Efficient Embouchures

Efficiency is the key to great brass playing.

I believe voice may be the most difficult instrument to teach as everything important happens internally and therefore cannot be observed. The other end of the spectrum could be piano or stringed instruments: difficult to play, yet everything, or nearly everything, important to basic technique can be observed. Performing on brass instruments is closer to the singing end of the spectrum: valve and slide technique, while important and visible, are not the crux of the matter.

Mathias Hoffs
One may observe great embouchures in action by watching the German Brass. Their videographer tends toward closeups that offer the opportunity to observe virtuoso performing in detail. The most startling aspect is the appearance that the performers seem to be doing nothing whatsoever: their embouchures seem immobile and mostly relaxed. The piccolo trumpet playing of Mathias Höffs is especially impressive. His playing seems effortless because one does not see any embouchure motion. He uses firm, frowning corners that never move to set an efficient aperture: all of the work is in the internal tongue dance.

These two videos of transcriptions of works by Bach are especially good examples of efficient embouchures in action:
Bach BWV 972 after Vivaldi Violin Concerto RV 230
Bach Toccata and Fugue in C major BWV564 Adagio

Sarah Willis
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology offers new ways of viewing internal activity. The video of Sarah Willis playing french horn while being observed via MRI scanning is some of the best 'internal' observation yet recorded--the importance of the tonguing for changing pitches cannot be overstated. Watching her tongue ascend until it appears tp be pressed against the roof of her mouth explains the secret of achieving the highest pitches.
Special Studies - John Daniels

Because the technique is mostly internal, great brass playing appears easy, almost magical. Brass playing is not literally effortless, but, an efficient embouchure can make it seem so. Firm, stable corners, with a slight frown and a flat chin are the hallmarks of an efficient embouchure. Exercises that help create such stable embouchures include free buzzing, mouthpiece buzzing, pitch bends, breath attacks and pedal tones. Special Studies by John Daniels offers a good approach to many of these techniques.

Congratulations to Eliza Block

Eliza spent the summer as one of two library interns at Tanglewood before starting a masters at New England Conservatory in jazz trumpet. Congrats!

Congratulations to Anson Martin

Congratulations to Anson for winning the 2018 Commencement Bay Regional Solo and Ensemble Competition of the WMEA.

Congratulations to Nicholas Orndoff!

Nicholas won the Seattle regional completion in the small brass ensemble category and took second place at state. Congratulations, Nicholas!

The Music Lesson


The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten sat on my books-to-read shelf for a number of years, in part because I was not confident that a jazz bass player had much to teach me, a classical trumpeter. Turns out he has quite a lot to teach me and I have been kicking myself for not reading the book and implementing its lessons sooner. Hopefully the excerpts below will convince you to start reading today.

From The Music Lesson:

I play Music, not instruments. . .you are just a bass player. That means you play bass guitar. A true musician. . .plays Music and uses particular instruments as tools to do so. I know that Music is inside me not inside the instrument. This understanding allows me to use any instrument, or no instrument at all, to play my Music.

A true writer can write using a typewriter, a pen, a pencil or anything else that he chooses. You wouldn’t call him a pencil writer would you? Your understanding that the writing utensil is just a tool allows you to see past it and into the truth of what he is--a writer. The story is in the writer, is it not? Or is it in the pencil? Your problem is this: you have been trying to tell your story with a bass guitar instead of through it.
Page 19

You should find the groove before you start playing. It doesn’t matter whether you know the song or not. If you need to, let a few measures go by while you figure out what the groove is saying. Once you find the groove, it doesn’t matter what note comes out; it will ‘feel’ right to the listener. People generally feel Music before they listen to it anyway. Page 31

Never loose the groove in order to find a note. Page 33

If you listen closely, you can find a whole world living inside each note. Notes are alive, and like you and me, they need to breathe. Page 59

Beauty is something you experience, not something you prove. Can you tell me what beauty is, or can you only give me your perspective on it? Can science define beauty? Can you see or touch it, or can you just see and touch something that possesses its quality? Beauty is invisible, individual, and intangible. Interesting isn’t it? It is something you know, yet technically, it is not there. How can this be? Like Music, it lives inside you, and you impress its qualities on whatever you choose. Page 73

Your technique should be at such a high level that you can forget about it. Eventually you will even forget about your bass. Only then can you remember how to play Music. Think about talking. When you talk, the words are your notes. Your tongue, diaphragm, mouth, teeth, lips and so on are you instruments. How you use them to push air across your vocal cords and through your lips to form works is your technique, but you rarely think about that. When you were a baby your technique was not adequate enough to allow you to speak like everyone else. You would babble on and on trying to work it our and be understood. Not having the proper control of your instrument caused you to cry. After many months you finally developed the control allowing you to say the things you wanted to say. That made you happy. The feeling of joy encouraged you to learn more. Page 78-79

I have been warming up my whole Life for this gig. . . All the previous gigs were just rehearsals for tonight. It all leads to now. Page 133

Music is played from the mind, not the body. So do whatever you can to exercise your mind. Page 158

There is only one reason that you ever fail at anything, and that is because you eventually change your mind. Anything and everything you have ever decided to do, you have succeeded, or will succeed, at doing. It may take you a day, a year, or twelve lifetimes, but if you hold your mind affixed on the idea, it will come forth. Page 183-184

Your life is made up of a string of many different phrases. Most of these phrases were put together unconsciously. Now that you realize you only have a matter of days on this planet, it may be wise for you to start living consciously. The choice is always yours. Page 184-185

Most people work with their minds, when playing with them can be so much more effective. Page 233

All experiences as well as all Music are ordinary. It is up to you to add the ‘extra’ quality that makes something ‘extraordinary.’ But like most humans, you risk missing much of the present by putting part of yourself in future or past experiences. Page 242

My new found listening skill was one most other musicians neglected. It wasn’t that they couldn’t listen as well as I could; they just didn’t. I noticed that most musicians seemed to reserve their ears for themselves rather than open up their ears to the rest of the band. I found that when I listened to the other musicians more than I listened to myself, I played better. I realize that listening is a choice. The same is true in conversation. When I listen to other people more that to myself, I know how to respond and support them in a a better way. It also helps me know when to remain quiet. Page 244-245

The MusicLesson

I like to mark passages with important concepts so that I can refer to them quickly. I have never before marked so many passages in one book.

Best valve oil ever?

I am just not really into the equipment side of being a trumpeter--I still play the Bach Bb that James Darling picked out for me at Giardinelli’s in 1980--rather it is the music that I find attractive. Imagine my surprise when I find myself excited about valve oil!

A very thin oil such as Al Cass just doesn’t work with the older, somewhat worn valves that I play. I have tried others such as Hetmann, Ultra Pure, Selmer, and Yamaha, with some success, but I was simply never completely satisfied. That all changed when Jeff Snyder from the Monette shop suggested that I try Tech-Oil. Jeff made some claims about the oil and I said to myself, “Yeah, whatever, how good can oil be?” Well, Tech-Oil is all that Jeff claimed and more! My valves have, perhaps, been faster, but never this smooth or reliable. Honestly, I oil my valves maybe once a month and Tech-Oil works like a dream on all of my horns: old or new, piston or rotary.

Using Tech-Oil is a simple, three step process:

1 Clean your valves--perhaps simply wipe them off with a leather chamois.
2 Oil your valves.
3 Forget about them for about a month.

Tech Oil was created by David Braun. According to David’s website, the feature I find so compelling is lubricity, “Tech-Oil forms a film between the piston and the valve casing. The highly cohesive film resists sideways forces that otherwise cause metal contact and "sticking". Customers have noticed that Tech-Oil often solves sticky valve problems and saves trips to the repair shop.” The key to valve oil endurance is volatility, “This measures the tendency of liquids to evaporate. Many valve oils dry out too fast, requiring frequent application. Tech-Oil stays in the valves by having a low rate of evaporation, allowing use even in hot weather.”

Dave is a somewhat curmudgeonly old coot who has retired and passed the distribution of Tech-Oil on to Steve France at themusic-store.com. Dave charged $12.00/bottle as does Steve, however, Steve offers serious discounts for bulk purchases, hence my lifetime supply pictured above.

Answers from Chris Martin

The conversation below is between Jens Lindemann and Chris Martin, formerly principal trumpet with the Chicago Symphony, now principal with the New York Philharmonic. You can find the original post on Jen Lindemann's Facebook page. I copied the text here so I wouldn't forget about it!

Chris Martin

1. Question: Do you do your fundamentals on Bb or C trumpet ? and why
Answer: I incorporate 5 or 6 horns in my regular practice. Each day I play Bb, C, Picc, Rotary C or Bb, and Eb. I often do much of my warm-up on the Bb but am wary of becoming a slave to a certain routine. It's maybe ironic, but the most important part of my "routine" is variation. I like the "depth" of sound and blow I get with the Bb (the point of focus and balance is deeper in the Bb horn than the C). And I find if I'm too many days on just the C the sound gets a little narrow. Balance and variation around your core fundamentals practice is key.

2. Question: How did you develop your practicing skills in college to go from good to great?!
Answer: I played a lot in college. I practiced a lot every day (often too much honestly), played in brass quintets, jazz bands, recitals, all the usual things students do.
An important lesson for any trumpeter to learn is pacing: pacing in a large symphony, pacing in a concerto, pacing in a practice session and even over the course of a longer period of time. My time at Eastman taught me how to balance my desire to perform as much as possible in as many different kinds of musical settings with the necessary practice hours to take care of my fundamental playing. I'm grateful for that lesson, as I'm conscious each day of that balance. Playing 160 concerts a year with the CSO along with chamber concerts and solo appearances requires planning and organization so that I don't lose good basics of sound, articulation, flexibility, intonation.
Regardless of my schedule, I'm in the practice room every morning for a 45 minute nuts & bolts session (and usually another one at night.)

3. Question: With as much as you play your instrument, do you have unsuccessful playing days with the trumpet? And if so, how do you go about making it a successful practice session, orchestra rehearsal, performance, recital etc?
Answer: Sure I have bad days. I try to minimize the severity, so that (hopefully) I'm the only one who notices. Usually tough days for me are the result of fatigue: not so much being tired from one hard concert but an accumulation of fatigue over a period of weeks or months. Once the CSO is in full swing it's like a marathon from September to July. But that long race of a season is peppered with little sprints like a Mahler symphony or a CSO Brass concert or a concerto performance.
Here are some rules I live by during the season.
1) Be ready for the long haul by starting the season or school year already in good trumpet shape. Starting behind is a recipe for fatigue and injury.
2) Stay in good playing shape with regular practice. Especially key are the morning and evening sessions for preparation and recovery.
3) Remember to rest when needed. If in doubt take a session off or even a whole day. It's much easier to make up for a lost day than work through a cut on the lip or a muscle strain-no fun!
4) Practice every style every week: big Bruckneresque fortissimo style, articulate technique as in Ravel or Stravinsky, Baroque piccolo, solo concerti or sonatas, pp accuracy. Be ready every week for anything. (Tip: Michael Sachs' orchestral excerpt book is a great way to survey your various orchestral demands.)

4. Question: What exercises and/or practice routines do you suggest for building up triple and double tonguing (both for speed and smoothness/fluidity)?
Answer: First, speed up your single tongue. The faster, smoother and more effortless your single tongue the more so your multiple tongues. Herbert L. Clarke's One-Minute Single Tongue drill is excellent. Beginning at a tempo that's comfortable but near the edge of comfort single tongue 16th notes for one full minute breathing when necessary but minimizing breaths. I try for a smooth, easy legato at a nice mp-mf with only one breath in the minute. Hold that tempo for a week; then move the metronome up a click or two or four depending on your progress. Over 8 years Clarke worked his single tongue up to 160! For the secondary "Ka" syllable I often think "Qoo". Say those two back to back a few times. Notice how the "Qoo" is more forward, closer to the teeth and helps the air burst through the lips. Practice whatever syllables you like in normal order, then reverse, then alone, any combo. Practice long lines at an easy tempo then short bars faster than is possible. It takes time to get a fast, clear articulation but always have your ideal sound in your mind as you work.

5. Question: What is the most beneficial thing you did in your practice sessions?
Answer: Tough question but here are three that come to mind:
-Long tones with lots of extreme dynamic contrast
-Shuebruk-style attack drills always expanding in range and dynamic control
-Playing along with recordings: either music minus one types or commercial recordings. This helps train our ear to match pitch, color and phrasing-essential skills for an ensemble musician.

6. Question: We all know that 90% of the guys that go to a professional audition will play perfectly or near perfectly. In your opinion what gets you the gig? Especially going to auditions out of college without having played in a professional orchestra before.
Answer: What is perfect? You could play an audition and not split or chip; does that mean it was "perfect"? What about intonation, phrasing, risk vs reward? Did you play it safe so as not to miss? Did you take too many risks and frackfest an excerpt? My point is this: perfection isn't what it's about. These things are crucial to win an audition: sound, musical sensibility, technical control, ability to judge balance, blend and intonation. Not missing any note ever is neither a prerequisite nor a guarantee of victory.
I don't feel I've ever played a perfect audition, but I'm also my own harshest critic. If I'm tougher on my playing than anyone else in the world then I know I've done everything in my power to be ready on audition day. That knowledge builds confidence which in turn builds a sense of freedom: freedom to trust yourself, take risks, and reach for your best performance. That's how you win.

7. Question: What is your warm up routine and what do you think about great trumpet player Adolph "Bud" Herseth?
Answer: Here's the rough outline of my morning routine. As I said before, it's flexible depending on what I need, but here's an overview. The times given include assumed rests as needed.
5 minutes: breathing bag, lip buzz (Stamp), mouthpiece buzz, lead pipe buzz, long tones, vocalises
20 minutes: vocalises, scales (Schlossberg, Arban, Clarke), lip slurs, multiple tongue...Various horns, dynamics, styles, mutes sometimes.
10 minutes: accuracy drills, attacks (Shuebruk, Thibaud etc), intervals: octaves, 7ths, 9ths, 13ths, double octaves (Bai Lin, Schlossberg, etc)
10 minutes: music. Etudes, solos, symphonies, unaccompanied pieces, etc.
Again, this is a rough outline. I try and balance consistency with variety. I never want to feel I MUST do this routine to play, and I always want to finish feeling strong and ready-never tired.

8. Question: In your experience, what has been the most important element for preparing an orchestral audition?
Answer: Make a schedule for preparation with the goal that by the audition day you can play the entire list (and preferably twice through) in any order at any time of day. Making a schedule helps identify holes in your preparation and gives you a body of work to look back on, analyze and feel good about.

9. Question: What was the one thing that influenced your playing the most?
Answer: Listening and matching (or trying to match) the great players of our time.

10. Question: Chris, how you describing your sound with the CSO brass section? How do you think it should be? Some advices about sound?
Answer: I've been in love with the CSO brass sound since I was too young to play. I always try to meet the tradition of this orchestra and its historic sound as far as I can without losing my voice. Adolph Herseth made such an impact here because he was such a unique voice, but his sound wasn't born in a vacuum. He was influenced by Glantz in NY, Mager in Boston, his experiences in big bands and surely many other factors as he created his trumpet voice. You and I are no different. We are each born with a certain sound, but the more we listen and open ourselves to the possibilities of what we might do the further we can expand our own voice.

11. Question: What are some of our tips for expanding range?
Answer: Get up there every day and try! I'm not a natural high note player, so I play up there often. Keep the high range practice short in duration but high in energy and commitment. Think about "streaming" your sound horizontally through high notes. Practice up there slurred or very legato tongue before adding articulation. Strong attacks help the high range. So, if you can blow into a high D connected without the attack, then when Strauss gives you a nice forte accent in Alpine it's cake! (Well mostly.)

12. Question: Is there a better way to get familiar with the etudes when limited on time?
Answer: Slow practice rules for learning quickly. 10 minutes of slow practice equals an hour at a tempo faster than you can process; that's my experience. Slow your tempo and your brain down and you'll learn it right the very first time you read it.

13. Question: You have one of the most fluid sounds ever! What are some suggestions at attaining such fluidity and smoothness in the sound?
Answer: Read Jay Friedman's articles on trumpet playing at jayfriedman.net. The man heard a heck of a lot of good trumpet playing over the years.

14. Question: Do you think aspiring orchestra players in general need to play large diameter mouthpieces?
Answer: Orchestral players should play the largest mouthpiece made. I'd recommend starting with the Bach 1, and if that's too small find a custom shop and open it up bigger. Not really. Mouthpieces are as individual as our sounds. I play the deepest cup I can and still have brilliance and control-sometimes it's a C, sometimes it's a B. Just depends. I play a smaller rim than I did 10 years ago, and I haven't been fired yet.

15. Question: What is the most important skill you need as a section trumpet player? Why?
Answer: John Hagstrom has a terrific interview series in The Brass Herald coming out now where he discusses this. The skills are no different from any other good musician: attentive listening, pitch and tone control, flexibility.
A selfless, flexible attitude is really vital. Playing section trumpet is tough. You're not playing 1st, but you're still a solo voice. Having a confident mindset and humble attitude ready to solve problems is ideal. An orchestral section must also fit in with the brass section, winds and strings, and so being able to listen beyond the confines of trumpets and brass will win you friends in an orchestra quickly.

16. Question: Hey Chris! What do you think is the best (or your favorite) transposition or arrangement for trumpet solo? with or without accompaniment?
Answer: Anything Jens has done!

JensJens Lindemann rehearsing with Brass Band Northwest at NWBF 2014

Congratulations to Josh Henson, Jacob Shaffer and Nicholas Orndoff!

This year the trumpet studio took the top two spots at the WMEA Commencement Bay regional solo and ensemble competition. Josh Henson took top honors and will be going to state performing the first movement of the Sonata for Trumpet by Eric Ewazen. Jacob Shaffer, pictured left, took second place performing the first movement of Masks by Dana Wilson.

Nicholas Orndoff competed in the Seattle giving an excellent performance of Rustiques by Eugene Bozza. His brass quintet won a chamber category performing Canzona Bergemasca by Samuel Scheidt.