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.

So... first off: Find a good teacher. Better yet, find a great teacher. I would say also that you should look for a system that CONSISTANTLY produces results. While there are lots of systems with great players with great chops that came through them, there aren't really that many that turn out lots of great players with great chops. Success leaves clues.

When I say find a system with proven results and/or a teacher with a proven track record, a few people come to mind. Bobby Shew has helped 100's privately and taught 1000's in clinics. He is truly commited to helping spread music education. He also has many well known and very accomplished students. Roger Ingram studied with Bobby and has gone on to become an amazing musician and teacher in his own right. Using Bobby's teaching and other wisdom he has picked up from his plethora of teachers and his own insights, Roger has written his own book, "Clinical Notes On Trumpet Playing", and it is chock full of things to help you. Hearing Roger play and sitting next to him in a section makes what he tells you in a lesson take on new meaning. He has more "spin" on his sound than anyone I have ever heard. We were playing a Paul Anka gig in Virginia at "The Wolf Trap" one night and Roger knew that some friends of ours (Brian Macdonald, Lead player for The Airmen Of Note and Paul Stephens, Lead player for The Jazz Ambassadors) were in the audience. He put a double C# on this tune that was just unreal. It was so in tune that I didn't hear it at first. Then we cut off and it rang... and rang and rang. That C# may still be running around in those rafters now! For more info on Roger and on what he is doing go to Get a lesson if you can. You won't regret it.

Of course, it is hard to argue the success of Doc Reinhardt's teachings, and his stable of students reads like a who's who in the trumpet world: Bernie Glow, Johnny Madrid, Lin Biviano, Chris La Barbara, Lynn Nicholson, etc....... Pretty hard to argue that line up. Obviously, that system and the way he presented it had amazing results for lots of players. Chris La Barbara helped me more in one lesson than I could believe. He explained that I was having an aperture issue. Now the funny thing is that Roger had said something very similar but for whatever reason it didn't sink in. My fault... not his. This time though, something clicked in my head and I understood it. By the way, Chris is a really scary trumpet player. Great Jazz and great chops. If you are ever down in West Palm in FL it would be worth your time to take a lesson. No joke.

Clint "Pops" Mclaughlin has written an amazing amount of material over the years. His breakdown of the different concepts and systems of playing really helped me understand the differences between them. I never took a lesson from him directly, but I have studied what he has written... a lot. His ideas and description of the aperture tunnel helped me really see it in a different way.... much more graphically and visually. His site is a great one and full of tips. He was kind enough to allow me to use some of his stuff here.

I had a bit of an epiphany a few years ago and realized that you can really break down a Double High C to a math solution. Let's give a DHC a value of 100 and say that A+B+C+D=100. Now A,B, C, and D are different factors like air speed, aperture, tongue arch, teeth structure. They could be other things too, I guess, but lets use these for now. If a DHC equals 100 then those 4 variables have to equal 100, right? But here is the thing: There are literally thousands of combinations of those 4 variables that will produce 100 (a DHC). Example: A=25, B=25, C=35, D=15..... together they still produce 100 (DHC). So... some people use more tongue arch, some more chop tension, some almost excusively use aperture. Some upstream, Some downstream. There is no single way to do it. There is a single way for you to do it and sound exactly like you want to, though, in the most efficient way.

Something to think about, right?


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