Great post, Wildflower! I was thinking of following up with a post saying the same thing when I saw your post and Greg’s response above.
Great to hear your knee surgery is over, Greg, hope you have a fast and full recovery! And thanks for your kind words, I would be thrilled if anything I contribute in a post helps someone figure something out on their journey while I’m still on mine.
I had a couple additional thoughts on this on the drive in this morning, for what its worth:
Less is More – As Greg says, we must constantly ask ourselves can I do 1% less work for 1% better sound / more efficiency.
I believe playing the trumpet is actually, the way our lips interact with the air and mouthpiece a natural process when done efficiently. It’s when we over think it when we get into trouble.
I realize now, that I get in my own way sometimes when playing. Its when I approach the horn with a good mindset, no expectations, more like an objective observer mentality.
And physically, I try to start out playing with as little engagement of my face muscles and relaxed lips and release air into the horn.
I used to mountain bike a lot, 4-5 days a week. I learned that when I was facing a steep uphill climb not to give up too early or worry about it being hard until I felt my lungs gasping for air, my heart pounding or legs burning and couldn’t go any further. More often than not, I made it farther up the hill than I expected before struggling too much and was able make it the rest of the way there. I focused on relaxing, being as efficient as possible, keeping a good rhythm that I could sustain.
Playing above the staff, I realized, was not as hard as I thought and the people who could do it were no different than me physically. I just needed to be more efficient at it; it’s coordination, not strength or power. For me, the concept of Sympathetic Oscillation was key–the higher I figured I could play before my lips began actively buzzing in the mouthpiece, the higher I figured I could climb from there and/or the more endurance I would have, etc.
On the descents when mountain biking, especially on steep and loose terrain (California is a desert…), when we lose traction and start to slide around / skid, the human instinct is to clamp down harder on the brakes, which stops the wheel(s) completely, which of course makes things worse and gets you hurt. The same is true for road cyclists, motor cars, etc. Although counter-intuitive, when we start to skid its usually better to let off the brakes a bit to allow the wheel(s) to regain traction and regain control.
That’s how playing is for me now, when I’m playing a note above the staff and it’s cracking or is not a good sound, I relax my lips or even open the aperture slightly and more often than not, the note gets better. Tightening the lips harder and blowing more used to be my instinct, but I have realized that is a concrete wall I dont want to bang my head on any more…
Hopefully that helps you or someone. All the best, let us know how it goes–I think Skyping with Greg is a great idea, he’s lived this personally and came out on top and can explain it better than anyone I have seen.