Radical Moderatism

January 29, 2015

I’ve heard all of these:

“Play the biggest mouthpiece you can.”

“Play the smallest mouthpiece you can.”

“If you’re not in New York or LA, you’re not really doing it.”

“New York and Los Angeles suck.”

“Play one mouthpiece for everything.”

“Switch mouthpieces for each situation.”

“You must choose between playing classical and jazz.”

“You have to be able to play everything.”

And my favorite:

“Player X is the best in the world.”

“Player X is terrible.”

We seem to exist in a world of extremes.  In most situations the extreme answer being the most viable solution is rare.  Much like our current political climate, as soon as a discussion begins people must choose one of two sides which are often pushed to an extreme.  So in my continued effort to get the online world to be more representative of the real world, I am starting a new movement- Radical Moderatism.  That’s right, should you join me we will do our best to investigate what questions we want answered, and come to a reasonable solution.  Let’s start with the five polarizing statements above.

1)  Largest vs. Smallest mouthpiece:  It’s an argument as old as time.  You want to play more orchestral literature?  Unless you’re some kind of lightweight that can’t handle it, you need the Macho Mahler 5000.  The rim is slightly larger than a tenor trombone mouthpiece, and the throat is big enough drop a golf ball through.  You want to play lead?  You must get the Double C Express.  The rim is just smaller than a French horn mouthpiece, and the cup is a bit shallower than a contact lens.  It’s the rare player that gets optimal results from an extreme approach.  The best answer is usually somewhere in the middle.  When looking for equipment it’s important to find the balance between the best results coming out of the horn with the right amount of work going into the horn.

2)  If you haven’t made it in a big city, you haven’t made it.  Another worthless statement.  There are great players all over the world.  The difference in the big cities is that there are usually more great players and more live music.  But here’s something I don’t hear talked about a lot.  There are also more bad players in big cities precisely because they’re big.  So being in a big city doesn’t say anything about one’s playing.  Not being in a big city doesn’t mean anything about one’s level of play either.

3)  One mouthpiece vs. switching.  This is one of the dumbest arguments in the trumpet world.  Like most useless arguments, there is no right answer here.  There are world class players on both sides.  The problem is how adamant both sides are about being right.  Here’s my advice- if you’re going to regularly use more than one mouthpiece, you should practice on it every day.  The most common problem I see people have when switching mouthpieces is that they are much more comfortable on one, as it is their main piece.  So whatever they switch to is not nearly as comfortable, which usually results in (at least) sound and tuning problems.

4)  Narrow vs. broad focus.  This is the one that bothers me the most.  There are great and terrible players on both sides of this fence.  It’s amazing to me that, because one player has been successful doing one thing at a high level, that an assumption is made that the only way to reach that level is to do only that one thing. Should you wish to pursue a career doing one thing, that doesn’t mean others cannot reach the same high level while pursuing a career with more variety.

5) Great vs. Terrible. I’ve heard this argument several times- always involving professional players. Just because you are not a fan of a certain player does not mean that person can’t play. And just because you are a fan doesn’t make that player great.

Too often, having a discussion with someone that disagrees with you pulls both of you to extremes. It’s time to recognize that the truth usually exists somewhere in the middle. Let’s meet there.



  1. Thanks for the balanced thinking. I’ve been a valve trombone player since my 20’s. I’ve heard that the horn cannot be played in tune and that it will not blend in a section. Brookmeyer never had that problem (not saying that I’m as good as he was) nor did McConnell. And there are others. In my experience, those who go to the extremes are never as good as they think they are and the ones that are great are almost always willing to meet in the middle.

  2. Bravo. well said.

  3. Joey – could not agree more. Very well explained but I fear the people who most need to realize the error of their one sided opinions are not willing to listen, but are just willing to yell that much louder.

  4. Right on, Joey! That sure reminds me of something that I present in masterclasses:

    Don’t be afraid of contradictory information. It is easy to find ideas by successful trumpeters on how to play that directly contradict the ideas of other equally successful players. In most cases, we have to give a player who has been helped by a particular technique the benefit of the doubt that what they are promoting has indeed helped, not harmed them! In my view, if you climb into a particular playing “camp,” and summarily dismiss all the ideas of the “opposing” side, you are limiting the possibility that you might benefit from the other’s information. Instead, focus on the techniques and methods that you know to work, based on your own experience and self-discovery. Don’t be afraid to draw on any source—no matter how heretical it may seem—if it helps you to be a better player. One caveat: use common sense. Don’t do anything that will physically harm you or increases body tension.

  5. Joey, such a pleasure to read your blog! This was one of the things I really enjoyed about my studies at Eastman; that contradictory information was not only not hidden away, it was actively encouraged! Do you know how many times I walked out of a Bill Dobbins class into a Ray Wright class to hear the diametric opposite point of view, and both of them would say, “Well, there is value in more than one opinion.”

  6. […] that’s the question.  If you’re a regular visitor here, you know I consider myself a Radical Moderate.  Too often people seem to think every trumpet problem is a nail, and air is the hammer. […]

  7. Excellent thoughts, as always. I cannot agree more on every point. You are an inspiration, especially mine!

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