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FRIDAY, MAY 21 - 2:00 p.m.

Master Class

Laurie Frink
John Irish, reporter

This master class opened with Ms. Frink speaking about the Caruso method, a subject with which she feels most comfortable and identified. Carmine Carus


Laurie Frink

o tailored his teaching methods to each student—it wasn't a one-size-fits-all approach. He taught Ms. Frink how to teach his methods and deal with the various embouchures, physiology, and other such problems. In her teaching, she also brings information and techniques from other teachers into her lessons: she's not limited to Caruso's method. Caruso's own method evolved over time and she explained that what one student received might be a bit different from what another received.

Caruso didn't play a brass instrument, which could explain why he was so successful as a teacher of brass instrumentalists. One thing is certain, he was a master psychologist. He was very interested in motivation, and was also very interested in body movements, often consulting with doctors and athletes, particularly gymnasts. Caruso wanted to know how the body works to play the trumpet (and other instruments).

Caruso said:

"What you've done once you can do again."

Much of playing trumpet should be controlled by the sub-conscious mind. We should concentrate on muscular function and how the body produces sounds. We need to put music aside momentarily and allow the body to teach itself with physical demands—not musical demands. We should show the body each day the same muscular demands without any musical value judgements. The important thing is repetition ­repetition in order to train muscular activity so we don't have to think about the physical aspect and can then concentrate on the musical.

Since everyone responds differently to these exercises, a teacher is important to change the "prescription" slightly when necessary. Caruso would say to graduated students, "I've given you the medicine, now you be the doctor." Frink likens teaching to possessing both a variety of prescriptions and the knowledge of how to vary the doses or levels to suit the needs of individuals.

The Caruso method in practice entails long-setting and a strict adherence to steady rhythm. Frink outlined the rules to the method:

     Leave mouthpiece on (this eliminate one variable enabling one to concentrate on other aspects)

     Tap foot (steady rhythm vital to the method; tap so the body knows when to co-ordinate all the muscles involved [over 200 different moving parts!]

     Nose breathing (so body can learn how to minimize extraneous motion and learn through repetition by eliminating variables)

A couple of explanations are in order. The corners can relax during the breath since the important movement is done inside the mouthpiece not the outside. The foot tapping is crucial because the body must relate to a sense of timing, preferably one that is internal—not external, as in a metronome.

She then gave the five parts for setting up the embouchure:

    • mouthpiece contact with lips
    • setting tension of lips
    • setting angle of jaw
    • setting angle of instrument
    • blow

Some questions were dealt with next. Below is a list of abbreviated questions, and her answers.


No. It's better to use one's internal sense of timing for co-ordination

Leave muscles set during nose breath?

The idea is to just leave the setting the same—not to keep it tense. The nose breath is not for isometric purposes; the muscles should stay quiet and relaxed.

How young to start students on the Caruso method?

Junior high age has worked, but show care when dealing with beginners.

How to practice the six-note sequence?

This is Caruso's first exercise for students. It is a series of six notes ascending chromatically from g-c'. Sometimes this is repeated depending on the level of the embouchure strength and skills of the student. Also, variations on other octaves helps the student to work on various embouchure problems. The first note is started by the breath alone, no tonguing, thereby eliminating moving parts (the tongue is just another muscle that doesn't need to get involved yet). Sometimes the six-notes are used as a warm-up. Caruso said the warm-up is simply something the body can relate to quickly.

Do you use a mouthpiece visualizer?

Not normally, but I do have some tuba students use it. Buzzing can be beneficial, particularly when learning how to buzz with different resistances (i.e., the mouthpiece alone, the lips alone, and in the instrument)

Do you change the attacks (tonguing)?

Only after the student is more comfortable with the method are variables (volume, attacks, etc.) added.

Do you advocate change of embouchure?

Not normally, only in extreme instances. Rather, the student will be given exercises that will develop and strengthen the embouchure to a more normal configuration.

Do you change mouthpiece size?

Not usually.

Are there differences between the Maggio and Caruso methods?

Maggio, Stamp, Jacobs, all say essentially the same thing. Basically, they all involve long tones and expanding intervals; they entail learning notes and their relationship to others.

What to do when tension comes in from playing long tones?

Have the student play lower. Take it easier with the student until the source of that tension has been found and eliminated.

Do you dwell on tongue arch or level?

Not with young students, but it is introduced to more advanced students in lip trills or lip slurs.

When to do these exercises?

Callisthenics should always be done early in the playing time, never when one is tired. Trying to train tired muscles is not a good idea.

Next step after six notes? How long should the daily routine be?

Start slowly and build. Usually, the six-note exercise is first, and then the exercise on the interval of a second is next. Be careful not to do too much when doing these callisthenics exercises—especially for those who have to play in school or professionally.

Ms. Frink mentioned the first two aspects to co-ordinate: lips and the air.

She also tied this in with the four elements needed for success (just like in athletes): timing, co-ordination, synchronization, and balance.

She then worked with a student who had not had exposure to the Caruso method previously. After a short explanation of the rules, the student then played the six notes. Ms. Frink again emphasized how the body learns things, and reiterated the purpose of this method. She is careful not to place value judgements on what comes out the horn—she is only interested how better to help the student. Subdivision of the rhythm was also emphasized.

The exercise of the interval of second was then introduced. One plays a C scale a few notes at a time, in three note, ascending, diatonic groups, each group starting a second higher than the previous one. The student continues up until the bottom note is too soft to be heard. Some of her comments during the student's execution of this exercise were:

Move to time, not the note (especially as one enters the higher range).

Push a steady stream of air over the lips.

Think of glissando.

This exercise demonstrates how, through these intervals, the body is learning the positions of those high notes; even if they are very soft now, they will get stronger.

After working with the student, time ran out. All in attendance were inspired by Ms. Frink's presentation, as well as by her authoritative knowledge on this subject. In the course of her talk, she mentioned the many musicians, including a good number of professionals, who have sought her advice on playing and fixing problems. It was obvious why she is so popular as a teacher—we all came away with a greater knowledge of the fundamentals of brass playing via the Caruso—and Frink's—method.

Laurie Frinks appearance is made possible by the generous support of The Selmer Company.

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