O.J.'s Trumpet Page Trumpet Practice

Resonant Sound
By Derek Reaban

One of my earliest memories about the vibrant, ringing sound of the trumpet happened when I was 4 or 5 years old and my family traveled to the new site of the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona to hear Harry James perform. While this memory is sketchy, I clearly remember his white suit, his marvelous stage presence, and the tremendous energy in his sound. I'm certain that this early experience is what drew me to playing the trumpet. The pursuit of a vibrant, resonant sound has been a personal journey of discovery for me with many different teachers (some that I have met personally, and others that I only know through their music and written words). 

I hope that you will spend the time to share in the generalizations that I have made as well as my personal experience to achieving my most resonant sound.

When we play the first note of the day there is an immediate qualitative evaluation process that is taking place. Consciously (or subconsciously) we are comparing this sound with the sound that is in our minds. Possibly this comparison is to the remembered sound that was produced on the same note from yesterday, or maybe to what we just heard on a CD or DVD of a favorite performer. It could be that this comparison is to sounds that were experienced from a live concert of a world class symphony orchestra earlier in the evening. Whatever the case, what means are at hand to improve this sound and bring it closer to that personal "ideal" sound that is always just out of reach?

When I was a freshman in college I was an "overflow" trumpet student (not being a music major and due to a full trumpet studio at the school that year). I was fortunate to study with the Horn Professor my first year and he was the first person to introduce me to the concept of the resonant center of the sound. He would always say, "Feel the sound"! He was quite a fine player and demonstrated this quality in his sound very easily. While it's true that this is what I have experienced with players that have true command of the resonant center of their instrument, this statement alone from an instructor only leads to frustration in trying to produce the same sound. Tools must be presented to the student to move closer to this personal "ideal" sound.

Presented below is a unique grouping of top-level concepts tied to specific types of exercises and ideas which have allowed me to experience my own "ideal" sound. I have arrived at the concepts to achieve this desired sound through several different sources including private instruction, extensive reading of well known brass pedagogy method books, and many off-line conversations with at least a dozen talented, articulate, and giving TPIN members. I hope this paper will provide you with a tangible means to investigate each of these ideas and then find this sound in your own playing!

Desired Sound - Vibrant, Colorful, Resonant, Centered

The Tools to Arrive at the Desired Sound

A) Strong External Sound Concept (Modeling & Definition)

B) Response (lip vibration) is Strongly Related to Finding the Center

C) Vibration Quality is Very Strongly Tied to Finding the Center

D) Strong Internal Sound Concept (Extremely Important)

E) Resonance Matching is Extremely Important to Finding the Center

F) The Concept of Relaxation is Crucial to Finding the Center

G) Proper Breath Support is Strongly Tied to Finding the Center

H) Visualizing the Centered Sound

Strong External Sound Concept

A. A strong external sound concept is vital to developing a vibrant, colorful sound. There are two different aspects to this concept: experiencing this resonant sound live (modeling) and understanding what it means to have a centered sound (definition).

Enhanced Response

B. Enhanced response (i.e. the ability to start the lips vibrating) can be achieved through several approaches including breath attacks, leadpipe buzzing, whisper tones, and extremely soft playing.

Quality of the Vibration

C. The quality of the vibration can be addressed through various techniques. These include note bending exercises, pedal tones, mouthpiece buzzing alone, and glissandos on the mouthpiece and the horn.

Strong Internal Sound Concept

D. A strong internal sound concept is crucial in arriving at a vibrant, colorful sound. The key concepts to internalizing this sound include listening to great sounds, singing or buzzing the mouthpiece focusing on hearing the pitches on the page in your head, solfege, and mental imagery.

Resonance Matching

E. Resonance matching is an extremely important component to achieving a truly centered and resonant sound in all registers of the horn. Mark Van Cleave discusses this topic in his article (http://markvancleave.com/mvcresintonation.html) under the heading Resonant Oral Cavity. He discusses matching "the resonant properties of your oral cavity with those of the horn. This is the point of greatest resonance." He gives a great example about playing a G in the staff with a resonant oral cavity for that pitch and then trying to play a low C with the same setting. He says, "the tone has thinned out as well as the volume of sound (resonance) has also been reduced. You have to adjust your oral cavity for every note."


F. The concept of relaxation is crucial to finding the resonant center of the sound. Relaxation is one of the central themes in the teaching of Emory Remington. He talks about "continual relaxation" and playing the exercises "comfortably". Chris Gekker echoes this approach in his teaching. In his article on Summer Practice (found at http://abel.hive.no/trumpet/practice/gekker/), while discussing the Clarke Technical Studies he says that by playing extremely softly you are "connecting with your instrument on an extremely relaxed level." He goes on to say, "Form follows function. If, on a daily basis, you establish a very efficient, relaxed approach to playing the trumpet, you will eventually become a trumpeter that can, on a daily basis, play the trumpet in a relaxed, smooth, and expressive manner." I have chosen to cite these two authors, but literally all fine teachers and players adhere to this idea to achieve their resonant approach to the instrument. You have to first believe that this is possible in order to achieve it. Playing can be easy!

Breath Support

G. Proper breath support is strongly tied to finding the resonant center of the sound. Donald Reinhardt specifically cites that proper breath support is related to finding the center of the sound in his method book. Emory Remington mentions that a resonant sound is not "forced or underplayed". He and Chris Gekker refer to "conversational" air, a concept that is very well described in Donald Hunsberger's book entitled "The Remington Warm-up Studies" (http://www.accuramusic.com/trmbmeth.htm). In many cases, students perceive a resonant sound to be a "loud" sound. Pushing the air to generate resonance leads the student away from the desired end goal. TPINer Rich Szabo and Arnold Jacobs come at this idea in the same way. Rich says to "Fill up and let the air out. DO NOT BLOW" (refer to http://tpin.okcu.edu/pipermail/tpin/2003-January/002741.html). Arnold Jacobs discusses playing above the zero pressure line which in essence is the same concept as "letting the air out" but approached from a different slant (refer to http://www.trumpetherald.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=15497&start=1). I highly recommend the following method books that describe breath support in a way that will lead to resonance in your sound: Bob Findley on Trumpet (http://www.bobfindley.com/methodbook.html) and Jake's Method (by Don Jacoby). Additionally, "Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind" by Brian Frederiksen is required reading and should be in every brass players library! Please refer to http://windsongpress.com for details.

Visualizing the Sound

H. Visualizing the centered sound is a very important concept when first trying to discover this quality in your sound. You might wonder how it's possible to "see" sound, but it's there if you know what to look for. The closer you play a note to its resonant center, the more harmonic activity will be present in the sound. For anyone that has used a strobe tuner you know that this harmonic activity will "light-up" more of the windows on the tuner allowing you to "see" where the center of the sound is. An alternate method to the strobe tuner is to play into a piano while the Sustain pedal is pushed down. The same harmonic activity that lit up the tuner will cause many of the harmonically related strings in the piano to vibrate guiding you to a more centered sound. Another fantastic tool for discovering this vibrancy in your sound is to play a note on the horn using a Harmon mute with the stem removed. The centered note will cause the mute to buzz very strongly. It's easy to move the pitch up and down to experience where you get the strongest "buzz"! Any or all of these techniques will allow you to quickly become "more" centered in your playing, but maximum resonance requires all of the 8 major concepts in this paper to be well understood and integrated into your playing. Read on to see how events unfolded for me, leading me to my "most resonant" sound.

Finding the Center

From a quantitative perspective, the finest description that I have found to arrive at the resonant center of the instrument is in the excellent article by Mark Van Cleave entitled "Efficiency Through Resonant Intonation" which is found at http://markvancleave.com/mvcresintonation.html. I strongly recommend reading this article in order to have a clearer understanding of the concepts necessary to reach this "most resonant" sound. As described in the article, by "popping" the mouthpiece with your hand and moving up and down through the seven valve combinations you can determine the pitch level at which the instrument naturally wants to play for the specific tuning slide setting. Then by playing the horn at that same pitch level, you are assuring that you are in a position to play at the point of maximum resonance on the instrument. He also describes matching the resonant properties of the oral cavity (volume within your mouth) to the specific note being played on the horn. Once you have found this resonant sound, memorizing the tonal color is vital to transferring this sound to all registers of the instrument. I firmly believe that following these steps allowed me to experience the "most resonant" sound on my instrument, but only when coupled with the other key concepts in this overview of sound. If you are like me and still are somewhat off the mark from your ideal sound, read on.

Finding More Center

Knowing and experiencing what a truly resonant sound feels like "live" is the first step on this journey of finding more center in your sound. Understanding the mechanics of playing to the resonant center of the instrument has certainly improved my sound, but months or even years of falling short of my "ideal" sound has led to frustration. Then I had a conversation with a TPIN member who had studied with Charlie Schlueter for years (one of my personal sound models). He told me it's always possible to find more center in your sound! What a great revelation! Then I purchased the Bob Findley book, and there were these same words again, "Interestingly enough, no matter how long (even years) you search for the slot [resonant center], there can always be improvement". This is what set me on my path to discover the answers that I needed to guide me to my "most" resonant sound. I'd like to try and lead you to this sound with a story and my personal experience. I hope you enjoy it!

Story for Comparison to the "Relaxed Center" and True Resonance

About 10 years ago, there were some ingenious pictures that were available in just about any store that I seemed to go into. These pictures had an interesting pattern that were quite intricate in the two dimensional perspective. The instructions that accompanied these pictures suggested that you "look" about one foot into the picture, or just let your eyes relax while looking at the picture. It said with enough practice you would be able to fool your brain into perceiving a three dimensional image contained within the two dimensional image. When I first heard this, I didn't believe it. Then I found myself standing and staring quietly into some of these pictures in the stores. The first time that I tried it, I must have stared for 10 minutes, with no glimpse of the "secret" 3-D image within the 2-D picture. I tried this again, on another trip to the store, and found that if I looked at my own reflection on the glass of the picture, my results were much different.

Once my eyes were able to relax, a whole new world opened up to me in this picture. There was significant "depth" to the picture. It appeared that the picture really was about a foot deep with a very clear, large three-dimensional image present inside the picture. The more relaxed I became, the clearer the image was. When I found the secret to seeing this "secondary" picture, I would try some of the other pictures. Knowing that there was a prize to be won when staring into each of these pictures, it was always fun to invest several minutes "relaxing" into each picture. (These are now available in the Magic Eye Gallery books found at most bookstores).

This is what I perceive the finest "world class" players are "seeing" when they are listening to brass sounds (the "most" resonant sound). What is very clear to them is very difficult for the majority of people to even accept as being possible. Then, only a small number of people who can accept the concept will invest the time to be able to relax into this understanding. The time investment, however, leads to an even larger palate of sounds to choose from in painting pictures with music.

A Recipe for Resonance

Step One (Understanding Centering, Resonance Matching and Enhanced Response)

An understanding of the concepts in the Mark Van Cleave Article, coupled with one or more of the following techniques will help to put you in front of the picture: breath attacks, leadpipe buzzing, whisper tones, or extremely soft playing. This may be all that some people need to arrive at a fully resonant sound. I needed more.

Step Two (Increasing the Quality of the Vibration)

Increasing the quality of the vibrating medium (lip stuff) through one or more of the following techniques is extremely important to expanding the center of the sound: note bending exercises, pedal tones, mouthpiece buzzing alone, glissandos on the mouthpiece and the horn, and possibly lip buzzing (free buzzing). While the concept of finding "more center" was very exciting to me, I choose to believe that once the center is attained for a specific note, the way to attain "more center" is through the quality of the vibration. It's NOT moving to a bull's eye within a bull's eye, for example.

Once you are in front of the picture, to arrive at this fully resonant sound, more of your lip stuff needs to begin to vibrate. This may be the key to "falling" into the picture. I needed more.

Step Three (Relaxation and Proper Breath Support)

Focusing on relaxation (eliminating tension) and finding the balance leading to "proper" breath support through the following techniques and resources are crucial to developing the resonant center of the sound: breathing bag, Alexander Technique, "playing can be easy", Bob Findley on Trumpet, Jake's Method, and Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind.

Any or all of these may allow the inner picture begin to emerge. I needed more.

Step Three (Sound Concept)

External Sound Concept

Experiencing players who have this sound live, many times, is vital to internalize this sound quality. Bill Adam talks about "Blowing the sound at you until you get it". I needed more.

Internal Sound Concept

Directing the mind to clearly reproduce this "most resonant" sound (strong image clarity and intensity) is vital to achieving the desired sound. Literally drowning out the sound from the bell with this internal image is a requirement to achieve vibrancy and resonance. The John Hagstrom article at the following web site provides great insights to this concept ( http://www.midwestclinic.org/clinicianmaterials/2001/hagstrom.pdf ). I needed more.

Step Four [Actual Experience (A glimpse into the Most Resonant Sound)]

The following links provide my "Some Enchanted Evening" story as well as my take on resultant tones and overtones. These posts are important to see what was required to fall in place for me to experience my "most resonant" sound:

Some Enchanted Evening:

Tone Quality Improvement:


I have been thinking about what this most resonant sound "felt" like while I was playing. When I achieve my normal resonant sound, I feel like vibration is occurring in a roughly cylindrical shape (lip stuff) around my aperture and is about the diameter of a pencil. When I experienced this most resonant sound it was as if the entire cylindrical shape had grown (to literally the inner diameter of the mouthpiece - "plug" shaped), and absolutely everything was vibrating inside the mouthpiece (much more lip stuff). Essentially, the mass of the vibrating medium (my lip stuff) had at least doubled (maybe more). This increased vibration lead to a much stronger, clearer, more resonant signal. There was just so much more trumpet sound content to work with!

But to produce it consistently on demand, I needed more!

Step Five (Exploring the Words of the Great Teachers)

I literally inundated myself with words from many of the greatest teachers of the instrument until something finally clicked and "relaxed" for me. Refer to the previous posts on the "Lists of Tools" for details on each of these concepts (Posts A through H). Through this reading I found that, "My lips were just slightly too tense". AHA!

If your "Aha" experience didn't happen at the same place that mine did, hopefully you found something worthwhile in this story leading to a different answer for you. In not, keep working. It will happen with time, hard work, and your newly found knowledge! These are the ideas and exercises that allowed me to see the "secret" picture in my sound. I just hope that you will get to see it someday for yourself!


When truly playing at the resonant center of the horn, with the relaxed (soft) center of the embouchure, everything appears to have improved clarity. Not only does the sound have increased vibrancy, but also every aspect of playing is dramatically improved. Clarity of articulation as well as tonguing speed is improved. Intervals seem to jump out of the horn easily just by hearing what you want to play. Subtle differences in dynamics are possible leading to more musical results. Response is immediate at all dynamic levels. Security of playing is a given as is endurance. Freedom of expression is now a main focus of practice sessions.

In my present situation, practice time is at a premium. It only makes sense that for real improvement to take place at my level, I must be able to maximize the amount of time that I can spend making music (etudes, orchestral literature, etc.). Since everything appears to be easier to accomplish on the instrument when playing truly "centered", it only makes sense to focus significant time to this most important aspect of playing. In this way, maintenance drills can be accomplished with greater consistency and much less frustration, and ultimately in fewer hours everyday, leaving more time for music. In the end, sound is the one thing that we use to communicate with our audience, so this investment in time and effort (both physical and mental) to achieve a truly centered sound will allow technical frustrations to fall away while the artist is allowed to emerge.

Derek Reaban 2003
Note (June 2005): Reviewing this most resonant sound article (about 2 and a half years now since my Some Enchanted Evening experience)
I wanted to provide a link to several follow-up conversations that I have had at the Trumpet Herald web-site related to this experience:

Additional comments and a link to "Aperture Tunnel (Achieving Maximum Resonance)"

Comments from John Hagstrom and David Hickman on my Most Resonant Sound experience: