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Letters from some students

From: Rex Merriweather
I hope this note finds you and your family well. I went to L.A. house shopping, I need to go back in Jan. to take more time. I was suppose to meet up with "Scooter" but he became ill and was unable to meet me.

The lessons are doing great. I can now keep my teeth apart to "D" over high "C". Because of my playing schedule, I made this change gradually. I shocked a few band mates after a show one night as I glided easily up to and just over triple high "C"! It really helped me to except the fact that I could do it, hearing you play it.

I wanted to thank you for the copy of your book. I have been using all three regularly and love the results!

Mean while I am working hard to finish my C.D. I promised Nick Drozdoff a tune to use on his "Tpin" C.D. And I am incorporating some EXTREME upper register melodies similar to those found in " The Next Level" into a tune I wrote for this album. I took your advice and have started incorporating some very high, but pretty, classical works into the jazz and rock.

I have been stiring a little attention your way with other trumpeters that are hearing me play. I'm not sure whether its the clear and loud triple high c's, or the style of my soloing (blistering then melodic way up high) in any event you should be getting some visiters to your web page and E-mail from some.

As you might tell, I am feeling great about my playing as my confidence level is the highest it has ever been.
I am still amazed at how little work it is taking to play this way. Now I can sit back, relax and truly enjoy playing my horn. ......Rex

P.S. You are a trumpet god, well thats what I tell everyone!

Never Give Up!
by Keith Fiala

Ever since I was a little boy, I've known in my heart that I wanted to be a professional trumpet player. Pretty much everyone discouraged the idea because "the music business is tough to break into" I was told.

Even after receiving a full-ride scholarship to UT, Austin to study with Raymond Crissara, I was told "you won't last".
After my second semester at UT, I received a letter from the University stating that my "full-ride" scholarship funding had been pulled by the Texas help keep instate kids instate, and undergrad out of staters paying some or full tuition.
Being young, and hearing all my life that music was a bad choice, I too believed that music was too hard to break in to. So - I set out into the world, and found a steady "day job". Finding myself locked into a career with a LD telephone provider and NOT playing at all, I was miserable!
I gave up my "BIG" dream to become just another worker bee in a huge hive we call society. 2 years of this "worker bee syndrome" went by before I even looked at my trumpet again. Feeling lost, miserable, and out of sorts, I began to incorporate practice into my daily routine again.
About a year later, I was auditioned to join a band just starting out that would play R&B, Funk, and Soul.........called Memphis Train. I was hired!

9 years later, this band would become the mainstay of my income, and help me realize my life long dream!

I AM a full time professional trumpet player and private instructor!
I was given an article about a man in Grand Prairie, TX by the name of Clint "Pops" McLaughlin.
He was a private teacher able to help trumpet players fix "high note" problems. My first session with Pops was a 4 hour long butt kicker! But come to find out, the biggest hurdle I had to overcome, was my state of mind. I believed that I was no good, and that I couldn't do what I really wanted to do...........but refused to give up. Since changing my outlook, I have more than exceeded my playing goals, and have set new standards for myself!

1. NEVER give up - failure comes when you stop trying!
2. Be nice, but not a pushover - no one likes to work with an ego-maniac or a whiny child!
3. Think Positive - reach for solutions, don't dwell on problems!
4. Humor & Laughter = a smile. I have fixed more problems with a smile than I could shake a stick at!
5. Eat your vegetables!!!!

This was posted on the web by Keith Fiala who went on to play with Maynard Ferguson.

In 1979, as a sophomore in college, I received a call from an internationally touring jazz/pop band, asking if I'd be willing to leave school for a two-year tour. Interestingly, they took a chance on me without an audition, based on the recommendation of a keyboard player whose advise they trusted. I had two days to answer them, and five days before I had to fly to San Diego from my home in Louisiana, for a marathon crash-course rehearsal that preceded the first nine-month non-stop leg of the tour. (The emergency need for a replacement lead player was due to the fact that the previous guy ran off with one of the vocalists, got married, and gave up the road life.)

At first, my playing was impressive to the band, and especially to the woodwind guy. (This was fortunate for me, as he had not only lost a great player standing beside him every night, but also lost his best friend to the wiles of that evil soprano seductress who enticed his partner away.) But, the sudden change in my playing and practice routine, not to mention the grueling travel schedule began to take its toll on me. I was over-playing and under-resting. I was the only trumpet, with a woodwind player and bone man. Unlike all the years of section playing in school, I had no one to hide behind when fatigue set in. Even at 19 years of age, a guy needs a break. We were playing 6 nights a week, sometimes 2 or 3 shows a night.

About 8 or 9 weeks into the tour I was beginning to develop severe tone problems, and nightly my range was becoming more inconsistent. I don't remember the name of the guy who saved the day, but he was invited by our woodwind guy to one of our shows in the SF Bay area, specifically to hear me, and assess my situation. He had played lead for Stan Kenton, and had been a student of Claude Gordon. (On a side note, he told me that CG had made him stop playing for 6 months before he would take him on as a student.) Anyway, he convinced me that I needed to get CG's SA, and start a daily regimen of pedal tones. Here comes the irony. It worked . . . but I hated the process, with a passion! My tone and range fairly quickly returned, but I have to say that there is one quote from CG's book that I wish I'd NEVER read . . . "There is no such thing as 'no pressure,' and it is beneficial to dismiss the subject from your mind." - (Claude Gordon)

Well, I NOW think I understand what he was trying to communicate, but from that day forward I became an "ultra-pressure" player for the remainder of not only those two grueling years, but also up until an "accident" that pre-maturely ended my professional career.

At 25 years of age, I was working underneath my Datusn 280-Z, and dropped the rearend differential on my face. To make a long story short, my mouth was wired up for over two years. As it turned out, I COULD have continued to at least practice, and maybe even continued performing after a short while, but with the orthodontics on my teeth my "ultra-pressure" habit I'd developed turned playing into an extremely painful experience. After all the metal was removed, I gradually started working at playing again, but never found the satisfaction or rediscovered the lost abilities I'd enjoyed prior to the accident. I increasingly became involved in the business side of music, and five years later the horns went into permanent hibernation in my closet. This was 1992.

Fast forward to the fall of 1999. I've now been dreaming about playing trumpet for several months. Not figuratively. Literally DREAMING! And following these dreams, I was experiencing a certain and increasing level of guilt about not playing. I run out to the music store and bought new method books, dug old ones out of the attic, and put the horns in the bathtub to wake 'em up. Next, I fired up the search engines on my trusty Mac, searching for the latest info on trumpets, teaching methods, etc. I was specifically looking for advice to "comeback" players, and in the process of my search I stumbled upon: "A collection of Net Trumpet Lessons," by none other than, Clint 'Pops' McLaughlin.

I read everything on both of his sites, wrote him an email asking for some basic advise, eventually speaking with him at length over the phone, and then I flew to Dallas for a couple of hours of personal instruction and evaluation. Now, as everybody here probably knows, 'Pops' instruction and advise to me DOES NOT include any pedal tone exercises, and he has certainly NOT advised me to dust off my old copy of Systematic Approach. And although I am convinced the pedal tone regimen I undertook 20 years ago saved my young professional career, I must say I am relieved that I'm not spending 15-30 minutes a day renewing those vows!

'Pops' has me free-buzzing 15-20 minutes daily. Doing "no-pressure" exercises. (Look, I KNOW there is no such thing as "no-pressure" playing, but the act of TRYING to play with no pressure is producing amazing results.) He is forcing me into an embouchure change, which is coming along slowly, and my experience vacillates daily between frustration, and significant and obvious improvement.

I've got to tell you. I didn't touch the trumpet for EIGHT YEARS! ALL muscle development was GONE. Techique . . . muddled and rusty. Intervals . . . a joke. Range . . . non-existent. My first lesson with 'Pops' was on January 22nd, 2000. And just this past Monday night, barely a month later, I picked up my horn during the opening music of the Letterman show and played along with the guy in the CBS Orchestra. Note for note, loud, big wide shake and all. I flushed with pride, excitement, . . . and this is no exaggeration . . . I even teared up. I've got a long way to go. The embouchure change has not yet taken permanent hold. Practice time is still inconsistent. Fingering is still a tangled mess in many keys. Endurance is a long way off. Some days my tone sounds like a chain saw, and on others its as magnificent in reality as it is in those dreams. I may never perform again, for anyone other than my family and my dog . . . but I'm so happy to have back my old friend. It feels like a class reunion dance with your first love.

Thanks TPIN, for the daily input from so many fine and diverse contributors. I wish such a forum had existed 25 years ago.

Thanks Claude Gordon, for saving the day 20 years ago, when I thought I was about to lose my first fulltime pro gig. Because of that one student of yours, I saw the world, and have never regretted leaving school.

And a special thanks to 'Pops.' Because of your dedication to understanding ALL the possibilities in playing trumpet, and because of your own personal experience with a long hiatus and successful rediscovery, you were able to show me more in two hours than all my previous teachers had been able to convey over the course of 15 years.

Sorry this post was so long. But that's my story, and of course, I'm sticking to it. :)
Steve Baker

Well, I'd love to post the story of the ultimate trumpet lesson here on the list, complete with all sordid details, but the trip has left my brain more than a little dead.(Too many hours in Memorial Day traffic...) With that in mind, I'm going to give an overview--chock full of opinions and impressions--and one that is certainly all my spin on a reality designed to help ME with MY particular problems. Once my head clears a bit, I'll be posting a more detailed story on my Web Page--no need to clutter the list with all of my subjective points of view. So, if you're curious, check it out more towards Friday or Saturday... I should start with the "why" of this idea--"Why did I travel hundreds of miles to take a six hour lesson from a complete stranger?"

Well, this list has given me some insight to the teachers available out there--I have already written of my lesson with Nick Drozdoff back in December--and Clint Mclaughlin's name was one that kept recurring in many areas where I was interested. Specifically, air, lips, set-up, range and sound. I'm sure Pops' name has appeared in threads discussing technique, tonguing, etc., but these were not my areas of interest. A few threads had me nodding in complete agreement--the "Air,air,air not Lips, lips, lips" thread had us in an adversarial position. In short, he had opinions that sparked me.

A few e-mails, some calls to my wife, and then the travel agent, a few more e-mails and I'm suddenly booked from Chicago to Denver to Tulsa to rental car to Farmington, Arkansas.(Now Dallas, Texas) Whew! I left at 3:00 PM Sunday and returned 1:30 AM Tuesday early morning. (There were several more direct routes, but none that fit the budget and time-table.)

Clint McLaughlin surprised me right away--he's 41 years old (same as me--I don't turn 42 'til August...), much younger than I expected. He welcomed me into his home and proceeded to show me his world, boxes of trumpet material, several horns and cases, books and computers, and his Renaissance horns. All very cool, very homey. I was comfortable from the start. His family was exiting as I arrived, heading to a Memorial Day family bar-b-cue. They were, like Clint, very friendly and welcoming.

I won't go into a blow-by-blow description (sorry...) but rather try to put into my words what I learned. I apologize if this steers anyone the wrong way--it is my interpretation of advice given to me to fix MY problems and may not be applicable to anyone else's. Let's hope that's not entirely true.

First off, I have played for several years with both a high and low embouchure--they share some overlap of range, but it takes a second or two to switch between them. The overlap is around high C. The low embouchure can take me up to a G above that while the upper embouchure has a range from about G in the staff to a Double C, D or higher depending on generous you are feeling! I wanted to combine the embouchures, or perhaps lose one and extend the other. The upper embouchure, being very bright and difficult to control (both pitch wise and dynamically) was the candidate for extermination. Pops thought that my lower embouchure was fine, only it needed a little tweaking to extend it to the range that I enjoy with the upper embouchure. I have been able to do three octave G scales with the low embouchure, but that high G always felt forced, too much arm pressure, no endurance or articulation, no ability to trill at the top of my range. Pops told me that Mendez said that a three octave G scale was only being played by about 1% of trumpet players. And I have to admit that wanting a larger range is mostly for my own fun--it certainly isn't something that I am called upon to play. But, I really considered my usable range with the low embouchure to be about high A-C somewhere. (Useable range=a range where I can do it all, tongue, pp, ff, sixteenth notes--the whole the end of the night. NOT squeaking out a half note Q# during my warm-up...) I did not have that.

I learned several things--although I had been pushing air from "the bottom" (and quite a bit of it) I was not "squeezing" the air from all sides. Also, I was taking a full breath every time--and blowing out all sorts of extra air at the end of a phrase or note. It truly scared me to take a big breath, blow half of it out, and then squeeze the h*ll out of it. But it does make a difference. I recommend trying it.

I also found out that what I considered to be corners were waaay too wide. I knew that they were supposed to be firm, but I was envisioning corners as being way out at the edges of my lips. In this regard, I think corners is a misnomer. While those muscles at the actual corners ARE flexed, the muscles to the inside (toward the center of the lips) are also flexed and firm. The "relaxed center" I kept hearing about is the part at the rim or even inside of the rim. Everything outside of the rim is considered "corners" or at least should be flexed. (Keep in mind this may vary with your mouth and mouthpiece setup.) Where my embouchure was probably as wide as the center of my eyes when I arrived at Pops', I now am trying to line up the "corners" with my nostrils or eye teeth. This involved a sort of pucker, everything moving forward, "corners" squeezing in. I am not actually puckering the lips, that is, I am not turning them "inside out" as you might do in a "cartoon" kiss. The lips are more towards a puckered curl--although I am not actually rolling the lips in, it sort of feels like I am because I have to counter-balance the pucker. Once everything is firm (relax the center) you are free to pinch the center (the lips inside of the rim) independently of the corners (everything outside) that stay firm.

Notice I am saying "firm" and "flexed" and not "tight". By pinching the center, I am referring to a vertical movement of upper and lower lip, pressing together. Sort of like chewing, only no jaw movement at all. One of my problems: I pinch too much. Try this. Blow a relaxed mp second line G. Your abs should be relaxed, you don't need them for this register. The blowing is very small, just enough for the G to drop out of the bell and fall on the floor. Now, WITHOUT pushing more air, play louder. Yes, about a forte to double forte. No fair tightening the stomach muscles or squeezing the chest. Keep the air the same. How? Most likely you were able to do this--you accomplished it by dropping your jaw a bit, creating a larger aperture, ALLOWING the air to move through. This is an exercise that Pops showed me to help me relax my pinch, to control my jaw opening, to be aware of the aperture and it's effect on volume and range. Try it on a 3rd space C. Play with it. Another thing that we discussed was tongue placement for articulation. Pops' told me that, at least for basic articulation, that it didn't matter--it's going to move around (and should) depending on your mouth and the register you are playing in. To some degree, the tongue arch will limit some options in articulation (at least as far as WHERE your tongue goes), but mostly you tongue the note where it is comfortable and rapid. The anchor tongue (Pops felt) might create difficulties in double tonguing. (I didn't agree, but, hey, I can't double tongue worth a squat, so who am I to argue?)

I also discovered that when I could relax and play high C with all of this going (squeeze air, firm corners, press center of lips together gently, jaw open slightly more than I'm comfortable with--currently) that high F was available by arching up the center front of the tongue (not the center back as I have done for years, often forcing air up into my sinuses for some really marvelous headaches...) I suspect that I was sort of blowing the whole wad with this movement--not keeping anything for high G or even double C--but it was sort of interesting that it felt like the tongue arch was the ONLY change I was making between the two notes. More practice research needed here.

Pops is allowing me more arm pressure at this stage than I am comfortable with. I detest pressure 'cause I'm a wimp and it hurts! (Oh, yeah, it screws up your playing in the long run, too.) He does make it very clear that if I must use pressure, to transfer it to the bottom lip (rather than the top one) by pivoting the horn. I can do this, but one of my goals is to get rid of this pressure entirely. Not there yet, but Pops certainly is.

Oh yeah, majorly important. It's time to put pressure on this guy. WE NEED TO HEAR POPS! Trust me on this--the man can PLAY. And I heard very little, mostly just demonstrations that rattled my teeth and turned my head around! I have never sat in front of a trumpet bell putting out as effortless and as loud an F above double C as I did yesterday. It's one thing to hear that MVC wave file, another to hear essentially the same range (with more power) tossed off like it was nothing. (No offense to MVC--I want to hear more of him, too!) So, a call to arms! Let's request tunes! Let's donate studio time! Let's order some CDs!

Seriously--the man is phenomenal. I know that there are other players with similar abilities, but this man is a fine teacher, one of the best. I think he needs to understand the sort of enthusiasm that his playing can generate in his students. It is important for all teachers to realize that much of their teaching abilities will be wasted without reinforcement--and short of another odyssey to Arkansas, there is no audio record of this particular teacher. IT CAN MEAN SO MUCH TO THE STUDENT, 5 YEARS, 10 YEARS FROM NOW. "I studied with the guy who recorded this." "Hey man, listen to my teacher. I know that I'll be able to do that someday!"

I know I am forgetting things--got up for work 3 1/2 hours after going to bed last night. I'll run through my notes and get something on the web site by the weekend. The address is there, after my signature. (Enjoy the Duke Levels while you're at it!) What a great experience--well worth every minute! I encourage you to do it, too. There are several great teachers on this list who do similar lessons--seek them out. I have found them generous, warm, giving.

Do I now have a continuous range from Double Pedal C to the Quad C? No. My range has not really extended itself yet--but what I am doing feels like the start of a new path--one that a Great Player has already trodden. I don't expect it to be easy, but it does seem fairly simple. There is much work in front of me.

That's it for now--gotta knock off the 10 pages of Arban's each day. One more thing about Pops: he's merciless! ; )
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