Trumpet pedagogy can be very polarizing. I have met some great players who cannot stand, for example, Jim Thompson’s Buzzing Basics, yet I have known other great players who swear by it.* I recently received a comment from a reader inquiring about a method that might fall into this category. Knowing that the text in question came from a specific school of thought, and not being an expert on that school, I decided instead to outline the process I would use to evaluate an unfamiliar routine. Regarding those situations, therefore, here are my thoughts:
First, make sure that you have a healthy fundamentals routine to begin with. No book is a magic bullet. If you don’t have the basics in place–good sound in both high and low registers; fluid lip slurs; control of both loud and soft dynamics; clean articulation–then with all due respect, you are not ready to evaluate a potentially controversial method without a teacher’s supervision.
If you do have the requisite proficiency, you still need to make sure that someone you respect uses the method in question. Certain publications have a lot of traction with high school students and virtually zero fans in the professional world, or lots of traction in the commercial world and almost none among orchestral players. Before you dive into an unknown routine, consider your own goals and make sure that there are several people who have achieved similar goals who would encourage you to try it. (If you are an aspiring orchestral player, double-high-C does not need to be a priority.)
Second, recognize what the routine is designed to do. Caruso, for example, is known for calisthenics. These types of exercises are intended to develop habitual muscle response. They are not flow studies for sound and intonation. When you practice Caruso, therefore, it is counter-productive to expect the same type of sound production that you would find when practicing Cichowicz. Play the Caruso studies, take a break, then refine your sound using different music.
Third: follow directions. Practically every author who has written a method book has provided instructions about how to practice it. Those whose methods are controversial have definitely included instructions; it is usually the instructions that have created the controversy! Practice these exercises exactly the way the author says to practice them (including the prescribed amount of rest!). Practice the rest of your music the way you normally would. Unless you have a teacher who is telling you that you need to consciously incorporate certain elements of the new routine into the rest of your playing, it is best to let the process of assimilation happen subconsciously, lest you overdo it.
Recognize that whenever you are using a book that requires you to follow a specific process, especially without the active guidance of the person who wrote the book, there exists the potential for misinterpretation and subsequent problems. Keep an eye out for negative side effects in the rest of your playing (stiffness, swelling, diminished tone quality, etc.) and know who to contact for clarification if trouble occurs. Teachers do not write books with the intent to cause embouchure crises, so if you find yourself with chop problems you most likely are missing something that someone familiar with the system would be able to pinpoint. If you notice problems, stop practicing the new exercises until you can confer with a qualified teacher. This is a situation in which Trumpet Herald can be of great help.
Finally, remember that change takes time. To get the most out of most of any method, you will need to commit to diligent practice for an extended period. You should also resist the urge to try too many things at once. You wouldn’t try to improve your health by following two diets at the same time. Deciding to play more lip slurs is one thing; that’s like saying, “I need more vegetables.” The routines we’re discussing here are more like saying, “I think I’ll try Atkins.” You wouldn’t commit to Atkins and then simultaneously go on a juice fast. With that said, not every system will be what you need. If you sense that you’ve given something a fair shake and you don’t like the results, try something else.
If you’re following this process and getting stuck, feel free to shoot me an email; I would love to hear what’s going on!
* Personally, my jury is still out on Buzzing Basics. There are two very fine players with whom I would like to discuss it at greater length before drawing any conclusions. If you are interested in Thompson’s method, please email me and I will be glad to recommend them.