‘Design Innovations’ is a series of articles looking at new and innovative developments in trumpet design, as well as gadgets and tools that are designed to make our practice and performance easier.
Mario Guarneri will be known to many readers as a performer and educator of the highest calibre. A former member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mario is also in demand as lecturer on the pedagogical concepts involved with his designs. Here he shares some thoughts and insights on the processes involved with the development of the BERP.
Can you tell us a little of the background behind this project?
I was fortunate to have great teachers from the very beginning of my trumpet playing life. I also had some success early and I played well for my age. As I grew older and took on more responsibilities as a player some weaknesses were exposed. This happens to everyone at some point. I went back to taking lessons (about four or five years into my tenure with the LA Philharmonic) for the second time with James Stamp. I also spent much time talking and playing with my friend Roy Poper, a great player who was one of Stamps most knowledgeable students. As I incorporated more mouthpiece buzzing into my daily routine, I became more aware of the benefits of the entire Stamp approach.
What was the primary purpose and aim behind your design?
The Buzz Extension and Resistance Piece (Berp) came out of practicing with a crude model similar to the first Berp, that a student of mine brought back from Europe. The idea was to buzz the mouthpiece and simultaneously hold the trumpet in the same position as you perform. This concept is an improvement over only buzzing while holding the mouthpiece with two fingers of the left hand (and playing the notes on the piano or playing along with a recorded track). I feel that working with the Berp is a more efficient and effective way to practice because it takes advantage of the relationship between buzzing and performing on the instrument. The ear training benefits and learning how to play into resistance are concepts that have great value. It also immediately helped my students because it is such a good diagnostic self-teaching aid.
What challenges did you face along the way?
The challenge was to find a way to make this device so that people with different mouthpieces and instruments could take advantage of the benefits of buzzing while pressing the valves or moving the slide to the pitches being produced. I spent many conventions with a measuring device for mouthpieces and leadpipe openings before the final design of the current Berp.
How long was the process from initial conception to product reaching the market?
Probably 6 months to a year.
What were your main ways of launching and marketing the BERP?
Finding people who were experts and listening to what they said, watching how they were successful and following my instincts. My “marketing” was based on the fact that I wasn’t selling “snake oil”. I knew it was helping me and my students, and that I could talk to colleagues and other teachers at all levels about my passion for finding efficient, effective ways to be a better performing musician.
What (if anything) would you do differently if you had this process over again?
Actually, nothing that I can think of. Of course, I made many mistakes, but I learned a lot from those “dead ends” and “wrong turns”. Persistence helped and I really enjoy an open creative approach to problem solving. I love looking for the “third way”.
What new developments are you working on?
Two other products;
The Breath Awareness Tool, (BAT). Not new, but it feels new because it is my “undiscovered” breathing aid which I actually think is in some ways more important than the Berp as a way to expose faults in the foundation of one’s technique. The breath creates the sound of course and the sound is what makes the music. This simple but effective belt reminds the player where to breath from and where and how to engage and control the breath. What I especially like about it is that it is another self-teaching aid that creates positive muscle memory.
Berp has also launched a line of lubricants for brass instruments which are “one of a kind” and extremely effective, in addition to being eco-friendly. The final product in this line is a trombone hand slide lube which we are currently testing and believe will be a better solution than available products.
For more information about Mario and Berp & Company, please visit their website.
Berp products are available to purchase from Thompson Music with international shipping.