WindWorks Trumpet Academy › Forums › WindWorks › A Big Question on actual physical limitations
GREG HERE, I’ll make comments in bold throughout your thread so as to be sure to cover everything.
There is a lot of controversy on this subject and different schools of thought. As there is with probably every element of brass/wind playing
Two opposing camps being:
1. As long as you have SOME teeth and SOME lips there is virtually no limit to your trumpet playing abilities. This school of thought ignores any details of actual teeth structure and lips-muscles structure.
I completely and utterly disagree with this. There are too many variables and teeth structure is important for playing.
2. There can be severe limitations for potential trumpet players depending on their actual teeth structure and lips-muscles structure.
Hmmm, again it’s vague because it depends on what the “structure” is. Again, so many variables.
Now, a REAL short story to illustrate my point to some extent:
– Back in the 1980-s in our local musical college there was a great trumpet player around 20 years old who was supposed to make a fantastic career as a lead trumpeter. Once in an accidental street fight he lost many of his front teeth. He received dentures as a substitute and… basically could not play trumpet any longer. He graduated from the college on tenor horn that he could play at an average level. Yes – he tried hard to rebuild his trumpet skills with no success.
I got king hit and could not play for about 3 months. I was told I would never play again. Thankfully and by complete accident I met a sports injury physiotherapist who was a part time trombone player. He got me back in action but it still took a further 6 months to get back to peak performance. I did not lose teeth.
A friend of mine and ex-student had his teeth changed against everyone’s advice. He had a screaming, magnificent sounding high range but struggled with the lower register. He attributed his range to a protruding tooth that he used to hiss the air through. He could not do it “the same way” after his teeth were “fixed”. That doesn’t mean he could never do it again, he would just have to find a different way.
The student you mention above who “could not play the trumpet any longer” would have to find a new way of doing things. The tough part is that when we are wired so deeply, making changes, especially ones that feel so bazaar, can seem impossible. He may have had tissue damage as well!? So hard to comment really.
I have a student who fell off his bike and smashed his face. He chose to go on to trombone and is loving it. It is EASIER for him at the moment. Does that mean he couldn’t get back his trumpet playing? Not at all; it would just take time.
I have sent 6 or more professional trumpet and trombone players to my physio and he fixed them all. I am talking top line orchestral a theatre players who either fell off bikes or got hit with cricket balls, you name it.
– Compare this story with the story of great Roy Eldridge who played throughout his career on dentures and you may say: there must be something wrong with the first story. What? – Who knows…
There is absolutely no reason why people can’t play with dentures so thanks for pointing this out.
The second school of thought considers smaller details of dental and lip-muscles structures to study their effect on embouchure-aperture behavior.
Here is a small example of their studies taken from the link pasted below:
“…Teeth structure, alignment and actual distance between the top teeth and bottom teeth when playing is very crucial. …
I find this statement perplexing. Whilst I agree with it on one level, it suggests that there is a specific setup that is very crucial which I disagree with.
There are infinite teeth structures and whilst some might be more conducive to particular playing skills, that doesn’t mean that other structures are unable to play. I have seen amazing players play with their instruments pointing way up or way down. Jaw position and anatomy are integral to the overall system.
The gap between the teeth is important and I see a lot of students with large top teeth. This can be managed by lowering the jaw and engaging the Aperture Corners. I am yet to see a student who cannot have success because of the gap between their upper and lower teeth.
Another understanding is knowing how muscles work. When you flex a muscle, it contracts (gets shorter). When you flex your lips, the lip muscle contracts and pulls flush against the teeth.
It depends on how you flex and what part of the lips you are talking about. I want to get the centre of the lip tissue away from the teeth and the “aahooh” does that.
All of this focus on the lips really disturbs me. The underlying psychology should be that of an oscillation of the air column in the horn and the body and the lips reacting to that.
I say that because of my past experiences. For years I was all “buzz lips and mouthpiece at all cost. That’s how it works and how everyone has done it forever.” Turns out this is not the case.
If the overbite (some dentists call it over-jet) is too big, the lips actually pull apart and this limits range, flexibility, tone and endurance and causes the over use of mouthpiece pressure. …”
Yes, the anatomy of the jaw is important. I think most people have a slight overbite and I have seen more extreme overbites. This is where the tissue exercise becomes important.
My air used to hit my feet when I would buzz my lips, so all of my playing was forced. The way I play now is very, very different and took years of experimenting and reprogramming to develop because I had no one guiding me. What I lay out here is (hopefully) cutting straight to the chase.
I’ve tried hard (with many approaches including Greg’s “no force” philosophy) now over 10 years to improve my trumpet playing and I still cannot play above the staff. I’m yet to reach high C but I feel like I have no potential for that.
Could you please post video of you playing a Low C and some chromatics? I would really love to see what is happening.
Yes, I have bad teeth and I have injured upper lip with a scar behind my aperture point and I still don’t want to believe those are actual physical limitations that prevent me from surpassing the top of the staff G.
I REALLY need to see you and what is happening! As soon as you mention scar tissue, that changes everything. I am guessing you are not in Australia. Have you had professional advice about the scarring? I am not concerned so much about the bad teeth, we can work with that.
With all the proper embouchure formation, no actual tension, no “red face” and singing quality air release I end up at G on top of the staff and whatever methods I try – I cannot reach high C.
Did I mention I need to see you in action? 🙂
Harmonic slurs have never worked for me above that top of the staff G either. They just cut off and never happen.
With absolute respect, that really makes no logical sense to me. Most playing issues generally manifest in the lower register then exacerbate as you ascend. There IS a physical difference playing from a G to a High C but it is nowhere near as much as people think. Also, volume is critical at this point.
If I were a trumpet player with the worst “play hard” habits that Greg warns against and could play up to high C I would be happy.
Haha, trust me, you wouldn’t be. I spend my life talking pro players down from the roof. Playing satisfaction is everything and it doesn’t matter what level you get to, fighting the horn is ultimately devastating.
Very soon it would be, “I just want a high F…”
Is it possible that there ARE these actual physical limitation that prevent some unsuccessful “trumpet players” like myself from successful trumpet playing?
It depends on the conditions my friend. I guess there could be but in my 35 years have not seen it.
It’s not about being frustrated for the rest of one’s life – it’s about intelligently admitting the educated truth and accepting it and maybe… moving on to happy sax playing (which I did in the past but decided to challenge myself with the trumpet.)
You are here and posting passionately, so you WANT it, and that is the most important thing. I had a student who was really struggling with playing and it turns out he was tongue tied. After he had surgery, everything opened up and suddenly he could do everything I was telling him to do. That is not common but a great example of what can happen.
Have I possibly wasted my 10 years fighting NOT the mental BUT the potentially existing actual physical “wall”?
Hard to say without seeing you. It is always easy to fall into the “maybe I am not physically capable” camp. I did it too but then discovered KMT. That’s a story for another day.
Does it all make ANY sense?
Post a video or send it to me if that is too confronting. Seeing you play and commenting publicly may help others. We often think, “Am I the only person on the planet dealing with this?” and as you will find as you look around the forum here, you are NOT.
I am doing these new videos to get people to REALLY understand where I am coming from, why, and how to integrate my approach. The next video, “Extreme Efficiency” will address these issues further.
Let me just say that when I am giving lessons, more often that not, people are NOT replicating exactly what I am doing. It is far too “weird” or “bazaar” for them so they are totally missing the point. More on that later.
(Sorry I see no ‘edit’ button for the above so I’ll add my clarification here).
P.S. I want to clarify the idea behind my post above. I’m talking about actual trumpet playing potential dependent on actual physical limitations.
What I mean: I have “played” trumpet regularly over 10 years and naturally I would have developed enough muscle support for my embouchure to be able to overblow and squeeze out a high C. Well, according to Greg many real trumpet players do just that.
However – when I try to intelligently to overblow and prepare my embouchure for the high C with the worst sound possible – I have no sound coming through or otherwise just hiss coming through.
Actually the G on top of the staff is a ‘cut-out’ note. Everything above it with the highest amount of overblow and anything including kicks or pushes or whatever existing bad technique possible “Just to get there” – simply doesn’t work for me.
I mean I don’t even try to play with those bad techniques – I sometimes use them just a a test to find out if I have a potential for good techniques but my bad techniques that work for real trumpeters don’t work for me as an indicator that I have a potential.
Hope this is clear now.
I just noticed that the link I was supposed to insert in the first post didn’t come through and doesn’t show up so I’ll try to post it here as a regular text instead:
However that’s just to support the discussion. The major point is still above.
I thought I wasn’t physically built right somehow and thats why I was limited to pretty much G above the staff, despite years of lessons, practice and dedication/effort. I gave up in my early 20s. A couple years ago in my late 40s I stumbled across Gregs and others’ YouTube videos. I had nothing to lose and for some reason I believed what Greg and others said–that I could play whatever I wanted on the horn. I cant hit double C, I’m not there yet and have only hit Double G occasionally, but I had never even touched a High C. A high B natural a few times, but not High C. Now, I am able to play above the staff comfortably and relaxed.
I thought perhaps because I had no overbite or under bite, my teeth meet in the middle, or I still have my wisdom teeth, my top lip is thin, etc., etc.
In hindsight, my limitations were in my brain. I still have limitations I’m working on, but I no longer doubt that I’m capable of playing above the staff. High C is not hard, nor D or E.
Ironically, we have to let go and relax for our lip tissue to vibrate as freely as possible to achieve the highest pitches.
The keys that helped me were:
1. Less air is required the higher we play
2. The notes/harmonics are closer together the higher we ascend (I.e. the open position harmonics above the staff are G, Bb, C, D, E, F#, G–a half step!)
3. We want the lips to interact with the air like the vocal chords.
I started playing softer, but with a consistent release of air and I focused more on being relaxed and having a resonant sound and I believed I could change pitch with very little movement, no tilting my head back, bell down, lip in / under, etc. I was willing to miss, had nothing to lose…but the note came out, then my first High C then notes above. I still have a long way to go, but my point is that I believe just about anyone can play anything. There are probably exceptions, but those must be a relative few extremes.
I recommend you take Greg up on observing you play. He cant tell you what to do simply, we have to experiment and figure it out in our mind, but I dont think there’s a better guide.
Thank you for your comments and encouragement- Greg and John.
I’ll try to record a video. I’m an old school “phone for calls only guy”. I have a video camera and I need to set it up and film myself playing simple things as Greg pointed out.
Regarding false teeth….Harry James played with complete upper and lower false teeth until sometime in the 1950’s when he got implants.
You’re welcome. I believe you can do it. And I believe it’s much easier than you think. We get in our own way by engaging the lip muscles, rather than the muscles in surrounding the lips (aperture corners) and clamp down top to bottom like a clamp too tight. Those muscles are too strong for the air and any engagement reduces vibration. Not to mention the throat and over blowing.
OK, I recorded a (very crappy 🙁 ) video and I’ll attempt to send it to Greg for expert assessment.
Need to find some WWW storage now… (Again, I’m an “old school”, it’s all some effort for me.)
Greg could comment on the video here, if he wishes – I don’t mind – It’ll be some help to others.
(I want to keep the video private… sorry – too much crap.)
1. I assume I can do some things wrong but I don’t know how much I’m off.
2. As I noted above I have bad teeth and some scar tissue behind my embouchure point – how much that’s an issue – I don’t know.
3. I never took any lessons over my 10 years of “playing”.
Shame, shame, shame on me…
I sent a PM to Greg via ‘General Inquiries’ with a link to my video and asked Greg to comment here. Hope it works out…
Greg, a few clarifications for the teeth and scar tissue in the video:
– First of all the video image is correct – I’m not used to seeing myself from the front;
– I’ve made a rough sketch of my lips-teeth problems (below) and here are a few comments:
1. Since the upper front incisor is missing there is a plastic insert in its place (drawn in gray) which is shorter than a normal tooth would be but the hole is closed and it feels acceptable;
2. I indicated in the sketch that I place the MP rim to the side over the normal tooth;
3. The scar tissue is right in front of the normal upper incisor, close to the upper lip bottom line, on the inside of the lip of course. It’s somewhat a dense spot when feeling it by fingers but it’s not too big. I drew it in red.
Maybe this image is a little more clear, cannot EDIT any longer the above:
… No – it doesn’t work, something’s wrong with the html codes. I leave it as a link.
Greg generously replied to me and provided his valuable comments about my playing.
The major reason of my problems according to his observations… well – you guess: TOO much tension even when I get only at E in the staff.
Honestly saying I was aware of that but to know something and admit it is one thing and to overcome bad habits is an entirely different effort.
Here is where Greg’s method should help – I’m going to stick with it.
Lot’s of work ahead…
Thanks, Greg! You are a REAL gentleman.
Thanks for the update SvV, that’s good to hear and what I expected–because I have been there, we all have. Even some of the greatest players realize at times that they could relax more.
Usually, when things are off for me, its because tension has crept back in. It’s subtle and doesn’t take much to limit our range.
Lately, I have focused mostly on the air and try to keep my lips relaxed and in the center of the air and only engage as much as needed in reaction to the air to keep the air from escaping the mouthpiece. That’s working for me, but perhaps that’s because I spent a long time on passive air exercises to keep from overblowing.
I think i used to believe that I had to form a firm shape with my lips, muscles engaged, to play high, whereas my understandimg is that we should be as relaxed as possible and the only tension is surrounding the the lips, sort of indirectly pushing the lip tissue forward towards the air column / center of mouthpiece, but subtly–i used to pucker a lot and my lips really protruded into the cup, but lately ive been playing a shallower cup and its forced me not to protrude too much and its made me realize just how little engagement is necessary, if I keep my lips relaxed and focus on an open, resonant sound, good feeling, etc. If tension creeps in, I wimd up using more air sometimes and fighting the horn if I’m not vigilant.
Experiment and enjoy the learning process–we learn by failing. If we’re not failing, at least some of the time, we’re not learning.
I try to remember that as it helps keeps my head in a good place.
Good luck and let us know how it goes!
Thanks John, I’m down to the Singing C Series and I feel it’ll take me quite a while to ingrain the concepts. I’ll see how it goes and if it really takes me anywhere I’ll report back here.
So far I found the following.
Doing ‘Singing C’ C#:
Step 1 = OK
Step 2 = OK
Step 3 – NO way
Step 4 = OK
That is – I can’t do C#-F# slurs at ‘FF’ or ‘F’. To do that I have to engage too much muscular tension of the ‘Uuuh’ shape and trying to engage it I immediately tense up and Passive Release turns into Active Release.
On the contrary, when doing the same slur after C# has been reduced to ‘p’ involves no tension in the passive release.
Finished Singing C’s for today. 1 hour is spent on this.
In all three sections, C#, D and finally C, FF slurs don’t work for me. P slurs are OK.
As I finished I decided to do just a quick test after a break, of how high up to middle C I could go maintaining the singing Low C Passive Release attitude while preparing the Corners as best as I can, without any tension.
I almost reached middle C but it actually came out as a hiss. The B below it is very faint, a whisper B.
One other SAD thing: I have the same old tired feeling in my chops as I normally do. I’ve always had a feeling that my lips for some reason refuse to resonate at higher frequencies. Hence the purpose of this thread.
Too early to claim anything, I’ll continue to do the exercises without being impatient. I’ll do nothing but Singing C’s, say for a month or two and add Largo Status exercises on top soon.
Back to studies after a weekend break.
What I find wrong with myself when doing Largo Status RESULT oriented exercises.
– After doing Largo Singing C’s for an hour (with breaks of course!) I feel some tired feeling around my mouth (nothing new for me here).
– After a break when continuing with Largo Status (long tones, slurred steps, chromatics) due to tiredness in my embouchure muscles I cannot perform these exercises with the intended quality – that is with ‘Beautiful’ sound. My sound is muffled.
Here I also find nothing new to me: I’ve always had poor endurance. Mind you! – I DO take good deep relaxed BCH breaths, do my ALL WindWorks exercises with CLOSED EYES!
However – there is one thing I’m not quite sure about yet. Sometimes (but when I’m a little fresher in the beginning of the exercises) with some adjustments in the embouchure SHAPE I can find a better resonant tone on some tones BUT – I have to make conscious adjustments to my lips.
NO – I don’t manipulate anything below (all in the PASSIVE RELEASE mode) but I DO have slightly manipulate my embouchure SHAPE to find the center of notes. However – being a little more tired in the embouchure this doesn’t seem to work.
After a good break I found ONE more interesting thing today – and that is a BIG surprise. I have to be very careful now!
So, what I found: I decided to run all the Major scales in the ‘ CLOSED EYES + BCH + “SAGGY EMBOUCHURE” ‘ mode but only up to in the staff E, that’s actually normally is already quite stressful for me.
Now, my own a little silly sounding term I just made up: “SAGGY EMBOUCHURE”. It’s not what you might think though. Nothing actually sags or is overly loose.
Let me explain: normally, when I play I consciously tighten up everywhere and my embouchure is no exception.
When I ran my scales in the “SAGGY EMBOUCHURE” mode today I just set up the basic SHAPE and only concentrated on the BCH breath and PASSIVE RELEASE.
I did everything with CLOSED EYES!
I tried to do almost nothing with my embouchure, well – I still had to keep it intact, otherwise I would leak the air from the mouth corners but that was absolutely minimal effort required to keep the mouth sealed.
So, the SURPRISE part: I was able to reach notes above the middle C with just the same feel I played them in the middle C vicinity. Actually that was rather strange sensation and it’s hard to believe. By the way – the notes were rather well centered and resonant.
However – my embouchure although I could not see it with the closed yese felt more like a Dizzy’s puffed cheeks which is no good. I need to open my eyes next time to see what actually happens.
However I found that it’s quite easy to lose that feeling once something changed and I tried to manipulate it back.
It’s sort of a meditative process that was set-up with the Singing C exercises.
As I noted above – I could not achieve this ease of tone production for the Largo Status exercises I did immediately (but with a break!) after Singing C’s. That’s actually a STRANGE part.
Anyway – that was just a short experiment to check what I could do with this new approach. It worked out this time but I just take it for granted – nothing to celebrate so far.
Small correction to the above (edit time expired):
Instead of: “I was able to reach notes above the middle C with just the same feel I played them in the middle C vicinity.”
it should be: “I was able to reach notes above the middle C with just the same feel I played them in the Low C vicinity.”
Today I realized why I can’t do the Largo Status exercises as intended – with the ‘Beautiful’ sound:
– Obviously I can’t find the pitch center of notes other than maybe for the Low C.
– I can’t find optimal airflow. “Passive Release” just seems to be easy. It is NOT. If uncontrolled and not coordinated with the embouchure (SHAPE?) it doesn’t add anything except for the PROCESS feel of the exercises but the sound quality goes out the window.
– I constantly forget about the ‘UUUHHH’ shape when I concentrate on the passive release. Too many things to keep in mind.
I find the method quite difficult when in unsupervised mode.
However, I can now see the problems. Good ear and pitch recognition are very important for trumpet.
OK, I better start rambling and return to this thread IF I have some RESULTs … “IF”…