Arban on Tonguing – The Solid Foundation

A Trumpeter’s Tale

It is not unfair to say that at times I obsess over trumpet playing technique. Sometimes I’ll try to excuse myself by pointing out that it is an important part of my job (as a teacher and player). It’s not, however, an uncommon trait for brass players. Chatting with fellow trumpeters on the job reveals that a lot of them sweat the small stuff when they’re in the practise room and I have been recommended a reading list that could keep me busy until 2026 (for future reference I am writing this in 2016).

The way that I feel I differ from many others though is in the way I have come to use this blog (bear with me, I know that others have blogs…). As you may well know, my journey has lead me to settle on the Tongue Controlled Embouchure in my playing and the best way I feel I can justify that decision is to research each of the elements of the technique so that I can explain and justify them to anybody curious enough to ask. I am often surprised by some of the information I discover and it baffles me how some well documented and distributed information is ignored and forgotten by the brass playing community. This post discusses one such topic, so let’s get going!

The topic of this post is the use of the tongue, as described by Jean-Baptiste Arban in La Grande Méthode Complète De Cornet. Arban’s Grande Méthode is, in all likelihood, the most distributed and translated book on the subject of brass playing in the world. Many people have their own ideas about how to use the exercises printed within its pages and there have been a number of additions written to the standard editions that extend the range and keys of many of the exercises in an attempt to modernise the book. There are also plenty of people who have discarded the method saying that it is out-dated. When teaching and playing at a high professional level this may well be the case; however I think that it still provides a solid starting point for any aspiring brass player and the true value is in how you choose to use it.

Prelude

Recently I was thinking about ways to describe the use of the tongue when teaching the trumpet. I do not insist that my pupils play with the Tongue Controlled Embouchure but I do teach them the principles, which include correct sound, efficient use of air, and solid articulation. I had recently asked some of my pupils to try the Tongue On Lips exercises from Jeff Smiley’s The Balanced Embouchure and they had all demonstrated vastly improved clarity and projection from doing so. I had, however, prefaced this exercise by explaining as it says in the book this is a not technique you need to do in all of your playing, but you do need to be able to do it. (I have written a supplementary post explaining Tongue On Lips here). Having witnessed first hand the instant improvement in these players I then had the dilemma of whether to backtrack and insist that is how they should play, or to find another way to replicate this improved attack.

On remembering seeing the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s trumpet player Herb Smith talking on the Master Superchops DVD about how “this is the method that Arban was talking about” I thought that I should clarify for myself what he had meant. What I uncovered in checking the text of this book has lead me to two interesting things that I will share with you in the rest of these blog posts.

Act One – Scene One: The Solid Foundation Approach

In the 1893 Carl Fischer New Revised And Authentic Edition of Arban’s Complete Celebrated Method for the Cornet (Spoiler alert: there is more about various editions in Act Two…) it says the following:

It should never be lost sight of, that the expression coup de langùe (stroke of the tongue) is merely a conventional expression; the tongue does not strike; on the contrary, it performs a retrograde movement; it simply supplies the place of a valve.
This circumstance should be well borne in mind before placing the mouthpiece on the lips. The tongue ought to be placed against the teeth of the upper jaw in such a way that the mouth should be hermetically sealed. As the tongue recedes, the column of air which was pressing against it is precipitated violently into the mouthpiece and causes a sound.
The pronunciation of the syllable “Tu” serves to determine the striking of the sound. This syllable may be pronounced with more or less softness, according to the degree of force to be imparted to the note.

It is my intention to clarify this writing to form a set of instructions. This will involve explaining the directions given here more clearly and then re-ordering them into a process that can be followed, learnt and practised.

Let’s begin at the top. Please read the following carefully. At first I am not adding to or speculating about the meaning of these terms. It is only my intention to clarify what has been printed.

  • Coup de langùe or stroke of the tongue – To strike suggests that the tongue begins at a distance from something, moves forward at speed hitting the thing, and then retracts to its original position before the next articulation. The text clearly states that this is not what the tongue should do.
  • Retrograde movement – To move backwards. Specifically a retrograde movement is movement in the opposite direction to something else. In this case it most likely means the air or lips as there are no other moving parts.
  • It supplies the place of a valve – This is an important distinction. A valve is a mechanical device that blocks a pipe either partially or completely to change the amount of fluid (liquid or gas) that passes through it. If you are at all unsure about this then take a look at this link.
  • The tongue ought to be placed against the teeth of the upper jaw – Some people have debated whether Arban means that the tip, or the flat top surface, of the tongue should be against the top teeth. There is not sufficient information in the text to draw a conclusion at this point so in the interest of an unbiased analysis I suggest experimentation. What he does not say is behind the teeth.
  • The mouth should be hermetically sealed – A hermetic seal is the attribute of something being airtight. The direction being given here is to use the tongue to block the flow of air before, and by effect after, each note. This is reinforcing the comment about acting like a valve.
  • The column of air which was pressing against it – As a result of the hermetic seal there has been an increase in air pressure in the mouth. This can be felt with your tongue.
  • …is precipitated violently into the mouthpiece and causes a sound – The pressurised (compressed) air is released by the tongue and in bursting through the lips begins the process of producing sound on the instrument. Arban is describing here how the tongue is being used to compress air in the mouth before it reaches the lips. I particularly like his use of the word ‘violently’. There is no room for mis-interpretation of this term – using the tongue to compress air in the mouth and create a violent attack is the way to produce a sound on a cornet.
  • This syllable may be pronounced with more or less softness, according to the degree of force to be imparted to the note – Although the whole process has been described at this point he goes on to clarify that you can use this same process to produce harder and softer attacks.

Now that we have an understanding of each part of Arban’s description I will place them in an order that can be used as a guide for implementing this use of the tongue.

  1. Take a breath – This is obviously necessary and mentioned at another point in Arban’s book.
  2. Use the tongue, against the teeth of your upper jaw, to form an airtight seal inside your mouth.
  3. Pressurise some air in your mouth by blowing against the seal.
  4. Release the tongue allowing the air to forcefully burst through the lips.
  5. Return to step 2 for the next note.

Before I take things in a different direction I would just like to add an observation. There are 88 exercises in the first 25 pages of the method before Arban introduces the concept of the slur. Assuming that a beginner cornet or trumpet student were to use this method exclusively, from the beginning, it could take a considerable amount of time (months, or a year) to practise and learn each one of those exercises. By the end of that time this way of using the tongue would be thoroughly engrained in the student’s understanding of how to play. By comparison most modern brass instruction books are introducing slurs after only a few pages and haven’t even begun to cover the range of notes or rhythmic complexity covered in this start to Arban’s method. I believe that this speaks volumes about the changes to expectations about learning to play an instrument and approaches to teaching over time. Starting out learning to play by establishing a clean, effective tonguing technique is the best way to develop a solid foundation to playing a brass instrument.

Act One – Scene Two: Reading between the lines

The following section is food for thought. If we can agree at this stage that all I have done is explain in greater detail the choice of words used in the American English translation of Arban’s book then nothing above this point is open for debate. Now I will present a few questions of logic that may lead you to agree that what Arban describes is very similar to the use of the tongue by proponents of the Tongue Controlled Embouchure.

  1. Looking back at the original quote, use of the term “retrograde movement” is very interesting as it insinuates that the position of the tongue before starting is a forward position. If the tongue is flat against the bottom of the mouth, anchored to the bottom teeth, or simply out of the way allowing air to flow past it, then this retrograde movement would have no effect.  There would also be no build-up of pressure allowing the “violent” release of air. The tongue must start in a forward position to fulfil its office as a valve, and create an airtight seal.
  2. Air precipitates violently into the mouthpiece – Notice that there is no mention of the lips. This suggests two things: Firstly that it is not the job of the lips to resist the air (this has already been done by the tongue), and secondly that at the time this book was written people just didn’t think about the lips, where they move, or how they buzz/vibrate/excite the airstream. Not because those ideas are wrong, but because they are not necessary for developing technique.
  3. A question of distance – How far do you need to move the tongue to release air into the mouthpiece? I would argue that the best answer is “as little as possible”. In order to allow pressurised air past the tongue you need to move it by about 1mm. My logic being that the further you pull the tongue back then the further you need to move to return it to its original position. The faster you need to play, the less you want to move the tongue.
  4. A tap (faucet) is a valve – if you are relying on the tongue to control compression of the air then it is also helpful to think about how a tap works. In order to maintain compression on longer notes it makes sense not to fully open the valve. This is something that I am often asked about: This use of the tongue is obviously helpful for playing staccato notes, but what happens when I want to play a long smooth phrase? Because they tongue-valve can be used like a tap. This creates a very efficient system for controlling air flow.

So here is our description: The tongue is forward in the mouth, pushing upwards against the top teeth in order to form an airtight seal. Pressurised air is then released into the mouthpiece resulting in a clean attack. The note is stopped by the tongue-valve, preparing the system for the next note. Where the explanation in Scene One sounds about 85% like a description of the Tongue Controlled Embouchure, this is now a complete description. The Tongue Controlled Embouchure is not a new idea.

~iii<0

Tongue On Lips (The Balanced Embouchure Way)

This is a short post to explain the Tongue On Lips exercises from Jeff Smiley’s The Balanced Embouchure. This is only one of a series of exercises that makes up the method and the effect of its practice as a stand-alone exercise may be of limited value. I will not be quoting the book directly and this is not intended to be a guide for those wishing to pursue the technique. Simply put, this post is a supplement to another blog post written here to prevent it from drifting off-topic.

Tongue On Lips is an idea that originates, at least in the twentieth century, in the teaching of Jerome Callet. It is described in The Balanced Embouchure as a means to an end, meaning that you do not have to play in this way, but you do have to be able to play in this way to fulfil the exercise. My personal take on the results that it has slightly differ from Mr Smiley’s, hence the disclaimer-style introduction.

The basic premise is that to tongue on the lips you need to touch your top lip with your tongue as a means of articulating notes. Another basic description is like the classic “spitting a tea-leaf from your lips” to start a note. Some trumpet ideologies, specifically the work of Donald Reinhardt and Claude Gordon among others, strictly forbid this method of attack although it can easily be traced back at least to the methods of Jean-Baptiste Arban and Jules Levy.

In his massive book titled Trumpet Pedagogy: A Compendium of Modern Teaching Techniques (page 29), David Hickman writes:

Lightly touching the tip of the tongue on the upper lip and releasing it in a quick but gentle manner is a good method for beginning tonguing. […] With proper guidance, the student can find his or her most efficient manner of tonguing.

In order to articulate with your tongue touching your lips there are a number of things that have to take place. This is where the beauty of the idea comes into play.

  1. You cannot touch your lips with your tongue unless your jaw is open. Closing of the jaw, especially as you ascend in pitch, is a common problem for players that is solved by practising this exercise.
  2. Having your tongue forward enough in your mouth for it to touch the lips means that the back of the tongue is pulled out of your throat. Many people allow their tongue to recede too much in their mouth when playing, resulting in a “blocking” of the throat.
  3. Tonguing on the lips allows the tongue to perform the task of blocking the air flow, allowing for a build-up of pressure in the mouth, resulting in firmer attacks and generally all-round easier playing. I’ve written before about air compression…

So there you have it. Without going into a huge amount of detail – the how and why you may wish to try tonguing on the lips if you haven’t already. More information on The Balanced Embouchure can be found by clicking here.

If you experiment with this idea then please feel free to comment below. You are also welcome to share this post as you see fit.

~iii<0

The Cycle of Pressure

Here is a flow chart illustrating something that I refer to as The Cycle of Pressure. I have scribbled it on paper for my pupils so many times that I decided to make a digital copy to refer to instead. Due to the template I used I ended up adding some more detailed steps. Be aware that as you are playing you could fall into this cycle at any point. The solution is to learn to recognise the symptoms and get out of the cycle before it’s too late!

Untitled-Diagram

 

As always, please feel free to share or use this image as you choose. Comment below; post on Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest etc; enjoy!

~iii<0

Understanding Callet: The Wisdom Behind Superchops

Understanding Callet: The Wisdom Behind Superchops

A discussion by Richard Colquhoun explaining the Tongue Controlled Embouchure
for those who wish to develop informed opinions

Introduction:

Below you will find 2000 words explaining the fundamental teachings of Jerome Callet. The reason I feel this article is necessary is because as I browse the internet I repeatedly find negative comments about Superchops, written not by people who understand the system, but by people reacting to and jumping to conclusions about things that they have clearly not researched. I do not wish to convert or change the minds of people, but instead to present facts so that people can develop informed opinions about this brass playing technique.

On the surface Superchops (closely related to the Tongue Controlled Embouchure) is an embouchure technique for brass players that includes using the tongue in a way that may people find unusual. This, however, is not all there is to it. Superchops is the result of half a century of research, testing and teaching. The goals of the system are very clear and striving to achieve these goals, even without using the technique, should be of benefit to every brass player.

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. Unless specified I am not referring to any one of his books or videos that share the same name (but could represent different time frames in the method’s development).

Narrative:

Imagine that you’re a trumpet player. One day you are having a break between practise sessions and you sit at your computer with a cup of coffee. You load up YouTube and because of your previous trumpet-themed viewing habits you see something titled Tongue Controlled Embouchure in your suggested videos list. Not having come across this term before you unwittingly click and watch a video in which somebody tells you to bevel your tongue forward, block the airway, and spit into a stupidly small mouthpiece. Instantly you know this guy is a hack and browse on to something else. When you return to your trumpet this stupid idea is still playing on your mind and you give it a try. You can’t even get a sound out of your instrument this way and again you reinforce the thought that this is a dumb idea.

Some time later you are browsing the web for some information about improving your higher register and you come across a forum post about using TCE for screaming high notes. Within a few replies of this thread you see people saying things like “TCE gives you a really piercing bright sound, is that really what you want?”, “I tried that once and I could never get a good sound, the articulation was too messy”, or “I can’t believe people do this… what flawed teaching!” (These are all direct quotes taken from various websites).

The problem I see with this narrative is that you’ve not been presented with a balanced argument but rather had your opinion dictated to you by people who, most likely, don’t have any experience of learning from Jerome Callet, or know what the goals of this teaching actually are. If you’re still reading this then my hope is to clarify the situation for you. It’s worth pointing out here that I am pro-TCE and use this technique in my playing. However I do assert that despite the development in my own playing, this method and way of thinking is not for everyone and trying to learn it without a teacher and the proper books will lead to you becoming another internet hater. OK… here we go!

What Superchops is not:

Here are some common misconceptions relating to Superchops:

  1. Superchops is a high note technique. FALSE. This method is very efficient and requires little physical effort. When mastered it means that playing high notes is easy, but that is definitely not its purpose.
  2. Superchops gives you a bad sound. FALSE. Playing badly, whether it be overblowing, poor articluation, or simply a lack of balance between different aspects of your technique, gives you a bad sound. This is true of all techniques. If you switch to playing with another technique you will start out sounding like a beginner because you are a beginner.
  3. Superchops gives you a bright sound. The principal lesson in Superchops is understanding how a trumpet should sound. This is achieved by listening to examples of the best recorded players in history and identifying the common features in their playing. This, coupled with learning to identify problems in your own sound, teaches you to be dis-satisfied with anything other than making the correct trumpet sound.
  4. If Superchops is about developing a powerful embouchure with strong articulation, what if I want to play a nice soft melody? This is the one that bugs me the most. Contrary to popular belief, learning about trumpet playing does not eliminate ones ability to be a musician. This argument is like suggesting that somebody in a Ferrari is incapable of observing speed limits. Just because the car can go fast, it doesn’t mean that it cannot go slowly.
  5. You need a small mouthpiece to play with Superchops. FALSE. You can learn to play anything on any mouthpiece. I have learnt how to make a big sound with a small mouthpiece because Superchops is efficient, but I can still play on any mouthpiece I need to should I have to adjust my sound for different playing situations.
A little history:

I don’t wish to repeat the standard story about Mr Callet’s failed trumpet playing as a youth, and how that drove him to rediscover techniques from the past and create a modern embouchure system based upon these ideas, because you can go and read that somewhere else. I also do not believe that creating a mythology around this subject matter helps to make things clear.

Here’s the story how I tell it. In 1972 Jerome Callet released a book called Trumpet Yoga. In that book he describes how through practicing exercises that involve moving between an Einsetzen and an Ansetzen embouchure enabled him to develop the strength to consistently play notes in the extreme upper register with ease every day. In 1987 he wrote another book titled Superchops. In this second book he explained a little more detail about the direction of the movement of the lips. There is a little more analytical information for those who want it. In both of these books he writes about articulating through the teeth with the tongue touching the lips, but it isn’t until the book Trumpet Secrets (written in 2002 with Bahb Civiletti) that he insists that the tongue never breaks contact with the bottom lip. This is the biggest point that most people have a problem with when introduced to the Superchops or the Tongue Controlled Embouchure. Interestingly he actually got the idea of tonguing against the lips from ancient cornet methods such as the one written by celebrated cornet soloist Jules Levy. The idea of tonguing through the lips being bad has mainly been perpetuated by writers and teachers such as Donald Reinhardt and Claude Gordon. Throughout Jerome’s work, over the whole 30 year span outlined here, the things that didn’t evolve or change were his definitions of a correct trumpet sound.

Correct Sound:

Jerome Callet’s definition of correct trumpet sound is “Very centred and brilliant where you can hear the total resonance of the sound. Solid, but never overblown.” It is worth noting that there are certain words that are not used here, such as bright or dark. That’s because these are not accurate descriptors of sound. For further explanation of this please refer to this previous blog post.

This definition came from years of listening to the best trumpet players in the world. In order to learn what this sounds like for yourself it is recommended that you listen to recordings of Bud Herseth, Peter Masseurs, Timofei Dokshizer, Maurice Andre, Rafael Mendez, Conrad Gozzo, Charlie Shavers, Horst Fisher, Al Hirt, Roy Eldridge, or Harry James. There is no claim that these people follow the teachings of Jerome Callet, but he teaches that you should aim to sound as they do. These are just a few examples, but there is a distinct quality that these players have that others lack.

This definition of good trumpet sound is not contradictory to traditional teaching. There are a couple points that many people miss when thinking about how they sound. Firstly, the sound you hear behind the mouthpiece is nothing like what is coming out of the bell. I know this gets said a lot, but I feel that particularly in reference to a dull, spread sound it cannot be emphasised enough. Players try to spread their sound so that they can hear themselves clearly. I think it’s more important for the audience to hear me clearly. Secondly, the small rooms we practice in are nothing like the rooms in which we perform. When I began practicing Superchops I found the sound to be harsh, and the sound bouncing back off of the walls hurt my ears. When I played with that same sound in a church or concert hall the resonance was brilliant, exciting and complimented by my colleagues. My college teacher Philippe Schartz used to make it clear that piano dynamics needed to be soft, but clean enough to be heard 100 metres away at the back of an auditorium. People worry too much about sounding beautiful in a 5-metre-squared box.

Now that we’ve established the main goal of Superchops, the difference from traditional technique comes when describing how that sound is achieved.

Why Tongue on the lips?

The reason for playing with the tongue on the lips is quite simple. This way of articulating a note allows the full power of the attack to happen at the instant the sound begins. It puts everything in the right order, allowing for improved accuracy and intonation. If the tongue remains anchored to the bottom lip as instructed in Trumpet Secrets and Master Superchops (2007) then this adds stability to the embouchure. The lips grip against the tongue rather than pulling apart from each other or squeezing together, thus creating a strong structure that does not collapse into the mouthpiece.

Here is a quote from the Master Superchops DVD:

In the Arban book it says never play with a du-waaah sound. We want pomp, pomp, like hitting a bell. Never blah, blah, blah. 150 years ago, Arban described the du-wah sound as thick, disagreeable, and flat. Many modern teachers want to hear a so-called symphonic sound, not too percussive. But in starting a student or for a player who wants to correct embouchure problems, they must have a sharp attack with a tongue-stop before each note . The tongue-stop is like hitting a bell: ping-ping.

Edit (19th April 2016): 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. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. When playing with TCE as described by Bahb there are 5-articulations to practise that result in the same thing as thinking about the tongue-stop – the ability to maintain the tongue in the correct position.

Did you say tongue-stop? Yes. It is important here to realise that if the tip of your tongue never leaves the bottom lip then a tongue-stop does not create the unfavourable slapping sound that it would if the tongue were moving from further back in the mouth. In fact whilst you are playing this way the aperture between the top of the tongue and the cutting-edge of the top teeth is only a couple of millimetres, so stopping the sound with the tongue is quite logical. This is also the primary source of increased air compression as it acts like the valve on a bike tyre – releasing pressurised air when allowed. It is this system that makes this way of playing so efficient.

Efficiency/Correct use of air:

I’ve mentioned efficiency a few times in this post so I’ll only briefly cover the topic here. You may also wish to read my blog post Use of air: Quality not quantity for further information.

Jerome Callet writes in his books about the importance of understanding the difference between how you use air rather than how much air you have. In learning to play with compressed air and tongue on the lips you find that the quantity of air needed to play becomes less and less. At most approximately one third of that used when people talk of taking a full yoga breath. This is because the power needed to play the instrument no-longer comes from your lips resisting an air flow, but instead the air being compressed before it reaches the lips. I constantly demonstrate to pupils and other players that I can play the note ‘G’ in five different octaves without taking a breath. Sometimes I’ll breathe out first to further emphasise the point. It is not volume of air that changes the pitch of notes but the compression.

If you wish for proof of this idea then I would recommend that you search for Jim Manley on YouTube. He is not a Superchops player, but he constantly proves how he can play anything on the instrument by taking a very small breath.

Final statement:

One of the most important things to take on board when considering the teaching of Jerome Callet is that he does not claim to have any original ideas. Although his method appears on the surface to be extreme the more research I do into his ideas the more people I discover who are saying the same things. Most are not saying all of the same things, but priorities such as clean sound and efficient use of air are prevalent in the teachings and descriptions of the world’s best players. This is simply because Jerome Callet developed his ideas by observing, listening to and meeting with the world’s best players. Maurice Andre was excited by Jerome’s double pedal notes, and Pierre Thibaud wrote about them in his methods after taking lessons from Jerome (The Callet Opera mouthpiece was actually designed for Pierre Thibaud, in case you’re interested).

There is definitely more than one way to play the trumpet, and the wisest of players take tips to improve their playing from many different sources. Making a switch to Superchops or TCE is hard work and I would not recommend it for anyone who is not completely dedicated. In fact there are methods such as Jeff Smiley’s Balanced Embouchure, that are influenced by and derived from Callet’s research that people may find more favourable. Maybe in time a derivative method will gain more popularity. What would be sad is if in time the fruits of Callet’s personal success are forgotten again.

~iii<0

Please feel free to comment below and share, redistribute or quote. On top of that you can also use the Get In Touch tab above to drop me an email with any questions you may have about Superchops or TCE. I am always happy to talk about it. You may also like to take a look at tonguecontrolled.info a website dedicated to explaining the Tongue Controlled Embouchure, or email chops@tonguecontrolled.info.

Dear readers,

I have recently started a Patreon account in order to take donations for my writing. You will only see this message at the bottom of posts that have taken me considerable time to research and write. If you have enjoyed reading this post or feel that you have learned from it then please consider using my tip-jar by following this link.

All the best,

Rich

Use of air: Quality not quantity

Use of air: Quality not quantity

A discussion by Richard Colquhoun about correct breathing technique for brass players

There are a number of blog articles that I have tried to write a few times and failed to find the right approach to the topic. There are some points of view I have about trumpet playing that are not conventional and so when writing about these topics I often have to start a number of times until I feel I’ve found the right angle or voice. This is one such topic. My drafts folder has a good few attempts at this subject and this could well end up being another of those attempts. If you’re reading this then I have had some degree of success.

I usually start this topic with a story about how I started out playing the cornet in a certain way and how a journey brought me back to where I started but I’ve found that not to be helpful. Instead I’m going to make a statement and then back up that statement with the research of a respected scientist, some instrument designers and teachers. I will then throw in a simple experiment you can do that proves my point. Resistance to change is something that occurs in many disciplines and I don’t expect people’s beliefs to change overnight, but the understanding of the mechanics of brass playing has changed significantly for those who care to do the research and I hope to share that with anyone willing to listen.

“Fill the instrument” or “Use more air” are examples of the kind of uninformed phrases that one hears pouring out of the mouths of brass teachers the world over. Many of these people are suffering from an “it never did me any harm” attitude or are simply describing what they think they do rather than knowing what they actually do. Unfortunately there are also a fair number of brass method books available that describe technique based upon what people feel rather than what people do.

Here’s my statement: Contrary to popular belief, traditional teaching, and many books on the subject of brass technique the idea of using more air and developing the ability to use more air when playing a brass instrument is always wrong.

This statement is one that I first came across when I began learning about the work of Jerome Callet. On page 8 of his book Superchops (published 1987) he states:

There is a large movement to increase lung capacity and measure each player. This concept, I feel, is completely wrong. […] It is how you use your wind power, not how much air capacity you have.

But it doesn’t stop there. Knowing that there is plenty of criticism of Superchops by people who find these ideas to be too extreme to digest I decided to research further. I found out fairly quickly that Jerome was not the first or only person to be saying this. On an undated paper distributed at clinics by the Schilke Company, Renold Schilke describes an experiment whereby he demonstrates to an audience of brass instructors that it is not in fact air moving through an instrument that makes sound, but instead it is the air that is already inside the instrument that carries the sound.

If, after our lips were vibrated, the air could be disposed of in another way other than going through the instrument, the tone would be at its best. People who have used and understand physics know that this is true. However, there are people who do not understand this point. I put this as a question one time when I was giving a clinic to some bandmasters after listening to various remarks made by them about air having to go through the horn. I asked, “Is it necessary in the production of sound for the air to carry the sound through the horn?” I had hands by people in the affirmative that it was. To prove my point, I had a tuba player come up on the stage and had him blow some smoke into his tuba and begin to play. He played over a minute before some smoke finally began to tickle out the bell of the instrument. So, it is necessary to have air in the instrument so the player can establish the nodal pattern. It is not necessary for that air to move through the instrument any more than an energy impulse created by dropping a stone in water causes the water to actually move.

The paper can be found in its entirety by following this link. Here is a link to a YouTube video in which Roger Ingram, one of the worlds most accomplished lead trumpet players, describes the same idea. In his video titled Got High Notes? Lynn Nicholson also talks about how little air is needed to play, but that is a subscribe-to-view lesson so I cannot post it here.

To further illustrate this point Dr Richard Smith (12 years as chief designer for Boosey and Hawkes, and Smith Watkins Instruments for 30 years since) had an article published in the International Trumpet Guild Journal in May 1999 titled Exciting Your Instrument (available here). In that article he shows, by sealing off a mouthpiece and drilling a hole in the side for the air to escape, that the instrument works perfectly well with no air going into it at all. The article is well worth reading to open your mind to this idea.

Update: Dr Richard Smith has a video on YouTube in which he demonstrates this idea. Click here to view.

So how can we use this information to better understand brass playing and become better brass players? When asking why people believe that deeper breathing and more air is the solution we quickly find that there are a number of technical issues that are trying to be solved:

Playing a long phrase in one breath: I see this as being a matter of efficiency. You are using too much air to produce the sound and so you solve it by using more air…? By learning to play more efficiently (i.e. putting less in and getting more out) you can make your air last much longer. One way this can be done is by prioritising articulation, but that’s the subject of another blog post.

Getting out of breath whilst playing for a long time: I frequently have to remind my pupils that after playing a few long phrases the reason they feel out of breath is not because they should have breathed deeper or sooner but because they are biological creatures that need oxygen-rich air to survive. If you hold your breath for 30 seconds then this upsets your natural rhythm and you feel the need to take a few breaths to re-oxygenate your blood. I tell my pupils to breathe so that they stay alive, not because they’re playing an instrument. This idea alone can sometimes instantly solve the problem.

Misunderstanding compression: Compression of air is where all the power comes from in brass playing. To some people the only way you can get more compression is by squeezing more air into the limited confines of your body. This is the sort of approach heralded by people like Claude Gordon, Kristian Steenstrup or the guys behind Breathing Gym (a quick YouTube search will show you what you need to know about that). In learning to play with the Tongue Controlled Embouchure I have learnt that compression is created by resisting the flow of air with the tongue. The reason that it is important for it to be the tongue and not the lips is that the tongue is much stronger. It doesn’t matter how much your try to strengthen your face, your tongue will always be stronger.

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 (click here).

Here’s the experiment I would like you to try: I am doing this with a normal B-flat trumpet, but any brass instrument will be fine as they all work in the same way (pitches of the notes differ). There is no preference for mouthpiece either.

  1. Remove the tuning slide and play a note on only the leadpipe. (On this length of tube you should be able to produce a pitch approximately concert E-flat above middle C)
  2. Put your hand about 1cm from the end of the pipe and feel the air moving whilst you play.
  3. The next available note in the harmonic series is approximately a major 9th higher. Play this note and observe that at the same dynamic much less air is moving through the tube.
  4. If you can produce the next harmonic (approximately a perfect fifth higher again) then you’ll notice that now there is further reduction in the air flow. You can almost block the end of the tube with your finger and still produce this note.
  5. Think about what this means.

For some people this is a good trick to learn the sensation of playing notes above the stave and to prove how easy it actually is.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. As always please feel free to comment below. Share this article on social media – there are buttons below for that too.

~iii<0

What is a Spanish Corneta?

Introduction

I’m always on the lookout for weird and wonderful brass instruments. Because of the way that a brass instrument works there are a huge number of ways they could be re-designed. Some ideas that have been tried include:

  • Compensating valve systems (used on French Horns, Euphoniums and Tubas – extra pieces of tubing are added to correct intonation when the fourth valve is pressed)
  • Tuning holes (as added to rotary valve trumpets)
  • Triggers on tuning slides (recent Besson cornets and Euphoniums, and some Kanstul marching trumpets)

There have been other ideas that have been less popular such as:

  • Valves that shorten the instrument (for example moving a C trumpet into D)
  • Transposing keys (offering a trumpet that works in both B-flat and A)
  • Instruments that feature both a moveable slide and valves (Maynard Ferguson’s Firebird trumpet, or the comically named Superbone).

There has been a trumpet developed recently with five valves, offering an array of different fingering/tuning options. It is currently being promoted by trumpeter David Hickman (click this link for more information).

These, however, are not the things that interest me quite so much as the instruments that have been purpose-built for a specific task. By this I mean things such as a the two-valved instruments pitched in G that were designed and used exclusively in Drum and Bugle Corps competitions and the subject of this blog post – the Carmen Cornet, a.k.a Spanish Bugle, or simply Corneta in Spain.

This is an instrument that is pretty unheard of in Britain, and from what I can gleam most other English-speaking countries. The utter lack of information I’ve found online has led me to write this post in the hope of starting to remedy that.

How it looks and works

The Spanish corneta at first glance looks like a military bugle with an added rotary valve. On closer inspection you’ll see that there are a few more details to describe. Disclaimer: When I was in Spain and borrowed one of these instruments I did not have any measuring tools with me so there are no precise measurements. However, you should definitely find enough information here to get a good understanding.

The corneta is held horizontally in the right hand so that that the rotary key can be turned with the left hand. The rotary valve changes the length of tubing by a semitone.

When in the longest form, the harmonic series that can be produced is based upon C and moving the valve then raises this by a semitone. Because the music you read for this instrument is written at concert pitch you would therefore say that the valve works in the opposite way to the middle valve on a standard modern brass instrument. At first this is a little odd to get your head around, but is by no means the most tricky thing. Overlapping the two available series of notes gives you the following scale, which only really allows you to play full scales in the keys of F minor and A-flat major.

Corneta Scale 0 and 1 represent the two positions of the valve. These are arbitrary labels as there is no spring mechanism so there is no default position for the valve.

You’ll also notice in this scale that the lowest note is a G. Playing the low C (second harmonic) is not possible because of the bore profile of the instrument (the fact that it starts and stays small relative to the length of tubing). This is just like the missing first harmonic on any modern trumpet – you cannot play a proper pedal C on a B-flat trumpet, but you can on a flugelhorn because the bore profile is different.

The receiver is large enough to take a trumpet mouthpiece. This receiver is part of a lead pipe that goes into the tubing in the same way as a piccolo trumpet or flugelhorn and then acts as a tuning slide. The size of the tubing up to and including the valve mechanism is small. Visually it looks about the same bore as you’d expect on a piccolo, or maybe a D trumpet, definitely no bigger. I believe that this is a major contributing factor to that missing low C. The rest of the instrument in then conical but unlike a military bugle it has a proper flare to the bell which is not dissimilar to the bell of a modern pocket trumpet.

Mouthpieces

This instrument cannot be well described without also addressing the mouthpiece that is used with it. I will attempt to be concise about this and will probably return to the subject when I write the blog post about small mouthpieces that I have been meaning to for a long time…

These are the features of a Honsuy 1 mouthpiece:

  • Length: short, like an old short-shank British cornet mouthpiece. Differing from that mouthpiece however because the size of the instrument’s receiver is large enough to fit a trumpet mouthpiece, unlike a normal cornet.
  • Rim: thinner than a trumpet or cornet mouthpiece; like that on a French-horn mouthpiece.
  • Diameter: approximately 15.10mm or 0.590 inches.
  • Cup: by the standards of most, this would be described as very shallow. I expect that most trumpet players would “bottom out” on this mouthpiece.
  • Throat: very small, at most a 30 drill (standard size is 27). I think that this is a defining feature of the mouthpiece as it creates a lot of resistance.
  • Backbore: No measurements available, but it is around half the length of a normal trumpet backbore and increases from the small throat to full-bore-size in that space.

I also had access to an unmarked mouthpiece with a slightly larger internal diameter and deeper cup but found this much harder to play in the usable range of the instrument.

Sound

The only way to get a good feel for how these instruments sound is to hear them. Below is a short list of videos that I think give you a good idea of how they should sound. Warning: Allowing YouTube to recommend similar videos could waste hours of your life.

Ensembles

Generally these cornets are only used in one type of band. This is a style of music that has been gaining popularity in the southern regions of Spain for approximately thirty years.

Typically the ensemble is a drum and bugle band. There are three sections of instruments. Firstly the percussion section; secondly the bugles, which are split into four parts; and thirdly a group of trumpets, flugelhorns, baritones and tubas that fill in the rest of the tonality and harmony of the music.

Coda

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this brief explanation of the Spanish Bugle. At the bottom of this post I have added a small gallery of photographs that I took of the instrument I borrowed.

If you have any questions for me then please comment. ~iii<0

Trumpet in G Project

Image above: A dismantled Soprano Bugle.

A couple of months ago I decided to dismantle and re-assemble an old Soprano Bugle that had bought on eBay in 2007. At first things were going well. I removed some dents, rebuilt the tuning slide, patched over a hole using a small copper ring and added an Amado water key. When it came to fixing the bell I realised after reshaping it that it was beyond repair. For reasons unknown to me it rings and buzzes in ways that it shouldn’t. As it happened I had a spare old trumpet in the garage and so I took the bell from that and put it onto the body of the bugle. To my surprise this bell made the old instrument sound much better so my project evolved into something else.

After making this trumpet I wrote a long list of reasons why using a lower-pitched trumpet in G is a good idea and I think I may refine and publish that at another date. When I started to write that blog post it turned out that I needed a series of other blog posts to already exist to explain the concepts that I mentioned in the list. That’ll just have to be a work in progress for now.

Since making this instrument I have tried playing a wide variety of music on it. I practised Bach’s B minor mass for a few days. Music written for trumpet in D or C end up in comfortable keys (G or F major respectively) when transposing on a trumpet in G. Upon realising that I needed to build my stamina a bit I began instead to playing from a French horn tutor book. I was transposing in a way such that a written middle C would be played as the 3rd available open note, thus meaning that the fingering would be the same as in the tutor book. Essentially this is how you would read music for a natural trumpet in G (a high key for a natural trumpet and not an instrument that existed historically), except you also have the facility of the valves to add chromaticism. Doing this really helped to develop my ear for this instrument as well as develop some familiarity with the harmonics being closer together at the lower pitch.

Below: some photos of the finished instrument.

UMSV7396In the last few days I have made some recordings of myself playing some orchestral repertoire using this trumpet. I don’t believe it would be appropriate to play music written post-1900, but anything before then is fair game. I chose the Leonore calls by Beethoven, because they are ideal for instantly hearing the different tonal qualities of this trumpet, and I also chose excerpts from Chabrier’s España, which has parts for both  B-flat Cornet and Trumpet in F. I played the trumpet parts on the trumpet in G and the Cornet parts on the trumpet in B-flat (my Rudy Mück). I hope you enjoy listening to them. As always I welcome comments. ~iii<0

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I used GarageBand for these recordings and a Shure SM57 microphone.

Further upgrades to my trumpet

This week I decided to upgrade my Rudy Mück trumpet a little more. If you haven’t read about this instrument in the past then take a look here for more info.

A reversed slide is one that is configured so that the smaller internal tubes are reached first along the path that air takes through the instrument. The result of this is that the internal gradient is smooth. If the air passed through a larger outer tube first and then into a smaller inner tube and then out again then, as it does in a non-reversed slide, then this can have a negative effect on the feel and intonation of the instrument. In my experience it tends to be that you feel reversed slides as an improvement in the blow of a trumpet and smoother in transition when you press the valve – but not necessarily something you first notice before the change has been made. Most beginner-model trumpets do not have reversed slides (at least not for the first valve or tuning slide) and professional models do (not always the tuning slide).

On my Rudy Mück trumpet I have reversed the first valve slide and added a hook so that it can be moved whilst playing. I have also shortened the tube by about 3mm because it has always played slightly flat on a couple of notes and I now have better control over that. The process is fairly straight-forward and only required that I had a hook to place on the tube after it was reversed. Everything else is done using pre-existing parts of the instrument. Firstly I needed to remove the top tube from the valve casing and the stay that was in between the two outer tubes. I then had to remove the inner tube from the top of the removable slide. The tricky part of the operation is making sure that the tubes are straight when replaced in the opposing position. I used a digital calliper to measure the gap between the tubes accurately to a few hundredths of a millimetre. This is necessary for the slide to be moveable whilst playing. Its remarkable the things I can now do having learnt to solder brass properly.

On the Schilke Loyalist website there are some very interesting articles, particularly one (link) that highlights why reversed tuning slides are better for over all intonation on a trumpet. At this stage I don’t intend reversing the tuning slide on this trumpet because I would have to remove a brace that I feel helps with the slotting. When this brace was removed in the past the trumpet did not sound as good as it currently does. Seeing as this trumpet is conical from the receiver to the end of the tuning slide anyway I think the change would be of less value than it would on another instrument.

Happy trumpeting! ~iii<0

What To Know About The Vincent Bach Mouthpiece

Please note: It will be helpful to obtain a copy of the Vincent Bach Mouthpiece Manual for reference before reading this article. It is freely available online from here, or a quick google search for “Bach Mouthpiece Manual pdf”.
The version most referenced by this article is labelled AV6001

“What Every Brass Instrumentalist Should Know About Mouthpieces”

A discussion by Richard Colquhoun about Vincent Bach Trumpet Mouthpieces.

Introduction

The subject of trumpet mouthpieces can often be seen as an endless mind-field. There are a lot of brands and types. Many are vastly different and designed for specific purposes (although individuals may use them for other purposes). Many are similar, generic copies or variants of the same designs made and manufactured for making profit and not for facilitating a developing trumpet player.

Until now I have resisted the urge to offer my opinion about mouthpieces on this blog. That is in part due to the fact that although the number of mouthpieces I frequently use is decreasing it is always in a state of flux, and that may not ever change. This article is intended to address factual information that is often missed or over looked in reference to one particular brand of mouthpiece, I will also present further information based upon my experience and research with the hope that people can make better-informed choices about mouthpiece selection.

I will begin by addressing information that is provided in the mouthpiece manual. This section may be most useful for those in search of information regarding Bach mouthpieces; be sure to at least read the sections about internal diameter and cup shape. I will also address some well known inconsistencies that the comparison chart does not mention, changes to the manual over the years, and I will discuss how Vincent Bach’s designs and opinions may have influenced the path of brass playing during the last century.

Vincent Bach is one of the most celebrated brass instrument designers and builders of the twentieth century. His Stradivarius trumpets are a standard of quality in the industry favoured by many of the world’s professional and amateur brass players. An achievement of at least equal importance, though, is his contribution to the design of mouthpieces. The first notable influence that Vincent Bach had was his system for describing the various shapes and sizes of mouthpieces. All major brass mouthpiece manufacturers to this day use a derivative or similar system to describe their products. As I address each part of this system I will explain how it works and then mention interesting things about it that are often overlooked.

Internal Diameter

The internal diameter of the mouthpiece is described with a number. 1 is the largest and 20 is the smallest. For most numbers there are a few half-sizes and even some quarter sizes. Some numbers (4 & 13-16) are missed out. I don’t know the exact reason for this; one could speculate that initially there were spaces left for sizes that were never designed, but that is pure speculation.

When looking at the various sizes of mouthpiece internal diameter it is most people’s habit to consider the 7C as the smallest option and look upwards in the chart from there. The reason for this is at least twofold. Firstly, most new trumpets are supplied with a mouthpiece labelled 7C. When people move on from their 7C wanting a better sound they assume that this requires getting a mouthpiece with a larger internal diameter and look upwards on the chart (For reasons that you’ll discover later, this is usually a mis-informed choice). A possible second reason is one of tradition, though it may be better described as mythology or even superstition. Because of the playing habits of a few big names in orchestral playing (Adolph Herseth, Georges Mager, William Vacchiano), trumpet players have unneccesarily copied their choice of equipment in the hope of recreating their achivements. The mouthpiece manual actually advises against this: “Do not select a certain mouthpiece because another player uses it. […] what is perfect for one may be entirely unsuitable for the other” (page 3).

So here’s the important observation about internal diameters that nearly always gets overlooked when people talk about the various Vincent Bach mouthpieces. The size of a 1 is listed as 17.50mm. The various other 1 sizes, including 1-1/4 and 1-1/2, are listed as 17.00mm. A difference of 0.5mm. This pattern continues; the 2 and 2C both have 16.50mm internal diameters. So which mouthpiece do you suppose would have an internal diameter of 16.00mm? Maybe a 3? No, the answer is 10. What? 10? The difference between a 1C and a 2C, with nothing in between is the same as the difference between a 2C and a 10C with six different sizes in between. Fact. Here’s another thing: sizes 6, 7 and 8 are all listed as having the same rim size. Actually a 5 is apparently only 0.05mm different – that’s approximately the width of a piece of paper. When you consider that your lips will swell more than that whilst you’re playing, just because of extra blood flow, it makes the difference completely insignificant.

I think I owe you an explanation. This information shows that Vincent Bach basically had a small/medium/large idea in mind and you can see now that the various internal diameters are sized in groups. The real reason that there are three or four sizes that are all measured as the same is that the shape of the rim varies quite significantly between these sizes. The bite (the angle between the rim and the cup) on the 7 sizes is much sharper than on the sizes. This means that it actually feels smaller than it is. This “bite” is also so named because it will punish you for using too much pressure, but also give you something for your lips to grip onto in the higher register. This is what the manual has to say about bite:

A sharp rim will not cut the lip if the flat face of the mouthpiece rim is placed on the lips in (or slightly above) a horizontal position, with the mouthpiece at a 90 degree angle against the front teeth. A sharp inner edge against the lip will automatically remind the player that the instrument is not being held correctly.
The use of a mouthpiece without a sharp inner edge is not recommended, as it would not allow sufficient surface to distribute pressure over the lips.

(quote from page 5)
In his mouthpiece guide, Pops McLaughlin speculates that Vincent Bach most-likely intended his 1 mouthpiece for specific but rare occasions – because it is huge. There is a lot of variation in the various rim shapes with Vincent Bach mouthpieces and despite his advice there were quite a few available with much less bite.

Interestingly, I’ve talked with very few people (including teachers and professional players) who realise that there are more mouthpieces on this chart that are smaller than a 7C than bigger. I think this speaks volumes about people’s buying habits in the past verses today, and brings into question the reasons behind it as well.

I advise that when you are choosing a rim size from this range of mouthpieces to choose either small, medium or large, and then go to a supplier and try the various rims shapes in that size range. Feel safe in the knowledge that the variations in tonal colour within any range of mouthpieces will be affected more by the cup shape than the difference in internal diameter.

 Cup shapes

There are six standard cup shapes available for Vincent Bach mouthpieces. These are indicated on the mouthpiece with a letter. This is how it is described in the mouthpiece manual:

Cup depths are notated with letters. “A” cups are the deepest; standard cups have no letter designation; progressively shallower cups are marked B through F.

(quote from page 12)
Without a visual aid this description is really not enough. I would highly recommend popping over to the Kanstul Mouthpiece Comparator and having a look at the various cup shapes. For those with less time, below is a composite that I created with that information. (Click on the image for a much larger version)

VB_composite

Key:

Standard – Black
A – Blue (note that this is bigger than the standard)
B – Green
C – Red (most used)
D – Yellow
E – Purple

There are other cup shapes available, but not across the whole range of diameters. There are also quite a few that come with a wider rim (marked W, e.g. 7EW) but these have the same cup shapes as their non-wide counterparts.

The mouthpiece manual states that a player should match the pitch of the instrument being played with the cup depth of the mouthpiece.

A player using a medium-large bore B♭ or C trumpet or a B♭ cornet should generally use a mouthpiece no shallower than the Bach C cup and preferably, slightly deeper cups such as a B or A. One exception is for musicians who continually play in the extreme high register and desire a brighter sound.

(quote from page 7)
There is an older version (published in 1954, available to view here at time of writing) of the mouthpiece manual that states that the lettering system actually relates directly to the pitch of the trumpet that it should be used with:

VB42VB43

In my opinion these statements show how the tonal concept of the trumpet has changed in the last 60 or so years. The deeper cup on a Standard or A-cup mouthpiece would produce a far more mellow, smoother, cornet-like tone. That sound would less-likely project well and it is unlikely that a player spending much time in the high register would be particularly comfortable (as suggested in the quote above). These ideals have changed over time, probably as a result of the increase of demands that have been put on trumpet players in more recent times in terms of range, dynamic and particularly stamina.

What else is there to know about cup shapes? Well the depth of your mouthpiece cup directly relates to the amount of feedback the player senses with their lips whilst playing. If you double the depth of the cup on your mouthpiece then you feel less than half of the feedback, causing you to work much harder. Basically you work harder for the same result. Shallower mouthpieces are much more efficient than deeper ones because the air is compressed much sooner as it enters the throat – this means that you can play the same thing with less effort. But really the tone/projection/stamina you need depends on the style of music you are playing and is purely subjective. Do you need to blend with others or cut across a loud amplified band? These are probably not things that the average player needed to consider as now when Vincent Bach first designed his mouthpieces.

Inconsistencies

When looking at various B-cupped mouthpieces on the Kanstul Comparator one can see that the only thing that is really changing, even between two extremes such as a 1B and a 10B, is the diameter at the top. All B-cups meet in shape by approximately half-way down the concave part of the cup and the rest is exactly the same. This is not true of the C-cups at all. The Wedge Mouthpiece Blog explains the argument “not C cups are not created equal” in this blog post, which discusses the common but not-so-intelligent mouthpiece size progression that many teachers follow. With a briefer follow-up post here. These articles show and discuss that the 3C has a shallower cup and the 7C has a deeper cup when they are compared proportionally to other C-cupped mouthpieces. This means that switching between a 5C and a 3C is a bigger change than between a 5B and a 3B. This inconsistency in design is quite baffling really and it isn’t helpful for someone wishing to make an informed choice about a change of mouthpiece.

Another way that Vincent Bach mouthpieces are known to be inconsistent is much more general. The previously mentioned inconsistencies were by design, but it is actually well known that over the course of time there were wild inconsistencies in general production. In the interest of avoiding libel I will state now that most of what I write here is hearsay, gleamed from years of trawling through the Trumpet Herald forum and having conversations with other trumpet players. It is said that mouthpieces made in the Mount Vernon factory (between 1953–1964) are noticeably smaller than their modern equivalents. Many players favour these older mouthpieces saying that they produce a more desirable tone. This could actually be a result of imperfections, the sort of vibrational chaos that Jason Harrelson talks about in his description of how a trumpet sound is produced. Famous players known to still use older Mount Vernon mouthpieces include Chris Botti and Arturo Sandoval. Mark Curry of Curry Mouthpieces describes such imperfections nicely in this forum post from 2011. He also suggests that some mouthpieces may be larger than intended simply because they were polished too much! This is an obvious negative side-effect of mass-production.

Influence on the tradition of brass playing

In his article “A brief history of the Cornet, Tom Turner writes of how Vincent Bach’s mouthpiece designs could have acted as a catalyst in the popularisation of the trumpet over the cornet:

In 1924 Vincent Bach began making revolutionary mouthpieces too. These had much wider rims that were more rounded in the lip contact area and with deep but rounded “C” shaped cups that were brilliant and cutting but not harsh! […] most young band players (like today) wanted to be heard above their band and the “C” shaped cornet mouthpieces made the kid’s cornet almost as dominant as if he’d bought one of those newfangled […] trumpets. By the 1960’s […] virtually all cornet mouthpieces sold in America were basically trumpet mouthpiece tops on shorter cornet shanks. Plus, some companies made cornets and trumpets that were basically the same instrument except in the leadpipe area where one would be made for a cornet mouthpiece and the other for trumpet.

This is an argument that is posed in a post on The Trumpet Blog titled Why did the cornet become a second rate citizen?. Alongside this however, I believe that it’s not so much the demise in popularity of the cornet that should be mourned so much as the use of deeper mouthpieces on a trumpet. Whilst I realise that big band and commercial music cannot and should not be attempted on deeper mouthpieces there is a place in the musical soundscape for trumpet players with a rich lyrical sound. Indeed Miles Davis is known for having used a deep V-shaped mouthpiece for his whole career. The popularity of C-cupped mouthpieces has meant that when players wish for a “darker” or “broader” sound they tend to buy a mouthpiece with a larger internal diameter rather than a deeper cup. It is commonly overlooked that a mouthpiece is a three-dimensional shape and that the internal volume of a mouthpiece will be affected more by a deeper cup than a wider diameter.

In the mouthpiece manual there is an introduction that asserts that:

Professional musicians prefer the musical results of large mouthpieces, such as the Bach 1B, 1C, 11⁄4C, 11⁄2B, 11⁄2C, 21⁄2C, 3C, which provide a maximum volume of tone with the least amount of effort. By opening up the lips so that they do not touch, the larger mouthpiece produces a clearer, purer tone.

(quote from page 3)catalog_mp_1938_2
I am curious when this statement was written, by whom, and where they obtained their information. In this image (right), which is a scan from the 1938 manual, it clearly states that the most popular models were in the medium to small sized range.
In fact it says that the 10-1/2C is “Used in many symphony orchestras”.

I am inclined to believe that the statement in the newer manual was written only to perpetuate the large mouthpiece mythology. It is clear when one examines the artist-endorsed mouthpieces from the present and past, that very few of the world’s best trumpet players from the last 70 years favoured mouthpieces with a large internal diameter.

Another issue mentioned by Tom Turner, that I believe to be of utmost importance is that the rim shape of a Vincent Bach mouthpiece was far preferable than those generally available previously. The result of this is that a player could play for longer with poor technique. Use of excess pressure, a crooked embouchure, or an incorrect horn angle were now much less of a problem than before. Whilst this move was inevitable with the improvement in instrument design, and not the fault of Vincent Bach, it meant that a player would not be able to feel as easily when they are relying on a brute force approach to playing and longer term may never develop good playing technique. It is my contention that this, combined with the large mouthpiece mythology, are primary causes for so many struggling brass players today. Players overblowing and using too much lip pressure as a result of their large, comfortable mouthpieces is a direct cause of their inability to develop an easy upper register. In his mouthpiece guide, Pops McLaughlin points out that nobody has ever been offered a gig because their mouthpiece felt good! It appears that in solving one problem, another may have inadvertently been caused in its place.

Finally, to address the whole quote, I have never read from or heard of a trumpet method (including the works of Herbert Clarke, J.B. Arban, Claude Gordon, Louis Maggio, Carmine Caruso, James Stamp, Bill Adams, Roger Ingram, Lynn Nicholson, Jerome Callet, Jeff Smiley, among others… I’ve read a lot of trumpet books!) that a player should be aiming to open the lips so that they do not touch. That statement is categorically incorrect.

Conclusion

Hopefully by reading this discussion you now have enough information to make informed decisions about buying a Vincent Bach trumpet mouthpiece. There are many many more mouthpiece manufacturers in the world today and so you may also benefit from researching Schilke, Curry, Stork, GR or Marcinkiewicz, just to name a very few. However, the most important thing is that you now have a point of reference for comparing other brands and their design ideologies. Some well known makers, for example Monette, produce most of their designs based upon custom designs for famous players and it may be much more difficult to find a mouthpiece that suits you from them.

Vincent Bach as a company owes much of its popularity to the fact that their products were some of the few to be universally available worldwide for quite some time. Using logic and common sense can lead anyone to conclude that under such circumstances “The Bach Sound” has become a universal standard to some because they don’t know anything else.

There are both pros and cons to buying a Vincent Bach mouthpiece, some of which have been mentioned already. But maybe the most important thing to take into account is that technology, understanding and innovation has moved forward quite significantly in the last fifty years. Do you want to be using a modern trumpet with an old design of mouthpiece? Or would your vintage instrument be significantly improved by a modern mouthpiece? Best of luck making a decision, I don’t know if I ever will.

~iii<0

My Rudy Muck Trumpet

I thought it would be nice to post some photos of my Rudy Muck trumpet. It is a 65M Super Six trumpet that I bought last November. And since buying it I have made a few adjustments to it. The real story is that I had some ideas of how to make it play better and lacking the knowledge of how to apply these ideas I managed to break the instrument beyond playability. Since attending a brass instrument repair course with Trevor Head in the summer (link to Trevor’s Website) I have been able to reconstruct and even improve the trumpet. I now use this instrument for the majority of the playing that I do.

Just for you geeks out there: This trumpet has a extra large bore size (0.470″ at the valve section) with a small leadpipe (measuring 0.453″ at the start of the tuning slide) and a conical tuning slide. I would speculate that this is one of the earliest examples of what is now referred to as a step-bore or multi-bore instrument. Rudy Muck may well have been the first trumpet manufacturer to have this idea.

This is one of the later instruments to bear the Rudy Muck name and I believe it could have been constructed in France because of the similarity in appearance to some Buffet Crampon trumpets (including the style of the leadpipe and receiver, the stay on the tuning slide and the engraving).

Update since writing: There was a balanced-model Citation that looked more like a Buffet Crampon than mine, but the similarities are still there.

Rudy Muck is known to have outsourced the construction of some instruments in order to maintain high standards and avoid the pitfalls of mass production. I’ve seen Muck be described as the “Kanstul of his day”, and this goes a long way to explain why various parts of the trumpet resemble various vintage horns but no single instrument in particular. The valve block is (at least externally) quite similar to Olds trumpets and the first valve slide is very much like a NY Bach Stradivarius (pre-thumb hook design).

For more information about Rudy and his trumpets I would recommend visiting www.rudymuck.info. Although this site hasn’t been updated for a while it is still very interesting.

RM65M_original1RM65M_original2

 
Above: The trumpet in the condition that I bought it.
KVZV2032Above: The trumpet as it is now.

  • The first change I made was to remove the stop bars from the tuning slide and 3rd valve-slide. These looked old-fashioned and were completely unnecessary.
  • I have swapped the right-hand finger ring for a circular ring, purely for aesthetic reasons! (Well actually I happened also to put it in a place that fitted my hand much better than before)
  • When I took the trumpet on my repair course the 3rd valve-slide was in nine pieces. I rebuilt it. Notice that there is now only one brace whereas previously there were two. I have also removed the water key and patched over the hole. In order for the slide to function correctly the two tubes had to be perfectly aligned (It is accurate to 0.01″).
  • Also whilst on the course I refitted the stay between the leadpipe and the bell, which had come off in a previous experiment. This really helped to stabilise the sound of the instrument. Although not always the case, it turns out that this trumpet needs it.
  • I have replaced the water key on the tuning slide with an Amado water key. For more info about water keys read this interesting blog post that I found.

Thanks for reading! ~iii<o