Does a better trumpet make you play trumpet better?

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

A simple answer

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

A little about instruments

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

a matter of philosophy?

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

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

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

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

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

Telling lies to make money

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

All about efficiency

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

A conclusion?

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

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

A Follow-up on Tone, Cornets and Mouthpieces

The purpose of this post is a brief follow-up on some previous articles. It’s a bit of a rant, but in this case I feel it’s necessary.

I have recently seen some people discussing one of my posts on an internet forum and there are a couple of things that I would like to address. The post in question is titled Trumpet vs Cornet, and why it’s important. If you haven’t read that then click here to have a quick look. Some people had expressed confusion about a statement I had made in terms of cornet embouchure and because I was happy with the blog post at the time of publishing I don’t want to re-write it. What I’ll do instead is give a less formal summary of the main point in that article to make sure that it is clear.

First of all it is worth me pointing out that this is my opinion, and it is also more of a philosophical point than one describing an instrument’s limitations. I must stress, however, that this is an opinion that I have developed over a period of twenty-five years as a performer on both the trumpet and the cornet, seventeen of which I have been a working professional player in a variety of genres of music. I am also a specialist embouchure and technique teacher who works with people around the world. I write these things because I am trying to help people to improve their understanding of the instruments they play so that they don’t waste decades trying to smack a square peg into a round hole. I genuinely believe that somebody can improve their playing instantly by changing their ideas because I have done exactly that. The vast majority of people out there discussing trumpet playing on the internet are sharing old, dated concepts and they are very defensive of these ideas. I have worked on my playing with really forward-thinking teachers who have decades of experience proving that traditional trumpet teaching simply does not work for the majority. Now that I’ve said this piece I will leave it up to you to decide whether you wish to take notice of what I have to share and good luck to you if you don’t.

In the Trumpet vs Cornet article my main points were these:

  1. Modern trumpets and cornets are more similar than different and one of the main ways to distinguish between them is the mouthpiece. Despite that fact, players love to use the same type of mouthpiece for both and as a result limit their abilities on both instruments.
  2. Taking a historically informed approach to performing on these instruments has lead me to believe that whilst it is the correct decision to switch to a shorter cornet (E-flat soprano being the most common) to facilitate playing with finesse in the high register it is not the correct thing to do on a trumpet.
  3. The tonal qualities of these two instruments should be noticeably different to a non-musician. The cornet was designed for lyrical chromatic playing in the low and middle register and in contrast the trumpet should sound brilliant and strident. It is those qualities that facilitate playing well in the high register on the trumpet but it does require far greater embouchure control. Simply switching to a shorter instrument makes a strong embouchure seem unnecessary, but you’re really just hiding from your problems…
  4. Many players out there make a great cornet sound on the trumpet and wonder why they cannot play well in the high register. This is my answer to that question.

Point 4 on this list brings us full-circle back to the issue of appropriate mouthpiece selection. And that in turn brings up the issue of correct tone concept.

The sound that a brass instrument produces is a composite of the fundamental pitch and a series of overtones above it. When a player makes an effort to play with a “dark tone” they are effectively putting a premium on the fundamental pitch and killing off the overtones. This is making the sound less resonant. Also, if there are no high overtones then they are not available to be excited and therefore producing high pitches on the instrument is much more difficult. Whenever a trumpet player starts chatting with me about blending with trombones I always ask them when they last heard an oboe player talking about making their instrument sound like a bassoon, or a violinist trying to sound like a cello… Even in the homogenous sound of a brass band it wouldn’t work if the soprano cornet was trying to sound like a flugelhorn.

Generally people believe that there is a trade-off to be had between having a pleasing sound and being able to play well in the high register but I believe this to be a misnomer. Something that I mentioned in my article about mouthpieces was that as a general rule those who favour large mouthpieces really struggle to produce a good tone on something smaller, but the opposite is rarely true (In his book The Balanced Embouchure Jeff Smiley writes about this being a byproduct the embouchure’s ability to “focus”). I think that at this point in time there are so few people that use really small equipment to play classical music that there simply aren’t enough use cases for comparison, however there are plenty of experienced professionals out there talking about this idea. There is a pretty widely-discussed article by Jens Lindemann on the topic, and also there have been recent podcast interviews with people such as Mark Gould and Jim Pandolfi when the subject of players not understanding trumpet sound comes up. As a final example, here is a quote from an article by Mark Van Cleave on the same subject:

It is unfortunate that many players and teachers automatically go for the wide/deep cups to produce a big fat orchestral sound. It is interesting to know that some of the players that DEFINED the orchestral sound such as Harry Glanz played a Bach 6C through out his career in New York. and Adolph Herseth won his job in Chicago playing a Bach 7B. Herseth went to a larger cup later in his career in order to accommodate scar tissue that he had developed due to an automobile accident he had in the early 50’s which severely injured his chops. Funny thing… Shortly after Herseth made the switch to a larger mouthpiece (for physical reasons), orchestral players in Boston and New York began to go larger as well. I can’t help wonder what THEIR reasons were.

So anyway… Just to top all of this part off I think I should also point out that all of my statements here are in reference to using an instrument in its most common setting. I am capable of producing the same range of notes on a cornet as I am a trumpet, and I can play the same range of notes on a Schilke 24 as I can on a 6A4a but I wouldn’t be able to practise baroque concertos on a standard B-flat trumpet (which I do) if I were using a Bach 1C for everything (which I don’t) and nor would I be able to produce an appropriate sound in a salsa band. I never need to play above high C or D on a B-flat cornet so I’m going to pick equipment that helps me sound best on a lyrical cornet solo. It’s all about making informed choices and realising where you got your information from.

If a guy in a shop is telling you that something is a “Best Seller“, is that just because he told the same thing to the last fifty people that walked through the door? The biggest brass retailer in the south-west of England only stocks mouthpieces that players traditionally buy – that’s why people only buy those mouthpieces from them… if they want something better they go elsewhere. Never listen to a salesman for specialist equipment advise because their area of expertise is sales, not music. There are great players who also sell equipment, but they can always demonstrate why they’re telling you something. Ask for a demonstration. If somebody cannot show you why their advise is correct then it probably isn’t.

Finally I should be addressing the fact that I was accused of historical inaccuracy. When I make statements on this blog I back them up with quotes and references to books. I go out of my way to find examples of the ideas I share being discussed by those in both the traditional and alternative pedagogical circles. I even pride myself on this fact. I always make a point of inviting people to comment on my blog posts and would welcome questions from the genuinely curious or even those who disagree if they’re willing to engage in rational conversation. If there are errors then I am more than happy to edit or retract statements I’ve made. It was the ability to admit that I didn’t know enough that put me on the path of learning that has resulted in this blog being possible.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope that my thoughts on the subjects addressed are now clearer. If in doubt please comment below, get in touch via contact button.

~iii<0

Franquin, transposing trumpets, Bahb Civiletti & the TCE

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy! ~iii<0

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

Idea 1: One Ring To Rule Them All

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

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

Idea 2: The Right Tool For The Job

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

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

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

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

Idea 3: Mouthpieces As A Teaching Aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AOB? The Biggest Lie Of All

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

~iii<0

Trumpet vs Cornet, and why it’s important

Introduction – My Story

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

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

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

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

A Bit of History

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

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

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

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

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

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

Physical Differences and Similarities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what about the sound?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~iii<0

My Visit To Stomvi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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