My Notes From Lynn Nicholson's Video

March 11, 2019

I have been SOOOO busy developing my new podcast, Duets From the Trenches: Musicians You Should Know, that I have gotten away from writing my blog. I wanted to write one this week. 


Note: Before I continue, I want to make this disclaimer. This is in NO WAY a CRITIQUE of Lynn Nicholson's video. Just to be clear, I loved it and highly recommend it. These are the stream of consciousness notes I would take in any class. This is most certainly NOT a transcription of the video. You really need to watch it yourself. Take your own notes. Watch in conjunction with reading my notes and see where your thinking diverges from mine or even his. 


Several years ago, I rented Lynn Nicholson's video on Vimeo, "Got High Notes." This is his explanation of what he calls the Maynard Ferguson  Protocol for playing trumpet. I found it fascinating then, and I wanted to revisit it again this week, so I rented it again. If you like them there high notes, you NEED to rent this! Here is the link:


"Got High Notes? by Lynn Nicholson


Now, I am in deep study mode on this stuff, again! Over the years I've used my chops as a sort of "lip laboratory" experimenting with different ideas embracing physics and trumpet methodology. I have a masters in trumpet and physics I it has been a struggle for me personally to take the two languages and bring them together in my head as I develop my own playing. To be fair to trumpeters the linguistic mismatch between physics and pedagogy is not unique. I have tutored advanced engineering students. I found parallel mismatches between the languages of mechanical engineering and physics, for example. Now, my undergrad degree is in electrical engineering, and I remember bumping into those mismatches in my statics and dynamics classes. It took some getting used to, but I was able to make sense out of all of it. As a professional trumpeter, I've been making similar efforts with trumpet study, though it has been a little tougher for me in the horn, for some reason. Let's just all it personal inertia!


When I am in deep study mode, I take notes, particularly when there is a time limit on the video. I will be typing in my notes HERE in this blog as I re watch the video. These are the ideas that leap out at ME. YOU need to watch the video yourself in order to find the ideas that will leap out at YOU and will help YOU. 


Now onto to my notes, taken in real time.


1.) After his dedication on the front end, he makes a statement: "One: air has to get into the trumpet and Two, the chops have to be AVAILABLE to vibrate IN RESPONSE to the correct application of air." I added the all caps emphasis for my own consideration. He emphasizes that this is a simple underly concept for all of this. This phrase really leapt out at me this time. More to follow.


2.) He then goes on to say that "the chops vibrate as a secondary result of the correct application of air. He demonstrates free lip buzzing and explains that this sort of thing is not what is going on when we play.


This also leapt out at me. I do spend about five minutes a day doing dome free lip buzzing, but I haver NEVER harbored any illusion that my lips work that hard or need to be that tensed up when I actually play. Once the wind column resonances and mouthpiece support kick in, the lip action is much less than what occurs when we play. Lynn is articulation the idea that the lips vibrate in concert with this system and that we don't HAVE to MAKE the lips vibrate. My take from this is that we simply have to LET the lips vibrate and not let excess tension get in the way. 


3.) He emphasizes the need to use a small inner diameter mouthpiece. 


4.) He again SEEMS to speak out against free buzzing the lips, but I don't think that is what he is saying. MY INTERPRETATION of what he is saying is that we shouldn't THINK or PLAY the way we do when we free buzz. I.e., we just LET the lips vibrate. We don't MAKE them vibrate. He repeatedly emphasizes the idea that the lips just need to be "available to vibrate." After pondering this, I like that choice of words.


5.) He is a HUGE proponent of thinking of the "air" when we play - the use of air.


6.) I have seen many videos and discussion about using an "unfurled embouchure" for playing high notes. Lynn is no exception. My use of langue might refer to the unfurled as "rolled out." 


I realize the Lynn places huge emphasis on the use of air, but this brief close up he does with the unfurled lips REALLY leapt out to me.


7.) He does a really interesting demo with rolled in and rolled out embouchures and air stopping. Fascinating!


8.) He has an interesting discussion about the vibrating surface and associates a big sound with the vibrating surface being all the across the mouthpiece, thinking of the vibrating surface as a horizontal thing. I think I see what he is saying, but I'm not sure I would say it this way. This is one where (if you are reading thins thinking put it in your words), I'm going to duck. Rent the video and watch it and see what you think. 


9.) He circles back to the small diameter mouthpiece thing again. He says that the way to go is play the smallest mouthpiece (smallest inner diameter) you can stand for use with the upper register and then figure out or train yourself to use it in the lower register. 


10.) Here is a very significant point for me. He demonstrates unfurling the lips or relaxing the embouchure while we play. He is showing TWO EMBOUCHURES. I wasn't sure of this, but after some communication with him, it is clear that there is a change in the way the lips works that kick in just above high C. This is not dissimilar to Walt Johnson's "hi gear lo gear thing," but the use of the lower lip is VERY different. Also, I don't recollect Walt using an unfurled concept. 


You DEFINITELY should watch the video and see what he shows there. Good stuff.


11.) He has a good discussion about upstream versus downstream players and the shape of our teeth. I think you should just watch the video and see what he has to say. This is very individual stuff. 


12.) Once again, he circles back to the idea that a big mouthpiece automatically means a bigger sound is a myth (his words). He has a lot to say about this, but the end point for me was this idea. Use as narrow a mouthpiece as you can stand and if you want a darker sound, get the narrow rim and a deeper cup. 


While I tend to agree, I'm not sure about flugelhorn. My current Wedge Drozdoff Flugel Mouthpiece with the G2 rim feels wider than my jazz or lead model mouthpieces with the same G2 rim contours.  When I play flugel I simply refuse to play high stuff. If I want to play high notes, I play trumpet! 


13.) This next point is a tough one for me, but only insofar as that I have not been able to adequately implement it. He brings home the idea that we relax the chops as we go higher, not make them tighter. I instinctively see this, but I still tend to press more than I should as I go up. I need to see more of what he is talking about in this regard. 


14.) Here is a mind blowing point for me. Nicholson speaks humbly about how he was doing some things wrong while he was on Maynard's band. You've GOT to be kidding me!! I remember when I was a kid in my twenties getting into this band and hearing him play live (Nicholson, of course) and just having my jaw drop at how easily he seemed to just drift over DHC in the blink of an eye. Watch the video and see what you think.


15.) He discusses lip protrusion and Maynard's chops in this context as well as mouthpiece positioning. There isn't much I can type in here. 


16.) He just re emphasized that this involves a shift in embouchure popped back up. I definitely relate to that. he also emphasized that you must not PRESS too hard while striving to implement the unfurled relaxed chops approach. THIS, I think, has been my biggest problem in figuring this all out.


17.) He has a great story about Maynard's use of pressure. Watch the video. It's a hoot.


18.) He talks about the mouthpiece throat size and the back-bore lead-pipe gap. I'm not sure I'm on the same page, here, but that isn't relevant to what I need to sort out. I am an engineer/acoustician, and I think of things a little differently on these two points. 


19.) He gets back to the idea that a smaller mouthpiece is better. He is quite humble about this. 


20.) He does a very interesting demo about "compression" and blowing using a 'sss' phoneme. I am NOT on the same page about the use of the word "compression," though, I think if a trumpeter watched the video, you'll see what he is driving at. Also, he repeatedly talks about blowing with the diaphragm. I am most certainly not a physiologist or biologist, but I THINK you inhale with the diaphragm and blow with the abs and lower back. Again, the discussion in the video gets the point across, linguistics notwithstanding. 


He also ascribes numeric quantities to "compression." As an engineer/scientist, I get a little skeptical when I hear that. Did he have measurements taken in a fluid dynamics lab? Perhaps he did! However, from the point of view of giving relative descriptions to a trumpet student, I can certainly see what he is getting at and the ideas did help me. 


21.) He just made a point that just screamed at me. "Most players raise the tongue TOO high" when they play the upper register. I think this is something I need to address. 


22.) He just hit a point that I think I NEED to PERSONALLY consider. He distinguishes between a coarse compression device and fine compressions device. He says the diaphragm (abs lower back??) is the coarse or, (my word), primary compression device and that the tongue is the fine compression or, (my words) control valve device. In light of watching this video, I'm not sure that I am not pressing my tongue up way too hard and high when I need to be more relaxed about this.


23.) OK, he just mentioned lips trills as a good indicator. If i might be so bold, I am something of an expert of doing lip flexibilities all over the horn on two slightly different embouchers. According to Lynn, that is a good sign. However, I often find my tongue actually gets a bit uncomfortable from pressing up hard against my upper molars when I play high. I can play very loud DHC's and can work my way up to F/DHC with reasonable control, in practice. In the heat of battle, I can slam out the DHC's just fine, but quickly finding the ability to go much higher than a D/DHC gets tough. I find that my tongue is getting squeezed a bit too hard. 


This line of thinking is triggering some ideas in my head. I am on the threshold of another breakthrough similar to one I had around ten years ago with my altissimo set. I didn't realize I was doing something right at the time and resisted deploying it. I finally decided to just do it, and have never regretted the decision. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Dave Harrison of Wedge Mouthpieces for developing gear that helped me do that. 


This new breakthrough involves some changes in my use of air, but blending the ideas of two very different players. More on this later. The other thing is the use of the unfurling. In checking my chops using my altissimo set, as I play a DHC with a crescendo, I have been instinctively moving to a more unfurled configuration as I blow harder. This is exciting! However, in the heat of battle on gigs, tension in my jaw and over pressing the tongue have been getting in the way. Now, to fix that!


24.) He comments on the fact that players try to use "too much air" to compensate for "lack of compression." The linguistics of the trumpet world clashes with that of fluid dynamics a bit here, but I see what he is getting at. I have blogged about this a few times. No issues with me here.


25.) He has a very interesting commentary about blowing and compression. Again, I not sure it is the diaphragm muscle that is doing it, but what he describes as happening makes a lot of sense, to me. Also, the abs/lower back compressing the air in the chest/lung cavity also makes a lot of sense, to me. 


26.) Blowing octave slurs is newer for me (as opposed to mixing chops and tongue). I used to object to these, but upon viewing this video and folding in some ideas i've picked up from watching an amazing Ryan Kisor video has got me to thinking about a new approach to some of my flexibility studies. 


27.) I've actually watched this video quite a few times and he just dropped the line that I think I love the most. "Implementing this protocol does not have to take a lot of time." I love that encouraging thought. 


28.) He mentions the use of ear plugs when you play. This is HUGE. He talks about using it on one ear, unless the band is super loud, then you might need to use both. I actually got this idea form a couple of lessons I had with Bobby Shew ages ago. Lynn is spot on with this.


29.) He just mentioned "the shift." I've mentioned this above, and this is a big deal. Check it out.


30.) He discusses posture. I've actually started doing a bit of this. I also make a point of bending at my knees slightly when I go into the extreme upper register. This has actually helped a lot.


31.) He has some interesting little exercises he discusses. You watch them. I like his encouragement for aggressive experimentation and the practice of  the protocol before warming up or when pooped out. One might not encourage an inexperienced player to do this, but I like the idea.


32.) He comments on faster air. I'll let you watch and decide how to think of it. I've written blogs about air. Check them out. I'll just note here. What do we mean by faster air? In the context of Lynn's comments near the end, we would be talking about liter/second, which is FLOW RATE. Fast is referring to speed which has units of meters/second. It is possible to have a huge flow rate and a low speed. It is also possible to have a very high speed and low flow rate. Think of trying to fill a swimming pool with a garden hose with the nozzle all closed up or with a power washer. The water will be coming out extremely fast, but the flow rate will be very low. It will take forever to fill the pool this way. Now, if you just open up a water main and not use a pumping truck to intervene, the speed of the water itself will be lower but the flow rate will be much higher and the pool will fill faster. This is similar to electrical current versus electron drift velocity in an electrical system. What is going on with the air flow in trumpet playing is tricky here, but his point is well taken.


33.) For a variety of reasons, I restarted a running program. FWIIW, this is in tune with Lynn's ideas near the end of the video.


34.) He shares the experiences he had with chops problems when he first went to Vegas. He is quite humble and honest about this. 


35.) He comments, once again, that the protocol is an embouchure shift that should occur primarily above high C.


36.) It took me several viewings to catch onto what he was talking about at the end. He talks about embracing the protocol before warm up or when out of gas. At the end he clarifies this point. The chops will be in the softest most relaxed sate at these points. This is when the protocol works the best - when the chops are softer and more relaxed. It is cool that the thinks of turning a weakness into a strength. 


As I said at the outset. These are my NOTES. This is NOT a critique. FWIIW, I really LIKE the video and would encourage anyone interested in this sort of thing to check it out. I literally watched the video and paused it to type my ideas into my note taking right smack into the Wix editor. It crashed several times, but I wanted to keep this all real, to use the somewhat contemporary slang (keeping it 100??). 


I have left out  lot, of course. That is what note taking is. It is not a transcript. Also, the video demos are priceless. You need to see what he is up to. I suppose I could have tried to crack the videos open and put some clips up. In addition to being illegal, this would have been morally wrong. He has many little pieces of advice that pop up on his own FB page. In subsequent blogs where I write about the contributions of other players I'm currently studying, I'll post some clips, but they have their stuff openly displayed on Youtube. Lynn does not. Out if respect, rent the video! You'll be glad you did.


Got High Notes? by Lynn Nicholson


Respectfully submitted,

Nick Drozdoff


PS: Please check out my Podcast, Duets From the Trenches: Musicians You Should Know. 













































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