As I’ve mentioned in my anniversary articles, I’ve struggled over the years to increase my range and endurance on the trumpet. My range has pretty much topped off at a C above the staff, and I can’t play that high unless my chops are fresh. Some days, I can only reach a Bb above the staff. Endurance is also a constant enemy, as my chops start to give out after just 15-20 minutes of jazz improvisation.
Hoping to strengthen my embouchure, I recently took a lesson with one of Atlanta’s best jazz trumpet players, Joe Gransden. Among other things, Joe advised me to spend some time buzzing on my mouthpiece every day and he also suggested that I play long tones at very soft volumes. The goal with both of these is to improve my airflow and focus my aperture. It’s only been a week since that lesson, so it’s too early to see any noticeable improvement, but I am optimistic.
TRYING A MONETTE TRUMPET
While improving my embouchure was my primary interest for this lesson, I have to admit that a close second was the opportunity to play Joe’s new Monette Prana 3 trumpet (you can watch Joe trying his new horn at the Monette shop in this video - Joe's parts starts about a minute in). As you may know, Monette trumpets are handmade, very expensive, and are generally considered to be the finest trumpets you can buy. You’ll find Monette trumpets in the hands of many top trumpet players, including Wynton Marsalis, Irvin Mayfield, and Terence Blanchard. Never having played a Monette before, I think you can understand my desire to see if they really live up to all the hype.
At the end of my lesson, Joe Gransden graciously handed me his Monette trumpet and one of his Monette mouthpieces (you have to use a Monette mouthpiece on a Monette trumpet). Unfortunately, the Monette mouthpiece was quite a bit larger than my normal 7C mouthpiece. Generally speaking, larger mouthpieces offer a bigger sound, but they also make it harder to play high. Having just played for an hour and using this larger mouthpiece, I wasn’t expecting much when I brought the horn to my lips. Oh, I should also mention that just moments before I was barely able to play an A above the staff on my normal trumpet and mouthpiece.
My first note on the Monette was a C in the staff. I began at a normal volume, but the horn was begging for more air. So, I took a deep breath and really pushed the air through the horn. The horn instantly opened up, producing a large warm tone. Starting at the same C in the staff, I then went up a third, to an E and then up to a G just above the staff. The G was strong, filling the room with sound. Almost without thinking I went from the G, up to a C above the staff. This was without a doubt, the loudest, fattest, high C I’ve ever played. I couldn’t believe it was me playing, nor could Joe Gransden, judging by the look of total surprise on his face! I was so shocked by the high C, that it didn’t even occur to me to try playing higher. I’m fairly positive, though, that I could have kept going at least up to a D. After the high C, I tried a little jazz improvisation on the Monette, but that didn’t go nearly as well. I felt like I was huffing and puffing to support the notes, but I just couldn’t get enough air into the horn.
I gave the Monette trumpet back to Joe, and picked up my Bach to compare my range. Had my chops miraculously strengthened, allowing me to play a strong high C on any horn? Nope. I couldn’t play a high C on the Bach, nor could I even play a solid G above the staff with my tired chops.
While it’s tempting to think that a Monette trumpet and/or mouthpiece is the answer to my problems with range and endurance, I think the take-away here is that I need to work more on air support. The Monette forced me to use more air. When I gave it the air it needed, the notes came out almost effortlessly, and when my air stream wasn’t strong enough, it was hard to play in any range. Hopefully the buzzing and soft long tone exercises will help to get me on the right track with air.
UPDATE: APRIL 4, 2009
After receiving several comments suggesting that my 7C could be restricting my airflow, I asked Joe for the size of the Monette mouthpiece that I tried. It was a B2S3, which according to this chart is similar to a Bach 1 1/4 C. Interestingly, prior to my chop blowout, I always played a Bach 1 1/2 C. It wasn't until my second year of college that my trumpet teacher told me to start playing a smaller mouthpiece, a Schilke 15. During my comeback to the trumpet, I tried a few mouthpieces, and settled on my Yamaha 11C4-7C which I've played exclusively for a few years now.
I think I'll take your advice and experiment with larger mouthpieces. I can't find my old Bach 1 1/2 C anymore, though, and the next closest mouthpiece that I have is a Bach 3C which isn't very comfortable for me. Since I like the feel of my Yamaha so much, I think I might buy a new one of those that's comparable to a Bach 3C and/or 1 1/2 C. I'll definitely let you know how it goes.
UPDATE: MAY 13, 2009
I recently purchased a couple of used Yamaha mouthpieces on eBay. One of the mouthpieces, a Yamaha 14A4a is apparently similar to a Bach 3, but the "A" cup feels really shallow to me and thins out my sound. I don't care for the mouthpiece at all. I should have waited for a 14B4 to become available since that's Yamaha's equivalent to a Bach 3C (you can refer to this page for comparisons).
The other new mouthpiece I purchased is a Yamaha 17B4, which is similar to a Bach 1 1/4 C. The 17B4 is a real contrast from my normal mouthpiece (Yamaha 11C4-7C... too many numbers!). On the 17B4 I can get a nice big sound with a full lower register, and it feels good to get more air through the mouthpiece. Unfortunately it also requires a lot more work. Notes feel farther apart than on my normal mouthpiece and I find myself using more pressure against my lips for the upper register. That's no good. It may be a situation where I just need to give myself more time to adapt to the larger mouthpiece, but perhaps I'd be better off with something a little smaller. It is interesting, though, that after playing on the 17B4, my normal mouthpiece feels very restrictive, like I can barely get air through it.
I have also been experimenting with an old Bach 5C mouthpiece. On the 5C I feel like I can get a decent amount of air into the horn, but the mouthpiece itself isn't comfortable on my embouchure. Specifically, it feels like the inside rim isn't rounded off as much as the Yamaha rims, so the Bach creates more of a pressure point on my chops. Consequently, I can only play on the 5C for a few minutes before I start to feel pain and fatigue.
The search continues...
UPDATE: MAY 22, 2009
A few days ago I got a Yamaha 14B4 mouthpiece. Of the various new mouthpieces I've tried, this is definitely my favorite. I'm going to gradually spend more and more time on this mouthpiece over the coming weeks before coming to any conclusions.