BREAKTHROUGH!!! (I have finally broken the embouchure code. I think.)

Discussion in 'Trumpet Pedagogy' started by Sabutin, Aug 7, 2009.

  1. Sabutin

    Sabutin Pianissimo User

    Aug 7, 2009
    New York City
    (In light of the seemingly outrageous title of this thread, I would like to introduce myself before I get to work so's y'all know that I am not some sensationalistic faker selling a get rich quick/get high quick can of dreams. My name is Sam Burtis and I have been a successful first call New York City lower brass player since the late '60s, specializing in American styles of music. [Jazz and latin music primarily, although when civilians ask me what kind of music I play I most often answer ""Any kind that they will pay me for."] I have written two very well received books on my approach to trombone playing and brass in general, The American Trombone and Time, Balance And Connections-A Universal Theory Of Brass Relativity (Trombone Edition). [The second one is soon to appear in valved instrument/treble and bass clef editions.] I studied extensively with Carmine Caruso and under the name of "Sabutin" I have been writing about brass on the web for well over 10 years. In point of fact, I considered titling my first book Double High C in 37 Years but I was afraid not enough people would get the joke. No instant chop schemes here...just a breakthrough that I really want to both share and develop with input from others. Read on.)

    ============================================== off the press, hot out of the practice room/laboratory on this matter.

    Those of you who have had lessons w/me or attended one of my clinics know that I deal with the idea of hearing, identifying, isolating and controlling "formants"...the overtones that are more (or less) emphasized above a brass player's a way to practice long tones. I have been studying and practicing vocal techniques for isolating those formants above my voice for many years. Check out David Hykes and the Harmonic Choir for more on this idea. There are other approaches, other techniques that are used to do this vocally but I took a lesson w/David Hykes 20+ years ago and have used his approach to do certain meditational exercises on a regular basis ever since that time.

    However, this is a brass site, so I will limit my comments here to what I have found recently...over the last several weeks, actually...regarding the use of this idea coupled with freebuzzing to essentially "break the embouchure code". I use that term advisedly, by the way. On the evidence of what has happening with my chop over the last few weeks I believe that I have indeed found the Rosetta Stone that unlocks the secret of relatively effortless brass playing through any and all reachable octaves.

    Up or down. Or anywhere in-between.


    Keep reading.

    Let me begin by saying this:

    The mainstream use of in "A E I O U", as they have been taught by any number of brass too unfocused and too artificial to be of much use to a brass player who wants to be able to play in a truly expressive manner.

    When are you going to use a particular vowel sound?

    Where does one vowel sound end and another begin? Long A? Short A? Which long or short A? French, German, English, Japanese, Fiji Island, North Carolina, Manchester England, Maine? Ridiculous on the face of it. On which note of which phrase of which melody or accompanying harmonic pad? If that's the way you that are going to approach this idea...which is simplistic beyond belief, actually...then you are much, much better off with the Arnold Jacobs "Song and Wind" idea. If you are musically gifted, play the horn well and understand the idiom in which you are playing, then the proper vowel sounds will automatically happen as you play a given phrase of music. See the vid of this Clark Terry clinic for a fine illustration of how a real artist approaches this idea in a musical sense.

    However on a purely physical level I have found that combining the study of my own vocal breaks...head, chest, mixed range etc. in the bel canto sense of the terms...with an experiential knowledge of:

    1- How to isolate overtones vocally through about 16 partials using the David Hykes approach.
    2- How to identify the overtones that make a given brass instrument sound “good” according to my own definitions of that word.
    3- Freebuzzing techniques and the application of those techniques directly to playing the horn without large or unacceptable compromises between the two.

    has provided an unexpected breakthrough in my whole embouchure study.

    Long story short? (Remember...I am only a couple of weeks into this idea.)

    As a way to set up my own inner resonance system...chest, throat, back of tongue, soft palate, the rest of the tongue, jaw position, lips that when I freebuzz any given note the setting(s) for that note are the most efficient ones that are possible for me to achieve, all I have to do is to sing the note while my lips are in some sort of ready-to-buzz position and isolate the overtones which would be most desirable to me if I was playing the note on the horn. (The 5th and 6th partials, mostly. The 3rd and 5th of the “brass” chord.)) , then w/out appreciable change of that system transfer said “buzz” from my vocal cords to lips, then place the m’pce on my chops (again w/out serious compromises) and start playing.

    The results have been truly amazing to me. Almost effortless playing and much-improved connections throughout ranges...up down and middle...where previously there had been required much more effort. Physical effort and/or attention effort.

    I have been sneaking up on this idea for several years in terms of freebuzzing, but this seems to have capped it off. In the previous week or so, besides a great deal of practice I played a strenuous two set lead/solo gig w/the Chico O’Farrill Band, a three hour rehearsal followed by a two set gig with the Mike Longo Band on the same day (!!!) and two rehearsals with an amplified rhythm section and three horns playing hard parts and long solos for a gig this week. (Mike Longo’s “Funk Band”. Dizzy Gillespie-style funk. Funk with deep harmonic changes. Beautiful stuff.) During all of that time I played my smallest gold-plated Shires .500 bore w/a Minick 11C-ish jm’pce...and I swear to you it now sounds and feels almost as big as my favorite .525 Shires/Clarke L setup only with about one quarter of the effort that I had to make in the past on the same equipment. Double Bbs, good low range, singing mid-range, good connections (Until fatigue sets in, anyway. ..which has happened much later than has been usual for me.)...the works.

    Now...please...I am not trying to blow my own horn or brag here. After 40 years of trying to learn how to play, it’s about damned time that I figured something out.

    And there is much more to learn.

    But there it is.

    Use it if you can.

    Expand upon it if you can...I would love to get some feedback, especially from trumpet players. You are the ones who can really profit from increased high ranges and endurance.

    You know that I’ll be on it like white on rice.

    And...have fun.

    I am.



    P.S. For starters, there is an ongoing thread regarding this in a trombonistic sense on my discussion board The Open Horn. Go there for another week's worth of information.
  2. gbdeamer

    gbdeamer Forte User

    Oct 16, 2008
    Sounds interesting. Maybe some of the more advanced people here will better understand what you've discovered, but I don't really get it.

    I assume you'll be putting this in a book of some kind, so best of luck.
  3. NickD

    NickD Forte User

    Interesting ideas, to be sure. I will agree that using different vowel settings and tongue positions have a great impact on brass playing, but I don't think formants are what is making that impact as that would imply good coupling between the air cavity in the mouth and chest and the lips.

    In an article in the ITG Journal ( effectively explaining that the size of the oral cavity has little if any impact on the PITCH of a trumpet. In some private discussions with Dr. Moore, he pointed that there is an extreme mismatch in acoustic impedance between the lips and the oral cavity. In this context, this means that the energy or resonances in the oral cavity can't have a great impact on the sound of the horn. More simply put the lips have too much mass compared to the air resonating in the oral cavity. He effectively and experimentally disproved Schilke's assertion that the resonance in a trumpet begins at the layrnx.

    This is different for a reed instrument. Sax players are keenly aware of the fact that the oral cavity and formants can have an impact. To be even more extreme in the analysis, consider Howard Levy, the worlds greatest harmonica master. Howard is gifted at playing complete chromatics on simple diatonic harmonicas. In his instructional DVD he has some ultrasounds of his head as he is doing this and the use of formants is quite clear. Once again, in this context, remember that a harmonica is a REED instrument, with many tiny little reeds each with much less mass than the lips.

    Now, it is well documented that the lips function in a brasswind instrument as a flow control valve (see for example). Virtually all of the significant resonance in a brasswind system is in the wind column, which is entirely outside of the body. This is why it is so frustrating for a trumpeter to be forced to wear ear plugs in a loud band. All you hear are the lips buzzing away in your head, not the glorious sound of your trumpet that you have worked so hard to develop. Furthermore, the transfer function describing a trumpet (or any winde isntrument, for that matter) is non-linear. Simply put, we can't play infinitessimally soft or infinitely loud. This is why, as you play louder on a trumpet, the tone gets brighter and as you play softer the tone gets darker. The appearance or disappearance of haromonics or overtones in a sound is a direct symptom of non-linearity. Guitar players use this effect in ovdriving amps to get the power-rockers distorition.

    OK, the upshot of all this in my mind is this. The use of vowels and phonemes clearly do have an impact on trumpet playing but for different reasons from what one might expect. By changing the oral cavity you are changing the air flow and this seems to have an impact on the system. I have to do some more research on this, but I believe some scientific studies have been done in Europe on this very fact. Perhaps Rowuk can jump in here on this. Also, we can dramatically affect the tone by opening and closing the lips a bit as we play. Bobby Shew has his students do this as an exercise. I've heard him do it on DHC! It's pretty cool.

    I think that as we change the oral cavity air flow and adjust the lip aperture (the second perhaps happening almost unconsciously as we think of adjusting the tone) we can effect wide ranges and timbres on a trumpet. Couple this with the fact that trumpets inherently change their tone a bit with volume and we have a lot of things with which to make music exciting. I've been achieving range to A over DHC in practice sessions by thinking of lip aperture control and flowing the air over an arched tongue (A, E casing the greatest arch and using an iccchhh position for extreme upper register).

    Again, while I agree that vowel and oral cavity positons can affect the flow and hence the range, I think it is impossible to think of cracking the code of range on a brasswind instrumet without including the lips in the mix. Just watch some of Jim Manley's videos and you can't miss this fact. Now, I don't think the original post WAS trying to remove the lips from the mix. He is just pointing out another interesting facet in all of this. I just bring it up here for emphasis.

    Thanks for the original post Sam. Let's see where the discussion goes. Rowuk, jump in here! You've got some great insights in this, I'm sure. Are you aware of that research I mentioned? I had saved in an email which I then managed to delete! Dang it!

    Ok, gotta give my dog a bath!


    I'll check back later.

  4. Sabutin

    Sabutin Pianissimo User

    Aug 7, 2009
    New York City
    The thought has crossed my mind, but certainly not until I have taken the idea further in my own practice and communicated it personally to a number of others. I am torn between simply adding it to the newest editions of my book(s) and/or writing a much smaller, more focused present ones are about 265 pages...that deals with this idea alone.

    Time will tell.

    Thanks for the good wishes.



    P.S. It's really not that hard to understand. I would not hesitate to teach it to a serious high school player. Maybe even earlier. What is it about the idea that you "don't get?" Maybe it's more in my presentation than in the idea itself. That is one of the reasons that I am posting it get some feedback not so much on the idea itself (which has already pretty much proven itself out in my own practice and playing) but on how well communicate it.
  5. EdMann

    EdMann Mezzo Forte User

    Sep 20, 2007
    Los Angeles
    This reminds me of Peter Bond's posts on this or perhaps that "other" site about making your mpc buzzing as "buzzy" as possible, which to me means to provide a sound with the greatest set of overtones, and to provide that same set up when playing the trumpet. For me that has allowed me to back off on the air I provide the machine while maintaining the same ambient volume and getting a much more vibrant sound than I had been getting. That's my take.

  6. NickD

    NickD Forte User

    I just had another thought, dang it! It's FRIDAY and it's time for gig mode!

    Ok, here's something I just thought of, so I have no basis from which to discuss this except that is based on physics mixed with trumpet playing.

    I have been asserting for some time that the driving factor in extreme upper register playing is lip MASS and NOT lip tension. Certainly both are present, but the math would indicate that by making the lip aperture smaller as we ascend in pitch, we are decreasing the vibrating mass. All things being kept equal, the frequency of a vibrating string (a very loose first order model for the lips to be sure) goes as the square-root of the inverse of mass, so this has a powerful impact. I've written about this before and I discuss all of this in the physics of music lectures.

    Well, here's my thought. As we get up around, say high G, the aperture will be smaller for a given volume (loudness) than it would be for a low G at the same volume. OK, this means the vibrating part of the lip mass is considerably smaller. Well, is it possible that this will reduce the impedance mismatch thereby allowing for the possibility of some coupling in this range?

    We are dealing with models and metaphors in order to describe an incredibly complex system. I'm wondering if we have to change the model as we approach these extremes. Is it possible the formants do couple with the lips as they do in a harmonica, but primarily in the extreme upper register? When I am playing DHC's and beyond, I am in a pronounced iccchhhh position with my tongue making for a small and strengely shaped oral cavity. I was chatting with Dan Miller last week and we were discussing idea voiced by Lynn Nicholson. Nicholoson refers to the 'snake' with describes the shape of his tongue when he is playing way up there. The best phoneme I could come with to describe what Dan and I were talking about was the 'iccchhh' thing.

    What further compicates things is the a trumpet shouldn't have resonances beyond a high G or so, but I feel cleear slots way up there. Finally, when I play a DHC on a ring visualizer, I feel a slot! I put that fact in front of a group at a meeting of the American Acoustical Society and aked if someone could explain what was resonating when I was just playing a ring! There's no trumpet or mouthpiece! Could the oral cavity be coming into play here?

    I've gotta get Dr. Moore in on this.


  7. Sabutin

    Sabutin Pianissimo User

    Aug 7, 2009
    New York City
    I beg to differ, Nick. On a very plainly heard experiential level I can prove the falsity of this statement in about 10 seconds by accurately isolating and emphasizing a number of easily heard overtones above a given note and thus changing the "sound" of the horn in quite drastic manners, rather like a digeridoo. I am doing this precisely by changing the "resonances in the oral cavity".

    When given a choice between theory and practice, I will choose practice every time. Sorry Nick...this just doesn't wash.

    Again...I can isolate and emphasize various quite plainly heard overtones on a brass instrument with no change in dynamics whatsoever, and I am doing it in exactly the same way as an overtone singer does it, by the manipulation of my vocal cavity.

    I am "including the lips in the mix", Nick. That's the second part of my approach. Then I include the horn and there y'are. All I am really doing here is tuning up the soft machine so that it interacts more efficiently with the hard machine. Do not overthink this. All of this talk about whether it's the air cavity or the lips that are actually doing the timbral changing is chicken and egg stuff, really. This kind of approach that you are advocating is the real reason that Arnold Jacobs and the song and wind people, John Coffey ("Tongue and blow, kid, just tongue and blow. That's all there is to it.") and Carmine Caruso ("Just play this exercise on good time and stop thinking so much about it all. You'll get there faster this way.") ended up rejecting the whole intellectual approach to playing a brass instrument. It's chicken and egg stuff, and all I am trying to do is simply make a better omelette for myself and by extension (I hope) for others. Crackin' eggs and making noises. I do not really care what is actually making the changes...hell Nick, it could be my pancreas, for all I know. The fact is that this whole brass playing thing is of one piece. A gestalt. ("A configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that it cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts.") Change one area and all of the other areas change as well. I have found one "change" that positively affects the whole. Leave it at that, please.

    Or not, as you must.

    You're welcome, Nick.

    C'mon back.

    I'll be here...

  8. beautgrainger147

    beautgrainger147 Pianissimo User

    Aug 6, 2009
    well I'm no expert, only just starting infact and dont want to get drawn into any discussion about the theory but I've been buzzing a lot at work with the initial problems that a beginner has but having read the first post I gave it a try and was immediately able to buzz back and forth between a few notes with what seemed like appropriate differences in pitch. Maybe it helps that I sing a bit so am a little used to pre-positioning my tongue etc for changes of vocal mode, I'll be trying it out more for sure.. as soon as I've had a bit of rest.
  9. gbdeamer

    gbdeamer Forte User

    Oct 16, 2008
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2009
  10. Sabutin

    Sabutin Pianissimo User

    Aug 7, 2009
    New York City
    I often use the metaphors of strings an/or saxophone reeds to illustrate the various "settings" that I use through six+ octaves of playing.

    From my book, Time, Balance & Connections: A Universal Theory of Brass Relativity-Trombone Edition. (The one that I am presently editing into treble clef and bass clef valved instruments editions.)

    I am not yet entirely sure how well this "shifting" idea applies to smaller m'pces like those used on trumpet and french horn. There is certainly less room available for changes, but as the sufis say, "As above, so below." And vice-versa as well. Again...that's one reason that I am here. Research.

    Bet on it.

    Not just the oral cavity, the entire resonance cavity of the body. It is commonly perceived among trombonists that the Ab area below middle C is a troublesome neighborhood. Above that range and below it are simply two different worlds for most of us.

    I eventually found out that I have a clear "break" in that range even when freebuzzing. Passing through it from both directions. Chicken or egg? A learned break from so many years of playing the trombone or an acoustic limit for most human resonance cavities? Damn if I know. But it's real.

    Keep it coming, Nick.


    Last edited: Aug 27, 2009

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