Defining helpful advice/physics as applied to the trumpet

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Local 357, Jan 28, 2012.

  1. Local 357

    Local 357 Banned

    Jul 1, 2011
    If you've been around the block a while you've seen the words "Scientific" as applied to trumpet playing. Most often found in the context of playing high notes with better endurance. Despite all these claims there are actually no brass playing systems that can honestly be called scientific. None nada.

    Worse what we get from these are irrelevant science. Things like the harmonic series, "closed tube resonance", "faster air", "standing wave" "upstream", "downstream" etc. Mostly all B/S.

    Lets take apart the silliness of why a concept such as "standing wave" is useless advice. First of all it is probably 100% true that a standing wave occurs within a brass instrument. It is however a matter IRRELEVANT to playing the horn. Example:

    Lets say we wanted to learn a highly useful technique such as advanced breath control as shown in "Clarke technical Studies for Cornet" By Herbert L. here: Technical studies for the cornet - Herbert Lincoln Clarke - Google Books

    And because we're discussing breath control this would include air support. Should we then preface our subject with words like this?

    Nearly all of the Earth's atmosphere is made up of only five gases: nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, argon, and carbon dioxide. Several other compounds also are present. Although this CRC table does not list water vapor, air can contain as much as 5% water vapor, more commonly ranging from 1-3%. The 1-5% range places water vapor as the third most common gas (which alters the other percentages accordingly). from What Is the Chemical Composition of Air? - Elements in the Atmosphere

    See? It's all B/S. But yet we'll STILL see and hear folks attempt to bring IRRELEVANT matters such as standing wave and other silliness into the fray. They do this to impress you with their "knowledge" of the matter all the while forgetting that what they are presenting is irrelevant.

    I do not need to know that it takes eight minutes for the sun's rays to reach me on planet Earth. Regardless of how long they take or how far they come from they still wake me up in the am.

    So does it matter to a trumpet player that a G# above High C is 13th harmonic of the "standing wave"? What if I'm mistaken and it's really the 12th or the 14th harmonic ? OH MY GOSH I have REALLY steered the poor student in the wrong direction this time...

    OK sorry for the cynicism. And the tone of this thread altogether. I do think however that it is high time that those who pretend they know something about physics at least examine their thoughts to see if (that despite the possible accuracy of their statements) these thoughts provide any value at all to the aspiring trumpet player.

    I will state that unless we're talking about the notes above a High D or so (played with solidity) that the average trumpet player will probably not even need to know any physics applicable to the trumpet at all. AT ALL!!! Most the time you're better off teaching them the avoidance of over training and a good exercise/performance diet. Not physics.

    In my 35 years or so of teaching and evaluating trumpet players I've found only one person who could not play the basic rudiments of the trumpet without some special assistance involving my knowledge of the physical aspects related to embouchure. He was a sax major learning trumpet techniques in college. At that time I was the only trumpet major there who got him to make a half decent tone the whole semester.

    Where physics matters is usually if not always the notes above High D and more specifically above the High G. Now if you were to get an honest response from most members of this forum you would find that the majority of them DO NOT HAVE A SOLID HIGH D. at all.

    Thus any discussion of even rudimentary physics related to the trumpet is probably irrelevant. In fact and i will take this further: Telling your average student to "JUST TONGUE AND BLOW" with sufficient emphasis will fix 9 out of 10 of them.

    I've seen trumpet players with what i would describe as significant embouchure faults still play a solid F ABOVE High C. Merely by giving them a favorable mouthpiece for the work. I suppose that mouthpiece design is physics too. But very simple physics.

    So save the "physics" for explaining continental drift or lunar orbits. Unless you really know you're stuff about it relative to the trumpet that is. And then it generally only applies to the notes above or well above High C.

  2. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006

    an interesting take, but IMHO only suitable for a small cross section of naturally gifted players that really do not need to know how things work. AS usual, most arguments have at least a little truth that try to lend credibility to the rest. Many of the naturally gifted still spread myths around today - because they never needed to bother reading the fine print!

    How useful a fact or factoid is depends on the context. The composition of the atmosphere was of big interest to me during a concert in La Paz, Bolivia. Due to the altitude, we were all having "issues".

    The partial series (often incorrectly called the harmonic series) is also another "issue" that indeed does apply to many facets of playing, in its simplest form, for alternate fingerings, later when playing over high C (or the standard useful range on the baroque trumpet) as a basis for navigation. When studying the meaning of "overblowing" to force the instrument to the next partial, we get insight into what is going on, and at a more advanced stage why intonation issues can occur - especially in the stratosphere.

    Construction of an instrument is a very "nice to know", especially considering that many trumpeters have an N+1 syndrome.

    The only advantage of keeping your students at a very low general knowledge level is that they don't ask questions that you are not prepared to answer.

    So, if our only goal is producing high note dummies, you may be on to something. In my experience, the finest players are a curious lot and that they are the sum of everything that they have learned. Studying Franz Xavier Richter may not have helped your upper register, but it was an opportunity for me to learn about the B below double C (for a standard Bb trumpet). Like I often post, attitude is probably the most important facet of qualified playing. Attitude is a development process, not a one shot explanation.

    Writing off the physics of the instrument and playing as irrelevant takes you off of my list of recommended teachers. Everything has its time and place. It is the job of the teacher to offer a view of things to the left and right of an otherwise bumpy ride. With the physics we can often explain why certain things are not "natural" and need hard work. Eliminating this is not a NO BS approach.

    To teach playing higher than F above high C, I generally start with a use case (a big band chart or baroque literature), not a teakettle replacement. Seldom with a mouthpiece replacement before the rest lines up.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2012
  3. kingtrumpet

    kingtrumpet Utimate User

    Sep 20, 2009
    New York State USA
    very interesting posts ---- understanding the physics of the trumpet is very very complex. I am in partial agreement with local, and also Rowuk -- I am interested in knowing somewhat HOW the trumpet works, and the physics behind it. That in itself does NOT make me a good trumpet player. However, to know nothing about the trumpet ---- and just "tongue and blow" -- would also be a disservice to my advancement on the trumpet. AS a comeback player -- I actually had to change the embouchure a bit, and also learn to play the fundamentals, and to play "softly" to correct a lot of minor issues.

    Surely, to know nothing about the trumpet, and embouchures -- and to just BLOW would have left me -- as I was nearly 10 years ago when I quit --JUST A struggling trumpet player -- who had not much above a High C, and NO improvement for many years.

    HOWEVER ---- whether physics is irrelevant or not -- and whether that is good cause to take LOCAL off of a teaching list (hypothetical or otherwise) -- is kind of BS also. In high school, I had a very impressive trombonists as a band instructor ---- who also told us a lot of CRAP. Like the smile embouchure, and that most trumpet players won't be able to play above high C, anyhow -- and that SWITCHING between brass instruments was a sure case of "screwing up the embouchure".
    I would have taken this guy off my "teaching list" also --- I can see a certain aspect, of teaching youth --- that maybe they don't have the patience to "switch" between instruments, or maybe they don't have the patience to "learn" physics, or anything about how to produce the full range on the trumpet -but to tell them that is was not possible --- Is just as bad, as telling them they "don't need to know about physics" --- or they don't need to know anything other than to "just tongue and blow".

    ps. by the way the instuctor in high school was a very good trombonists --- a pretty good teacher --- but just the same in hindsight -- it seems, that he lacked certain areas of expertise, or left some information out of his repetoire of teaching ---- did that make him a bad dude???, a poor teacher???? --- I say not totally!!!!!!
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2012
  4. xjb0906

    xjb0906 Piano User

    May 2, 2009
    Charlotte NC
    I prefer to use Astrology to examine how and when high notes will sound on my instrument. When I miss I can just blame it on the alignment of the stars. ROFL
  5. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    Our memory is very selective. Especially after many years. The argument against switching instruments in highschool does get brought up occasionally here . The context is very important here. A student who is barely getting enough playing time in, will not benefit from switching, and the band will definitely suffer if even less focus is given to the main instruments.

    The smile embouchure is also a case of context. What you thought you heard may not have been understood. Even standard embouchures can look very much like smiling. Even although it is not generally accepted practice, it does work for mor than "some". Going back to that teacher today could (providing that they are still alive) give you some insite - that you perhaps missed.
  6. coolerdave

    coolerdave Utimate User

    Nov 7, 2009
    San Pedro
    If I want to get baffled I go to the GR site and look at all his graphs .... don't understand most of it but they do make a pretty darn good mp.
    I do think if you are going to talk partials and all that technical stuff about trumpets you go to a trumpet forum ... kind of like this one.
    Will it make me a better player ... I have no idea but it does make me a more rounded person ...
    sort of like this piece of trivia:
    Who invented the Cotton Gin .... then ask yourself why you still know something like this that you learned when you were 11 years old.
  7. Bob Grier

    Bob Grier Forte User

    May 4, 2007
    Greensboro, NC
    Very interesting. First how can something be 100% probably true? !00% means it's always true. Probably mean it's chances of being true are very high. Is there a place for the science behind things like the overtone series? Or how partials work on the trumpet. On how the sound wave travels through the horn? It's been shown ( it is a fact) that when we play the horn a standing wave is produced at the bell. While this is useless in teaching a student how to play. It's not silly for someone to know. There is a mathematical formula that describes the ratio of bell taper that works for a trumpet design. Is this silly? not useful in teaching but very useful if you want to make a trumpet.

    Yes, there is a place for this information, but I have to agree it is usually confusing to use them as teaching tools for students. If fact the less explanation the better. I've found mental images (pictures if you will ) much more useful when teaching how to do a certain skill. For example: while air speed is an important factor in playing any note on the horn, It's not something we can directly control. Qualify: proper air speed has to do with the quality of the air commonly called supporting the sound. But explaining this to a student usually get a look of "huh". So what I've found to be effective is saying" Let your lips float on the air stream. I've found this very useful when helping students first learn how to play above the staff. keeps them from over blowing or trying to muscle the high notes out. It helps them to stay relaxed and keep the quality of their support up. Also I found the image of "blow through the horn/notes" to be very effective in helping students to support the sound/tongue. etc.

    But to call all the "science" BS is wrong. There is some real science but I do agree what some methods and teachers call science isn't science. It's conjecture or extrapolations from a flawed premise. There is science related to playing. How the muscles work esp. in breathing and blowing, posture and facial muscles. But this knowledge is useful only in understanding how these muscle group work when we play. Is this useful when we teach how to play. can be if we use it wisely. But I fir one don't want my students thing about what their body is doing. I want then to think about how does it sound. I will introduce some of this description only if it's needed to get the student to play better. And then only as a last resort. I have real problems when someone says that they have the secret, they found the key. If only all players would do it this way they would all play double Cs. Now that's BS. There are just too many variables because everyone is an individual. As soon as someone says this is the way everyone should do it. If you don't do it this way you won't be successful. Someone will come along and prove the exception to the rule.

    Example: before Roger Bannister ran the first sub four minute mile all the experts said that the heart would burst if you ran a mile in under four minutes. Well that proved to be massively wrong.

    What I get from what local 357 is saying is that their are some teachers ( and some of them are big names) who came to understand certain aspects of trumpet playing but they extended that particular knowledge to include all aspects of trumpet playing. I feel Reinhardt was very guilty of this.

    There is always a danger when one tries to write about how to play that it will be misunderstood. One can't cover all the variables in teaching with the written word. That's why Arban, Clarke, etc. understood that their methods would be used by a competent teacher. Even Gorden resisted writing about his methods for a long time because when he taught he taught the individual. what this student needed to be told might be the opposite of what another student needed to be told.

    Well, this is the most most I've ever written in one post. And I'm a two finger typer.

    I have to say that local 357 you make some good points. But your tone does you in. it does come off as cynical some times and you like to make things sound absolute when they may not be. But there are a lot of methods and people out there that make claims that just are not true all the time or for all students. the danger is that the novice player will take these claims to heart because they lack the experience to see through them.

    One more thing. If a high D is as high a note as a player can hit (not play but just hit). Then they need another teacher.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2012
    coolerdave likes this.
  8. kingtrumpet

    kingtrumpet Utimate User

    Sep 20, 2009
    New York State USA
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2012
  9. kingtrumpet

    kingtrumpet Utimate User

    Sep 20, 2009
    New York State USA

    NO -- my memory is fairly consistent ---- THE SMILE embouchure was widely taught in the early 70's in the public school system -- because it was the fastest, most reproducible embouchure, that would get a group of kids to play the trumpet with some reliability, within the scope of 8 years of public school on an instrument --- at least music in the staff (which is all a high school band needs).

    As I stated earlier ---"NOT SWITCHING" brasses ---was excellent advice for high school kids, who lacked the
    patience, the perserverance, and the time to practice (or willingness to practice) -- that would be required to double on multiple Brass instruments.

    The teacher was a GOOD teacher for the task at hand ----getting a bunch of "non-musicians" --- startup players, in there adolescent years, to be able to play a few good concerts within the 8 years of their musical career.

    BUT --he didn't teach physics, and he didn't teach "just tongue and blow" --- and yes, he was a decent teacher, a decent guy, and did a good job with public high school students ------but if I apply -- either you or Locals "bar" of what defines a good teacher ---- he probably would have failed to get a grade -------IMHO
  10. SteveRicks

    SteveRicks Fortissimo User

    Aug 15, 2009
    Yes, I was taught the smile method in the 60's -at one of the states "better" schools. Even trumpet teachers used it -lead in symphony from who I studies.

    Enjoying the discussion. Just be careful of science or it will have you believing the earth is round, that we can travel in space, and that things are made of atoms. Tisk, tisk, tisk.

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