MY PLAYING HISTORY - ARTICLE LINKS
- My Playing History - The Beginning
- My Playing History - The Blowout
- My Playing History - The Comeback
As mentioned in "the blowout", my chop problems and the obstacles I'd face trying to play the trumpet professionally eventually led me to quit playing altogether in 1995. During the next seven years I only played the trumpet a handful of times. I'd pick it up every once in awhile to see if I could still play, but since my chops weren't conditioned anymore, I'd sound terrible and just put the horn down.
During these years away from the trumpet, I also stopped listening to jazz. I still loved the music, but I couldn't listen without feeling the urge to play again. And, since that urge was unfulfilled, listening to jazz left me feeling depressed; like I had lost something.
After seven years away from the trumpet, I finally started playing again during the summer of 2002. The return was largely due to two new factors in my life: (1) I had just bought a house (I moved to Atlanta), and (2) I started working from home. Since I now lived in a house, I was free to make as much noise as I wanted. And since I worked from home, my schedule would be free enough to practice in short sessions throughout the day.
Unfortunately, just six months into my comeback, my playing hit a wall. After 15-20 minutes of playing, my chops would be totally shot and the old pain from my blowout years resurfaced. Things were so bad that I could barely play an E at the top of the staff, and that's when my chops were still fresh! I continued playing for a few more months, but I wasn't improving much at all.
Not willing to give up (again), I turned to the Internet for possible suggestions. My search led me to two books that have helped pave the way to recovery: "A New Approach to Altissimo Trumpet Playing" by John H. Lynch, and "The Balanced Embouchure" by Jeff Smiley.
I purchased the "Altissimo" book first. I don't actually follow the exercises in that book anymore, but I mention it because it was the first time I had heard anyone suggest an embouchure that uses very little of the fleshy/red part of the lip. The first time I tried the suggested embouchure, I played a C above the staff with little pressure. Before long, I was able to hit a G above that (the highest note I had EVER played). It was amazing. Truthfully, the notes didn't sound that great, but the experience showed me that I could in fact play high notes! Unfortunately, I was unable to use that embouchure for anything other than high notes.
A few months later, I bought "The Balanced Embouchure," which also suggests an embouchure that uses less of the red part of the lip. The key part of the Balanced Embouchure, though, is that the lips roll in or out to adjust for playing throughout the horn's entire range.
When I first read "The Balanced Embouchure," I instantly saw parallels to my own trumpet playing history. Like me, the author had found himself with a limited range and no working solutions (I loved reading the trumpet myth section!). What really stuck with me, though, was the author's suggestion that traditional trumpet teaching is a "numbers game": the standard flat-chinned embouchure works for a small percentage of players. The rest of us will either quit playing, or continually struggle to make it work. Clearly I was in the "struggle to make it work" category.
My comeback story is a work in progress. I started working with the Balanced Embouchure method in July of 2003. So far I've seen definite progress, although I know I've still got a long way to go before my embouchure is solid.
It's been over three years now since I started the Balanced Embouchure. To this day I still do some of the roll-in/roll-out slurs in my daily routine. I can't say for certain whether I'm doing them correctly, but I can say that my current embouchure is more rolled-in than my old one and my range has gradually improved to a Bb above the staff, which is now about as high as I go when improvising. In addition to the Balanced Embouchure exercises, I have been doing some of the Caruso stuff and some exercises from the Caruso-inspired Flexus book. It's likely that a combination of all of these things have helped me get to the point I'm at today.
To see how I've been doing since my comeback, you can read my various "anniversary" entries:
And here's another article I wrote which focuses on the comeback journey.