Trumpet Nomenclature etc...
By Mark Van Cleave
Many times I have discussed equipment with students and players only to discover that many of the terms used to describe a very specific aspect of how a horn or mouthpiece blows or sounds ends up being at best confusing.
With beginners through top professionals, it is very common that what we end up saying is not always what we are trying to describe. I always insert the phrase “IT FEELS LIKE” before the description and with this, it opens up more possibilities towards a more clear understanding of a player’s description of their equipment. Right or wrong it is irrelevant... but when helping choose the correct equipment, however someone chooses to describe their equipment, it has to be understood first.
I have heard the following terms used to describe many things (sometimes conflicting).
· OPEN - Efficient, loud, free blowing, stuffy,dark.
· TIGHT - Resists the air stream, produces a bright sound, stuffy.
· FAT - Dark, woofy, lots of core, loud, blends,does not project.
· THIN - Bright, centered, woofy, soft, projects.
· BRIGHT - Thin, centered, loud, projects.
· DARK - Loud, woofy, centered, blends, does not project, dead.
These are just some of the descriptive terms that I run into when teaching and talking shop with players... it is also very interesting that what is usually meant or said is often times just the OPPOSITE of what the player is trying to describe. Ahhh… but it FEELS LIKE…
As a trumpet (brass) player, I do understand that the long hours of back pressure while playing can apparently have a detrimental effect on the brain... :)
When somebody tells me that a horn plays WAY OPEN... sometimes that means that it takes a lot of air. Other times it can also mean that it is very efficient in the use of air. Some smaller bore instruments have been described to me as OPEN. This usually means that the player FEELS LIKE it is a very efficient horn and the horn responds quickly for the amount of air that is used.
Other players have described a very large bore instrument as being stuffy or tight (most times, this is before they know the bore size is really a larger bore). Usually this really means that the horn is too big for the player and they end up having to push a lot of air very hard to fill it up... this ends up FEELING as if they are having to BLOW HARD (against resistance). They feel like they have to blow very hard just to get the horn to make a sound.
Years ago while I was studying with Jerry Franks, he told me to try a prototype horn that he was working on with the Conn Company. It was a "Frankenhorn" of sorts. No bell or lead pipe markings and also had no spit valves or even any holes in the tuning slide or 3rd slide.
I played it for about 15 minutes and came back to discuss my findings. I thought that it produced a very FAT LOUD sound. It also seemed VERY easy to blow... very little resistance... and an "OPEN" feel.
When Jerry heard this, he had a bit of a grin on his face... he then told me that he had been working with some acoustic and airflow engineers from both Conn and Purdue University and that they had come up with this design as a very efficient and acoustically efficient horn. He then told me that it was about a .420 bore size (one of the smallest bore trumpets ever made), and that the bell flare and leadpipe taper had been adjusted/tuned to match or complement each other (basically, the bell wanted to resonate what the leadpipe and body of the horn were creating.).
EVERYONE who played the horn thought that it must have been the LARGEST bore size ever made based upon its playing characteristics. It played so EASILY and produced such a HUGE sound making it feel as if it must have been a LARGE BORE instrument (lacking any noticeable resistance) etc.
And to throw everything I THOUGHT I knew right out of the window, Jerry also reminded me that most of the actual resistance happens at the smallest point in the trumpet... and that this was NOT the beginning of the leadpipe or the bore size of the trumpet... but in actuality, it occurred in the THROAT of the MOUTHPIECE. The MOUTHPIECE has WAY more to do with the actual feeling of resistance than does the bore size of the instrument.
The amount of air that is able to be blown through the trumpet is always determined by the SMALLEST point.... DUH!
This ended up starting a couple of years’ of discussions with Jerry concerning matching the correct mouthpiece not only with the player, but also with the instrument... and also the difference between good and bad resistance and choosing a mouthpiece that actually compliments the acoustic design of the trumpet while producing the sound that the player is trying to achieve.
Matching a mouthpiece to an instrument is not easy. It is not an exact science either. With any musical instrument, there is an intangible element that also has to be considered... the player.
So why am I bringing all of this up? Well, it is because it is WAY more important to find a mouthpiece/horn combination that works for you and delivers the sound you are looking for rather than to buy into the hype of the manufacturer’s description of how the horn plays and what sound it will produce for you. Manufacturers do not intentionallymislead trumpet players by their marketing brochures etc., but many times, how they describe their designs and what the popular “consensus” is (right or wrong) will end up having a self-fulfilling prophecy effect. If you think you are going to get a dark sound, your body will gravitate towards making one and your ears will be listening for that dark sound that was mentioned in the brochure as well.
Many players view big diameter and deep mouthpieces as "manly" or "macho" equipment choices and end up gravitating towards these mouthpieces at least partly because of their predetermined view (consensus) of what it will sound like. The same can be said for small bore instruments vs. large bore instruments. "I want to be a manly man trumpet player so I will play a large bore horn because that is what manly men play" etc. Even such things as a one piece or two piece bells are sold as being higher or lower quality. Features that are common on student line instruments are also very often looked at as being inferior, just because of the "student model" label. "I am NOT a student level player! I cannot be seen playing an instrument with a two piece bell or an adjustable third valve ring."
Many “pro” horns have had both 2 piece bells and adjustable third slide rings in the past. Some of these horns are still very much revered today (Conn Connstellation, Martin Committee, etc.) Many of the greatest players in history played these models or models that were very similar to them. Many “student” line horns also used bells and leadpipes (two of the most important aspects that determine playability) that were manufactured on the same mandrels as the “pro” horns that were made in the same factory. Fit and finish were the biggest and only real difference with many of these “student” models.
It is important that you really KNOW the sound YOU are wanting before trying new equipment. Really know what YOUR sound is! Then, when you start trying out new equipment, close your eyes and go by what you FEEL and how you SOUND. Don’t get caught up in the brand name or manufacturer’s descriptions and end up becoming a trumpet snob… only playing what other people THINK you should play. You might just never find the combination that is right for you.
Once you have narrowed down your search to a couple of mouthpieces or a couple of horns, bring in a friend that has good ears and knows what you are looking for in sound etc. Let them stand 30 feet away and do A/B comparisons. You don’t always have to listen to what they say, but many times, what is going out the FRONT of the bell is much different than what you are hearing from BEHIND the bell. It would be like testing stereo speakers while standing behind them… not the best place for critical listening!