The following are opinions I have developed (and continue to refine) over several years of teaching and study. I owe a debt of gratitude to all my teachers for helping me to arrive at a musical identity, but here I should make special note of David Hickman, who laid the foundation for much of what I teach; Luis Loubriel, with whom I have not studied but whose books on Vincent Cichowicz have left a lasting impression on me; and my many students, particularly those from Ball State University, who allowed me to test and refine my understanding in their lessons. If your opinions differ from mine, I would be happy to sit down over coffee to discuss the finer points of trumpet pedagogy, but please do not email me to engage in a debate. Email is not my preferred platform for those sorts of discussions.
What I Think About Practicing
The trumpet you own, the mouthpiece you use, and even the teacher you profess to follow are useless unless you are willing to pay your dues on the horn. There is no substitute for consistent, focused practice with a metronome, a pencil, and a recording device.
What I Think About Air
The hole that forms the throat of a trumpet mouthpiece is small: so small, in fact, that it will regulate the passage of air without the help of the trumpet player. It is important to distinguish between an air column that feels pressurized because of the natural resistance created by the inability of all of the air to pass through the mouthpiece at once, versus the pressure that a player may exert on the airstream using the muscles of the neck, chest, or stomach.
Scientific studies have proven that brass instruments of all types require more air to play loudly than softly and faster air to play high than to play low. The volume (amount) of air is regulated by the aperture and by the fullness of the breath itself. Just as it is possible to take a shallow breath or a full breath when standing in the kitchen cooking dinner, so it is possible to do the same while playing a trumpet, without adding unnecessary tension to the air column. The speed of the air is regulated not by the force with which we attempt to squeeze it from our lungs but by the way we shape the tongue, the roof of the mouth, and the embouchure as it passes from our lungs to the instrument.
I believe that the concept of “air support” is little better than a myth, since it is an abstract and ill-defined term that has been coined to describe the motion of an invisible substance (air) through the human body. I suspect that most teachers use the term “air support” to refer to the degree of consistency with which a player maintains the volume and speed of the air, and it is true that most students will respond to a directive to “support with your air” by automatically making a successful adjustment. However, this term probably means something slightly different to everyone, and for this reason I avoid using it. The notion of “supporting from the diaphragm” is outright impossible, since the diaphragm relaxes involuntarily as a person exhales and no amount of squeezing in the abdominal area can prevent it from doing this.
What I Think About Embouchure
The trumpet embouchure properly functions as a balance between two opposing muscle groups. On the one hand, the orbicularis oris is a circular muscle that surrounds the mouth; when we contract this muscle, the lips pucker like those of a goldfish. On the other hand, we have the collection of muscles controlling the cheeks; when we contract this group of muscles, the lips pull back in a smile.
Although the motion of the player’s corners is one of the most obvious physical symptoms of an inefficient embouchure, this is a case where fixing the symptom will not address the underlying cause. The muscles have learned to work out of balance for a reason; simply strengthening one muscle or the other will not address this reason and can in fact seriously harm a player’s development. Above all, the lips need to be relaxed and supple when the player performs; it is the muscles surrounding the lips that act to flatten or tense them. Many of the training aids that claim to strengthen a player’s embouchure by strengthening the lips will actually work against the player’s ability to let the lips respond naturally to the air, and should be avoided.
More often, the source of a player’s embouchure problems has to do with dental structure. When a trumpet player has a substantial overbite or underbite, it can affect the ability of the mouthpiece to rest upon a flat surface. The same thing is true of crooked teeth, which may make it difficult for the player to place the mouthpiece in the center of the mouth. In general, the mouthpiece should rest on a portion of the embouchure that it basically centralized and basically flat. In other words, the mouthpiece should sit as close to the middle of the mouth as possible, in terms of both its lateral and vertical placement, and the jaw should be brought forward if necessary. Practicing in the pedal register can help with jaw placement; moving the actual mouthpiece itself is a traumatic adjustment for most players because it will require the embouchure to learn to rebalance itself. For this reason I prefer to ask a student to change his or her mouthpiece placement only as a last resort.
What I Think About Mouthpiece Pressure
Mouthpiece pressure becomes problematic both when there is too much of it and also when there is not enough of it.
What I Think About Equipment
Equipment has never been an area of special interest for me, and I have no interest in making it so. I have chosen to play Bach trumpets (excepting my piccolos) because I appreciate the range of colors that I can get from these horns, and I appreciate the level of feedback (resistance) that I get from my instruments.
If you are attempting to purchase a trumpet and you are not my private student, please do not contact me to ask for advice about your equipment (but if you are my private student, I want to play the horn before you buy it!). I do not consider myself to be the most qualified person to answer this question for a stranger whose playing is unfamiliar to me. In general, I would argue that the trumpet you should own is the trumpet you will be most excited about practicing. If you are a college student, you need to consult your professor before purchasing anything.