WindWorks Trumpet Academy › Forums › WindWorks › Keeping the Centre of the Lips Loose
Hello all. I am a trombone player who for many years played with lips firmly pressed together. I am finally getting used to keeping my jaw down and teeth out of the way while bringing my aperture corners horizontally inwards. I find however when I do this, passively releasing air through the visualizer or mouthpiece that I don’t think my lips are particularly loose and ready to vibrate. Rather, they feel engaged in helping to keep the jaw down and the new shape in place. I am wondering if anybody else on the forum went through this stage when discovering your aperture corners? I am thinking it takes time to develop and (and strengthen?) the facial muscles needed to allow for sympathetic oscillation of the lips after playing inefficiently for so many years.
I think I can relate to that a bit. I’m a trumpet player, but I experienced something similar to what I think you’re describing.
For me, I think it was more about the air–it is a very subtle thing, almost imperceptible at times, especially when playing music and trying to read music, get the fingerings, articulation, dynamics, etc. right and play with a group, etc.
The key me for maximizing the relaxation of the lips was the sensation of “leading with the air” and letting the lips respond to the air. It’s a split second thing, or has to be when playing certain music / articulations / pitches, but it’s important in ensuring that only the necessary tension is in the embouchure.
Also, thinking “Oooooh” as I’m playing, or “TeeOoooh” if articulating, even if my tongue is more arched in an “Eeee” syllable, helps me ensure I’m engaging the aperture corners and not the middle of the lips.
Another thing that helped me was someone recommended visualizing a coffee stirrer straw in their lips when playing higher notes.
Thanks John, that’s very helpful!
You’re welcome. I was just thinking about this thread as I was playing Clarke’s Second Study–I caught myself blowing rather than releasing air. Things were not feeling well, I felt like I was inefficient and things weren’t feeling good, I was feeling tired. I realized I wasn’t releasing the air; re-focused my attention to what I was doing, and suddenly I felt like I had a second wind and wound up playing the 2nd half of the exercise, which goes up above the staff easier than the first half and felt like I could keep going. A small difference in perception and approach makes a huge difference. You may find the same happens to you. Good luck.
I have similar thoughts about tension in the lips (around the black hole / aperture corners).
1. I take a full breath and then let the ribcage do the air pressure without extra tension (air coming all the way from the “bottom” with no extra muscle tension)
2. I have the mouthpiece in the standard position with the aperture opening set for a “G” in the first staff.
1+2 = I can play a soft scale from “#F” below the first staff, all the way up to “A” and sometimes “Bb” in the second staff. Here I´m hitting the roof, when no extra tension is used.
To go further upstairs, I need to push and a give more tension from the abdominals, I also feel that the setup of the MPC change a bit, tilting a very small degree forward-down, and the bottom lip tends to go a little bit inwards ( but not under the top lip). Sometimes it feels comfortable to open the top lip in such a way that the aperture opening is the same, but a part of the under/inner side of the top lip is working/vibrating against the to the MPC hole. Ugh…. difficult to explain…
I’m on a risky track, where the facial muscles wish to “smile” a little bit, which I of course do not allow…
-Can you give some advices how to tackle this issue. The overall understanding when listening to Greg and seeing him playing is that he nearly doesn´t need any extra push or tension when climbing high up in the register. How is it possible? How can you obtain airspeed in the aperture without extra push in the high register?
When you say “A and Bb in the second staff”, do you mean above the staff (i.e. A and Bb just below High C)? I presume so.
It is difficult to explain–you’re right. At times, I feel foolish to try but something compels me to make the attempt. I suppose it’s because I was lost for so long and finally feel like I found my way.
The “risky track” you mention where you’re facial muscles “wish to smile” that you’re fighting against–that may be wise, or you may be fighting against something your body is trying to do that’s actually a good thing. It’s hard / impossible for me to say. The challenge is that when we contract the aperture corners inwards towards the center of the air column/mouthpiece, the corners of the mouth actually appear to go back as if we’re pulling the corners back and this may have the appearance of a smile, but it’s not the same–in fact, it’s opposite. This can be confusing, but possible to discern with clear focus on what’s actually happening.
If you focus on what’s happening and you conclude that you’re actually contracting the corners inwards towards the center of the air column/mouthpiece, then I wouldn’t worry about it.
If you determine that you’re in fact pulling the corners of the mouth back and thinning out the lips to reduce the aperture, then you’re right to fight that instinct.
In my experience, we want to push more flesh into the air /mouthpiece as we go higher, not less. We can lower the jaw to keep the aperture from closing altogether, if necessary.
In addition, tension in the aperture corners gets pretty tense at High C and above–I think of the aperture corners as the poles in a tent keeping the tent from collapsing. The middle of the lip(s) are loose.
For me, the lips are relatively close together but relatively relaxed, the tension is in the aperture corners, tip of the tongue is behind the bottom teeth and arched in the back (“eeee”) but the throat is open and relaxed. For some reason, I tend to think of this shape like a waiter displaying a tray of food to a dining customer…I think it’s because the concept I have is that I’m creating an optimal shape such that when the air is released the pitch has to happen, I’m delivering it to an optimum place…that probably sounds like nonsense, but sometimes these mental images/games can be helpful in distracting from focusing too much on the Results we want to have happen (i.e. successfully achieving the pitch)…
There may be some compression happening in my mouth, but there is zero from my abdominals.
The only tension needed is in the aperture corners, like the rim around a drum. The “weight” of the air is the only energy needed to play a high C. It’s not going to be a FFFF High C, but it’s a clear note, resonant and notes above the staff seem a bit louder than lower notes.
Less air is required the higher we ascend the harmonic series.
If I release air as described above, with the shape described above, I can get a High C at least to speak, maybe a little higher but I think I have to start using Active Air to get the E and above.
I didn’t have much time to play today, I was busy at work, but will try to think of this as I play tomorrow. For now, I hope this helps and perhaps others will chime in as well.
Let me know.
Oh–one thing that may be helpful is working a bit on releasing the air on the A or Bb “on the second staff” rather than ascending to those notes chromatically–if that’s what you were doing. I found it difficult at first to ascend up to new notes in my range; it was very much in my nature to tense up as I ascended chromatically. And, the most momentum we have from a full breath is when we first release the air–if you start on a lower note and ascend from there, you’re not getting the full amount of the “weight” of that air (the full energy).
Perhaps starting on releasing an A with the small aperture and hitting the note straight away, then next trying the Bb, the B natural, C, etc. with a brief rest and breath in between might be helpful.
If you do play chromatic or ascending scales, try to use good full air and play softer (but with full air) as you ascend; this helps the aperture naturally reduce with less unecessary tension, in my experience, especially when using Passively released air.
A lot of the WindWorks exercises do things like this which are very helpful so some of this may sound familiar.
Sorry for my bad English. As you understand I meant above the staff (i.e. A and Bb just below High C). You might be right about the smiling; I have to check this deeper.
It’s good to hear that not only myself push more flesh into the MPC when going up in the register, and the lowering of the jaw might not be a totally bad thing.
You figured out that I do play chromatic ascending scales, and the initial “weight” of air might not be enough when coming up in the top register, that´s right. I will follow your advice and start from the top as a variation.
I´m still impressed that you and others can play a high “C” and eventually even higher, without any tension or extra active air from the abdominals. I surely have to stay more focused and practice-practise -practise…..
Thanks for all good explanations and advices
No problem, Bo, just wanted to make sure what I understood was correct.
Doesn’t sound like you’re too far off from where I’m at. I don’t believe lowering the jaw to open up the aperture, if necessary, is a bad thing–it surprises me still how open one can play up there.
Lately, I’ve been working a bit / experimenting a bit trying to grow my range above High C and it feels like I’m kind of opening up my aperture a bit to get up to the E and above.
One thing that’s been helping me a bit lately, despite it being a chromatic scale, is Clarke’s First Study (Technical Studies)–# 25 starts on the F# at the top of the staff and ascends to High C. The key is playing it PP as written. I do have a sensation of “leaning in” to the notes as I ascend, but I don’t kick the air or use my abdominals to get the High C, it feels more like I’m very gradually reducing the aperture and kind of supporting the aperture with the “aperture corners”.
Hope that helps FWIW. Is your granddaughter still playing, BTW? You shared previously that she was trying it out.
Thanks’ for your valuable comments and suggestion for a better practicing.
Yes, my granddaughter keeps playing. Still it´s most fun and not to heavy practicing. After one year she still enjoys to meet with me once a week to play. (I try to encourage her on the phone to do some minutes every day in her home with her mum, but it´s not easy….).
When we meet, we start with the MPC+leadpipe a few minutes. She has a good setup and intonation. After that we make long tones on her King cornet (from 1937) and we compete with how long we can hold a “G” on one breath. She has air and good tone for about 22 seconds at the moment. After this breathtaking exercise, we make some slurs and lip drills. We are improving faster and faster drills.
Now we are almost warmed up and we start to play the register from low “C” up to “D” above in the staff. I have to stop her, as she can continue to “E” and eventually “F”. I do not want her to go up in the high register too soon as that can trigger her to use “force” or pressure.
Sometimes we have a game where we try to sound different modes. Angry, upset, scared, anxious happy etc. She like this. We also listen to long tones by Walter White and she can hear and hold the correct tone and intonation. (I´m impressed myself that she can do it).
Reading scores is difficult and I have to remind her quite often about the fingering. I have talked to professionals about this, and they suggest that we do not put to much effort on scores. The playing is the most important, and the reading will come later. One trumpet teacher I know (he´s playing trombone in our Big band) suggested that we follow the principle used by the music a school in Barcelona/Spain – St Andreu Jazz Band. Just listen and follow.
The professional Andrea Mottis grew up in this school. I have heard her live in the local jazz club when she was a young girl. She is a very good trumpeter and singer.
Anyhow, I have bought a series of easy jazz studies with play along for beginners (Mark Nightingale – Easy Jazzy ´Tudes). My 10-year granddaughter love this, so I look forward to see how she develop in the future.
I wish you a nice weekend and a Happy Easter.
That’s great, Bo. Sounds like a good approach with your Granddaughter. My daughter is 11. She could produce a sound better than I could at her age when she was 7, but decided Trumpet “isn’t her thing” but Piano is. She too struggles a bit with reading music, but I work with her a little. She doesn’t want lessons and I dont push, but she plays everyday for fun and has taught herself a lot of different melodies and many that I taught her. The joy of music ia probably the most important thing for them to learn. Happy Easter to you and yours!