Finding the Best Mouthpiece Placement

Trumpet player and teacher Pete Kartu has posted a neat video response to one of my embouchure videos on YouTube.  In his video, Pete demonstrates an interesting idea on finding the best mouthpiece placement for the individual.  Take a look.

I tried it out myself on both my trombone mouthpiece and a trumpet mouthpiece.  On both mouthpieces I found two spots that seemed to work.  One was my normal mouthpiece placement (could be my own confirmation bias, though) and the other was a completely different embouchure type that works very poorly for me on the instrument.  It could be that Pete’s exercise can give us a little insight into the student’s embouchure that just needs to then be worked with the instrument to really know.  What works great for mouthpiece buzzing isn’t always what works well on the instrument.

I’ve heard about some similar ideas.   Continue reading Finding the Best Mouthpiece Placement

Composition Exercise on Melodic Cells

One analogy I like to offer new composers is that writing music is a lot like performing music – it takes a lot of practice to get good at it.  Learning to play an instrument well requires practicing exercises that aren’t really meant to be performed, but are designed to help us develop certain skills.  Composers sometimes forget that we can do the same – develop our abilities by composing music that isn’t intended to ever be performed.

One way I like to stretch myself as a composer is to pick a particular musical element and sketch out some short compositions that only focus on that one idea.  Today I’m going to practice my melodic writing and explain a bit my thought process so that other composers can take the basic idea of this exercise and alter it to fit their own needs and style.

The basic idea (influenced by Hal Crook’s approach to teaching and practicing improvisation) is to force yourself to compose in a box and not worry about any other elements other than the one specific thing you’re working on.  For today’s exercise I’m going to explore the following melodic cell only.

Continue reading Composition Exercise on Melodic Cells

Blue Bells of Motown

I’ve got some upcoming shows I’d like to invite everyone in western North Carolina to come hear.  This Sunday, June 26, 2011, I’ll be performing Blue Bells of Scotland with the Land of the Sky Symphonic Band at 3:00 in St. Matthias Church in Asheville, NC.  This piece is a theme and variations composed by Arthur Pryor, who was also known as being John Phillip Sousa’s featured trombone soloist.  There’s some other great pieces on the program, including works by Percy Grainger, John Williams, and David Holsinger.  It’s been a few years since I performed with this group, but I’m very excited to be taking over the conductor’s baton beginning next season!

Right after this concert I have to run out to Flat Rock, NC as I have to soundcheck for the Music of Motown at the Flat Rock Playhouse.  If you’re a fan of the Motown sound you’ll enjoy this show, which includes music by the Four Tops, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and many others.  The singers are great, the band is hot, and it’s going to be a fun show to play.  If you can’t make the Sunday evening show, you’ve got five more chances to come hear it.  We’re also playing it on June 27, 28, and July 3, 4, and 5, all at 8 PM.

The Jaw Retention Drill

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about how the brass player’s jaw coordinates with other playing factors.  I also described some of the variations some of the different embouchure types have with their jaw position.  It got me thinking a bit about a problem that’s not too uncommon.  Some players who play best with their teeth aligned and a straight out horn angle find that their jaw gets tired thrust forward for long periods of time.  For players like this, Donald Reinhardt had an away-from-the-horn exercise you can try.  He called it the Jaw Retention Drill.

While the outer lower lip membrane is slightly inward and over the lower teeth, protrude the jaw as far as possible; however, do not tolerate strain while so doing.  Sustain this extended jaw position for at least ten seconds.  When completed drop the jaw, open the mouth, exhale rather explosively, then relax.  After a week or so of this routine, the amount of time for the jaw protrusion should be extended.

Encyclopedia of the Pivot System Appendix, p. 3

Reinhardt cautioned his readers to not overdo this exercise.  He often prescribed it to go along with some free buzzing exercises and also the pencil trick as part of a daily routine.  This was to be done at a point in your day when you’re not going to be playing your horn for a bit.  Exercises like these are meant to be simple ways you can build some of the muscular strength we need to play a brass instrument in a way that we don’t risk injury from excessive mouthpiece pressure.

Questions About Bernoulli’s Principle and Brass Playing

How does the Bernoulli’s Principle apply to brass playing? I’m not a physicist (almost completely self-taught in that area), so I must acknowledge that this is an area where I just may be way off base. So rather than try explain this in detail, I’m going to simply offer my understanding at this time and ask my readers to help me fill in the gaps and correct any misinformation. I’ve heard contradictory statements about this from sources I trust, so perhaps this is another area where even experts still disagree.

First, what is the Bernoulli Principle? The relevant part for brass playing is that a fluid (or air, in our case) moving with a change in pressure will also be accompanied by a change in speed.  This physical law is often cited (including by me) as the reason why brass players change the level of tongue arch according to the range being played.  The higher the register, the higher in the mouth the tongue will arch, resulting in the air moving through a smaller area inside the mouth.  The general reasoning here is that this results in the air striking the lips with faster speed/higher pressure, making the faster vibrations for the high register easier.

I recently got an email from Darryl who is trying to help me come to grips with why this might be wrong.

The pressure that one can create by lung pressure is the maximum pressure that will exist just before the embouchure, regardless of how one “narrows” the path before the aperture. The total pressure of the air is, at best, exactly the same as the lung pressure. Regardless of the air’s velocity of flow as it approaches the aperture. Continue reading Questions About Bernoulli’s Principle and Brass Playing

What Mouthpiece Works Best For Each Embouchure Type?

About a month ago I had the opportunity to take a road trip up to Silver Spring, MD to grab another lesson with Doug Elliott.  For those of you unfamiliar with Doug, he is a fantastic trombonist and highly regarded mouthpiece manufacturer.  He is also an expert on embouchure form and function and knows more about finding good mouthpieces for individual players than anyone else I know of.  He was also the major source for my dissertation (The correlation between Doug Elliott’s embouchure types and selected physical and playing characteristics among trombonists – it’s a good read if you have insomnia) and it’s his terminology that I prefer to use to describe brass embouchure types.

While in my lesson last month Doug made some mouthpiece recommendations for me to try, which has gotten me thinking more about how different embouchure types tend to favor certain mouthpiece characteristics.  I’ve picked up some of this from Doug, and some others who know what they’re talking about.  Here are some of these observations. Continue reading What Mouthpiece Works Best For Each Embouchure Type?

Mozart or Salieri?

Many musicians work very hard to develop their listening skills and knowledge of musical styles.  The “drop the needle” or “blindfold test” where you don’t get any knowledge of the music in advance is a common way to test music students’ progress.

Here’s a short quiz you can try out yourself today to see how good an ear for the styles of Mozart and Salieri.  There are 10 excerpts from pieces that were either composed by Mozart or his professional rival, Salieri.

Can you beat 80%?  I have to admit that I guessed on most, but I tried to make them educated guesses.  Probably I got lucky on a few.

Guess the Embouchure Type: Tyree Glenn

About a week ago John shot me an email after coming across this photo of trombonist Tyree Glenn for sale (not sure how long that link will work).  I poked around and found a video that has a couple pretty good looks at Glenn’s chops.  Take a look and see if you can tell what his embouchure type was.  Embedding was disabled, so you’ll have to follow this link to watch it.  My guess after the break.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type: Tyree Glenn

Help Save the Lafayette Elementary School String Program

A friend of mine teaches strings at a Chicago inner city school and they are in danger of having their program cut due to lack of funding.  A mutual friend of ours sent me the following email and asked for help spreading the word.

Dear Friends:

I am writing you today to ask that you join me in supporting a music program that is very dear to my heart. One of my lifelong friends, Art Weible,  developed an inner-city orchestra that is due to lose it funding in September unless private donations can be secured to keep the program running for the next school year. I would like to tell you about Art, his program, and my hope that you can contribute in some manner to this very worthy cause.

Art Weible and I are lifelong friends going all the way back to first grade. In many ways our lives are parallel:  We grew up in Oak Park, attended the same college, married our college sweethearts, and we both have very satisfying careers with the Chicago Public Schools. Art pours his heart into his life’s work and his passion is music.

Art teaches at Lafayette Elementary School in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. He is teaching in a very challenging part of town. Early in Art’s career he won a grant that let him build a student orchestra from the ground up. The grant funded instruments for the kids, rehearsal time after school, teacher stipends, and transportation costs for their performances. Art runs his orchestra until 6:00 almost every day, thus giving his students safe after-school activities. Art’s students have played all over Chicago including Orchestra Hall, the Union League Club, and the elementary school where I teach junior high social studies. They are an amazing group.

The financial challenge the Lafayette Orchestra faces and their fundraising efforts have made the local Chicago news (Windy City Live) and national news (AP and CBS Evening News).

I am asking for you to help in three specific ways.

  1. Click on the links below to learn more about the Lafayette Orchestra.
  2. Make a donation to help keep the program running.
  3. Please forward this e-mail to as many people as you can to help get the word out.

I hope my e-mail motivates you to help out and I welcome your follow-up comments or e-mails. I am sending this e-mail to about everyone in my contact list. I hope we can make a difference.

With many thanks…tk

The links: 

Reasons to Give Story/Donation Site:

The AP story:

Windy City  Live:

If you can, please donate to Lafayette Elementary School’s string program or to a similar program near you.  In this economic climate music programs are being cut all over the country and many of them are in dire need of financial assistance.

Good Practice – Quantity or Quality?

How much practice does it take to get really, really good at something? In his book, Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell argues that the magic number is 10,000 hour of practice.  While I haven’t read this book, the idea that it takes a certain number of hours of practice to make one truly an expert is a common enough one.  It makes sense, too.  If it were easy it wouldn’t be nearly so worth while.  Those who excel absolutely must put in a lot of time and effort into practice.

On the one hand, this idea seems to be an advocate for hard work.  There are no shortcuts, you simply have to practice a lot.  That said, this is also a simple idea and these can be deceptively attractive.  While the discipline to put in all those hours of practice certainly is demanding for most people, the concept is so easy that it can actually turn into a crutch.  Not improving as fast as you want?  Just keep plugging away and in another 5 or 10 years it will be there.  We end up mistaking the duration of our practice for quality practice. Continue reading Good Practice – Quantity or Quality?