How Copyright Spoils Music Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There Actually A Trumpet Method By Jerome Callet?

Is There Actually A Trumpet Method By Jerome Callet?

A short discussion by Richard Colquhoun

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

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

Celebrity endorsement?

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

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

His own worst enemy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How effective is my practise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Testament to Somerset Music’s Past

Last week I had the pleasure of being hired by Glastonbury and Street Musical Comedy Society to play in the band for their performances of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. I always enjoy playing for a musical and this one featured a proper lead trumpet book for me to sink my teeth into.

Although it’s not frequent for me to write about my gigs this one is of particular note for reasons beyond the music itself. On my way to the band call I was thinking about who was playing in the band for the coming week. It sprang to my mind that this band (full list below) featured three generations of musicians from the Somerset area. Luke Holman, the Musical Director, is an ex-pupil of mine from my teacher training days. He has recently graduated from RNCM and will be heading off to London to finish his studies next year. He was also taught by one of the wind players in the band, Kat Stevens. Both Kat and I were taught/conducted by Kieth Thomas, the trombone player, when we were young. He was my first brass teacher and also got me involved with both the Strode Saturday Morning Music Club and Somerset County Youth Concert Band. Another wind player in the band was Jamie Phippen, who conducted the Centre of Somerset Youth Jazz Orchestra, which I played in as a teenager. Jamie and I still regularly gig together with Kat in the function band DT8. Paul Denegri has been head of brass at Wells Cathedral School since 1986 and as well as being my teacher for three years he introduced me to the paid music scene around that time.

When pressed for a quote on the subject Luke said: “It’s a privilege to conduct your musical ideas in front of the teachers who encouraged you to explore those musical ideas in the first place.”

The reason I think this is of particular significance is that not only is it a real testament to the Somerset Music education infrastructure of times gone by, but it is also quite unlikely to be possible in the future. Unfortunately music education isn’t what it used to be, particularly in schools but also in community music projects. There are vastly fewer brass bands in Somerset than there were twenty years ago, the Saturday-morning music club in Shepton Mallet, which was responsible for the development of many of my peers, doesn’t exist any more because of funding cuts. On top of that, and more importantly, is that there is no-longer subsidy for instrumental lessons in schools. To the best of my knowledge and a quick check on the current Somerset Music website, they don’t even employ peripatetic one-on-one instrumental teachers any more. The closest thing is Whole Class Ensemble Tuition.

When I was at secondary school my teacher had a full timetable in both of the schools of mine that he attended, as well as other schools that I didn’t know about. Being a peripatetic music teacher was actually a viable career path. Nowadays it is down to enterprising self-employed musicians who want to teach to approach schools themselves and try to inspire children to take up instrumental lessons. Even in schools where I’ve had a number of pupils the school doesn’t or cannot provide orchestras or bands for them to play in and will not pay me to do it. Because of the lack of community music projects the children don’t get any ensemble experience and in a very short time parents realise that their lessons are both expensive and pointless. When I was fifteen years old I was playing my cornet for eight hours a week before personal practise. A single twenty-minute lesson per week is not going to produce the same results, and nor is WCET in my humble opinion. After discussing WCET with a colleague I can only conclude that it would be a great addition to a pre-existing infrastructure but that statistics show that by itself it is not an effective way to produce musicians in the longer term.

What at first seemed like an overwhelmingly positive article soon descends into a depressing snap back to reality. There are a lot of hard-working professionals around that want nothing more than to inspire the next generation to take up music for the immense proven benefits of its learning but with vital parts of the infrastructure gone, and the talk of GCSE music disappearing from some schools altogether, things are looking pretty bleak. Whatever the solution is to getting these people together and paying them a wage that reflects both their expertise and hard work, it has yet to be found or seriously discussed in a public forum. I’ve found myself in a position where I’m now earning more money from playing the trumpet than teaching it. I don’t even know whether I’m comfortable with that being the case but after the decade of poverty brought on by giving priority to teaching I’ve had enough.

~iii<0

All views stated above are my own and not reflective of those belonging to any mentioned parties.
Full list of band members:
Luke Holman, Musical Director
Nigel Dodge, Bass
Jonty Hedges, Drums
Matt Holmes, Keys
Mark Shelvey, Keys
Gill Lawson, Keys
Jamie Phippen, Winds
Kathryn Stevens, Winds
Jennifer Campbell, Winds
Keith Thomas, Trombone
Paul Denegri, Trumpet/Flugel
Myself, Trumpet/Flugel

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”]

Arban on Tonguing – The Solid Foundation

A Trumpeter’s Tale

It is not unfair to say that at times I obsess over trumpet playing technique. Sometimes I’ll try to excuse myself by pointing out that it is an important part of my job (as a teacher and player). It’s not, however, an uncommon trait for brass players. Chatting with fellow trumpeters on the job reveals that a lot of them sweat the small stuff when they’re in the practise room and I have been recommended a reading list that could keep me busy until 2026 (for future reference I am writing this in 2016).

The way that I feel I differ from many others though is in the way I have come to use this blog (bear with me, I know that others have blogs…). As you may well know, my journey has lead me to settle on the Tongue Controlled Embouchure in my playing and the best way I feel I can justify that decision is to research each of the elements of the technique so that I can explain and justify them to anybody curious enough to ask. I am often surprised by some of the information I discover and it baffles me how some well documented and distributed information is ignored and forgotten by the brass playing community. This post discusses one such topic, so let’s get going!

The topic of this post is the use of the tongue, as described by Jean-Baptiste Arban in La Grande Méthode Complète De Cornet. Arban’s Grande Méthode is, in all likelihood, the most distributed and translated book on the subject of brass playing in the world. Many people have their own ideas about how to use the exercises printed within its pages and there have been a number of additions written to the standard editions that extend the range and keys of many of the exercises in an attempt to modernise the book. There are also plenty of people who have discarded the method saying that it is out-dated. When teaching and playing at a high professional level this may well be the case; however I think that it still provides a solid starting point for any aspiring brass player and the true value is in how you choose to use it.

Prelude

Recently I was thinking about ways to describe the use of the tongue when teaching the trumpet. I do not insist that my pupils play with the Tongue Controlled Embouchure but I do teach them the principles, which include correct sound, efficient use of air, and solid articulation. I had recently asked some of my pupils to try the Tongue On Lips exercises from Jeff Smiley’s The Balanced Embouchure and they had all demonstrated vastly improved clarity and projection from doing so. I had, however, prefaced this exercise by explaining as it says in the book this is a not technique you need to do in all of your playing, but you do need to be able to do it. (I have written a supplementary post explaining Tongue On Lips here). Having witnessed first hand the instant improvement in these players I then had the dilemma of whether to backtrack and insist that is how they should play, or to find another way to replicate this improved attack.

On remembering seeing the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s trumpet player Herb Smith talking on the Master Superchops DVD about how “this is the method that Arban was talking about” I thought that I should clarify for myself what he had meant. What I uncovered in checking the text of this book has lead me to two interesting things that I will share with you in the rest of these blog posts.

Act One – Scene One: The Solid Foundation Approach

In the 1893 Carl Fischer New Revised And Authentic Edition of Arban’s Complete Celebrated Method for the Cornet (Spoiler alert: there is more about various editions in Act Two…) it says the following:

It should never be lost sight of, that the expression coup de langùe (stroke of the tongue) is merely a conventional expression; the tongue does not strike; on the contrary, it performs a retrograde movement; it simply supplies the place of a valve.
This circumstance should be well borne in mind before placing the mouthpiece on the lips. The tongue ought to be placed against the teeth of the upper jaw in such a way that the mouth should be hermetically sealed. As the tongue recedes, the column of air which was pressing against it is precipitated violently into the mouthpiece and causes a sound.
The pronunciation of the syllable “Tu” serves to determine the striking of the sound. This syllable may be pronounced with more or less softness, according to the degree of force to be imparted to the note.

It is my intention to clarify this writing to form a set of instructions. This will involve explaining the directions given here more clearly and then re-ordering them into a process that can be followed, learnt and practised.

Let’s begin at the top. Please read the following carefully. At first I am not adding to or speculating about the meaning of these terms. It is only my intention to clarify what has been printed.

  • Coup de langùe or stroke of the tongue – To strike suggests that the tongue begins at a distance from something, moves forward at speed hitting the thing, and then retracts to its original position before the next articulation. The text clearly states that this is not what the tongue should do.
  • Retrograde movement – To move backwards. Specifically a retrograde movement is movement in the opposite direction to something else. In this case it most likely means the air or lips as there are no other moving parts.
  • It supplies the place of a valve – This is an important distinction. A valve is a mechanical device that blocks a pipe either partially or completely to change the amount of fluid (liquid or gas) that passes through it. If you are at all unsure about this then take a look at this link.
  • The tongue ought to be placed against the teeth of the upper jaw – Some people have debated whether Arban means that the tip, or the flat top surface, of the tongue should be against the top teeth. There is not sufficient information in the text to draw a conclusion at this point so in the interest of an unbiased analysis I suggest experimentation. What he does not say is behind the teeth.
  • The mouth should be hermetically sealed – A hermetic seal is the attribute of something being airtight. The direction being given here is to use the tongue to block the flow of air before, and by effect after, each note. This is reinforcing the comment about acting like a valve.
  • The column of air which was pressing against it – As a result of the hermetic seal there has been an increase in air pressure in the mouth. This can be felt with your tongue.
  • …is precipitated violently into the mouthpiece and causes a sound – The pressurised (compressed) air is released by the tongue and in bursting through the lips begins the process of producing sound on the instrument. Arban is describing here how the tongue is being used to compress air in the mouth before it reaches the lips. I particularly like his use of the word ‘violently’. There is no room for mis-interpretation of this term – using the tongue to compress air in the mouth and create a violent attack is the way to produce a sound on a cornet.
  • This syllable may be pronounced with more or less softness, according to the degree of force to be imparted to the note – Although the whole process has been described at this point he goes on to clarify that you can use this same process to produce harder and softer attacks.

Now that we have an understanding of each part of Arban’s description I will place them in an order that can be used as a guide for implementing this use of the tongue.

  1. Take a breath – This is obviously necessary and mentioned at another point in Arban’s book.
  2. Use the tongue, against the teeth of your upper jaw, to form an airtight seal inside your mouth.
  3. Pressurise some air in your mouth by blowing against the seal.
  4. Release the tongue allowing the air to forcefully burst through the lips.
  5. Return to step 2 for the next note.

Before I take things in a different direction I would just like to add an observation. There are 88 exercises in the first 25 pages of the method before Arban introduces the concept of the slur. Assuming that a beginner cornet or trumpet student were to use this method exclusively, from the beginning, it could take a considerable amount of time (months, or a year) to practise and learn each one of those exercises. By the end of that time this way of using the tongue would be thoroughly engrained in the student’s understanding of how to play. By comparison most modern brass instruction books are introducing slurs after only a few pages and haven’t even begun to cover the range of notes or rhythmic complexity covered in this start to Arban’s method. I believe that this speaks volumes about the changes to expectations about learning to play an instrument and approaches to teaching over time. Starting out learning to play by establishing a clean, effective tonguing technique is the best way to develop a solid foundation to playing a brass instrument.

Act One – Scene Two: Reading between the lines

The following section is food for thought. If we can agree at this stage that all I have done is explain in greater detail the choice of words used in the American English translation of Arban’s book then nothing above this point is open for debate. Now I will present a few questions of logic that may lead you to agree that what Arban describes is very similar to the use of the tongue by proponents of the Tongue Controlled Embouchure.

  1. Looking back at the original quote, use of the term “retrograde movement” is very interesting as it insinuates that the position of the tongue before starting is a forward position. If the tongue is flat against the bottom of the mouth, anchored to the bottom teeth, or simply out of the way allowing air to flow past it, then this retrograde movement would have no effect.  There would also be no build-up of pressure allowing the “violent” release of air. The tongue must start in a forward position to fulfil its office as a valve, and create an airtight seal.
  2. Air precipitates violently into the mouthpiece – Notice that there is no mention of the lips. This suggests two things: Firstly that it is not the job of the lips to resist the air (this has already been done by the tongue), and secondly that at the time this book was written people just didn’t think about the lips, where they move, or how they buzz/vibrate/excite the airstream. Not because those ideas are wrong, but because they are not necessary for developing technique.
  3. A question of distance – How far do you need to move the tongue to release air into the mouthpiece? I would argue that the best answer is “as little as possible”. In order to allow pressurised air past the tongue you need to move it by about 1mm. My logic being that the further you pull the tongue back then the further you need to move to return it to its original position. The faster you need to play, the less you want to move the tongue.
  4. A tap (faucet) is a valve – if you are relying on the tongue to control compression of the air then it is also helpful to think about how a tap works. In order to maintain compression on longer notes it makes sense not to fully open the valve. This is something that I am often asked about: This use of the tongue is obviously helpful for playing staccato notes, but what happens when I want to play a long smooth phrase? Because they tongue-valve can be used like a tap. This creates a very efficient system for controlling air flow.

So here is our description: The tongue is forward in the mouth, pushing upwards against the top teeth in order to form an airtight seal. Pressurised air is then released into the mouthpiece resulting in a clean attack. The note is stopped by the tongue-valve, preparing the system for the next note. Where the explanation in Scene One sounds about 85% like a description of the Tongue Controlled Embouchure, this is now a complete description. The Tongue Controlled Embouchure is not a new idea.

~iii<0

Understanding modes is all about perspective

As a music theory teacher I rarely come across a pupil who understands modes. Usually they have been vaguely introduced to the topic by a school teacher who has presented the topic to them by explaining that it was a technique used in the days before the tempered scale and that the modes were created by playing from different degrees of the major scale like so:

 
modes-wrong

Although these are correct examples for modes and one way they could be worked out, the point of reference for describing how they are created is completely wrong. If you were to ask someone who thinks in this way how to play a Lydian mode on F then their answer would be “that’s a C major scale”, which it is not. The correct answer should be “that’s an F major scale with a sharpened 4th degree/note”. In fact George Russell and Mile Davis would argue that a Lydian mode is the true starting point for any key, and that we achieve the Major scale or Ionian mode by flattening the 4th. In the following explanation, therefore, I shall do exactly that and you will see why.

The important thing to recognise is that, in modern music at least, each mode has a melodic function. It’s not just that we may choose to compose a melody using a particular mode so that it has a folk sound or creates a particular mood. For each chord we may choose to put into a sequence there is a mode that accompanies it that sounds good and enables us to move and resolve smoothly on to the next chord.

So here’s how it works: There are a couple rules to know and a couple of scales that are not modes of the major scale that you need to be shown. Having these extra couple scales helps you to understand the melodic function of the others.

There are two functions of a scale – tonic and dominant. A tonic scale goes nicely with our home chord.
So a C (maj7) chord, which includes the notes C E G (+ B). You play the major scale or lydian mode over this chord.

Flattening the 7th degree of a scale gives it dominant function.  Here’s an example:

 

perfect-cadence_trimmedThe extra scales you need to know about to aid understanding are the Lydian Dominant (Major scale with a sharpened 4th and flattened 7th). This is actually a mode of the Jazz minor scale (Like a major scale with a flattened 3rd and also known as the ascending half of a Melodic Minor scale). Knowing about the existence of these two scales just helps to fill in all the gaps when defining the function of the rest.

Here are the modes presented starting on the same note:

Modes

The vitally important thing to notice here (which is why the Lydian belongs at the top) is that every time you move from one mode to the next; Lydian – Ionian – Mixolydian – Dorian – Aeolian – Phrygian – Locrian; the note that you are flattening is a 5th lower than the last one you flattened; 4th, 7th, 3rd, 6th, 2nd, 5th, 1st; which means what? – It follows the circle of 5ths!
The circle of fifths is present in all aspects of western music.

Above each scale is a definition of it’s musical function – if it says “dominant” then the sound created will resolve nicely to one of the tonic modes. The Dorian mode is most commonly used over chord ii7 in a ii7-V7-I cadence. The half-diminished scale is the equivalent in a minor key – ii7b5, V7b9, i.
Also worth noticing is that the Dorian mode relates to the Jazz Minor in the same way as the Mixolydian mode relates to the Major scale (and that is the same as the relationship between the Lydian mode and the Lydian Dominant).

Please leave comments if you would like further explanation.

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

At the age of twenty four I had been playing the cornet/trumpet for thirteen years. I had achieved my A-level music at Wells Cathedral School and I had a Bachelor’s Degree in classical music performance on the trumpet from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Having studied for six years with the top players and teachers and received masterclasses with some of the best players in the world I had never, at this point, had anyone explain the details of scales and modes to me, how they spell out the relationships between the twelve major keys and how ridiculously easy they would have been to learn if I’d only understood a few simple facts. Frankly I find this ridiculous and I can only speculate that the reason I had never been taught these simple facts is because the people who had taught me didn’t know them either. This is not in any way a criticism of my teachers; it is, however, a criticism of the way that music and music theory are taught in this part of the world.

When a pupil of mine has been playing for a couple of years, and is hopefully around what we may refer to as a “Grade 3” Standard I will start to teach them precisely how easy it is to learn all of the major scales just by understanding the way that they relate to each other. On the ABRSM Grade 3 trumpet syllabus is the scale of E major so I will begin by asking them to play that scale to me. I then explain that if we were to change one note (flatten the seventh) then it makes a different kind of scale, called a mixolydian scale. At this point it is usually within most people’s capacity to play a scale with one different note. I will then demonstrate that if you were to play the ascending part of this E mixolydian scale but on the way back down only play as far as the A it actually sounds more finished than if I were to carry on to the E I started on. This is a golden moment in aural training where the pupil can hear the function of V7-I in melodic form. This is very important in any genre of western music. This is a lesson that I was never taught. Provided the pupil can then play E mixolydian and finish on the A then I tell them that in fact they’ve just been playing the notes of A major, but starting on the dominant (fifth degree of the scale). So we follow on by playing the A major scale. To date I’ve never had a pupil who, using this method, cannot (without the music) then be guided to play around the circle of fifths all of the way from E major (four sharps) to A-flat major (four flats). Over time all that is then required is that we fill in the remaining three scales and the circle is complete.

By learning about the theoretical function of the mixolydian scale and its practical application a fairly inexperienced pupil can soon lose all fear of playing music in any major key. On top of this there is the advantage of repeatedly hearing the V7-I movement around the circle of fifths and learning how each key naturally guides you into the next.

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”]