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.

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!

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!

Understanding Callet: The Wisdom Behind Superchops

Understanding Callet: The Wisdom Behind Superchops

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

Introduction:

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

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

Within this article I use the term “Superchops” to refer to the research and teaching of Jerome Callet. “Tongue Controlled Embouchure“, and “TCE” refer to the work of Bahb Civiletti, who has developed the technique further through the addition of different articulations and exercises. Some people use the terms comparably so in the “Narrative” section below I do too. Unless specified I am not referring to any one of his books or videos that share the same name (but could represent different time frames in the method’s development).

Narrative:

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

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

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

What Superchops is not:

Here are some common misconceptions relating to Superchops:

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

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

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

Correct Sound:

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

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

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

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

Why Tongue on the lips?

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

Here is a quote from the Master Superchops DVD:

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

Edit (19th April 2016): Since meeting with Bahb Civiletti I have re-considered my opinion of the necessity of using the tongue to stop the air. My current thoughts are that the tongue is not making an action to stop the air; the fact that the aperture is controlled by the tongue means that the stopping of air moving is synchronised with the closing of the aperture by the tongue. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. When playing with TCE as described by Bahb there are 5-articulations to practise that result in the same thing as thinking about the tongue-stop – the ability to maintain the tongue in the correct position.

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

Efficiency/Correct use of air:

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

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

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

Final statement:

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

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

~iii<0

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

Dear readers,

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

All the best,

Rich

Use of air: Quality not quantity

Use of air: Quality not quantity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~iii<0

A quote about tone from Trumpet Secrets

This is a quote from Trumpet Secrets Volume 1 by Jerome Callet and Bahb Civiletti. Sadly this book is now out of print but luckily I have it!

If the player tries to play with the clearest, most compact and brilliant sound, the player will produce overtones that will project the tone in the largest concert halls. Most trumpeters and trombonists are trying to develop a tone that is not truly characteristic of these instruments. The incorrect tonal abuse causes it to spread the tone too wide. When you play this way, with a “spread” tone, you cannot produce purity of sound for which your instrument was built, and you will always force your tone and over-blow.

Open your ears to the true trumpet sound.
~iii<0

An analysis of tone

Playing the trumpet with an appropriate tone is something that has arisen more than other topics in my trumpet-playing life. There have been a variety of reasons for this. Some of them are related directly to choices or changes in equipment and others are related to the fact that I could be playing in a salsa band one night and a chamber orchestra the next, or a brass band: all of which are thought to require vastly different tonal qualities.

When I first began playing the trumpet at the age of thirteen I had been playing a cornet for a few years already and like many young people who play both I bought a mouthpiece for the trumpet that was similar to my cornet mouthpiece. Not appreciating the difference between the two instruments at the time I had made a mistake – my trumpet now had a dull, spread tone. Years later when I was studying at music college I bought a mouthpiece with a shallower cup than my standard-issue Vincent Bach 1-1/2 C because I could play in the high register for a little longer. My teacher was not at all pleased, saying that I now had a thin/bright sound.

I do not intend this article to be about equipment and those who know me also know that I do have quite unorthodox views on equipment anyway, so I shall now steer things in a different direction. The important question to address is which words we should use to describe the tone of a brass instrument, and what those terms mean. I will also state my opinions about which are desirable qualities and give examples. I am going to present a series of terms in opposing pairs. As with colours, we cannot recognise black (no colour) without the opposing white (all of the colours combined).

Bright/Dark vs Brilliant/Dull

This is probably the easiest place to start and maybe the most loaded aspect of tone that we need to deal with. I feel that it is important and most effective to talk about the sound of a trumpet using the terms brilliant or dull rather than bright or dark because the terms brilliant/dull describe resonance whereas bright/dark actually relate more to pitch. The definition of a brilliant tone is one that is rich with high overtones and is very resonant. In a large room it would echo well as there is a lot of energy in the vibrations. In my opinion this is a desirable quality. A dull tone is one that lacks vibrancy – it is often referred to as mellow but I disagree: a flugelhorn has a mellow tone, but it must still be vibrant, not flat in sound. A dull sound is in technical terms off-centre or out of tune with the resonance of the instrument and is often the result of over-blowing – ironic really because people over-blow in order to make their sound carry.
Here are some examples:

A “dark” sound: http://youtu.be/a53s4jyCqqU?t=1m40s

This music begins with the low-pitched brass instruments. Wagner’s music is often described as needing a dark tonal quality. I think that in performing each part with the intended instrument will result in this quite sufficiently. When the trumpet has a solo at 2:21 you will notice that it does not have a dark sound at all (because that is not the trumpet’s role in the ensemble!!).

A “bright” sound: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSHxFybELNY

This is a soprano cornet player called Peter Roberts who has a beautiful and vibrant tone. This, particularly when he plays softly, is the kind of sound that is often described as bright, when people just mean high in pitch. Again, I would argue that people use the word bright because he is playing a small instrument. Were he to play lower notes on a B-flat cornet then I’m sure he would not sound bright at all.

A brilliant sound: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGi3Mlh4esk

Here is a clip of Sergei Nakariakov playing the Arutunian Trumpet Concerto and displaying what I would refer to a brilliantvibrant tone.

My final argument on this topic comes in the form of logic, and a two quotes from Jerome Callet. The trumpet is the highest pitched instrument in the brass family. It is therefore not it’s job to produce a dark or dull sound. The position of the trumpet in graphic equalisation terms is to occupy the upper frequencies.

“Herbert Clarke said in 1920 that there’s no such thing as a dark sound on a soprano cornet or trumpet and if you try to make that then you’re actually gonna make things harder for yourself.”

“If you listen to a good violinist the tone is sharp and clear and brilliant; the violin doesn’t sound like a bass fiddle.”

Focused vs Spread

The definition of a focused sound is one that has a very distinct pitch. Just as with the brilliant/dull description this is a term best learned by example. You can hear in the previous clip of Sergei Nakariakov, because of the strengths of his attacks in the fast notes, that he has a very focused sound. Strong attacks are an important factor in hitting the tonal centre of a note, especially when playing fast music.
Here are some further examples of a focused sound:

Example 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Fo4TKMknzg

This is a trumpet solo played by Wayne Bergeron, I urge you to listen to this guy as much as you can for a real experience of how every note he plays has an even tone quality right across the range of the instrument.

Example 2: http://youtu.be/Gd3DMG0lXto?t=1h32s
Here is a clip of trumpet player Jon Faddis discussing trumpet sound. If you have the time to watch this whole interview then I believe the knowledge and experience of Jon Faddis to be completely invaluable.

Example 3: http://youtu.be/7qiRWgqNhac

This is a recording of Maurice Andre. It is a perfect example of a clean, compact sound. I firmly believe that these three examples clearly demonstrate the correct trumpet sound. Coupled with a greater understanding of the terms above you can vastly improve your playing in any genre by striving to sound this way (and stop using the wrong terminology whilst you’re at it!!).

As a general rule brass players will try to spread their sound for two reasons. Firstly so that they can blend with other players – they do not realise that instruments blend as a result of good intonation and centred pitch; rather, they spread their tone in an effort not to stand out in an ensemble which ruins intonation by playing off centre. Secondly it’s a matter of power. Players do not understand that being powerful and being loud are two different things. Power comes from a compact core sound – something that is ruined by hard blowing.

Pure vs Brassy/Sizzle/Razz/Airy

The definition of a pure tone is one without any distortions and should be one of the primary goals in terms of desired sound on a trumpet. All other sounds are a direct result of deficiencies in technique or equipment. Deficiencies can also mean inefficiencies – that is wasted energy, which will result in loss of stamina, poor intonation, reduced range and often damage to the player in one form or another. I think it is important to note that learning to add to your tone for the purpose of expression is important and I wouldn’t discourage it; but these are performance techniques and should not be the only way you can play.

The thing that many people call a brassy (or even rasp-like) sound; which is much more of a feature of a trombone due to its cylindrical design; is actually a distortion caused by over-blowing. There are times when it is used to sound exciting, but quickly becomes tiresome to listen to.

My final musical example is actually of a natural trumpet played by Bahb Civiletti and demonstrates a pure tone. http://youtu.be/xyCgghWWLCw

Full/Round vs Thin

I believe the terms FullRound and Thin all to be misnomers. They are words that are frequently used in place of more descriptive terms and it is essential to notice that they are also quite contradictory in nature.
I would define a full sound as meaning one that is both dark and rich in overtones – this is a contradiction.
I would define a round sound as being one that is brassy (over-blown), focused (distinct pitch) and broad (aka spread, i.e. not focused). That is another contradiction. Generally both full and round just mean loud. Have you ever heard of a soft yet full tone? It doesn’t make sense.
The word thin just equates to weakness. Often used to describe a tone that is high in pitch yet unsupported or airy; not a resonant tone.

Finale

I hope that you have found this article to be useful and informative. By adjusting my understanding of the role of a trumpet in an ensemble and by listening to great players, combined with the expert teachings of Jerome Callet, I have greatly improved my tone and ease of playing. For further information about Jerome Callet visit the Superchops website at http://super-chops.com/

Often the greatest knowledge lies in simple logic but as musicians we are fed an awful lot of mis-information during our learning that leads to confusion that can have detrimental effects on our playing for many years. The most valuable tool you have for your development as a musician is your own ears.