Playing on the Red Blindfold Test

A while back I wrote a post debunking the logic of why many teachers and players incorrectly argue against allowing brass players to place the mouthpiece on the red of their lip. Going through these common points I’ve come to the conclusion that while placing the mouthpiece so there is a lot of rim contact on the upper or lower lip doesn’t work for everyone, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this placement, which is why I titled that post “Playing On the Red Is Fine (as long as it fits your anatomy).”

Recently one of the authors I quoted in that article, Frank Gabriel Campos, posted a couple of responses. In one of his replies he wrote:

In a blind audition, I can easily tell within a minute that someone is playing on the red.

To be honest, I doubt that anyone can really tell by sound alone if a player is placing on the red. This also reminded me of how some players and teachers who are familiar with embouchure types sometimes claim that they can tell which embouchure type a player is simply by hearing a recording. So with this thought in mind, I’ve put together an informal quiz to see how many people can actually tell.

Listen to these 6 audio clips. All 6 players are professional trumpet players with advanced degrees. 5 of the 6 players are college trumpet teachers. Three specialize in classical trumpet and 3 specialize in jazz trumpet, although some do cross over. At least one of these players places the mouthpiece so that rim contacts with the red of the lip and at least one player does not.

(Note: The quiz plugin I’m using seems to be a little buggy, but hopefully it will allow you to see how you did at the end as well as let you know which embouchure type each player belongs to.)

Player A
[audio:http://www.wilktone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Player-A.mp3]

Player B
[audio:http://www.wilktone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Player-B.mp3]

Player C
[audio:http://www.wilktone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Player-C.mp3]

Player D
[audio:http://www.wilktone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Player-D.mp3]

Player E
[audio:http://www.wilktone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Player-E.mp3]

Player F
[audio:http://www.wilktone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Player-F.mp3]

[wpsqt name=”Test Quiz” type=”quiz”]

How did you do? Please leave your comments below, but don’t give away any answers to those who haven’t tried the test yet. If you want to see video of the players in the audio samples check it out here (no cheating and watching it first!).

Joao

Hi Dave,
My answer was based on the ending of some notes. Not the atack. This is very dificult! I´m a “Red player” to… any way I was lucky in my answer. I saw what Mr. Campos said about this thing. It seems that “Red players” are the only ones with problems in endurance; flexibilitie; sound and everything. Let me say this simple thing: THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF “WHITE/NORMAL PLAYERS” WITH THE SAME PROBLEMS OR EVEN WORST!! The main thing is, and this is what I thing people should talk and think about is: what to do to solve any specific problem, no matter what embouchure we have.

All the best!

João

Dave

Yes, Joao, it’s really difficult to diagnose any embouchure issues (or guess embouchure types) merely by sound alone. When it comes to mouthpiece placement (not an issue with any of the players I used in this blindfold test, I think) an improper placement is just wrong for the individual player – regardless of whether it’s on or off the red of the lips. A player who should be placing on the red (not common, but still happens) will sound bad placed in a more common placement while a player who needs a more centered placement will struggle if the placement is too much on the red. It’s a completely personal thing.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comments.

Dave

P.S. So far only 7 people have tried the quiz. No one has scored more than 50% correct.

João

Hi Dave,
I had this test in my mind since yesterday… With all respect and If you don´t mind, let me just tell you this: The idea is great. The audeo and samples quality are very good, the palyers are great. But I think that the sceptics will search for something more accurate in terms of classical aproach. You will have no problem in fouding this kind of examples. Last week I saw on French TV the Concertgebouw orchester playing Malher nº5, the 3 trumpet player has a very low placement. He sound great!

Boca

I got 4/6. I was very sure of one of them, as it sounded almost identical to my own octave slurs. I reasoned that that player would have a similar placement to my own. I was correct. Another sounded much like several people I know who do not play in the red, and do not sound quite like me.
Another two had a distinct kind of sound on the highest notes, as well as a specific kind of sound between notes. I correctly surmised that these were players that play on the red.
Of the remaining two, one I was unsure of as I heard elements that were typical of both placements. My guess was wrong.
Only on one was I particularly surprised at the result. I was fairly confident in my answer and the opposite proved true.

As I am only a college student, I honestly think a more experienced, qualified teacher/player could get 6/6 with relative ease. I don’t think the quiz really disproves the statement you cited from Campos.

Incidentally, I was 100% correct on my mental tally of jazz vs. classical players in the clips. That came more from their timbres than style or skill though.

I was more interested by the way they all sounded – most not as clean & controlled as I would expect from working professionals, though some demonstrated impressive range. I don’t know whether that says something positive about my own playing or negative about octave slurs. I do realize these were probably just one take, but even so.

As concerns placing in the red, I can’t deny that there are successful players that do it, but I would not set up a beginner with it, and would probably change anyone up through high school unless they really were playing GREAT. I do think it is harder to be very clean playing in the red, and I would be faster to switch a classical player to a “normal” placement than I would a jazz specialist. For every person who should be placing in the red, there’s at least five who shouldn’t be and are being held back by it. Just from what I’ve seen. That’s my main beef with “revisionist” embouchure theory – a belief that anything can work and not to worry about it. There is some truth to the old school as well. They obviously saw success changing students to a more textbook embouchure, or else the old school would not have recommended such. There are true exceptions but (IMO) they are pretty rare and should be treated very carefully. Some people just make it work but would have been better served if they had gotten a more normal set early on. Eventually it just becomes too much work to switch and they learn to compensate.

Dave

Hi, Boca. Thanks for stopping by and trying out the quiz! And for leaving your thoughts.

A few things to consider:

As I am only a college student, I honestly think a more experienced, qualified teacher/player could get 6/6 with relative ease. I don’t think the quiz really disproves the statement you cited from Campos.

First, I wouldn’t sell yourself short, but an experienced teacher/player would presumably be more accurate. However, with only six subjects to use it is well within statistical probability that guessing would end up with some very accurate responses and some really awful ones. This isn’t really a well designed study, just a pilot to test out the idea and also to satisfy my own curiosity looking at the aggregate responses and see how everything averages out in the long run.

I was more interested by the way they all sounded – most not as clean & controlled as I would expect from working professionals, though some demonstrated impressive range. I don’t know whether that says something positive about my own playing or negative about octave slurs. I do realize these were probably just one take, but even so.

This is a common comment when I show any of the professional players in my research. There are some mitigating factors (such as the unfamiliar plastic mouthpiece that they get asked to play on and sometimes a lack of warmup). Later, after I’ve collected more data on this and had a chance to do some more research, I’ll do a longer write up on this blindfold test and will post some more information about the players and their specific situations.

As concerns placing in the red, I can’t deny that there are successful players that do it, but I would not set up a beginner with it, and would probably change anyone up through high school unless they really were playing GREAT. As concerns placing in the red, I can’t deny that there are successful players that do it, but I would not set up a beginner with it, and would probably change anyone up through high school unless they really were playing GREAT.

My preference is to not change any placement, no matter how conventional or unorthodox it looks, until I’ve made other corrections that contribute to embouchure issues. I don’t feel it’s worth messing with mouthpiece placement until you know for certain what is causing issues, otherwise you risk contributing to their problems instead of helping them.

I do think it is harder to be very clean playing in the red, and I would be faster to switch a classical player to a “normal” placement than I would a jazz specialist.

I feel music is music, whether it’s jazz or classical, and don’t make a distinction regarding mouthpiece placement and style. It’s not a personal stylistic choice that determines a player’s embouchure type, it’s their anatomy.

For every person who should be placing in the red, there’s at least five who shouldn’t be and are being held back by it. Just from what I’ve seen.

Refer to what I wrote above about fixing other problems before changing the placement. The trouble with going by “what you’ve seen” (meaning, anecdotes) as opposed to data is that you are prone to confirmation bias. Placement in the red is rare, so when you see a player struggling and notice he’s placing in the red it stands out in your mind. When you see a player struggling with a more typical looking mouthpiece placement, you correct the player’s breathing or other issues and forget how often mouthpiece placement isn’t a factor in troubles.

That’s my main beef with “revisionist” embouchure theory – a belief that anything can work and not to worry about it.

I can’t speak for “revisionist” embouchure theories, but this is not what I am suggesting in the least bit. I’d like to invite you to poke around some of the embouchure resources I’ve posted here on my site if you’re curious to understand embouchure form and function better.

There is some truth to the old school as well. They obviously saw success changing students to a more textbook embouchure, or else the old school would not have recommended such.

Historically speaking, embouchure recommendations are all over the map, so there’s really no single “old school” recommendations on mouthpiece placement. Probably the number one reason why any particular author recommended something in the first place is because that’s what happened to work for them.

There are true exceptions but (IMO) they are pretty rare and should be treated very carefully. Some people just make it work but would have been better served if they had gotten a more normal set early on.

I prefer to teach that all placements are exceptions, regardless of how “normal” they look. When you get into brass embouchures with more detail you start to notice how unique every embouchure actually is. When something works for a particular player, it’s because it fits the player’s face instead of working against it, not because they’re “making it work.” This is true no matter how typical or unusual the player’s mouthpiece placement looks in the first place.

Thanks again for participating! Good luck in your college studies!

Dave

Paul T.

Great experiment, Dave. Very thought-provoking!

I didn’t do much better than 50%, but then I’ve never particularly noticed a difference in the way players who “place in the red” sound different from those who do not.

However, I could pretty reliably guess whether the player was mainly a jazz or classical player (5 out 6), and did pretty well guessing their embouchure types as well (4 out of 6, but, unlike the issue of placement in the red, the ones I missed were also the ones I wasn’t sure about).

I’ll send you an e-mail about that!

Thanks for setting this up.

dom talotta

arggh. 5 out of 6 and the wrong one was the one I was most undecided on. for what its worth, the signs of playing in the red for me are the attack and the different sound in the upper register compared to the low.
Thanks for the challenge, great idea.

TrumpetPlanet

I got 3 out of 6 right. It’s an interesting article Dave, thanks for sharing. It has to be said though that not one of them had good intonation or the ability to hold a note steady if they hit it. Crazy to think that some of these people are out there teaching at a college level…

Dave

Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comments, TrumpetPlanet. Before you throw stones, please consider a few things:

1. I was selecting the specific clips not to demonstrate excellent trumpet technique, but to demonstrate that it’s not really possible for even experienced teachers to tell by sound alone if a player’s mouthpiece placement is wrong. There are many things that can cause playing issues, and some of those are demonstrated in the clips here.

2. At the time I recorded two of these players, they had recently returned to playing after being diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy.

3. It’s not easy to play something designed to expose flaws without getting a chance to practice it first, particularly if someone is in your face with a video camera. Try it sometime, and post your videos. I have some audio and video recordings of most of these same players playing music that I think you would enjoy hearing.

Dave

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.