Glad to hear you have improved, Frances.
That’s how it seems to work–we make an improvement to a certain point, then have to work on that point; after a while, we improve again.
I recall Greg talking about finding the point at which you struggle and paying close attention to what you’re doing to figure out what it is that’s inefficient. Are you tightening your throat, tensing up, choking off the air, clamping down the lips in the middle/cutting off the vibration, etc., etc. There are so many ways we can go wrong.
It is easier than you probably realize playing that A above the staff.
It takes less air the higher we ascend. It’s helped me a lot playing the higher notes softer. I played Clarke studies for years back when I was young, in school, taking lessons. I tensed up as I ascended chromatically and struggled not playing louder, overblowing. I found myself choking off the air, tilting my head back, rolling my lip under, all sorts of unecessary nonsense to play higher.
Believe it or not, all it takes is a little tightening inward from the aperture corners, horizontally from the sides inward and that A will speak with just the air released (not blowing). It is much easier than you probably imagine.
What helped me, was playing an A below the staff, then an A on the staff with my eyes closed. I payed close attention to how much different the two felt. You can pull the mouthpiece out and make sure you’re using sympathetic oscillation if you’d like–that would help.
You might try playing around with attempting the octave of A below the staff, followed by A on the staff, then attempt that A above the staff. Take a BCH breath, release the air, breath attack a loud low A, mezzo forte A on the staff and a soft A above the staff–try to hold it. Is your throat open, relaxed? You should just have the corners tightened, the middle of your top lip should be relaxed. Hold the pitch and try to slightly open up the aperture to increase the sound/resonance as you hold the note.
The WindwWorks course/exercises are great. I’m doing another lap through myself.
What has helped me lately is some mental things. Have you seen or heard of the analogy of a bag over a can? I think it was the Farkas book (Art of Brass Playing) that had a photo of a canvas bag with a drawstring and inside was an aluminum can. The concept is that the can is the inside of our mouth/throat and the bag is our lips/aperture.
I have been thinking about my lips, especially my top lip–my understanding is that the top lips is the primary oscillator (for downstream players). I want my top lip to interact with the air column, which I want shooting straight through the aperture into the mouthpiece and into the leadpipe. I look down at the leadpipe and focus on moving as little as possible (i.e. not tilting my head back or angling the horn down) and trying to blow straight through as much as possible while tightening the aperture while keeping the top lip relaxed and loose by tightening my lips from the aperture corners inward horizontally towards the center of the mouthpiece/air column.
And perhaps the most important thing, is being willing for my experiment not to work–for a note not to come out. Ironically, you have to let go to have control. You have to fail to succeed. It’s a paradox, and one I’m still figuring out myself and progress is not linear, it’s not a straight upward line; it takes time and patience, and I’ve had setbacks. I’m sure most probably do.
But I’m continuing to progress–I had a GREAT day today. It was perhaps my best day ever playing the trumpet; I think it in fact was. I did a little warm up this morning and felt ok, sounded alright. I played a lot yesterday, practice; pushed myself a bit hard on range, thought I might have gotten a bit carried away and might pay for it today.
Quite the opposite–I took a big break and went about my day. When playing again in the afternoon, I felt like I was already warmed up and didn’t need to warm up again. I did anyway, and had an amazing, resonant sound. I enjoyed playing some music for a bit, some lyrical stuff and felt and sounded great, My control (dynamics) and range was very good, I played with ease and notes above the staff resonated at fortissimo and I felt like I had power to spare. Everything felt like it was in the right place.
As I thought about my top lip interacting with the air column in the center of the mouthpiece, I did some harmonic slurs and tested my range a bit. I didn’t use a tuner, but am pretty sure that my range the past couple/few days now has moved up to Double G. Previously, when I would do harmonic slurs, I would stop at E above High C; I could hit the F when using first valve, but open would stop at E for some reason. Now, I’m pretty sure I’m getting the G. It could be the F# or even the F, as the notes are closer together up there, but I’m pretty sure it’s the G. And, at one point, without even trying I went way up over that and hit notes I don’t even know what they were and I wasn’t blowing hard, I was using the same air I was just slightly adjusting my embouchure/aperture with the same air–which I know from listening to Greg, but it was great to actually feel that sensation and experience it firsthand.
I still catch myself kicking air, blowing harder when I am trying to move from my current range to a higher range. When I catch myself and stop, and open up/relax and focus on tightening just from the corners inward is when I achieve success.
One visual in my mind that’s helped me is something I think Tom Hooten mentioned in a video–the corners supporting the top lip, preventing the aperture from collapsing (from our tightening too much, top to bottom). If you tighten your lips top-to-bottom as much as you can and try to blow through them, you won’t be able to; but if you tighten from the sides, you probably will. The air obviously has to make it through the aperture in order for the lips to interact with the air column and vibrate and for the air column to make it into the mouthpiece, trumpet, etc.
I think of the top lip as the roof of a tent and the corners being tight are supporting the top lip which is soft like a tent; the corners are the poles, propping up the roof/doorway of the tent and keeping it open so I can get out the front of the tent.
Hope that helps, FWIW.