• Doc Severinsen: How Great Is the Difference?

    Carl "Doc" Severinsen:

    How Great Is the Difference?
    Reprinted with permission of
    Getzen Company, Inc.

    This is a question that has come to my mind after observing and playing with a wide range of school musical organizations in recent years. Most students and some teachers would lead me to believe that there is some great mystery or miracle within the gap that separates the "finished" players from the "unfinished." Many of the questions that are asked during or after a clinic session are aimed at solving or resolving this mystery.

    Personally, I cannot go along with this idea of there being any mystery or miracles because it seems to me that all the tools that are needed are available to all players and thus with some firmness of conviction and a proper application of these tools, good results can be obtained.

    Of course we have the "Horn Holders", but to a large degree I have found a desire for improvement and attainment from those young people in the second and third chairs to be just as strong as among those who are enjoying a greater proficiency. A little extra help and guidance to these players would undoubtedly serve as a great inspiration. It is plainly clear that while the difference in attainment is there, the difference is not as great as we might first assume. It seems almost unnecessary to say that we must do all we can to narrow this gap as it affords a fine opportunity to upgrade the organization from underneath while gratifying the spirit of industry in those youngsters who would like to breathe life into our challenge system.

    Before going any further let me back up a little and say that miracles do exist in our school music programs and that I have seen them in every group I have worked with. I refer to the fact that with the very limited time available to you teachers, you still consistently develop some excellent talent among your students and, on behalf of the professional musicians, our collective hat is off to you. Please keep this in mind as I proceed, as none of my remarks are intended to be criticism in any way, but rather, personal observations in answer to the most common questions I am asked.

    How Can We Narrow The Gap?

    I believe we can do this by a few well-designed techniques which are so often overlooked or forgotten. These teaching aids or techniques are not reserved for the brass teacher alone, but can be conveyed as well by the educator who is primarily a reed man or percussionist, etc. In my initial years on the trumpet I was taught by my father who was a violinist and later on I was studying under Benny Baker (first trumpet for Arturo Toscanini). I found that he also taught the parlance of violin playing. In other words, there are certain elements of performance that apply to all music making and it is often advantageous for the brass player to borrow an approach from the string players techniques and vice versa.

    Stay With The Fundamentals!

    I realize that as a band or orchestra director it is often necessary to utilize players as soon as you feel they can contribute to your organization. While some students respond to this honor with a sustained effort, others will abandon the practice of the fundamentals that delivered them to this plateau. Every professional I know still practices basic fundamentals daily. So the student too must be impressed with the idea of a daily routine practice employing all the fundamentals at as early an age as possible. It should be as much a part of his daily living as tying his shoes or juice before breakfast.

    I have seen so many potential players in feeder groups, given false embouchure development by means of what is written in the flyleaf of well-intended elementary instruction books, fall by the wayside. I’m sure the reason was that they were too quickly herded into a painful rendition of "God Save The King" and then became confused or apathetic by the cold fact that improvement comes slowly and only in small degrees. The "natural" players usually overcome these initial handicaps and go on to become first chair players. I have seen that the application of a few basic principles in correct brass playing can and will produce immediate results.

    Let's Get Down To Brass Tacks!

    The term "Brass Tacks" is intended to help make a pointed attack on the major problem of the brass player...EMBOUCHURE. The beginning, and often premature end, in brass playing is in embouchure development. Time will not permit a detailed discussion of such an important subject here, but the basic concept that I have found to be traditional with most accomplished brass players today demands that we form a certain degree of tension outside the corners of the mouth, firmly, but comfortably, so that the lips and vibrating area can remain fully relaxed. This may be opposed to some teachings which call for a pursing of the lips, but if we are to strive for a vibrant, powerful sound I recommend proceeding directly to what might be called the mature method. There cannot be a beginners embouchure and later an advanced embouchure.

    Vitalizing The Air Supply

    It is common to get lost on the subject of breathing among brass players. This is as sensible as getting lost in your own driveway! I have found that most beginners need only be coaxed into taking a plentiful supply of air as though preparing to swim under water. The point then is that this healthy intake of air must be used — not uselessly trapped inside the body. The correction of air starvation is painfully simple, but will achieve startling results if we insist upon it. The use. of long tones gives the student an excellent opportunity to study the release of his air supply. He will soon learn that you can’t burn a fire without fuel and that if he is to support a tone properly he must firm up that air column, reduce the vacuum between the air supply and embouchure, and VITALIZE THE AIR SUPPLY!!

    Proper Tonguing

    I’m sure we would all agree that one of the most frequent problems that exists among student players is their inability to produce a clean attack. There is no pat procedure to correcting this because, like so many other problems, much is up to the individual. After all, it’s his mouthpiece, his air, his tongue, and his muscles that are involved (just to mention a few controlling factors). However, we must stress the importance of proper use of the tongue because it is the means by which we link together our embouchure and air supply. I urge you to make certain that the student understands and recognizes his goal. Let him listen to good examples and determine how they differ from his own. One of the oldest and most effective methods of describing attacks is that in which we simulate spitting something off the end of the tongue. I have found with some students that by asking them to think of the tongue as dropping down, rather than back, good results were achieved. Once the student gets the concept of the crisp explosion of air that accompanies a clean attack, he must then bring discipline to the tongue movement. For this, simply practicing legato attacks will demonstrate the proper tongue position for all playing.

    Proper Fingering

    This is the means by which a player gains facility, and, until it is achieved, may well be the source of major concern and displeasure. Since the goal here is coordination, "Walk, don’t run!" is good advice. Practice playing a single scale keeping three things in mind:

    1. It must be slow.
    2. It must be slurred with a continuous air supply.
    3. Don’t press, but BANG the valves down. Chromatic scales too, done carefully, are helpful, but one must be deliberate and, most importantly — BANG those valves down!


    In summarizing I would like to say I believe that in each area or facet of brass playing, the important thing is to help the student establish his own goals. Whether it be embouchure, tone quality, breathing, tonguing, or facility, make certain he understands what is expected in the way of net results before he starts to work on the project. If there is no one to demonstrate, make use of the many fine recorded works available. Mr. Herseth of the Chicago Symphony is an excellent example of a trumpet player who does everything right. The foregoing principles pretty well encompass the basic approach to brass playing, but might be construed as over-simplification. I believe, however, that the simplicity and execution of a few basic points is the thing most needed to get results. This is not intended as a short-cut (of which there is none) but a set of guide posts to make the road more easily discernible and I earnestly hope it may help in lifting the "veil of mystery" for those who would like a little light on the subject.


    [Editor note: paragraphs below are from the original brochure. Mr. Severinsen is no longer with Getzen, but I left the language as it is in the brochure. He and Getzen created a trumpet that was a sensation. Some of the tumpet players I worked with in college and in my early Coast Guard Band days used the Eterna with great success, rather than the older Bach/Benge/Schilke brands.]

    About the Clinician:

    Among the elite of professional musicians, Doc Severinsen is acknowledged to be the finest trumpeter playing today.

    At the age of nine, Doc won the Oregon State contest for which one of the judges was Herbert L. Clark. Mr. Clark took an immediate interest in young Carl, predicting a great future and later served as a source of much encouragement.

    At the age of thirteen he won first honors in the National Senior Division contest. Before he finished high school, he went on the road with Ted Fiorito’s band, dragging his school books with him. Although he returned home long enough to graduate with his class, he soon went back on the road.

    After his Army service, he played and was featured with the orchestras of Charlie Barnett, Sam Donahue, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Gene Krupa. In 1949, he settled in New York City to freelance and his first steady assignment was the "Camel Caravan" with Vaughn Monroe. For a number of years he studied with the late Benny Baker, former first trumpet with Toscanini. He soon became staff musician of NBC working such shows as Kate Smith, Dinah Shore, Eddie Fisher, Sid Caeser and was regularly featured on the original Steve Allen Show arid "NBC Bandstand", both as soloist and as a conductor. Mr. Severinsen has been a featured artist and assistant conductor of NBC’s "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, and since October 9, 1967, has been conductor of the "Tonight Show" orchestra. In addition he serves as musical director and soloist on Johnny Carson’s personal appearance dates.

    In addition to his responsibilities with Johnny Carson, "Doc" has recently been featured in personal appearance engagements all over the country with his own show, consisting of the "Now Generation Brass", an 11-piece band with many of the players from the "Tonight Show" orchestra and the "Brothers and Sisters", a singing and dancing troupe. He is also a frequent guest soloist with symphony orchestras.

    Concerning his extraordinary ability, Mr. Severinsen reminds aspiring young trumpet players - or anyone tackling any musical instrument . . . "There’s basically one word for it and that word is practice. If I lay off the trumpet one day, I know it; two days my orchestra knows it; three days and everybody knows it."

    "Doc" is Vice President of Research & Development for the Getzen Band Instrument Company of Elkhorn, Wisconsin. He has served as consultant/clinician to the Getzen Company since 1961, and has been instrumental in the design and development of the Getzen ETERNA Bb Trumpet, which he plays exclusively.
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