Which Books Should You Read About Brass Embouchure?

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

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

Which books should you read about embouchure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Introducing my first ebook!

Regular followers of my blog will be aware that over the last few years it has really changed from its roots as a simple means for me to share idle thoughts and clips of recording experiments into a way for me to explain my somewhat alternative view on trumpet playing techniques and equipment. My most popular posts to date are the ones about Vincent Bach’s mouthpieces, the difference between trumpets and cornets and understanding Jerome Callet. I feel that a few of the gems have slipped by but this says a lot about how my views are alternative – if I were after a huge read count then I could write a lot of generic articles and have the most boring trumpet blog on the web…

A short while back I wrote a slightly ranty post about why I felt I should write a trumpet instruction book and I received quite a bit of positive feedback. Whilst that book has been started I have also been very busy in the last few months since I began teaching people the Tongue Controlled Embouchure over Skype. This has lead to me writing a series of exercises to give to my pupils when addressing development and awareness of their embouchure.

Another thing you may know about me is that over the last five years I have been quite an active member of the Trumpet Herald Forum (actually much less-so in the last six months for reasons explained here). I have spent many long hours reading through almost fifteen years worth of conversations about the Jerome Callet’s various methods and notes from lessons as his ideas developed during this time. The general views that this has lead me to are these: 1) Very few people can get what it’s all about because the information is insufficient. 2) There are not enough quality recordings of good professional brass musicians that use Callet’s techniques. 3) Because the ideas are contrary to many current brass teaching methods people aggressively deny their viability. I see the third of these as being the biggest problem and it is obviously a result of the first two. Seeing as I have the knowledge and experience to tackle these issues it has become a bit of a mission for me to try to take them on and so far I have begun in four ways.

  1. Last year I created the TCE-UK website. It is a factual, mostly static, website that exists for the purpose of explaining the Tongue Controlled Embouchure and attracting those interested to my other work.
  2. This blog has been operational for some time, and there are a series of posts that explain my philosophical approaches to playing and teaching.
  3. I recently began a new channel on YouTube. Although it is still in its infancy the idea is for it to be an informal collection of videos that show me practising and problem-solving using the TCE. The intention is for the videos to be unedited and contain explanations of how I use the TCE and associated exercises to improve my trumpet playing.
  4. I have written and self-published the first of a series of ebooks on the topic.

The fourth of these bullet points is the reason for this blog post. I would like to introduce you to my first ebook titled “Exploring The Double Pedal Register“. The purpose of this book is to share some of the ideas and a brand new set of exercises based upon Jerry Callet’s 1970s book Trumpet Yoga. Specifically these exercises focus on learning and using both the Einsetzen and Ansetzen embouchures as a way to develop your tone, power, range and endurance. I use these exercises every day as a part of my warm-up and doing so makes the process very quick and easy. I have opened a store on this site where you can purchase this ebook using PayPal. For any further information on this topic please be sure to read all of the linked posts, pages and videos in this post and as always feel free to get in touch.

And I would encourage you to VISIT MY STORE.

Why do people think TCE is bad?

There are a number of discussions you can find in forums on the web and blogs of players who religiously follow the teachings of one brass guru or another who try to talk about the Tongue Controlled Embouchure. This is good; discussion is healthy; and at least if people are talking about an idea then that means it is spreading. The problem I see, however, is that the vast majority of these conversations are completely devoid of one thing: participants who knows anything about the subject.

There is a lot of speculation, guess work, fear, and anecdotal evidence from people with very little or no experience of the technique. Many people have tried and failed at TCE, MSC or Superchops and then devote their time to damning the existence of an idea. The question that is rarely asked is whether those same people are actually progressing by following their more traditional ideas…

The truth is that the majority of information available on the subject is poorly explained and poorly or incorrectly demonstrated and the only good book on the subject is out of print.

So here, I propose a solution: Simplify the definition.

One of the biggest problems with TCE not being understood is that the volume of misinformation leads people to believe that there is anything to this method other than this:

TCE means playing with an anchored tongue, between the teeth.

When put in these terms it seems ridiculous that people get so worked up about it all. Sure it raises questions about how that can work, but  I can answer all of those questions with reasoned, researched, logical answers. All of the other ideas I write about, including over-blowing, clean articulation, playing with a centered sound, pedal notes, etc. are things that expert players, teachers, and embouchure gurus have been discussing for decades.

There is no requirement that you should use any particular equipment. And once practiced you can play any kind of music that you normally would with a brass instrument perfectly well.

I often like to finish with a quote, so here one is:

David Hickman, when being interviewed about his book Trumpet Pedagogy: A Compendium of Modern Teaching Techniques stated:

My realization that there are “many roads to Rome” came during my studies at the University of Colorado with Dr. Frank Baird.  His dissertation is titled A History and Annotated Bibliography of Tutors for Trumpet and Cornet.  He summarized the main ideas of hundreds of methods, often sharing some of the more interesting or controversial ones with me.  I was amazed and fascinated with all of the different, sometimes opposing, ways of playing and teaching the trumpet.  I decided then that I would never laugh at or “put down” any method of playing just because I didn’t use it.  By memorizing or referring to various methods other than my own, I have had a much greater success in my teaching than I would have had otherwise.  Most teachers are very lucky to have 20-50% success in making their students into fine professionals.  I have been fortunate to have perhaps a 98% success rate.

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

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


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).


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.


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,


Methods and Mouthpieces – are you a hacker?

Here I present to you what may be the two most loaded topics in trumpet playing and pedagogy.

It is often said that the instrument we chose to play says a lot about our personality. Another way of expressing this is that your instrument chooses you, not the other way around. This is the reason for the ample supply of jokes about violists, french horn players and operatic sopranos; or indeed comments such as “you’re such a typical brass player” or “aren’t classical guitarists weird?”. Well I don’t know about the last one…

Over the last 15 years as I have ventured down the path of being a professional trumpet player I have found that, regardless of an individual’s actual personality, some things appear true in all of us. Trumpet players, despite being the hippest and most necessary part of any ensemble, are complete geeks. Other more appropriate terms may be tweakers or hackers (in the lifehacking sense – see wikipedia definition here, no reference to computer security intended). Although there may be those who disagree, I will state here that this stems from the fact that the trumpet is one of the most difficult instruments to master and maintain a high level of playing on. Equally I believe that this is why it is also one of the most rewarding.

Question: So what is it that you “hack”?

Answer: Methods and mouthpieces (and lead pipes, tuning slide curve, water key design, weighted valve caps…. the list goes on…)

Question: What is it you are trying to achieve?

Answer: The holy grail? A small change that will make everything easier forever more… OK, seriously, a better tone, easier high notes, increased flexibility, cleaner articulation, better intonation, increased stamina… basically a trumpet that plays itself.

Question: Can you not achieve all of these things through practise?

Answer: Hacking is my practise.

And there is the point of the blog post. This is how after playing the trumpet for 22 years I make practising scales, flexibility, articulation, range builders and long notes interesting. On top of this endless game of moving the goal posts I constantly find that reading method books and trying different equipment reveals to me all of the preconceptions that I have about playing and how to break them down. It helps me to make massive leaps forward when I find something that works and I  have safe places to go back to when something isn’t working as it should. This is also why I am a multi-genre player. If I stick to any one style of music for too long then I stop learning from it and begin to lose interest. I love the fact that one day I’ll be playing on a dub record and the next day I’ll be in a chamber orchestra, or wedding band.

And yes, there are trumpet players who aren’t like this. Often you’ll find those who are interested in various methods, but not in changing their equipment and vice-versa and sadly those who never change a thing. It is my opinion that they are missing out. They are missing out on being the best player they can be. I don’t believe there is any such thing as “good enough”.

I’ll end this with a quote. This comes from an article that the great Bobby Shew wrote in 1997. It is currently available on his website:

Don’t be afraid TO TRY!! Better to explore and discover than to keep your head and mind buried in the sand of tradition (and misinformation).