Being a self-taught engineer, machinist and metal fabricator, my perspective on manufacturing is somewhat unusual. I tend to see all things as two physical realities with the potential to become one. The first reality is the physical object whether it be man-made natural or the traditional definition of natural. I focus on seamless integration of both object and human allowing us to achieve something greater than was previously possible.
As a boy, I dreamed of being an inventor hoping to someday solve the world's energy problems while building and flying my own airplanes around the globe. What can I say, I was a dreamer.
In high school, I was considering enlisting in the Air Force with the ultimate goal of being a fighter pilot when my Billings, Montana band director, Gary Tangen, changed my life. In one hour he challenged me to become a great musician and got me hooked on playing trumpet for life.
Over the next few years, I became more and more interested in the physics involved in playing trumpet to overcome my own embouchure deficiencies, which had left me with little range or endurance. I could play up to a high c just fine, but after five minutes my chops were gone and I had to rest for several hours. I had the classic pressure-based embouchure that I dub, "Satchmo Syndrome" and my career in trumpet seemed to be nearing the end just a few years after it had begun.
I was convinced that understanding the physics of the embouchure was the key to overcoming my playing problems. This assumption proved to be correct, but in studying the embouchure I soon realized that the physics of the instrument itself were just as fascinating and relevant to my success. I became obsessed with energy efficiency within the entire instrument including the human body. I finally became aware of the fact that the instrument is only half of the equation. Trumpet playing success relies on the seamless integration of Mechanics of the Embouchure and Mechanics of the musical Instrument.
Some of you know that I intentionally quit playing trumpet for over a year when I was twenty-four years old. I had previously invested a full year in writing my own method for playing the trumpet from day one so that I could take a year off to break old habits. The goal was to come back to the trumpet fresh with no bad habits. This is known as re-scripting or re-programming the mind and body, which I already knew well enough having done the same thing in martial arts for years.
My first day back on trumpet consisted of playing for 1 minute with very specific goals in mind, all of which were based on a working physics model of the embouchure and instrument. The next day I played for 2 minutes, the third day for 4 and so on. In two weeks, I had gradually reached an endurance level of two hours and a range of pedal c to double high c and this has remained true ever since.
Fourteen years later, my range and endurance have remained consistently strong and mindlessly easy. I say "mindlessly easy" because playing trumpet should be second nature like martial arts. However, achieving "mindless" or seemingly "effortless" mastery of anything first requires understanding all of the fundamentals.
In brass playing, this includes understanding balancing the following basic components of the embouchure:
- Air velocity
- Air volume
- Vibrating surface length
- Aperture control
- Oral cavity shape and volume
At first glance, this list may appear incomplete to some readers or completely foreign to others. My point is that you cannot gain mindless control of something unless you first learn how to do it correctly. This requires defining all components and variables and then giving each one a range of impact upon the overall results.
For a very few fine players, the embouchure comes almost naturally and the contributing components are never questioned or defined until years later when something goes wrong. Have you ever heard of an award-winning trumpet player's career going downhill due to embouchure problems? This has been a recurring problem with successful players throughout history. Some recover by eventually rediscovering their correct embouchure with or without the aid of others. Some do not recover and simply stop performing publicly. And some secretly take lessons from those who teach embouchure mechanics with both parties agreeing not to disclose these events have ever taken place. Essentially, some great players forget how to play trumpet and then take fundamental embouchure lessons thirty or more years into their successful careers.
Everything I have stated thus far may seem logical and reasonable, right? So then how do you explain the overwhelmingly popular tradition of completely ignoring the Mechanics of Embouchure in the USA music education system? The reason I had so much trouble early in my trumpet playing career is simply due to the fact that my teachers were not equipped with a physics-based method of teaching the Mechanics of Embouchure.
It's not that my mentors didn't care about my success. They simply did not possess the information necessary to teach me how to repeat their personal success with embouchure. They were essentially attempting to teach something they did not understand. I have great respect for all of these people, but I did not learn so much in life so quickly by ignoring the facts. Sugar coating our experiences is the same as denying deficiencies, which ultimately inhibits our growth, understanding and future successes.
We can pretend this stuff is too difficult to understand and pass off analogies to our students all day long, but it is the educators in this world who are responsible for making a sincere attempt to offer factual information to our students. Learning the Mechanics of Embouchure may not be a quick and easy journey, but I guarantee it is the only way to ensure 100% of your students potentially achieve success. Without truly understanding the Mechanics of Embouchure and firsthand experience, there is a very small chance students (this includes those of us no longer in school) will ever achieve amazing range, endurance and tone.
We are all capable of sounding great if we only invest the time, energy and intelligent pursuit of proven information. So many teachers exclaim that attempting to understand the embouchure is the primary cause of embouchure problems stating, "analysis causes paralysis". I'm am stating the exact opposite and challenging you to personally dive into the world of Mechanics of Embouchure.
Getting back to Air Force fighter pilots, how do you think they are taught to be successful navigators of the sky at extreme speeds and conditions while under the stress of imminent danger? Do you think their mentors and instructors gave them vague analogies lacking true scientific basis to land on an aircraft carrier in rough seas? Think about this for a minute and if you're unsure spend some time looking into the education any airplane pilot undergoes before they ever take the helm for the first time. Then ask yourself, "what do I really know about playing the trumpet?" and get to work!
I receive more questions about the "brushed brass" finish on my trumpets and accessories than I would expect. In the twenty years I have been brushing brass, I have likely answered these questions thousands of times so here's an explanation for everyone.
Machining and metal fabrication involves cutting, grinding, bending, shaping, stretching, heating and even hammering. These processes leave the brass looking very abused as if it was left out in the elements for a hundred years. So we have to clean it up by removing the oxidized outer layer.
I have a very specific set of techniques to achieve a raw brass finish and highly recommend the "brushed brass" version over polished for good reasons. Polishing brass before lacquer or plating requires a mirror finish that is only attainable by removing a large amount of material. Since the fabricated brass is somewhat porous from bending and stretching, the material above the pores must be buffed off with rags and wheels using an abrasive compound. This can easily remove 20% of the material. Buffing is also prone to human error as the more difficult spots to hit become targets. Like hitting the bulls eye in darts, buffing usually hits around the target more than the center creating inconsistent wall thickness throughout most of the horn. This is usually the result of hard to reach areas like under a brace or inside a curve and an ultrasonic thickness gauge reveals the damage.
We hand brush every instrument and accessory including mouthpieces to prevent deformation of the original design. By doing so, the small porous surface still exists to some extent, but is blended by the reflective micro-lines left from our work. Plating and lacquer may be applied over the brushed brass finish as a personal preference, but this is not necessary. Leaving a horn in raw "brushed brass" will allow it to tarnish and patina to some combination of a brown, green, orange and purple hue. You my consider a leather valve guard to protect your skin from coming in contact with brass over long periods of time and the original finish may be maintained with regular applications of Carnauba wax.
The advantages of brushing brass over polishing include:
"Isn't silver brighter than brass?"
This topic leads to many other questions regarding the nature of raw brass instruments. There is a common misconception that a brass instrument plays darker or different than a silver plated instrument. However, with all other factors being equal, a silver plated horn plays no different than one unfinished in the raw brass state. Silver plating is not thick enough to change anything perceptible.
Rumors vs. Facts
I have tested this theory in the lab and I suspect that this rumor originated from people not comparing apples to apples. My guess is that Player A (raw brass horn) sounded darker than Player B (silver plated horn) and other Players deducted that the finish was the only difference when in reality there were other unknown factors present. Think about it, the guy playing the raw brass horn is more likely to be experimenting with other variables regardless if they were ever mentioned.
How has this myth managed to continue for generations?
Most likely because trumpet players like to think they have a grasp on how things work regardless of where they gained their knowledge. Reading something on the internet and then repeating it is the greatest source of person to person spread of misinformation. How can you verify that what you are reading in my blog today is in fact true? Schedule some time in an acoustics lab and measure the sound spectrum before and after silver plating an original raw brass horn. By the way, you do not want to measure a silver horn and then compare it after stripping it down to raw brass as you will likely create other variables in the stripping process.
"What makes a horn darker?"
When you compare two similar horns and determine that one is darker than the other, there must be a difference between them.
I specialize in designing and building horns that meet specific client requirements. When someone asks for a Bb trumpet to sound darker than a Bach 72 while being more focused than a Martin Handcraft Committee, I offer them various options based on acoustics principles. I have spent my entire career listening to my clients compare leadpipes and bells combining, that feedback with the physical definitions of all components. No two leadpipe and bell configurations play or sound the same. This means there is in fact a logical way to distinguish between two horns that look the same, but sound different. It also means there is an amazing world of colors and attributes available to be explored. If you have played a few different brands of horns and haven't experienced much difference, you are missing out on some serious fun!
Some of the potential differences between two seemingly similar horns include:
Venturi - the inside diameter of the leadpipe, which varies greatly within some very popular brands
Gap/Impedance - this is a huge topic so check out my blog for a full explanation
Leadpipe Length - believe it or not, some companies install leadpipes with unintentional length variations
Tuning Slide Variance - common in bent tubes from every manufacturer, pinched bore size inside slides (manufacturing flaw)
Solder blockage - need I say more? I have removed solder from almost every Bach Strad that has come through my shop
Mislabeling - this is a widespread problem that I have verified in most brands with the exception of Yamaha
Which finish is the most efficient?
Surprisingly to many players, lacquer finishes are usually more efficient and stable throughout all registers. A high quality lacquer will add enough thickness and strength to the instrument wall to actually make it a better playing horn. Again, you may verify this with your own experiments. Although this should come as no surprise to those in the aerospace industry as specialty coating are often times the key to ensuring stable predictable flight characteristics in planes, helicopters, atmospheric re-entry vehicles, missiles and even bullets. If this is of interest to you, consider studying carbon and Kevlar fiber fabrication, which relies almost entirely on the resin which hardens fabric to the desired shape.
Welcome to 5MM Modular Mouthpiece heaven! The concept of a modular brass mouthpiece has been around for at least a hundred years. I know because I own some very old mouthpieces with screw rims and top/bottom parts. Brass players are very particular about their equipment and the mouthpiece topic is by far the most popular and controversial. I created the 5MM Modular Mouthpiece system to allow the player a simple, more direct path towards the best configuration(s) suitable for his or her playing requirements.
What can you do with the 5MM that you cannot do with standard mouthpieces?
Almost anything is possible within the 5MM system including duplicating any part of your existing brass mouthpiece then combining this with any component from another brand/size mouthpiece. Now it is possible to play on a Monette rim, a GR cup and a Schilke backbore with your choice of throat size and shape. You can even combine parts between instrument types meaning you can create a french horn mouthpiece using your favorite trumpet rim.
The 5MM will be available in all instrument sizes including:
How does the 5MM simplify playing trumpet?
As with everything I do, my focus in creating the 5MM is first on solving problems. At first glance, seeing many components may seem overwhelming and unnecessary. For you as an individual, the number of options suitable for your requirements is simply one branch of the entire tree of options. Once you settle on a comfortable rim, the next step is to decide on one or two cup sizes. Then you have the option of changing throat and backbore sizes to adjust your tone, intonation, air flow and gap setting offering ideal configurations for every type of music.
More options = better range, endurance and dynamics
By fine tuning your mouthpiece configuration, you will essentially design and build your own mouthpiece that fits you better than any mass produced size available.
You are in control of all parameters including:
I don't need to change mouthpieces...
You're right, you probably do not need to change mouthpieces or try a 5MM. I personally have played on the same mouthpiece for 15 years so I understand your perspective. Why change when it already works, right? I'll save my long version of making a case for getting into the 5MM for another time.
For today, here are just a few advantages to consider...
Simplicity meets Efficiency
In the case of the 5MM, efficiency refers not only to energy gains, but also the ease in which you may interchange components. The average time to replace a backbore is under 20 seconds and you may assemble a full kit in under 30 seconds!
There is no chance of having parts stick together over time thanks to my proprietary tooling system complete with a mini-spanner wrench. Those of you currently using a removable top/bottom mouthpiece system know that the parts eventually get stuck together. The 5MM was designed from scratch to prevent sticking even after many years without use or grease. The Rim, Cup, Backbore and Nut were specially designed to be removable by hand or with the custom 5MM Spanner Wrench.
Say goodbye to solid mouthpiece design
It may seem far-fetched to think that the 5MM could eventually replace traditional mouthpiece design until you consider a few important factors.
I will be adding video and photos next week of the 5MM in action. I'm currently playing on a 5MM version of my old Monette B4 and have to admit that I get excited every time I unscrew the rim and cup to replace the throat. The solid feel of the threads almost defines the quality even with my eyes closed. And even though I invented this system last year and have managed to develop it in almost complete secrecy, I cannot believe how simple, versatile and fun it is to change components and immediately create new tonal colors!