Back Story

Brass for Beginners® is a story about collaboration and progression across continents. Its cast of characters includes educators, scholars, musicians, artists, philanthropists, and countless elementary school students, and its story developed organically over the past decade through the use of the natural trumpet as a teaching tool. It was the result musician and educator Chris Hasselbring’s desire to make learning the trumpet a more meaningful educational experience for his students, and ultimately led to the idea of creating a curriculum for complete beginners. A total of six versions of a beginners’ method were developed and tested in collaboration with educators Jack Hasselbring and Kirsty Montgomery, resulting in the present volume, “Around the World in Twenty-One Trumpets: A Brass Odyssey.”

Brass for Beginners LLC was formed in 2013 in partnership with Jason Wyrwicz, to take on the challenge of engineering a low-cost, user-friendly natural trumpet, and to make curriculum and instruments available in a scalable manner. Many institutions (Our Partners), experts and artists (Our Contributors), and collaborators (Our Team) have supported the development of the program along the way, as Brass for Beginners® has been gaining attention through Presentations & Workshops at national and international educational and academic conferences. You can learn more about Brass for Beginners® and its history through peer-reviewed reviews, articles & publications, and from BFB founder, Chris Hasselbring’s in his own words:

A Brass Odyssey

Jazz and Madrigal Dinners

             The seeds of Brass for Beginners® were planted about 35 years ago. Every day, when I was young, different types of music such as Jazz, folk, pop/rock, and classical (Renaissance, Baroque, and romantic period music) could be heard in our house. My mother was (and still is) a singer, clarinetist, and guitarist, and my siblings played various instruments including electric and acoustic guitar, electric bass, piano, saxophone, drums, and of course, brass. We were probably the only house in our small town in Ohio (Ashland) that had its own madrigal dinner, where everyone dressed in period clothing, sang madrigals and played recorders. My first love, however, was jazz, inspired by artists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Wynton Marsalis. I decided early on that I would graduate high school and play with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. My parents pointed out that I would probably need to do a quick stint as a college student first. (Spoiler: I never had the chance to play with Mr. Blakey)


“Prof” Fielder, Cichowicz, Herseth, and Counterpoint

             I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to study at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts (New Jersey) as a jazz performance major, but my teacher, William “Prof” Fielder, encouraged me to shift my focus to playing orchestral music. He initially captured my interest by playing recordings of live radio broadcasts of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO). Although my activities shifted to developing a more solid technical foundation while learning standard classical solo and orchestral repertoire, my love for jazz and early music remained.
             After graduating from Rutgers, I moved to the Windy City (Chicago, Illinois) to continue my trumpet studies with Vincent Cichowicz at Northwestern University. There, I had the good fortune of playing under the direction of John P. Paynter and Victor Yampolsky, but one of the most impactful experiences I had at Northwestern was taking Renaissance counterpoint and Baroque performance practice courses with Dr. Faun Tanenbaum Tiedge. These courses left a lasting impression on me, as I began to search out recordings of early music played on period instruments. Playing as a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and being coached by legendary CSO trumpeter Adolph Herseth on a weekly basis certainly inspired me to pursue my orchestral ambitions.


Colombia, Shanghai, Singapore and Hiroshima

              After receiving my master's degree from Northwestern, I headed back to the East coast, entering the Doctor of Musical Arts program at Rutgers University. While serving as a teaching assistant to Prof. Fielder, I continued to seek opportunities to pursue my passion for early music. I took a Baroque performance practice course with harpsichordist Dr. Charlotte Mattax Moersch, and performed Baroque repertoire on piccolo trumpet at Rutgers University, Westminster Choir College, and with ensembles including the Princeton Pro Musica.
             As soon as an opportunity arose to play a full-time job in a symphony orchestra, I took it, performing as principal trumpet with the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá (Colombia), before returning a year later to the Chicago area. As a result of connections with members of the Chicago Symphony, I was sent for six months to play with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra (as the first westerner to join a Chinese orchestra since the Cultural Revolution), and then to the Singapore Symphony. I toured the USA with the Dallas Brass and attended the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan, performing a featured solo in an internationally televised broadcast of Michael Tilson Thomas's Shówa/Shoáh in Hiroshima on the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb. I also toured Japan presenting educational concerts with a California-based group called Sierra Brass, before settling down in the Chicago area more permanently to start a teaching and freelance career.

 Around the World with a few Trumpets

             Being immersed in various cultures, playing music with people from all over the world, and having picked up the basics of Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese, I gained an appreciation for the power of music to build bridges and connect people together. Looking back on my incredible fortune of having lived and worked in these various countries, I would like to think that I gained much more than I had to offer. I feel now that I was sort of like Ragnar, traveling the world via a trumpet, listening and learning as I went.


The Brandenburg Concerto and a Major Investment

             In 1997, I began to work as a freelance musician and trumpet instructor at the Music Institute of Chicago (MIC). During the summer breaks, I joined the Peninsula Music Festival (Wisconsin) where I played under the direction of Victor Yampolsky for 16 years with fantastic orchestral musicians from across the country. In Chicago, I also had the chance to work with many talented musicians, including Robert (Bob) Rieder, who I had heard play Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto a few years earlier on a natural trumpet. By that time, I had played a good deal of Baroque literature on piccolo trumpet (including the Brandenburg), but was amazed by the fact that this repertoire was originally performed on an instrument without valves. I asked Bob’s advice about how to obtain a natural trumpet and he suggested a replica of a trumpet by Johann Leonard Ehe III made by Frank Tomes. It was a major investment, at the time, costing around $2,000, which would be more like $5,000 today. With Bob's help I began learning how to play it, and was amazed at how challenging it was. The sound, however, was so much richer than the piccolo trumpet, and it blended better with other instruments and voices. Playing in a section with instruments of the same length produced so many overtones and resultant tones. I was hooked!




An Important Discovery: The “Hose Horn”

             One of the first things you realize when you pick up a natural trumpet, is that the only way to get the "right" note to sound is to hear it first in your head. By 2004, having a few years of teaching experience behind me (middle school, high school, and younger beginners), I thought that the natural trumpet could be very useful in my studio. I decided to bring the horn to the Music Institute of Chicago for my students to try. To my disappointment, my students had a less-than-positive experience with the instrument. They found it awkward to hold, the mouthpiece felt foreign and uncomfortable, and the bell was much farther from their ears which made the experience disorienting. For certain notes in the upper register to sound in tune, a vent system is commonly used (although not used historically), and my advanced students found it very difficult to keep the holes covered, let alone uncovering for certain notes. In short, my students were not all that impressed by the experience, and I went back to the drawing board.

             I asked Bob Reider if he had any ideas on how to make a more accessible and inexpensive natural trumpet. He suggested that I cut the bell off a scrap Bb trumpet, and stick some vinyl tubing on it to make it the same length as my natural trumpet. In the process of following his instructions, I realized that I could keep the lead pipe in place, and make the instrument tuneable. The result was a very authentic-sounding Frankenstein of a natural trumpet I called a “Hose Horn.” (You have probably seen a “hosaphone,” which is a funnel attached to a garden hose. Although the “hosaphone” is instructive about how brass instruments work, it unfortunately cannot be used as a natural trumpet because the lower partials are far from being harmonic.)


“Hose Horn” Ensembles

             In 2005, I brought the “Hose Horn” to my studio (along with my Frank Tomes natural trumpet for comparison), and the reaction was enthusiastic, so enthusiastic in fact, that my students wanted to make their own. I created detailed instructions (you are welcome to download them here), and within a year had natural trumpet ensembles performing music from Ed Tarr’s three volume series, The Art of the Baroque Trumpet. Aside from the obvious pedagogical benefits - development of embouchure, aural skills, and more precise pitch production - my students became curious about the natural trumpet and its history. How was it made? What is the pommel for? How could it play the high F and high A in tune? They were amazed that such difficult music that they had heard before, like Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto, Mouret’s Rondeau, and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, had been written for a trumpet without valves. This got me thinking about my role as a teacher. I had mostly been teaching my students how to play the trumpet, but now, the focus was shifting to teaching them about music. The natural trumpet proved to be a great bridge to learning about the historical foundations of brass playing and music making.  

              Within a year of using the natural trumpet in the studio, it became apparent that it could be a great tool for teaching beginners. Anyone who has taught beginners with a standard band method knows how difficult it can be with so many variables at the outset. I began to discuss this with my brother Jack Hasselbring, an elementary/middle school music educator in New Jersey, and we began formulating ideas for a beginners’ book that would prepare students for playing brass instruments in their school’s instrumental music programs.


“Bring out Your Junk Trumpets”

           By 2006, word had got round at the Music Institute of Chicago about the strange-looking instruments that my students were playing. I received a call from the Board Chair of the Music Institute of Chicago, Kay Maybie, who had heard that I had students making their own instruments. Kay explained that the founder of MIC thought it was important for students to understand how their instruments worked, and provided resources for students to make elements of keyboard and string instruments. Kay was fascinated by the idea of teaching students with a modern version of a historical instrument, and offered to personally fund outreach programs through MIC’s “Arts Link” program. In the meanwhile, Jack received funding to do the same from the Mount Olive Education Foundation in New Jersey, and we were off - except for the fact that we had no instruments for these programs! We scrambled to find junk trumpets (in band programs, instrument repair shops, and the Internet), bought a bunch of vinyl tubing & cable ties, and got to work making “Hose Horns.” These instruments took a lot of effort to produce, didn’t look beautiful, and were a bit inconsistent, but they played quite well and the students were intrigued by them. In the Spring of 2007 we began running tuition-free enrichment programs for under-served 3rd graders, providing a head start to increase their chances of success in 4th grade band.



The First "Hose Horn" Method Book   

           The first version of the book, called “Hose Horn for Beginners,” was modelled after a beginning band method. It included a page of “how to” (posture, embouchure, holding the instrument), a short explanation of the “Hose Horn” and natural trumpet, and pictures/definitions of modern brass instruments to get students thinking about what instrument they might want to play in their school band. The book proved to be very effective. In the first three units, basic rhythmic notation appeared on a single line (instead of a staff). This allowed students to play whichever note was most comfortable at first, helping to limit the variables while focusing on rhythm, sound production and articulation. This is possible with the natural trumpet because there are no “wrong” sounding notes in the middle/lower registers (these notes all form consonant intervals.) Learn More. We found this to be very helpful because it allowed students to gain confidence in sound production at the beginning stages, so that by the time the treble clef was introduced, students were able to match two or three harmonic notes. Subsequent units of the book were divided into harmonic studies (slurring between harmonic notes), long tone exercises, articulation exercises, etudes, processional fanfares, duets, and trios. The book was developed and refined in four iterations, and used for the first 5 years of the “Hose Horn” pilot programs.



Animal Horns, Signals, Dances, and Legos

              The early editions of “Hose Horn for Beginners” included a short history of the trumpet, with pictures of Baroque trumpets and instruments such as the Didjeridu. Also pictured was iconography depicting animal horns, Arabian trumpets, and angels playing slide trumpets. Jack and I discovered over time that students were particularly curious, and wanted to know more about these instruments. Questions arose, such as “who the first person was to make a trumpet sound?” “How did people discover how to make the sound?” “With what object?” “Where?” “What sounds did they play, and for what purposes?” We started using these questions to inspire students make up their own music, such as alarms, signals, dances, marches, and fanfares, with excellent results. When thinking in these terms, students were making music at a much deeper level than my beginning students playing a valve trumpet, and they seemed to be advancing rapidly with the fundamentals of playing.

             Discussions about the history the trumpet took an unexpected turn when Robert, a kindergartner (5 yr. old) joined my trumpet studio. He had begged his mother to play the trumpet, having built one from legos that wasn’t producing the sound that he had hoped for. I had accepted students of Robert’s age before, usually starting them on a pocket trumpet, but this time I was able to offer a new approach. He was fascinated by the strange looking “Hose Horn,” so we began working with the book in private lessons. His mother, British-born Kirsty Montgomery, was at the time finishing a master's degree in social sciences at the University of Chicago, and working towards her Ph.D in history. She was particularly impressed (and in other ways unimpressed) by the history section of our “Hose Horn” book, and over many discussions we came to realize that teaching music and history to young people in a truly meaningful way had common challenges.


Ragnar, the First Trumpeter

             Kirsty agreed to collaborate informally to add historical elements to an updated version of the method book. At some point it became clear that illustrations were needed. We wanted a character, a “first trumpeter” from prehistory, who could bring a narrative element to the project, to make the history more engaging. We hired Michigan-based illustrator Alyssa Parsons to create our prehistoric horn blower, and Ragnar, the “first trumpeter,” was born.
             Fate would have it that around this time, I came into possession of John Wallace's The Trumpet, which had immediate and lasting impact on me as a trumpeter, musician, and teacher. Looking back on my education, it’s amazing to me that I could have graduated from such great universities without learning about the history of my instrument, and its place in the larger context of human history and culture. Seeing the trumpet, and all lip-blown instruments, in this context expanded my own understanding of what we do when we perform and teach music.
             As we continued to work on the updated method book, Kirsty and I encountered countless fascinating ways to bring historical and cultural context into the learning experience. Having witnessed that beginning students could play more musically sophisticated material if not limited to what they could read in notation, we decided to take out the music entirely, opting for a “learn by ear” method. Philosophically, this made our curriculum more similar to the language-based approach of the Suzuki method. The new version of the book, “Brass for Beginners: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Fundamentals of Brass Playing Using the Natural Trumpet” was published in December 2014, and adopted for use in various pilot programs in the US.


Anyone Want to Buy a “Hose Horn?”

           While developing this new approach to the book, it became painfully obvious that our current “Hose Horn” model wasn’t a realistic option for educators who wanted to try out the program.  We began talking to various people about the problem, and eventually were put in touch with Skokie-based entrepreneur, Jason Wyrwicz, who was already manufacturing mutes for brass instruments, plastic mouthpieces, and various other music accessories. Jason was fascinated by the potential of the project to increase accessibility to brass education, and particularly intrigued by the problem of the instrument. Soon thereafter, we formed Brass for Beginners LLC, in order to create a business model and make the program scalable. Concerning the instrument, our priorities were to design something user-friendly, durable, authentic in sound and playability, practical for use in group classes, and most importantly, low-cost. A total of five iterations of a natural trumpet were prototyped and tested over the next few years (as well as a vented natural trumpet we created for advanced trumpeters), before we realized that the only long term solution was to design an injection-molded polymer instrument from scratch. With the help of Chicago-area engineers at Marathon Manufacturing, and music acousticians Dr. Murray Campbell and Dr. Arnold Myers at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), we finally designed an instrument that achieved our goals, called the BFB Natural Trumpet™. Learn More


Spreading the Word

           To see how the program might be received by educators more broadly, we decided that the time had come to present both the curriculum and an early production prototype of the Brass for Beginners® Natural Trumpet at vendor booths at the Midwest Band Clinic in Chicago, and the Illinois Music Educators Conference (ILMEC). In addition, I took my students to the Chicago Brass Festival where they demonstrated the program to music educators and brass players. It quickly became clear that we were on to something: educators from Illinois, across the US, and abroad, were fascinated by the educational potential of the instrument, and intrigued by the potential impact an interdisciplinary method could have on the learning process. I was urged to contact the president of the Historical Brass Society, Jeffrey Nussbaum, to tell him about Brass for Beginners®. Jeff was enthusiastic about our efforts, and invited us to join him and the Historic Brass Society in presenting our curriculum at the European Music Archeology Project's Brass Symposium in Viterbo, Italy.
             Italy was a major turning point for the project, because we were able to connect with many of the people whose research we had used to create the curriculum, most notably British brass scholars Peter Holmes, Trevor Herbert, and Jeremy Montagu. Trevor thought there might be interest in the UK, and put us in touch with international trumpet soloist (and author of The Trumpet) John Wallace, and brass scholar John Humphries. After receiving feedback from experts in many fields, we decided that there were enough reasons to produce a complete rewrite of the curriculum, and over the course of 2016, we worked with Peter Holmes, John Wallace and our new editor in-chief, John Humphries, to write the current edition, “Around the World in Twenty-One Trumpets: A Brass Odyssey.”


Ragnar: Time-Traveler, Globetrotter and Teacher

             We had way too much fun creating “Around the World in Twenty-One Trumpets”! It includes a time-traveling adventure story, packed with important teaching moments relating to various aspects of learning and performing music. It also includes music in notation in the back of the book for those who already read music, or for students who need a visual reference to help them keep track of the sounds they are hearing. To make it possible for students to practice at home, extensive online resources were created, enlisting top brass players from the US and Europe to record “Listen & Play” sound files for each chapter. The BFB Natural Trumpet™ is now tested and in production, and educators in the US and abroad are beginning to plan programs in various educational environments. We are especially honored that John Wallace, who had such an influence on our methodology through his book, The Trumpet, and who helped us in the process of writing the final version of the curriculum, is currently leading programs in three London boroughs, funded by the Mayor of London’s Music Fund.

It was attending one of the London sessions that our editor, John Humphries first heard children playing the BfB trumpet. Afterwards, he wrote to us:

 "The sound which thirty-odd ten year-olds might make while they parped their BfB trumpets was something which was entirely in my head until the moment that the first gang sat cross legged on the floor, took out their instruments and began to blow while they waited for proceedings to start. It didn't sound at all the way I was expecting it to as I looked at them, by which I mean, and now I am speaking as a gnarled old band conductor, I instinctively expected it to sound like the proverbial dog's breakfast. On the other hand, it sounded exactly as I intellectualised it, or rather, even better. As soon as they started, a warm and kaleidoscopic chord of C major shimmered in the air, just as it should have done.  Brilliant.”

             As we expand our activities, attending conferences and offering presentations and workshops in the US and abroad, we are continually gratified by the wonderment and joy experienced by music educators, students (both young and old), and parents when they have a chance to play the instrument and learn a bit about the amazing story of lip-blown instruments. In many ways, it seems as though the journey has just begun!



              This project wouldn’t have been possible without the help of many incredible people who value music education and its ability to inspire an appreciation for our shared humanity. We want to express our gratitude for the support and contributions of the following: Jason Wyrwicz, Donald Hasselbring, Donald Montgomery, Jeffrey Nussbaum, John Wallace, Clair Tomalin, Dr. Trevor Herbert, Dr. Keith Polk, Dr. Raquel Jimenez, Annemies Tamboer, Jeremy Montagu, Cajsa Lund, Gabriele Cassone, Dr. Murray Campbell, Dr. Arnold Myers, Dr. Robert Janusko, Donna Janusko, Curtis Hasselbring, Sean Montgomery, Roxane McLean, Dr. Bruce Briney, Terry Everson, Dr. Brian Shaw, Robert Sullivan, Dr. Craig Levesque, Dr. Scott Whitener, Natalie DeJong, Charlie Schuchat, David Lussier, Dr. Jonathan Saylor, Edgar Campos, John Burson, Dr. Travis Heath, David Cron, Dr. Benjamin Frommer, Stephen Dowling, and all the distinguished musicians who recorded videos and sound files to bring the program to life for young learners.

             Thanks also to Dr. Fredrik Jonsson for giving our Palaeolithic friend the name “Ragnar,” and Rebecca Hankin for turning Ragnar’s story into an entertaining read. We want to especially express gratitude for the contributions of John Humphries, Dr. Peter Holmes, and Tony Nuccio, who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in order make the current volume visually and intellectually captivating for young minds. We are grateful to Kay Mabie and the Music Institute of Chicago for supporting the first Brass for Beginners® pilot programmes, and all the students who have taken Brass for Beginners® classes in Evanston (IL), Chicago, and New Jersey public schools. This interdisciplinary approach simply would not have been possible without the opportunity to work with these enthusiastic and creative young people over the past decade.

             Many thanks to Jack Hasselbring for his immeasurable and ongoing contributions since starting Brass for Beginners® in 2007 and our family across the pond, especially Angela for her talent at building trumpets. Credit is also due to our long-suffering family members Conor, Momoko, Robert, Yumiko, Matthew, and Emily for unending discussions about trumpets and cavemen over dinner. Finally, to Mary Montgomery, whose love of music, children and education can be felt all over this project..