Who Uses TCE?

I frequently have to deal with comments online in relation to the TCE system. Generally I think that most of these comments are fuelled by a lack of general knowledge, both about the TCE technique and its long evolution, and also about various trumpet techniques in general. I’ve written before about how the idea that there is only one way to play the trumpet is probably the worst myth about playing that exists. Simply put it is because it stops people from even trying to learn more about their instrument and ignorance doesn’t help anyone, ever.

One comment that pops up every now and then is that of “If TCE is so great then why doesn’t <insert name> use it?” There are many ways to answer this question, but the most obvious is purely a matter of practicality and nothing to do with the merits of any technique. My opinion is that the issue at hand relates to time, and it relates to dissemination of ideas.

A Relevant Comparison

Pops McLaughlin is a pretty famous online trumpet teacher (if there is such a thing). He has been teaching online for many years and his website (Bbtrumpet.com) has a lot of free information plus links to buy his written materials. Recently he was talking in an interview about the concept of anchor tonguing. Claude Gordon is the most well-known teacher of this technique from the twentieth century and he learnt the technique from Herbert Clarke during the 1930s, who had been using it for decades. The technique is more than a century old (although Pops claims its more like 200 years, there is a lot more evidence of tonguing through the teeth than anchor tonguing previous to Clarke). In the interview Pops was talking about how it is still a real effort to convince players to anchor their tongue when they play, despite the evidence of so many great players employing this technique. He also told a story of Allen Vizzutti giving a clinic in which he advocated for anchor tonguing. I have a lot of books by Allen Vizzutti, both technique books and study books. Guess how many of them mention this technique…. none. Not even the “Allen Vizzutti Trumpet Method” books that contain a lot of “what to play” and nothing of “how to play”. And why would that be? Maybe because opinions can be divisive. Maybe divisive ideas; even those as commonly accepted as anchor tonguing; have an effect on book sales.

A Matter Of Time

Someone recently asked me why Arturo Sandoval doesn’t use TCE. It’s a pretty dumb question, but I can give a few answers. For context you might need to know that Jerome Callet and Bahb Civiletti developed the technique now known as the TCE system some time in the early to mid 1990s.

So firstly: Arturo Sandoval was born in Cuba in 1949. Hence he was already a world-class player before the method was conceived.

Secondly, Arturo Sandoval is actually not completely unaware of the ideas that Callet taught. (Again, for context, TCE is one of the latest parts of an evolving system that was conceived of by observing the world’s best trumpeters whilst they were playing.)

  1. The use of the bunching chin from Callet’s earlier writing can clearly be seen in Arturo’s chops.
  2. Allegedly Sandoval was one of the players who took the “Jerome Callet Challenge” and failed – to assume that they had a high note competition but didn’t have any further conversation about the topic, even if only on that day, is a strange assumption…
  3. Anecdotally, trumpet player John Ladines took lessons with Arturo Sandoval. He told two colleagues of mine in lessons that Arturo taught him to unroll the bottom lip to play double pedal tones and that he uses them a lot. This movement was not as extreme as you see from Callet pupils, but the technique is the same nonetheless. It is not something that Arturo mentions in interviews, but a number of recent videos that he has posted on YouTube demonstrate that there are many things that he simply hasn’t put much thought into at all.

Many ideas, such as unfurling the top lip in the altissimo register, can still be observed in an extensive list of great trumpeters. Modern teaching puts a lot of emphasis on use of air, aperture control and the use of vowel sounds to describe various tongue shapes. There is no mention at all about the lips rolling in and out, as described in Trumpet Yoga and its derivative methods. This doesn’t mean that players don’t do it, it just means that they’re not talking about it. It’s quite possible that they don’t even realise. The same goes for tonguing on the lip.

Coming back to the point… If after a century most trumpet players have not adopted anchor tonguing, then why would you expect them to have adopted TCE, which has barely existed as a teachable system for 20 years? There are thousands of teachers in the world who promote Claude Gordon’s method and yet you still meet people who dismiss it off the cuff without even understanding it. By comparison there are a handful of players who have mastered the TCE, and of them even fewer teach it. When you look at the number of famous world-class players out there, none of them really talk in any detail about how they play and anyone with a knowledge of various playing systems will notice them constantly contradicting themselves in interviews too.

A Few Final Points

One of the things that very few people realise is that regardless of whether players have even heard of Jerome Callet they may well be using techniques that he taught. My interest in the einsetzen/ansetzen double pedal tones, as first described in Jerry’s Trumpet Yoga book led me to finding a number of examples of players playing notes in the double pedal register using the einsetzen lip setting. Watching videos on youtube, discussing chops on Facebook, and even watching Instagram stories has demonstrated that even if they don’t practice or discuss it the following list of players at least know about (or knew about in the case of the deceased) using einsetzen for double pedals: Arturo Sandoval, Maynard Ferguson, Roger Ingram, Bud Herseth, Reinhold Friedrich, Pierre Thibaud, Peter Masseurs, Tine Ting Helseth.

Jerome Callet discovered, employed and taught a technique in the 1970s that is observably similar to how some of the worlds greatest high-note artists play(ed) the trumpet. What people fail to understand is that he then spent a further 40 years developing his ideas into and improving on that way of playing. He was decades ahead of the teaching that people are spending thousands on in universities and conservatoires around the world today.

On the subject of tonguing through the teeth, this long-practiced technique has a lot of advantages and very characteristic sound. Many players who try tonguing through the teeth notice immediately the popping attack and clean sound. Many don’t like it or won’t practise it enough to learn the advantages. It is common for these people to then cite the sound as being the reason that they didn’t pursue the technique: “I don’t want to sound like that”. And yet these same people appear to be completely incapable of hearing the times when top professional musicians play this way, claiming that one cannot tell how someone plays based upon sound alone. Interesting argument…

My Response To Comments?

If anything can be taken from the writing above it is that great trumpeters know a lot of things that they don’t talk about in public. This is because all great players have done a lot of practise and experimentation to find what works for them. The idea that you can watch a 60-minute interview and know everything that a great player understands about playing is just stupidity in action. It’s up to you to try techniques and find out whether they work for you. If you’re too lazy to do that then don’t go thinking that your straw man argument is going to stop others from employing new techniques to their advantage.
A recurring theme in twentieth-century brass pedagogy is the promotion of ignorance in order to avoid doing the wrong thing based upon half-baked ideas. In the information age, that kind of thinking isn’t going to stick. This information is here for everybody and engaging with it, even if only to wonder why people would have different ideas to your own, would only be for your benefit. Ignorance and arrogance serve no purpose in the exploration of ideas.