Hi – I am a returning player, always had some range and endurance issues, now super-keen to right the historic wrongs. I am really enjoying the programme thus far and have been working on it for a number of months. It just feels and seems so logical and right. I had a few revelatory moments and a few setbacks – even ended up restarting the programme entirely at one point (it felt easy – but then I realised I had snuck a few bad habits in, raising my jaw and not staying open when ascending!)
I now feel I get the principles well – sympathetic oscillation is there, and the quality of my tone in the low-mid range is orders of magnitude better, resonant and lyrical. However – once I get around top D/E within the stave (so not very high), and above from there, I can tell I am introducing inefficiency – and i’m really struggling to break through this barrier. In my case this takes the form of excess mouthpiece pressure on my lips, as it ‘feels’ like I have to do that to get the note out (which is of course counter-productive).
The programme has made me realise that I have always played with excess pressure, and without ever having tension in the right place (at the corners). I have always tensed the centre of the lips – and (somehow) got to a pretty decent standard playing this way, albeit with range/endurance limitations.
My question is this – my range in the ‘new way’ is rock bottom at the moment, as is my endurance. I sound great but can’t play high, and can’t play above a high D in the stave for very long until my corners tire and I feel the excess pressure returning. Is this to be expected, is this normal, and is it simply a case of ploughing on with the practice progress charts and harmonics until the corners develop and range comes? After all I’ve never used the corners before so can totally understand if they are weak! I do have the sensation of the aperture corners contracting towards the centre (as described), my lips just tire quickly making that movement so endurance and range are impacted – particularly from doing the harmonic slurs. I can fairly easily play the Moderato Singing C ‘step 1 – 100% passive’ exercises passively – but find the subsequent harmonic slurs much harder work.
Thanks for the help – looking forward to continuing the journey onwards and upwards.
Welcome. I’ve been there myself, it took me several laps through WindWorks and even finding other videos out there on YouTube to reinforce / provide different perspectives of what Greg explains here. Each lap through WindWorks was a fruitful one–makes me want to do another just typing this.
What you describe doesn’t sound “normal.” As Greg explains, playing trumpet doesn’t require any more effort than casual conversation (or was that Mendez?).
You just likely need more time experimenting with Shape to find the right coordination of movements that optimize efficiency / resonance.
One thing that’s helped me recently is to form different apertures while looking in the mirror (i.e. Low C, Middle C, then higher) and pull the mouthpiece/horn away. They just try to visually replicate the different look of those different apertures and notice how little effort it takes to change that Shape. We don’t need to struggle / tense up the lips, which reduces the ability of the tissue to vibrate fast.
The only tension needed is in the muscles surrounding the embouchure to keep the lips/aperture from collapsing and cutting off the air. We want the lips to be as free / relaxed as posssible in the middle where they interact with the air.
The other thing which helped me is to relalize that the inner tissue of the lips that touches the air column is what vibrates not the part up against the mouthpiece.
And to just try to use a Less Is More approach–if I can make it to a D or E above middle C with minimal effort, then can I do the same to G, and so on, and so on.
I sometimes catch myself getting into a mental funk where there’s kind of break there between Middle C and D/E above that. I think that’s why Stamp’s warm up (#2?) starts with a middle C going to the D–I try to progress from the C to the D with minimal to “no” change (there is a slight change, but I try to make it feel like there’s no change). That’s when things go well for me. Experienced that today, actually. I’ve been working on a melody that starts on the D above middle C and doesn’t go below that much. Even though that’s not very high, it took me a few days to get used to that.
I just try to think of the aperture as more compact but not tighter–it doesn’t need to be tighter, just start slightly less open with support in the corners.
Air is Very Important as well, as Greg points out; key is to go more for a good full breath and releasing air through the aperture, leading/starting with the release of air and letting the aperture respond to that for the given pitch.
It’s not Strength that you need to build, it’s coordination, relaxation, patience.
My $.02 FWIW, hope that helps–good luck!
Good Morning, I too have got to the stage of davelee0003. Although this is only after two weeks using WindWorks.
All went amazingly well to begin with then, after a really poor day when I could hardly form an embouchure, I did a restart and am now working on the initial Mmm Ooh Aah – tissue-blowing (lips alone, visualiser, then mouthpiece to lead pipe) and the feel is coming back again.
What is so frustrating is that, before I stopped playing in my mid twenties, I remember feeling as though I was gripping (outwards) the inner rim of the mouthpiece when rising above the stave. I have only felt that occasionally, probably when everything was working subconsciously, since I started playing again 12 years ago after a 20 year break.
So I am determined to stick with this bit by bit and expand upwards steadily as johnelwood is saying. With orchestras and groups not running at the moment, I have found that I am overdoing the technical development work at the expense of playing music because I have so much time to devote to it.
Johnelwood’s advice: “It’s not Strength that you need to build, it’s coordination, relaxation, patience.” sums up where I am at ….. especially the “patience” bit. I am sure that this will pay off in time, just need to stick with it.
Thank you both for your input, it has helped me to recognise where I am at ……. today.
PS I am recommending WindWorks to all my ex-pupils ……. a superb and unique resource for all wind players, especially trumpet players.
Great posts John Elwood and Lawrence Killian!
I find myself constantly going back to the beginning.
I think one of the best ways to feel and get corner development is to do the harmonic slurs every day. Keep the embouchure’s middle relaxed and feel corners tight closer to the aperture. When talking embouchure, it is imperative to recognize there is a shape change that involves more than changing corners. I found that my jaw and tongue respond with the changing embouchure as if it is one system all parts tied together.
One of the struggles that send me back to the beginning is old habits. Corner development does not involve rolling the lips in and out. It seems when I play my best above the staff the middle of lips stay pretty much the same other than the obligatory changes in the corners, tongue, and jaw. When I let old habits meld with some new ways, a train wreck is in the making.
Thank you all for the full and insightful replies – “It’s not Strength that you need to build, it’s coordination, relaxation, patience” sums it up very nicely – but I would like to probe this one step further if I may 🙂
On the harmonic slurs, the measures of progress are 1.) the length of time you can keep it up for, and 2.) the speed at which you can oscillate between the two notes. What are we actually trying to build through these exercises – does there not need to be a level of corner strength built in order to rapidly make the required shape change and sustain this, without the corners tiring? Or are we solely trying to develop feeling of the shape of each note – but it should never cause the corners to tire and ‘shape’ to be lost?
A simpler version of the same question might be: Once I have the ‘shape’ right and am sufficiently relaxed – should I be able to hold a C or D in the staff indefinitely, with the only limiting factor being quantity of air? As it stands, the muscles holding my ‘shape’ in the right position will give up before my supply of air does – is this normal/something to develop, or is it an indication of too much tension still? I don’t feel I am squeezing – but the small amount of muscle activation required to hold the shape as air passes through (passively) gets harder to hold the higher i go.
” don’t feel I am squeezing – but the small amount of muscle activation required to hold the shape as air passes through (passively) gets harder to hold the higher i go.”
My teacher made me remark once that even for low register at a big volume, the corner strength is really the thing that can be failing. I couldn’t make a really big F# at the same volume because my corner couldn’t hold it.
So all of this to say that yes, Greg emphasizes on shape and air, which is really helpful because too much emphasize is done on strength sometimes.
But I remember one video of Doc Severinsen sayin at the end that yes, there’s undoubtedly a corner strength involved so that you can hold a note, whatever the pitch or volume.
Yes, at some point you will hold a C in the staff and the lack of air will stop you. But at some point, I guess in the upper register, as there is less air, it’s your muscles that will hold you I guess.
The more you train, the better you get, but you have to train smart. Overtraining leads to failure. I haven’t been playin my trumpet for a while, but I have been reading books about training for mountaineering and applying those principles as well in my weekly training.
I will risk an analogy, but it is really easy to get into overtraining and get quick results at some point. But by overdoing your training workouts, maybe after 6 month, a year, or 18 month, your body will crash, eg you’ll get injured or fall into a neuro-physical fatigue that it will be hard to get out of.
All of this to say that the exercices in windworks explain well that analogy with the singing C series. Sometimes, we can blow a note, let’s say a A above the staff. And by doing Singing C-series exercices just proves someone that he actually can do barely a D above C in the staff at a low volume. It is somehow the exact same thing as in sport training : we build something to quick and we plateau or crash. I have to admit I crashed !
It is a bit frustrating because we want to play some music and we are not ready for it.
So yes, we have to train smart for trumpet (or any instrument in the end). The better you train, and the more efficient you become. ANd the less tiring it is gonna be for your embouchure. But still, we have to build those embouchure muscles gently and slowly. And yes, corner will burn sometime. Our biggest enemy is our willing to improve too quick and don’t respect the time our muscles need to build up : a lot of rest is required.
I hope I was no too much out of the topic and that it does make sense.
Guillaume – I really appreciate the insight – perfectly on topic and makes a lot of sense. In fact I think you bring my subconscious thoughts to the fore – this new way of playing does feel better and ‘right’, and as such I’m very happy to take the slow road and take it one step at a time.
I guess my worries stem from difficulty in reconciling the emphasis on how ‘easy’ it should feel (back to Johnelwood’s “playing trumpet doesn’t require any more effort than casual conversation”), against how far from ‘easy’ it can feel – not in the sense of tensing/abdominal exertion (as I think these messages are intended) – but in the sense of actually being able to play and achieve results.
In other words – if it is so easy, and I get the concepts and am applying them, then why exactly do the results not follow in quick succession? What is it that i’m working on in the meantime, if not strength? And if not strength – then why would it take so long to develop?
I think the answers to all of these questions are in Greg’s videos, but getting that positive reassurance that the right track is being followed (however slow!) is just as important 🙂