I'm really at the end of my rope. Should I just quit trumpet?

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Octiceps, Aug 20, 2010.

  1. Octiceps

    Octiceps Pianissimo User

    May 5, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    I know it sounds drastic, but that thought has been going through my head all summer long, and recently my playing has dropped to a point where I am seriously considering quitting trumpet altogether and maybe picking up the saxophone.

    Anyway, a little background about me: I've been playing trumpet for around 7 years, since I was a 5th grader; I'm a high school senior now. Until this summer, I had never taken a single private lesson, only played in the school band and tried to improve myself without any outside guidance. No one had ever told me not to use pressure to play higher notes, so that's what I did. For nearly 7 years. I could squeak out a high Eb by the end of last year. However, in January my playing suddenly went down the drain for no apparent reason. I got worse every week, and my band director let me know about it every day. I was miserable. Eventually, I hit rock bottom. There were consecutive days where I couldn't even play in the low register accurately.

    By chance, I came upon this forum in May and learned two things: That jamming the mouthpiece onto one's lips is NOT the healthy way to play and that I desperately needed a good private teacher. During that same month, I also got a new Bach Strad, which gave me a small morale boost, and got in touch with a teacher that my band director recommended, a guy who plays lead trumpet for the jazz band in a local university.

    So this past summer, I met with my teacher for 1 hour every week and diligently practiced 1.5 to 2 hrs every day. At first, I thought I was making some pretty good progress. Ricky (my teacher) had me roll my bottom lip out so that it lined up evenly with my top lip when I set my embouchure. Before, I had always tucked my bottom lip under my top lip and over my bottom teeth when I played. This made me an extreme downstream player to the point that my airstream was directed almost as if I was blowing on a coke bottle; that is, straight down. Ricky said that by doing that I was blowing all my air into the cup of the mouthpiece and not through the horn. Well, I rolled my bottom lip out and voila! For the first time, I could actually free buzz, something I wasn't able to do with my lip rolled in like before. Granted, I could only free buzz pedals and up to the C below the staff, but it was a start. I thought I had solved all my problems with that embouchure change.

    Well, now summer's over, and school's started, and I'm no better off than I was that first day I made the embouchure change. I can still only free buzz to that low C, and can really only play up to first line E on the horn without tensing up my neck or applying arm pressure. I try blowing faster air, but all that achieves is tensing up my neck to the point that my throat hurts and causing me to bottom out. Can you believe it? I bottom out after a low E?!? I certainly can't believe it. I've discussed this at every lesson with my teacher, but nothing has helped. He tells me to RELAX, to approach trumpet playing as if it were the easiest thing in the world. Well, I've tried that, and it just makes my tone flat and terrible sounding and my range is still stuck at that low E.

    I get really frustrated and depressed at times and can't get around the fact that I've lost two octaves in my range. I'm a senior now, which means I can take fewer academic classes and more music. I'm in jazz band and wind ensemble, and seriously, what can one play with a range like mine? Literally nothing. I can't play pedal tones or below the staff all day you know.

    There, I've let it all out. I'm sure no one cares to read this, but out least writing it out has served a therapeutic purpose for me.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2010
  2. Dragon98987

    Dragon98987 Pianissimo User

    Apr 20, 2010
    I think you should stick with it. I went through the same sort of thing last year and almost gave up trumpet. But I'm glad I ended up sticking with it.
  3. ottoa57

    ottoa57 Pianissimo User

    Feb 15, 2010
    Macomb, Mi
    If you truly love the trumpet, stick with it. There are many things I can say,,,many...let say...one of the first things I teach my students is, to do mouthpiece buzzing. Getting a good thick buzz on the mouthpiece is step 1...use a piano...to match the pitches...low c to g above that,,chromatically..REST as much as you play...go slow...
  4. tipo mastr

    tipo mastr New Friend

    Jun 6, 2009
    never say never. the revelation that made my trumpet playing fun and "easy" (i use that term lightly) came at a point of extreme frustration about my chops. I've been exactly where you are, and I know the feeling. Just remember that the solution may just be a change in perspective.

    Read about different methods and don't be afraid to try them. I don't really know whether or not your teacher is adamantly against reading about other methods, but if he's ok with it, it wouldn't do you wrong if you harmlessly checked out other people's concepts. Just remember to use the BS rule: if it looks and smells (god forbid TASTES?) like it, it probably is. =P

    If you want more pointed advice, you can look into the methods of several teachers. The one that comes to mind the quickest is Claude Gordon, simply because there is a LOT of free information about his method online. you can read about his approach Online Trumpet Lessons | purtle.com . It's run by Jeff Purtle, who studied with Claude for 10 years.

    There are other methods and techniques out there. Jeff smiley, Jerry Callet, and Walt Johnson, among MANY others all have specific techniques for playing the high register. Not saying that ANY of these methods (including claude gordon's) will work you, but there is information out there. If you DO end up quitting the trumpet, don't do it for lack of education. It's surprising how many professionals were NOT naturals by any stretch of the term.

    If you don't plan to make trumpet your career, remember that you have the time advantage. 5, 10, 20, 25 years is a lot of time to get the "knack" of things.
  5. Octiceps

    Octiceps Pianissimo User

    May 5, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    I don't want jump to the worst possible conclusion, but is it possible that prolonged pressure playing has damaged my chops to the point that they can no longer vibrate at a higher frequency? Has anyone ever heard horror stories like this? Just a thought.
  6. Moshe Mizrachi

    Moshe Mizrachi Pianissimo User

    Feb 17, 2010
    Your problem was that you were using too much mouthpiece pressure.
    The solution was to start using less mouthpiece pressure.

    There was nothing inherently wrong with your downstream embouchure that you started with.
    Different people are born with different embouchure types.
    When a teacher told you to stop using the embouchure type that you were apparently born with, he did a STUPID thing.
    As the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, then don't fix it.
    But your teacher tried to fix what was not broken.

    A similar experience was had by famous trumpet player Andrea Tofanelli who used to play for Maynard Ferguson.
    See the story at

    The story has also been posted here in Trumpet Master.

    A fancy shmancy teacher at Conservatory ordered Andrea to stop using the upstream embouchure he was born with and start using a downstream embouchure instead.
    The result was pure disaster.
    The only thing that saved Andrea's career was ignoring the teacher's orders and returning to his original embouchure type.
    You should do the same.

    By the way, free buzzing and pedal tones are a waste of time
    that would be better spent on actual playing and practicing of real music.
    In fact, practicing pedal tones temporarily destoyed the embouchure of famous hight note specialist Bud Brisbois, who had an upstream embouchure.
    Famous teacher Donald Reinhardt used to warn players of all embouchure types to refrain from playing pedal tones.

    Your experience should serve as a warning to all those people who give the advice "get a teacher" and follow the advice "get a teacher".
    Getting a bad teacher is actually worse than having no teacher at all,
    because a bad teacher can destroy your embouchure in just a few weaks.

    Dump your teacher and return to the downstream embouchure you started with,
    but this time do short practice sessions using minimum mouthpiece pressure and playing softly as your embouchure tries to re-build.
    And let your embouchure rest a lot between your short practice sessions,
    because your poor embouchure has been through heck.
    When in the late 1960's Armando Ghitalla helped high note specialist Bill Chase with embouchure problems that were caused by many years of using too much mouthpiece pressure, Ghitalla told Chase to do no playing at all for a few weeks so that Chase' embouchure could heal, and possibly also to help erase some muscle memory before resuming playing.
    For the rest of his life Chase then used and taught the use of minimum mouthpiece pressure.

    For further info about embouchure types, go to
    and then scroll down to the photos and the text that are halfway down that very long Web page.
    You might be Embouchure Type III rather than Type IIIA or Type IIIB if your trumpet angle is very low.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2010
  7. tipo mastr

    tipo mastr New Friend

    Jun 6, 2009
    No. The human body has a remarkable ability to learn, adapt, and heal. As long as you aren't overplaying past the point of extreme discomfort, you probably aren't doing anything wrong as far as physically damaging your face.
  8. Scatmanblues

    Scatmanblues Pianissimo User

    Jul 19, 2010
    West Texas
    Not likely at all. The chops are resilient things, and what you're experiencing now is likely the face adjusting to a new situation, not the results of any permanent damage. It really sounds like you've psyched yourself out more than had a complete physical breakdown.

    Remember, you play the way you expect to play, so if you are worried about poor tone or tension, guess what's going to happen as you play? You'll be out of tune and tense up. It's like telling a kid not to think about cookies or not to jump on the bed. Do that, and we all know what's going to happen. If you put the horn to your face thinking, "Don't crack that note" or, "Don't tense up" you're going to do just those things.

    I can't make you relax, but what you need to do is find a place and a time that you just enjoy playing. Maybe it's a favorite etude, or a melody you always enjoyed, or the first "hard" passage you mastered. Find something you enjoy and play it just for fun. Just play what makes you happy and spend most of your practice time playing things you've got down well and try to tweak them. The last thing you need to do right now is try to "work out" the things you are having the most trouble with. You're already too worked up over what you "can't" do instead of what you ALREADY do, and continually trying to play things you aren't strong at will only make you more frustrated. More frustrated = less focused and effective practice = making the thing worse rather than better.

    Go back to what you can do well and build from there. Get back to fundamentals like breathing, articulation, mouthpiece buzzing, flexibilities, and playing melodies. Confidence comes from successfully executing things well, so what you need to be doing now is "proving" to yourself that you can still play by building some success with the horn. As you realize that you can still play (and you can -reducing pressure can only make you better and stronger in the long run, even if you've got to re-learn some habits now) you can build from there towards where you want to be.

    I'd say good luck, but I don't think that's what you need at all. You just need to spend some time reminding yourself that you can still play the horn.

  9. Brekelefuw

    Brekelefuw Fortissimo User

    Mar 21, 2006
    Pressure is fine, as long as you don't overdo it and don't use it to compensate for tired chops.
  10. Octiceps

    Octiceps Pianissimo User

    May 5, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Thanks for all the advice and support. I greatly appreciate it. I just want to clarify and comment on some things.
    I tried that with my old embouchure. Thing is, my bottom lip was tucked in so much that if I didn't use enough pressure, it wouldn't even contact the rim or cup of the mouthpiece. That's why I sought a teacher.

    I think there was something inherently wrong with my embouchure before. I was having to work way too hard just to lip buzz, my buzz had terrible tone, and I couldn't hold a sustained note for more than 10 seconds. Note that after rolling my lower lip out, I am still a downstream player, just not as extreme. I did not do anything to my jaw structure when I changed my embouchure. My lower jaw still recedes a fraction behind my upper jaw when I set my embouchure. Neither position (rolling bottom lip in vs. having it about even with top lip) feels more natural to me.

    That makes sense, but didn't a lot of great teachers, such as Jimmy Stamp, advocate pedal tones?

    Once again, let me state that after my embouchure change, I am still a downstream player.

    I considered doing that, but it will be very hard to persuade my band teacher. Not only am I in two ensembles, but trumpet players are in VERY short supply at my school.

    I am nearly certain that I have a Type IIIB embouchure.

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