O.J.'s Trumpet Page Interview

Carmine Caruso - the master teacher.

A conversation with his long time student Charly Raymond.

If you ask people: "Have you heard about Caruso?", most of them will say "Yes, the great Italian tenor". But there was another great Caruso, Carmine Caruso, the brass teacher. Carmine was born on November 2, 1904, lived all his life in New York and died on May 26, 1987.

Brass players from all over the world came to New York to study with him. He had a reputation for being able to help improve players just starting out, detoured talents, and players who already performed well.

Carmine Caruso started with music at an early age. At four, it was discovered that he could remember tones- he had absolute pitch. The boy was a prodigy with a promising career as a pianist, but at eight he gave up piano in favor of the violin. When Carmine was seventeen, he started to play the saxophone.

Most of his playing career he made his living as a saxophone player in ballrooms and on radio shows. In 1941 Carmine gave up the big bands in favor of a career of full-time teaching and freelance playing.

In 1942 Carmine took his first trumpet student. Within a year Carmine had forty brass students.

What made a saxophone player become one of the greatest brass teachers?

Even in Norway, trumpet players have heard of Caruso. All attending a seminar Reinhold Friedrich held in Oslo in 2000, learned the "basic Caruso". Friedrich had learned it from his friend Markus Stockhausen, who had studied with Caruso. Stockhausen even wrote a book called "The  Basic Caruso". The exercises in that book are based on some of the first in Caruso's own book "Musical Calisthenics for Brass" (MCFB).

To practice the Caruso exercises you need the right attitude or understanding. Without this, the whole Caruso can be confusing and even counter productive. But now, thanks to a web site called Trumpet Herald and a forum there called Carmine Caruso Forum, players can learn how to do it in a very progressive way. The forum is moderated by a long time Caruso student, Charly Raymond. We had a cyber conversation with Raymond about his teacher:

When did you study with Caruso?

I studied with Carmine from June 1973 to early 1976 every other Saturday morning.  I was living and working in Boston at the time and the trip was about 220 miles.  Most of the time I would make the trek down and back alone; but many times my brother or other trumpet players from Boston would car pool and share the driving.  I only missed one lesson during this time, and that was due to a blizzard.  I had actually started out on that morning but couldn't go faster than 35 mph.  It was impossible, so I had to turn back.

After 1976, I took a few more lessons every 3-6 months.  Following that it was just a card at Christmas.

Why did you go to him?

I graduated in 1971 with a BM in performance from the University of New Hampshire.  During that time I played first chair in all the bands and in the Symphony Orchestra.  By the spring of 1973, after gigging around Boston in Rock bands my lips were cut top and bottom and I could barely play the tuning note.  I was using Numzit (a toothache solution) on my lips to get past the pain of putting the mouthpiece on them.  That's when I drove down to NYC and took the elevator to the fifth floor at 165 West 46th Street, right off Times Square.

How was a typical lesson?

A typical lesson was taking the seat in front of this little old man wearing a T-shirt and khaki pants.  I remember seeing him for the first time and thinking he was the janitor.  When he opened the door, I took another look at the number on the door to be sure I had knocked on the correct one.  Also down on street level the register didn't even acknowledge a Carmine Caruso in the building.  The name on the register was Jimmy Caruso, Carmine's older brother, who had some kind of a business there back in the 40s and 50s, but was long gone by the 70s.  Carmine had always used the office to teach and never removed his brother's name or even added his own, at least through the 70s.  Jimmy's desk was still there, and with a sign that said not to put anything on the desk.  And I never saw anyone put anything on that desk.  I think Jimmy was a hero to Carmine.

Carmine would talk to you for a while, especially if he thought you were psyched out about the trumpet or your playing.  He would call it, "emotionally disturbed."  Eventually, you would play the lesson and he would watch and listen carefully.  With me, as I found out later, he felt that he had to totally reconstruct my embouchure. Realistically, there was virtually nothing to build on, except my extensive background in music.  I very seldom wrote down any of the assignments, because they were so easy to remember.  The first six months or so was exactly like MCFB would be when it was published in 1979.  Carmine used many other books and applied his own special approach to them.  The other books he used with me were,

Clarke's Technical Studies
Schlossberg - Daily Drills and Technical Studies
Baermann - Scales and Chords For Clarinet
Bugs Bower - Rhythms Complete
Laurent - Etudes Book 1, 2 and 3
If you arrived early for a lesson, would he allow you to watch his teaching?

Oh, absolutely! Space permitting, you were always welcome to stay after a lesson and watch. The problem always seemed to be lessons getting backed up.  Sometimes there might be 5 or 6 students waiting and that office wasn't very big.  But Carmine would never rush through anyone's lesson.  That's why I always tried to schedule my lessons early, often being the first student of the day.  And in the event that someone called in to cancel while I was having a lesson, he would then just give me the extra time.  For the first six months or so my lessons would always go over the 30 minutes that I was paying for.  Sometimes even beyond an hour.  It was great!

In 1985, Caruso spoke about his teaching principles. His "method book" is just full of whole and half notes. The method cannot be talked about it has to be done!

What do you think he meant by that?

Carmine believed in what he called the conditioned reflex action.  This is the result of muscles performing the same task repetitively until they sort of act by themselves, exclusive of the thinking brain.  He wanted the student to develop a conditioned reflex in the muscles of the embouchure and respiratory system so that sound production would become an automatic response to the stimulus of setting the embouchure and blowing the air.  Carmine used to say that it's the muscles that do the playing.

There are some paradoxes in his teaching philosophy. When other teachers ask you to be very concerned about the sound, Carmine says: "Don't be too concerned with the musical sound".

He would say to not be concerned at all with the sound while doing his exercises.  In the first two paragraphs of MCFB, Carmine addresses that issue.  In a nutshell, he would say that whatever sound a student has may be bad; but it's not wrong.  It's the only sound the student has, so if it happens to be unmusical it is still the right sound for that student at that level of development.  Eventually, with conditioning, the muscles will be able to produce a good sound.

So Carmine's point was, even though a sound may be bad, it's not wrong!  He used to say that the good sounds come from the bad ones!  It took me awhile to know what he meant by that.

In the introduction of his book, he presents four rules. Then during the first exercises you are reminded about these rules.
Let's talk about the "four rules"!

1. Tap your foot.
Is the first rule the most important?

Carmine thought so.  To him timing was everything.  He believed that for the muscles to perform they must be synchronized.  To be synchronized they must have perfect timing.

On page 25 he talks about subdividing your timing. Should you subdivide the beat into 16th notes in your mind while tapping the foot?

Yes. Subdivide 16ths in your head while emphasizing the up beat with your foot tapping and move after the last 16th: 1-ee-and-ah, 2-ee-and-ah, 3-ee-and-ah, 4-ee-and-ah-MOVE! A story Carmine used to tell to illustrate the purpose of the 16th note subdivision went as follows:

Suppose you were taking a Cub Scout troup on a camping trip in an area adjacent to a lake, and you didn't want the Scouts to stray near the lake. There would be two things you could do. First, you could forbid them to go near the lake, but for ten year old boys, that probably wouldn't work very well for many of them.  Second, you could give them enough activities to keep them too busy to have the time to stray near the lake.  In the Caruso exercises, when you move after the 16th subdivision, there is very little time for any maneuvering or manipulating to occur on your part.  Over time, your embouchure will learn to employ very little muscular movement while moving between notes.  This is what it means for the muscles to be efficient.
2. Keep the mouthpiece in contact with the lips through out each study.
During the rest bars, can you relax the lips, or should you keep the setting very firm all the time?

While breathing through the nose, Carmine always had me keep the tension and muscle flex in the face the same as the last note played. There may be reasons for exceptions, but following the Rules exactly as written is probably the ticket to the fastest development.

3. Keep the blow steady.
What does he mean by that?

Basically to not interrupt the air flow once it has started.  So, for example, on the Six Notes, when using your tongue to articulate (and this would be the same for the tonguing exercise) keep the air flowing right through the articulation.

4. Breathe only through the nose.
Rule four is just emphasizing how to do rule 2, or?

Rule 4 (nose breathing) is the most efficient way to implement Rule 2.  His whole purpose was to reduce the moving parts to a minimum while doing his calisthenics.  By keeping the muscular movement to a minimum, by employing nose breathing, it would then be the most efficient and fastest way to develop the conditioned reflex in the embouchure muscles used in sound production.

It seems to me that Caruso was into "Zen thinking" or close to the ideas one finds in the "Inner Game" books. Here is a quote from the ITG Journal (May 1985):

"Caruso advocates letting the brain take over to unconsciously do what needs to be done over a period of time as it learns to time all the necessary muscles to act together".
Do you know if he read the "Inner Game" or the "Zen" books?

A student of Carmine brought it to his attention that "Zen In The Art Of Archery" was very much like Carmine's approach. So he mentioned that book to me and I read it, of course; but it never did get discussed in a lesson.  I'm fairly sure Carmine figured all this stuff out pretty much on his own.  Plus I've always thought that he went beyond Zen with his approach.

There are a lot of exercises in the book. What is in your opinion "the basic Caruso"?

Six Notes
Intervals Regular
Intervals <>
Intervals ><
The first exercise is called "Breath Attack" -  how important is that?

It's a little ambiguous, but I think the first exercise in MCFB is actually called Exercise 1, with "Breath Attack" kind of thrown in there as some kind of descriptive term.  Carmine believed that breath attacks were a faster way to development than using the tongue.

But forget the names in the book.  The first exercise is called the Six Notes.  This is what it was called in the fifth floor office when you took a lesson back in the 70s. :)

There is another exercise called "Breath Control", where you play 3 whole notes crescendo and decrescendo.

Again, MCFB refers to this one as Exercise 6 and as a breath control study.  However, this one is called the Six Notes Soft-Loud-Soft, or the abbreviation is fine, i.e., the Six Notes <>

In the description on that exercise, Caruso says that faster air gives more volume. A lot of other methods claim that faster air gives a higher pitch. How do you explain that?

A lot of other methods might be/are mistaken. :)  I'm presently engaged in a debate on this subject on the Trumpet Herald which I initiated.  It is very easy to increase lip tension while maintaining the same, or a reduced, air speed with the result being an increase in pitch.  Also I have never known anyone who could increase pitch without the aperture becoming smaller, another indicator that lip tension (facial muscle activity) is occurring during a pitch increase.

Should you do any warm up prior to doing the Caruso?

I start right off with the Six Notes.  Carmine used to say that you should start playing like you just put the horn down 5 minutes ago, even if it's been weeks or months.

Do you know if the Caruso exercises have been used for beginners?

ABSOLUTELY!!  There could be nothing better.  But, keeping the beginning student's interest up may be more of a challenge for the teacher with the Caruso calisthenics.

Can you give a newcomer to Caruso some advice on how to start using the exercises?

I will copy over my opening remarks in the Caruso forum under the thread "Getting Started 1."

The most important thing a player must have when practicing Caruso stuff is the right attitude: a clear understanding of what is being attempted and what is hoped to be accomplished. The wrong attitude can make the whole Caruso experience unpleasant, confusing and counter productive.

Caruso exercises are calisthenic. This means that they are muscle training and conditioning activities that have one goal in mind: to prepare the muscles to play music. They usually don't sound like music nor are they supposed to, necessarily. This is not always an easy mind set for a lot of players who have been exposed to most teaching methods that insist on using the sound of the student as a yardstick of success and correctness of embouchure. Not so with the Caruso method. The first things that you throw out are intonation, sound quality, accuracy of attack, etc., all musical attributes are disregarded. All the things that you have tried to accomplish in the past. I know it sounds weird. And at this point a lot of people might say, "Well, I can't see how it can help to make you a better player if you disregard all the things that make you a better player." And this is a good point. This also explains why Carmine had so many trumpet players come to him whose playing had become crippled (for any number of reasons), had tried EVERYTHING and were coming to Carmine as a last resort. At this point in their careers they didn't care how crazy something sounded, they had no place else to go. A great example of this kind of training was shown in the movie "The Karate Kid." Pat Moriaty had his young protege painting a car and doing other menial chores that were seemingly totally unrelated to Karate and hand to hand combat. But the repetition of the brush strokes was the beginning of the muscular conditioning that he wanted his young student to acquire (At least this is the way I interpreted it). Carmine used to use the example of football players jumping through tires during practice. And then ask, "Where are the tires during the game?" Jumping thru the tires prepared the athletes to play the game. Caruso exercises prepare the student to play music.

Many other teachers have incorporated calisthenic type exercises into their teaching, but have usually watered them down by requiring the student to be music conscious of tone, intonation, attack, etc. The Caruso approach sees calisthenic activity for what it is: muscular conditioning. If you want to practice music you work on etudes or exerpts. If you want to train muscles, you employ calisthenics. Of course, if you believe that the instrument is somehow played by means other than the muscles of the respiratory system and the face, then Caruso is not for you.

What you strive for is following a regimen and a practice modus operandi as expounded in the book, "Musical Calisthenics For Brass".

Once you have decided to operate with this mind set, you are ready to begin the exercises.

Where can you get the Caruso book?

I have heard that MCFB is out of print so I have it posted on the Internet on my website for those who need it. *)

Charly, thank you very much for this conversation!

Just one last question: MCFB obviously works best when you are guided by a qualified teacher who really understands the approach. Do you teach, or do you know any other of Carmine's students who do?

Laurie Frink is at the top of the list.  But another good teacher in NYC is Sam Burtis, a trombone student of Carmine and author of an article on the Caruso approach.  He's available on line like most people these days.  My brother, Richard, teaches out of his music studio in Milford, NH and is getting great results using the Caruso approach with his brass students.  Pat Harbison is in Bloominton IN, and is very knowledgeable.  Pat studied with Carmine around the same time that I did and is a regular contributor to the Caruso forum on the Trumpet Herald.  Bob Findley teaches Caruso and has written a book which, according to him, is 100% Carmine Caruso.  And then there's always me in Tampa Bay, FL.

*) Note: 2004 - The book, MFCB, can now be found on the net (Amazon, etc.)
Charly also made a tributepage to Caruso: www.carminecaruso.net

o.j. 2002