Monday, December 28, 2009

Technical and Musical Development


“A career in music is tough business for those who are not highly accomplished artists. For those few musicians who develop their skills, ‘It’s a wonderful life’!”

“We must develop our playing skills beyond any challenges that will be encountered on stage.”

“It is important to perform well within the limits of our ability, not at the limits of our ability.”

“Musical and technical development is the result of musical and technical challenge.”

As a young tuba player, I recall a comment made by a very fine professional horn player, regarding some technical exercises he heard me practicing. He said, “Why are you practicing that stuff? You will never encounter it in any orchestral parts.” He was correct about not seeing the Arban, gruppetto studies I was practicing, anytime on stage. However, he was incorrect about my need to develop them anyway.

When I first began playing in a school band in the late 1950s, there was very little original music except for traditional Sousa, Goldman, and King marches. Most concert band music was in the form of orchestral transcriptions. The technically challenging orchestral string parts were played by woodwind and brass instruments.

I remember that transcriptions, such and Glinka’s Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla, technically and musically challenged almost every instrument in the band. As a result, there were many very fine clarinet, saxophone, cornet, and baritone players in most high school bands. Today, few concert bands play orchestral transcriptions.

As a result, the numbers of technically developed players has diminished dramatically because of the diminished challenges. I also notice that many of the orchestral transcriptions available are simplified arrangements.

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to conduct the Georgia Allstate Band in Savannah. I requested that they acquire a challenging original orchestral transcription that I knew was no longer published. The officials searched the entire state and eventually found a complete set of parts. Every rehearsal, the students asked me to play the music faster!

Until the emergence of the brass quintet by the New York Brass Quintet in the 1960s and the Canadian Brass in the 1970s, tuba playing skill was confined to the level of an accompanying rather than a melodic instrument. Players were not challenged technically so they did not develop beyond the simple music they were asked to play.
Harvey Phillips is credited with changing the image and musical expectations of tuba players with his artistry and numerous challenging solo commissions.

Before the 1980s, brass playing in Europe was generally less developed than in the US and UK. European players mostly developed their technical skills to the level of the orchestral music, which is generally not challenging technically.

The brass band movement in the UK and military style concert bands in the US are credited with the development of higher performance standards for brass instruments. Many American players went to Germany to fill vacant orchestral jobs in their concert halls and opera houses. They also brought American brass pedagogy.

Today, brass performance in most European countries has developed to international standards. With the assistance of American and European brass players, the same transformation is taking place in many Asian countries.


One summer in the late 1990s, I invited a young French trumpeter to audit my graduate brass pedagogy class at Vandercook College. At the time, she was studying with a very prominent French artist-teacher.

When I first met her, she was in tears. Naturally, I asked why she was crying. She replied, “Because I can’t play!” I confidently promised that before she left Chicago in the next week, her tears would turn to smiles.

She attempted to perform the last movement of the Concerto for Trumpet by Hummel. I could tell immediately that the technical challenges of the music were beyond her skill level. Execution was impossible. There were other playing issues beyond her technical limitations, but I could not ignore her technical weakness.

I knew we first needed to develop some technical skill apart from the concerto. I asked her to retrieve her Arban, Complete Conservatory Method book. I was astonished to hear her say, “What is that?”

She knew nothing about the world’s most important brass method book, authored by Jean Baptiste Arban of the Paris Conservatory! To her and obviously to her trumpet teachers, the challenges of Arban had no relevance to Hummel. I had my copy but I strongly suggested that she soon acquire her own.


“We must develop and condition a high level of technical virtuosity to avoid musical limitations in our playing.”

It was important that she first master the less technically challenging solos with variations in Arban. I introduced SING, BUZZ, PLAY and she was able to create significant success immediately. Throughout the week, I challenged her more technically until she was ready to transfer her developing skill to the Hummel.

Yes, her tears turned to smiles long before the end of her week in Chicago.


It was the final tour of the internationally acclaimed Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. One of their last performances was at Northwestern University, where I was teaching applied tuba along with Jake.

Philip Jones planned to retire soon after the tour. However, he would not allow his name to be associated with the group after his retirement. I was very disappointed to hear him say the brass ensemble would soon be disbanded.

The ten member ensemble had a very unique sound that featured several virtuoso members as soloists. One such member was the great British tubist, John Fletcher.

John was a converted horn player. Interestingly, Phil Farkas was a converted tuba player! Early in his career, John realized there were many very fine horn players in London and not enough tuba players. In the 1960s and early 70s, John came to Chicago to study with Jake.

The Northwestern concert was an inspiring experience! As an encore, they did a funny bit with John playing the Canadian Brass arrangement of “The Flight of the Tuba Bee.” Since it was only scored for brass quintet, five players had no parts.

Those players created havoc as John played his virtuoso solo part. Among other things, they pretended they were looking for their missing music in the bell of his tuba. It was very funny! However, John didn’t let any of the hilarity distract him from a single note. I was stunned at his artistry! His virtuoso performance left a powerful impression on me and the others who heard it! I knew I had to get the music and challenge myself.

Soon afterward, I did acquire the music and eventually developed it to a high level. I performed it with numerous brass quintets and also arranged it for tuba-euphonium ensemble. In my imagination, I could hear and see John playing but I was the one with an instrument in their hands.

My ultimate goal was to challenge the trumpet players in the quintet to the point where they complained about my tempo. I’m proud to report that they complained most of the time! I’m also pleased to say that these fine players always accepted and met my challenge.

Tragically, six months after the Northwestern concert, John had a fatal stroke that left him in a coma for six months. He was only 46 years old when he died.


Most young brass players are not prepared for the technical challenges of difficult music. Preparation in a practice studio must come long before an appearance on the stage.

MULTIPLE ARTICULATION (double and triple tonguing) This subject will be covered more
thoroughly is a future essay.

Words have a powerful impact on the conscious and subconscious mind. As a result, I avoid using the word “tongue”. The instant the word is spoken, the brain begins to analyze the tongue both with mental imagery and by feel. We never create this distracting analysis in speech or when chewing food. Frequently, I found when I lectured about “tonguing”, I would become aware of my own tongue and begin to stutter.


“Overlap single tonguing speed with double and triple speeds.”

“Tonguing has to be 5% consonant and 95% vowel. Use no more tongue than in normal speech.

“When practicing etudes, first develop them slowly. Then speed them up.”

“Practice various ways of articulating everything”

“Whenever you have difficulty technically, think of the passage more musically.”

It is very important to understand that any advanced articulation skill, including multiple articulation, must be developed on a solid foundation of excellent tone production and basic articulation. We can never substitute multiple articulation for inadequate single articulation. We must transfer the skill first developed in single to multiple articulation.



“Your subconscious mind already knows how to play the notes. However, it must be highly aware of the notes you want to play.”

“Nothing you attempt to play can be by mindlessly blowing and fingering. Every note, regardless of range, dynamic, or speed, is only motivated by a vivid conscious awareness of the sound.”

“The most powerful awareness sound is achieved by vocally or mentally singing in a musical style.”

“There is no such thing as technical playing without it being musical also. Imaginative musical playing will motivate your technical playing. It’s not the other way around”


“If you can sing it, you can play it.”

If we accept Vandercook’s statement, then logic dictates that if we can’t sing it, we can’t play it.


One of my students was preparing to audition for the Leonard Falcone International Euphonium Competition. The repertoire list consisted of numerous solos and technical etudes that test every element of the player’s musical and technical development.

At the end of his final lesson before the competition, I asked him if he had the discipline to do what I was going to ask of him. He replied with a very confident voice, “Yes, Mr. Rocco, I do!” Yes, I believed him!

Included on the repertoire list, were several of the Characteristic Studies from Arban. The compass of the fourteen studies is only two mid-range octaves. However, they challenge the player both technically and musically.

I asked the student to develop the etudes one or two measure at a time, using the following procedure.

1. Play sets of four repetitions, starting slowing and increase the speed with each repetition. Repeat sets until you have achieved the ability to play at least 15 beats per minute faster than the required tempo.

2. First buzz and finger the sets, using a BERP. Then, play and finger with the mouthpiece in the leadpipe. Alternate buzzing and playing with continued repetitions of the sets.

3. After you are satisfied with your development, repeat the process with the next measure. When you have developed the second measure, repeat the process playing both the first and second measures together. Then, master the third measure. Repeat the formula playing three measures together. Master the fourth measure and apply the formula playing the four measures together.

4. Repeat this process four every four measures. Each time you master a group of four measures, go back to the beginning and play the four measure groups together until you have mastered the entire etude. If you experience weakness with any particular measure reapply the formula to that measure or group of measures.

This process may seem tedious but is actually works very quickly because it’s “success oriented”. Most players take the approach of starting at the beginning and playing to the end to see how many notes they can execute. Unfortunately, there is mostly failure associated with that approach.


“A history of success creates an expectation of success. A history of failure creates an expectation of failure.”

“The function of a teacher is to create opportunities for success.”

The student won first prize. Today, he is recognized as one of the finest euphonium players in the world.

I also apply the same formula of repetitions when I’m working with groups of instruments. I usually substitute vocally singing for the buzzing when working with strings or woodwinds.


Technical and musical development are combined elements of producing sound with an instrument. They cannot be thought of as being separate because musical playing motivates technique, and technical development allows the player to be more musical.

All technical skills, such as fingering or tonguing, must be developed methodically over time. If a player attempts to perform beyond the limits of their ability, they will create a history of failure. That history will cause a self perpetuating expectation of failure.

We must develop our playing skills well beyond any challenges we expect to encounter on a performance stage. Any playing skill must be motivated by challenge. The development must take place gradually to mostly allow for success rather than failure.


“Solving life’s problems requires NEED, DISCIPLINE, TIME.”

The following is a list of recommended advanced method books for brass instruments. All brass players, especially euphonium, trombone and tuba, should learn to read in two or more clefs.

ARBAN – COMPLETE CONSERVATORY METHOD (pub. Carl Fischer) (treble and bass clefs)

KOPPRASCH – SIXTY ETUDES (pub. Carl Fischer) (all brass)

SCHLOSSBERG – DAILY DRILLS AND TECHNICAL STUDIES (pub. Maurice Barron) (treble and bass clefs)

CLARKE – TECHNICAL STUDIES (pub. Carl Fischer) (treble and bass clefs)

BONA – RHYTHMICAL ARTICULATION (pub. Carl Fischer) (treble and bass clefs)

PARES – SCALES (pub. Carl Fischer) (all instruments)

ROCHUT – MELODIUS ETUDES (three volumes, pub. Carl Fischer) (bass clef) The original Bordogni vocal etudes are available in treble clef and with piano accompaniment.


CHARLIER – ETUDES TRANSCENDANTES (pub. Leduc and Carl Fischer) (treble clef)


“No etudes or technical studies should be merely thought of as exercises. They should receive the same attention and development of any other repertoire.”


“I sing the notes in my head (regardless of range, speed, or dynamic) as I play them. It doesn’t matter how my lip feels or how I feel.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Creative Visualization"


“When I play, I’m telling a musical story.”

SHAKTI GAWAIN (Creative Visualization, Nataraj Publishing)

“Use the power of your imagination to create what you want in life.”

Jake was an imaginative musician not just a virtuoso tubist. It would not have mattered what instrument was in his hands. He could have been a great pianist or violinist. He became a highly accomplished string bass player simply by placing chalk marks on the finger board!

In his personal playing and his teaching, Jake always emphasized musical imagination over mechanics. He thought of playing as an “art form” rather than a technical skill. When he was a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, he attended a performance class taught by Marcel Tabuteau, principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He credits Tabuteau with giving him a strong background in phrasing and musical interpretation. Jake’s vivid musical imagination was expressed very powerfully.

He never allowed anything to distract him, including his instrument or how he was feeling, from his imaginative awareness of the music. He inspired his students to elevate their artistic standards to compete with the levels of any great musical artists, not just brass players.

I remember a performance of the Symphonie Concertante by Prokofiev. The great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich was soloist with the CSO. The powerful tuba part was frequently a duet with the soloist. Jake matched the incredible musical level of Rostropovich. At the end of the performance, he gave Jake a solo bow and ran back stage to give him a “Russian Bear” hug. It was one of his most astounding performances with the orchestra.


“Some people have a musical imagination that can be expressed in shades of gray and black. Others hear music expressed in bright vivid colors.”

“Emerald City is a bright shade of emerald green, not dark green, gray, or black.”

I recall that the most satisfying moments in my lessons with Jake frequently occurred at the end. He would assign several horn etudes by Gallay or Paudert. Then he would say, “Let’s try them now.” He sang along as I sight read the music. Jake was an imaginative singer and master solfege artist. I was astounded at how easy it was to play the etudes so well. It was as if he was playing them rather than me. I could never play the etudes as well on my own, even after practicing them for years!

Jake learned about the power of visualization from his wife, Gizella. When they met, she was a professional dancer. She told him about the visualization techniques that dancers used. They imagine dance movements before and while they execute them. Athletes and business people commonly use visualization techniques as well.


We were playing Stavinsky’s, “The Rite of Spring Ballet” with Solti and the CSO. In those days, the orchestra played Friday afternoon concerts that were attended by “shoppers” (Solti called them “bag ladies”! He despised them so much, the CSO eventually eliminated Friday afternoon concerts!) and music students, who sat in the gallery.

I remember warming up in the basement of Orchestra Hall before the concert. Jake sat in front of the black shipping trunk next to his locker. I sat facing him about fifteen feet away.

He began as a trumpet player before playing trombone and later by accident, the tuba. He enjoyed imagining that the tuba was a trumpet. He would shift his mouthpiece upward to form a trumpet player’s embouchure, and play in the midrange of a trumpet on the tuba. However, he was playing two octaves higher than the midrange of the tuba! It sounded like a resonant trumpet playing with the same ease a clarity of an instrument 4.5 ft long rather than 18 ft. This demonstration made a powerful impression on me both aurally and visually. I was completely astonished! I’m sure he intended the demonstration to be a powerful lesson.

Later that afternoon, the Civic Orchestra had their biweekly rehearsal in Orchestra Hall. For my second warm-up of the day, I sat in the exact same spot in the basement dressing room where Jake and I played a few hours before. I remember mentally visualizing Jake sitting in front of his trunk and hearing him do his “trumpet” impersonation. What happened next was almost frightening!

I picked up my tuba and duplicated what I heard him play earlier. I was amazed at how easy it was. I had no thoughts of shifting my embouchure or any other mechanics.
Interestingly, I was never able to duplicate the experience in a different location, only where we sat in front of his shipping trunk. It was the combination of a powerful visual and aural awareness that allowed me to experience that level of performance.


“Let me paint the picture for you.”

When I’m working with young or inexperienced musicians, I frequently use imagined visual imagery to elevate their musical awareness. I call the technique “painting the picture”. Sometimes, I’ll make up a story, or if it’s program music, I’ll describe the real story.

Recently, I conducted the Brandenburg Sinfonia by Bach with my high school orchestra. Because of their inexperience, they had no idea of the Baroque style of the music. I painted the picture by describing how Bach would lead the orchestra from the harpsichord. I was using a harpsichord in the orchestra so I asked the student to play the first eight measures of her part. The harpsichord plays block chords (continuo) in a somewhat detached style. It was the style I wanted the strings to imitate. Even though their parts indicated that they play in a detached style, those words meant nothing to them musically.

I explained that the harpsichord was leading the orchestra and that they should imitate what they heard coming from the instrument. Needless to say, they immediately sounded like a different orchestra. I said nothing about bowing technique or any other playing mechanics!

“The Pirates of the Caribbean”

When the first “Pirates” movie came out a few years ago, I decided to perform the score at our spring concert. I was astonished to hear how well they could play the music immediately. With such inexperienced players, it usually takes a long time for them to learn new music.

I soon learned that most of the students had seen the movie several times. They loved the music as much as the movie. They already had a vivid awareness of the music and how it visually fit the movie. As a result, they could perform at a much higher level than their inexperience should allow. I soon noticed that they readily transferred the higher performance level to the other music on the concert as well.

Everything I do, as an orchestra director, is to communicate the music aurally and visually to the students. Musically, they never sound like an inexperienced high school orchestra because that’s not the sound I’m communicating to them. They would sound like an inexperienced high school orchestra if I didn’t influence them from themselves.


"My string and woodwind players know much more about their instruments than I do. The reason for my success as their director, is that I know much more about how their instruments should sound and the music than them."

"I’m convinced that what separates musicians has little to do with anatomy or equipment. However, it has everything to do with 'state of mind'."


ARNOLD JACOBS speaking to RR.

“I wish I could put my brain in your body. What a combination that would be!”

Bud Herseth, the greatest orchestral trumpet player of all time, played an ordinary Bach trumpet with a stock 1C mouthpiece. Dennis Brain’s horn was in such poor condition that he filled in holes in the tubing with matchsticks.


“There are two instruments, one in your hand and one in your head. The instrument in your hand is a mirror reflecting the instrument in your head.”


Because Jake opened the doors of opportunity for me at such a young age, I found myself working with some of the greatest brass players in the world by the time I was eighteen. In addition to the CSO, I was on first call at the Grant Park Symphony, Lyric Opera, and in all of Chicago’s recording studios. I played in five professional brass quintets and brass ensembles.

I was a music student at Roosevelt University where Reynold Schilke taught trumpet and directed the brass choir. Great brass players from all over the world would frequently come to Chicago to study or perform. Schilke would routinely organize a group of brass players to play ensemble music with the visitors on Saturday mornings at his downtown trumpet factory. I was very fortunate to be the invited tuba player!

I survived by imitating what I heard around me. I didn’t have enough experience to make it on my own, but I was smart enough to go with the musical flow.

I credit one brass quintet in particular for my personal musical development. The trombonist (bass) was a natural musical genius who I also sat next to in the Civic Orchestra. He was only a year older than me but his musical imagination and playing level was that of a fully seasoned professional in a major orchestra. He was a powerful influence on me and everyone else in the quintet. He was considered to be the “heir apparent” to replace Ed Kleinhammer in the CSO someday.

One day, someone told him he should consider changing his embouchure to increase his endurance. Tragically, that was the beginning of the end of his career. He eventually gave up the trombone and became a fine recorder player.

As a high school student, I collected records and frequently went to the library in downtown Chicago to listen to recordings and read scores.

Very few musicians have an opportunity to experience music performance at such a high level, at such a young age. It was a very fertile environment in which to grow my musical imagination.


Because of the internet, there is a tremendous opportunity to access the highest levels of musical performance in the world. Itunes and youtube allow us instant access to recordings and videos from the past and present.

The highest level of musical awareness can be achieved when we vocally and mentally sing. Jake was a beautiful singer who highly recommended the study of solfege to his students.

He also advocated playing vocal music, interpreting it like a great singer.


“The sound that comes out the bell of your horn is precisely the same level as the awareness of sound in your head. Neither you or the instrument can lie.”

“You must be an honest musician because you have a lie detector in your hands.”


Jake tells us to create an imaginative mental awareness of the music we want our audience to hear. He talks about his studio practicing at Curtis. He knew that Leopold Stokowski or Fritz Reiner might be walking by and hear him play. Whether they were actually there or not, he always tried to play at the level he wanted them to hear. His playing was always mindful, never mindless.


“Never practice, always perform.”

When Jake says, “Tell a story”, he asking us to communicate musically to an audience just as if we were speaking to them. However, it’s very important to have something special to say.

When I coach brass players in preparation for an audition, I tell them to amplify everything they are trying to communicate musically. If they separate themselves musically from their competition, they will also separate themselves technically as well. This requires courage and the willingness to take risks.


“A trumpeter’s life is risky business. No greatness can be achieved if the player is paralyzed by fear.”


When I played my audition for the Honolulu Symphony, the conductor was on the stage with me. He was a marvelous cellist who played in the NBC Symphony with Toscanini at the age of sixteen and was formally principal cellist of the CSO.

As he selected the excerpts, I sensed his awareness of what he wanted to hear from me. He gave me powerful visual cues which strongly influenced my ability to execute the music. He helped raise my musical awareness level which was honestly expressed by the sound coming from the bell of the tuba.


“Creative Visualization” is the mental awareness (aurally, visually or both) of anything, including the sound of music. Shakti Gawain says that if we maintain any conscious mental awareness for enough time, our subconscious brain will react powerfully to realize that awareness. She recommends renewing the visual and (or) aural imagery several times a day.

For brass players, I recommend the repetition of the SING, BUZZ, PLAY formula in sets of three.


“Moving up the ladder of awareness will bring you to the notes you want to play.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mouthpiece Placement

The “E” Word


“Brass players are much too concerned about their embouchure and not concerned enough about their sound.”

Along with “Air”, the “E” word (embouchure) is overused in traditional brass pedagogy. Too often, teachers make the assumption that the reason their students are failing, is because there is something wrong with their embouchure or use of air.

When we hear poor tone production coming from the bells of our student’s instruments, there is malfunction of embouchure and air. But most often, those malfunctions are symptoms of something else that’s wrong.


“There’s nothing wrong with your chops. Your mind is messing them up.”


“There is no reason for your success or failure other than your ‘state of mind’.”

“Sound motivates function.”

“There is plenty of air to support the poor sounds coming from the bell of the instrument.”

Throughout my career, I have heard horror stories about students who had “dreaded” embouchure changes imposed on them by well meaning, but misguided teachers. Some players survive this unnecessary and potentially destructive imposition, but for too many, their careers are ruined.

In all my years of association with him, Mr. Jacobs never said one word to me about my embouchure!


I have taught brass pedagogy and instrumental performance at fifteen colleges and universities. I recall an incident that occurred at one of those schools.

At the end of his first semester, a freshman trumpet player requested to register for his applied trumpet lessons with me the second semester. He had made no progress working with his assigned trumpet teacher and was being denied an opportunity to play with the band. He was almost completely unable to function. I mentioned that if he had permission from his regular trumpet teacher, I would accept him for one semester. I knew it would be enough time to show him how to play.

From the beginning of his first lesson, it was obvious that he never understood how to play the instrument. I also noticed that he had a very unorthodox placement of the mouthpiece on his lips. His upper lip curled over the top of the mouthpiece rim. However, I said nothing to him about his embouchure.

We began his first lesson by applying the SING, BUZZ, PLAY formula, and were able to create some success immediately. At the end of the lesson, he was very relieved to know that he could play the trumpet.

Finally, I asked, “Has anyone ever mentioned your unusual mouthpiece placement?” Showing his frustration, he almost fell off the chair. He replied, “For years everyone, including every director or private teacher and my father.” I asked, “Where’s your father?” He said, “Sitting out in the hall!” I told him to invite his father to come into the studio. I was determined to have at least one person get off his back about his embouchure.

His father, an oboist, was a graduate of the same college. I proceeded to explain to the father that his son’s performance problems had nothing to do with his embouchure. Then the father told me an astonishing story about his first lesson with the principal oboist of the Chicago Symphony.

He said the first hour of the lesson was about making reeds and orthodox oboe embouchure. At the end of the two hour lesson, the teacher placed the reed in the corner of his mouth, ignoring everything he said about proper embouchure, and played beautifully. He was stunned! He never understood that demonstration until our discussion.


“You can give your worst mouthpiece (reed) or instrument to an advanced player and they will still sound like an advanced player. Conversely, if you give the finest equipment to an elementary player, and they will still sound like an elementary player.”

The trumpet player progressed beautifully over the next four months. He planned to play the last movement of the Hummel Trumpet Concerto for his jury. The lesson before the jury went very well. However, his jury performance was not a success.

When he arrived in the performance room, he found himself in the presence of the same people who hounded him about his incorrect embouchure. As a result, he began to think about his chops rather than the music.

Later, I asked him what they said about his very poor performance. Their response was predictable.

“Your embouchure is incorrect.”

The student was able to transcend the negative comments and continue his college career without having someone impose a change of embouchure.



Most brass players will place the mouthpiece in the most comfortable place on their lips. However, some teachers insist that the mouthpiece be precisely centered or in some other position. Because of the player’s teeth, braces, or some facial structure, an imposed mouthpiece position may be uncomfortable and will distract the player from the music.


“Feel and fail are four letter words to a brass player.”

“A change of embouchure is a needless imposition of pain that will cause increasing failure. Unless the brass player is highly motivated to transcend the discomfort with a powerful awareness of sound, they have no chance of success.”

“We must do things that will prevent, rather than encourage us from going into the “feel mode” when we play.”

Feel involves input to the brain from sensory tissues. However, in order to accomplish any physical function, there must be output (motor function) from the brain to the muscle tissues. If we allow input to be dominant over output, the result will be paralysis.


“We must give dominance to motor systems, not sensory systems. It is impossible to make sound or create any accomplishment using sensors.”

We should not be concerned about having the contact of the mouthpiece “feel good” when we play. But there cannot be excessive discomfort for any reason.

In a previous essay, I mentioned the story of Bud Herseth transcending the pain from his car accident when he performed with the CSO. In his studio, embouchure pain was so dominant he couldn’t play. But, he had the courage to perform with the orchestra.

On the stage of Orchestra Hall, the music was dominant and he could play. The challenge of the music altered his state of mind. There was another interesting element of his recovery experience.

About six months into his recovery, he happened to glance into a mirror while playing and noticed that his mouthpiece placement had shifted slightly from center. He never made a conscious decision to move the mouthpiece but his subconscious mind changed the placement in order to alleviate pain.


“Brass players who experience discomfort because of their mouthpiece placement, should be allowed to move the mouthpiece anywhere necessary to alleviate pain.”

Students who have irregular teeth or are expected to wear braces for an extended period can alleviate some discomfort considering the following.

The characteristics of air pressure and air flow encourage tone production at low frequencies. Air pressures (resistance) are low, thus flow rates are high. As a result, less contact pressure is required to maintain the embouchure at low frequencies.

1. Lower register playing requires less contact pressure on the rim.

2. Wider rim, larger diameter, or cushioned (well rounded rim) mouthpieces disperse contact pressure over greater tissue surface.

3. Low brass instruments have larger rim mouthpieces and require less contact pressure to maintain the embouchure.

4. Upper register playing requires increased contact pressure on the rim. A wider rim mouthpiece will disperse rather than concentrate contact pressure.

Because the brain is capable for sending a musical message to any of the lip surfaces, it is not necessary to center the mouthpiece. Farkas mentions that it is also possible to play well by placing the rim of the horn mouthpiece on the interior surfaces of the lower lip. Jake frequently mentioned how “the seventh cranial nerve” transmits the musical message from the brain to the lips.

Jake also enjoyed doing a very amusing demonstration. He played a melody on his mouthpiece as he grotesquely distorted his embouchure and moved the mouthpiece all over his lips. During the demonstration, the resonant melody could be heard without interruption.


The contact pressure of the mouthpiece on the player’s lips should be about the same at all points around the rim. It is also important to understand that the pressure is not minimal, nor should it be excessive.

Phil Farkas (The Art of Horn Playing, The Art of Brass Playing, Southern Music Co.) took numerous photos of brass player’s embouchures while playing on a mouthpiece rim. It is very clear to see by the, lips bulging inside the rim, that the contact pressures are not minimal.

As noted in a previous essay, excessive contact pressure is a symptom of weak chops.
If there is not enough contact pressure on either the upper or lower lip, there may be a lack of support when playing very loud.

Because all facial structures are different, the brass player’s playing angle is an important consideration. The brass player must establish and maintain equalized contact pressure. The playing angle will not be uniform for all players.

Brass players with an overbite (most common) will tend to have a downward playing angle, while those with an under bite will play parallel to the floor or may point their mouthpiece slightly upwards. The best way to determine the proper playing angle is to play on the mouthpiece and then bring the instrument to the angle of the mouthpiece. This is easy to accomplish with a trumpet or trombone. It can be tricky for horn players, if they rest the bell on their thigh or hold the instrument off their thigh.

Too often, I see young horn players resting the instrument on their thigh in such a way (bell pointing into their stomach) that the leadpipe is approaching the embouchure at a severe downward angle. This causes too much pressure on their upper lip and not enough on their lower lip.

Euphonium and tuba players, requiring a severe playing angle, have a difficult time achieving the proper angle with large instruments. In that event, I recommend bending the mouthpiece at the throat. This must be done by a competent instrument technician so that the throat and stem are not reduced in size. In most cases, euphonium and tuba players will adjust the angle of their head instead of trying to adjust the instrument.

During my years spent in Chicago’s recording studios, the number of microphones available was limited by the number of tracks that could be recorded at one time. Usually, it was just eight tracks, but later, sixteen track machines became available.

Three trumpet players had to play into a single microphone. I recall one fine player who had a severe under bite. It was impossible for him to play at the same angle at the other two players so he used a bent mouthpiece.

Since the microphone for my tuba was stationary, it was important that my bell always point in the same direction with as little motion as possible. I took a cue from the trumpet player and had Reynold Schilke bend one of his number 67 tuba mouthpieces to compensate for my minor overbite. I still use that same mouthpiece and horn combination today.

As a brass player changes registers, the playing angle (pivot) continuously changes with the shifts in the embouchure. Most players will make these adjustments with movement of their head. Pivots are necessary to maintain equalized contact pressure. Excessive motion is a sign of the player’s limited technical facility and embouchure development.

Motion of the head and embouchure are the brain’s subconscious response to create the conditions necessary (equalized contact pressure) to execute the sound. They can only be motivated by a vivid awareness of sound not by studying ourselves in a mirror.

Some misguided methodologies prescribe precise head angles (pivot) in various registers. We cannot create sound by consciously studying motion of air or any body part.


“It is sound that motivates the subconscious mechanics of air and embouchure. We cannot use conscious awareness of mechanics and air to motivate sound. The mechanics are so complex that our limited intellect will allow little or no awareness of sound.”

“At the conscious level, we can only have a single thought at any time. At the subconscious level, thoughts and awareness are unlimited.”

Normal motion of the head and embouchure should not be exaggerated. Since excessive motion is a symptom of an undeveloped embouchure and limited technical facility. I prescribe slurred velocity exercises (scales and chords) that challenge the player over two or more octaves. In time, the brain will learn to minimize shifts of the head and embouchure to satisfy the facility requirements. Since there isn’t time for exaggerated motion of embouchure and head, the subconscious brain learns how to efficiently execute the notes in velocity with less motion. Ultimately, smooth slow slurs played over wide intervals, become much easier to execute.


“I do not recommend visual analysis in front of a mirror to develop any musical or technical skill.”

“In all my years of performing with some of the finest brass players in the world, I never once saw anyone studying themselves in front of a mirror.”

“It is sound that motivates function, not function that motivates sound.”


“Breathe to expand, rather than expand to breathe.”


Logic tells us that it would be an advantage for tone production to utilize the longest embouchure possible. If we compare an oboe reed with that of a bassoon, the bassoon reed has much greater potential for resonance because of it’s greater size. If we were to place an oboe reed in the bocal of a bassoon, the sound of the bassoon would be very thin.

On a brass instrument, the greatest length of embouchure is achieved when the lips come together to form an aperture (space between lips) at the diameter of the circular rim of the mouthpiece.

Today most brass players, except for horn, place the mouthpiece on their lips in this manner. However, many very successful brass players, including horn players, shift the mouthpiece up or down so there is a difference between vibrating surface areas of the two lips. If the mouthpiece is shifted so the ratio of upper lip to lower lip is 2:1 (most common), there will be a corresponding ratio of surface area set into resonance.


There is a myth that the reason for the traditional shifted placement is because only one lip vibrates in the mouthpiece. It’s not possible to vibrate only one lip when both lips are inside the rim and air flows through the aperture between them.

In The Art of Horn Playing (Southern Music Co.), Farkas photographed the embouchures of 30 professional horn players. Interestingly, their mouthpiece placement varied wildly. Some players had almost no lower lip in the rim while some used almost no upper lip. A few players had no shift at all. Farkas said that all the players were very successful professionals.

It must be deduced that mouthpiece placement was not the most important factor determining their success.

One theory for the use of the shifted mouthpiece placement is an advantage to playing in the upper register of the instrument. Before the invention of valves in the 1820s, brass instruments were required to be much longer to access the smaller intervals of the upper partials.

It becomes increasingly difficult to resonate the air column in the upper partials of the overtone series. Except for the Sackbut (early trombone), brass players were required to play in the upper register of their trumpets and horns most of the time. The F horn is the same length as the modern F tuba. Horn players are essentially playing high notes on a tuba most of the time. Baroque trumpeters (without valves) are playing high notes on a Sackbut most of the time.

As a result, the standard mouthpiece shift, before the invention of valves was, 2/3 upper lip-1/3 lower lip. Some very effective brass players retain the shift today. It is standard mouthpiece placement for horn players. However over many years, I have asked hundreds of directors if they have their horn players shift the mouthpiece. I estimate that 95% don’t !

Today, most trumpet and low brass players do not shift their mouthpiece. Does it really matter where the aperture occurs within the mouthpiece rim?


I received a request for a lesson from a tuba player who had recently graduated from a major university with a DMA in performance. However, she was having problems with her playing. I gave her an appointment for a late Friday afternoon.

Yes, she was having great difficulty playing, especially in the middle and low registers. I noticed that the top of the rim of her mouthpiece was cut off. Naturally,I asked about it.

Several prominent teachers told her that the reason she was struggling was because of the need to shift mouthpiece placement. If she cut off the top of the mouthpiece rim, she could shift it even more!

I said, "Is that working for you?" The boxing gloves came on!

When a student begins to fight me, I ask them, "Why are you here?" You wouldn't come to me if everything was working well for you!

Sometimes students want to find out how to make their dysfunctional method work. They are not interested in a new approach. This credentialed tuba player was one of those people. She resisted everything I said to her for more than six hours!

Finally, I said, "Are you busy this evening?" She replied, "No". I replied, "I can't let you leave until you experience some success." She agreed to stay.

I knew her career was in serious jeopardy if she did experience some success that evening. She would never return and would continue to try to make her shifted mouthpiece placement work. I knew it would never work because her cut off mouthpiece had nothing to do with the fact that she couldn't play!

We spent the next five hours (with breaks)in a boxing match. Finally, at 10:00 she experienced success. I asked her what caused the change. She said, "I finally decided to listen to you because I want to go home!"

She eventually enrolled as a graduate student in music education at Vandercook where she continued to study with me. She played a very successful graduate recital, without the cut off mouthpiece!


One summer, I received a call from a mother regarding her seventh grade daughter who had been playing a cornet in her middle school band. The daughter’s band director wanted her to convert from cornet to the horn over the summer.

Since she had been playing cornet for several years, I said nothing to her about using a shifted horn embouchure. Had I imposed a standard 2/3-1/3 shift, she would have experienced a great deal of discomfort in her embouchure. That pain would have needlessly distracted her from the music and cause her to fail. I knew that Barry Tuckwell and many other fine professional horn players, did not shift their mouthpiece.

By the time she went to high school a year later, she was an excellent horn player. She attended a high school that has one of the finest instrumental programs in Illinois. She was awarded first chair in the wind ensemble as a freshman, playing the instrument for only one year!

In Illinois, you cannot perform at All-State until your junior year. She won principal horn in the Honors All-State Orchestra both her junior and senior years. She established herself as the finest high school player in the state. No one ever said a word about mouthpiece placement until she attended a major university. The result was a career ending disaster!

Even though she already was a very successful player, the horn professor told her that her embouchure was incorrect and insisted that she must shift the mouthpiece. As a result, he ruined her very promising playing career and, as I learned later, the careers of many other players.

Unfortunately, this story is more common than not. I have heard the arguments, from some instrumental teachers, that their imposed embouchure changes “worked miracles” for their students.

Yes, it is possible to transcend the discomfort and develop one’s playing with a different mouthpiece placement. In most cases, the players became even more highly motivated to focus on the music. If their playing improved after the embouchure change, it’s because they transcended the pain with a greater awareness of the music, recalling Mr. Herseth following his automobile accident.

It’s possible for the brain to send a musical message to any surface tissue around the mouth. The mouthpiece does not have to be confined to a narrow area of tissue.

When I’m working with beginners or non-brass instrumentalist, I motivate them to produce excellent sounds on their mouthpiece immediately. They have no embouchure development but I immediately give them musical awareness. They are able to realize that awareness immediately.


“Keep it simple.”

With inexperienced brass players, I use very familiar melodies (Mary Had A Little Lamb) or simple terms like “loud”, “high”, or “low” to create an immediate musical awareness.


Several years ago, I attended the Texas Bandmasters Convention held in San Antonio. Christian Lindberg performed as trombone soloist with the Army Band. Following his magnificent performance, the thrilled audience immediately rose to award Mr. Lindberg well deserved accolades.

I remember a comment that I overheard from one of the directors standing near me. He said, “Wow! Can you imagine what his embouchure looks like?” I was totally disheartened because I knew it didn’t matter what his embouchure looked like. What was important was what it sounded like! The director didn’t understand that fact and far too many others don’t understand as well.

Mr. Lindberg had absolutely no concern about the appearance of his chops or what they felt like. He was totally committed to just the sounds that he wanted to communicate to the audience!


One of the finest students of my teaching career is a euphonium player who first came to me as a sophomore in high school. At the age of sixteen, he won a competition to appear on a live telecast as soloist with the Chicago Symphony. At seventeen, he won first prize in the Leonard Falcone International Euphonium Competition.

Upon graduation from high school, I told him that he already had all the knowledge required to play his instrument well. He should continue his college studies, working with a euphonium artist-teacher. I suggested teacher “A”. He was thrilled because he had always hoped to study with him someday. He scheduled a lesson with teacher “A”. I asked him inform me about the lesson.

I received a distressful call soon after the lesson. He said, “Mr. Rocco, I can’t study with teacher “A”! He said my breathing and embouchure were all wrong. Then, he put me in front of a mirror to have me visually analyze my face and chest. By the end of the lesson, I couldn’t play anymore. What a disappointment!

I mentioned that I was sorry for his experience and I was sure he would be satisfied with artist-teacher “B”. He enrolled at the major university where teacher “B” was on the faculty.

Periodically during the school year, I received progress reports. I could tell he was not happy. He was receiving the same old analytical trash! At the end of the year, he mentioned he was leaving teacher “B”.

I saw him for a lesson the summer following his first year in college. I was dismayed to see that his playing had deteriorated. I confidently mentioned the name of artist-teacher “C”.

Teacher “C” (tuba) was a wonderful student of Mr. Jacobs. “A” and “B” are not Jacobs students. I had hoped the two artist-teachers would focus only on the music. In the fall, the student enrolled at the major university of teacher “C”. From the beginning, he was very happy.

I told him that if a gig ever came along before he finished school, he should drop out and accept the opportunity. He soon won a job playing with one of the major DC military bands. Today, he is one of the most prominent brass players in all the military bands.

Most college teachers are hired because of their performance ability not for the success of their teaching. As a result, many very fine performers are somewhat poor teachers if their students are experiencing playing problems.

I have had many students, with impressive college credentials, come to me because they can barely play.

I once asked a horn player, who had recently received her Master of Performance degree from a major university, what her artist-teacher said about her severe playing problems. He said, "I don't understand why you can't play anymore than I understand why I can."


“We cannot motivate our embouchure by observation. It can only be motivated by our vivid awareness of sound.”


The embouchure is created by the subconscious brain in order to realize the player’s conscious awareness of sound. It’s the quandary of the chicken or the egg. Which came first?

Traditional brass pedagogy says in order to create the perfect sound you must first create a perfect embouchure. Mr. Jacobs (Herseth, Rocco and many others!) tells us that it’s the awareness of sound that must come first. The development of the embouchure will follow gradually just as the ability to say words with vocal chords gradually followed our awareness of words.


“A child learns how to speak because of the sound of words rather than the study of vocal chords.”

“Because there are no standard facial structures there cannot be a standard mouthpiece placement.”

If the brass player is musically motivated and given enough time, they can realize their awareness with almost any mouthpiece placement.

Brass players and teachers should be aware that if standards of mouthpiece placement are imposed, failure may result because the standard may not fit the player’s facial structure. The brass player must be free to place the mouthpiece comfortably and with equal contact pressure on their lips. If this doesn’t occur, they will become distracted by the discomfort and will fail.


Some teachers complain that the poor performance of their students, is the result of “puffing cheeks”, “puckered lips”, “tight lips, “loose lips” etc. They give them “embouchure magnifying mirrors” in order to study their face. Other teachers have their students play on glass mouthpieces so they can visually analyze their chops when they play. Where is the player’s concept of sound when they are analyzing their face in a mirror?

When a brass player is “mindlessly blowing” into their mouthpiece, there is no musical message to motivate the subconscious formation of an embouchure. There are certain principals of mouthpiece placement as outlined earlier in this essay.

Self analysis must be kept to a minimum. Concept of tone should be the dominant.

I am aware of many very successful brass players who “puff their cheeks” or have some other unorthodox mouthpiece placement. Does it matter if they are successful brass players?


I recall attending a brass quintet concert of an excellent group from Boston. I was invited by the very fine tuba player who had studied with me on occasion in Chicago. I immediately notice that one of the excellent trumpet players severely puffed his cheeks when he played.

Following the concert, I had an opportunity to meet with the members of the quintet. I knew that the quintet performed many educational concerts and gave numerous brass clinics in schools. I said to the trumpet player, “I’ll bet the directors make you crazy asking why you play so well when you puff your cheeks.” He replied, “Yes,I just tell them I’m a freak of nature.”


“I don’t care if what you are doing is all wrong if it sounds good.”

We must conclude that if it sounds good, it cannot be wrong!


“Embouchure is created by the brass player’s subconscious mind in order to realize their vivid concept of sound. We must not care what it looks like, only what it sounds like.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Range Development


“Playing high is no different than playing low.”

“Think sound, not mechanics.”

The first consideration any brass player should have when they want to expand their range is the quality of their sound in the mid-range. Proper playing technique and a good quality of tone must be established there first. Then, we must transfer the mid-range quality sound to the upper and lower registers of the instrument. The same approach to playing quality mid-range notes will work beautifully in the upper or lower register.

I frequently ask a new horn student a “loaded” question. “Are you a high or low horn player.” That question is meaningless to someone who really has developed their performance skills. If someone really considers themselves to be one or the other, then they are only half of a player.

Although there are physical changes in the embouchure and the use of air as we move from the mid-range, those changes must always be motivated by an awareness of the sound we want to produce. We cannot consciously analyze how to manipulate our lips or air. We don’t have the knowledge, intellect, or physical awareness at the conscious level of thought to make that happen.

The subconscious mind has the ability to create the sound and will learn the mechanics if given enough time. Like the development of any skill, experience is the most important element of the learning curve. We must provide our subconscious mind an opportunity to acquire the knowledge. And we must provide time for the development of muscle tissues through the experience of playing. That experience must be gradual and two directions.

Too many ineffective brass teachers discuss the conscious manipulation of embouchure and air. “Tighten your lips to play high notes. Drop your jaw to play low notes.”

“Blow downward”

“Blow upward”

“Curve your upper over the lower lip”

“Play with fat, fast, or slow air.”

Since we cannot detect fat, fast, or slow air, such comments are ineffectual. However, we can have a vivid awareness of a fat sound and loud and soft dynamics.


“Sound motivates function.”

“When the brass player’s awareness of body parts is primary and music is secondary, there will be no mechanics of playing or music.”


It is very important that range expansion take place gradually and in both directions. The characteristics of air pressure and air flow for low frequency notes are beneficial for tone production. Conversely, the characteristics of air pressure and air flow for high frequency notes are detrimental for tone production.

The embouchure is less resistant to air flow at low frequencies so air flow rates are high. As we ascend in frequency, the embouchure becomes more resistant to air flow. Greater air pressure is required to move the air through the embouchure so air flow rates drop.

If we don’t expand our range simultaneously in both directions, the brain will begin to interpret the characteristics of air flow and air pressure in one register or another as the norm for all registers. This is not harmful if the norm becomes the characteristics of low notes. However, if the characteristics of high notes become the norm, the subconscious brain will create those characteristics in the middle and low registers where they are not normal. The only way that can happen is for the subconscious brain to create a resistance to the flow of air somewhere before the embouchure.

Although I never had an opportunity to discuss it with him, I always thought that one important reason Maynard Ferquson played the valve trombone (Superbone) was to balance the negative playing conditions of high notes with the positive playing conditions associated with low notes. Playing the Superbone was therapeutic for his trumpet playing as well as his wonderful musicianship


“I divide the history of range development on brass instruments before and after Maynard Ferguson. He showed the world that we can expand our range by several octaves and still maintain the musical integrity of mid-range playing.”


Jake measured air flow rates and air pressures required to produce specific frequencies on all brass instruments. He discovered that air pressures were about the same for any brass instrument at specific frequencies.
Air flow rates were not the same because the different length of embouchure for various size instruments.

The air pressure required to play middle C (256 c.p.s.) on a trumpet and tuba is about the same for both instruments. The note is relatively low for the trumpet and relatively high for the tuba. The actual pressures Jake measured were quite low even in the extreme upper register of the trumpet. He said they were much less than the air pressure created and released by a cough.

If we compare air flow rates for the two instruments, playing at about the same dynamic level, the air flow rate for the tuba is much higher than the trumpet. Primarily, the reason is difference in length of embouchure associated with mouthpiece size.

Playing at about the same dynamic level, differences in bore size and type, conical vs. cylindrical, would also have some impact on air flow rate.

Because of familiarity, the subconscious brain may want to duplicate the characteristics of high notes (high pressure-low air flow) in the middle and low registers where those characteristics are not normal.

The subconscious brain can accomplish this only by resisting the air somewhere before the embouchure (throat, tongue etc.) Resistance created before the embouchure will cause the embouchure to collapse because of the lack of breath support. The air pressure will increase behind the point of closure, but at the embouchure, it will drop like a rock. These playing conditions are disastrous for any wind player!

THE TONGUE (front and rear)

The tongue can be a major factor resisting the flow of air to the embouchure. It is a very powerful muscle that has the strength to resist the abdominal muscles. The tongue can restrict air flow at the front or rear.

It must be noted that the facial muscles of the embouchure are some of the weakest in the body. They cannot resist the powerful abdominal muscles which are used for breathing, defecation, and giving birth. We cannot resist air flow with our lips! Often, the player senses breath resistance and they consciously think it’s occurring at the lips because their embouchure is collapsing.

They instinctively try to restore air to their embouchure by blowing harder but that only causes the brain to increase resistance at the point of closure. If the cycle of blowing and resisting continues, there will be complete failure of the embouchure.


Since it is necessary to close the passage way to the lungs (trachea) when we swallow, it is also possible close the airway when we are not in the act of swallowing. However, opening and closing the trachea cannot be directed by the conscious brain. Nobody consciously thinks about opening or closing their throat when they breath or swallow. Some misguided vocal and instrumental teachers try to direct their students to obtain conscious control over this function by yawning.

It’s a waste of time and effort. We cannot have conscious control of a subconscious function. It’s like consciously trying to stop your heart from beating. We can temporarily stop breathing at the conscious level, but eventually the powerful subconscious mind will take charge and restore inhalation.


“In order to alter a subconscious function, we must alter the conditions that are creating it.”


Most muscles of the body are paired against each other to create motion in two directions. As a result, there are different muscles for inhalation and exhalation. If both sets of muscles contract simultaneously, there is plenty of tension but no movement of air. The player senses they are blowing hard but there is no movement of air. Usually, the teacher tells the student to “relax”. That’s another ineffective comment because nobody consciously puts themselves in an isometric state. It’s a way of creating paralysis because the player very has little confidence of success.

Occasionally, instrumental teachers have noticed that a young brass player may resist the breath by closing their mouth entirely when they attempt to play. It must be a rare occurrence because I have never encountered it with any of my students.



In 1979, my first year teaching at Vandercook, I noticed that I could hear the vocal chords of one of my students when he played the tuba. I didn’t mention it until the end of his first lesson. I asked if he was aware that his vocal chords could be heard. He emphatically replied, “Yes!”.

I also asked if anyone else has mentioned the problem. He replied, “Lots of people have been telling me for many years.” I said, “What do they tell you to do?”


“Did those instructions work for you?” “NO!!!”

Such meaningless comments never work. Students are aware of that fact but they don’t have the courage to tell their teachers. However, they do communicate it with their instrument. But much of the time, the teachers don’t get the message.
My student was at the beginning of his senior year but he could barely play his instrument. He was very concerned about his senior recital.

I never said another word to him about his vocal chords until after he played a very successful recital about six months later. I remember congratulating him for his excellent performance. Then I asked, “Have you noticed that you no longer make sound with your vocal chords when you play?”

He smiled and said, “Yes, thank you Mr. Rocco!”

Before we worked together, the student never learned how to be successful. His history was mostly failure so he had a high expectation of failure. This caused the protective reaction of his subconscious brain from experiencing further emotional and physical discomfort. The brain will most often try to protect the player by restricting air flow or creating paralysis of the embouchure. However, this subconscious reaction causes much greater failure and anxiety.

The solution was to provide a playing method that would allow him to create success. I simply encouraged the Sing, Buzz, Play formula. As he began, to experience success, his expectation of success grew. With a new history of success, came a positive association with playing his instrument.

The instrument began to have a positive influence on his state of mind. There was no longer a need to create paralysis because playing was becoming a pleasurable experience rather than a painful one.

I did nothing more than alter his conditions of playing by providing a methodology that allowed him to create success. There were no comments about air, embouchure, vocal chords or any other mechanics of playing. However, there was much that I did do (Sing, Buzz, Play) to elevate his awareness of what he should sound like.

In time, his subconscious learned the mechanics necessary to realize his heightened awareness of sound. Since restricting air will with vocal chords did not help him to realize the sound, his brain stopped doing anything to prevent it.


If a brass player frequently plays past the last third of their vital capacity, the stress of trying to force the air from their lungs will become a normal condition of playing. In time, the subconscious brain will try to duplicate the conditions of having to force the air from the lungs all the time, including when they attempt to play above the last third of vital capacity.

The only way the brain can accomplish the forcing of air is to restrict air flow. At some point before the embouchure, the brain will trigger one of the four areas of resistance.


The brass player who attempts to play higher notes than their development allows, will attempt to substitute exaggerated air pressures for their weak chops. They cannot sustain the tone with a weak embouchure so they press the mouthpiece into their lips and blow harder.

However, the air pressure required to play notes with strong chops, is the same as with weak chops. They will artificially try to increase the air pressure at their lips. Again, the brain is forced to restrict the air pressure somewhere before the embouchure and one of the four points of resistance will be triggered.


Playing in extreme dynamics (loud and soft), or range (high and low) requires embouchure development and breath control. It is very important to understand that all mechanical skills are developed by the motivation of the player’s awareness of sound, not body parts or air.

If the player attempts to perform much beyond their development, the brain will desperately try to artificially alter air flow and air pressure to compensate for their weak embouchure.

In the case of high notes, they will also the increase contact pressure on their lips forcing the mouthpiece into their chops. Too many teachers attempt to treat this symptom of weak chops by utilizing elaborate exercises to minimize contact pressure. Nobody consciously make the decision to force the mouthpiece into their embouchure. It’s a subconscious reaction of the brain to maintain the embouchure when it’s collapsing from fatigue.


“Excessive contact pressure of the mouthpiece rim on the chops is the result of a weak embouchure. The solution is simply to strengthen the embouchure, rather than to treat the symptom with meaningless exercises like playing with the instrument suspended on a string or placed on a piano.”

“The perfect embouchure required to play in any register can only be created at the subconscious level of thought. It can only be motivated by the player’s conscious awareness of sound.”


The subconscious brain will restrict air flow for one or more of the following reasons.

There is a high expectation of failure based on the player’s history of failure. The history of failure is the result of not having a mechanism of success.

The player too often plays past the last third of their vital capacity, so they must force the air out of their lungs. The subconscious brain eventually becomes accustomed to forcing the air all the time. In order to force air, the brain must resist air flow by triggering a point of resistance.

The player attempts to play high notes or extreme dynamics without physical development. They will try to substitute exaggerated air pressures or air flow to compensate. The exaggeration will eventually become a normal playing condition that will trigger a point of resistance.

Breath resistance can also be a subconscious response to the player’s history and expectation of failure. This response is a protective mechanism that seeks to prevent further emotional pain and physical discomfort. However, the paralyzing impact of breath resistance exacerbates the situation, causing even greater malfunction and anxiety.

We must consciously alter playing conditions to alter a subconscious response. There must be a methodology that will allow the player to create a new history of success. Once the history is established, a new expectation will follow. The protective mechanism of the brain will no longer resist breath or cause some other paralysis in anticipation of a negative experience.



Long tones or slow slur studies require continuous function of the embouchure so they provide the greatest opportunity for muscular development. THE FIRST STUDIES in Arbans or the numerous slurred studies in Schlossberg are a good example of recommended exercises.

The starting point should be a mid-range key or note. The player should alternate studies a half step lower with a half step higher from the original starting point. Each subsequent repetition should continue by further alternating a half step lower with a half step higher. The interval between high and low repetitions should be increased gradually from the starting point.

The player should continue the sustained studies to a point of moderate fatigue but not exhaustion. In about six months, the distance between high and low should be 3-4 octaves or more.


“Maynard Ferguson showed us that range development is limited only by the player’s imagination. There are few real physical barriers.”

Because of some limitations of the lower register on trumpet, trumpeters may repeat the lower key as they expand to higher keys. The studies should practiced on a daily basis or at least 4-5 times weekly. With development, the amount of time devoted to these studies should increase. The mid-range starting point can be adjusted higher as the player expands their range. At first, these studies will cause noticeable fatigue, but that will alleviate with further development.


Like a healthy diet, range development should include a variety of studies. In addition to sustained playing, rapid scales and chords should be practiced. At first, I like to use the Clarke, Technical Studies for that purpose. The slurred exercises are written in every key starting in the lower register. I recommend starting in a mid-range key and alternate lower keys with higher keys. The studies should be played slowly at first and in slur to encourage tone production. Later, the tempo should be increased and the articulation should be varied.

As with the long tone studies, the interval between high and low key should be increased. They should be played to a point of moderate, but not excessive fatigue. With development, the player should expand the studies by half step beyond the written keys. Ultimately, the distance between high and low keys should be 3-4 octaves or more.

I also recommend similar chord and scale studies in Arban, Schlossberg, and Ernest Williams.


I ask students to transpose (or clef changes) simple melodic studies from Bordogni, Concone, Getchell or solo repertoire and etudes. They should start in a mid-range key and alternate lower and higher, gradually increasing the interval between keys.


“I knew I was prepared to play the “Christmas Oratorio” when I could play it twice through and a whole step higher than written.”

“Studies like Charlier, challenge the trumpet player beyond anything encountered in the orchestra repertoire. Each one should be mastered as if it is a concerto.”


“Playing skills should be developed beyond any challenge that might be encountered on stage. We always want to perform well within the limits of our ability, not at the limits of our ability.”

“Musical and technical development is the result of musical and technical challenge.”

“Only a history of success can create an expectation of success.”

The development of any playing skill requires repetition over time. It’s no different than what is required to develop the ability to walk and talk.

If we try to execute a skill beyond our level of development, the result will be failure. We must always accept a certain amount of failure because it’s an inevitable element of creating success. However, if we experience too much failure over too much time, we will develop a high expectation of failure.

A body builder knows that if they want to lift a 300 lb weight over their head, they must first start with whatever weight they can cope with. Then, they gradually increase the weight to continue strength development.

If a playing skill is developed gradually, we will mostly create satisfying successful experiences. This will continue to motivate the subconscious brain to develop the proper mechanics necessary to realize the player's expectation of success.


“We always realize our expectations of success or failure.”

“If we don’t have the discipline to develop our playing skills over time, we will suffer the consequences of it never happening.”


“The mechanisms of success and failure are the same.”

We must not search for the perfect embouchure, mouthpiece, or instrument as substitute for playing skill that is undeveloped. Once we have developed our skills, we can execute the music regardless of what instrument we are holding or what mouthpiece is placed in the leadpipe.

Decisions regarding the equipment we use should be based primarily on the quality of sound that we want for the music. It is acceptable to use higher pitched instruments to make the music closer to mid-range for easier development. However, the final decision of what instrument to use should always be made for considerations of sound.

If you can’t play a musical passage on a large horn, you won’t be able to play it well on the small horn either.


“Practice difficult music on a variety of instruments and make the music sound the same no matter what instrument you are playing.”


“I sing the notes (regardless of range) in my head as I play them. It doesn’t matter how my lip feels or how I feel.”


"We must liberate ourselves from the shackles imposed by self analysis. Let music be the key to your freedom."

“The function of a teacher is to create opportunities for success.”


Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Conditioned Reflex"


“Paralysis by Analysis”

Most people are familiar with the “conditioned reflex” experiment of behavioral psychologist Ivan Pavlov. He associated the ringing of a bell with a dog’s feeding. In time, the bell alone stimulated the dog to salivate in preparation for food when none was present.

Musicians have a strong emotional commitment to creating music with an instrument in their hands. We invest years of our lives in a relationship that has positive and inevitably, negative moments. The first question I ask students at a clinic or masterclass is, “How many of you at have ever wanted to throw your instrument at a brick wall?” The response is always the same no matter where I ask the question. Everyone puts their hand in the air!


“Don’t test your notes. Make an emphatic commitment to every note.”

Since an instrument is a “lie detector”, every note coming from the bell is exposed to the world the moment it is heard. It is also honest because the instrument has no intelligence or music of its own. It can only reflect the mind of the musician. When we play an instrument, there are no opportunities to test our results. The proof is the sound coming from the bell.

A mathematician or computer programmer can test their work before they present it to the world. As brass players, we must have the courage to commit to the sound that we expect to come out the bell. However, without a high expectation of success we will not be able to make a commitment.


“I expect the notes to be there.”

We must live with our efforts whether we are happy about it or not. Unfortunately on a brass instrument, the resulting sound can make the player unhappy more often than it gives them satisfaction. Whatever our emotional response is to the quality of our notes, the response is not ignored by our subconscious (reactive) brain. Like Pavlov’s dog conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell, we become conditioned to the emotions associated with the instrument we are holding for hours on end.


“The emotional and physical experience of playing your instrument can be like having someone point a double barreled shotgun at your head. There is a great expectation of emotional and physical discomfort.”

Any musician experiences emotional pain when they fail but they don’t necessarily experience physical discomfort. If a pianist plays the wrong note or a violinist plays out of tune, they might experience emotional pain but it doesn’t hurt their fingers.

The subconscious brain responds in a protective manner to avoid both emotional and physical pain. The protective reaction of the brain will create paralysis as it tries to avoid a negative experience. However, the resulting paralysis will cause even greater failure and pain.

If the cycle of failure and pain is not broken, the player will eventually become completely paralyzed. This condition is commonly referred to as “focal dystonia”, a neurological condition. However, FD is the involuntary flexing of muscle tissue. Referring to paralysis as FD is an incorrect application of the term. It’s a misuse that I have been guilty of on occasion.


“Paralysis associated with playing an instrument is not an incurable medical condition. It is a manageable psychological condition.”

Far too many professional musicians have been told by the medical community that their careers are finished. In many instances, they are forced to retire. Others have tried to cure their paralyzed chops with the injection of cortisone or other substances in their lips. The medical profession does not have a real solution because they are trying to treat the symptoms of paralysis rather than the cause.

The cause is the negative conditioning associated with a history of failure. With highly accomplished players, the history is recent. With less accomplished players, the history may be life long.

I have found that accomplished players start to alter their "state of mind" with self analysis. The less accomplished players have never achieved the "state of mind" necessary to become accomplished musicians.


“There’s nothing wrong with your chops. Your mind is messing them up.”

I have helped many professional wind players, including myself, overcome paralysis. The negative conditioning that is stored in the brain can never be erased. It must be replaced with new conditioning based on creating a history and expectation of success.


"We cannot erase bad habits. They must be replaced with something new."

When the air column of a brass instrument, or any wind instrument, rejects the sound created in the mouthpiece, the rejection causes embouchure malfunction and breath resistance.

Traditional brass pedagogy wants to treat the symptoms of rejection. This never works because the problem exists in the brain, not external or internal body parts.

Rejection of the air column is uncomfortable physically as well as emotionally. A friend (professional trumpet player, John Cvejanovich) colorfully describes the unfortunate experience of having your sound rejected by the air column.

“It feels like I’m trying to push a piano up the stairs.”

If a brass player experiences too much failure over a long period of time, the experiences add up like depositing money in a bank. Inevitably, the emotional and physical pain becomes associated with their instrument Playing eventually is like the experience of touching a hot stove.


The Pianist

When she was a child, a friend, PHD in psychology, aspired to become a concert pianist. She came from a very musical family. Her father, who was also her piano teacher, was a very fine professional pianist. Three of her relatives were string players in the Chicago Symphony.

When visitors came to her home, she was frequently asked to perform a short recital for the guests. However, she was dismissed if she made a single mistake. Eventually the emotional pain associated with playing the piano completely paralyzed her. She could not even bring herself to sit on the bench.

Later in life, she decided make clinical psychology her profession in order to understand what had happened to her. We have spent many hours together comparing what I was seeing in the world of instrumental music performance and what she knew in psychology. She was able to affirm in the literature what I already knew from my experiences with students and myself.

The Flutist

Several years ago, I received a call from a professional flutist who I knew as a very fine high school player. Fifteen years had passed since the last time I saw her. She told me that the fingers of her right hand would no longer allow her to play without pain and paralysis. The pain was so great that she could no longer finger the instrument with her right hand. She had been to numerous medical doctors and flute teachers throughout the world.

No one was able help her. She was told that she had focal dystonia and that it was incurable. However, she was not experiencing the involuntary flexing of the muscles of her right hand. She was experiencing pain and paralysis. FD was a misdiagnosis of her problem.

I asked if her hand functioned normally when she wasn’t playing the flute. She affirmed that her hand worked fine when she did other things. I understood that her problem was not physical, it was psychological.

I wanted to know when she first noticed the symptoms of her pain and paralysis. She replied, “Fifteen years ago.” My next question was, “What happened in your life fifteen years ago?” She said, “I started giving eighty flute lessons a week to make a living.”


"After a day of private teaching, I sound more and more like my students."

Endlessly listening to elementary level flute sound began to have a negative influence on her own playing. Her symptoms of failure were very similar to mine. She noticed deterioration in her tone quality and it was becoming harder for her to play technically.

Because she is a committed musician, she naturally had an emotional response to what was happening. As she analyzed her playing, the situation became worse and she became even more anxious. In time, her anxiety became associated with the flute. Her subconscious protective instinct tried to prevent her from playing the instrument by causing pain and paralysis in her hand.

Over the years, I have noticed that the paralysis and discomfort manifests itself most often with the hands of woodwind players and the “chops” of brass players.


“We cannot use a physical solution to solve a psychological problem. Otherwise, we will attempt to treat symptoms of failure rather than the cause. Treating only symptoms will result in more failure.”

Since the problem is psychological, the solution must also be psychological. The flutist was no longer thinking about music when she brought the instrument to playing position. She was only thinking about her pain as she desperately tried to make her hand function. I knew I had to alter her “state of mind” by bringing it back to the music.

It is common practice to have beginning flutists play their first notes on the head joint alone. A flutist can simultaneously sing vocally and finger the instrument.

I asked her to sing the notes (neutral syllable la) while the instrument was in resting position rather than playing position. I wanted to reduce the paralyzing influence the instrument had when she brought it to playing position.

It was important that the music be very familiar so she would have a high level of awareness. She found that she could finger the instrument normally as long as it was not brought to playing position.

I asked her to sing and finger short phrases in sets of three. With each repeated set, she brought the instrument closer to playing position until the mouthpiece was at her embouchure.

Then, I asked her if she thought she could play normally. She responded, “yes!” She was able to finger the instrument without pain for the first time in years. This was the opening she had been searching for. It required continued repetition of the singing and fingering over several months to create a new history of success and a new expectation of success.

There is no cure for playing paralysis. The conditions that motivated the paralysis are stored in memory forever. As long as the player substitutes new playing conditions, there will be a different response from the subconscious mind.

I continuously remind my students and myself that we must “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”. If we don’t, we will end up back in the “Witches’ Castle” rather than “Emerald City”.

The Trombonist

One summer, I received an email from one of my former Vandercook College graduate students. When he studied trombone with me in the 1980s, he was a very fine brass player. He mentioned that he was currently teaching applied low brass instruments and brass methods courses for music education students, at a small college in Tennessee. However, he lost all ability to play and was in danger of losing his job.

I was beginning a new week-long brass pedagogy course at Vandercook. I invited him to audit the class, which met for eight hours daily. I promised to work with him privately during breaks, lunch, and in the evening after class ended for the day. His was the worst case of paralysis that I had ever experienced in my forty years of teaching.

Although he had taken similar course work with me at Vandercook, he decided to refer back to the doctoral thesis of his undergraduate trombone teacher in his new duty of teaching brass pedagogy. The subject of the thesis was the analysis of facial muscles involved in a trombone embouchure. As he began to study and teach the subject, he slowly analyzed himself into a state of total paralysis.


"To teach is to learn twice."

When I first asked him to play his mouthpiece, I was astonished that he could not make a sound. I had never encountered total paralysis playing on the mouthpiece alone. I knew I was going to be challenged by this level of paralysis, which was 100%.

Since he could not buzz anything, I asked him sing in sets of three repetitions. However, when I instructed him to play the mouthpiece on the fourth repetition, he was unable to make a sound. He made several attempts to sing and buzz the mouthpiece without success.

I asked him to sing and buzz his lips without the mouthpiece, but he could not function. After experiencing an endless amount of frustrating failure, I sent him home for the evening. I told him we would continue the next day and that I was confident we would eventually find an opening.

I always communicate a confident attitude to my students. They must believe that I can help them! However, that evening, I had some doubt. I recall telling my wife that this might be the first teaching failure of my career. Later, I thought of an important book I read several years before.

(M. Scott Peck, M.D., pub. Touchstone)

For many years, I had been encouraging my students to read a self help book,
The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, M.D.

Peck says that life is a series of problems that we must learn to solve. Failure to solve them, because of avoidance or ignorance, usually leads to some form of mental illness. He gives us a beautiful three part formula for problem solving.


Dr. Peck tells us that we must first have a powerful need in order to solve problem. If our need is not powerful, we won’t have the discipline to take the time necessary to find the solution.


Solutions to problems require time to discover them. Since the solution will come at some point, we must be willing to “delay gratification”. We must have the discipline necessary to take the time.


If our need and discipline are powerful enough, we will take whatever amount of time is necessary to find the solution to our problem if one exists.

I knew there certainly was need and discipline. Would I have enough time?

The next day was even more frustrating for the student and myself because the opening had not come. We worked for two days without success. He seemed willing to keep trying but I knew my time was running out. I thought he might not come back a third day.

On the third day, he wasn’t present for the start of the 8 AM class. I was quite dismayed because I knew I had failed him and that his career in jeopardy. However, at 9:30 he walked into the room and apologized for being late because there was a major accident on the expressway.

During the day we continued to work but again, with no success. I knew he was going home the next day if something positive didn’t happen. Before end of the day, something wonderful did happen!


At the last possible moment, I remembered a wonderful and amusing experience I had sitting next to Jake in the CSO. It’s a true story that is worth telling here.

Erich Leinsdorf was conducting a rehearsal of Deserts by Edgar Varese. It is scored for a huge compliment of wind and percussion instruments, including two tubas. The first tuba part has a very difficult solo note (Gb above middle C) that is played very softly. It is very treacherous because it’s quite exposed and at the top of the range for CC tuba! Jake rarely used smaller horns for any reason. As usual, he used his 5/4 York CC tuba for this piece.

There are many horror stories about tuba players having trouble with the note. I was curious to see how Jake would handle it. I was also glad it was in his part, not mine!

As the moment to play the note approached, I noticed that Jake began to quietly sing the Gb into his mouthpiece. He repeated the note vocally several times. However, he sang the note very softly so I was the only one who could hear it. When it came time to play the note, he sang it louder into the instrument without actually playing it.
He fingered the tuba correctly as if he had played the note. What happened next was astonishing!

Leinsdorf stopped the rehearsal and shouted, “Bravo Mr. Jacobs!” The rest of the orchestra shuffled their feet, a CSO tradition, signaling their approval.

I was the only person in the room who knew he never played the note. He leaned over with a patented “twinkle in his eye” and said, “My personal integrity won’t allow me to do that at the performances.”

We played six performances of Deserts. The note was flawless every time. However, he continued to do the preparatory singing each time. He just transferred the note from his vocal chords to his lips in order to execute it perfectly.

Thanks again Jake!

I noticed that he sang the note directly into playing without pause. There was no break between the singing and buzzing. This was the opening I was searching for!

Just as Jake had demonstrated, I asked the student to sing into buzzing without a break in the sound. Bingo! He immediately buzzed a sound with his mouthpiece for the first time in years. I’ll never forget his first word, “Marvelous!”

Without a pause between singing and buzzing, there was no time for his subconscious brain to set up paralysis. I distracted him from himself with the sound. This is an important technique that I use to alleviate paralysis when the student is in a straight jacket. I distract them from themselves with music.

From that moment of success, he was able begin his recovery. It was just a matter of reapplying the SBP formula. He was able to perform publicly in about six months.

Not only was he able to keep his college teaching job in Tennessee but he later found another in Oregon where he also began playing with a local orchestra.


The first symptom of paralysis that I noticed in my own playing was my difficulty starting the first note of a phrase. I remember a rehearsal Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet with the Seattle Symphony. I had trouble starting a very simple passage of soft quarter notes in one of the slow movements.

Later, I learned that this symptom was quite common among all the brasses. Many teachers suggest breath attacks to their students to prevent the tongue from blocking the air. This is treating the symptom rather than the disease. We must understand why the subconscious brain is creating this condition.

The subconscious brain will frequently use the tongue (front or back) to block the air in order to prevent playing as it tries to protect the player from emotional and physical pain. This is the same protective reaction that prevents us from touching a hot stove or standing too close to a cliff.

However, the paralysis only makes matters worse. Because the subconscious is reactive not intellectual, it will override the conscious will in order to protect us from harm. When this happens, the result is disastrous!

The subject of the brain’s protective response is discussed further in Trading in the Zone (Mark Douglas, New York Institute of Finance). “Zone” refers to the “State of Mind” necessary to achieve any goal.

To alleviate the paralysis associated with starting notes, I simply have the player sing directly into playing just as Mr. Jacobs demonstrated in Deserts. The technique requires a little practice but it works very well. Eventually, the player can get the same successful result by singing, but with a slight pause before playing. Finally, they only have to think the note at the moment they play it to be free of paralysis.

Sometimes the paralysis is confined to a few notes in a certain register. It doesn’t matter where in the range paralysis occurs. The simple solution is always the same.



The paralysis is the result of not having a powerful enough awareness at the moment the player wants to create the sound. Since the subconscious brain has no awareness to respond to, it searches for the awareness by trying to feel the note at the lips. The brain desperately tries to convert the lips into ears.


"Playing by feel is like trying to drain the water out of swimming pool with a straw."

It is very important that the thought of the note occur at the same moment the player wants to play the note. Thinking of the note ahead of playing will result in failure if the thought is lost at the moment of execution. The brain will instantly try to substitute feel for awareness.

If the brass player has difficulty thinking the note, it’s because their awareness level is not high enough to dominate other distractions. Thoughts, other than the note (This feels good or bad. I hope this works.), will dominate if their awareness is too weak or nonexistent.

If a student fails to execute their starting note, I ask them, “What were you thinking about at that moment?” They frequently respond, “I hope this works.” I always reply, “Well, did that thought work for you?”

After I help bring their awareness back to the note and they play it successfully, I ask them a series of “loaded” questions.

“Were you successful because you played on a different instrument?” “NO!”

“Were you successful because you used a different mouthpiece? “NO!”

“Why were you successful?” “I had a different State of Mind!” or "I thought the note."

Apply the SBP formula to raise the awareness level high enough to execute the sound with the instrument.

Since "feeling", rather than "singing", the note can never work. The resulting failure will cause the player to experience emotional pain and physical discomfort. The protective response of the subconscious brain will react by creating paralysis.

Paralysis causes increased emotional pain and physical discomfort, which results in even more severe paralysis and pain. The end of this vicious cycle may ultimately end in total paralysis. It will associated with and ultimately influenced by the instrument.



"Feeling good is a by-product of playing correctly. You cannot play correctly by trying to feel good first."

A philosophy exists among some brass teachers that, "You can't play until it feels right (good)." They spend endless hours,usually doing extensive warming up exercises, trying to create the right "feeling" in their chops when they play.

I'm reminded of another beautiful learning opportunity presented by Bud Herseth.

One summer morning, he was asked to give a clinic, on the stage at Ravinia, to 200 trumpet players who were attending a Northwestern camp.

We had a CSO concert the evening before. I'm sure he was very tired at 10:00 the next morning. I was also tired but I was not about to miss his clinic.

The stage had not been reset from the night before so there were chairs and music stands everywhere. Bud was quite irritated about this because everyone knew the stage hands made more money than the musicians. We were never allowed to move a chair or stand. A stage hand had to be called. We would usually just slide the stand or chair with our foot.

Since no stage hands were around at that early hour, Bud started tossing the chairs and stands around himself. I could see he was upset so I rushed to the stage to help.

When the clinic started,he looked out at the sea of trumpet players (I call them doo-dahs.) and replied in a very sarcastic voice, "I suppose you want to hear my warm-up!"

He reached into his five trumpet case and pulled out the piccolo. His first notes of the day were from the 2nd Brandenburg Concerto by J.S. Bach. He played flawlessly! The doo-dahs in the audience were stunned! There was no warm-up. Did it feel good to play that music on a piccolo trumpet for his first notes of the day? No!
Did it matter? No! No! No!


"I sing the notes in my head as I play them. It doesn't matter how my lip feels or how I feel."

Herseth played by sound, not feel!


“Keep It Simple”


Create a vivid conscious awareness of the sound. The subconscious brain will respond by executing the mechanics of playing rather than to search for the sound by trying to convert the lips into ears.


The SBP formula will elevate the player's awareness to a level (“Emerald City”) which will allow their subconscious brain to order the playing mechanics necessary to realize the sound. The application of this formula has never failed my students or myself!


“I’m constantly ordering products. I don’t care how I get them.”


“Playing an instrument requires highly complex physical maneuvers. However, we must motivate the complex mechanics with a simplistic approach. It’s same as walking and talking.”

“My students have and I have failed to apply the Sing, Buzz, Play formula, but the application of SBP has never failed us.”

“We must transcend the instrument by committing our volitional thoughts to only the music. Otherwise, the mindless piece of metal will lead us to failure. We will become insecure, uncomfortable, and dissatisfied brass players.”

"Sing in your head to liberate yourself from the shackles of the instrument. Don't try to eliminate the shackles in order to sing."

"There is no reason for your success or failure other than your 'state of mind'."