High register playing: stable embouchure

All trumpeters want to have a solid high register–even if their job isn’t playing lead trumpet in a big band. This is the first blog of a series that will present basic, no-nonsense ideas that will work with you and the playing responsibilities you have right now. The exercises that go with these concepts may take a few months to deliver dependable results for maybe one or two notes higher than your present range. The overall process can go on for years, however.

Stable embouchure, strong and resistant to injury–some concepts:

  • Have good corners (going up or down depending on the type of embouchure you have)
  • “Hug” the aperture, allowing for flexible vibration inside the mouthpiece. This also provides some cushioning between the rim of the mouthpiece and the lips
  • Be fairly centered in terms of vertical placement of mouthpiece (the mouthpiece inner edge of the rim should not cut into the soft, red, fleshy part of the upper lip–but rather is above this area, on the tougher skin)
  • Do not tuck the lower lip underneath the upper lip (upper lip should be right above the lower lip)

Progressive exercises for stable embouchure. These are generally “static.”

  • The author, free-buzzing.

    Level 1: free-buzz long tones and simple, low-range melodies. Focus on a small aperture. Don’t give in to temptation to fold the upper lip over the lower lip.

  • Level 2: regular long tones. Rest between each tone, always emphasizing “fresh chops.” Mid-range and below, only (not high range).
  • Level 3: long tones with lip bends. Bend each note down 1/2 step and then back to the original pitch. At the end of each long tone, try to center the pitch by listening to the resonance of the tone. Mid-range and below, only.
  • Level 4: “Caruso”-style long tones. Play a long tone that last full breath (10 to 20 seconds). The next long tone is played a step up or down in the same way, but do not remove the lips from the mouthpiece to breathe (breathe through nose) and the embouchure remains engaged during breath. The pitch pattern could be chromatic or diatonic, up or down (start on an easy note, like a second-line G or a third-space C). When going up, do not continue anymore if you cannot make any more sound. Optional: start each note with a breath attack (no tongue).
  • Level 5: long lip trills in the upper-mid register. Do not play more than 10 minutes at first.


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New Year, new recording, part 5: Judgement Day

Part five in a series on my new album, “Refracted Light.”

Introduction: I composed five chamber works based on stained-glass windows at my church, St. George’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia. In 2017, I recorded the project in the nave of St. George’s, where I collaborated with some of my close musical colleagues to record these compositions: the stories of creation, Daniel, Epiphany, the Crucifixion, and Judgement Day. I call this group of compositions “Refracted Light.” This recording has just been released on the Arts Laureate label and is available on all major platforms like Amazon, SpotifyiTunes and CDBaby.

Note: The audio track for this blog has a link for the Spotify platform. 

The Judgement Day Window at St. George’s.

Judgement Day is an extended aria for soprano accompanied by baroque period instruments—harpsichord, baroque trumpet and baroque cello. The performers for this recording are myself on baroque trumpet, Tia Wortham, soprano, Ben Keseley, harpsichord, and Doug Poplin, baroque cello.

The piece is musically derived from four elements: the opening cadential formula (similar to a “plagal cadence”), the choral tune “Drum so lasst” in movement six of J. S. Bach’s Cantata 115 (which deals with the theme of the Judgement Day), the limitations of the natural harmonic series of the baroque trumpet, and textual imagery. Listen to “Judgement Day” here.

I adapted text from the Book of Revelation and The Gospel According to Matthew to underscore the apocryphal symbolic use of the trumpet.

Judgement Day

I saw seven angels sound their seven trumpets.

The first angel sounded, and I saw hail and fire mingled with blood.

The second sounded, and I saw a great mountain burning with fire and was cast into the sea.

The third angel sounded, and I saw a great star fall from heaven, burning as it were a lamp.

Tia Wortham, singing (and Ben Keseley playing harpsichord in background)

The fourth angel sounded, and I saw the sun and moon and stars were smitten.

The fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven, opening the bottomless pit, from the smoke of which came locusts and scorpions.

The sixth angel sounded, and he loosed the four angels bound in the great river Euphrates.

And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared

For an hour, and a day, and a month, a year to third part of all mankind.

The number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand strong.

Doug Poplin, playing baroque cello

And the seventh sounded, and I heard a great voice in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord.”

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, the goats on his left.

The King shall say to the sheep, “Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in.

As ye have done it unto the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”

Me playing baroque trumpet

The seventh angel’s trumpet ends God’s mystery.

The King shall say to the sheep, “Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”


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