Know Your Vincent Bach Mouthpieces

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

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

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

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

Interesting observations

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

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

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

Other factors

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

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

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

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

~iii<0

One (Mouth-) Piece To Rule Them All

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

Some history

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

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

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

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

What I’ve learnt from using one mouthpiece exclusively

Pros:

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

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

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

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

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

Cons:

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

~iii<0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflecting On A Successful Year, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An argument for GNU Lilypond and the openArbanProject

What is the openArbanProject?

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

Being free is not about your money

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

Why Lilypond?

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

Looks are important

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

Low barrier to entry

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

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

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

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

The scourge of vendor lock-in

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

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

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

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

Want to know more?

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

TCE and Superchops, same or different?

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

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

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

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

What’s the difference between Superchops and TCE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Books Should You Read About Brass Embouchure?

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

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

Which books should you read about embouchure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experiments in Einsetzen

The first time I ever saw a brass player using an einsetzen embouchure was in a brass band in the early 1990s. I was only fourteen years old and our brass band was on tour in Germany. A member from another band was helping us out on the tenor horn and this guy set his mouthpiece in a very strange way. In all of his playing he played with the mouthpiece positioned inside his bottom lip and the bottom lip protruded outside the rim of the mouthpiece. It worked for him, although he didn’t play very taxing music. At the time I just thought of it as little more than a curiosity; little did I know that hundreds of years ago it was one of the ways that people learnt to play the french horn, or that twenty years later I’d be teaching people this very technique, albeit with completely different intentions.

To me, in recent times, the einsetzen embouchure is thought of as being a part of the Tongue Controlled Embouchure system. It was first written about (in modern times for the trumpet at least) in the book Trumpet Yoga by Jerome Callet, the first edition of which was published in 1971. I have written my own book on the subject titled Exploring The Double Pedal Register and I recently set myself the challenge of writing a further sixty exercises to accompany this book. In doing so, and through teaching the technique, I have learnt a few things about how to describe the way that the einsetzen embouchure works for trumpet and how it can benefit embouchure development. Over the years I have also spotted a number of examples of various accomplished and famous trumpet players playing notes with this embouchure setting. Although this shows their awareness of it being possible I doubt that they use it much or teach it to any of their pupils. If that were the case then everyone would be talking about it in the same way that there’s hype over leadpipe playing, for example.

This post isn’t going to go into much depth about how the einsetzen position is normally used as I have already written multiple times about that. This link and this one are to posts or pages that explain that idea in greater detail. There are also videos of Bahb Civiletti demonstrating playing from double pedal C (C2) to double high C (C7) on one of those links.
For an explanation of the note numbering system in this text please refer to this post about defining the range of the trumpet.

The purpose of this post is to discuss if the system can be taken further. As it is used by the TCE system we only play seven notes in the double pedal register. That’s one note for each fingering and they serve to extend the harmonic series of each fingering with an einsetzen/ansetzen movement. You can, however, play as much as a fifth higher as a few pupils of mine have discovered the first time they try to play a double pedal C. Often this is the result of trying to maintain the same sensation in the lips even when using a different type of embouchure (which is not what you are supposed to do at first!!). You can also extend the range downward in pitch as far as triple pedal C (C1). In both instances of expanding the range you do not have the use of valves on your side. When playing the usual C2 down to F#1 the length of the sound wave is twice as long as the length of tubing you are playing on and as a result some overtones are excited properly. When the wavelength does not relate to the notes you are playing then they are more difficult to produce and do not sound as good either. It is for this reason that I would normally argue that there is no good reason to practice playing other notes with the einsetzen embouchure, but for the sake of experimentation I wanted to establish what is possible using a standard B-flat trumpet.

As a proof of concept I wrote five exercises that demonstrate how you could play from G2 to C#1 using the most effective alternative fingerings. For any pitches above double pedal C I think you should generally play on open fingering as playing the note D2 on fingering 3+1 would require a lot of tension and forcing of the sound. Playing that same D2 on open is as simple as bending a C2 upwards in pitch and that same forcing is not necessary. As an exception to the rule I recognise that you could similarly play C#2 with the 2nd valve as this would be like bending a B1 upwards by a tone. For any pitches below double pedal G you can use a system of practicing the double pedal G (G1) on both the 3+1 combination and on the open tubing. Once this ability is established you can then use the valves with standard fingerings to aid playing chromatically down to triple pedal C# (C#1). Credit should be given here to Daniel Bray who first suggested playing the G1 on open fingering to me.

Here is a chart of the suggested fingerings:

The five exercises can be downloaded for free by using the following link:

[purchase_link id=”1880″ style=”button” color=”orange” text=”Download” direct=”true”]

Here is a short video of me demonstrating playing through these exercises and demonstrating that the fingerings work:

Although at this time the ability to play the complete double pedal register from G2 to C#1 may be of limited value for either music or embouchure development it is worth knowing how it should be done should anyone wish to take these experiments further. I will certainly continue to make videos of myself playing melodies in this range, using this technique and add any further information as it comes to light. It may be that this technique can be used in combination with technology for music creation and likewise I will post anything that I manage to create in that respect.

If you are curious about playing with an einsetzen embouchure in the double pedal register then please feel free to get in touch or buy my ebook from the Trumpet Planet Store.

~iii<0

A Testament to Somerset Music’s Past

Last week I had the pleasure of being hired by Glastonbury and Street Musical Comedy Society to play in the band for their performances of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. I always enjoy playing for a musical and this one featured a proper lead trumpet book for me to sink my teeth into.

Although it’s not frequent for me to write about my gigs this one is of particular note for reasons beyond the music itself. On my way to the band call I was thinking about who was playing in the band for the coming week. It sprang to my mind that this band (full list below) featured three generations of musicians from the Somerset area. Luke Holman, the Musical Director, is an ex-pupil of mine from my teacher training days. He has recently graduated from RNCM and will be heading off to London to finish his studies next year. He was also taught by one of the wind players in the band, Kat Stevens. Both Kat and I were taught/conducted by Kieth Thomas, the trombone player, when we were young. He was my first brass teacher and also got me involved with both the Strode Saturday Morning Music Club and Somerset County Youth Concert Band. Another wind player in the band was Jamie Phippen, who conducted the Centre of Somerset Youth Jazz Orchestra, which I played in as a teenager. Jamie and I still regularly gig together with Kat in the function band DT8. Paul Denegri has been head of brass at Wells Cathedral School since 1986 and as well as being my teacher for three years he introduced me to the paid music scene around that time.

When pressed for a quote on the subject Luke said: “It’s a privilege to conduct your musical ideas in front of the teachers who encouraged you to explore those musical ideas in the first place.”

The reason I think this is of particular significance is that not only is it a real testament to the Somerset Music education infrastructure of times gone by, but it is also quite unlikely to be possible in the future. Unfortunately music education isn’t what it used to be, particularly in schools but also in community music projects. There are vastly fewer brass bands in Somerset than there were twenty years ago, the Saturday-morning music club in Shepton Mallet, which was responsible for the development of many of my peers, doesn’t exist any more because of funding cuts. On top of that, and more importantly, is that there is no-longer subsidy for instrumental lessons in schools. To the best of my knowledge and a quick check on the current Somerset Music website, they don’t even employ peripatetic one-on-one instrumental teachers any more. The closest thing is Whole Class Ensemble Tuition.

When I was at secondary school my teacher had a full timetable in both of the schools of mine that he attended, as well as other schools that I didn’t know about. Being a peripatetic music teacher was actually a viable career path. Nowadays it is down to enterprising self-employed musicians who want to teach to approach schools themselves and try to inspire children to take up instrumental lessons. Even in schools where I’ve had a number of pupils the school doesn’t or cannot provide orchestras or bands for them to play in and will not pay me to do it. Because of the lack of community music projects the children don’t get any ensemble experience and in a very short time parents realise that their lessons are both expensive and pointless. When I was fifteen years old I was playing my cornet for eight hours a week before personal practise. A single twenty-minute lesson per week is not going to produce the same results, and nor is WCET in my humble opinion. After discussing WCET with a colleague I can only conclude that it would be a great addition to a pre-existing infrastructure but that statistics show that by itself it is not an effective way to produce musicians in the longer term.

What at first seemed like an overwhelmingly positive article soon descends into a depressing snap back to reality. There are a lot of hard-working professionals around that want nothing more than to inspire the next generation to take up music for the immense proven benefits of its learning but with vital parts of the infrastructure gone, and the talk of GCSE music disappearing from some schools altogether, things are looking pretty bleak. Whatever the solution is to getting these people together and paying them a wage that reflects both their expertise and hard work, it has yet to be found or seriously discussed in a public forum. I’ve found myself in a position where I’m now earning more money from playing the trumpet than teaching it. I don’t even know whether I’m comfortable with that being the case but after the decade of poverty brought on by giving priority to teaching I’ve had enough.

~iii<0

All views stated above are my own and not reflective of those belonging to any mentioned parties.
Full list of band members:
Luke Holman, Musical Director
Nigel Dodge, Bass
Jonty Hedges, Drums
Matt Holmes, Keys
Mark Shelvey, Keys
Gill Lawson, Keys
Jamie Phippen, Winds
Kathryn Stevens, Winds
Jennifer Campbell, Winds
Keith Thomas, Trombone
Paul Denegri, Trumpet/Flugel
Myself, Trumpet/Flugel

Defining the range of the trumpet

Intro

For the most part the purpose of this article is as a reference. A lot of trumpet players love to talk about high notes. But there is also a lot of discussion about how to define these notes. At what point is it acceptable to start using terms like “Double High”? Is “High A” the one that sits a tone above the treble staff, or an octave higher than that? Some people believe that there is already an accepted terminology and that others just don’t know it. All I’m going to do here is explain the terms that I have gravitated towards from talking with other players for a long time and explain why I’ve come to these conclusions. My intention then is to stick to this formula in further writings, in my teaching, and general discussions.

System 1: Scientific Pitch Notation

Scientific Pitch Notation is a system based upon a standard 88-key piano. Although different manufacturers of electronic keyboards have produced instruments that recognise this system differently, the original system recognises the middle C on a piano as “C4”. All tones that ascend from this point until the next C are also designated with the number 4, for example the standard tuning note in an orchestra would therefore be A4. The following graphic shows how the transposed range of the trumpet would look when following this system. Now that it has been explained I will use it as a reference for the rest of the article.

I have included the F#3 as it is the lowest note on a standard trumpet, and G6 for reasons I’ll explain…

System 2: Supers, Highs, Pedals and Doubles

Having a numbered system is really nice if you want to be specific, but it’s not really what people use in every day conversation. “Did you know that the Michael Haydn Concerto goes all the way up to G6 on a nat? That’s like a Bb6 on a modern-pitch Bb trumpet!” said nobody ever. So instead we tend to use terms like “high”, which has exactly the opposite problem. What many would call a “High A” is an octave lower than the note I would think of upon hearing those words. So who gets to decide? Well I think that Maynard Ferguson was a pretty good authority on this matter and so I would stick with his answer to the question: C7 is called “Double High C”, for the octave descending from there the notes are “High” and below that they’re not. Therefore a G6 is known as High G, not Double High G and an A5 is not and should not be referred to as high, ever. Thanks Maynard.

When I was a teenager I played in a few big bands and the terminology that was used was slightly different. I think that it’s almost an exclusively British term, as I’ve seen in online discussions that people in other countries deny the existence or validity of the term (and often quite rudely), but we used to call notes above D5 “Super”. It made it sound like a real achievement to be able to play a “SUPER F“. I haven’t heard this in many years and so wonder if it’s still used.

When going below the note F#3 we venture into the range of pedal tones. Pedal C (C3) is on the diagram above and Double Pedal C is an octave lower than that (C2). Theoretically Triple Pedal C (C1) is down there too, but so far my practice has only allowed me a reliable Double Pedal Db. Sometimes adding a semitone to your range is harder than a perfect fourth!

The only other terms that get used a lot, which I believe cause genuine psychological issues and resulting problems in playing are the words “top” and “bottom”. “Bottom C” is an understandable term: it’s one of the first notes that brass players learn, it is written at the bottom of the treble staff and there isn’t a lower pitched C that is generally used in music. However, “Top C” is not only inaccurate, but it puts a ceiling on perceived playable range of the instrument. When you consider the idea that we become confident in our ability to play a particular note by knowing that we can play above it, this wouldn’t be possible if there were actually a limit to how high one could play. I have found when teaching that when people don’t know what notes they’re playing, whether obscured by transposition, or playing harmonic patterns by ear, that they can play higher than any note that they think of as a limit because habits, both psychological and physical, don’t kick in and ruin everything. Admittedly I exist in a strange self-constructed environment of brass-playing elitism, but the last time I heard somebody say “Top C” I did a double take and spent hours wondering how my perspective has become so skewed.

Here is a chart of common names for notes, and often-used alternatives:

System 3: If I ruled the world

Those who know me would say that it goes without saying that I’ve come to use a system of my own for this topic. Being pedantic and daydreaming as I am I’ve found that when talking about technique that being able to refer to different registers of the trumpet is particularly useful. However, using C as a reference point doesn’t actually work very well. I want things to be uniform and so if I were to call notes below C4 the bottom register, and then notes above G5 the high register then we end up with one register only spanning a fifth and the next spanning a twelfth. I can’t deal with that, so we need to change the point of reference. If you use the note G as the upper and lower limit of each register then not only does it mean that each register can be an octave in size (more or less, allowing for an extra semitone in the low register), but also that it quite accurately defines different levels of development and reflects how we use different playing techniques for mastering each register. With this in mind I would propose the following:

Altissimo is a term that is used with other instruments and has been used a few times in reference to brass too. I think it is particularly suiting for the range over G6 as the way that notes are produced above that pitch is not that same as in the high register. In fact it is more similar to how notes are played in the pedal registers as the instrument is behaving as a megaphone rather than a resonator. The point of rarefaction for setting up a standing wave in the tube has moved too far beyond the end of the bell for a player to feel and slot notes and for many this is experienced as a ceiling in developable range. If you are interested in this topic then I would recommend the following article [click] by Dr Richard Smith, or the scientific explanation in the beginning of Kristian Steenstrup’s book Teaching Brass.

Ending

I hope you’ve enjoyed my thoughts on this topic, and my attempts to write a shorter article. If you have anything to add then please feel free to comment below or get in touch. Like; Share; Reference; Please Subscribe… all of that!

~iii<0