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.

TCE and Superchops, same or different?

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

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

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

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

What’s the difference between Superchops and TCE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There Actually A Trumpet Method By Jerome Callet?

Is There Actually A Trumpet Method By Jerome Callet?

A short discussion by Richard Colquhoun

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

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

Celebrity endorsement?

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

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

His own worst enemy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legacy Superchops – A Piece Of Trumpet History

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

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

In summary, Legacy Superchops:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trumpet Guru Conspiracies Part 1: The Failing Student

Intro

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

Part I: The Myth Of The Failing Student

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

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

William Costello

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

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

Dr Donald S. Reinhardt

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

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

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

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

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

Claude Gordon

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

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

Jerome Callet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outro

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

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

~iii<0

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!

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.

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

Idea 1: One Ring To Rule Them All

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

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

Idea 2: The Right Tool For The Job

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

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

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

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

Idea 3: Mouthpieces As A Teaching Aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AOB? The Biggest Lie Of All

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

~iii<0

Why 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/

Tongue On Lips (The Balanced Embouchure Way)

This is a short post to explain the Tongue On Lips exercises from Jeff Smiley’s The Balanced Embouchure. This is only one of a series of exercises that makes up the method and the effect of its practice as a stand-alone exercise may be of limited value. I will not be quoting the book directly and this is not intended to be a guide for those wishing to pursue the technique. Simply put, this post is a supplement to another blog post written here to prevent it from drifting off-topic.

Tongue On Lips is an idea that originates, at least in the twentieth century, in the teaching of Jerome Callet. It is described in The Balanced Embouchure as a means to an end, meaning that you do not have to play in this way, but you do have to be able to play in this way to fulfil the exercise. My personal take on the results that it has slightly differ from Mr Smiley’s, hence the disclaimer-style introduction.

The basic premise is that to tongue on the lips you need to touch your top lip with your tongue as a means of articulating notes. Another basic description is like the classic “spitting a tea-leaf from your lips” to start a note. Some trumpet ideologies, specifically the work of Donald Reinhardt and Claude Gordon among others, strictly forbid this method of attack although it can easily be traced back at least to the methods of Jean-Baptiste Arban and Jules Levy.

In his massive book titled Trumpet Pedagogy: A Compendium of Modern Teaching Techniques (page 29), David Hickman writes:

Lightly touching the tip of the tongue on the upper lip and releasing it in a quick but gentle manner is a good method for beginning tonguing. […] With proper guidance, the student can find his or her most efficient manner of tonguing.

In order to articulate with your tongue touching your lips there are a number of things that have to take place. This is where the beauty of the idea comes into play.

  1. You cannot touch your lips with your tongue unless your jaw is open. Closing of the jaw, especially as you ascend in pitch, is a common problem for players that is solved by practising this exercise.
  2. Having your tongue forward enough in your mouth for it to touch the lips means that the back of the tongue is pulled out of your throat. Many people allow their tongue to recede too much in their mouth when playing, resulting in a “blocking” of the throat.
  3. Tonguing on the lips allows the tongue to perform the task of blocking the air flow, allowing for a build-up of pressure in the mouth, resulting in firmer attacks and generally all-round easier playing. I’ve written before about air compression…

So there you have it. Without going into a huge amount of detail – the how and why you may wish to try tonguing on the lips if you haven’t already. More information on The Balanced Embouchure can be found by clicking here.

If you experiment with this idea then please feel free to comment below. You are also welcome to share this post as you see fit.

~iii<0