Describe " Free Blowing "

Discussion in 'Horns' started by Larry Gianni, Feb 11, 2004.

  1. Larry Gianni

    Larry Gianni Piano User

    Nov 11, 2003
    Los Angeles
    Hello all,

    Can you tell me , in words , what it feels like to you if a trumpet is " free blowing" or " Not free blowing "

    Does that feeling change from register to register?, and is a trumpet considered good or even great if it's free blowing in one register , but not in another register?

    Also is " free blowing " always a positive to a trumpet's characteristics?

  2. Tootsall

    Tootsall Fortissimo User

    Oct 25, 2003
    Yee HAW!
    I define "free blowing" as having "low impedance". That's the electrical engineering word that describes the resistance to the "cycles" or "vibrations" of an AC current. "Resistance" is a different term and generally used to denote the resistance to actual "Flow" as in water through a pipe, or air through a hose or direct electrical current through a wire. A "high impedance" circuit will tend to absorb a lot of energy from the alternating current and the components (be they on a circuit board or whatever) will tend to be quite warm. It feels like "resistance" to the player since it fights his attempts to set up a big, full sound.

    In a trumpet, we are setting up a standing wave. This wave consists of an axial vibration that is of alternating high and low pressure points down through the tubing where some of the energy bounces off the ambient air at the end of the bell and back up the tubing towards the mouthpiece (and through the mouthpiece into the player's oral cavity where it helps "aid and abet" the vibration from the player's lips...and so on and so on). The design of the horn (material, tubing shape, bracing, etc.) can either help the horn resonate and feed energy back into the air column (at all frequencies or at only some frequencies or ranges) OR it can be "dead" and force us to "blow like hell" to get the wave to build up enough so that the horn "speaks clearly and strongly". I had a chance to try my father-in-law's old Beuscher (don't know what model...had the gold and silver plating pattern on the bell design...Truetone?). I honestly thought that horn had a dead mouse in it somewhere! However, if I "blew my arse off", it actually had a very brilliant, clear and high tone...I suppose it would be good for Mariachi, screaming lead, or punching holes in the parade ground (he was a Canadian Army bandsman but was also in charge of the Western Canada Pharmacies during WWII) but definitely NOT what I like.

    At band practice on Tuesday, a new older European gentleman ... joined and brought his "new" trumpet. It is a B & S Challenger, model 435G. Now, I didn't see any markings to indicate if it was the Challenger I or the Challenger II because it was a European model.... he'd just bought it in Germany and paid a price that makes me think it must have been their "II model". It was nice... actually sounded very much like a Strad. Had a fairly decent heft to it (laquer, "G" bell?).
    However it did not "sing back" at me the way my Schilke does. I guess
    that the heavier material, the single brace on the tuning crook, and possibly different position of the bell and leadpipe braces IN ADDITION TO ALL OF THE OTHER PHYSICAL DIFFERENCES caused the sensation that I had to work it just that little bit harder.

    So... that's my definition of "free blowing"... a trumpet that is built so as to require very little energy to sustain a clean, strong vibration throughout it's playing range.
  3. jamesfrmphilly

    jamesfrmphilly Piano User

    Oct 31, 2003
    the north philly ghetto
    would that be more or less fatiguing to play?
    is a "free blowing" instrument less tiring to play?
  4. dcstep

    dcstep Mezzo Piano User

    Nov 27, 2003
    For someone accustomed to and "needing" resistance, a free blowing horn can be more tiring. I need to use a mpc with a tighter backbore to get the resistance I need (desire) with a large bore horn. So, I think it depends on your total setup (player/mpc/horn) and what you're used to.

    Speaking to impedance, there was a great article in the ITG Journal in the last year or two about impedance and it's impact on trumpet volume. Basically it said that higher impedance horns translate more of the energy they receive into sound, so that they're louder for a given effort. How you perceive this loudness from behind the horn is easy to misjudge.

    Tom Moore, Phd. was the author, I believe. If you've take the journal it's a "must read."

  5. Larry Gianni

    Larry Gianni Piano User

    Nov 11, 2003
    Los Angeles
    DC -

    I brought this subject up because a balance of resistance is what makes a trumpet play and feel " free blowing " . The bore size is " non-issue " if all the right reisitance parameters line up correctly so the felling of " free blowing " is achieved.

    Of course a mouthpiece is a factor in any trumpet " feel " or " blowing discussion, but that adds a whole new parameter to it, that with it's variables, could be a never ending , non answerable question.

    I'm trying to say the term resistance , customarily applied as a negative to a talk on trumpets , is actually a positive when used properly in the design of an instrument.

    It's like the word Cholesterol - there a bad cholesterol that should be avoided, but also a good cholesterol , that the body needs to stay healthy and functioning on a positive path.

    Bob Reeves and KO Skinsnes, one day at the Reeves shop, both very intelligent guys and experienced professionals in the industry, once talked me out of opening up the throat of my mouthpiece telling me that " throat opening " is a very counterintuitive feeling and that actually what i was felling was my own throat closing trying to create resistance that wasn't being provided by the throat in my mouthpiece. Well, that impossible I thought, I feel like I'm blowing against a brick wall after a while and my playing gradually deteriorated. I getting stronger as a player and practice alot, how can I not need a bigger throat on in my mouthpiece.
    But, I did as they suggested and didn't open up the mouthpiece and just tried to relax( another trumpet misnomer - the term "just relax " - it's like suggesting to try mentally to stop your heart from beating - but that's another topic)

    That was a very wise and educated statement that has stuck with me for over 10 years now and with that advise, I eventually went to a smaller throat size and almost immediately, everything went back into balance for me.

    I think also that the phase " free blowing " and it's equipment label is also counter-intuitive and actually when , after awhile ( your body can overcome resistance issues when your fresh ) , the trumpet starts to play stuffy or stiff, maybe you need a tighter set-up, not the next bigger leadpipe or bore-size up.

    Just " food for thought " stuff - any comments anyone?

    The Ghost
  6. dcstep

    dcstep Mezzo Piano User

    Nov 27, 2003
    Well..., I totally agree with Larry, EXCEPT for removing the mouthpiece variable. Yes, it adds a very complex variable to the equation, but I think it's unavoidable. When comparing horns, I ALWAYS take my 3C out and figure out which end of the spectrum the horn resides on, from tightest to freest, and then I move to a mpc that I feel best suits the horn.

    I've recommended the very "free blowing" Selmer Paris Concept TT to anyone that would listen and several people have put their money up and bought one. In almost every case, the player needed a mouthpiece change. More than one of us would have returned the horn as unmanageable had fortune not smiled and a suitable mpc jump out of pile of derilics.

    So maybe we do agree. I'd say, use a 3C/1.5C/5C, or whatever you normally use to place the horn on the free/tight scale and then select a mpc appropriate for you and the horn's place on the continuum. How's that?

    As an aside, the absolute "bore" measurement is only a starting point at determining whether a horn feels tight or free blowing. The leadpipe, bell flare, main tuning slide shape, etc., etc. all have much to do with the feel. WT clearly demonstrates this by changing just the tuning slide parameter and creating several feels and sounds out of the same horn.

  7. Larry Gianni

    Larry Gianni Piano User

    Nov 11, 2003
    Los Angeles
    I'm with you Dave, all the way

  8. nowherenearadouble

    nowherenearadouble Pianissimo User

    Nov 12, 2003
    I used a Callet Jazz with a Callet 10S(28 throat and 4 backbore). This was a free blowing combination.
    I tried a Conn V1 with the same mp and the horn was 'stuffy'. I used the same mp on a Lawler 26b and the horn was tight, but not stuffy. On my new Committee I use a Callet 10c with a more open backbore and guess what..FREE BLOWING!! 8)
    I think there is a difference between 'tight' and a 'stuffy' feeling tho. :?:
  9. lonelyangel

    lonelyangel Pianissimo User

    Nov 8, 2003
    You see, I knew that Larry was just messing with my mind. I read the question earlier today and its been niggling away at me for hours. So when I finally get to sit down and write a reply, what do i find? Larry's gone and answered his own question and stolen my thunder. :)

    I would agree with you Larry and Dave, there has to be some resistance in the total set up - which I think we agree consists of mouthpiece cup/throat/backbore, leadpipe, shape of front bow, bore through the valves, bell flare, weight and density of metal etc.

    The other important variable in the equation is the player - his apperture control, the fleshiness of his lips, amount of pressure used, toungue placement, throat, lung capacity and so forth (my maths is not up to the task of working this equation out by the way). So that for one player a certain horn/mouthpiece combination feels perfect and yet another player using the same equipment complains that the horn is tight, stuffy, baggy, draining, too open, too closed, sucks the air out of him, makes him see stars.... etc.

    As so often with Larrys posts, he raises more questions than answers in my mind. What do I mean when I say a horn is free-blowing? I have to admit that I have fallen into a lazy habit of using that phrase as shorthand for - "I like the balance of the resistance in the horn". What I mean is that the horn speaks or responds very easily at quiet volumes, has a taut, focused feeling to the sound which retains its proportions at all volumes and across the full range and which doesn't back up on me, get distorted or fight back when I use large volume and high velocity of air to play extremely loud.

    I am aware that I seem to prefer a slightly tighter feeling horn than many of my colleagues. But I take into account the fact that I use a wider cup and a larger backbore than many of them and probably play with a quite open throat. On the other hand the sound I like to make is more compact, intense and directional, rather than expansive, broad and diffused and maybe the resisitance balance that I am drawn to helps me to achieve the sound I am after.

    One thought which occured to me is that a flugelhorn, inspite of its large bell and wide conical bore (although much smaller through the valves) always feels more resistant or tight to me than a trumpet. I guess in a flugelhorn I wouldn't really want a free-blowing, large bore kind of horn. Rather a sweet compact core to the tone with a hazy fluffy halo surrounding it. Perhaps to counter balance the much deeper cup and larger throat I need to feel something in the horn to work against. Any thoughts on this anybody?

    Anyway, that's enough rambling. Nice post Larry and by the way there are people who can allegedly stop their heart from beating using the power of their minds - some Yogis in India I believe - but as you said, that's for another post.

    All the best. Noel.
  10. W Scott

    W Scott Piano User

    Dec 8, 2003
    Carson City, NV.
    I really don't know what causes a horn to be free blowing. I do know that I don't like horns where I'm having to strain to push air through the darn thing. I played a shephards crook Yamaha one time that felt like trying to blow mud through the thing. I tried three different mouthpieces and taking the valves out and putting the valves back in---same thing. Imagine trying to blow a trumpet by using a straw---that's what it feels like.

    I don't think it's the mouthpiece as I've played too many horns with several mouthpieces and I have the same feel. Bore? Nope---again, I've played all sorts of bores and can't say that a big bore is easy and a small bore is hard.

    Expensive horn vs. cheap? Nope---one of best blowing horns is my Conn Director. Another free blowing horn for me is the Calicchio 1s/2 with any setup. I can (and have) played one for over an hour and it was the easiest horn to blow I have ever tried.

    So, this brings up an interesting question---how does a horn maker manufacture a horn to 'blow' a certain way? Or is that not a realistic goal? Why is it that many of the old horns from the 20's and 30's are so hard to blow as opposed to the easier blowing horns of today? Could it be the valves?


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