In a recent interview with Denis Wick artist, Chris O'Hara, we got these amazing insights into teaching young students!
What is the general age range/level range of your students?
Chris O’Hara: I teach students from 7 years old to adult professionals.
What does a mouthpiece for a beginner/early student need to accomplish for the student?
CO: The mouthpiece is the most important aspect of a student’s development on the trumpet. Therefore it needs to fit the student comfortably and make the process of buzzing as easy as possible.
What mouthpiece(s) would work well for a beginner student?
CO: I generally find that the Denis Wick American Classic 7C is a great choice to start students on because the smaller mouthpiece tends to fit their faces well and makes it easy to create a sound.
How do you navigate them through beginning on the mouthpiece?
CO: If the lips are touching and you blow air through them they will vibrate, so usually there aren’t any issues in the beginning. When students do have difficulty I have them make some “silly sounds.” The first is what I call the “horse sound,” which is basically just a very loose flapping of the lips. From there, we move on to the “motorboat,” a slightly more sustained and faster vibration. The last is the “bee” which is fairly close to the idea of “free buzzing.” If a student can make these sounds, moving back to the mouthpiece is easy.
Working on the mouthpiece and developing a solid and consistent buzz is one of the cornerstones of my teaching. All of my students begin their lessons by making the four basic sounds of music:
1. A steady buzz
(the pitch doesn’t matter, as long as it is consistent)
2. Making the pitch go down
(students start in the mid-range and cause the sound to go as low as they can as smoothly as possible)
3. Making the pitch go up
(students start in the mid-range and make the pitch go as high as they can without squeezing or pinching, again as smoothly as possible)
4. The Siren
(combining the up and down motions, focusing on smoothness and evenness of sound rather than range). All shapes in music can be reduced to these four basic shapes, and the better a student is at making these sounds the better they will be at playing the trumpet.
Beyond the 4 sounds, my students play tunes on the mouthpiece. As beginners, they play easy songs by ear and get used to matching what they sing in their head to the buzz that they create. As they progress, all students learn ear-training by buzzing intervals on the mouthpiece based on a drone pitch. Once a student has a firm grasp of interval (both by sight and sound), they start learning to sight buzz tunes based on the first note. If a student can sing something, they can buzz it, and if they can buzz it, they can play it!
At what point do you feel they are ready for stepping up to the next mouthpiece?
CO: A student’s journey from mouthpiece to mouthpiece is different from student to student. There are many factors to consider when choosing a new mouthpiece: size, cup depth, and rim are all relative to the student’s facial structure (teeth, lips, etc.). A student shouldn’t make changes in a mouthpiece or trumpet unless their current equipment is holding them back or causing problems. When trying new mouthpieces, students should try as many as possible to find the one that works best for them. If a mouthpiece doesn’t make an immediate difference in sound or playability, it is not the right choice. You should never have to “work at” playing a new mouthpiece.