People who are familiar with my specific interests within brass pedagogy may be surprised to find me criticizing Donald Reinhardt, as his writings were one of my primary sources for my dissertation. Even though I never studied directly from Reinhardt, he has been a major influence on my approach to teaching and practicing. While I think he has been unfairly dismissed by many brass teachers who misunderstand his approach, the writings he left behind are in a large part to blame for the confusion. Many of his former students, who insist on teaching exactly as he taught, also further exacerbate the confusion.
Donald Reinhardt (1908-1989) was a trombonist and brass teacher. As a younger man he had some playing difficulties that he was not able to practice his way out of and had many teachers that were also unable to make recommendations that led to real progress for him. One day, after an accident damaged his tuning slide, he got the repaired instrument returned without the counterweight attached. This resulted in a much lower horn angle than he was used to playing with and he discovered that this allowed him to finally play a high B flat for the first time. Curious as to why this different horn angle would have such a profound effect on his playing, he first built mouthpiece rim visualizers and then fabricated transparent mouthpieces so that he could study the differences between the embouchures of different brass players. After some years of study and teaching private lessons for free to test his ideas, Reinhardt developed an approach to teaching brass which he wrote about in a couple of different books. The most detailed of these was his Encyclopedia of the Pivot System.
Therein lies my first criticism; the label. Reinhardt himself would come to regret these terms because they led to much confusion about his approach. The use of the term “system” led to misunderstandings that he regretted, since it implied that it was a single approach for all players, when his goal was to treat each student according to their unique physical and musical needs. The term “pivot” has become even more problematic.
Ask a brass player what pivoting is and most will tell you that this means tilting the instrument while you change registers, which some players noticeably do while others don’t seem to do that much. Reinhardt’s definition of “pivot” was actually different from this (the term I use is “embouchure motion“). Many former students of Reinhardt’s still cling to this term, even though it’s confusing to the point of where even if you define what he meant by it, players will still mix it up. In my honest opinion, the term “pivot” should simply be avoided altogether. No matter how often it is explained, this term cannot be rescued.
The next criticism I have with Reinhardt’s approach is oddly enough also one of its strengths. In order to be as complete as possible and include as many different ways of playing he developed a taxonomy of tonguing types and embouchure types that are much too complicated for the average brass student or teacher to make effective use of. As an example of how confusing this can get, here is a brief description of Reinhardt’s embouchure types.
Reinhardt classified embouchures into 4 main types, with several subtypes, resulting in nine distinctly different types. The main types were determined both by the position of the players’ jaw while resting and the amount of upper to lower lip inside the mouthpiece cup. The Type I embouchures were players whose jaw while at rest was such that the upper and lower teeth would be perfectly aligned. The Type II embouchures were players who had an underbite and whose lower teeth would protrude beyond the upper teeth while at rest. The Type III embouchures were players whose lower jaw was receded while at rest, but who placed the mouthpiece so that more upper lip was inside. These players might protrude their jaw to play or have it in a slightly receded position. Type IV embouchure players also had a receded jaw position while at rest, but placed the mouthpiece with more lower lip inside. These players could similarly protrude their jaw to play or keep it slightly receded. The major Types II and IV are upstream embouchures, while the major Types III are downstream. The Type I is downstream, however the Type IA is upstream.
Confused yet? The inconsistent internal logic gets more confusing still, since all of the Types I and II function essentially the same as one of the other types, the only difference is the position of the player’s jaw while at rest. While the Types III embouchures are all downstream and the Types IV are upstream, the IIIA is distinctly different from the III and IIIB because it has a different “pivot” type. Some of the subtype III and IV embouchure types function exactly the same as other subtypes, the only functional difference being the general position of the jaw while playing.
One of Reinhardt’s former students, Doug Elliott, first explained brass embouchure types to me in the simplified three basic embouchure types that I use today. Elliott’s approach is much simpler and the terms he advocates are more descriptive and less likely to be misunderstood. While even teachers who specialize in teaching a brass instrument are likely to confuse Reinhardt’s embouchure types and find it an unwieldy taxonomy to use, Elliott’s three basic types are easy enough for a non-brass music teacher to understand and use effectively for teaching middle school and high school band.
As I never had the opportunity to study directly from Reinhardt, I really can’t say how his approach may have evolved today. Regardless, many of his former students are quite adamant that using Elliott’s approach is “watering down” Reinhardt and they prefer to keep his teaching “pure.” Reinhardt used to describe his approach as scientific. For his former students to truly continue in a scientific approach they would need to realize that the strength of the scientific method is that it changes over time, as we learn new information and discover better ways to communicate and educate. Other pedagogues have much to offer that Reinhardt’s writings don’t cover. By forcing Reinhardt’s pedagogy into a static system that doesn’t adapt and adjust to the way that the profession as a whole communicates we end up making the Pivot System the exact opposite of what it was intended to be. Rather than an approach that finds each individual’s best way to learn to play it becomes associated with a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching brass that leaves too much room for confusion to be useful.