WindWorks Trumpet Academy › Forums › WindWorks › Muscle Tension Dysphonia
I have a bit of a long story, but hopefully it can help another. There are videos and posts about dystonia, but I want to introduce a new term called dysphonia, specifically muscle tension dysphonia. Some definitions first:
– Dystonia – a movement disorder caused by intermittent or sustained muscle contractions which lead to abnormal and repetitive movements, postures, or both.
– Performance anxiety – I think this is not dystonia but is a situational response to anxiety that may lead to abnormal movements, postures, etc. This would not happen in the practice room, but true dystonia would happen everywhere including the practice room.
– Dysphonia – abnormal speech.
I have been a Windworks (WW) member from the beginning as I found Greg on YouTube prior to the launch of WW. However, I have been frustrated with the slow cadence of progress. Yes, there has been progress, but it has not been what I had hoped and what I read with others. I have recently learned that I have a problem that likely has been inhibiting my progress.
The whole premise of WW is to inhale and exhale freely, and allow “the lips to interact with the air as if they are the vocal cords.” What happens if the vocal cords themselves do not interact with the air efficiently?
I began researching this issue and discovered a condition called muscle tension dysphonia (MTD). It is a disorder of the speaking voice related to hyperfunction or an imbalance of muscle tension in the larynx. It leads to speaking and singing difficulties. Inappropriate contraction of muscles in the neck, upper chest, and larynx lead to excessive strain and effort with the speaking voice or singing voice. My voice does not project well, I am constantly asked to repeat myself, and I strain to speak and sing. Could some of my trumpet issues be caused by a larynx problem? If I cannot speak efficiently, it follows that playing a wind instrument would be a challenge.
After some research, I began to speak with others about this concept. I was shocked that no one else I know has anterior or forward throat pain after speaking with dinner guests in a restaurant or even at home. No one else I know has this same discomfort after speaking all day with clients at work. The discomfort is completely relieved with rest, and it is reliably reproduced after long conversations or speaking in a noisy environment, i.e trying to project the voice. In a restaurant, I feel like I am “yelling” just to maintain interaction. As this has been a lifelong problem, I just thought it was “normal.” Thank you, Greg, for helping me realize that this is not normal!
I eventually went to see an otolaryngologist and a speech therapist, and guess what? I have MTD! This was such a refreshing diagnosis, because my challenges with the trumpet may be in part related to the MTD, and my speech may improve. The first therapy is actually physical therapy (PT) to help loosen and retrain the muscles used for breathing and speaking. Speech therapy follows with more retraining to prevent use of unnecessary accessory muscles to speak.
As of now, I have been to only one of several sessions, and speech therapy follows. The first words out of the PT’s mouth were, “it’s been a while since I’ve seen a trumpet player.” What?! I’m not alone?! Although singers are common patients, they have seen other brass and woodwind players. I am so encouraged that there is actually a problem with a treatment. I apparently have very tight muscles in the neck and upper chest. My inspiratory lung capacity is limited as the tight muscles do not allow full chest expansion, and they create too high pressures around the larynx. Remember that like water, air flows from higher pressure to lower pressure. The air at my lips is limited due to tightness in the neck/larynx unless I force or push. One of the main issues is inappropriate tightening of the laryngeal muscles leading to forced breath to create a vocal cord vibration. The discomfort is caused by overuse of the laryngeal, neck, and upper chest muscles.
I have many stretches and exercises to do at home including laryngeal massage. There is plenty of information online about MTD and its treatments. *** Do not try laryngeal massage without some professional instruction due to the sensitive structures in the neck. YouTube videos are not enough for his technique. ***
Anyway, I will provide updates as I progress, but I thought perhaps there is another who would benefit from this information.
Wow, thank you for sharing. It certainly makes sense that if you’re too tight in your throat that it will impact your playing. I haven’t experienced the pain you’re describing when talking, but I do recall one experience in high school–I marched the same parade twice with two different bands; my high school band and a community youth band I was a member of. After the parade, my throat was incredibly painful–like the worst case of strep throat I ever had, and I had had a really bad case a couple years prior.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but later realized what happened–I used up my chops during practice and the first run through the parade, then would up straining to try to play my full range the 2nd time around. Back then, my endurance was very poor as I was clamping down my lips in the middle, etc. My range and endurance wasn’t very good.
I am satisfied with my progress, but catch myself occasionally tightening up my throat and choking off at times. When I am at my best, I am open and relaxed in my throat, chest, shoulders, body; the only place there’s tension (engagement) is in the corners, tightening the aperture, sealing the air and supporting the lips so that they don’t collapse and cutoff the air column.
Lately I have had great success with mental visualization–it’s almost as if I detach myself a little from actively controlling my embouchure to visualizing the aperture in the mouthpiece, in front of my open teeth through which the air column is travelling and I visualize my top lip–especially the fleshy middle part interacting with the air column, supported from the corners.
I’ve also put things on my music stand to help me–a listing of all the WindWorks mantras (i.e. the ones that scroll at the bottom of the screen of the main page), a picture of the Maggio Monkey, the Claude Gordon circle with arrows pointing inward towards the center of the mouthpiece (air column) and a print out of the harmonic series of the trumpet showing the harmonic series of each valve combination from pedal tones through Double C–it is helpful to see how much closer the notes are together at the top of the range and to remember that less air is required the higher we ascend.
Best of luck with your journey and thanks again for sharing your experience and knowledge. I’m glad you’ve made a significant realization; I’m sure it will be key to your successfully experimenting with playing and determining what is most efficient and effective for you.
Okay, here’s an update. It has been more than 18 months. I have been through physical therapy, speech therapy, and I even did some Alexander technique lessons. I learned that I was living in the end of expiration and never inhaling a full breath. Therefore I was constantly compressing the ribs and body just even to speak. It took significant PT and stretching just to even take a “normal” breath. There has definitely been improvement in the speaking realm.
I now have success making a low pedal tone on the lead pipe and on the trumpet (tuning slide out like a lead pipe and full instrument). However, I am still unable to play a low C after all this time without the pinching and pushing. It feels great on the pedal tones, and any lip movement never increases my pitch. I can play a low C and other lower register notes only with applying too much force.
I believe I do not understand the shape of a low C. I have watched videos over and over, and there are a few where Greg confirms that the AhhOoo is a pedal tone, and he demonstrates briefly a low C embouchure. I do not see a dedicated video on embouchure formation likely because his method is much deeper. Unfortunately I am still unable to find it for myself. It is honestly quite frustrating that I am unable to even start the course material correctly, but I have not given up.
Does anyone have any advice for forming a basic low C embouchure WindWorks style? How much tension does one feel in the corners? How much pressure on the mouthpiece? Etc.
maybe you can try the following.
After backswing breath release the air through the trumpet as if you like to play a note.
At the beginning Only air until it flow like water after open a water tap.
Than try to bring the lips slowly together until sound appears.
Maybe that can help you to get a feeling of a singing low c.
Good luck Eric
Thank you so much for revealing this information. Like you, I have been a member of WindWorks (and even longer if you count the time with Gregs MTM book 1), and a ‘reasonable standard’ semi-pro player. But I feel I have a similar impediment.
After going back to Largo around this time last year because I knew the efficiency wasn’t there, and realising I would have more time than ever to ‘nail’ the process, I had a lesson with Greg to try and push things along. He mentioned that I am very ‘engaged’ talker, which is very true. After all this time, I am still no further along despite plenty of practice every day on the process and cannot get out of the early part of Largo. I have been very close to giving up (particularly with a subscription which I am happy to keep paying if only I had a glimmer of hope). Gregs most recent videos on patience and belief, along with Andrew Hubermans video on neural pathways, have helped me come to terms with patience, but I suspect I have more breath and throat relaxation work to do.
John, thank you so much for your posts too. They have given me inspiration to carry on and regardless of lack of progress on the course, I feel my general playing on ‘Me, version 1’, is better due to the understanding I have picked up.
So it appears, it’s the very foundations of breathing, even without the trumpet, that is holding me back. As I have found over the last year, I have to keep going further and further back to relaxation before even picking up the tissue and visualiser. Which is frustrating, on many levels, but each day, I learn something new and a lot more at peace with the ‘frustration’ as a result. The goal of efficiency, is worth it.
Thanks so much for your input to the forum everyone.
Thanks Simon, that means a lot to me if any of my posts were helpful in any way.
It seems to me to a very subtle thing and certainly mostly a mental one, the difference between playing efficiently and over engaging, over blowing, etc.
The whole mindset we have when we start can make or break it.
I have found it useful to spend some time before I play taking a nice good but relaxed and deep breath, then passively releasing the breath into the instrument without the lips vibrating–just a release of the air. I usually just put my lips around the outside rim. I do this a few times to “feel the instrument”, what resistance exists in the instrument before I start playing.
And focusing on Passively released air and “letting it happen”, focusing on releasing air through the aperture and letting the pitch happen “naturally” has helped me a lot. I play Clarke I this way and have found my ability to play Clarke I Piannissimo, as written, is dependent upon my releasing air passively through an efficient embouchure. Clarke was a genius.
Frustration comes with failure, but failure is how we learn–if we’re not failing, we’re not learning. If you manage to keep perspective more often than not, you will find that you are in fact progressing, most likely–playing music helps me with that as it keeps me honest. Playing music is like the great equalizer, it allows me to catch myself thinking I’m doing better than I really am, or the opposite–a “bad day” isn’t really a bad day if I’m able to play something better than ever before or at a high level.
My $.02 FWIW. Keep the faith–you can play everything on the horn that you want to, it’s simply just a matter of coordinating the air and “Shape”.
Thank you all for the encouragement. I truly believe in the WindWorks method, and I know that what I am trying to achieve with WindWorks is possible. I’m still uncertain how to approach a true embouchure rather than a pedal MmmAhhOoo shape, i.e. how to make the transition to the real instrument. If anyone has links to photos or videos (especially Greg’s) of a low C embouchure please post. I am struggling to find the shape and the adequate balance of tension in the corners and pressure on the mouthpiece. Thanks again.
You’re very welcome–stick at it and you’ll figure it out.
I understand you’re point about the approach. Unfortunately, there’s not any specific videos that I can think of that I can point you to that would give you a “coffee moment” abut a specific embouchure for you, etc. But you could and should definitely watch Greg’s videos as they are very helpful.
Ultimately, you are going to have to figure out what all of the various mantras scrolling across the bottom of the screen and the various tips Greg (and others) give; what they mean for You.
Personally, I would have a “coffee moment” and think I understood it, and would achieve progress (sometimes substantial), only to later have another “coffee moment” and realize that I only had begun to understand it the later time.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…”
What worked for me in figuring out the setup/embouchure that works for me is the following:
1. The tissue / visualizer test Greg demonstrates.
2. Putting my lips in the mouthpiece such that the red part of my lip tucks just inside the rim, resting on the inside of the bottom rim of the mouthpiece. Again, this is what works for me–with my physical structure. Note: My teeth meet in the middle, no over or under bite, and my lips are medium-thin. This leaves my top lip most of the room in the MP.
This isn’t a “rolled in” or “rolled out” embouchure, I don’t think. It’s just a natural feeling setting which gets my lips into the cup of the mouthpiece and is not the unfurled, rolled out pedal feeling that you get if you say “Oooohhh”.
I can separate my lips inside the cup and release air through my lips with no vibration. My understanding is that this is important–the ability to release air through the lips without vibration; it only takes slight engagement to bring the lips into the air and they interact with the air column like the vocal chords do when we talk, sing, etc.
3. PASSIVELY releasing air through the lips after taking a good breath (Body’s Concert Hall Breath). My lips are pretty relaxed, only perhaps a slight engagement in the aperture corners. I observe what note sounds (typically for me, it’s a G on the staff 99.9% of the time). Then I slightly engage the muscles in my embouchure to improve the intonation and sound of the note.
Lately, I’ve been playing with a tuner as I realize that I’ve been playing very sharp. What’s interesting, is that I’m more in tune when I am warming up (just noticed this/learned this today).
I then focus(ed) on branching out from there. Sometimes I play Stamp, sometimes I spider out chromatically up and down from G on the staff to middle C on the staff and low C below the staff.
4. Other things that helped me a lot were:
a. A video on YouTube that a player demonstrated easily playing an A on the staff and an A above the staff. They called it the “straight line” approach. This, coupled with the fact that “less Air is required the higher we play” (not more) got me experimenting successfully with large intervals and playing softly above the staff.
Max Schlossberg Ex. 31 on Page 8, played very softly and slowly, helped me as well learn how to balance Shape and Passive Air to create pitch and learning the sensation of playing resonant notes above the staff with little air softly and the feeling of efficiency and freedom.
There is engagement in the embouchure when we play high C and above, but it’s in the “aperture corners” outside of the air column–the center of the lips are free to vibrate in the air column as fast as possible and there is a feeling up to perhaps High C of the air doing the work, we’re releasing the air and letting the “weight” of that air escaping through the aperture produce the pitch–we do not actively buzz our lips together to produce the sound.
b. “Checking In” and removing my mouthpiece from the instrument as I ascend to ensure there was no Active buzz while Passively releasing air into the instrument as high as possible helped me for a while.
c. Lately, I’ve been playing with a tuner as I’ve realized that I’m playing certain pitches very sharp and thus am working too hard, being inefficient by doing so (not to mention out of tune).
d. Harmonic Slurs / Lip Drills – Slowing things down, at first, and trying to get an accurate pitch on each note in the harmonic slur (no air pockets, fuzz in my sound, etc.), THEN speeding up and seeing how efficient I can be on a good Shape on each pitch with good air.
e. Setting my lips in the mouthpiece relaxed, then thinking “MmmmAaahhhOooohhh” after my lips were already in the cup and relaxed. I think this helped me avoid the hang up that many seem to have with the initial setting. This may be wrong, but it worked for me and I’m happy with my progress.
f. Repeated laps through Largo, etc. I always learn something new each time; still do.
g. I had to avoid Clarke Technical Studies #1 as I had played it for years tensing up as I ascended chromatically and blowing actively more as I ascended. Now, thanks to WindWorks, I can play it again and it’s now a very effective and important exercise I play almost every day.
Now, when I play Clarke I, I play it as soft as possible with a good sound but with a big good breath (“BCH”) and I let the “weight” of the air produce the sound as I open the aperture, I am not producing the sound Actively, I am letting it happen. When things are going right, it feels to me like the next note that sounds when I press down the valve(s) is the next higher note chromatically–without my doing anything to produce the pitch. I certainly am reducing the size of the aperture by SLIGHTLY engaging the aperture corners as I ascend, but it is VERY subtle and the sensation I have is that I’m just riding the air and the notes are just speaking on their own.
As I get above the staff and start getting close to High C, the sound does get slightly louder and there is a feeling of “supporting faster” with the air, but no engagement from my abdominals to support the air and I’m not blowing.
And, thankfully, now when I ascend, there is no inclination to tighten my throat or tense up as I ascend, it feels like the air is doing the work and I’m merely keeping my lips centered in the mouthpiece, keeping my lips in the air column and reducing the size of the aperture and the note(s) speak.
h. Focusing on breath attacks and taking Articulation out of the equation of sound production helped me a lot in honing in on the right setup and how to optimize the balance of Shape and Air.
i. Perhaps MOST IMPORTANT of all–a pure, sincere willingness to FAIL when playing any exercise while focusing on PROCESS. We must rewire our brains such that success is defined by playing the way we want to play, the way we think will be most efficient, and objectively observe how those experiments play out with little to no emotional attachment to the outcome. The fact is that human beings and all animals learn from FAILURE. If we manipulate something to achieve a note and don’t follow good process, then we’re not learning anything, we’re just reinforcing bad/old habits and won’t progress any further.
Each day, we must reach/strive for more efficiency, less unecessary engagement of the body and allowing the air and the instrument to do what they can optimally and not getting in the way.
Hope that helps, my $.02 FWIW.
I’ll try to find a video, but I think it’s more about “eyes closed” objective experimentation for what works for you. Keep at it and you’ll get there.
You may want to check out the “aperture and embouchure questions” forum thread in the yellow highlighted section at the top of the Forum. I believe that’s where Greg posted some clarifying videos on things. You might find these useful as well.
Thank you, John
Let me tell you this. I have same thing. I feel Im making constriction ( neck ) even when talking, and Im feeling very strained and tensed in the area of vocal folds ,neck, shoulders . Other people cant hear me , so I have to force a little. Its all about habits. I played 15 years on my instrument the wrong way, thats why I do with the voice also. We need to relax ,and watch Greg videos from begining.
<<Could some of my trumpet issues be caused by a larynx problem? If I cannot speak efficiently, it follows that playing a wind instrument would be a challenge.>>
– You answered your own question.
Liz Bills has videos on how she healed.