TCE and Superchops, same or different?

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

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

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

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

What’s the difference between Superchops and TCE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There Actually A Trumpet Method By Jerome Callet?

Is There Actually A Trumpet Method By Jerome Callet?

A short discussion by Richard Colquhoun

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

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

Celebrity endorsement?

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

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

His own worst enemy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing my first ebook!

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

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

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

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

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

And I would encourage you to VISIT MY STORE.

Franquin, transposing trumpets, Bahb Civiletti & the TCE

Recently I’ve been reading a little about the old French trumpet player and pedagogue Merri Franquin. In 1912 he invented a four-valved trumpet in C. The fourth valve worked differently from the standard three in that it raised the pitch of the trumpet by a tone – like a backwards first valve. The purpose of this valve was twofold. First of all it enabled the player to play a trill on any note using this valve; and secondly it addressed the tuning issues on the low D and D-flat. The advent of the movable valve slides (credited to Theo Charlier in 1900) solved this issue in a mechanically simpler way and combined with many players seeing the new trumpet as a “cheater’s instrument” (where have we heard that before?!!) it never gained widespread popularity.

Something else that was common at that time was trumpets with a A/B-flat transposition key. You can still find these instruments on eBay and lying in cupboards but unfortunately they’re rarely in good playing condition.
Today I dug out one such trumpet in a school that I teach at. It’s a small bore instrument with fixed valve slides and a crumbled bell. It’s quite a leaky trumpet at the tone it produces is pretty fluffy as a result. An interesting thing is that because of the bore size it fits nicely into my model “long trumpet with a small mouthpiece” preference that I mentioned in my previous post about mouthpieces.

To show how this works I made a short video of me playing an excerpt of Telemann’s Trumpet Concerto in D that you will find below. The video doesn’t have any talking on it so I will give a  short explanation here:
In a lesson with Bahb Civiletti last year he suggested to me that in order to gain the accuracy, centered pitch and stamina for baroque music I should practice all piccolo pieces on the standard B-flat trumpet. To many this will sound ridiculous, but playing with the Tongue Controlled Embouchure allows me to do this without the physical effort that most use to play in the high register.
In this demonstration you will see me play an excerpt from Telemann’s concerto, ascending to an F above Double C on a century-old, worn-out, leaking trumpet in A.

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

For more about Bahb Civiletti visit http://tce-studio.com/

Enjoy! ~iii<0

Why do people think TCE is bad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Einsetzen and Ansetzen

What is Einsetzen/Ansetzen?

An article that describes, defines and explains the use of these lip positions in modern trumpet embouchure systems by Richard Colquhoun

Intro

One of the highlights of spending time with Bahb Civiletti in April this year was having the chance to watch him teaching TCE to trumpet players who had not tried it before. The thing that really stood out for me was how simple he made this process. Since then I have been thinking a lot about the simplest ways to explain the principles of TCE to those interested in learning about it. In a similar manner to how Claude Gordon describes technique in the start of his Systematic Approach I believe that you could list three independent ideas, each with a some exercises for working on them, and arrive at a pretty comprehensive understanding of the Tongue Controlled Embouchure that you can apply in daily practise to improve your trumpet playing.

These principles are as follows:

  1. Anchored tongue, through the teeth.
  2. Correct use of air (quantity and compression).
  3. Einsetzen/Ansetzen.

In a few posts that I’ve written previously (these ones: 1, 2, 3) I have explained two of these ideas and the purpose of this post is to explain the third – Einsetzen/Ansetzen.

Terminology

The terms Einsetzen and Ansetzen originate in French horn technique. They are not terms that are usually associated with trumpet playing and I don’t know how, if at all, they relate to players of larger brass instruments. In his book Complete Method for French Horn, Oscar Franz describes Einsetzen as meaning “setting in” and refers to it as an embouchure type ideal for low horn players for which the player has to unfurl the bottom lip and set the mouthpiece “within the inner part of the lower lip”. In contrast Anstezen means “setting against” and refers to placing the mouthpiece on the outside of both lips – this is most people’s “normal” lip set up. In his book The Art of French Horn Playing, Philip Farkas basically dismisses the use of Einsetzen in modern playing due the demands put upon modern players and the need for a different kind of mouthpiece for playing in the Einsetzen position. He goes on to say that modern embouchures are a combination of the two older techniques, but claims that this is exclusively in French Horn players as a result of technique having evolved from a dual system to a single system. Whilst this was probably true at the time Farkas wrote his book it is no-longer the case as it is exactly this idea that forms the basis of Jerome Callet’s earliest book Trumpet Yoga (published in 1971).

It was in learning to use the Einsetzen embouchure to play notes in the double-pedal register and in moving from the unfurled position into the normal playing register that Jerome Callet discovered the ability to develop what he went on to call Super chops. Another term that has been used, which I believe better explains the result of using these lip positions, is lip-to-lip isometric. This is something that is very difficult to describe in words and before I had lessons with Bahb Civiletti I had not fully grasped the benefit of the exercises and the resulting ease of playing that comes from learning them. In fact I had taught myself to play double pedal notes about three years earlier and practised them a lot in various ways but after only one lesson and a week of practising my efficiency and perceived strength had increased measurably. I actually don’t think that it is a matter of strength at all, just simply finding the right balance in the way the lips grip. It is not too dissimilar to the balance that Jeff Smiley describes in his book The Balanced Embouchure.

Double Pedals

Pedal tones are notes that you produce on the trumpet that are lower than the harmonic series allows you to play. Playing pedal notes is not a new idea as they can be found extensively in the teachings of Louis Maggio, Claude Gordon, Pierre Thibaud, and plenty of others. These teachings, however, deal with playing notes that are close to those in the playable range of the instrument. Generally one will learn to bend a low-F# down a semitone, then learn to play that note with only the first valve – forcing the tone. Once this is mastered they carry on down to the illusive Pedal-C, one octave below the lowest note you can play with no valves depressed. Just for the record, Pedal-C does not exist as a note on the trumpet for physical reasons – i.e. the bell is too small. In my opinion, if you want to play a pedal-C then use a flugelhorn, you will master it in less than a minute and save yourself years of wasted practise. But that’s just my opinion and you’re welcome to explore anything that interests you!

The double pedal register begins an octave lower than pedal-C. Written down, it is the lower note in the featured image at the top of this post. These notes are to be played with the Einsetzen embouchure and when done properly will have a very characteristic sound. It is not the airy, unfocused sound usually associated with playing pedals, bent or fake notes, but actually a vibrant tone. Regardless of it having no real value in music performance this tone is important as an indicator that you are playing the notes properly. Playing notes in this position really helps to engage the muscles of the orbicularis oris. It will also encourage blood flow to the muscles and lips. After playing double pedals for a few minutes your lips should start to feel “fat”. This is not a bad thing; it is also not the same as swelling from working incorrectly. The intention of the exercises is to then keep this relaxed, fat, strong lip set up throughout the range of the instrument.

The Exercises

As with my other posts about TCE, this article is not meant to be a substitute for buying a book or having lessons with a trained professional. I do like to make sure, though, that my readers can at least take on board the ideas that I’m presenting. As with all aspects of trumpet practice, exercises really come to life when you create your own versions and figure out what really works for you.

As a beginner in the ideas of using Einsetzen and Ansetzen I would recommend that you first take the time to explore the Einsetzen lip position. Learn to play the double pedal notes from double-pedal-C down to double-pedal-F#. The biggest challenge is usually in finding and becoming comfortable with the pitches of these notes. It often helps to find them on a piano and try to match the pitch. This is fun! You are making fart noises into a trumpet – I have found with my pupils that the more seriously you take this, the harder it is to do. Be patient; those notes are down there somewhere.

Ansetzen/Einsetzen – The first challenge is in learning to slur (or gliss) from the normal playing register down to the double pedals. It is usually done in the form of two or three octave slides. This is the easier of the two movements and it will reinforce your ability to find the position and pitches of the double pedals.

Einsetzen/Ansetzen – The other half of the equation is learning to move from the double pedal register into the normal playing register. Slur from double-pedal-C to low-C and continue up the harmonics as far as you can. At first this is difficult and you may not be able to play your normal range in this manner. That’s the point of the exercise. Over time you will discover that you can slur from double-pedal-C to higher than you could play before with less effort. The real challenge is to remember how it feels when you are playing music!

Finale

Hopefully you’ve found my brief description of Einsetzen and Ansetzen useful. As with all aspects of the Tongue Controlled Embouchure this is a doing thing. You will not understand it unless you do it. The biggest critics are those who have never devoted any time to practising these exercises. I have found them to be invaluable to my trumpet playing, especially now that I don’t have the same hours-per-day to devote to practise like when I was at college.

As always please post comments and questions in the box below. Share this post and use it as you like provided you give credit where it is due.

~iii<0

 

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 Callet: The Wisdom Behind Superchops

Understanding Callet: The Wisdom Behind Superchops

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

Narrative:

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

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

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

What Superchops is not:

Here are some common misconceptions relating to Superchops:

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

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

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

Correct Sound:

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

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

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

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

Why Tongue on the lips?

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

Here is a quote from the Master Superchops DVD:

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

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

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

Efficiency/Correct use of air:

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

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

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

Final statement:

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

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

~iii<0

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

Dear readers,

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

All the best,

Rich

Use of air: Quality not quantity

Use of air: Quality not quantity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~iii<0

A quote about tone from Trumpet Secrets

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

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

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