Just Let the ‘Feel’ Develop Naturally – Yeah, Right!

My experience learning to play pedal tones correctly

In Systematic Approach to Daily Practice and Brass Playing is No Harder Than Deep Breathing, Claude Gordon explains the correct way to add the pedal tone register to your practice routine.  When I began to practice the trumpet again after a 15-year layoff, I knew that the CG method was the one I was going to stick with.  His simple, straight-forward approach just made sense to me.  However, when it came to pedal tones, his directions put me off a little bit.  Actually, they didn’t make logical sense.

It boiled down to his comments about the ‘bad’ pedals (C down to G flat), and how you should approach them when you first begin playing them:

  • They will be flat (maybe as low as a fifth); this is correct!
  • Don’t try and lip them in tune
  • Let them stay flat until the ‘feel’ develops naturally

My first thought was, “YEAH, RIGHT!” (Sarcasm emphasized)  I believe that you have to do something before improvement occurs.  For instance, you won’t naturally develop fast single tongue speeds unless you actually try to make the tongue go faster when you practice.  So I naively starting dismissing the notion that the feel for playing these ‘bad’ pedal tones would develop naturally without trying to lip them in tune – without doing ‘something’.  Actually, it sounded like the perfect way to develop really great sounding, flat pedals!

I was spending about 3 weeks per lesson in Systematic Approach to Daily Practice, letting the ‘bad’ pedals stay flat, per the directions.  It didn’t take long for this to get really annoying, because it’s difficult to hear the correct pitch for the other pedals when you’re almost a fifth too low on the ‘bad’ pedals.  After continuing like this for about 4 months, I began Lesson 8.  That’s when it happened, and I wasn’t even paying attention!

I was on the third day of Lesson 8, and my mind was not completely focused on what I was playing (early morning).  When I went down to the pedal C chromatically from pedal D, it was a little flat, but not more than a half step.  At first it didn’t register with me what had just happened.  After another couple sips of coffee it dawned on me that the C was almost in tune, and I had done nothing (consciously) to get it that way!  When I tried again, the C was still there, almost in tune, and I noticed that what had changed was my tongue level and air – without trying to lip it in tune!

My subconscious had completely taken over and made the adjustments necessary to play the ‘bad’ pedal tones correctly.  I was astounded.  I had left them flat and didn’t try to lip them in tune, and after 4 months the ‘feel’ developed naturally – just what those illogical instructions said would happen.

That was the day that I became a total believer of the systematic approach to practice taught by Claude Gordon and Herbert L Clarke.

The Systematic Approach: trumpet and brass players can naturally discover the knack of trumpet playing

“If your chest is up, you cannot breathe incorrectly.”

— Claude Gordon

8 Responses to “Just Let the ‘Feel’ Develop Naturally – Yeah, Right!”

  1. Viktoras May 20, 2010 at 12:37 am #

    There’s one thing that always makes me wonder about the pedal tones: if I consciously try not to let my embouchure change at all when approaching pedals from above, almost always I lose vibration and only get airballs below pedal E. So is it ok, if embouchure changes a bit (I have to loosen my grip and push the lower lip out a bit)?

    • David Roberts May 20, 2010 at 6:46 am #


      Your embouchure WILL change as you approach the pedal register from above. DO NOT try to keep it from changing, or you will not be able to develop the feel for these notes. In his book Brass Playing Is No Harder Than Deep Breathing, Claude Gordon says what not to do:

      1. Do not roll out or “pooch” the lips
      2. Do not try to lip the flat pedals in tune (pedal C down to G flat)

      These instructions do not imply that the embouchure doesn’t change. Look at my videos tagged “Daily Trumpet Routines”. You will see my embouchure change as I descend – notice too that my horn angle and chin flatness changes, as well my jaw dropping (like saying “Aww”).

      Good luck with your pedals

      • Viktoras May 20, 2010 at 11:38 pm #

        Thanks David.

  2. John April 13, 2011 at 5:06 am #

    I second that emotion. You are exactly right.

    If your embouchure is set correctly and you are using the correct muscles and speed of air (NOT FORCED AIR), one WILL be able to allow the lips (NOT FORCE) the lips to vibrate and lock easily onto the Pedal C-Ab with normal fingerings and the same embouchure setting.

    To quote:

    These instructions do not imply that the embouchure doesn’t change. Look at my videos tagged “Daily Trumpet Routines”. You will see my embouchure change as I descend – notice too that my horn angle and chin flatness changes, as well my jaw dropping (like saying “Aww”).

    Yep. And another aid that works for me, as my top lip is “dead” due to nerve damage, is allow any pressure to rest on my LOWER lip, and contracting toward to center starting with the “low brass” muscles the you can feel approx. where your molars are (APPROX.!) and then compression from the corners.

    Rather than go on forever (which my students will tell you, I can!), suffice it to say that anything that creates tension in the are of vibration (unnecessary tension) or stifles it through pressure is going to make you unhappy.

    But the good news is that If you approach the pedals the way David describes (let them be flat and teach them how to vibrate and how to ascend unrestricted by unnecessary force), you will find that the upper register grows exactly the same way!

    Not only did Clarke and Claude (and Luois Maggio, btw) teach this, but so did Donald Reinhardt, EXCEPT that he would not allow pedals, EVER!

    But I maintain that if you do them as prescribe, your high register starts to take on a lot of the characteristics of pedals: No unnecessary tension or pressure, forward chops, etc.

    Brute force is a killer and you don’t need it. Even little girls can play high:


    Click on “Adam Rapa-Natalie Dungey Double C Lesss



    • David Roberts April 13, 2011 at 6:21 am #

      Well said, John. Thanks for your input here!!! BTW – what was the cause of your nerve damage – accident, injury…?

      • JOhn May 30, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

        Hey David,

        Sorry to get back to you sooner, but it’s been busy and I haven’t been back to this site until…right now, actually.

        Nerve damage was a “freak” accident due to overworking my chops. (In 1979!) I wasn’t using too much pressure, I was playing great, but should’ve rested more and QUIT earlier. Having been in marching bands and jazz bands that day was by no means “abuse,” or so I thought. Tried to warm-up the next day and my upper lip was “Novocained,” and it just sort of blew open rather than making a sound. To get through rehearsal
        I had to use a lot of pressure to hold my upper lip in place.
        Laid off a year before trying to rebuild. After that the story gets REALLY long. I’ll post it on the “Don’t try this at home” page on my website when I get time.


  3. Tom Biesemeier February 11, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    I’m doing the same thing, spending about 3 weeks per lesson in Systematic Approach to Daily Practice, I’m on lesson 3 and it’s really annoying doing the arpeggios. Then I found this web site. So I have renewed faith that the miracle will happen as it did for you not paying attention.

  4. Tom Biesemeier March 9, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    Does anybody know why Pedal C down to Pedal Gb are in tune on my C trumpet but on the Bb they are a step flat?

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