WindWorks Trumpet Academy Forums WindWorks Balanced Embouchure and TCE Reply To: Balanced Embouchure and TCE


Great info Steve.

I can relate to that “pushing away” feeling / concept and the result Michael describes in the post you refer to above. It can feel and sound amazingly good and that feeling is most noticeable above the staff up to and beyond High C.

I recall Greg talking about that pushing away of the mouthpiece by the lips in one of his videos.

My understanding is that the sensation of pushing the mouthpiece away is from the engagement of the aperture corners, the muscles contract inwards from the sides towards the center of the mouthpiece. This action pulls in more lip into the mouthpiece, resulting in the mouthpiece pushing away. This is difficult to observe watching another player as when the muscles contract it can actually appear like the player is doing the exact opposite motion–pulling the corners back and thinning out the lips–which can work, but in my experience is problematic in that it is limited (we can only pull back so far, whereas when we contract the muscles inwards towards the air column to reduce the aperture size it feels more limitless–like we can simply open up the aperture by dropping our jaw a bit; we have more control and it’s an easier motion, the muscles don’t feel as taxed as they do when pulling backwards (we’re using different muscles for the two motions).

I like your thinking lower to play higher concept–reminds me of Stamp, which I looked at today because I have been on a roll lately and wanted to see if there was any detail / explanation of his warm up exercise that I have played for years. Things have been going really well in my playing. I’ve been focusing a bit on harmonic slurs, which of course Greg features prominently in the course.

Lately, I’ve been playing Stamp’s “Basic Warm-up” (the one on the horn, not the buzzing / mouthpiece stuff) which starts on middle C on the staff (in quarter notes), ascends a whole tone to D (half note) then back to C, G (quarter) then A (half note) then G then low C (whole).

For me, the key is getting the D (second note) feeling pretty much like I’m not doing anything to ascend from the C.

Obviously I am doing SOMETHING to ascend from the C on the staff to the D during the Stamp warmup…but it’s very subtle when things are going right. When my mind isn’t right and I rush through and start my day off wrong, I hit the gas (more Air) or engage more than necessary and play through it without any focus on WHY I’m playing what I’m playing. This doesn’t really happen to me anymore, but I believe this is probably what I was doing when I was young…

But what does happen to me still and probably always will, is I often think of notes starting about D towards the top of the staff, as higher. I think there is some sort of physical break there that causes it, but it’s also a mental game. Perhaps that’s where our aperture needs to contract a bit smaller, an invisible line like the sound barrier.

I don’t really know Balanced Embouchure, but in my experience all methods more or less converge ultimately. Some differ in their approaches and the concepts and often appear to contradict each other. However, in time it seems to me that as I understand the different methods / writings more that they seem in fact to say the same thing, just sometimes in a slightly different way. They seem to have more in common than they don’t.

Bottom line is that the trumpet mouthpiece is a very small place…there are only so many ways our lips can fit into the mouthpiece.

Slowing things down, not treating Harmonic Slur exercises as blind exercises which to plow through like an endurance exercise, but objectively observing close attention to how each note sounds and feels and making small changes in the Shape to adapt to that information…”practice is experimentation”…this is helping me a great deal to hone in on WHAT it is specifically that I’m supposed to be doing with my lips, face muscles, etc. to play.

Then, proceeding onwards to playing them faster–focusing on trying to connect those newfound shapes the most efficient way possible, making small changes (again) to Shape to make it easier to connect the notes to each other.

Specifically, I’ve been experimenting a bit with harmonic slurs through my entire range to learn what Shape to make for each pitch and how to move from note to note. I’m focusing especially on notes starting about D on the staff upwards to the limit of my comfortable range (I’m not treating this as a range building exercise) up slightly above High C (usually D or E). I focus on relaxing, ensuring there’s no tension in my body except what’s necessary (aperture corners) and I focus on separating Air and Shape (I don’t kick the air to try to achieve the higher pitch, I usually try to play rather softly but with good air support).

I’ve spent some time experimenting playing above the staff with minimal muscle engagement while using good Air. In my opinion, the most effective way to experiment playing above the staff is to approach it as objectively as possible–not basing your definition of success as achieving the notes you’re attempting to play, but rather on not over blowing or over engaging your body. I also try to fail first–to do less and less and less muscle engagement (important to use good air though, otherwise it’s a waste of time) until I eventually don’t achieve the desired pitch, then I increase it slightly and try again–hopefully failing the 2nd time as well…what I look for is the minimum amount of engagement of the aperture corners to achieve the pitch, then I search a bit for the optimum amount to obtain resonance–efficiency and optimal sound.

There are certain pieces of music that I play that I have experimented with this approach that, to this day, when I go to play above the staff I sort of almost don’t do anything and stay relaxed and the notes above the staff speak. It does seem at times almost like a faith thing, but it’s really not. There is engagement, just not nearly as much as we tend to think and the engagement is limited to the muscles surrounding the aperture, not within the aperture itself as many of us tend to think / start out with.

I think the reason why Greg and so many great trumpet players focus so much on harmonic slurs is that they are the key to our understanding of the instrument. We don’t have a reed to vibrate, we have to create our “reed” instantaneously for each and every note we play. And we have to do it in a way that doesn’t over-engage the muscles in the lips which are our “reed”–the vibrating surface, or it deadens the sound / reduces resonance, limits its ability to vibrate (limits range), which we often try to overcome / compensate for by increasing Air, which creates a positive feedback loop death-spiral of engaging even more muscle to manage the increased Air until, ultimately we either use too much Air or too much muscle engagement that the vibration stops altogehter…we fight against ourselves (Air and Shape), rather than balancing the two effectively–when we balance Air and Shape optimally, that is ultimate efficiency and my understanding is it’s also optimal resonance (sounds the best).

Playing trumpet is not a strength building endeavor as much as it is a coordination of Air and Shape. It doesn’t actually require a great amount of physical strength or air to play the trumpet–“less air is required the higher we play”. Playing high obviously requires compression of air, but it’s a very low volume of air–the trumpet requires less air volume to play than low brass instruments.

Sorry for the long post…hopefully there’s something in there that helps you or someone else. All the best.

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