Hello Folks,

I do not wish to tell people how to blow the trumpet or any other instrument, but I have spent the last 2 years rediscovering how I should be trying to play and wish to pass on my experiences to those who may benefit from what I have learnt. I spent about 5 years at school blowing the trumpet and took a few exams (nothing too spectacular) and felt I had been able to make a reasonable sound by the time I stopped ! :-( 38 years on I saw GUGGE 2000 at the 2006 fireworks where Glenn stood up in front of the band and said if anyone can play (or used to play) a brass instrument and wants to join us please come and talk. Well, I thought, I can do that! its easy! so I bumbled along to a Friday night rehearsal and realised just how crap I was after all that time. So after about 6 months of improvement and frustration at not being able to improve further, I thought, I think I need lessons! How right I was! Here are some things I learned that I didnt appreciate as a school child, but as an adult can take on board.

This is an attempt at helping newcomers to the band (and some more established players if they think they can benefit). I have spent money and time trying to improve my playing and to a certain degree it has worked (one can always improve). So, do you:

a) suffer from your lip failing after about 2 numbers
b) cant get above top G (not super G)
c) have trouble producing a good tone (this one is subjective)

Some basics:

The sound produced out of the end of the bell is made by the top lip (mainly) vibrating against the bottom lip.
The width of the narrow column of air which rushes into the mouthpiece from the vibrating part of the lip is controlled by the muscles in your top lip.
The narrower your lip muscles make the aperture between your lips the higher the frequency of the note produced.
The stronger the muscles on the top lip become the more control is available over the frequency of the sound.
The faster the air rushes through the mouthpiece, the louder the volume of the note produced.

This may sound obvious to some (I am sorry to state the obvious)

If the blood supply is stopped to the top lip, the muscles vital in controlling the pitch of a note will not work and you will not be able to produce the wonderful sound you crave.

This has consequences regarding the way we hold our instrument against our lips.

  • If we progressively push our mouthpiece against our lips (including top lip) to force that lip aperture smaller, it will tend to cut off the blood supply.
  • It is natural to want to do this as a certain amount of pressure is required to stop the air escaping from the sides of the mouthpiece and the higher we try to play, the harder we blow through the smaller aperture, there is more likelyhood of air escaping so we push harder.
  • When we raise our instruments to play (trumpets in particular - but maybe trombones too), unless we incline our heads backwards or push out our lower jaw in compensation we will apply more pressure to the precious top lip.
  • We should not feel any problems on our top lip, but feel the indentations of the teeth from our lower jaw on the inside of the lower lip taking excess pressure from the top lip if we press too hard with the instrument.
  • At the other extreme, if we try to play too quietly (unlikely I know), the chances of the note not being produced increase as the lips needs a certain amount of air flowing through them to vibrate.
  • Air is supplied from the lungs under pressure from the diaphragm. For a solid note, we need a good flow of air from the lungs, so take a deep breath a couple of beats before you need it.

    Conclusion: "There is no such thing as no pressure playing" (Allen Vizzutti) - but more a balance of pressure and lip control, but above all keep the pressure off the top lip.

    This has all been reinforced, by watching really good players and reading what they have to say.

    "My lip very rarely gets tired" - Allen Vizzutti Dont try this at home - just be amazed
    Watch any good classical player and you will instantly notice they do not screw up their faces to get the high notes. A good example is Tine Thing Halseth albeit on a Trumpet in D, but even with this in mind the top notes she plays in this clip are the equivalent of top A flat on a B flat Trumpet. I know its a bit of a cheesey clip, dont look at her lovely eyes, but more the continuous relaxed appearance of her facial muscles even on the high notes.
    Not wanting to leave out the bass brass Here is one for you !
    How do sportsmen train their muscles? - they go down the gym. Musicians practise - scales are best (but boring), the lowest notes (and highest notes) needing more muscle control.
    Practise little and often is good (if you have the time) - so a regular amount every day - even 10 or 15 minutes is good to keep the lips muscles in trim.
    Some people mention the 'pencil' exercises (if you have seen that on the internet) but you might as well be playing a proper instrument! Plus, not sure if this really works.
    If you practise with a mute, you dont upset other people in the house (or neighbours) but you do end up blowing harder and get sore lips after a while.

    Playing tips:

  • Play confidently and into clear air - not into the back of the person in front of you.
  • Raise your instrument to your lips well before required - else injury may follow !
  • Take a good breath a couple of beats before coming in so that the sound comes from the instrument at the required time.
  • 'Hear' the note in your head before you play it, this will help with accurate pitching.
  • If you play the first note in a performance, play the first note quietly to yourself first to get the pitch or maybe listen to the guy standing next to you if he has the same part.
  • Hold each note for its alloted value especially if it is the last note before a rest (if you have enough breath).
  • Always have the conductor in sight (maybe to the side or above your music)
  • Always tongue the notes positively unless otherwise indicated by a slur.
  • If you know you cant reach a particular note, either leave it out or take it down an octave.
  • If the choreography allows it, stand with your feet slightly apart as this will help with balance and relaxation.

    Practise tips:

  • Boring scales and arpeggios - slurred, tongued and staccatto - remember all music is made from these and fluency here will be the ground work to playing most other music.
  • It is easier to play scales if you increase the volume as the pitch rises reducing volume on the return.
  • Lip slurs (that is slurs which do not involve a valve/slide position change) increase muscle strength and control - start low as they get more difficult as the pitch goes up. Slurring up is more difficult than down.
  • Passages from the music you find difficult - remember if you cant play it slowly, you have no chance at speed - practise a bar at a time if necessary.
  • Play steady long low notes to also increase lip muscle control.
  • For all the above, keep the pressure off your lips using only a change in embouchure (muscle control) to force a new note.
  • Never use the pressure of the mouthpiece against the lips to change the pitch ! muscle control changes the size of the aperture in the embouchure.

    Bibliography: Cornet Method - J B Arban (abilities from zero to hero! The only tutor you will ever need) - about 20 from good music shops or the internet. As used by the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall.
    Sail the Seven C&s - Bflatmusic.com - for a professional's insite into endurance and range.

    Please dont regard any of the above as instruction, every player has their own style and comfort zone. You must always feel relaxed and in control while playing. Also, dont remind me of this after playing Basket Case - its all down to striving to perform in a particular way not always achieving it ! Nobody expects to turn into impressarios like the example clips above but Remember, if you dont try, you wont achieve.

    Good Luck
    Colin (Dock)

    P.S. If you feel that I have made any collosal errors above, please let me know as I am always willing to learn. This is just my current interpretation and thoughts. I will try to update this as I think of other things - so dont print this, but come back to this link.
    Many thanks to GUGGE 2000 for getting me blowing again !