Does a better trumpet make you play trumpet better?

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

A simple answer

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

A little about instruments

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

a matter of philosophy?

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

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

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

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

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

Telling lies to make money

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

All about efficiency

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

A conclusion?

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

How Copyright Spoils Music Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There Actually A Trumpet Method By Jerome Callet?

Is There Actually A Trumpet Method By Jerome Callet?

A short discussion by Richard Colquhoun

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

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

Celebrity endorsement?

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

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

His own worst enemy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legacy Superchops – A Piece Of Trumpet History

In recent years the name Jerome Callet is most closely associated with way of playing the trumpet commonly known as the Tongue Controlled Embouchure. This method is also known as Superchops and even True Power Trumpet Fitness (as taught by Ralph Salamone). Superchops is also the name that Callet gave to his latest line of trumpet mouthpieces, since around 2010, which are based upon Harry James’ actual double cup mouthpiece, his own backbore/throat design and a classic Calicchio rim and blank. The most recent mouthpieces, the 1S series, are based upon Charlie Shaver’s incredibly small cup diameter and echo a little of Jerry’s older designs (such as the JAZZ) in that respect.

Without doing a bit of digging few people discover that Jerry first began using the term Superchops in the 1980s to define his trumpet method as taught at the time. On the surface the Superchops embouchure was very different from the TCE system. Finding good information about the topic has taken years of searching and I can now explain how although it seems that Legacy  Superchops is different to the TCE system, many of the core principals are the same.

In summary, Legacy Superchops:

  1. Places heavy emphasis upon correct sound, teaching that a major cause of brass players’ issues are caused by their desire to spread their sound for reasons such as trying to hear themselves play, trying to blend with others or simply trying to “make a dark/warm sound”.
  2. Is a resistance based embouchure system (often referred to as a closed-lip system). This means that the flow air is resisted by the embouchure, resulting in greater air compression and less need for large quantities of air. Primarily this method is taught by correcting the student’s lip movements so that they can correctly control the release of pressurised air. Only when the lips correctly resist air can the player use all of their body strength in playing.
  3. Advocates articulating by striking the lips through the teeth with the tip of the tongue. This results in a free, open tone and vastly improves note centring and intonation.
  4. Encourages playing with relaxed mouth corners and an open jaw at all times.
  5. Discourages tongue arching (or using vowel sounds such as ahh, ooo or eee) saying that the tongue must lie flat in the mouth after each attack so that it does not cause resistance at the top of the throat. Vowel sounds and tongue arching are also known to cause incorrect stretching of the lips and closing of the jaw.

With the recent passing of Jerome Callet, a long-time pupil (and previous web developer) is currently helping Jerry’s wife (Yumiko) to sort through much of his materials and we are of the opinion that his teaching materials should be in the public domain. In this spirit the VHS tape that accompanied Jerry’s 1987 book Superchops has been uploaded to YouTube. The video features Jerry giving lessons to a number of pupils, explaining the technique and playing along with some exercises. For those who’ve never seen or heard Jerry play this footage is pretty rare. Towards the end the video also has some examples of professional players demonstrating orchestral repertoire and a jazz group with the late Nipper Murphy.

Many people who subscribe to Callet’s later methods dismiss the value of learning about this older technique. Believing that the TCE, the instruction on the MasterSuperChops DVD, or True Power are superior, they ask why one would learn this technique rather than the modern method. I believe, however, in saying this that two important points are being missed.

  1. Accessibility: Many people have tried the TCE and failed to make it work. This can be for a number of reasons including a lack of quality instruction being given by those who have mastered this manner of playing. Some proponents report that learning the correct movement of the lips as taught in Legacy Superchops was what enabled them to be able to consider learning to use the tongue in the forward position. Also, in the interest of producing strong, capable brass players, this system may be all that somebody needs to trigger a massive increase in their ability.
  2. Of greater importance is that even the methods that Jerome Callet was teaching in the 1970s and 1980s is new modern thinking, based upon more research and testing, than that which the majority of brass teachers today understand. Watching teachers squirm when you mention embouchure or ask them how to improve range is in some ways funny but in more ways sad. In the UK at least (and in other countries too according to my online pupils) the vast majority of teachers don’t actually teach brass players how to play their instrument. Instead they feed their pupils music from an exam syllabus and blame failure on lack of practise. If given the option of a teacher who knows this “old” method compared to one who doesn’t then I know which I’d choose.

Here you will see the video mentioned above, and below that a link to the book which you can have in exchange for a valid email address. Enjoy!

[purchase_link id=”1991″ style=”button” color=”orange” text=”Download” direct=”true”]

Click the button to download the accompanying text book. This is a free book that Jerry would give away at trumpet conferences and not the version that you would have had to pay for.

Trumpet Guru Conspiracies Part 1: The Failing Student

Intro

This is the first of a short series of articles that are written partly tongue-in-cheek but also completely based in fact. It has been quite some years since I began devoting time to studying the world of trumpet pedagogy. My research consists of a few things: Reading trumpet history and method books, reading doctorate research (dissertations etc.), reading online forums and trumpet players’ websites, browsing the wayback machine to read websites that are no-longer live, talking with other brass players of all calibers from the seasoned professional to the seasoned amateur, taking lessons and practising ideas that many modern-day teachers are pushing. In doing this there have been a number of behaviours that I’ve noticed from a wide range of brass pedagogues and it’s these things that I’m going to write about in these articles.

Part I: The Myth Of The Failing Student

The myth of the failing student goes like this: John wants to play the trumpet. He seeks the help of the best teachers he can find but they all feed him the same traditional ideas. They teach using music and studies, telling John what to play but not how to play. Truth be told this is exactly how things are to this day. It’s not something that has changed since any of our gurus were failing to learn to play. Having been to a number of teachers John, driven by his failure, sets out to do some research and find out for himself how things are really done. John discovers that all of the best musicians he observes are playing differently from the things he was being taught! John writes a book and opens a teaching studio. A guru is born.

This story, or variations of it, has been told many times by many people and helps to attract failing players to a guru in the hope that by following their method they too can master playing the trumpet. It’s a good way to sell books and attract pupils. Because the ideas contradict tradition the guru can grow quite a following from players at all levels.

William Costello

This story comes from Costello’s article titled Only One Correct Way To Play Any Brass Instrument that was published in Metronome magazine in the mid 1930s.

“At the age of eighteen, I studied with a teacher who was credited with 50 years experience. After spending five years with this man I discovered the only theory his teachings were based upon was the altogether too common one of “I play the horn this way and so should you”. This finally awakened me and caused me to desert the old school straight and narrow and I turned to the right. This road led me right into swollen lips, cracked notes, poor intonation, useless mouthpieces, hours of meaningless practice, tired lips and if I struggled really hard perhaps I could squeeze out and F or G below high C. I tried system after system, teacher after teacher and finding so many abuses as well as abusers, I decided to turn to the left and make a thorough study in the hopes that some day I could openly challenge and refute the unscrupulous commercial teachers and systemizers and give to their victims a sound proved method – one which would apply to any brass man and not one which would have to be changed and altered to fit different individuals.”

Dr Donald S. Reinhardt

This story is quoted from an article by David Wilken on trombone.org

“Donald S. Reinhardt began his musical studies early, beginning with a six hole flageolet at the age of four and progressing from there to many other instruments. His first formal musical instruction began at the age of eight on violin, but his interest at that time was instead on learning to play the French horn. Instructors told him at this time that he would not be able to play the horn or trumpet because his front teeth were uneven and so he began lessons on the trombone.

While his initial progress on the trombone was good, it wasn’t long before he reached a barrier in his playing and was sent to another instructor to help him correct his problems. This teacher was also unable to help Reinhardt and he was again sent to another instructor. After eighteen teachers tried and failed to help, Reinhardt resigned himself to playing second or bass trombone since he did not have the required range to play the first chair.

One day an accident flattened the tuning slide of Reinhardt’s trombone. After being repaired the instrument was returned to Reinhardt with the counterweight still removed. When Reinhardt played on this front-heavy instrument his horn angle was significantly lower. Because of this lower horn angle the membrane of his lower lip had rolled in and slightly over his lower teeth and for the first time in his life Reinhardt was able to play a high B flat. With a little more experimentation he was able to work his range up to the F above this B flat.

This sparked an interest in how other brass performers played and Reinhardt began to study the embouchures of every brass player he could. Through the use of mouthpiece visualisers and later transparent mouthpieces he discovered that while some players produced their high notes in a manner similar to him, others played exactly opposite. Reinhardt had discovered the difference between upstream and downstream embouchures that became the basis for his approach that he would term the “Pivot System.” He would eventually identify four basic embouchure types with five subtypes and eight distinct tonguing types.”

Claude Gordon

Although the conclusion of this story is different in that Claude Gordon did not devise his own method but instead went on to study with Herbert Clarke, and later Louis Maggio, I feel it is worth bringing into the mix as Claude’s story will be relevant in further articles. It is quoted from Gordon’s book Brass Playing Is No Harder Than Deep Breathing.

“As a young player I was happy and never worried until I started to take lessons. I was studying with a fine player, but everything changed. I remember when he said “Keep those corners tight!!” and “Get that jaw out!!”. I had never heard these things before. In fact, I had never thought about the lip at all. I was dedicated, however, and practised hard, looking in the mirror, watching every movement. Finally I could keep the jaw out and the corners tight, but now I couldn’t play my high F any more. I also started worrying. Is my lip OK? Is my jaw out? Are the corners tight? All frustration began. I kept on taking lessons but played continually worse and worried more. Every time a good orchestra came though town, I would meet trumpet players and ask myriads of questions. The answers became a conflicting mumbo-jumbo of “Try this” or “Try that” or “Get this mouthpiece or that”. I had boxes of mouthpieces and could not play any of them. I was still playing professionally at 18 years of age, but not as well as when I was eight years of age. Some valuable things were learned, however. I had learned every wrong way to play that has ever been devised. From this I can truthfully say, “It is hard to play wrong and it is torture”.”

Jerome Callet

The following story comes from Jerome Callet’s book Superchops.

Jerome Callet, for the first twenty five years of his life, was a frustrated embouchure failure. The more avidly he sought to develop his embouchure, using the best teachers and most accepted methods of the time, the worse he performed.

In utter frustration, he decided to devote his life to finding out why no one could teach him how to develop a good embouchure, and indeed, whether it is even possible to develop a good embouchure. Perhaps he thought one has a good embouchure as a result of natural capability, body development etc.

His first assault on the problem was to study the chops of great players in photos of these artists while they were performing. He noticed that most of the great players were positioning their chops on the mouthpiece in direct contradiction to all the accepted embouchure methods!

More amazing, he found out that none of the world’s greatest trumpet players could teach their children to play!! The reason for this is that while they believed what was being taught to beginners was correct, they themselves played differently. As a result none of these artists, probably because they could not describe the “feel” that a proper embouchure gives, never had a child who amounted to anything as a performer!

From this beginning and after 30 years of research, Jerome in Superchops shares his findings with his fellow trumpet players in a wonderful combination of book and video.

Outro

As you can see there are famous brass teachers here of varying popularity. The methods that each of them went on to develop and promote were all quite different but one message remains constant. None of these teachers felt that the traditional approach to brass teaching was adequate and yet to this day the traditions that they spoke out against remain.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief insight into the world of the trumpet guru. If you have, then please feel free to comment below and share on social media.

~iii<0

How effective is my practise?

As an instrumental music teacher the subject of practise is one that I discuss almost on a daily basis with all kinds of people. Usually it’s with my pupils or their parents but it is a topic that comes up in social situations too. Maybe I’m chatting with someone about cookery, open source software or learning a language; eventually the subject of practising to learn new skills will creep into the conversation. I also tend to talk a lot about podcasts and YouTube videos as I can be quite an obsessive consumer of these at times. I find it quite mind-blowing how much you can passively learn over time just from listening to others talking about their passions and interests.

One YouTube channel that I’m a bit of a fan of is that of Mike Boyd. Mike constantly tasks himself with learning new skills and in the past few years has learnt over fifty-two new skills. These vary from the frivolous, such as spinning a ball on his finger or doing a wheelie on a bike, to more serious skills such as swimming a mile in freezing cold water. Mike, it appears, is a real master of mind and body… or is he? I think that if you were to ask him then he’d probably say no. What Mike seems to be master of is practise.

A recent video that Mike put out featured his wife Kim, who learned to juggle as a test to see whether or not Mike learns skills faster than the average person. You can watch this video here, but please remember to read the rest of this article… you haven’t gotten to the good bit yet!

This video really got me into thinking about how I describe the process of practise to people. I’ve done it in a couple ways in the past and neither of them have been particularly effective.

I’m not a fan of the traditional model of music practise that is sold to keen beginners when they take up an instrument. By that I mean getting your instrument and music out, standing in a room alone and repeatedly struggling to get better at the work you’ve been set for half an hour per day, every day. My modus operandi goes like this: I leave instruments and mouthpieces lying around in most rooms of the house. Whenever I walk into a room, get bored whilst sat at the computer, am forced to wait the labourious ninety seconds for the kettle to boil, etc., I pick up an instrument and I start to play. This way I do between five and ten minutes of practise repeatedly throughout the day. This is how I learnt to play when I was young and playing along to the radio in this way is how I learned to play by ear and later developed that into perfect pitch. Another way this system can work is to have a trumpet or cornet nearby when watching television. Whenever the adverts come on you can play for a few minutes. Working like this I would set goals to achieve in that short time and it’s a very effective way to add a little pressure to your mini practise sessions. I’ve told many of my pupils about this way of working. To date I’m only aware of one of them who has actually tried it. I know this because after six months his trumpet had been dropped and knocked off of tables so many times that it needed replacing… #facepalm.

Another thing that I’ve often reserved for more experienced players is simply describing how many hours of an average week I would spend playing my cornet or trumpet between the ages of twelve and sixteen. During that time I attended brass band rehearsals twice per week (four hours). I played in two bands at a Saturday morning music club (two and a half hours). I had a weekly lesson (half an hour) and a couple of lunchtime music groups at school (one hour). In an average week I was engaged in musical activities for a minimum of eight and a half hours before personal practise. And that’s an average week without concerts on the weekends or county brass band or concert band courses to attend. There actually weren’t very many of these minimal “average” weeks. Telling people this information rarely inspires them to try harder so these days I just save it for someone who needs a scare.

In Mike Boyd’s videos he places a counter on the screen so that the viewer gets to see how much time he has dedicated to practising his new skill. In the video above it took Kim just over four hours to learn to juggle three balls continuously for over thirty seconds. She did this over the course of eight days, which is an average of half an hour per day. If Kim were to have only spent ten minutes per day, six days per week, practising then it would have taken a month to achieve her goal. In all likelihood it would have taken longer because a basic familiarity with the task would have taken much longer to settle in her mind and muscle memory.

The problem with this comparison is that it isn’t simply one thing that you are trying to learn when you pick up a musical instrument. What if the skill that you are trying to master is playing one scale from memory and it requires four hours of continuous practise? Well, if you were to practise one scale at a time for ten minutes per day then you could learn all twelve major scales in a year. But after eleven months do you think you’d remember the first scale that you learnt to play? Maybe. (click this link to learn more about my method of teaching scales. There’s also a book about it in my store.)

Here’s another example: a student has an exam coming up in two months and they still cannot play the required music from beginning to end without stopping. If they practise for ten minutes per day, six days per week, then as far as playing time is concerned the exam is eight hours away. It is 9am, could they take the exam at 5pm and pass?

All in all I think there’s a lot of perspective to be gained from doing some simple maths relating to instrumental practise. It’s a great way of understanding how much work needs to be done but also a good way of allowing yourself to accept your limitations in terms of progress. Are you having trouble with double tonguing? How many hours have you invested in nothing but trying to improve it? Maybe you could learn it in four hours of dedicated practise. But something else that Mike Boyd does is research. If you’re struggling to do something on your instrument then it’s best to find out how others do it before you waste time practising the wrong way. It takes longer to over-write a bad habit than to form it correctly in the first place.

The most important things are motivation and enjoyment. Enjoyment can even be used as motivation! I always tell my pupils that it’s fun to be good at something and you get good by setting goals. So, what are you going to learn this week?

Two exercises from Trumpet Yoga

Trumpet Yoga was one of Jerome Callet’s first books, the first edition was released in 1971. Outlined in the book is how one can develop their embouchure by holding the top lip in an unfurled position, which you discover through the use of double pedal note exercises using an Einsetzen-type embouchure. The second edition was published in 1986, strangely only a year before Superchops, which seemed to describe quite a different system. I don’t actually believe that there was an awful lot of difference from the resulting embouchures that would come from following either of these systems, but instead it shows a change in the focus of Callet’s instruction. Superchops was generally more focused upon how the lips move over the top teeth as you play across the range of the trumpet, although this idea is already mentioned in the second edition of Trumpet Yoga. Superchops also included some of the ideas, such as spit-buzzing, that later lead the the system that many refer to as TCE (a name thought up by Bahb Civiletti whilst working on the Trumpet Secrets book). I can’t avoid plugging my own book at this stage (click here) because its purpose was to make the information from Trumpet Yoga available again to the trumpet community.

As part of the process of writing Exploring The Double Pedal Register I took some time to re-write the text fromTrumpet Yoga. The reason for this was twofold. The text in that book is not actually very easy to understand because it often drifts between different topics within each paragraph. As well there are a few mistakes that you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t familiar with the system. I also wanted to make sure that I completely understood what Jerry was after back then, and how it compared to more recent ideas. I took the time to sort every sentence into categories so that you have a set of instructions relating to lips, air, jaw, tongue and method. I was pretty surprised in the end at how complete the instructions are when presented in a way that is easier to digest. It is my impression that Superchops is not so complete but I do intend doing going through the same process with that book too so I’ll report back once that is done.

The bulk of the method is based around the warm-up and lip conditioner mentioned above. Following that there are a number of exercises and melodies that will help a player to practise their upper register. Jerry makes it very clear that when working on this material your focus should be on tonal centre and perfect intonation. Hidden in the text besides the Einsetzen/Ansetzen exercises are couple exercises that I would like to share here as I think they are interesting and players may find them helpful.

The way that Jerry described breathing in Trumpet Yoga was much more similar to how some more traditional pedagogues may approach the subject. Whereas in his more recent work he puts a lot of emphasis on the avoidance of overblowing, stating that you only need about a third the amount of air that most would, in the earlier days he taught that you should “fill up as low as you can in the abdominal area … with a conscious effort towards more wind power”. Another key statement is this: “On intake of air the abdominal muscles are loose and relaxed. On exhale, abdominal muscles should be as firm as possible”. This shows that he had identified the role of the abdominal muscles in compressing air, an idea that wasn’t discussed much in the 1970s. Even today in some circles people with insufficient knowledge allude mysteriously to air support without even saying so much or even suggest the opposite action, mistakenly believing that the diaphragm has something to do with exhalation.

The first exercise is intended to teach you to identify the correct sensation for abdominal firmness. Lean backwards slowly until you are facing almost straight upwards. In this position notice how the abdominal muscles are stretched and firm. Try playing in the middle register whilst slightly leaning backwards and listen for how this effects quality of tone. Only do this for a short time so that you do not cause yourself injury! Once you are familiar with the feeling of firm abdominal muscles you should aim to use this as a means to generate air power. In his video Got High Notes? Lynn Nicholson mentions how he leans backwards slightly as he plays for this very reason. Interestingly I have also heard of a very similar exercise being used by clarinet players which involves holding a steady long tone whilst leaning forwards, backwards and rotating to both sides.

The second exercise is an isometric exercise for the lips. There are many forms of isometric exercises that are used by brass players. Most of them involve some kind of tool, such as a Warburton P.E.T.E., a pencil, or in some cases a mouthpiece. Bahb Civiletti recommends the use of a device that he calls Monster Chops (click for video), you can learn about from on his website. Depending on how you are trying to develop your facial muscles the intentions and instructions for the exercises may differ. For this exercise unroll both lips as much as you can (this is not the same as a pucker, the corners of the mouth do not move inwards and the chin should not be pulled flat), push the jaw forwards and close the teeth, push the lips together feeling the inner red part of the lips in contact with each other. Hold this squeeze for ten seconds at a time. It is easy to over-do isometric exercises so take it easy! When you are familiar with this sensation you could try it with the jaw open and pushing air through the unfurled lips. I believe that adding articulation to this isometric exercise may have been what first lead to developing the spit-buzz technique that has become an essential part of learning the Superchops system.

Admittedly both of these exercises are a little odd, but I have had use from them both. At the end of the day a lot of what we do as brass musicians could be seen by most as pretty strange. Although neither of these exercises would form a part of Jerry Callet’s current teaching, it is (for me at least) interesting to learn more about the history of his innovations.

As always please feel free to comment below, click Like and Share on social media, get in touch using the link above and enjoy learning about the trumpet!

Do you know why?

Introduction

In recent months I have been teaching pupils about the Tongue Controlled Embouchure over Skype. This has been a really valuable experience for me as a teacher because it has enabled me to refine resources and see how a number of people respond to using them over time. For those that I am teaching their fees pay for three things. Access to resources without cost, the lesson itself, and a summary email in which I write in greater detail about the concepts that we have covered in the session. Something else that I’m gaining from the experience personally is affirmation that these techniques really work. It isn’t only that I happened to have stumbled across an esoteric method that works for me but I have taken this knowledge and managed to package it together in a way that is really helping people to improve their trumpet playing technique. That’s a good feeling.

A subject of conversation that tends to come up with some pupils fairly frequently is the one of how this information compares to the more traditional approaches and whether similar benefits would be found from practising any set of progressive exercises. Specifically there are three techniques that keep arising and those are to be the subject of this post. Since my switch to TCE I’ve adopted a pretty hardcore means to trimming down aspects of trumpet practise to make sure I get the most out of it. I have a simple rule that governs what I believe to be a no-nonsense strategy: If you’re practising a technique and don’t directly observe improvement to some aspect of your playing within two weeks you’re either doing it wrong or it doesn’t work.

Having this strategy means that you need to have a pretty fixed idea about the definition of improvement. At my stage of playing I keep an eye on a few things, in this order:

  1. Quality of tone
  2. General ease of playing
  3. Maintenance of or improvement in range

I actually think that these few things are all linked so I know just from listening whether I’ve upset the balance, or improved it.

With that in mind I invite you to ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you know why you play pedal notes? What are they actually doing to your embouchure, and how is this benefiting your playing?
  2. Do you know why you practise bending notes off pitch centre and how (or if) it is improving your playing?
  3. Do you know why you buzz on the mouthpiece? Do you realise that in physical terms mouthpiece buzzing is not the same as playing your instrument and the ways that it could actually adversely affect your embouchure?

Mouthpiece Buzzing

This is a topic that is a little over discussed already. To date the trumpet community is still pretty divided on the topic. So far as I can see there are basically three opinions:

  1. Good: Buzzing is completely invaluable, Bud Herseth used to do it an hour a day, therefore so should you.
  2. Bad: Buzzing causes problems like too much lip tension and overblowing. It is also not the same thing as when you play the instrument.
  3. Ugly: It’s pointless. Don’t do it.

In a masterclass with trumpeter Jim Watson I remember him once saying that he wouldn’t waste time practising anything that he wouldn’t need to do on stage. The attitude would eliminate the need for mouthpiece buzzing, and echoes the thoughts of some other popular schools of trumpet pedagogy. Those who support buzzing believe that you are refining both your aural skills and your embouchure co-ordination. Some also use mouthpiece buzzing as a way to improve breath control.

Having spent a lot of time doing this myself I wouldn’t really deny that people could benefit in these ways from the practice, but in recent years I have come to believe that buzzing on the mouthpiece can have negative consequences too. The famous American teacher Bill Adam advocated the practice of buzzing pitches on the lead pipe. Because there is a column of air in the lead pipe your lips are vibrating in sympathy, more similarly to when you play the whole instrument. In order to keep this true, however, there would only be about four notes that you should play on the lead pipe and many who buzz in this way are bending things all over the place by trying to play scales and melodies.

This is the problem with mouthpiece buzzing in general. Because of the length of the tube there is no pitch centre. Therefore your lips cannot vibrate in sympathy with the column of air and it is necessary for you to tense the lips and overblow for any tone to be produced. If this approach lines up with your understanding of how to play the instrument then your stamina and range are going to be quite seriously restricted. It’s basically a brute force approach to playing.

The Buzzing Book by James Thompson describes how buzzing on the mouthpiece will enable a player to develop their aperture and air control in order to enable them to play in pitch centre, but considering that there is no pitch centre without a length of tube this seems to be a bit of a contradiction. Whilst reading through this book for research I stumbled across a pitch-bending exercise that I once saw a student practising as part of their warm-up. When I asked them about it they couldn’t explain why they were doing it or whether they felt that it helped them to play better. I would argue that even the uncertainty is reason enough to stop doing it, but this person was not my pupil so I only hope that our conversation provoked them to quiz their teacher for further details. Many of the exercises in Thompson’s book are recommended that you play first on the mouthpiece and then on the trumpet. I’m sure that they can help people by increasing awareness of how it feels to play the instrument when doing these exercises but I also think that many are confused into believing that there is an esoteric muscle development or tissue manipulation that will improve their sound and other aspects of playing over a long period of time. Personally I just don’t think that’s true.

There are other methods of buzzing without the instrument such as free “loose-lip” buzzing, spit buzzing and Lynn Nicholson’s Rimpet/HMH. These are also interesting techniques, but I’d go way over my word-limit if I started on about all that!

Pitch Bending

Pitch bending is the process of playing a note and then using the embouchure to force the pitch away from the resonant centre until you reach the pitch of a different note. As a brief co-ordination exercise it can have value in teaching people to hear and feel what it is like to play in tune verses playing out of tune. However, as part of daily practise I think that it is pretty detrimental. I’ve heard it said in a lecture that note bending “trains the fine muscles in your lips to improve control and tone”. I’d love to know exactly which muscles they are. In fact I’m very confident that no such muscles exist and this was somebody’s attempt to explain something they don’t understand by talking nonsense until everybody listening is in such awe of their “knowledge” that they submit to believing that they just aren’t experienced enough to understand.

Consider the idea that by bending notes off pitch centre there are two things that need to take place:

  1. You are forcing the lips to work against the physics of the instrument.
  2. In order for the lips to vibrate contrary to the resonant frequency (pitch) of the air column you need to blow more air.

Even without my critical analysis of the technique please answer me this question: Why would you want to dedicate time and effort to improving your ability to play out of tune with a bad sound? Do people not have enough intonation problems without them spending time cultivating the ability?

As with the mouthpiece buzzing, these sorts of exercises can help somebody to hear and feel what it is like to play on pitch, but as a mundane routine without measurable improvement I cannot see any longer-term advantage. Many people are promoting the idea of wrestling the instrument under control as though it’s a battle of player vs trumpet. None of the world’s best players think that way.

Pedal Notes

As you may have seen in a previous post of mine playing pedal notes is a part of the TCE practise routine. However the method that I teach is vastly different from those you see in the school of Louis Maggio, Claude Gordon or James Stamp. These, the more traditional advocates, define pedal tones as including pitches moving chromatically downwards from the trumpet’s lowest available pitch and spending time cultivating a strong pedal C, among other things. I’ll spare you all the rant about why I believe pedal C to be a pointless venture as I’m sure you could find it elsewhere in my writings, but we do need to think for a minute about how these pedal notes are produced.

The first step to playing pedal notes is to find the first pedal note, F. This is first achieved by playing a low F-sharp and bending it downwards by a semitone. Once this “lip position” is secure then you have to fight the instrument to produce this same pitch on the “correct fingering”: just the first valve. When you were playing the F on all three valves you were only bending the pitch off centre by a semitone. When you play it with only the first valve you are now bending the note off centre by a Perfect 4th. When settled with this procedure you can keep adding valves to find your way chromatically down to pedal C-sharp. The pedal C is a whole different beast because you are actually bending a pitch, which is an octave lower than the low F-sharp, upwards by a tritone. It is hard to do because your lips want to vibrate in sympathy with the air column at a pitch an octave higher (i.e. low C). Anyway… we now have enough information to see that yet again the general theme here is forcing the instrument to produce notes off-centre, working against how the instrument is designed to function and in all likelihood overblowing as a means to grapple it under control.

What it really brings into question however, is why people believe there to be benefit to doing these things. When you play pedal notes in the traditional way the instructions given are often pretty strict about maintaining the same embouchure as you descend. Whereas with einsetzen/ansetzen exercises the player discovers a balanced lip position, develops efficient use of air and learns how to play across their range with minimal mouthpiece pressure. There don’t appear to be any detailed justifications for the traditional method at all. Is that why people are divided about whether or not we should bother doing it? There’s just no evidence that it works. There is often illusion to relaxing the lips and aligning the jaw, but both of those things are contradicted when you consider that tradition approaches to playing also advocate tight mouth corners and tongue level (using the tongue level to manipulate pitch results in movement of the jaw). Jeff Smiley has a section in his book where he describes how many mistake cause for effect when coming up with playing techniques. However you should strive to make up your own mind. Apply the strategy above and see whether or not you see measurable short-term improvement.

Conclusion

So there we have it… if nothing else this post is intended as food for thought. Even if it serves no purpose than to force those who take a different approach than me to consider and justify the reasons that they practise these things then that justifies me taking the time to write it. But it would be really good if some readers can take the time to honestly look at the time and effort you put into your maintenance routines and ask yourself:

“Are these exercises actually making me into a better player? Have my tone, power, range and endurance been the same for a decade or more? Do these exercises help me at all? What would happen if I were to just stop doing them?”

With information about modern approaches to playing being freely available online I believe that it’s only a matter of time before we realise that much of the teaching techniques, gimmicks and accessories that we used in the twentieth century were just a stepping stone to what we have now and that players can just stop wasting countless hours in the practise room cultivating destructive skills and instead spend the time playing challenging music.

~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

Why Write A Book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

~iii<0