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.
When I was still playing trumpet, I found that practicing pedal tones helped with my airflow, which ended up giving me some extra strength on the high notes. The buzzing and long tones will help as well.
One thought, how wedded are you to the 7C mouthpiece? It's not particularly helpful with range (I found it constricted my airflow considerably). I found best results with a 3C and a 2, but everyone's embouchure is different, so you may want to try a few different mouthpieces and consider making a switch.
Echoing Dave here, I also found a huge improvement in range, endurance and flexibility when (on my teacher's advice) I switched from my 7C to a 1 1/2 C. Going up a few sizes helped me to relax my lips and made it easier to get more air through the horn, giving me the boost I need to get up high.
That Monette sure is pretty!
I think you are right on the money regarding air. One the biggest improvements that I've ever seen in my playing was after doing some exercises from a DVD called The Breathing Gym. I worked on several chapters to the point where I was actually light headed from taking in more air than usual. Afterward, I picked up my horn and experienced many of the same sensations that you described on the Monette. Easy range and notes popped out effortlessly.
Aaron and Dave could be on to something regarding size though. Today I played on my old Bach 1 1/2C and was surprised at how fat my tone was in all registers compared to the 3C where my upper range gets pinched. My teacher always encouraged me to go bigger but I was afraid of losing the little endurance and range that I had.
Strange, I've always been told that a bigger mouthpiece makes it harder to play high, but gives you a richer tone. I have also heard it said that a mouthpiece won't actually change your absolute range but may give you extra support and endurance.
Your story does seem to provide pretty conclusive evidence for the idea that something about that Monette was helping your upper range. It may be the mouthpiece, but you may also want to compare the bore size of the Monette horn to what you are using now.
The mouthpiece will be easier to experiment with though.
Let us know how you get on.
What I tell my students is that a 7C is great to start on as a beginner (and therefore a weak player), but that when you develop some trumpet chops, you are really just going to be held back by such a small mouthpiece. Nearly all of my students have moved on to a larger mouthpiece by the time they've played for three or four years (often, puberty and the fact that they grow in general helps this transition too). I've never had a junior or senior in high school who hasn't been helped by letting go of their 7C and moving to a bigger mouthpiece.
Incidentally, and apart from the mouthpiece issue, when I was in high school, I gained an extra step or so in range when I moved from an old student horn to a new professional model. Sometimes it's a technical difference--a poorly built horn can be limiting. Also, I'm guessing you already know this, but it could be that you need to clean out your horn--if it's got a lot of buildup in the pipes, that'll constrict the airflow and limit you in the same way that a tiny mouthpiece will.
For the ones who tell me that they want to play high, I play them a track of Maynard Ferguson or somebody and explain that those guys played on big mouthpieces. It's not the mouthpiece or the horn that lets you play up high--it's your facial musculature and how you use your air. I give them the analogy of Tiger Woods--he could be an amazing golfer with your grandpa's old golf clubs up in the attic, and you wouldn't be a whole lot better using his clubs. Similarly, Maynard Ferguson could scream some high notes out on any old beat-up trumpet and any mouthpiece, and you wouldn't magically become a screamer using his equipment. It's all about the person, not the equipment. For you (I'm guessing), a bigger mouthpiece is going to let you use the air you need up high, and it will let you develop the embouchure strength you need to fill out other weak areas you might have.
Thanks for the comments, guys! I think I will take your advice and give larger mouthpieces a try. I just added an update to this blog entry that goes into more detail.
@Aaron: The Monette in that photo is just from the monette.net website. Joe's actual horn is gold plated and looks amazing!
@Eric: I have the Breathing Gym DVD, but I really only looked at it once or twice. If I recall correctly, I was disappointed that it didn't have a workout guide. Instead it was a bunch of exercises and I wasn't sure how many to do at a time, where to start, etc. I should give it another try.
Thanks again for all the great comments.
I made nearly the exact same switch, from a Yamaha 11C4-7C to a Bach 5C (slightly bigger), and the difference was phenomenal. Much easier to hit the high notes (my range is not great, so a nice "high" for me is high C), and they sound so much richer. At about the same time I started doing the BE book but it's too soon for that to be the reason for the improvement.
Finding the right mouthpiece can be the most overwhelming--but also the most beneficial--thing any trumpeter can do (aside from practicing!). Take your time researching, ask a lot of questions, and don't settle on a mouthpiece until you are comfortable with it.
Something not a lot of trumpeters consider when looking into mouthpieces is their own physical lip structure. Players with thick/fleshy lips will probably want to consider a different mouthpiece than similar players with thin lips. The Stork website has a lot of great information about lips, embouchures, and mouthpieces. (Their site doesn't have the best design or organization, but some of the articles are invaluable for those attempting to understand the mechanics of embouchures.) Even if you prefer to use a Yamaha mouthpiece, Stork's website (and also their employees, if you should call them with further questions) is a great help in finding the right mouthpiece type. Below are a couple articles you might want to look at for starters:
The basics of lip structure
Pressure buzzing vs. muscular compression buzzing
Like I tell my students, playing trumpet on the wrong mouthpiece is like playing basketball wearing the wrong size shoes. When you decide on a basic size and shape of mouthpiece, order several with minor variations of that size and shape, and give yourself a week on each one for your lips to adjust (I believe most companies will allow you to do this and return all the ones you don't pick--if Yamaha doesn't let you, then give Stork a try, because I know they will do this. If you call, they will also give you recommendations based on your lip structure, playing style, and weak and strong points of your playing).
I hope I don't sound like a Stork salesman--please don't take it the wrong way! I send my students to Stork because I've always had great interactions with them, but if you like another company or find better service elsewhere, go for it! Mouthpieces are very personal things--take the time to find the one that is best for you. If you do, you'll never need to buy another one again, and your lips will reward you for your effort.
There is an old saying that fisherman with large tackle boxes say. Tackle is for fisherman, not for fish. The same applies here. A Bach 3C is about the perfect mouthpiece. The biggest factor in range and sound is what we hear inside. Everything else is a result of that inner sound. Air, support, and other developments hinge first on what we desire to produce.
First, what a freaking weekend, I am completely jealous! 2 legends.
I am on a 5C right now and it has helped me with range, although I am still working things out improv. wise. I've played for a while, and have only played on 2 pieces, a 7C and 5C, and may eventually go to a 3C. I don't get into all of the details of mpc's because I don't think it's that important.
I do think having a high range comes down to air and embrochure, for me it has. My range goes up to A above high C.
Joe Grandeson is an excellent player and I think he is completely right with his advice. Buzzing has helped my tone greatly over the last 6 months, and it's something you can do away from your trumpet. You can do it with your mpc or without, and I have heard Arturo Sandoval buzzes up to 3 hours a day from Pops.
I think buzzing helps to flex our lips, almost like a workout of sorts, so it also helps with playing without less pressure and strengthening our embrochure.
Cat Anderson, the great high noter from Duke's band who could play notes I can't even begin to think of hitting, did long tones for 20-30 minutes, even hours. He would play a G in the staff for how ever long he could, and take breaks when he needed air. That was not his whole method, but he is known for that. While I do not do G's for 30 minutes, I do whispher tones and sometimes time myself on how long I can hold a note, and tryin to break my own record sometimes.
One of Cat's former students just re did the Cat Anderson high note method and it's all over trumpet herald if you want to check it out. Get ready for 20-30 minute long tones though:)
Sorry for yapping so much, but I've made significant progress in my range and tone over the last year and know exactly what helped me get there.
Clarke's Study # 8 is great for practicing a steady air stream through the horn. I'd practice those softly with a clear tone and absolutly NO pressure on the face. Play as relaxed as possible. This study has helped me with tone, range and endurance. I really like reading your blog. Thanks I hope you give my advice a shot.
I played a Monette for Dave M. in Portland and those horns are great. Dave was so friendly and my visit there I wont forget.
mouthpieces arn't the say all. Do a blindfold test at a music store and mix your own piece in there. Just find what works best and what will make you sound the way you'd like to sound for the time being.
all the best
I had a similar experience with a friend's Monette trumpet. Had not practiced much when I tried it. My range must be a bit similar to yours, and I corked out a scale from G below the staff to the C above like I could not believe.
Some 30 years ago, my HS band director moved me from a Bach 7C to a Schilke 15B (a larger mouthpiece). Lost range, but gained in sound. Eventually, I had a better range and better sound.
Some of my classmates moved to still bigger mouthpieces. Wish I could tell you how they are doing with them, today, but of the four of us, I am the only one still playing.
Some players keep several sizes, brands and styles in the horn case and switch depending upon the music and the state of their chops. Not sure I could do that...
In 5th grade I started out on a Bach 3c mouthpiece and used it up to fthe middle of 9th. My highest ever then was a high c above the staff. When my teacher had me switch to a Bach 1 1/2 c I could play louder and shound better. My range also shot up to the g above that c. I think it has something to do with air, since you need faster air for high notes, a less restricting mouthpiece would allow you to just blow it all out. Correct me if I'm wrong please since I'm only a sophmore
Right now, I'm using a 65M GR mouthpiece (which is about the equivalent of a Bach 3C), and it's absolutley incredible. It's amazingly responsive, facillitates both high and low registers with unparrelled clarity, and doesn't provide a tone anything less than brilliant. Take a look at www.grmouthpieces.com for more info, but I HIGHLY recommend them. You should look at the dealers list and give them a visit if there is one nearby, because they can really help during the customization test. They do run a little pricy, it varies where you get and how customizably detailed it is, but definitley take look.
The folks on this page are all giving very good advice about mouthpieces and breath. Breath is the most important thing. Breath deeply in and project for range. Crescendo up the line.
In addition there are some exercises that have helped me in my quest for better range throughout the years, because I have always found that if you want to play high you have to practice playing high. It may not sound great at first but give it time.
#1. Clarkes first technical study. These are great because they start low and go higher chromatically. Keep it soft and only go as fast as you can with the notes being accurate. If you are flubbing all over the place go slower until you can speed up. Go as high as you can chromatically beyond what is written.
#2, Clarke's #2 the same way.
#3 Allen Vizzutti book 1 has some good high note execises that are much like the Clarke's.
#4. Try playing thru some lead trumpet charts and try to develop your sound and style. Listen to a lot of guys to take cues for that.
Make sure you are not using a whole lot of pressure, this will hinder vibration and cause damage to the sensitive muscles in yr face.
I spent an hour at Yamaha Ginza in Tokyo playing a professional trumpet with a rack full of Yamaha mouthpieces. After going through several and hearing and feeling the sound, I settled on a 14B4. Felt and sounded the best. The 14B4 is about the equivalent to a Bach 3C. The Bach 3C (perhaps the older 3C?) is a good place to start, at least for me.
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