As I grow in my role as a trumpet teacher, as the decades turn and my experience mounts, so does my uniqueness. I can quite honestly say that my teaching methods are different from almost every method I have ever heard of or experienced. One of the manifestations of that difference is in the way I teach students how to get a good sound.
Yesterday I had a lesson with a student who has just recently begun to play with what I consider a mature trumpet sound. I cannot describe to you the joy it gives me when a student finally flies out of the clouds, into the sunlit skies of musical maturity! Wow! These are the moments that make the years of teaching worth it. It makes me feel wonderful to know that the risks I took with the student have finally paid off.
Because my approach to teaching sound is different, band directors and other music educators do not recognize where the students are in their development because they don’t understand my approach. All they see is something that looks a bit odd and doesn’t sound so good. Not only do the embouchures look odd sometimes, but so do the techniques and the overall approach. The risk of being labeled a quack or a charlatan is pretty great.
But then that puts me in good company, does it not? I remember when I was a young student and people were saying the same types of things about the methods of Caruso, Reinhardt and Stamp (among others). In fact, there are still educators who’s methods are so out of date that these great pedagogues remain unknown to them. While the methods of Caruso, Reinhardt and Stamp have grown in popularity, there remain pockets of resistance by people who think that everything you need as a trumpet teacher is in the Arban book (or in a copy of the Cichowicz flow study).
What Is Different About My Method?
My approach to helping students develop their sounds is really not a method at all. That’s really what sets it apart. I don’t have a formula that you can follow to give you a great sound every time you play. No, instead, what I do is work with you to help you grow with the instrument. I help you grow as a player in a way that will help you find your own voice.
This is the key to my entire teaching philosophy by the way. Everyone who knows me as a teacher knows this about me, that my objective is to help you reach your own goals as a player. Finding your voice is a major part of that.
When you find your voice, your sound will be exactly what you want it to be. As your teacher, I will know when you have reached that level of maturity by the way you play. Ironically, just as with the student who motivated me to write about this today, you probably won’t even realize it’s happening when it happens. Your sound, your voice, your way of playing will be so natural to you that when you reach it, you will tend to think that you played that way all along. You won’t notice as much of a difference as the people who hear you perform.
When you reach that stage of maturity in your trumpet playing, your confidence will immediately grow. You won’t be thinking about how to play anymore. You won’t be struggling with the instrument, trying to force it to do things in a mechanical way. At that point, the instrument will become an extension of your person. Yes, I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true. I have seen it happen so many times in my teaching career that I know it when I see it.
What I have seen of other methods for “teaching sound” is that it is all mechanical. Do this, do that, blow this way, play that mouthpiece, and when you do all of those things correctly, you will get a beautiful sound. And, for the most part, it works.
So what’s the beef then?
The problem is that when you learn how to produce a good sound that way, you don’t even know it’s a good sound. I have seen this time and time again when the student has had to ask the teacher, “Did I get a good sound?” As far as I’m concerned, if you can’t tell if you have a good sound or not, then you don’t really have ownership of a good sound.
My other criticism of the more mechanical approach to teaching sound is that the process is too delicate. Because the students don’t have ownership of that sound, because it isn’t rooted and flowing from their own personal voice, it falls apart rather quickly. Any performance condition that takes you out of your comfort zone will cause you to lose that beautiful sound.
One last criticism of the mechanical approach is that it is impossible to be flexible with your sound to match your musical environment. In contrast, when the quality of your sound spills over from the maturity of your musicianship, as a part of your personal musical voice, then performing with an appropriate sound in different musical environments is no different from carrying an appropriate conversation with different groups of people.
I told my student yesterday that this new, mature sound is something that will be with him the rest of his life. He has no plans of being a pro. He won’t be majoring in music. But for as long as he plays the trumpet, he will have this new found maturity in his sound. I told him that this is the sort of thing that never just goes away. You don’t forget how to be who you are. Right? You just ARE who you are!