An aspiring jazz trumpet player's blog about jazz improvisation and ear training.

January 12, 2004 About Me 7 Comments

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.

UPDATE 12/3/2006

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.

Comment by ray long


I noticed that you listen to a lot of saxophone players. They are cool, but they don't really contribute to developing an ear for playing the trumpet. If you're not careful you may end up trying some of the things you listen to on these sax albums in your trumpet playing.

I totally reject the theory that notes are just notes, so what you hear on one instrument can be accurately translated to any other instrument. THIS IS HUGELY NOT TRUE!

The specific nuances of saxophone music cannot be reproduced on a trumpet, so listening to a sax cannot help you grow as a trumpeter. You might want to focus mainly on trumpet music, because it will make your speed and style develop much more quickly.

As for developing your emboucher, use your bugle-calls. They are great for strengthening your diaphram as well, just focus on the slurs and hit the intervals as powerfully as you can so that they sound just as if you had played them staccato.

Comment by Rick


I appreciate your comments, however I don't believe they apply to jazz players/musicians (the primary audience for this site).

In the context of jazz, the vast majority of musician interviews (I've probably read over 100 by now) all cite influences from other instruments. Many even cite influences from other forms of music (Indian, Caribbean, Brazilian, etc...). I believe every musician, especially jazz musicians, should listen to as much music as possible; as many instruments and styles as they can. Every influence contributes to our musical development and may inspire our creativity.

To address your specific statement that "listening to a sax cannot help you grow as a trumpeter", I suggest you read the final section from the following interview with Woody Shaw. If you're not familiar with Woody, he had incredible technique and helped pioneer a new style of improvisation. A style that he attributes to saxophone players...


And for the sake of convenience, here's the excerpt that I'm referring to:

"I used to listen to Trane and Dolphy and think, wow, how come nobody plays like that on the trumpet? So I swung round from the Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan axis and tried to play the trumpet like a saxophone. And in so doing I learned a whole lot more about my instrument."


Comment by Eric B

I agree with Rick regarding listening to other instruments. I recall Freddie Hubbard practiced with Eric Dolphy and Freddie used clarinet method books.


I also spoke with David Weiss on the AllAboutJazz discussion forum and he suggested transcribing Hank Mobley's solo on Pfrancing. I also think that no jazz musician's study of the music is complete without looking a Charlie Parker transcriptions -- regardless of the instrument that they play.

Comment by ray long

OK, let's get something straight here, I'm not opposed to anyone listening to any music they like, and I did apologize to Rick for the seemingly dictatorial tone of my original statement. I am not a snob or a bully when it comes to music study or music appreciation.

The point I was trying to make was strictly in relation to developing a personaly well-defined trumpet sound. I am going to stand by my original contention that no saxophone player, guitar player, or vocalist can help a trumpet player do that. As I also mentioned in my response to Rick I found a need to differentiate between the muscians that I could appreciate and those I could emulate. Because the sound of jazz trumpet is neither digital, nor formulaic in nature, the best clues on how playing jazz trumpet should sound have to come from the past and present masters of that genre. This includes any and all of those players whose trumpet playing impresses you personally.

The context in which I offered my original statement was in relation to ear training as applied to improvisational development. In this regard it is important to realize that a trumpet player will play what is most familiar. So, for example, if a trumpet player listens to a lot of Grover Washington Jr, their solos will take on the character of Grover Washington Jr.'s playing, which will lack the potential of a truer trumpet sound.

The reason its important for muscians to listen to each other as much as possible is to contribute to any soloist's potential with respect to note-selection, composing and arranging skills. We all learn from each others "licks ." Additionally many trumpet players get involved with writing and arranging for group sessions like Maynard Furgesson, Quincy Jones and Wynton Marsalis, just to name a few. As players though, we have to focus on establishing and strengthening our trumpet sound first.

These are things that I have learned over many years of working at playing jazz trumpet by ear, and I am sure they'll work for other players too. Basically though these ideas are just the way I see things. As I already stated, there is no one formula that has to be used to create good jazz trumpet solos, so please don't take it personally if my ideas don't appeal to you.


Comment by Andrew Tucker

To me, i see the truth in both arguments here, a instrumentalist must have two conceptions, they must have a 'sound concept' that is dveloped by listening to people they admire on their given instrument, a trumpet player might listen to a variety of players from Maurice Andre, Wynton, Clifford Brown, the list goes on.

They must also have a 'musical concept', ie what spills out of them when they play, this is developed with every thing a person listens to. You are constantly developing your concept of swing, rhythm, harmonic ideas (what your ears hear as acceptable). A trumpet payer can listen to a sax/piano/pakistani nose flute/guitar player and dig what and how he plays and use this him(her)self.

I dont think i've summarised as well as i would like to but i hope you understand.

I'll step down from my soapbox now!


Comment by Al Reichle

I took a 40 yr. break and have been back at it for 4 yrs. Like all players gone for that length of time, I could barely produce a note at first. However, the fingerings were still in my memory. I would make the following suggestions to any comeback player. First, get a competent instructor whom you trust. I started with 2 instructors whom I left in short order. The weakness of both was their failure to concentrate on building my basic foundation before pressing on to serious music.

Once you find an instructor (one who understands you need to have a firm foundation), follow the program. That means working on all aspects of your play, i.e., scales, arpeggios, lip flexibility, range, finger dexterity, etc. But also make sure you play music. Get in a Community Band, do some sight reading, play the short etudes in the back of the Arban book, etc. Ultimately, all the work you are doing is to play music, not exercises, so get comfortable with that.

I will make one final comment. Decide what you want out of playing. If you decide you want to approach the horn on a serious basis, you must be willing to pay the price to achieve the results. People have many time constraints but seriously playing this instrument requires a major investment. If you decide that is what you want and you are willing to devote 3-4 hrs. per day to playing, do not get frustrated. There are walls you will hit but if you keep plugging away, the walls eventually start to collapse. Have faith that your hard work will not go unrewarded.

I still have many things I want to accomplish but I am amazed at how much progress I have made. It is much slower progress than the first year I started back but even now, music I could not even consider playing 2 yrs. ago now comes fairly easily. And with an instructor who knows how to play and interpret music (like the Charlier Etudes), it makes playing a joy. Good luck to all comebackers!!!! Al Reichle

Comment by Jim Wombles

Would appreciate any comments on the Civiletti Method, also known as the tongue-controlled embouchure. Like so many others, I discontinued playing for many years, then went back to it couple years ago following retirement. Of all the embouchures I've tried, the Civiletti method produces many positive, and encouraging results, but also frustrating, as I sound good for 20 minutes or so, then struggle for an F# at top of staff.

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