The Endless Search for Perfection

1357395743-800pxWe all face challenges each day. Some are brought on by our jobs, our life styles and in some cases are self-imposed as this post will reveal.

Today completes our Spring season with a new musical in town called “All Hands On Deck”. I would consider this the most enjoyable show I have played in Branson for the music is well written, the actors/ entertainers are top rate professionals and plot is very patriotic.

In my “never ending” and “never succeeding” quest for perfection, I began making notes of my performances to see how accurate my playing could be. After each show, I rated my performances in four categories as illustrated below.

1- Perfect performance with no errors in any way.

2- Good playing with mistakes only recognized by me and my section.

3- Obvious mistakes which could be recognized by the audience.

4- Undeniable blunders!

Category #1

Only 4 shows were rated as perfect, flawless, exceptional performances. From the first note to the end of the show, I had the feeling that nothing could go wrong.

Category #2

This section was by far the most representative of my playing in a live situation. My errors in almost every case were linked to concentration problems. This show is very intense with over 65 numbers with quick mute changes and segue songs and medleys. This, in addition to a few monster page turns, made the show very challenging when striving for a perfect performance. In this second category, I logged 28 near perfect performances.

Category #3

The performances in this section were again from concentration errors and not playing errors. Even though the lead part has over 80 high Cs and above, the high notes were not the problem as much as the concentration on the part. This section fortunately only had 2 incidents during our performances.

Category #4

This section also garnered 2 REALLY BAD CLAMS, and fortunately they were reserved for our final rehearsals with only the band present.

Some might wonder why anyone would admit to making errors during a show. To be honest, I have not witnessed anyone playing live shows that do not make a mistake at some time during a show. Some will say that they don’t make mistakes and I applaud them, if it is true. But for us, mere humans, a perfect performance is usual a performance were we didn’t get caught!

A Night Off

What do you do when you have finished a great week playing a show and you have nothing to do all evening? Well, what I did this evening was to play with one of my old toys from more than a half century back.

I’m speaking of a little contraption called an Octavoice I Ampliphonic which was produced by King Vox many, many, many, many years ago.

The model I have is for a Clarinet and due to the fact that the person (student) who sold it to me did not have a pickup for a trumpet, I had to make one myself. I’ve seldom played on it and the thought of getting it out to see if it still worked was too overpowering.

Below you will be able to hear how this cigarette package size unit can alter your sound; if that is what you want to do with your sound.

Both the reed and brass preamps work on the same principle and using the clarinet unit with a brass instrument was no problem.

I checked on line a few minutes ago and found a few for sale in the $400 to $500 price range.

You might ask, will I be using it on my next Dixieland job or performing with a symphony orchestra; the answer is no! But with the increase in value as much as it is now, I would be happy to part with it if anyone wants to spend an evening playing around with cutting edge technology from the mid 1960s.

In case you would like to hear what this marvel sounds like, check it out-

Speaking of technology, I’m starting to think we have become much to technology dependent. What do you think?
Index of attachments moving clockwise-

2016-05-22 14.36.04

1. Mouthpiece pickup (absolutely essential for rock band playing)

2. Headphones (not actually connected to anything but essential when playing with rock bands)

3. Silent Brass System mute for warming up.

4. Extra contact mike on outside of bell (just in case a battery or patch chord fails you.)

5. Boss Tuner & Metronome (essential for those with normal pitch recognition)

6. AirTurn BT-105 (very handy for page turns and muted insertions at the same time)

7. Yamaha Personal Studio mixer (just another part of the Silent Brass System)

8. Octavoice I Ampliphonic (necessary if you want to fatten your sound by switching to trumpet, trombone and tuba settings)

To Plunge Or Not To Plunge, That Was The Question…

Mute Position
What looks good on a score sometimes does not work as well as one might anticipate as this situation illustrates.

I ran into a challenge recently which made me look for a nontraditional solution.

On one of my parts was the example below-
DuWah 001
At first glance, I thought it to be a challenge but not a problem. Then I tried playing it. When using my ever trusty new plunger, the high C’s tended to “break” and I was having a difficult time getting all of the DuWahs to sound the same. Even after practicing, it didn’t seem to be improving so…. I needed to find a way to be consistent and at the same time sound like a conventional DuWah.

A half valve solution turned out to be simple and yet still convincing in sound. All I had to do was to play open on the open notes and half valve the “DO” notes and lift the valves for the “Wah” effect. That instantly solved my problem. The sound was the same and being able to play with both hands on my horn made every high C more secure to play.

What is very easy to play an octave lower is not the same animal when played up an octave.

Below are three examples of the same passage with the third performed down an octave to demonstrate how easy the lower octave is when compared to an octave higher.

1. Half Valve

2. Plunger

3. Lower Octave

As with most difficult playing situations, practice until you can’t improve and when all else fails, cheat.

Packing Your Essentials For A Job

Just another day at the office.
Some gigs require your horn and a mouthpiece while others require planning and forethought.

My present job has special requirements which I will address in this post.

The “All Hands on Deck Show” is all-new to Branson, fresh off a national tour. Themed as an All-American 1942 Roadshow, audiences are treated to singing, dancing, a 9-piece orchestra, funny skits, and 42 of the greatest American songs ever written. Celebrate the American way of life, and honor our veterans who have made it all possible at this patriotic Branson show.

Some of the extra equipment in this show are the following as shown in the photos below-


• Horn and mouthpiece. Dah!
• Straight mute
• Cup Mute
• Plunger
• Mute holder
• Music Riser
• Repair kit
• Trumpet stand
• Stand light
• Music

The reason I have posted this information is to point out some of the pieces of equipment which have made a BIG improvement in my playing on this gig.

My new plunger

Be sure to read or re-read my post on this new addition to my arsenal of toys. If you have not replaced your old plunger, do it now with this one. During our show, I have a featured solo along with one of our very talented stars and my new plunger far exceeds any other I have ever used. It is more versatile and you are able to change colors from soft and dreamy to red hot and edgy with this tool. Even if you own a conventional rubber sewer plunger, pull it out of your case and throw it away! THIS IS THE BEST PLUNGER YOU WILL EVER USE!

My new Mute holder

During our current show, I have many, many, many mute changes with very little time to make changes. I needed something which could hold my mutes as close to my bell as possible and this free holder does the trick. I use the cup, straight and plunger throughout the show and each is positioned exactly where I need them. It only takes a second to pull one and insert another for each is easily available at the end of my bell not on a stand under the dance band front. If you don’t have one of these by now, MAKE ONE!

Music Riser

This is something I have been selling and has become very popular. In fact after some of the members of the band saw mine, they requested one for themselves. The improvement in reading your music is substantial and I wouldn’t be without mine on any reading job.

Stand Light

This has been a life saver for me because of the changing stage lights being used every day. The band was furnished with the typical double goose neck, battery operated stand lights and it took me only one rehearsal to see the shortcomings of these illuminators. Not only are they susceptible to running out of power in the middle of a show but they also have to be recharged with new battery’s every couple days. In addition to those faults, THEY DON’T LIGHT UP THE MUSIC ENOUGH! No matter how the stage lighting changes, my music is constantly well lit.

Intonation Rings

The addition of these rings has made my life much more pleasant for as other trumpet players are pushing and pulling their third slides in and out, I just concentrated on the notes.

If you still have not tried some of these ideas, all I can say is, “I told you so”!

Using Technology to Improve Your Trumpet Playing- Using an oscilloscope

Visualizing Your Sound

Many times I am asked , “Who do you think has the best trumpet sound?” Some would say Clifford Brown, some would offer the name Maurice André, Bud Herseth or “Bix” Beiderbecke. Everyone has an opinion but the real question should be, “Why do they have the sound we strive for”? Some say the secret to a good tone quality lies in the equipment used and some believe that the resonating chamber in each person is the reason. Whatever the reason and whoever you are speaking of, one thing is a known fact, through technology, we can easily SEE the difference in good and bad trumpet tone and with simple equipment, time and the desire, we can improve our tone quality. Continue reading to find how you can accomplish this improvement overnight.

Required equipment-

• Computer
• Microphone (internal or external)
Audacity program

Getting your recording program to work.

• Read the instructions
• Read them again
• Call the service number for help

How to use your recorded signal.

I will assume that you have installed your free Audacity program and have been able to see your recording on your screen. Viewing an audio signal is amazing for all those jagged peaks and valleys will be helpful for you to actually SEE your tone on the screen.

Exercise #1- Producing and recording your best sound.

• Play your best sustained note into the microphone as you record your playing.
• Again, on a second track, play with the worst sound you are capable in the same manner.
• Cut out a representation of both tracks (about two seconds of signal) and save them/ or cut out the beginning and end sections you are not going to use.
• Take the magnifying tool and enlarge the signals as much as you need. You can use the photo at the top of the page as a guide.
• Notice the difference between the two images. The best tone will be represented as extended high peaks and the poor tone will have more of a mushy look to it.

Now you know what a good tone looks like and what a poor tone looks like. So…what do you do next?
You have illustrated the difference, visually what the two look like and now we need to move one step further to reach your goal of the most beautiful sound made by man/woman.

In order to make your next move, you will have to acquire an oscilloscope. You may ask, “What is an oscilloscope?” At the beginning of this series, I used a picture of an oscilloscope as the opening photo. Check back if you are not familiar with the term and as you look, I’ll wait here for you……

….Welcome back.

The reason you will need an oscilloscope is that even though you have seen the difference in tone quality on the computer screen, using an oscilloscope will make it possible for you, through the process of bio-feedback, to practice widening and improving your tone. The image that you captured in your Audacity program gave you information at that moment in your recording. What we want to do now, through the use of an oscilloscope, is give you a visual indication of your tone in real time.

Exercise #2- Playing into an oscilloscope.

• Read the instructions
• Read them again
• Call the service number for help

Exercise #3- Using Biofeedback to improve your tone quality.

• Play your best note into the machine.
• Notice how the signal widens as you increase your volume.
• Generally the more overtones you are able to produce, the higher the peaks become.
• Do not confuse increased decibels with improved tone.
• Keep your volume the same as you change your embouchure.
• Most often, a more relaxed embouchure will produce more overtones and consequently a bigger sound and an increase in decibels.

Continue for ten or fifteen minutes and mentally absorb what you are doing. Each time you play a note into the machine, you are given a visual readout of what your tone has registered. Once you understand what is going on between you and the oscilloscope, begin to widen your range of notes and apply what you have learned in the middle register.

I first began using the biofeedback exercise in my own playing. Then I began letting my students play around with it. In a very short time, each student was able to open their sound to the point that everyone could hear the difference. Each student gained a bigger, more centered, richer tone, using less effort.

After working in my studio one summer at UNI, I got to the point that I could add so many overtones to my sound that it actually became painful to the ear. It is possible to exceed the use of overtones and begin to develop a tinnier, disturbingly edgy sound.

Disclaimer- The information posted above is from my own experience and in no way should it be used as a guide for the selection of any particular oscilloscope.

Before you purchase, beg, borrow, steal or rent a unit, seek advice from someone who knows the difference from one unit to another. The oscilloscope I used is the same model as the one on our first post. You can find many units on EBay but before you make your purchase, be sure that it will function properly in this situation.

The Trumpet Player’s Octave Key

Have you ever watched enviously as woodwind players sail up and down through their wide range by only depressing their octave key? With the slightest movement of the thumb of their left hand, clarinet players are able to jump octaves with ease and sax players effortlessly negotiate eight and sixteen note intervals with no additional effort while we brass players continue to struggle to perform the same skips. Well fellow tube buzzers, there is hope. We will also soar with the eagles for we now have an octave key and we should use it proudly. It is located just below the little finger of our right hand and it is called “the hook”!

The previous message is an attempt at humor for the hook has been given the name the octave key for a reason and the reason is not good. The hook,  located on your lead pipe, has been given the name octave key because of its misuse when playing in the high register. When we struggle to play our high notes, the hook is many times used to squeeze out more pressure on the lip to get these notes. The excessive pressure applied to the embouchure will increase high notes but at a cost. Excessive mouthpiece pressure will thin the tone quality of these notes as well as limit blood flow to the embouchure which in turn will decrease the player’s endurance. I have seen extreme cases where the player using excessive pressure has literally split the lip open and permanently damaged the nerves of the embouchure.

What is the purpose of the hook on my horn?

There are reasons the hook has been attached to your instrument and here are some of them.

  • The hook is useful when playing with one hand.
  • If you need to insert a mute or turn a page of your music, it is useful.
  • You will find the hook helpful when placing your instrument in its case.

How will I know if I am using the hook to incorrectly get my high notes?

To find out if you are using too much mouthpiece pressure to get your high notes, simply take your little finger out of the hook and play the same high notes. If you are unable to get them to speak, the chance is very good that you are using too much pressure and the cause of the added pressure is coming from your misuse of the hook.

The amount of excessive pressure will vary among the many playing styles of trumpet players but the worst case I have personally witnessed happened while playing the Circus. One of my good friends was playing the third cornet part and used so much pressure that we had to find a mouthpiece puller to get his mouthpiece removed from his horn. In another case, I witnessed another player use so much pressure that he actually pulled the hook off the lead pipe. Obviously the solder joint was defective but it was originally attached with enough strength to pass inspection at the factory.

How can I break the habit of misusing the hook?

If you are convinced that the pressure is being generated from the little finger of your right hand and you are determined to break yourself of this habit, try the following-

  • Tape some Scotch Tape around the hook.
  • Each time you place your finger in the hook, you will be reminded to refrain from using it.
  • After a few days of rewrapping the tape, you will be less dependent on the hook.

I have worked with students at band camps who, after one week, were able to change their habit of using too much mouthpiece pressure because of the tape on the hook trick. One student shared with me the fact that their band director had been yelling at him/her for two years to “get the finger out of the hook”, and in two days with the tape, they had broken the habit.

Don’t go to extremes when trying to break the habit.

One of my students was using too much pressure and when I told him of the tape trick, he understood and left his lesson encouraged that he would solve his pressure problem by the next lesson. When he returned the next week, he had indeed corrected the habit, but when I asked him the reason for the bandage on his right hand, little finger, he told me the reason. After leaving his lesson the week previous, he thought he would improve on my instructions and taped a thumb tack on the inside of the hook to more effectively remind himself of the exercise. You need not go to extremes to get the job done, a simple piece of tape will be enough. You will find that you will be replacing the tape often the first few days for we are creatures of habit and it is surprising how many times we use the hook.

We all use some pressure while playing, but if you are using the minimum amount; you will be a better player.

Brass Players Obsession for “The Sound” Part 3- What Does A Full, Rich Sound Look Like?


When trying to describe a tone produced by any vibratory agent, one needs to graphically represent its elements in a way everyone can see and compare. To do this, I will record three different trumpet pitches and compared each as it is represented on a computer screen. As some of you may already know, I am a strong advocate for a simple and inexpensive (free) program called Audacity. It is with this software that I have record our examples and if you do not already have Audacity on your computer, why are you waiting?

1. Our first examples will illustrate embouchures ranging from normal, too firm and overly relaxed.

• Normal firmness
• Overly tensed
• Overly relaxed

Embouchure Firmness

2. Our second series of examples will illustrate what happens when the players jaw is in a normal position, then recessed and finally in an extended position.

• Normal position
• Recessed position
• Extended position

Jaw Position

3. Example number three compares different mouthpiece pressures.

• Normal pressure
• Excessive pressure
• Not enough pressure

Mouthpiece Pressure

4. These examples represent a normal aural cavity, an overly restricted cavity and a highly expanded aural cavity.
• Normal aural cavity
• Too restricted cavity
• An excessively open aural cavity

Aural Cavity

5. The last example compares a normal aperture between the lips, a smaller and finally a too wide of an opening.
• Normal opening
• Too small
• Too wide

Aperture size

When reviewing these graphs, some conclusions can be made. As I reviewed my examples, most proved what I have always understood and in a couple instances, I had to rethink my original opinions.

Here are some of my conclusions after this exercise.

Effects from too much air restriction and excessive embouchure tension-

1. Too small an aperture between the lips decreases the overall decibel volume.
2. An embouchure which is overly tensed produces an edgier sound but at the same time decreases the overtones in the middle register which tends to give the overall sound an edge but does not sound full and rich.
3. A recessed jaw brightens the tone but does not seem to lose much of the midrange overtones.
4. Too much mouthpiece pressure compresses the overtones in all ranges. I also noted that this was an extreme case in the low range but less obvious in the upper register.
5. Restricting the aural cavity did not seem to make much difference on the low C and G but greatly increased all of the overtones on the third space C.
6. Restricting the size of the aperture between the lips reduced the volume as well as all of the active overtones in all three pitches.

Effects from minimal air restriction and excessive embouchure relaxation-

1. In all three pitches it was obvious that the tone was darker with very little overtone activity when the embouchure was excessively relaxed.
2. In all three pitches it was also apparent that when the aural cavity was overly expanded, overtones were increased dramatically.
3. When playing with a lip aperture larger than normal, the amount of overtone activity seemed to remain constant with all three pitches.

Conclusions made from this exercise-

• This took much more time than I had expected.
• An embouchure which is too relaxed produces a tone which lacks overtones.
• A jaw position which is receded produces bright overtones but lacks midrange overtones which gives the sound an edge but lacks fullness.
• An extended jaw produces strong midrange overtones but lacks the bright overtones.
• Excessive mouthpiece pressure greatly reduces decibel volume and at the same time reduces the midrange overtones.
• Too little mouthpiece pressure boosts the midrange overtones on the G and third space C but has little effect on the low C
• An open aural cavity greatly enhances the overtones on all three notes. The midrange is outstanding on third space C but at the same time loses the brightness.
• Having a more open aperture between the lips seems to be the most consistent tone on all three of the notes.

So….. for the biggest sound-

• Keep the aural cavity as open as possible
• Keep the aperture between the lips more open than you think
• Use firm corners with relaxed center
• Keep your front teeth even
• Use enough mouthpiece pressure to seal the air but no more than is required

Now I will take a couple days off and go fishing. I deserve it!

Brass Players Obsession for “The Sound” Part 2

What Is The Perfect Tone?

If you ask a dozen trumpet players this question you will get many different descriptions for each player has been influenced by their past likes and dislikes. To a die-hard cool jazz musician, his/her leanings would be more toward the darker side illustrated by the styling of Miles Davis but to a traditional jazz follower, the tone of Louis Armstrong would be more appealing. Most symphonic trumpet performers would agree that the tone of Mr. “Bud” Herseth would be ideal and yet there are some who would prefer a different principle chair player.

It would be useless and unproductive for me at this time to get into a discussion on “who has the best tone quality” for that would be like which is the best car on the road; it depends on many different expectations of the driver. What we will be discussing in this post is the question, “What is required to produce a full, rich and resonant sound on a trumpet”?

To produce the qualities list above, several elements in the production of a full trumpet tone are required:

1. An embouchure which is as relaxed as possible to produce the desired pitch. Please note the selective use of the words “as relaxed as possible”
2. An air stream with the least amount of resistance to produce the desired pitch.

3. The least amount of mouthpiece pressure to produce the desired pitch and decibel volume.

4. The correct amount of air to produce the desired tone quality.

5. The most open passageway in the throat and oral cavity to produce the desired tone.

6. A high mouthpiece setting produces a richer sound.

7. A wider aperture between the lips increases the overtones in the timbre.

If any of these elements are impeded, the quality of your tone will be diminished. To better understand how each of these areas affects your final product, I will illustrate with both visual and audible examples.
Next Installment- “How Your Tone Is Impeded By Less Than Optimum Conditions”.