Rules of trumpeting, part the fourth

  1. No red rule. The top of the inner rim of the mouthpiece should not be in the soft, red part of the lips. It should lie above, on the skin. You can check this after you have played for a minute or two: after you remove the mouthpiece, look in the mirror to see where the rim impression is.
  2. 70% rule. This rule says that, when under pressure, your quality (or reliability) of performance will drop to about 70% of normal. Keeping this in mind, try to set your quality control high enough, so that this drop in performance will still be a great experience for your audience.
  3. Honeymoon rule. This rule says that after a relatively small amount of time, new equipment will not work as well as you thought it would when you got it. For instance, a new mouthpiece, which seems to help with high notes, eventually will show its drawbacks in pitch or tone quality. A new trumpet, which helps slot your notes, will eventually show that it is not as flexible. There is almost always some tradeoff with equipment. Avoid extremes unless your job absolutely requires it.
  4. Paralysis of analysis. This term has been around for a while. This speaks to those who analyze the mechanics of brass playing in detail, hoping to find ways to improve. Unfortunately for them, this can become a fruitless struggle for the conscious brain to try to control a process which must ultimately be controlled in an intuitive, subconscious way.
  5. Reality check rule. We cannot improve as trumpeters unless we know what we are doing in reality. It’s very hard to know this by merely playing, because our mind quickly substitutes what we want, for what is. In other words, we put lipstick on the pig of our playing without realizing it! Using a tuner, a metronome, a trusted friend, a teacher, or, my favorite, a recording device, will help you understand how you actually play right now. Then, once you know yourself, you can start to improve.


2 responses to “Rules of trumpeting, part the fourth”

  1. Karl Hovey Avatar
    Karl Hovey

    Have to get personal about these.
    Re: #1, as a tuba player this is a non-issue due to the size of the mouthpiece. It’s also why tuba players have less MP placement issues and less need for dramatic embouchure changes: there’s only so much you can move around that big hunk of metal. (I’ve only had to change one students embouchure in 40 years of teaching, and that was because he came to me buzzing his upper lip … and his tongue. Had his lower lip pinned by the MP rim. Truth.)
    Re: #2 I don’t think I, or any pro, could keep a job playing 70% of great. Yet I certainly feel pressure in some, especially solo performance, situations. And I’ve never heard Stan sound less than awesome … ever!
    Re: #3 I have never been able (as a tuba player) to afford the equipment chase. I have bought 2 tubas in my career, and I still own/play them. I found the MP that made the best sound on each of them, and I still play the same MPs today. YMMV, but I always bring my current horn/MP with me when I go to a trade show/conference. This seems to make the “Honeymoon” with new equipment last about 30 minutes before I discover that what I current have is not worth losing/replacing.
    Re: #4 Classic. It’s funny: it’s better NOT to think about HOW, but to focus on what you want to sound like.
    Re; #5 Absolute Truth. And sometimes Reality sucks …

  2. Karl–great comments! I’m really humbled that another member of the brass family would read my blog. Thanks.
    Interestingly, I had forgotten re-number this list to be #16-20 (because this is part of a series of “rules” over four posts), but now, since you commented on them with these numbers, I think I’ll keep the numbers as they are.

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