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.

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.

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.

Do you know why?

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouthpiece Buzzing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitch Bending

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

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

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

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

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

Pedal Notes

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

~iii<0

The State of the Trumpet Address

I’ve always been blessed and/or cursed with a desire to do things in the simplest way. In my life there have been a number of things that I may have become obsessed with shifting people’s opinions about. Usually it’s just because I think there is an easier way of doing things but for many people the idea of change is a bigger hurdle than the change itself would be. So maybe it could be said that for me the concept of “Learn, Unlearn, Re-learn” comes naturally. This concept is one that comes straight out of Mixed Mental Arts. I like this podcast and the community it has spawned not only because it encourages self-reflection and a thirst for knowledge, but also because those involved have a good way of explaining things that I feel but have been previously incapable of putting into words.

Any frequent visitor to my website will have noticed that it has been nearly five months since I published a blog post. It certainly isn’t that long since I wrote one, but I haven’t written anything that I’m happy to share. Despite receiving a lot of positive feedback for my writing and more readers of my posts per month than pounds that I earn in that time, I feel that in an attempt to share the fruits of my reading and playing experience I may be contributing to a system that I do not wish to be a part of (i.e. a trumpet-ideology pissing match). Subscribing to a modern and yet-to-be widespread method of playing puts me in a position whereby I go out of my way to find multiple sources for any ideas that I promote. I’m sure that I present a balanced set of arguments, backed at least by quotes and sources, if not evidence. But as I am about to explain, this isn’t always enough.

Something else that comes up on the podcast is the concept of internet echo chambers. The internet has allowed everyone access to more information and different ideas than ever before but using services like Twitter, which allows you to select who you follow, and Facebook that actively censors your news feed so that you more-often-than-not see things that you like, creates an environment where you’re only exposed to groups of people that agree with what you say. This can give somebody the impression that they have all of the knowledge that they need and prevent exposure to ideas that could help them grow. Whilst listening to Mixed Mental Arts I often notice myself finding examples of the things they talk about in behaviour on the Trumpet Herald Forum. The forum contains a bunch of self-moderated sub-forums dedicated to specific teachers and pedagogical ideologies. If you’re in the wrong place and you suggest an idea that isn’t in line with what a certain teacher taught then your post just gets deleted. All questioning of the guru’s wisdom is thwarted and in many ways this can prevent newbies from ever understanding how their thinking differs from the ideas being discussed. Naïve realism rules the roost and the idea that somebody could learn from cognitive dissonance in totally unheard of (Naïve Realism is the belief that we see the world as it really is and anyone who disagrees is somehow bigoted or misinformed).

One problem that I believe we’re all dealing with is ego. Let’s not lie about it this one thing: Trumpet playing is hard! I would go as far as to say that the trumpet is one of the most difficult instruments to play and it’s absolutely true that most who try it fail. Whilst music students with other instruments can concentrate on playing and learning about music, brass players have to spend a lot of time cultivating their technique just to make the instrument work at all (Radiohead weren’t wrong when they sang Anyone Can Play Guitar!). This is then compounded by the problem that for many, playing for more than a couple of hours per day is a physical impossibility because their embouchure gives out. It’s not hard to understand therefore that when a trumpet player gets really good at playing that they believe that they’re in possession of the holy grail. This is where the fundamentalism kicks in – if something works for me then everything else must be wrong. Quick, shut the doors, lock the windows, no further learning is required here.

I want there to be no doubt about what I’m going on about here. In a way my ambitions and desires are at least twofold. When I’m wearing my teacher’s hat I want to be able to look at the brass teachers and the education systems that are out there and see a team of enthusiastic experts sharing their experience and knowledge in a way that enables learners to question, think and grow into a better generation of musicians and teachers than have come before them. When I’m wearing my enthusiast’s hat (by which I mean someone with a thirst for knowledge about this crazy instrument I play, who wants to share with and learn from others for the benefit of all, write a crazy blog, be a better trumpeter, take over the world…) all I want is an environment where I can discuss modern ideas, demonstrate current techniques, debate the heroes of the past and come out the other side without feeling like I’ve been bickering with children. The unfortunate truth is however that neither of these two situations are currently a reality, but when I think about it I see the problem and solution to both situations is the same. People believe that the day they leave school is the day that they stop learning. Many teachers out there were taught in an era before the internet made the sharing of knowledge so easy. In those days learning required effort and it was expensive, plus exposure to alternative playing methods from the other side of the world was rare. Well anyway, if you can play or teach well enough to get paid then why do you need to be any better?

There is also a problem that I’ve tried to discuss in the past but I know I made a bad job of it and have since removed the blog post and it goes like this:

  • Many of the great pedagogues from the past taught and adjusted their methods on a pupil-by-pupil basis – Good.
  • Those people are now dead – Shame :.(
  • Neither their books or their past pupils are capable of offering true representations of what those people taught – Fact.
  • People are out there promoting these books and their limited experience of their teachers as the last word on trumpet playing despite the fact that it’s obviously not true – Stupid.
  • There is a better understanding now of how instruments work and how to develop playing technique than when those pedagogues were alive – No really!

I’m not saying that your hero was wrong, but if they were alive today then they would be continuing to build on their knowledge with current ideas so buck up kiddo because your fundamentalism is holding you back.

It baffles me why people are so defensive about the teachings of their heroes. In a recent interview on The Other Side Of The Bell Greg Spence talks about how he has been shunned from the Claude Gordon community because despite teaching techniques that come directly from Gordon’s books he also suggests that players should use tension in their embouchure. Indeed that is all it takes to be ousted. In a blog post on the MMA website Hunter Maats discusses defensive behaviour and suggests that it is a result of insecurity. It’s quite a simplistic explanation, but if the shoe fits, you wearin’ it. I don’t understand what people have to be insecure about unless they can clearly see evidence of their beliefs being wrong and if that is true then why not dig a little deeper and find out more? Or stick your head in the hole, whatever…

In the past we’ve looked at the world of trumpet playing in terms of national schools of playing. The way that anyone learned to play came straight out of the music colleges and traditions in their locality and this made for some interesting variation in styles and approaches to playing and teaching. Globalisation and the internet have changed that. The availability of recordings, books, and direct contact with experts from anywhere on the planet has put us in a position that in the MMA community they refer to as “Humanity’s First Family Dinner” and we all have to learn to tolerate each other’s company because unlike your on Twitter feed you can’t chose to unfollow this one.

~iii<0
As always, please feel free to comment, like and share using the buttons below. Check out my other website. Links to my Facebook Page and Twitter are on the right hand side. This is my Instagram. Contact me for lessons! Have a nice day.

Why Write A Book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

~iii<0

Minor Scales – How I teach them and why I use this method

One of the first posts on Trumpet Planet was an explanation of how I teach people to play major scales. It is a popular post and I still use this method to date with pupils surprised at how easy it is to understand key signatures when explained in this way. If you have not read that post then click here to have a look.

This is another post in the series about scales, modes and tonality and I am going to address two issues relating to minor scales. First of all a discussion about where all of these scales come from and then an explanation about how I encourage people to learn to perform them.

Why teach the harmonic minor scale?

The first step to learning about scales and tonality is understanding why we are learning it. What is the purpose of each scale? How will learning this scale make you a better musician/instrumentalist?

What is the purpose of a harmonic minor ‘scale’ (and why is it in inverted commas?)? The harmonic minor is a group of notes that spells out those which are to be used when writing harmony, hence the name. There is a rule in music theory that states that all dominant chords must be major. Using the key of A minor as an example, the dominant note of the scale is E and, in order to fulfil its function in harmony, a chord built upon that note must be major – meaning that the note G needs to be sharpened. When writing harmony in the key of A minor you will therefore need to use the following notes:

A harmonic minor scale with perfect cadence
A harmonic minor scale (top line) with a perfect cadence.

This isn’t, however, something that is ever used in writing melodies in the minor tonality. That is the domain of the melodic minor scale, hence the name. So why is it that anyone who plays an instrument that is only capable of producing one tone at a time (barring any contemporary performance techniques) would ever learn and practise this scale? It serves no practical purpose. The ABRSM do find examples of music that use the notes of the harmonic minor, but I challenge you to find an example of a melody that features that characteristic minor third (the sound made by moving from the written F to G-sharp above) that isn’t derived from some kind of folk music outside of the western classical tradition.

What’s up with the melodic minor scale?

The melodic minor scale is actually two scales crammed into one. This is because choice of notes in the minor tonality is a little more flexible than in the major. The third degree of the scale (median) must always be flattened compared to the major scale, but the sixth and seventh are flexible – you can flatten them, or not. Flattening these notes depends upon whether you’re in the dominant key area, i.e. if the melody is about to resolve into another key, or if it ends in the key of the scale.

The ascending part of the melodic minor scale is also known as the jazz minor and is the same as its major counterpart except for the flattened third. If you know all of your major scales then armed with this knowledge you can already play the jazz minor by changing one note – a skill you would have begun developing from using my mixolydian exercise. Incidentally, if you were to take the jazz minor and flatten the seventh degree in the same way that you turn a major into a mixolydian, then you would be playing the dorian mode. The dorian scale is a fundamental scale used when learning jazz improvisation. It is much more useful than playing the harmonic minor on a melody instrument.

c-jazz-minor
Ascending half of C melodic minor scale (a.k.a. jazz minor)

c-dorian-scale
Dorian mode on C, included for reference.

The descending half of the melodic minor scale is also known as the aeolian mode, or the natural minor. The name natural minor comes from the fact that this scale, like the major scale, simply follows the key signature – it is in its natural, unaltered form.

c-aeolian-scale
Aeolian mode on C, written in ascending form for easy visual comparison (a.k.a. descending half of c melodic minor)

I find it hard to understand why the scales that make up the melodic minor aren’t taught as scales in their own right, and why exam syllabi ignore the dorian mode completely. For an instrumentalist learning to play in modern times this level of understanding is important. Wasting time learning scales that don’t have a practical purpose (harmonic minor) and neglecting and/or short-cutting those that do matter seems nothing short of stupid to me. Criticisms of established systems aside, I’ll now go on to explain how I have people learn to play each of these scales.

So you wanna play in the minors, huh?

Let’s start with my justification. As a general rule, people learn scales because they are a requirement for exams. Obviously they are a staple strategy for working on the technical aspects of playing, but students are often at a pretty high level before this becomes their purpose for playing scales. Before that, it’s about exams. So picture this, if you will:

You are a student stood in a room with a panel of examiners behind a table and one of them asks you to play “A-flat melodic minor in thirds”. You perform the scale at the required tempo with the designated articulation. Well done. Does the examiner then ask you how you knew which notes to play? Of course not! That’s because it is your practical abilities that are being examined, not your knowledge of theory. Hopefully you can tell from reading this post so far that I do not discount the importance of music theory. What I do disagree with is the way that tonality is presented by exam boards.

Now, here is the theory, just so you know it: The tonic note of a minor key is the sub-mediant note of its relative major. That means: If you want to know the key signature of F-sharp minor, you just have to count down a major sixth (or up a minor third, whatever makes you happy) from F-sharp to A. F-sharp minor has the same key signature as A major. This much can’t be disputed. But if I want to play the ascending half of F-sharp melodic minor I’m not going to use a key signature with three fewer sharps than the major only to put two of them back again as accidentals! That is what conventional theory teaches you to do.

Here’s my system – it’s all about rules. Before you learn a minor scale you must already know the major scale that starts on the same note. Sorry about that, but learning major scales is easy if you know how. I defy anyone who could practice my major/mixolydian worksheet every day for three months and not know every major scale afterwards. Sure it might be hard at first but you will learn. Once you know a major scale then all you need is this:

  • Melodic minor scale(s), ascending (a.k.a. jazz minor) – flatten the third note of the scale.
  • Dorian mode – flatten the third and seventh notes.
  • Harmonic minor ‘scale’ – flatten the third and sixths notes.
  • Melodic minor scale(s), descending (a.k.a. aeolian mode) – flatten the third, sixth and seventh notes.

The word ‘flatten’ in this case only means ‘lower the pitch of the note by a semi-tone’.

So, would you rather learn four rules and get used to applying them to scales you already know, or individually learn twenty-four scales following a bunch of archaic, contradictory rules that don’t even apply to performing music and still not know the dorian mode at the end of it? At this point I realise that I may come across as a ranting crazy person, but I studied music for a decade following conventional understanding and it was only when I began teaching that I noticed how poorly things are usually explained to people and how needlessly difficult that makes the learning process. In teaching both brass instruments and music theory I constantly see the exam boards giving examples of music that have obviously been hand-picked to demonstrate their explanations of theory rather than updating the way that we approach music education.

The American music teacher Jeff Smiley once said in an interview:

Music educators are the gatekeepers of the system, any attempt at reforms must go through them.

I see it as my responsibility as an educator to try and push music education into the 21st century. This includes both my approach to teaching trumpet technique and music theory. Let’s find easy practical ways to teach people things that from this end of the telescope are easy, not confusing.

The information in this post has been written out in full to make up part of my book A Practical 21st Century Approach to Learning Scales FAST! which you can purchase directly from my website using the following link:
[purchase_link id=”1088″ style=”button” color=”green” text=”Purchase” direct=”true”]

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

The Cycle of Pressure

Here is a flow chart illustrating something that I refer to as The Cycle of Pressure. I have scribbled it on paper for my pupils so many times that I decided to make a digital copy to refer to instead. Due to the template I used I ended up adding some more detailed steps. Be aware that as you are playing you could fall into this cycle at any point. The solution is to learn to recognise the symptoms and get out of the cycle before it’s too late!

Untitled-Diagram

 

As always, please feel free to share or use this image as you choose. Comment below; post on Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest etc; enjoy!

~iii<0