Chops and Such

By Johnny Hodges


Following are some great articles and essays and commentaries on Chops and playing and things. I have asked and gained permission from the authors.


Where to start? Chops and High Notes have become almost a mania for most trumpet players these days. I know... I'm one of them! Seriously, though, music of today requires a serious upper register. To stay even a little competitive, you need a good altissimo. Modern music is so much more demanding on the chops than 60 years ago. We all need to be able to do whatever is asked of us in any situation.

There is SO much info out there and so many different ways to do things, right? Farkas, Maggio, TCE, Stevens/Costello, Adams, Reinhardt, Stamp, Balanced Emb., Gordon, Superchops, etc...... Why can't we just pick one and it work for us?

Well there are several reasons for that I think. Many of these systems and ways of playing were written about by people that had specific physical attributes that allowed them to do things that way successfully. If you don't have their physical attributes then probably you will either have to make modifications to what they say works or discard it completely. Also, without the guidance of a skilled teacher in that system, you might find it impossible to comprehend what the book is trying to tell you, or worse yet, develop lasting bad habits due to incorrect interpretations.

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Warming Up

By Roger Ingram


Article #1: Warming-up


Warming-up, doing a routine, and practicing are three distinctly different actions. Each has a different goal. Let’s take a look at warming-up:

The term “warm-up” comes to us from the world of athletics. Playing the trumpet is obviously a physically strenuous undertaking. The degree of physical effort needed depends upon what kind of player you wish to be.  

Warming-up means placing attention on a specific part of the body to increase blood flow to that area. This literally raises the temperature of the muscle or muscles targeted. Before attempting to play the trumpet, I suggest warming-up and preparing the body FIRST; I start my warm-up before taking my horn out of its case.

The trumpet is an inanimate object. It remains the same. Don't think about warming-up the trumpet; think about warming-up YOU. ;-)

Sometimes after a previous day's hard playing schedule, many brass players wake up with puffy, and sometimes swollen, lips and facial muscles (also referred to as one's "chops"). This is nothing new. It happens to all of us. Because of this, responses in the vibrating surfaces of the lips may be hampered due to all the possible stiffness, swelling, and puffiness. This is due to the lactate your body produces that coats the affected muscles during your sleeping hours. After a night’s sleep, however, lactate has done its job and needs to be eliminated.

The best way to "wash away" the lactate is by increasing blood flow to your chops, thus raising their temperature. This aids in freeing-up the vibrating surfaces of your lips.

Before playing, let’s get the body warmed-up FIRST. In doing this your first notes of the day will most likely feel and sound better than if you had not bothered to initially get your body going. This can also help to set-up a more positive psychological outlook for your playing session.

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Developing The Trumpet Section

By Bobby Shew


Bobby Shew's notes on
"Developing the Trumpet Section"
A  Basics to a successful section
     I. Ability to work as a team.  
       a. Ego-loss vs confidence.  
       b. Learning to listen with your soul.  
       c. Mental attitude re: learning.  
       d. Personal goals vs. the job.  
       e. Personal ethics vs. Group ethics.
B. Hats (individual specific duties)
   I.  Lead player
        a. Disbursement of power
        b. Relationship w/ sax, bone, rhy. sections.
        c. Ability to communicate freely and honesty w/ section.
        d. Quality of
         1. Sound
         2. Phrasing/Time feeel
         3. Consistency
         4. Flexibility
         5. Taste
   II.  Support players .
         a. Responsibility towards book.
         b. Respect for:
             1. Lead player
             2. Other section players.
             3. Leader
             4. Self  
                  c. Patience re: moving up/"big chance".  
                  d. Complete understanding of lead players "hat".
C. Sectional developmental activities
       I.   Practicing
        a. With the rhythm sect.
        b. Playing the book w/out rhythm.
        c. Recording sectionals for analysis.
        d. Individual work on trouble areas (personal responsibility).
       II. Rotation  
         a. Passing parts so that each member grows as a team.  
         b. Giving everyone some Jazz to play so' growth can occur.  
         c. Trying different styles.
       III. Precision
          a. Marking parts properly.
          b. Pacing of lead player.
          c. Blend
            1. Pitch
            2. Levels of intensity
            3. Mutes
            4. Flugels
         d. Selecting the right guy for the job.
       IV. Learning/Experience
        a. Listening to live bands.
        b. listening to records.
        c. Private study
        d. Practical experience.


Bobby Shew's notes on
"Further Notes on Developing the Trumpet Section"
   Considering that quite alot of good material has been written on this subject, I'm not certain whether or not I'll be able to add much new data, but hopefully another point of view might be of some interest and hopefully can be used as a rough guide line to building a musical section. There are probably as many methods as there are teachers or trumpeters, but all trill be found to contain much of the same material and concepts or it just won't happen. Any attempts to be more contemporary still require a strong foundation built on roots that are no different than those established by Louis Armstrong and many others of that era of jazz.
   The section id only a part of the whole, and must not lose sight of this basic function. All efforts should be directed toward contributing to making the BAND sound good, not to show off one's own talents such as playing louder than the others, screaming out tons of high notes, looking good for the chicks in the front row, etc.. True acknowledgement will come for being a part of such a good team, and will come to the individual in a manner that he can take pride in. Each guy in the section has specific duties just as if he were a member of a football team; he has his own "hat" to wear, and it doesn't say "HERO" on it:
   It takes a great deal of hard work on each section member's part to have e really exceptional team and if you don't expect it to be exceptional, you maybe shouldn't be doing it.  So first approach it with the intention of your section being GREAT and then proceed with that attitude. This will help keep everyone thinking that way.Any wise lead player knows that his section can make him sound good or bad. Even if he is very strong and stable, a poor.section can turn a pleasant experience into alot of brutal work for thdt player. I have the greatest love and appreciation for those guys that have made me sound worthy all of these years. In addition, an exceptional lead player can and often must make a lousy section sound better than it is . Just realize that it will always work better if everyone in the group jumps in and helps get the job done as musically as possible, as easily as possible, and as much fun for all concerned as is possible. Therefore, one must learn to do this without being on a big ego trip. Admit to your weaknesses so that you can handle them and grow out of them, rather than hiding them so that you never confront improving them. Much confidence can grow out of honesty, and for sure musical integrity will come from it.

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Moving From An Open To A Closed Setting

By Pops Mclaughlin


In order to move from the open setting to a closed setting; the player has to learn to relax the tension and back off on the mouthpiece pressure. Compression works far better than tension so both range and endurance on trumpet improve.

Now to obtain a big full sound on trumpet you need a balance of lip setting, compression, tension, mouthpiece pressure, tongue arch and air usage.

This balance changes by register. For example the low register needs more air mass to fill the bigger aperture but less air speed or pressure. The lips require little tension or compression. I have found that people can put the close setting to real use quicker by learning to relax the chops.
There is natural muscle tone (tension), there is loose and flabby, and there are stages of tightness (tension). You have certain levels or amounts of tension that you rely on for each register. (Some brass players change tension every note, others by the difference in the harmonic series and still others by octaves.)
Tension is tiring. It also adds stiffness to the lips and prevents a free vibration. Added stiffness is how tension helps to play higher notes on trumpet but it restricts and limits the ease of tone production of the mid and low register.

Lip compression is the act of 1 lip pressing against the other. Like pinching the thumb and forefinger together. In order to do this with your hand the thumb must be touching the finger (there can be no air space between them), It works the same way with the lips.

There are 5 main ways that this lip compression is obtained for trumpet playing.

Read more: Compression


Trumpet playing tips.
Factors for a dynamic embouchure on the trumpet.
The embouchure controls the pitch and to some degree the quality of your sound.
Regardless of the embouchure you use these things MUST always happen.
The lips must be moist. The surface tension of the water aids in setting up the vibrations.
The lips must be touching. (If the air has nothing to fight there is NO buzz.)
Use as Little pressure as possible. Pressure only separates the lips and stops the sound. Backing off the pressure will allow you to soar.
Everyone says Tighten up to play high. Hold something between your finger and thumb. That squeeze is what they are talking about. Playing high involves slightly pushing your lips together as you ascend.

Read more: Systems

Listening To Recorded Music

By Roger Ingram


Article #2: listening to recorded music


Among other important factors (like "time feel" for instance), a good concept of phrasing and style are crucial to being a successful lead trumpet player. Assuming you agree with this, and if you are curious about how to develop these qualities, here is a suggestion:

One obvious way to advance in this regard would, of course, be listening to lead trumpet players you enjoy most and the ones you desire to model yourself after. One of the best ways I’ve found to do this, outside of going to a live concert, is listening to recorded music.

Learning how to listen to recorded and live music is one of the most valuable tools a musician can have. If you approach listening correctly, the results can be much like taking a private lesson or attending a master class.

Learning to properly absorb recorded recorded music is important to those who do not have easy access to high quality live performances. This is especially true for those who do not reside in or near a major metropolitan area.

For getting the most from recorded music you should create an environment where you will be uninterrupted, where you can relax, and where you can concentrate. This is what I suggest: decide on an artist with whom you would like to study who has made a recording. Setup a "listening zone" where you live and eliminate any distractions. Get comfortable, start the music, and close your eyes. After the music has started, visualize yourself at the venue where the music is being performed and recorded. Hold your instrument while you listen and finger along as if you were a part of the recording session.


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Tips for a Dynamic Trumpet Embouchure

By Pops Mclaughlin

Factors for a dynamic embouchure on the trumpet.

This will pertain to breathing and maintaining an open airway. I will start out with a concept that several may disagree with. All I ask is that you consider what I'm telling you. The diaphragm is called an involuntary muscle. It works without us thinking about it . It works when we are asleep. It can help us sneeze or cough. We can however, exert some control over it. We CAN hold our breath , take a breath when we want, take a short gasp or a long deep breath. This indicates a measure of control. In as much as trumpet playing IS AIR and breath control then working on this major source of our breath is vital.
There are several Yoga exercises that are excellent as is timed breathing while walking or jogging.
The airway must always be open both in inhaling and in playing. One problem is posture. I've seen many experienced players slumped over while jamming. I've seen them with their heads down our their arms against their ribcage. If we give this its proper importance then we see that these things WILL lead to a closed throat, shallow breaths and poor support.
If the jaw is pushed forward slightly this will cause the throat opening to be larger than it normally is. Try it. Move the jaw forward slowly and check if you can feel your throat open up. Think of the effect that can have on your tone. The more forward jaw position will also make your lower lip take on more of the workload. This increases endurance (after you get used to it). Notice that I said more forward Stevens demanded an even tooth alignment. I advocate moving it until the throat opens. This will be different for every player.
Another key feature in maintaining an open airway is a pivot. You could write hundreds of pages about this. But that's already been done. In a nutshell by raising or lowering the bell of your horn while you are playing you can maintain a more open airway and clearer tone. As you play higher and lower notes the air stream will slightly move in the mouthpiece. If we can keep it lined up with the throat hole the sound is better. The SLIGHT bell movement will produce an opposite movement or realignment of our lips to the mouthpiece.

Read more: Dynamic Trumpet Emb.

Lip Compression and Tongue Arch

By Pops Mclaughlin

Lip tension, tongue arch and air speed are great for changing pitch in a particular register. But lip compression is needed inorder to change registers.
Jeanne has already pointed out that arching the back of the tongue causes headaches and blackouts. So please remember to use a forward arch.
A combination of 6 things are NEEDED to play trumpet well.

Close lip setting (aperture) + mouthpiece pressure (just enough to make a seal) + lip compression + lip tension + tongue arch (forward) & Air (speed and support).

These 6 points control the range of the instrument. There are many variations available in how these can be added together to play any one note.
It is possible to play a double high c with a close setting and compression only. Stevens' static exercises are played that way. Adding some mpc pressure to that can flesh out the notes yet these can be done with almost no tension.
On the other hand lots of people play high c with an open lip setting lots of lip tension and mouthpiece pressure. With the lips pinned open there is no compression. This is tiring because of muscle fatigue from the tension and impaired bloodflow through the lips caused by mouthpiece pressure.
Inorder to move from the open setting to a closed setting the player has to learn to relax the tension and back off on the mouthpiece pressure. Compression works far better than tension so both range and endurance improve.

Read more: Lip Compression and Tongue Arch