Thomas Stevens

Stamp's Angle

  • For Trumpeters Only

A little known anecdotal and a few comments about James Stamp's methodology.

The brass pedagogue, James Stamp, is internationally acknowledged to have been one of the great teachers of the rudiments of brass playing. His basic concepts have been well documented, in extremis-ad nauseam, by many of his former students, and his signature studies and warm-ups have been available in published form since 1978 from Editions Bim. In keeping with the Quotables concept of presenting material not generally available elsewhere, here is a little-known Stamp anecdotal:

During the late 1970s, a professional tuba player asked Mr. Stamp to listen to him play his “C” tuba and then his “F “tuba. The musician was having difficulty “centering” on the pitches of certain upper partials of the “F” instrument’s harmonic series, something that was not problematic when he was playing the “C” tuba, his principal instrument. He wondered if Jimmy could help him in determining whether this was the fault of the “F” instrument or perhaps the result of something he, the player, was doing.

Mr. Stamp immediately observed that when the musician played the “F” tuba, the smaller of the two instruments, it was positioned lower relative to the player’s face/lips than when playing the larger “C” tuba. Consequently, the mouthpiece (instrument/leadpipe) of the “F” instrument met the player’s lips at a different angle than it did with the “C” instrument. Mr. Stamp placed a seat cushion under the “F” tuba to accommodate this difference, and this helped the musician resolve the “F” tuba problem in what was a practical application of a fundamental James Stamp principle: the importance of the angle at which the mouthpiece is placed on the lips*. Indeed, the tubaist’s story is probably reminiscent of the personal experiences of many Stamp students who undoubtedly recall those instances when the old master would discreetly use the palm of his left hand to restrain the upward movement of the bells of their trumpets when they were doing it for the wrong reasons (forcing), as they played. [n.b. Being a Schlossberg student himself, Stamp did subscribe to the Schlossberg "barrel roll" technique. (If you have to ask, then never mind.)]

A major element in Jimmy Stamp’s teaching involved mouthpiece playing, and when doing so, his students were instructed to hold the mouthpiece near the bottom of its stem with the thumb and forefinger of their left hands. The oft-stated primary reason for this was to prevent players from applying excessive mouthpiece pressure**. A less-often stated reason for holding the mouthpiece in this manner, as demonstrated by Mr. Stamp to a group of students during one of Jean-Pierre Mathez’ special courses in Switzerland, was to insure the mouthpiece “approach angle” to the lips was the same as when the mouthpiece was in the instrument, this in a manner analogous to the circumstances cited in the tuba example (above). A third reason was that Stamp apparently believed the localized control of the mouthpiece should be approximately the same as if it were in the horn, this being a controversial concept since it contradicts the stated mouthpiece drill protocols of a number of other prominent brass teachers, who, in contrast to Jimmy’s teaching, have treated mouthpiece playing as a separate discipline unrelated to the instrument.

[Unsolicited Commercial Mention: My friend and colleague of long standing, Mario Guarneri, developed the B.E.R.P. to be used when playing mouthpiece exercises. I believe this is an excellent device for Stamp aficionados since it is an accurate way of consistently establishing correct Stamp/trumpet-oriented mouthpiece angles, especially when using the various-pitched trumpets. A simulated/virtual version of the palm of James Stamp’s left hand, it should be noted, has not yet been developed; so one must pay attention to the “approach angles” of the different trumpets.]

The angle concept is quintessential Stamp methodology.

Not all agree with its premise.

But, remember Leonard Bernstein's previously cited Quotable: "There are no answers in music....only questions......."[and possibilities]

* Update: There are conflicting versions of this story in circulation; however, the publisher, Jean-Pierre Mathez, of Editions Bim both witnessed and photographed the event and has provided this web site with written confirmation that it was indeed "precisely as described" in this post.

**Update: Trumpeter Rachel Morgan Wallin recently informed me that when she told Mr. Stamp she was left-handed, he had her hold the mouthpiece with her right hand. This validates the Stamp concept of minimizing the pressure when playing mouthpiece drills. Of course, those who are either ambidextrous or have spent too much time working-out at the gym might consider using Mario's B.E.R.P.