Two and a half years ago, after deciding to study music and take private music lessons, my first goal was to find a "chop doc," to help improve my limited endurance and range on the trumpet.
For many years, I had known about Laurie Frink and her remarkable ability to identify and overcome embouchure issues. Frink was a former student and protege of Carmine Caruso, a pioneer of calisthenic exercises for brass players' embouchures. I had hoped to study with Laurie Frink someday, but due to the demands of my former job, and her early passing in 2013, I never got that opportunity.
Since I couldn't study with Laurie directly, I thought it might be wise to study with one of her former students. As luck would have it, I found myself in a room with several of her former students a few years ago, at the Festival of New Trumpet Music's annual "Laurie Frink Night." When I asked one of the students if she taught lessons, she said that she did, and that's how I met Nadje Noordhuis, my trumpet teacher for the past two and half years.
Not only is Nadje Noordhuis a former student of Laurie Frink, but she is also one of the primary teachers of Frink's (and Carmine Caruso's) techniques. My in-person lessons even take place in Frink's former studio, just as it was when she taught. While I'm obviously not studying with Laurie Frink directly, it sure feels like I am sometimes!
As I'd learn with Nadje, there wasn't anything wrong with my embouchure itself. Rather, the problem was in how I used (or didn't use) my airstream to support each note. Even when I thought I was using more air, I was actually choking off the airstream, using too much mouthpiece pressure, and overexerting my embouchure muscles. As I know now, that's the type of behavior that led to my blowout, and a seemingly endless search for a solution.
My breakthrough with Nadje occurred when she had me play a scale with a mouthpiece pressure device (Note: it looked like that metal one, but may have been a different brand. Warburton also makes a similar and cheaper model). Basically, the device has a spring which will cut off the air supply when you pull the trumpet too hard into your face. Using the device, Nadje had no trouble playing an F major scale from the bottom to the top of the staff. When I tried, however, I was pulling too hard by the second note (G). Nadje then explained that to play higher, I'd needed to increase the amount of air (blow faster, farther, etc) while simultaneously resisting the urge to pull the horn into my face. This lets the air do a lot of the work that I previously had done with my facial (and arm) muscles. Truth be told, many people have told me to use more air to play high over the years, but it wasn't until that lesson that I understood the mechanics of what they were talking about.
It's been a couple of years now that I've been working to rely more on air, and less on muscles alone. I can't say things are totally "fixed" yet, but they are vastly improved. To be fair, I'd probably be farther along if it wasn't for my jazz improvisation lessons with Garry Dial. Since I'm practicing so much each day, I inevitably reach a point where I revert to my old habit of excessive pressure in order to get a note out, and before long, the old fatigue returns. The good news is that I finally know what I should be doing, and with each month I've been able to play a little longer, a little higher, and with less fatigue.
Nadje Noordhuis' students range from beginners all the way to top professionals. If you're having some challenges on the horn, I'd definitely take a lesson or two to see if she can help.
Hey there Rick, thank you so much for this. It's fascinating (even though I'm not a trumpet player).
Humble request: When you have time, do you think you might could write up what your ear training teacher has helped most with, and any new exercises that've accelerated your growth?
Cheers, and all the best. Jeff
Hi Jeff. Thanks for the comment. I published my Garry Dial post today, with lots of ear training information.
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