Trumpet Lessons? No Cookie Cutters Here!

No Two Trumpet Players are the Same…

So it makes no sense to teach them all the same way.

In the early 1990′s I had an epiphany that has come to shape my entire career as a teacher. While all of my friends were arguing about different embouchure types, I had broadened my focus beyond just looking at the physical aspects of the individual trumpet players. I realized that it is not only our embouchures that set us apart from each other but also our history and our desires. As a teacher today, I not only recognize each individual’s embouchure as being unique, but also the life each person is living.

Embouchures Are Like Fingerprints

There is no perfect embouchure. When I work with a trumpet student, my objective is to help them find their best embouchure, not to force them to conform to a textbook embouchure. The textbook embouchure doesn’t exist. Any teacher who has kept up with modern trumpet pedagogy should know this.

Do you want proof?

All you need for proof is to watch the famous players’ embouchures. I remember going to see the Summit Brass Ensemble at Rice University. If you are unfamiliar with Summit Brass, they are some of the top classical brass musicians in the world. Four trumpet players. All four of them had distinctly different embouchures. I noticed the same thing when I went to see the Monday night band at the Village Vanguard in New York City. Once again, each trumpet player had a distinctly different embouchure. Compare Maynard Ferguson to Doc Severinsen to Wynton Marsalis to Jon Faddis to Freddie Hubbard to Cliffard Brown and you will see that each of them has a different embouchure. The same is true for Maurice Andre, Anthony Plog, Raymond Mase, Phil Smith and Adolph Herseth.

So no, in our lessons we do not try to make your embouchure look like someone else’s embouchure. The exercises I give you and the things we discuss in the lessons are meant to help you find your best way to play based on efficiency. I believe you have a correct embouchure that is unique to you and my job as your teacher is to help you find that embouchure. One way we will know if you have found that embouchure is when you have a beautiful sound and when it becomes easier to play the instrument.

I could write about this embouchure stuff for hours, but the only point that needs to be made here is that everyone has a different embouchure. Let’s spend some time looking for yours.

Physical and Musical History

Photo by Pin Lim at forestphotography.com

Another thing that makes all trumpet players different from each other is their history. A good demonstration of these differences is to look at a sampling of my current students. My students range in age from seven to seventy-seven. Some of them have never listened to trumpet music while others have listened so much that it motivated them to begin taking lessons even though they are in their retirement years. Some of my students have been playing and practicing regularly for as long as forty years, others are complete beginners.

Even the complete beginners each come from a different place. I have had some beginners who had such weak lip muscles that they couldn’t play bottom line E. It was too high for them. On the other extreme, I have taught a few beginners who had such strong chops that they could play a high C on their very first try.

As people, not just as trumpet players, but as human beings, we each come from a different place. We each have a different story to tell. How could I teach them all the same way if they all have different abilities and different life experiences to begin with? I can tell you that I tried that approach in the beginning. It didn’t work. I’ve been teaching trumpet lessons for thirty years now. My experience has helped me learn that I must first learn who you are and where you are as a musician before I can help you get to where you want to go.

Your Desires – The Road Ahead

Already we have seen that different trumpet players have different embouchures and different histories, and that alone should be enough to convince you that each student should be taught as a unique individual. But what about this third aspect of a trumpet student’s life? What about your desires? What is it you want to do with this hunk of metal we call a trumpet?

There are so many different objectives the students have when they come to me for lessons that you simply cannot teach them all the same way. Just looking at my current students alone, I can tell you that each one of them has different goals and objectives as a trumpet player and that none of them have the same goals and objectives I do.  I have one eighth grade student who wants to eventually become a professional jazz player but all the rest of them have no intention of making music their careers. I have one high school student who seeks perfection in his music and wants to be the best player in every band he plays with. Second best is not good enough for him. In contrast, I have another high school student who doesn’t play in a band. He just likes to play trumpet on his own and for his own pleasure. Then I have adult students as well. One adult student has the goal of soon being good enough to play in the local community bands having started as an adult beginner. Another adult student has as his goal to play jazz just like Chet Baker.

What I have seen in my career is that most students’ goals do not overlap with those of the other students. My desire as a trumpet teacher is to acknowledge your personal musical goals and do whatever I can do to help you achieve those goals. This has been part of my teaching philosophy for decades now.

Put It All Together

When you look at each student from these three perspectives, their physical makeup, their history, and their musical goals and desires, you can easily see that no one cookie cutter approach will work for every student. That’s what makes my career as a trumpet teacher so exciting. Each student stimulates me to think outside the box simply because, there is no box (Ha! That sounds sort of like the little kid on the Matrix movie saying “There is no spoon!”).

When you learn this about my teaching approach, you might then wonder why I use a preset curriculum with most of my students. If I treat each student as a unique individual, why then do I use the same materials for each of them?

That’s easy to answer. First of all, I don’t ALWAYS use the same materials. That depends on how far your personal uniqueness falls outside of the materials I use. For about one out of eight students I deviate from my normal materials. Secondly, I chose the material I use because it is comprehensive. It covers all of the bases and I use that completeness to make it easier for me to find the right materials for each student. (If I had a more cookie-cutter style of teaching, there would be no need for comprehensive materials.) Any material in the curriculum that is not applicable to a particular student will either be skipped or just briefly mentioned.

Summary

Because each student is so very different from the rest, I treat each person as a unique individual. When you take lessons with me, I will ask you about your musical past, I will listen to and watch you play something for me so I can ascertain where you are, then I will ask you where you want to go with your music. We work together in your lessons to help you get from where you are to where you want to go.

If you are interested in taking lessons with me, please use the contact form on this page to introduce yourself.

 

 

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