Nice! Interesting to have some science behind what’s happening.
This is very timely for me, as I’ve been riding a wave lately fueled by my renewed focus on what I’m doing (or not doing) with air.
I was having difficulties playing consistently above the staff. I’d play resonant, clear beautiful sounding notes the first time or two, then things would get raspy and I would instinctively engage the corners or revert to clamping down the lips (old habits) and/or blow more air.
I was taking air for granted and not focused on the “Body’s Concert Hall” component of playing.
The Trumpet is a wind instrument…while over-blowing is a common problem (it was part of my problems) and should be avoided, and less air is required the higher we ascend, air is nevertheless very important–just as, if not even more, important as Shape. In fact, I think Air is more important.
I’ve had at least two major coffee moments the past several days and they have made me realize how it all connects together.
In short, I believe that there is an ideal combination of Air and Shape for each note and Dynamic (PPPP to FFFF).
It must be possible to play a resonant and efficient High C, for example, at PPPP and at FFFF and each of those notes and everywhere in between requires a different shape and air.
I have realized that there is a Balance between Air and Shape–too much of one or the other and you don’t achieve optimal Efficiency or Resonance.
It’s a delicate balance of Air and Shape for each note and dynamic combination–I was missing the dynamic consideration and oversimplifying things and expecting there to be a straight linear relationship between Shape and Pitch; I suppose there is, but Dynamics are crucial to the amount of air required, which impacts the Shape needed.
I have been paying close attention to the back pressure of each note I have been playing and giving more or less air depending on the dynamic I was playing and modifying the shape to achieve what felt and sounded like optimal efficiency and resonance–which I suspect are the same; in other words, I believe that the optimal sounding (resonance) and efficiency are the same combination of Air and Shape for a given pitch and dynamic. It’s most likely slightly different for each player as we all have different physiology, mouthpiece, horn, etc.
I have been visualizing each note as a ball floating on top of a column of air or, alternatively, visualizing releasing air through a ring–trying to get the air right in the middle without touching the sides, which causes drag/friction.
I can feel the air supporting my embouchure and suddenly I understand precisely What to do to maintain consistency. I try to release enough air until I feel a little resistance in each note, regardless of the dynamic and pitch–this seems to feel more efficient and like the air is providing some support to my chops and the sound/resonance is good. I’ve been starting each day by releasing air into the horn to warm it up as I keep it on a stand in a room that is notoriously cold in our house. At first, this was just to warm it up but has morphed into my spending a couple minutes releasing air into the horn and feeling the small amount of resistance against the air as I release it and I think about the max amount of air the horn can take before I start playing.
My first few pitches are releasing air through a relaxed embouchure, not caring if a pitch sounds, but it usually does. Then I do some Stamp and try to keep the air pressure/resistance up and maximize resonance. It’s a feel thing, it feels good and sounds good when going right.
I was frustrated as my consistency was all over the place. I would not get tired and had the ability to play up to the top of my range at the beginning and end of each practice session, but I realized I had swung too far over to the opposite side of the pendulum in my desire to rule out air and focus on Shape so I wouldn’t overblow or cloud my understanding of how to change pitch by changing Shape.
We need both, it is a balance of Air and Shape. Without the right amount of Air, we can’t achieve the right amount of Shape.
Blindly playing Clarke 1 and Harmonic Slurs and Stamp scales is not as effective as playing them while paying close attention to the Balance of Air and Shape and the pressure you feel as you’re playing the exercises. We have to own our practice and understand Why we’re playing those exercises and the only way we will get a benefit is by honing in our feeling of what it means to play efficiently–with optimal resonance and efficiency, and what to do when we veer off course.
It seems kind of like sailing a sail boat, the boat isn’t going to move anywhere if the sails are just flopping all over the place and it’s not going to the right direction or it will capsize if you have them pulled too tight. And it’s not going to go anywhere at all if there is zero wind. But, if you set the sails optimally, the boat will go faster than you realize with less wind than you anticipate necessary.
Or I was thinking it might be like a stringed instrument–a loose string or too tight of a string won’t sound good. It has to have the right amount of tension (pressure–the balance between Air and Shape) to sound good and be optimally efficient for a given Pitch and Dynamic.
I ran across a couple videos (hope it’s ok to mention this; they’re free on YouTube) by Paul Mayes “Trumpet Professor” which talk about air pressure and keeping the top lip relaxed. It helped solidify some of the feelings I have been having and my rediscovery of Body’s Concert Hall, air, breath control, etc. His explanation of how the Trumpet is a low flow / high pressure instrument, versus the Tuba is a high flow / low pressure instrument was really helpful to me. This ties into the fact that less volume of air is needed the higher we ascend, but there is more pressure–but that’s a good thing if we use that pressure by balancing it with shape and not clamping the lips so tight that it cuts off the air completely or Blowing a larger volume of air through, which is more than the instrument can handle, which also cuts off the sound. We have to learn to Balance the Air and Shape such to use the air pressure to our advantage, to help the lips vibrate faster to achieve a higher pitch. It can seem counter-intuitive and bad instincts are hard to retrain, but I’m getting there.
It’s all in WindWorks–there’s a reason Greg starts with BCH. There’s a method to the madness, but it’s been helpful to find other insight from others that reinforces what WindWorks describes. I was even reading some of Herbert L. Clarke’s guidance in his books and I’m having a new understanding of what he was trying to say and what the whole point of Clarke’s exercises were about. I kind of knew it before, but have a renewed sense of focus about it all now.
Thanks for the post / info! Had a great playing day today–further solidified my understanding and increased my consistency.