Caruso Studies and the Horn

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Many brass players have been introduced over the years to the brass teaching of Carmine Caruso (1904-1987). He was a saxophone player but earned a reputation as a builder and re-builder of embouchures, working with many brass players over his long career.

The best known of his publications is Musical Calisthenics for Brass. This publication itself, however, is somewhat unstructured and difficult to figure out without instruction from someone who actually worked with Caruso.

In my own case I have periodically used a Caruso routine for many years, learned from David Wakefield and based on the approach of Julie Landsman, Principal Horn at the Met, who worked with Caruso; I later saw her present on Caruso at the Georgia IHS symposium which further clarified her approach [And see UPDATE at end for a new resource from Landsman!]. I started doing Caruso regularly when I was playing in Nashville to solidify the top end of my range, and come back to it at least every few months. A lot of horn parts end up feeling similar to the feeling of doing Caruso exercises–at the least it is a good type of training exercise (“weight lifting”) for actual horn playing.

Last week preparing for episode 50 of The Mellocast I learned of a new Caruso resource — the book FLEXUS: Trumpet Calesthenics for the Modern Improvisor by Laurie Frink & John McNeil. There are several reasons a horn player might not notice this coming out, as it is a trumpet book and related to improvisation. But there is a big reason to check it out too as it is based on Caruso methods and is by players who worked closely with Caruso. The publication gives a number of insights into how to use Caruso exercises in horn playing.

Looking online I see more resources I was not aware of. In relation to the horn Frink is quoted by hornist Lucinda Lewis in her article “The Extraordinary Carmine Caruso,”

The Caruso method, she said, isn’t composed of generic, one-size-fits-all playing exercises; rather, it is made up of prescriptive exercises that are designed specifically for each individual player’s needs—exercises that can “link” a player’s good mechanics into his/her problem area. It is sometimes necessary for the exercises to be adjusted, based upon what is working and what is not. These exercises can only be devised by those few players who have a thorough understanding of Carmine’s technique. Frink cautioned that the exercises in Caruso’s book are largely worthless and perhaps even a bit dangerous without a concise understanding of his whole method.

Which is why I am hesitant to post online a specific routine, but I do feel that Caruso is a valuable resource.

If you wish to experiment with Caruso exercises on your own I learned of another great Caruso resource via The Mellocast, the Caruso forum at If you have never been there, this is an interesting resource itself, different than anything we have in horn. This particular forum has great information on how to develop a Caruso routine from people who actually worked directly with Carmine. As he passed on over twenty years ago this information is quite valuable, and it gives more insights as to how to apply this type of exercise to horn playing and teaching.

In short, if you have an interest in learning more about building your embouchure with Caruso studies there are resources out there, and the materials can be translated into horn.

UPDATE: And be sure to check out this new, online resource on Caruso and the horn from Julie Landsman:

Great information is presented (PDF and videos) on how to use Caruso studies to advantage.

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