Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1999 11:09:30 -0400
From: Tim Phillips <>
Subject: Re: T.P. pucker

Geez! I feel like a pedagogue! T.P. pucker.... How bout Trumpet Pilgrim? Listen folks, I am just another community trumpet player (though I am paying my bills for the time being by playing) trying to find easier and better ways to get things working. It is frightening to me to think that someone is looking to me for the Holy Grail of High Register. There are so many people who play circles around me... I do not consider myself a "physical" approach player. When I perform, I use sound and music as my guides and think about what is going on physically as little as possible. As you are changing the way you are doing something, it is sometimes necessary to think about this more. Every note I play is practice. I am trying to make every note better that the one before it.

I have had numerous requests for information on the use of a more pucker based approach to tone production (instead a roll or stretch). The root of my progress seems to be based on five very important aspects. PLEASE! Get a competent private teacher who understands this to help you. I have studied with many great people and have years of experience to guide my practice. Without demonstration and feedback from what you are doing, this medium is very open to misinterpretation. I will try to be as clear as space permits...

1 - Practice. Without actually having the horn in hand and doing things with it, you will gain nothing. Reading about it and talking about it won't get it done. You must practice. When I interviewed Doc Severinsen last year, I asked him if there was anything he wanted to say to the trumpet playing community. His response was one word, "Practice". But not just spending time on the horn. Have the goal of what you are doing firmly in your mind. Play/practice/live with a purpose.

2 - Pucker. Watch another player or video yourself doing the following. Start on a low C and bend the pitch down off center. This will cause MOST people to move the lips forward (pucker) - it will/may/should bring the corners in slightly. With the lips forward (in this position), you should be able to "blow" the note back up to center on the low C. This usually produces a more resonant/vibrant sound. Just be careful you keep the lips forward and do not allow them to collapse back as you ascend. This is the basis for the entire range of the horn. Soon, you should be able to bend all the way down to the "in tune" resonant pedal C. It will resonate without tricks or spit valves open. Before seeing Jim, I could not do this. Now. This is not to say that my lips are in the exact position for double C as they are for pedal C. The face still adjusts for the different notes and ranges - but! I am trying to ALLOW this to gravitate to a single setup. This whole thing for me has been a process, not an overnight switch to something completely different. Using it as a guide for change, this has allowed me to continue playing without hampering what people are paying me for...

3 - Subtones/whistles/vibrations. With the lips forward and together (not packed into the mouthpiece - more of a natural position), place the horn on the face and do not form an embouchure. Allow the mpc to rest lightly against the closed lips. Allow as little air as possible to move between the lips. This can result in many different sounds. One, Jim described as air whistling through the cracks in the walls. It can also come out as low pitches (though this usually means the lips are spread and you are blowing too much air).
With a little effort, you can gain control of these whistles and hold them on a particular pitch. It will probably not feel slotted as you are used to, but it will remain fairly steady. Start pulling this pitch lower till you have a slotted note. A good place to start is G in the staff. In my warm-up (and this is a part of what I do to feel like I can vibrate freely), I can usually get this working well producing centered pppp pitches up to G over high C currently. More effort that I want to use is required to go higher. The purpose of this is get the lips vibrating with as little effort possible. This immediacy of vibration will help you have less fracked attacks, easier slurs, and more delicate or explosive attacks. It will also enable you to control what pitch you are vibrating (which is, of course crucial to playing what you mean instead of allowing the horn to decide for you).

4 - Another important step in the chain came at ITG this past year. I was talking with Mike Vax and describing to him what I was doing and showed him a little something. He suggested that moving the lips very far forward was creating an unnecessary amount of tension in the muscles and decreasing endurance. It is very logical to assume that if you must HOLD the lips or any muscle in a position that is out of rest, it requires more effort and tires the muscle more quickly. When I drove all night on Saturday to make a church gig on Sunday morning, I arrived and tried to warm up the way Mike had suggested. I found that I could indeed get the vibrations happening by keeping the face looser or more relaxed than the far forward positions I had been using. Being as out of it as I was, I don't know if it really sounded as good as I thought it did, but it sure was easy...

What I don't know is if the exercise the muscles got by the far forward positions was necessary to allow them to gain the strength to stay in position easily for the more relaxed position or not. I still practice centered resonant chromatic pedals down to the G below pedal C. This is the point where my face no longer easily vibrates the pitches. I can go lower, but it is garbage. It'll come in time, I think.

5 - I really think that practicing for an orchestral audition was a good thing. In doing this, I was concentrating very hard on 0 zero errors, making every attack as consistent as possible while still making music, and keeping the above principles going too. The concentration on zero error tolerance helped form the correct neural pathways to cause my overall playing to be more solid and dependable.

This is an on going process and I am happy to keep any of you apprised as to the results as your desire and my time permits. Please don't think that I am saying I have developed something new. I am just working off the ideas of the people who have been gracious enough to help me learn new things and think different ways about trumpet playing and making music.

Tim Phillips