiece to use forever is likely to cause a player problems if they play a wide variety of music. If you were to only use a shallow mouthpiece such as Schilke 14A4a then you may struggle with soft entrances in an orchestral setting or even making a characteristic sound. Similarly if you always play on a wide bowl such as a Vincent Bach 1X then you are going to need a lot of physical effort to play lead trumpet in a big band. Many players take pride in the so-called strength they’ve built up over years of playing on inappropriate equipment and believe that others are cheating if they aren’t punishing themselves in the same way. K.O. from Stomvi discusses his point of view nicely in this video. Of course some may surmise that the best option would be a middle-of-the-road mouthpiece, thus getting no assistance from your mouthpiece for either job… paraphrasing Mark Van Cleave I’ll just say that average [mouthpieces/ideas/methods] produce average results and average trumpet players. Trying to use logic simply to avoid exploration will only result in missing out on the fruits of knowledge.

Bobby Shew is possibly one of the most accomplished trumpet players alive today. He explains in this article how he spent years believing that you could play everything on one mouthpiece, avoiding getting caught up in the decision making traps. Eventually he came to realise that trying out different equipment and learning to use it can be extremely beneficial. This is something that I will explain in greater detail later on. I wanted to quote a lot of Bobby’s article, but I’d rather you just go and read the whole thing. I’m just going to take this part:

The use of an improper mouthpiece equates with trying to drive nails with a screwdriver – Bobby Shew

Roger Ingram studied with Bobby Shew when he was younger and has a very similar attitude towards choice of mouthpieces. On his website he sells a set of six mouthpieces, all of which are intended for specific jobs. The really interesting thing is that he says that he doesn’t even bother to try playing high parts on any but the smallest of these (despite the fact that I’m sure he could nail a killer Double High C on a bucket!!). In his book Clinical Notes On Trumpet Playing Roger recommends that when playing lead trumpet you should use the “smallest mouthpiece you can get away with” and for orchestral playing you should use the “largest mouthpiece you can get away with”. His chapter on mouthpiece selection is actually very interesting and he firmly believes that what works for one person will not work for another. He also talks about consciously placing more or less lip in the bowl of the mouthpiece before you play in order to adapt to the size.

Idea 3: Mouthpieces As A Teaching Aid

A very common teaching practice that I’ve written about in the past is the idea that as pupils progress they should be moved on to bigger and bigger mouthpieces. I wrote about why this isn’t logical in reference to Vincent Bach mouthpieces because of the inconsistencies in design and manufacturing, but if a player were to use mouthpieces of a different brand then that argument would be negated. Another reason that it doesn’t make sense, however, is the idea of strength. Imagine that you start out playing on a Yamaha 11B4. As you become a stronger player you move on to using a Schilke 14, but you’re not strong enough for that mouthpiece so you have to work to build up more strength. Once you master your Schilke 14 you “graduate” up to a “professional mouthpiece”. That could be a Yamaha 16C4, Schilke 17D4d or 18, Vincent Bach 1C, Monette B2, the choices are endless. Unfortunately you’re not strong enough for these mouthpieces yet so you have to work to build things up again.
This process is so ridiculous that I am beside myself just writing this explanation. Every time you begin to make progress you’re slapped back to the beginning by the wisdom of “this is how the big boys do it”. It’s not only the constant punishment for practising that annoys me though. The definition of strength in this situation is the ability of the lips to resist an ever-increasing volume of air that if you weren’t using in the first place you’d never need the strength to resist. It was the opinion of Renold Schilke that anybody, whether they’ve every played before or not has strength to resist as much air pressure as required to play any note on the trumpet (refer to this article for more information).
Large mouthpieces are really good at hiding poor technique, whether that be allowing the lips to collapse into the cup (usually), poor articulation (dwah dwah dwah), or just relying on air to compensate for lack of embouchure training (definitely). Large mouthpieces do not teach you to play properly and more importantly they allow you to play incorrectly. Some people will make them work through realising that just because you can use power it doesn’t mean that you should, and everyone else just suffers and starts to believe that not everyone is cut out for playing the trumpet. It is this sort of trouble that makes people lean in the direction of Claude Gordon’s school of thought – get a sensible mouthpiece and work on your technique. When presented only with these two options, Gordon is absolutely the better choice. There are, however, many other, more modern, approaches.

A relatively recent movement in the trumpet pedagogy sphere is Lynn Nicholson. In the last couple of years he has released a number of video tutorials and mouthpiece design that constitute what he refers to as the Mindless Hardware Methodology. The idea behind the MHM is that using a small, v-cup mouthpiece with a very high alpha angle for short periods will force you to learn correct playing habits because playing incorrectly simply won’t work on that equipment. No thinking or analysis is necessary. Whilst this is an extreme example, this idea is not one that I’m opposed to.

Players who frequently use small shallow mouthpieces will often point out that they are still capable of using deep mouthpieces whereas the reverse is very rarely true. Users of bigger mouthpieces complain of their lips hitting the cup on shallow mouthpieces and not being able to make a big tone. These are both things that are the results of technique and not the equipment. Usually players of larger mouthpieces allow their lips to collapse into the mouthpiece, effectively making it shallower as the distance from their lips to the base of the cup is reduced. Lips in this position are not effective at resisting the air stream and the only solution is to use more air, which makes the problem worse. It is much more difficult to create the compression required for playing high, or making a big tone, when using large volumes of air. Jerry Callet always recommended that people learn to play with shallower cups because you know straight away if you’re over blowing or using too much pressure. How? because the sound stops coming out of the trumpet! Although Jerry would say that once you are making a correct sound you can play anything; Bahb Civiletti points out that as you’re capable of playing bigger gear then you can choose to do that to appease the tastes of others. At the end of the day the conductor is in charge.

I started out playing on a small cupped mouthpiece by accident. Without knowing the significance of what I was doing, I immediately learned how to keep my lips out of the cup to make the mouthpiece work for me. Had I not, I probably would not have been able to produce much of a sound, if any at all – Roger Ingram

Food For Thought: Change Your Trumpet Or Change Your Mouthpiece?

Recently I went to watch a concert that was given by an ensemble called Spiritato! They are a group of musicians who perform music from the 17th century on authentic period instruments. There were four hole-less natural trumpets in the ensemble, all pitched in D. Two of these instruments were playing high clarino parts and the other two lower tromba parts. Interestingly each member of the section used a different sized mouthpiece. The players of the lower parts had mouthpieces of the size that you’d expect to see in a trombone and the players of the higher parts had mouthpieces that were much smaller. This approach seems to echo the “Right tool for the job” philosophy, and is historically accurate. Also worth noting is that their sounds all blended together nicely as each player made a tone that was appropriate to the pitch they played at.

Since the advent of the valved trumpet, in the classical trumpet field, it is pretty standard practice to switch to smaller higher-pitched trumpets when the music ventures above the stave. People often tend to use a smaller mouthpiece to match their smaller trumpet and this practice was also recommended by Vincent Bach in his older catalogues (as can be seen here: 1 2). It is a generally accepted rule that the B-flat trumpet, being the largest commonly used, produces the most pleasing tone and also has the best intonation of any valved trumpet. Why do players not simply move to their smaller mouthpiece and maintain a richer sound, rather than changing the whole trumpet? Players don’t realise that the true advantage they get from using the smaller trumpet is that they have a more brilliant, focused sound and sharper attacks. These are the properties that they are often trying to avoid on the B-flat trumpet in the name of having a “dark, orchestral sound”. Allowing your sound to be brilliant, focused and articulate comes with the added bonuses of greater control and range (this simple argument completely changed my trumpet playing for the better!).

People use the C trumpet in the orchestra so that they can make the right sound on the wrong mouthpiece – Jerome Callet

AOB? The Biggest Lie Of All

The final thing that I’d like to mention before leaving you to get on with your day is a myth and lie that is often sold to aspiring players by shops and mouthpiece manufactures. This is an idea that is often sold (literally) to people to keep them trying new equipment when practise and lessons would suffice. I have chosen to represent The Biggest Lie in the form of a graphic. Don’t believe what it says!

 

Conclusion

After all of this, do I regret forgetting Bahb’s advice and starting a conversation with my friends about choices of mouthpiece? No.

In a recent podcast Hunter Maats was talking with Bryan Callen about why he gets into arguments with people about their beliefs. He points out that it is the only way to practise clearly articulating your opinions under pressure. The disagreement is relevant because not only may you learn something you didn’t know from someone else’s point of view, but you find out quickly if your arguments hold water. I may have suffered a bit (a lot) of cognitive dissonance upon hearing the improvement in my friend’s playing since taking lessons from Jeff Purtle, but it showed me what has been missing from my practice lately and helped me to finally write this mouthpiece article, which has been brewing for years. Thanks guys!

~iii<0

Trumpet vs Cornet, and why it’s important

Introduction – My Story

Being a professional high-brass specialist and growing up in England with our brass band tradition I have been juggling performing on the cornet and the trumpet for my whole playing life. The first brass instrument I played was a cornet and I was extremely excited to take this beaten-up, smelly heap of metal home from school and try to make sounds come out of it. I played in the Wells City Band and it wasn’t for a few years that I even saw a trumpet. My first real exposure to a trumpet was when I joined a big band at the age of twelve. They looked weird! Too long, and sounded harsh. It wasn’t long before I got a trumpet of my own, but it wasn’t until the age of sixteen that I switched from being a cornet player who owns a trumpet into a trumpet player who also plays the cornet. I had recently begun some lessons with Wells Cathedral School head of brass Paul Denegri because I was planning on auditioning for a place at the music school. On his advice I had been to the local trumpet dealer and bought a Vincent Bach Stradivarius trumpet.

I always had this idea in my head that switching between the two instruments was a problem because they felt different and like many people I followed the advice of the local dealer and bought a mouthpiece for my trumpet that was the same as the one I use on my cornet. That was a big mistake. Firstly, the two instruments feel different because they are different; secondly, by using a mouthpiece on one that was designed for the other you are going to achieve the effect of neither; and thirdly, the difference is a good thing! It would be so much more confusing for them to feel the same but behave differently. I think that the problem lies in the expectation of being able to do the same thing with tools that were designed for different purposes. More on this later.

I showed up to my trumpet lesson, proud of my new trumpet, and the only thing I can remember is my teacher looking at me and saying “that doesn’t sound like a trumpet”. Those words still echo in my mind to this day and I had no idea what he was talking about!

So, here’s a blog post that will hopefully provide the information you need to understand and appreciate the difference between these two instruments and aid you in related decision-making to make your musical life easier. Knowing these things really does make my job easier.

A Bit of History

Putting these two instruments into context requires that we look back in time and understand why they were created, and what they were used for.

The history of the trumpet is a long story. Ed Tarr spends this first seven chapters (about 150 pages) of his book The Trumpet just getting up to the point that I’m starting at. But there are only a few important points that we need to take from all of that to help us get to grips with the instrument’s purpose. In culture the trumpet has always had somewhat of a split personality. The primary role of trumpet-like instruments is that of a signal. Usually this is imagined in a military setting and can basically be thought of as performing fanfares. To be played loudly and heard over a long distance (quality of tone is not an issue!). The secondary role of the trumpet is its place in art music. Performing high-pitched florid melodies, akin to the human voice in timbre and demanding a very delicate control of the high register.

Whilst you continue reading, listen to this music in the background and really soak up the sound of the baroque trumpet. This music is performed by my teacher and friend Robert J. Civilietti, an American trumpet player. He was the first, and to date only, person to make recordings of this repertoire on the baroque trumpet. Joseph Riepel Concerto in D performed by Bahb Civiletti

Whilst the trumpet during the 18th Century was undoubtedly a beautiful instrument it had one big flaw – there were huge gaps in the available notes in the low and middle registers meaning that you could not play chromatically, or even diatonically over most of the instrument.

A major distinction between the trumpet and the cornet is that the trumpet evolved over time whereas the cornet was invented. In the first quarter of the 19th Century there were various instruments developed using different types of valves or keys that finally enabled a high brass instrument that could play melodically in its lower register with a consistent sound quality. This is something that composers wanted and players, who by this point had lost the upper register skills of their predecessors, jumped at the chance of playing lyrical melodies on these instruments. This loss of ability is something that happened because composers in the classical period had been treating the trumpet very differently to the past and there was no-longer any need to develop such skills. It was also not popular to perform period music in those days.

With the development of tonguing techniques and popularity of Theme and Variation Solos the cornet became a very popular soloist’s instrument. Cornets found their place in wind bands and with the advent of saxhorns in the 1840s the brass band was then possible too. There was some use of cornets in the symphony orchestra as well, but that’s a story I’m saving for later.

Physical Differences and Similarities

Physically speaking the modern cornet and piston-valve trumpet are very similar. The text-book differences are these:

The taper of a cornet should be at least 2/3rds conical and 1/3rd cylindrical. The conical section from the mouthpiece to tuning slide is longer on a cornet, which should give it better intonation. The valves for adjusting the length of tubing are farther along the overall length, which can affect how smooth their action feels when they’re pressed. By comparison the opposite end of the design scale would be a rotary-valve trumpet, which has about six inches of tubing from mouthpiece to the valve-entrance, meaning that the effect of pushing the valves feels more immediate.
Because of this the tubing has four 180 degree bends in it, whereas a trumpet only has two. This is a major factor in creating the characteristic sound of the cornet. The bell on a cornet is shorter, usually has “shepherd’s crook” shape to its curve and generally has less of an exponential-curve-style flare to its shape.

It is generally said that in comparison a trumpet should be 2/3rds to 3/4ths cylindrical over its length but this is residual knowledge of the crowd and relates more to the dimensions of the baroque trumpet than to a modern trumpet. In the first half of the 20th Century short trumpets in B-flat (modern piston-valve trumpets) and the cornet evolved quite rapidly, taking aspects of each other’s design to improve their own. By the 1960s there were instruments available that on first glance were physically indistinguishable from each other apart from the mouthpiece. This chart shows that for the most part neither the cornet or the modern trumpet is more conical than the other and in some cases the reverse is true (it would be unfair to include a link to that chart without a link to the brilliant article that accompanies it by Robb Stewart. The link for that is here). The trumpet is straighter in appearance and often has more dramatic flare to the bell. These things contribute to its “more free blowing feel”, focused sound and livelier overtone series.

The most significant development for the piston-valved trumpet (and difference from its rotary-valved cousin) was the addition of a leadpipe.

The first section of tapered tubing between the mouthpiece-receiver and tuning slide vastly improves intonation on the modern trumpet, and also contributes greatly to the resistance profile of an instrument, allowing for much better control (slotting of harmonics) in all registers. Renold Schilke used leadpipe design to vastly improve the intonation of smaller, higher pitched trumpets and Schilke is still the best-known brand for D/E-flat and piccolo trumpets today. Various instrument makers such as Rudy Mück, Schilke and Callet Trumpets, experimented with conical sections or varying bore sizes of trumpets to further improve their response and intonation. This is sometimes marketed as “Step Bore”, but is little more than a nod to the fact that modern trumpets aren’t, and never have been, mostly cylindrical in design.

The next most obvious difference, and one of the most important, is the mouthpiece. There’s a lot of chatter about mouthpieces so I’m just going to give some general rules without a lot of explanation.

Firstly let’s state this: The trumpet is the only brass instrument that uses a bowl shaped cup in its mouthpiece design. The original trumpet mouthpieces had a defined angle at the point that the bottom of the cup meets the throat, this point is called a shoulder. That hard shoulder is something that gave the baroque trumpet its characteristic sound, and also assisted with note production on a simpler instrument. The cornet, which was designed to be a little horn (that’s what the word means!) should be played with a small, deep mouthpiece with a V-shaped cup. This is something that gives the cornet its characteristic sound – but also creates the limitations that many players of both instruments find disturbing.

I am going to go into more detail about sound concept in the final and most important section of this article. Before I do so, however, I need to write about two mouthpiece manufactures that have, in my opinion at least, gone against the traditional design of cornet mouthpieces to the detriment of the instrument’s use in modern times.

The first of these is Vincent Bach. I have a long article titled What to know about the Vincent Bach mouthpiece that you may wish to read. In that article I mention how Vincent Bach began making very popular cornet mouthpieces with trumpet-shaped cups and longer shanks. This may have made the instrument more comfortable to play and assist some people with the upper register, but it also served to lead people into making a sound that was not characteristic of the instrument they were playing and I would speculate that this would lead those same people to switch to trumpet playing in the long term if that were an option. This opinion is in part influenced by articles that I link to in the blog post above. Part of me believes that using a traditional “cookie cutter” cornet mouthpiece forces the player to learn to play with proper technique whereas a trumpet-style mouthpiece allows for someone to have some degree of success with poor technique and a brute force approach.

The second manufacturer is more recent than Vincent Bach and is worthy of a long critical article of its own. It is Denis Wick. I once attended a talk given by the famous Denis Wick. He was a professional trombone player who, out of necessity, designed his own trombone mouthpiece because the sort of design he wanted was not available on the British market at the time. Denis Wick mouthpieces are very good for the trombone and at the time were probably the best available. Later on the company he created went on to design mouthpieces for all brass instruments. As far as some instruments like the Euphonium, Baritone and Tenor Horn are concerned they may well have done a good job, I don’t actually know. And like Vincent Bach it was a huge step towards standardisation of mouthpiece design.
For Trumpet and Cornet, however, these mouthpieces are some of the worst I’ve played. For the cornet the less popular, deeper, mouthpieces are similar to the original shape of cornet cup, but the throat is far too big and the internal diameter at the top of the cup is also far larger than you would ever find in an old cornet mouthpiece. The larger throat would serve to deaden high overtones in the sound, allow more air to play, and make the instrument much less agile overall. The more popular ‘B’ cup just looks like a scaled-down trombone mouthpiece – something most definitely not suited to a cornet. Because of their low price point for many years these mouthpieces have become the standard in the British Brass Band scene. Only in the last ten years or so are other companies now making “true cornet cup” mouthpieces that are more similar to the older designs. Denis Wick has since jumped on the band wagon by bringing out their Heritage Series, which I’ve been told on more than one occasion by one of their design consultants is just a direct copy of a vintage cornet mouthpiece.

At this point, if you’ve listened to the recording mentioned above then you may wish to try this recording of Philip McCann playing with the Black Dyke Mills Band. If you can tolerate his incessant use of vibrato, which is very common in brass bands, then it’ll give you a good idea of a cornet sound by comparison. (For the record – vibrato is not a bad thing, but when it is a mindless, ever present habit then I see it as a sign of a player putting their personal style above that of musical interpretation. I’m sure many would disagree!)

So what about the sound?

As you’ll know from reading my previous articles and the story above, playing with a correct sound is a very important topic for me. I believe that for developing players it is both a sign of good technique and a limiting factor in terms of development. Quite simply put, the day I stopped trying to make a dark sound on a trumpet my control, projection and general ease of playing improved markedly. It was by college teacher who wanted me to make this dark sound despite him using a C trumpet in the orchestra – go figure… The point I want to make is that when one is learning to play a trumpet or a cornet they need to understand the sound that the instrument was designed to make and its associated limitations as a result of that.

Not taking the context of an instrument’s origin into account, players will often try to use one instrument to create the sound of the other. Understanding that a trumpet is designed to have a focused, clear, projected tone is primary to developing on the instrument and a preoccupation with creating the diffuse sound of a cornet in the middle register will only serve to push the player to tiring their embouchure by working against the nature of the instrument. Trumpet players, especially in classical schools, will devote many hours to practising smooth lyrical playing in the middle and low register. Trumpet players more often than not will also play on large mouthpieces to facilitate this desire and never develop a reasonable high register, let alone a powerful one. This large mouthpiece compensates for a lack of accuracy in the embouchure which is necessary for creating a direct, well-projecting sound. Unlike cornet players it is very common for a trumpeter to switch to a smaller trumpet so that they can maintain control on the cusp of the high register without developing any accuracy up there on their B-flat instrument. These trumpet players are trying to use a trumpet like a cornet – relying heavily on valves and smaller instruments rather than developing a good embouchure. More thoughts about this can be found in this post.

Many cornet players will struggle with their higher register (the sound naturally becomes more diffuse the higher you play) whilst not taking into account that when the cornet was invented it was the normal thing to use a small soprano cornet in E-flat to play the higher notes (there is still one soprano cornet in a standard brass band configuration). In fact according to Jean Baptiste Arban the cornet in C was also very popular in the 19th Century due to its “distinguished sound” and ease of transposition for orchestral playing.

During the 19th Century the cornet began to replace the trumpet in some orchestras. There were many composers who, recognising the value of both instruments, wrote music that included both parts for the trumpet and the cornet but some composers and conductors disliked the cornet greatly. Hector Berlioz described its sound as imparting “platitude and odious vulgarism […] without the nobility of the horn, nor the pride of the trumpet”. The truth is that the low valved trumpet in F was no better an option because of its poor intonation and sound quality. According to Crispian Steele-Perkins the slide trumpet was still being used in British orchestras until the end of that century. In his book La Trompette et le cornet Merri Franquin recalls the following:

The problem occurred for the first time during a rehearsal for [Ernest] Reyer’s Sigurd at the Paris Opera [c. 1884]. In this opera, the cornets today still [c. 1922] play the [valved] trumpet parts. At the work’s read-through, in the orchestra, there was a solo entrance in the [valved] trumpet parts—entrusted to the cornetists—that climbed up to a sustained B-natural (concert pitch). When the note was not reached, Monsieur Reyer asked why, affirming that it had been played successfully elsewhere (he was alluding to the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels where Sigurd had its premiere). So we confessed to him that the cornet was incapable of replacing the trumpet in that situation. At the next rehearsal, the passage was transferred to the trumpet desk, by means of a momentary exchange of parts [where it was played on small C trumpets].

In his book Trumpet Crispian Steele-Perkins tells a story of a Slide Trumpet vs Cornet Battle that took place in New York in 1834. Apparently the limitations and abilities of both instruments prevented the two players from being able to compete by playing the same music, which in itself demonstrates the point that I’m trying to make. The outcome of the initial competition was a draw.

In Summary: What do I need to know when playing?
  1. The cornet was designed with the invention of valves in order to play smoothly and quickly in the middle and low register. It produces a pleasing sound in these registers and is very agile over the range of approximately two octaves.
  2. The trumpet throughout history has been used to perform fanfares and high-pitched melodies. It naturally has a more direct, focused sound than the cornet. It is meant to stand out in an ensemble and often creates a thicker, more brash tone in the lower register.
  3. The cornet is an instrument that creates a more diffuse sound than a trumpet. This means that it is quite pleasant to listen to and blends well with other instruments. However it also means that it lacks the focus and clarity that is expected of a trumpet and required when performing in the upper register.
Why is it important?

Last year a pupil of mine entered a popular UK music competition. Although he performed well and came quite highly in the rankings the comments he received from the adjudicator were nothing short of moronic. My pupil had performed a piece named Fanfare and Berceuse by Arthur Butterworth, a 20th Century composer, on a trumpet. In the remarks it stated “It could have been nicer if you had played with a more veiled tone”. Maybe it should be pointed out that this adjudicator was used to hearing and judging brass band [cornet] players, but despite being in a position of respect in the musical community was seemingly completely unaware of what a trumpeter, performing a fanfare or any piece of 20th Century solo repertoire should sound like. If it is your profession to judge musicians then you should at least understand the characteristic sounds produced by the instruments you are judging. Unfortunately this is just one of many negative experiences that this pupil has had with ill-informed teachers and brass band leaders.

It is paramount as a musician that you develop your ears by listening to music and learning to be critical of what you hear. You’d be surprised how many highly-rated instrumentalists look better than they sound when you focus on the right things.

~iii<0

Why Write A Book?

In recent months I have been considering writing a few books to aid my students, and anybody in the brass-playing world, to learn to play their instrument more easily. In the past I’ve been torn over whether this is a good idea or a waste of my time. Indeed there are already countless books out there for brass players. However in my day-to-day life I constantly see evidence that whatever manuals and systems we have in place at the moment are failing aspiring brass players. It’s not just children struggling in bands but adults in amateur settings and even professionals in professional settings. I often see people on gigs struggling with basic note production and poor tone because their only solution to these problems is to think about air.

When I adopt pupils who were started by other teachers they often don’t even know exactly what the valves on their instruments do, let alone have an inkling about the basic mechanics of their embouchure. Some of the most celebrated brass teachers from the past half century knew nothing about embouchures and even actively discouraged their pupils from thinking about it, touting nonsense like “if you learn to blow right then the rest will fix itself”. I’m not saying that anyone learning a brass instrument needs to digest Doc Reinhardt’s Encyclopaedia of the Pivot System (that’s my job!). But I do believe that knowing what the word aperture means is at least twice as useful as “tighten your lips”, which commonly gets thrown around by the well-meaning but mis-informed brass tutor.

In my country, at least, budding young musicians (or maybe just their parents) are obsessed with the process of taking exams. This might be a good idea if it were an accurate measure of a pupil’s progress but unfortunately the syllabus provided by the ABRSM demonstrates clearly that it was written by people who do not understand how to measure progress or guide development on a brass instrument. To make matters worse, a huge proportion of brass peripatetic teachers use this syllabus as though it is a curriculum, just pushing pupils from one exam to the next – something that even the ABRSM states you should not do – resulting in people learning the bare minimum of tricks and pieces just to earn a certificate that says that they can do something that in six months they may not be able to do any more.

A specific example of this, just so that I am not accused of conjecture, is the expected range of notes required for the pieces and scales for each exam. For Grade 1 you are required to be able to play up to the note C5 (these are written pitches, so on a trumpet in B-flat they should be considered one tone lower); Grade 2 – D5; Grade 3 – E5; Grade 4 – F5; and so on to Grade 8 – C6. This is an expected rate of increase in range of one tone per exam. This sets a pretty low bar for anyone who is learning an instrument and thinks that it is commendable progress. The other problem (more serious) is that it trains the aspiring player to believe that learning to play high notes is difficult. Something that with proper guidance and understanding is simply not true. In recent years the Trinity Board has re-designed their syllabus, but despite them including lip-slur style exercises for a short time (something now superseded by a far inferior book of technical studies) they still have the same poor expectations for progress and even give pupils the choice of opting out of aural tests, scales and music theory. What exactly does one learn about music when the exam board allows you to choose not to learn any of the basic skills required for musical development? This situation is abominable.

So here’s a problem – countless books are written and published to fulfil the requirements of these exams. Let’s face it, if you write a book like The Second Book of Trumpet Solos, which has been on the syllabi for 30 years then you’ve hit the jackpot! But not a single one of these books teaches the learner how to play better. Not one of them explains why the technical exercises (Trinity) will make you a better instrumentalist, and what you have to do with your face in order to make a brass instrument produce these sounds in a pleasing way. The “stick the tube on your face and blow” approach is simply unacceptable. It’s fine for people like me, who developed the range required for Grade 5 in six months of starting out, but for everybody else – it’s inadequate to say the least.

Well there we have it – apparently the world needs my books. I’m aware that there is a lot of material out there and this is a slow and long battle, but if I can help and inspire anybody to play better through understanding rather than myths and mysticism then it will be worth my effort.

~iii<0

Minor Scales – How I teach them and why I use this method

One of the first posts on Trumpet Planet was an explanation of how I teach people to play major scales. It is a popular post and I still use this method to date with pupils surprised at how easy it is to understand key signatures when explained in this way. If you have not read that post then click here to have a look.

This is another post in the series about scales, modes and tonality and I am going to address two issues relating to minor scales. First of all a discussion about where all of these scales come from and then an explanation about how I encourage people to learn to perform them.

Why teach the harmonic minor scale?

The first step to learning about scales and tonality is understanding why we are learning it. What is the purpose of each scale? How will learning this scale make you a better musician/instrumentalist?

What is the purpose of a harmonic minor ‘scale’ (and why is it in inverted commas?)? The harmonic minor is a group of notes that spells out those which are to be used when writing harmony, hence the name. There is a rule in music theory that states that all dominant chords must be major. Using the key of A minor as an example, the dominant note of the scale is E and, in order to fulfil its function in harmony, a chord built upon that note must be major – meaning that the note G needs to be sharpened. When writing harmony in the key of A minor you will therefore need to use the following notes:

A harmonic minor scale with perfect cadence
A harmonic minor scale (top line) with a perfect cadence.

This isn’t, however, something that is ever used in writing melodies in the minor tonality. That is the domain of the melodic minor scale, hence the name. So why is it that anyone who plays an instrument that is only capable of producing one tone at a time (barring any contemporary performance techniques) would ever learn and practise this scale? It serves no practical purpose. The ABRSM do find examples of music that use the notes of the harmonic minor, but I challenge you to find an example of a melody that features that characteristic minor third (the sound made by moving from the written F to G-sharp above) that isn’t derived from some kind of folk music outside of the western classical tradition.

What’s up with the melodic minor scale?

The melodic minor scale is actually two scales crammed into one. This is because choice of notes in the minor tonality is a little more flexible than in the major. The third degree of the scale (median) must always be flattened compared to the major scale, but the sixth and seventh are flexible – you can flatten them, or not. Flattening these notes depends upon whether you’re in the dominant key area, i.e. if the melody is about to resolve into another key, or if it ends in the key of the scale.

The ascending part of the melodic minor scale is also known as the jazz minor and is the same as its major counterpart except for the flattened third. If you know all of your major scales then armed with this knowledge you can already play the jazz minor by changing one note – a skill you would have begun developing from using my mixolydian exercise. Incidentally, if you were to take the jazz minor and flatten the seventh degree in the same way that you turn a major into a mixolydian, then you would be playing the dorian mode. The dorian scale is a fundamental scale used when learning jazz improvisation. It is much more useful than playing the harmonic minor on a melody instrument.

c-jazz-minor
Ascending half of C melodic minor scale (a.k.a. jazz minor)

c-dorian-scale
Dorian mode on C, included for reference.

The descending half of the melodic minor scale is also known as the aeolian mode, or the natural minor. The name natural minor comes from the fact that this scale, like the major scale, simply follows the key signature – it is in its natural, unaltered form.

c-aeolian-scale
Aeolian mode on C, written in ascending form for easy visual comparison (a.k.a. descending half of c melodic minor)

I find it hard to understand why the scales that make up the melodic minor aren’t taught as scales in their own right, and why exam syllabi ignore the dorian mode completely. For an instrumentalist learning to play in modern times this level of understanding is important. Wasting time learning scales that don’t have a practical purpose (harmonic minor) and neglecting and/or short-cutting those that do matter seems nothing short of stupid to me. Criticisms of established systems aside, I’ll now go on to explain how I have people learn to play each of these scales.

So you wanna play in the minors, huh?

Let’s start with my justification. As a general rule, people learn scales because they are a requirement for exams. Obviously they are a staple strategy for working on the technical aspects of playing, but students are often at a pretty high level before this becomes their purpose for playing scales. Before that, it’s about exams. So picture this, if you will:

You are a student stood in a room with a panel of examiners behind a table and one of them asks you to play “A-flat melodic minor in thirds”. You perform the scale at the required tempo with the designated articulation. Well done. Does the examiner then ask you how you knew which notes to play? Of course not! That’s because it is your practical abilities that are being examined, not your knowledge of theory. Hopefully you can tell from reading this post so far that I do not discount the importance of music theory. What I do disagree with is the way that tonality is presented by exam boards.

Now, here is the theory, just so you know it: The tonic note of a minor key is the sub-mediant note of its relative major. That means: If you want to know the key signature of F-sharp minor, you just have to count down a major sixth (or up a minor third, whatever makes you happy) from F-sharp to A. F-sharp minor has the same key signature as A major. This much can’t be disputed. But if I want to play the ascending half of F-sharp melodic minor I’m not going to use a key signature with three fewer sharps than the major only to put two of them back again as accidentals! That is what conventional theory teaches you to do.

Here’s my system – it’s all about rules. Before you learn a minor scale you must already know the major scale that starts on the same note. Sorry about that, but learning major scales is easy if you know how. I defy anyone who could practice my major/mixolydian worksheet every day for three months and not know every major scale afterwards. Sure it might be hard at first but you will learn. Once you know a major scale then all you need is this:

  • Melodic minor scale(s), ascending (a.k.a. jazz minor) – flatten the third note of the scale.
  • Dorian mode – flatten the third and seventh notes.
  • Harmonic minor ‘scale’ – flatten the third and sixths notes.
  • Melodic minor scale(s), descending (a.k.a. aeolian mode) – flatten the third, sixth and seventh notes.

The word ‘flatten’ in this case only means ‘lower the pitch of the note by a semi-tone’.

So, would you rather learn four rules and get used to applying them to scales you already know, or individually learn twenty-four scales following a bunch of archaic, contradictory rules that don’t even apply to performing music and still not know the dorian mode at the end of it? At this point I realise that I may come across as a ranting crazy person, but I studied music for a decade following conventional understanding and it was only when I began teaching that I noticed how poorly things are usually explained to people and how needlessly difficult that makes the learning process. In teaching both brass instruments and music theory I constantly see the exam boards giving examples of music that have obviously been hand-picked to demonstrate their explanations of theory rather than updating the way that we approach music education.

The American music teacher Jeff Smiley once said in an interview:

Music educators are the gatekeepers of the system, any attempt at reforms must go through them.

I see it as my responsibility as an educator to try and push music education into the 21st century. This includes both my approach to teaching trumpet technique and music theory. Let’s find easy practical ways to teach people things that from this end of the telescope are easy, not confusing.

The information in this post has been written out in full to make up part of my book A Practical 21st Century Approach to Learning Scales FAST! which you can purchase directly from my website using the following link:
[purchase_link id=”1088″ style=”button” color=”green” text=”Purchase” direct=”true”]

Why do people think TCE is bad?

There are a number of discussions you can find in forums on the web and blogs of players who religiously follow the teachings of one brass guru or another who try to talk about the Tongue Controlled Embouchure. This is good; discussion is healthy; and at least if people are talking about an idea then that means it is spreading. The problem I see, however, is that the vast majority of these conversations are completely devoid of one thing: participants who knows anything about the subject.

There is a lot of speculation, guess work, fear, and anecdotal evidence from people with very little or no experience of the technique. Many people have tried and failed at TCE, MSC or Superchops and then devote their time to damning the existence of an idea. The question that is rarely asked is whether those same people are actually progressing by following their more traditional ideas…

The truth is that the majority of information available on the subject is poorly explained and poorly or incorrectly demonstrated and the only good book on the subject is out of print.

So here, I propose a solution: Simplify the definition.

One of the biggest problems with TCE not being understood is that the volume of misinformation leads people to believe that there is anything to this method other than this:

TCE means playing with an anchored tongue, between the teeth.

When put in these terms it seems ridiculous that people get so worked up about it all. Sure it raises questions about how that can work, but  I can answer all of those questions with reasoned, researched, logical answers. All of the other ideas I write about, including over-blowing, clean articulation, playing with a centered sound, pedal notes, etc. are things that expert players, teachers, and embouchure gurus have been discussing for decades.

There is no requirement that you should use any particular equipment. And once practiced you can play any kind of music that you normally would with a brass instrument perfectly well.

I often like to finish with a quote, so here one is:

David Hickman, when being interviewed about his book Trumpet Pedagogy: A Compendium of Modern Teaching Techniques stated:

My realization that there are “many roads to Rome” came during my studies at the University of Colorado with Dr. Frank Baird.  His dissertation is titled A History and Annotated Bibliography of Tutors for Trumpet and Cornet.  He summarized the main ideas of hundreds of methods, often sharing some of the more interesting or controversial ones with me.  I was amazed and fascinated with all of the different, sometimes opposing, ways of playing and teaching the trumpet.  I decided then that I would never laugh at or “put down” any method of playing just because I didn’t use it.  By memorizing or referring to various methods other than my own, I have had a much greater success in my teaching than I would have had otherwise.  Most teachers are very lucky to have 20-50% success in making their students into fine professionals.  I have been fortunate to have perhaps a 98% success rate.

For more information about the Tongue Controlled Embouchure, visit http://tonguecontrolled.info/

My Visit To Stomvi

In the first week of September I took a trip to the Stomvi factory in Valencia, Spain. I was long overdue a new trumpet (the subject of another upcoming blog post). This is the story of that day.

I had exchanged a few emails with Vicente Honorato in advance so when I arrived at the factory I was already expected. I was shown to a practise room in the recently renovated section of the building and then stood while people covered the table in front of me with instruments, bells and tuning slides. I was then left to my own devices.

I had a list of music to play on my laptop and had allowed myself to bring three mouthpieces with me (Warburton 4M/KT, Austin Custom Brass TA-Lead and Jerome Callet Superchops 3). The instruments I’d been left were:

  • Titán 27/1
  • Titán 27/3
  • Titán 25/3
  • Master (27 Copper, 27 Bellflex, 25 Copper, 25 Bellflex / 1,3 / Heavy and Titanium trim kits)
  • VRII (a.k.a. Velociraptor), standard weight.

You may be wondering what all these numbers mean, so here’s a quick explanation:

The point of the Master trumpet is that it comes with interchangeable bells and leadpipes. The bells are the same size at either end, but the number refers to the its shape. The 25 bell has a more gradual flare and the 27 flares more like an exponential curve. Each bell is then available in silver-plate copper or gold-plate Bellflex. Bellflex is Stomvi’s proprietary brass alloy which gives the instruments a rich colourful tone. The no.1 leadpipe has a more open taper and no.3 is tighter. There is also a 23 bell, that is normally sold as the smaller option for trumpets in C – I chose not to test this option.

The Titán trumpets come in one piece, but are made from the same bells and leadpipes as the Master. Whereas the Master has a tuning bell and once-piece leadpipe that goes all of the way to the valves (in the way that Schilke suggested is the best design for a leadpipe in this article), the Titán has the more traditional style tuning slide but has the option of being rounded or half-square to adjust the feel.

After a bit of playing I was offered the chance to go on a free tour of the factory. This was a great opportunity that I’m glad I took. There are no cameras allowed in the factory so I cannot share any photos of that. We were shown all of the machinery and workstations where each part of the instruments are made. Various processes that I had read about or learnt about on the repair course last year I saw for the first time and it is much clearer to me now how these things are done. The processes that I found most interesting were the making of valves and bells. I was overwhelmed by the care and attention that went into every little step of hand-building every part of every instrument that Stomvi sells. I genuinely don’t believe that this is possible for larger, better-known instrument manufacturers and is one of the reasons that I am so happy with my choice of Stomvi. This is not a paid endorsement – I am not sponsored by Stomvi; I just believe in their work.

The rest of my day was spent playing various trumpets with various styles of music. Most of what I played was from the Trumpet Evolution book by Arturo Sandoval, 36 Études Transcendantes by Theo Charlier, and various pages from The TCE Training Manual by Bahb Civiletti. It didn’t take me much time to set aside the Titán trumpets – not because they were bad in any way, but because the Master was better suited to my needs.

My use case is a bit different from most. In my freelance work I could be playing with a rock band one night and a choral society the next morning (this happens more often than I’m happy about!). Whilst both of these could be achieved with the same middle-of-the-road instrument, that instrument would not be ideal for either situation. As a professional player I see my sound as my calling card and making a compromise on this is not really acceptable, particularly if I am spending €3000 on a new trumpet. With the Master you have effectively four instruments in one, and this made it the ideal choice for me. Unfortunately this wrote off the option of buying the VRII trumpet as well.

The Velociraptor trumpet is a special beast. It’s described as a great all-round trumpet, but I couldn’t shake the idea that it is really intended for commercial music. Attacks are super clean and the projection is outstanding, literally. I noticed that whatever I played on this trumpet was a noticeable degree louder than the others. That means it is more efficient. In the Stomvi catalogue the VRII is listed as Polybore, which means that the bore size varies throughout the instrument. In the past I owned a trumpet that was designed for orchestral playing and I struggled playing other styles of music on it. I feared that this trumpet would present me with the opposite problem and backed away. There are some video clips of me playing the Velociraptor and I think that in future I would consider a VRII for my next trumpet.

So, overall the point of this blog post is to share the videos that I made that day. Once I had homed in on the Master as my choice of trumpet I had to try the various configurations and decide which parts I wanted to take away with me. Part of the advantage to actually going to the factory is that I had a wider range of options for parts than if I’d bought this trumpet from a dealer. I chose to buy the 25 and 27 bells both made from Bellflex brass. I found that they had a warmer sound than the silver-plated copper, and that generally I could control the intonation more easily. I noticed afterwards, when editing the videos, that the clips of me playing with the copper bells and titanium trim kit have a few split notes and duff articulations that just didn’t happen with the heavy trim kit or brass bells.

After I bought my trumpet I had a chat with Luis Martínez Martínez (Trumpet player, Brilliant Magnus Quintet) about all of the instruments that they are developing at Stomvi. He showed me a four-valved Titán Cornet in B-flat and said that you can order an instrument in any standard key with four valves and explained how Stomvi believes that this will change the way composers will view trumpets in future. It’s an interesting idea, and I’m glad to be alive at a time when there are so many innovative instrument designers trying new things.

Disclaimer: Although I am generally happy with my playing in these clips, it needs to be pointed out that I was switching mouthpieces and instruments every few minutes for hours on end… This is really confusing for the face and because of that my co-ordination and consistency wasn’t what it usually is. I’m sure that by the standards of most it sounds just fine, but for the sake of the critics out there: this is not an accurate representation of my best playing.

As always, please comment below and share as much as you like. ~iii<0

Einsetzen and Ansetzen

What is Einsetzen/Ansetzen?

An article that describes, defines and explains the use of these lip positions in modern trumpet embouchure systems by Richard Colquhoun

Intro

One of the highlights of spending time with Bahb Civiletti in April this year was having the chance to watch him teaching TCE to trumpet players who had not tried it before. The thing that really stood out for me was how simple he made this process. Since then I have been thinking a lot about the simplest ways to explain the principles of TCE to those interested in learning about it. In a similar manner to how Claude Gordon describes technique in the start of his Systematic Approach I believe that you could list three independent ideas, each with a some exercises for working on them, and arrive at a pretty comprehensive understanding of the Tongue Controlled Embouchure that you can apply in daily practise to improve your trumpet playing.

These principles are as follows:

  1. Anchored tongue, through the teeth.
  2. Correct use of air (quantity and compression).
  3. Einsetzen/Ansetzen.

In a few posts that I’ve written previously (these ones: 1, 2, 3) I have explained two of these ideas and the purpose of this post is to explain the third – Einsetzen/Ansetzen.

Terminology

The terms Einsetzen and Ansetzen originate in French horn technique. They are not terms that are usually associated with trumpet playing and I don’t know how, if at all, they relate to players of larger brass instruments. In his book Complete Method for French Horn, Oscar Franz describes Einsetzen as meaning “setting in” and refers to it as an embouchure type ideal for low horn players for which the player has to unfurl the bottom lip and set the mouthpiece “within the inner part of the lower lip”. In contrast Anstezen means “setting against” and refers to placing the mouthpiece on the outside of both lips – this is most people’s “normal” lip set up. In his book The Art of French Horn Playing, Philip Farkas basically dismisses the use of Einsetzen in modern playing due the demands put upon modern players and the need for a different kind of mouthpiece for playing in the Einsetzen position. He goes on to say that modern embouchures are a combination of the two older techniques, but claims that this is exclusively in French Horn players as a result of technique having evolved from a dual system to a single system. Whilst this was probably true at the time Farkas wrote his book it is no-longer the case as it is exactly this idea that forms the basis of Jerome Callet’s earliest book Trumpet Yoga (published in 1971).

It was in learning to use the Einsetzen embouchure to play notes in the double-pedal register and in moving from the unfurled position into the normal playing register that Jerome Callet discovered the ability to develop what he went on to call Super chops. Another term that has been used, which I believe better explains the result of using these lip positions, is lip-to-lip isometric. This is something that is very difficult to describe in words and before I had lessons with Bahb Civiletti I had not fully grasped the benefit of the exercises and the resulting ease of playing that comes from learning them. In fact I had taught myself to play double pedal notes about three years earlier and practised them a lot in various ways but after only one lesson and a week of practising my efficiency and perceived strength had increased measurably. I actually don’t think that it is a matter of strength at all, just simply finding the right balance in the way the lips grip. It is not too dissimilar to the balance that Jeff Smiley describes in his book The Balanced Embouchure.

Double Pedals

Pedal tones are notes that you produce on the trumpet that are lower than the harmonic series allows you to play. Playing pedal notes is not a new idea as they can be found extensively in the teachings of Louis Maggio, Claude Gordon, Pierre Thibaud, and plenty of others. These teachings, however, deal with playing notes that are close to those in the playable range of the instrument. Generally one will learn to bend a low-F# down a semitone, then learn to play that note with only the first valve – forcing the tone. Once this is mastered they carry on down to the illusive Pedal-C, one octave below the lowest note you can play with no valves depressed. Just for the record, Pedal-C does not exist as a note on the trumpet for physical reasons – i.e. the bell is too small. In my opinion, if you want to play a pedal-C then use a flugelhorn, you will master it in less than a minute and save yourself years of wasted practise. But that’s just my opinion and you’re welcome to explore anything that interests you!

The double pedal register begins an octave lower than pedal-C. Written down, it is the lower note in the featured image at the top of this post. These notes are to be played with the Einsetzen embouchure and when done properly will have a very characteristic sound. It is not the airy, unfocused sound usually associated with playing pedals, bent or fake notes, but actually a vibrant tone. Regardless of it having no real value in music performance this tone is important as an indicator that you are playing the notes properly. Playing notes in this position really helps to engage the muscles of the orbicularis oris. It will also encourage blood flow to the muscles and lips. After playing double pedals for a few minutes your lips should start to feel “fat”. This is not a bad thing; it is also not the same as swelling from working incorrectly. The intention of the exercises is to then keep this relaxed, fat, strong lip set up throughout the range of the instrument.

The Exercises

As with my other posts about TCE, this article is not meant to be a substitute for buying a book or having lessons with a trained professional. I do like to make sure, though, that my readers can at least take on board the ideas that I’m presenting. As with all aspects of trumpet practice, exercises really come to life when you create your own versions and figure out what really works for you.

As a beginner in the ideas of using Einsetzen and Ansetzen I would recommend that you first take the time to explore the Einsetzen lip position. Learn to play the double pedal notes from double-pedal-C down to double-pedal-F#. The biggest challenge is usually in finding and becoming comfortable with the pitches of these notes. It often helps to find them on a piano and try to match the pitch. This is fun! You are making fart noises into a trumpet – I have found with my pupils that the more seriously you take this, the harder it is to do. Be patient; those notes are down there somewhere.

Ansetzen/Einsetzen – The first challenge is in learning to slur (or gliss) from the normal playing register down to the double pedals. It is usually done in the form of two or three octave slides. This is the easier of the two movements and it will reinforce your ability to find the position and pitches of the double pedals.

Einsetzen/Ansetzen – The other half of the equation is learning to move from the double pedal register into the normal playing register. Slur from double-pedal-C to low-C and continue up the harmonics as far as you can. At first this is difficult and you may not be able to play your normal range in this manner. That’s the point of the exercise. Over time you will discover that you can slur from double-pedal-C to higher than you could play before with less effort. The real challenge is to remember how it feels when you are playing music!

Finale

Hopefully you’ve found my brief description of Einsetzen and Ansetzen useful. As with all aspects of the Tongue Controlled Embouchure this is a doing thing. You will not understand it unless you do it. The biggest critics are those who have never devoted any time to practising these exercises. I have found them to be invaluable to my trumpet playing, especially now that I don’t have the same hours-per-day to devote to practise like when I was at college.

As always please post comments and questions in the box below. Share this post and use it as you like provided you give credit where it is due.

~iii<0

 

Addenda, Edits, Updates…

After a recent trip to meet and talk with Bahb Civiletti I have had a refinement to my understanding of some details regarding trumpet playing. I’ve taken some time today to edit and update some of my blog posts. Below you will find a list of the edits I’ve made so that you don’t necessarily need to re-read them all.

~iii<0

An anaylsis of tone – This is the first of my longer articles and so I took some time to re-write a few sections of it. I have added extra YouTube examples and clarified the section defining “a dark tone”. I am much happier with this post after these edits.

Arban on Tonguing – change “Superchops” for “TCE”

Understanding Callet – The Wisdom Behind Superchops

Changed some use of the terms “TCE” or “Superchops” to specify which I was talking about at various points.

Changed “Also known as TCE” to “closely related to TCE”

Removed: Within this article I use the terms “Superchops”, “Tongue Controlled Embouchure”, and “TCE” all to refer generally to the research and teaching of Jerome Callet.

Replaced with: Within this article I use the term “Superchops” to refer to the research and teaching of Jerome Callet. “Tongue Controlled Embouchure”, and “TCE” refer to the work of Bahb Civiletti, who has developed the technique further through the addition of different articulations and exercises. Some people use the terms comparably so in the “Narrative” section below I do too.

Added this edit: Since meeting with Bahb Civiletti I have re-considered my opinion of the necessity of using the tongue to stop the air. My current thoughts are that the tongue is not making an action to stop the air; the fact that the aperture is controlled by the tongue means that the stopping of air moving is synchronised with the closing of the aperture by the tongue. I guess it’s a chicken-and-egg situation.

Use of air: Quality not quantity – added this paragraph: Fundamentally the problem I have with a “more air” approach is that it results in a loud, spread and dull sound. Playing efficiently results in a focused, powerful and exciting tone. Loud is not the same as powerful and nor is it exciting to listen to. In the interest of keeping this post relatively concise I will recommend that you read my post titled An analysis of tone.