Whistler’s Mother: How picking up the cornet
suddenly improved my whistling technique

August 18, 2018 – “Hi, Kurt,” I wrote today in the comments section of a YouTube video. “Something really amazing just happened to me, and I’d like to know what you think.”

“I was whistling while I was waiting in my apartment door / hallway (great resonant space) for the delivery guy to come up. I noticed my mouth felt much different, much stronger, and my whistling has improved! Do you think it’s because I’ve picked up my cornet again and started gradually (carefully) developing my embouchure?”

This is the question I posed to Kurt Thompson, who teaches trumpet and publishes videos about technique.

My lips felt so strong, so tight, so focused. I had this amazing command at a higher register, and my sound was pure, clear and sharp. How did this suddenly happen?

A couple of weeks ago, I got the horn bug again and took out my cornet. I sat down with a trumpet pro in my building in Harlem (there’s a story about that), and I mean a real pro, who gave me the tips I needed to jumpstart my playing again and do it right. He warned me that I’d have to be careful and gradually get my embouchure back into condition. Wisest advice I have had.

So after visiting Sam Ash and getting the final things I needed to be fully equipped (Blue Juice — you’ll laugh, I asked for Jungle Juice! — slide grease, valve casing brush, etc.), I put in an order for the last big item I was missing: A mouthpiece. Mine may actually be lost somewhere in my apartment, and I haven’t touched my vintage Yamaha YCR-231 from Japan. I felt confident I remembered correctly what size piece my cornet salesperson gave me four years ago.

While I waited for my special order to come in, I started reading up on my Arban (the text passages on technique, not the scales — although I did sing through many of them) and learning things I’ve never known before.

I picked up my Bach 6C last week, and every day I’ve been noodling around on my horn, gradually acclimating myself. I love the smell of valve oil and slide grease! It’s a beautiful horn, in mint condition, finely refurbished before I saw it at Sam Ash, put it on layaway, and picked it up months later.

So now in addition to working on my cornet/trumpet technique, I have another technique I can develop — whistling!

– p.k.