Intro to Donald S. Reinhardt
When I was growing up, from time to time, people would ask me about my "upstream" embouchure and how I "developed" it. The truth was, I never developed it! I just played the way that was natural for me. But in early 2005, I became curious exactly what "upstream" meant, and I started doing research on it. This was how I became aware of the Reinhardt method. After reading the descriptions of the types, I realized that I was definitely a "Type IV." Reinhardt's description of upstream playing resonated with me so deeply. It was like he was reading back my personal experiences. Being aware of my "type" was important, because it made me able to not only better pinpoint what I needed to work on, but work on my weaknesses in a very individual, personalized way.
Some of you may be wondering who Doc Reinhardt was. He was a trombone player who was an active teacher from the late 1930's until the late 1980's. He had two degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music, and a doctorate from the Combs College of Music, hence the name "Doc." He struggled with the trombone early in his life, and over time developed a scientific approach to playing. He also played with both the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Some of the well-known brass players who took lessons from him include: Bernie Glow, Bud Brisbois, Lin Biviano, Doc Cheatham, Red Rodney, Trummy Young, Dick Nash, Kai Winding, and an exhaustive list of others. Clark Terry was also a fan of the method, and Maynard Ferguson famously asked Doc Reinhardt to teach his son, giving Doc a blank check and telling him to write in whatever he wanted. Reinhardt's method was popular with many great players, and for good reason.
Reinhardt discovered that there were at least nine different embouchure types. Each of these types have both strengths and pitfalls which are common for them. For example, the downstream IIIB often has an easy time producing a great sound, but may need to work on backing off of the volume in the middle and low registers to aid their upper registers. The upstream IV may have the opposite problem; the upper register can come rather easily, but they often need to work on opening up their sounds, and also work more on all-around playing. Of course, these are the broadest of generalizations; there are many counterexamples. There are many IIIBs with great upper registers and many IVs with great sounds. Still, being aware of these natural challenges can make a huge difference in your progress.
However, my favorite thing about Reinhardt may simply be the alignment with science and common sense. Here are some great scientific points Reinhardt made:
1. The Sensation Theory - this is the concept that before you play a note, you can feel what that note is going to feel like before you even play it. This retention of feeling is of the utmost importance for any performer, because without this muscle memory, accuracy and consistency would be impossible. In fact, one of the main reasons that we practice is to more easily attain that level of response and make it easier to reproduce.
2. Place, inhale, play (or, form, place, inhale, play) - if this isn't common sense, I don't know what is. After forming the embouchure, you place the mouthpiece on your chops. Then, and only then, do you take a breath and blow; never before! Seems like the most obvious thing, but I've seen people get this wrong.
3. Two biggest mechanical errors in brass playing: smiling to ascend and tonguing in between the teeth and lips - According to Reinhardt, these were the two most destructive playing habits. "Smiling," or pulling back the mouth corners to ascend, makes you use excessive pressure on the lips and is a big-time endurance killer. Tonguing between the teeth and lips upsets the embouchure via collision with the tongue, lips, and mouthpiece. Plus, it makes a really unpleasant sound. Beware these issues! Strive for forward pressure in your playing to avoid smiling, and make sure your tongue is striking the back of your upper teeth or higher, but never in between your teeth!
4. A great lower register does not automatically lead to a great upper register - Some people seem to think that the bigger and stronger your low register is, the better your upper register will be. This simply isn't true. In fact, playing too loudly and too spread in the lower register can be very detrimental to your upper register.
5. When you get on a gig, forget Reinhardt/whatever other method you study! - When you are performing, try not to spend much, if any time thinking about technical minutia; save that for the practice room. When performing, do your best to do a good, musical job. It's OK for lessons to pop up in your head if they will help you, but overall, direct your focus to the music.
Wanna know more? Read the next article, or use the contact form to take a lesson!
The Cat Anderson Method and My First Lesson in Aperture Control
Starting out on my journey as a trumpet player, I had an experience that many others seem to have had. Everything came pretty easily at first; by the time I was 14, I had a pretty good high C. Occasionally, I would have to play a D or an Eb above it, and those would usually come out, although they were more difficult. But then, one day I woke up, and I was 16 years old. The music I was expected to play was suddenly exponentially more difficult, but my chops had not improved at all! In fact, I was starting to get worse. "How could this be?" I thought to myself. For the first time in my life, my hard work had not paid off (well, with the trumpet, at least).
I banged my head against the wall for a little over a year with these problems, but I had a tool that was in my corner: the internet! After trying a plethora of trumpet methods, I came across the Cat Anderson Method. Cat Anderson was a trumpet player who played with Duke Ellington, and was known for his ability to play extremely high notes. I had heard him many times on a couple of Duke Ellington records that I had. Knowing what he could do on the horn, I banked that he'd have some good knowledge to offer. It turned out that I was right.
Cat's method had an exercise called the "20 minute G." WARNING: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DO IT FOR 20 MINUTES IF YOU ARE NOT WELL-VERSED IN THIS METHOD. START SMALL! THIRTY SECONDS, ONE MINUTE...I'M NOT KIDDING HERE! OK, now that that's out of the way, you play the second line G (which Cat considered to be the "easiest note on the trumpet") at a whisper volume. This basically means that you should play the note pianissimo, or maybe even softer than that, if possible.
So, the first time I did this, I surrendered everything I thought I knew and just followed the instructions. I played the G until I felt that I needed to stop, which was after several minutes, however, in subsequent tries, I found that very little amounts were needed. As I said, 30-60 seconds of the whisper G could make quite a difference. The first time I did the exercise, I didn't recognize any noticeable difference in how my chops felt, but then I picked up my horn again and hit a weak, squealy high F, which I had never done before. I was amazed.
It turned out what had happened was that my aperture: the space in between my lips when playing, had been way too open and spread. That made it hard for my embouchure to make the movements required to play higher than the high Eb. But, playing the quiet G made my aperture smaller and more focused instantaneously, which got me on the right track for the first time in a while.
The quiet, efficient approach helped more than just my upper register; it helped my endurance and gave me a better musical finesse. I think it helped my sound a bit, too. While I had much work to do to iron out my new skills, the Cat Anderson Method put me on a positive path and I'll always be glad that I practiced out of it.
Some people also feel that it's better to play with a larger aperture, even in the upper register, because of the larger, more resonant sound that becomes possible. There's a lot of truth to this as well, but in my personal opinion, this type of approach is only possible when the basic muscle movements and efficient approach have been mastered. Then it kind of comes down to personal preference. The open aperture approach is good for lyrical playing, where control and producing a "wall of sound" are of the utmost importance. However, if you had to play in a very high register, or something fast with lots of agile technical leaps, the more efficient, smaller aperture may be the better way to go. Just remember, don't change your embouchure; we're talking very minute, perhaps invisible changes in approach! First, do no harm, and experiment responsibly (preferably with a good teacher)!