Playing the trumpet is a solved science. That is, we know how trumpets work and how to play them. But what if there were a way to play the trumpet that was completely different from everything you’ve been taught? What if rather than never allowing the tongue between the teeth you were instructed to hold it there all of the time, and rather than blowing out all of your air you used the embouchure to prevent air from entering the mouthpiece? Does it sound like madness? Well the truth is that you can learn a lot from approaching a topic from the opposite direction. Despite the thousands of people in the world saying that there is only one way to play the trumpet, they’re mostly all following one extreme end of a sliding scale when it comes to understanding how to produce musical sounds on a piece of brass tubing. Do you want to know more? Are you even a little curious?
“The proper way to obtain a note is to imagine you have something on your tongue. You may try time after time to remove it but only with your tongue. Dear pupil, you must always have that [thing] on your tongue until you can manipulate the notes properly.” Jules Levy (1838 – 1903)
The big elephant in the room at all meetings of brass players is embouchure. Most players know nothing about it and many are scared to learn about or teach it. In fact, some famous teachers even discourage understanding brass player’s embouchures through fear of “paralysis by analysis”. Embouchure is not on the syllabus at any major music college for the simple reason that you need to already be a competent player to even get in to music college. Once enrolled, the course of learning is focused upon music and performance. The subject of making your instrument function is entrusted to laborious routines and gimmicks such as mouthpiece buzzing and breathing exercises. At the end of this process very few players are actually prepared for life as a professional instrumentalist and even fewer can ever dream of becoming a virtuoso soloist. The vast majority of brass teaching is just the perpetuation of anecdotes, trepidation and mythology; students are not taught the critical self-analysis that enables them to understand why their development stops.
It is important to realise that embouchure is only one component in a player’s overall technique. But it should also be acknowledged that embouchures do not develop by osmosis as many brass teachers believe. Breathing exercises do not change bad habits such as thinning lips and mouthpiece pressure. If you have a well functioning embouchure then you can practise any technical exercises or music for as many hours as you wish. It never works the other way around.
“A trumpet is such an instrument that is ruled by the tongue and obliged in the high with the breath.” Daniel Speer (1636-1707)
The tongue controlled embouchure is a purely physical system that includes the tongue as a part of a brass player’s embouchure. This allows for massively improved efficiency and accuracy in playing that is not even addressed, let alone matched, by any other playing system. Most players and teachers do not understand that control of tone, pitch and dynamic are a result of manipulating air pressure inside the player’s mouth. The countless people talking about air flow as the solution to playing problems are actually failing to help those they are trying to help as most players are already overblowing, to the detriment of their tone, range, projection and stamina.
About This Website
This site is a hub for brass players seeking information about the Tongue Controlled Embouchure. If you’ve not come across the Tongue Controlled Embouchure before then please read the What is TCE? page first. It is not a complete guide and will not answer all of your questions. For more information take a look at the Books For Learning TCE page or get in touch.
Currently TCE-UK is owned and maintained by Bristol-based professional trumpet player Rich Colquhoun.
Rich is the UK’s leading proponent of the tongue controlled embouchure. He has worked with many professional and amateur players to help improve their trumpet playing and knowledge of the correct function of a brass player’s embouchure. Since beginning teaching the TCE online Rich has had pupils all over the UK as well as Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, and Vietnam.
Rich is also a pupil and friend of the acclaimed trumpeter Robert J. (Bahb) Civiletti, another proponent of the TCE and author/co-author of three books on the subject.
The FAQ and Articles pages are there to answer your questions and dispel the myths and misinformation concerning this modern and ancient embouchure technique and brass playing in general. Please submit comments and questions on the contact page.