WindWorks Trumpet Academy › Forums › WindWorks › Playing in the Red
Hi all, don’t mind my little tirade at the start. “The playing in the Red” bit starts at the 3:00:00 minute mark.
Hi Greg, I’ve watched the “Playing in the Red” video (yes, tirade and all) but I’m still a tad confused about what the video’s title means. In your course (I can’t quite remember where) you mention some phrases like “playing in your green zone”, “playing in your amber zone” (I may not have these terms quite correct) to signify playing in a way that’s experienced as easy and not-quite-so-easy respectively. When I saw the title of this video I assumed it was about “playing in one’s red zone” (ie, attempting to play stuff one found very difficult indeed), but it sounds like you possibly mean something like “playing using the red part of one’s lips” (I’m only guessing this, but when you mention the phrase in this video, you wave your finger around, pointing at your open lips, so this seems to be what you mean).
To cut a long story short, could you maybe spell out in print what you understand the term “playing in the red” to mean in this context?
I believe he means playing with the red part of the lips. Many players believe that we must roll our lips forward or in so that the red is hidden, at least when setting the embouchure. That works for some, although I believe what those players (who play well that way) are actually doing is letting the red part of their lips move forward in the cup of the mouthpiece and blowing a straight column of air into and through the mouthpiece and horn. Whereas what I believe Greg says in the video was that he realized he was rolling his lips in when setting the embouchure and when he blew air it was directed downward towards the ground (less efficient and effective) rather than more straight through the mouthpiece. My understanding is that Greg is recommending keeping things simple.
I have realized that I was doing the same thing Greg describes (blowing down towards my feet) and doing a weird pivot thing where I had to tilt the bell down the higher I played, eventually running out of top lip.
MTM has helped me realize that playing higher isn’t that much harder. I was clamping down the middle of my lips as I ascended rather than tightening the corners towards the aperture and blowing straight forward and arching my tongue, which I was doing.
I could never play much above the staff. G above the staff was the top of my effective range despite many years of practice and lessons from reputable teachers.
Now high C through E is relatively easy for me and I’m working on high F and double G.
And I’m understanding better how these apparently different opinions and advice about playing are actually closer together than they appear at first. The main difference I think is more about how to o communicate these concepts to students / players.
My understanding is that one main goal of MTM is offering more information for players to help those of us who couldn’t figure out how the trumpet works by reading/playing Clarke, Arban, Stamp, Schlossberg, Gordon, etc. Now I read those books and understand them better…for the first time. My $.02. Hope that helps until Greg responds.
Hey Guys and thanks John, you are completely right.
PLUS, If you don’t mind, I am going to use this line, I won’t use your name – “I could never play much above the staff. G above the staff was the top of my effective range despite many years of practice and lessons from reputable teachers.” THIS IS THE PROBLEM FOLKS!!!!!!!
Peter, there is a saying “playing in the red” which is the inside of the lips. You don’t see much written about it but it is considered bad.
Like any setup, some can make it work but it can cause trouble for others.
That being said, I do not endorse it generally but for our purposes it is very useful.
What am I working on with you when we do this?
1. Finding airstream
2. Experiencing freedom of airflow
3. Discovering an unmanipulated mouthpiece rim setting
4. Learning about the horizontal inwards movement of the Aperture Corners
IT WILL FEEL NUTS TO MOST PEOPLE and they will say, I am too wide open and I can’t play like this.
It feels odd to them, as it did me when I was learning it, because we play TOO closed and TOO tight.
Watch the course videos closely with this in mind and it will make sense.
Thanks gentlemen. I greatly appreciate both your generous answers.
My pleasure, Peter. I’m glad if what I shared was helpful to you. And thanks Greg, glad if my response was helpful.
I’m about to do another round through WindWorks–I think I’m ready and doing so will help me get up another level.
Played ‘in the red’ for years as a kid. It hurt my top lip, a lot.
The way I fixed it many years ago was with the help of a local legend who put me onto Jerome Callet’s Double pedal ‘slide ups’ (this is an from an early book, not his current spit-buzz program). This helped train my top lip to stay close to my teeth. That’s the term “Top lip close to teeth” that helped me remember. I recommend this if you have trouble with your top lip being curled out when you play and you are playing in the fleshy red part of it.
With Windworks’ help I have now trained my bottom lip not to curl in and pinch off the air through the straight air concept. Thanks Greg!
Awesome post, Hixsta–didn’t think of that as I never experienced it but I could imagine how that would be difficult and might be a problem for others, especially as they try playing more “forward” as described in WindWorks.
I recently started making it a point to set my lips on the mouthpiece by setting the mouthpiece flat against my top lip, whereas before I was kind of bring the mouthpiece/horn to my lips at an angle (with the bell downward) and I started feeling like I was losing a seal as I got into the higher register. Setting it more straight and flat seems to work better for me and allow me better compression with the lips within the mouthpiece which is giving me good sensations and range development, etc.
I like your point re: Straight Air–I need to remember to focus on that again. I’ve been having good sensations/progress, but never hurts to check to make sure we’re on track.
Hey there, doing the MTM I think I might have been guided to play even more in the red because of the mmmm-aaa-ooohh.
I recently tried a bobby shew lead mouthpiece and my range got cut off at about E-F on the top of the staff. I think my top lip was going into the mouthpiece and touching the bottom of the cup stopping the vibration. I don’t have big lips, just about average. Reading some material online it seems my problem is either too much pressure or that I am pushing my lips too much forwards.
I went to a private teacher, he thought there was not much wrong with my embouchure or how I playing but he suggested that I should try to hide the red of my lips when setting up the embouchure and keeping the embouchure firm. Doing that, my range drastically improved while doing range exercises but it felt strange and I have not been able to combine it with my other playing. And yes another problem, sometimes there is just no sound and no vibration.
Doing this approach for roughly a month, my cheeks feel tired all the time, even if I rest for a day. I have heard that most professionals don’t even use the muscles in the cheeks, see pops tensionless playing.
Maybe I should try to:
a) play with less red, slightly curling the lips inwards
b) try to relax more, especially in the cheeks and try to focus on the embouchure corners and the chin.
c) spend some time with limited range and NO HARD WORK, training my brain that playing should be easy.
What do you think, any advice you could give me?
Great post and thanks for sharing your experience as that helps us all.
I’m probably not the best person to advise you on this as I have struggled with shallow mouthpieces. I did get a Bach 3E to work for a bit, but found a C cup works better for me. I even found that my range improved when I went from a 3C to 1 1/2C, which doesn’t make sense but is what works for me.
Options b and c above seem to make some sense, but option a seems like not a good idea to me, I’m afraid you’ll wind up tensing your lips and manipulating too much.
I think the only engagement we want is outside/around the vibrating surface.
I would suggest not worrying about not being able to play a certain mouthpiece and just play whatever sounds /feels / works the best while you develop your range.
Greg and all the greats say they can hit the same notes on Any mouthpiece, but certain mouthpieces make it a little easier / more efficient.
My $.02, FWIW. If you do figure out how to play a shallow piece, please let me know. Good luck!
Thanks for the answer, I am also not sure about option a… maybe someone else has feedback on it.
I’d be interested in seeing what results you get with a new “rolled in” set up with less red. It seems like it should naturally go there after some time. (I’ve been trying to figure that part out for 15+ years). Changing my lip position with the Ahh-ooooo set up seems to be the only promising way, but it’s scary and feels wildly different since I’ve had so much ‘success’ with my current set up. So I give it about 15-30 minutes per day and then practice all my normal stuff m.
I, however, have to play the MTM way with the mouthpiece slightly on the red of my lower lip in order to keep the air moving straight out. This also keeps my bottom lip from rolling in. Sound and technique is super weak that way, but it does seem much more relaxed. I can play most of the singing C series this way to about a G on top of the staff. It took quite a while to get there, and I wonder if it’s the direction I should keep going in.
FWIW, I just posted a response on another thread (Monette) that is relevant. Ive switched to a shallow mouthpiece and have been experimenting the past month, playing exclusively on the new shallow MP. I have found playing very forward and open works the best. It is odd at times how forward and open, almost feels as though I’m not making any change in my lips. The key for me has been letting go of trying to hit a note and instead focusing on playing as open and relaxed as possible and using my sound and feel as my guide.
I just started WindWorks a few days ago. Greg’s approach makes sense to me. I get my technical practice elsewhere (Clarke, etc.) WindWorks is complementary to that.
There are two ideas I’m finding particularly useful. The first is the distinction between process-driven and results-driven exercises. I’ve never done process-driven exercises before, practicing a technique without caring about the result. That is very liberating.
The second is the open aperture. When I do Greg’s low C/C#/F# “singing” exercise I’ve been permitting myself to open up to where it feels like I’m playing in the red, adjusting only the aperture. It feels much easier. My problem has always been clamping down, jamming the mouthpiece against the lips and–if I’m lucky–blatting out an occasional high C.
Of course I’m only down in the low register now. Whether I can extend Greg’s approach upwards remains to be seen…
Kzem – I’m in that exact same place right now. Have worked through a few times and have landed with my bottom lip just at the lower edge of the mouthpiece/visualiser.
My sound / range / control is continuing to improve with practice but not sure whether I should be trying to find a way to keep the lower lip just inside – before I get too far down this path!
I am happy that it is mostly a very relaxed approach. Tricky stuff!
Okay, so here’s my update after one year. I have become super aware of how much tension I’ve been using, and I improved my sound and endurance slightly, which is always a good thing.
However I’ve been unable to reap any benefits from the new setting or improved range at all.
I can’t seem to transfer any of the ahh-oooh to my regular set up and the aaah-ooh setting is still super weak and useless as a normal embouchure.
I’m still doing the exercises around 15-30 mins per day. My point of difference on both embouchures is stuck around third space C to E slurs.
Still plugging away. Just curious what everyone else’s journey has been like.
Sorry to hear that, Kzem.
My journey hasn’t been a straight line. I stumbled across some trumpet YouTube videos, including Greg’s, a few years ago–I think it was early 2018. I didn’t subscribe to the course till late 2018. As I shared above, I could never play much above G on top of the staff for many years despite countless hours of practice through Clarke, Schlossberg, Arban and lessons from some great teachers.
My approach when I was young was to persevere, work hard and I would be successful…I wasn’t…
The way I was playing, I was tearing myself down very quickly each day and not allowing myself a chance to recover. It was an endless spiral that never got anywhere; the definition of insanity–repeating the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.
After not playing for many years (probably a handful of times between 1995 and 2018), I found myself screwing around / experimenting after watching some of the videos in early 2018, I attempted to play an A above the staff after playing an A on the staff, with little to no apparent change in the tightness in my embouchure. I think I expected it not to work and to put my trumpet in the case for another X years like I had several times before. But this time was different, I had no expectation or emotional attachment to what happened when I made the attempt; I literally didn’t care. And, for some reason, after watching some of the videos I had a new feeling that there’s nothing physically different than other players that is preventing me from playing anything i want on the instrument. For some reason, I believed that.
Anyway, the A came out loud and clear, better than perhaps any I ever played before. Soon after, my first ever High C and beyond that.
I subscribed to WindWorks later that year, looking for something with a bit more structure to guide my progression.
In the early days, I was very excited and pleased with my newfound range. I was happy just being able to play up above the staff and spent way too much time on harmonic slurs and non-music stuff.
By December, I was doing the entire Clarke 5th Study up to the High F above High C. I couldn’t control my range as much as I would like or play it consistently, but I was progressing and happy.
I took less than a week off for a family snow trip between Christmas and New Years shortly after. When I came back, something was different and my range started going down. Ironically, that was the lowest point of all my years playing; I literally almost threw my horn across the room. If I had, that likely would have been it for me. I wouldn’t have bought another horn. But, I didn’t. And I’m glad for that.
I asked Greg what I should do and he simply said that I had gotten to where I was before and that I could get there again–if I focused myself on what got me to that place before.
So I did–I refocused myself on the WindWorks principles, spent a lot of time focusing on playing relaxed and learning the difference between Shape and Air.
I’m an amateur with no playing commitments, so I had the luxury of going all-in on my experiments, completely changing the way I played with no regard for consequences or failure.
In the early days, in hindsight, I was making way too much of the “aperture corners” thing and doing an extreme fish pucker thing at times. I have a tendency of being a linear thinker…
I went on a mouthpiece safari for a bit, trying shallower mouthpieces and big symphonic mouthpieces (which worked better for me) then wound back on my Bach 3C–the same piece I played through high school and college and didn’t get anywhere on, but which feels like a good all around MP to me.
Lately, for the past few months, maybe longer, things have been better than ever–increasingly so, actually. Lately, I feel like I’m progressing in a more linear way–just about every day is better in at least one way than the last. I’m very satisfied.
I think what solidified things more for me was Harmonic Slurs and slowing them way down, paying attention to each pitch at first–finding the optimal Shape for each pitch, THEN (secondarily) focusing on efficiently changing from one shape to the next–not necessarily focusing on SPEED, but efficiency–trying to move as little as possible. I figured if I did that, it would be faster.
To be honest, I haven’t paid attention to how fast I could do them as I got distracted by a huge improvement in my playing, especially the ease and consistency of playing above the staff.
My range didn’t increase, I’m not even really trying to play the High F or push my range anymore, but I’m playing musically in control and playing things up to High C# and High D with an ease I never before thought was possible. I think basically I found the optimal “Shape” for each pitch and, secondarily, how to efficiently move from one to another (every interval is different, hence practicing music, scales, flexibilities, etc.).
Everyday, I sort of “check-in” with myself by playing certain musical passages to get the sensation of ease I have when playing some pretty big intervals in some of the things I play, and every day it’s there again.
It’s hard to say what you may be doing, or not doing, that’s getting in your way. My only advice would be to own it–each of us has to figure it out on our own. WindWorks is a great set of guide posts to follow, but the exact path is different (I think) for each of us as we are all different.
“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…”
Or, as Greg puts it–the “1% Rule”…
I thought I understood WindWorks a couple years ago, and I suppose I did (at least partially) as my range did shoot up quite a bit back then, but I can’t tell you how many “coffee moments” I have had from repeated times through Largo, etc.
And I’ve applied the WindWorks principles / mantras playing other exercises, etc.
I had to not play Clarke’s First Study for my first year or so back as I tensed up and started blowing harder as I ascended from years and years of doing that when I was young.
Anyway, that’s too long of a post…but you asked… 😉
I hope there is something useful in that.
My advice, not to contradict anything else (not my intention) would be to follow the sound and the feeling.
The truth is that the optimal setting may not be much or any different than how you’ve been playing.
For me, it wasn’t as much about the setting of the mouthpiece on my face, but what I was doing when I was playing–I was rolling my bottom lip under and blowing straight down, tightening my throat, clamping down the aperture like a clam, etc.
Now, I am playing much more forward than even when I first started WindWorks. At times, it still doesn’t make sense that it should work or the notes should come out above the staff. But the horn works different than how i thought it did and it’s much easier to play above the staff than I ever thought possible. By screwing around with reckless abandon, caring more about the purity of the “experiment” (process) than the result, I stumbled onto how to play the instrument finally.
I’m still just an amateur hack, but I’m playing things I never thought I could play and it’s sound better than I ever thought it would and, even better, it feels better and easier than I ever thought possible and everyday it’s like I’m forming more and more memories (“neural pathways” or whatever Greg says) on how to play this new way and growing more and more confidence.
And, lately, I have been practicing things a bit more towards building range and endurance and it feels good–like I am in fact building on something that is worth building, and not tearing myself apart everyday.
Sorry to make a long post longer and I’m not sure this will help, but here are the things that I do to “check-in” with myself each day to make sure I remember how to play–in addition to simply focusing on my sound and how things feel, as I mentioned above:
1. Stamp – When things are going right for me, when I start the James Stamp warm up that goes from C on the staff to the D right above, etc. If I can play that in such a way that it almost feels like I’m not doing anything at all to go from the C to the D, it’s as if the shape of my embouchure is compressing the air or something–I won’t pretend to completely understand it. I’ve heard some others (great players) describe it as “moving forward” which I can relate to
2. Certain wide intervals in music passages that have suddenly felt effortless for me, I try to repeat those daily, such as:
a. F on the staff to middle C to F on the top of the staff. When things go right, it feels like I’m barely doing anything, sometimes as though it’s just the tongue arch doing it–I do not subscribe to that point of view, I believe the tongue moves when we move the bottom lip/lower jaw and vice versa. These are subtle movements, again at times it feels like barely anything.
b. E at the bottm of the staff to B natural on the staff to E at the top of the staff (top space) to A above the staff. The A is almost like a leap of faith when things are going right, a little more engagement in the “aperture corners” but no real movement and i lead with the air but I don’t blow and it’s there. I’m amazed every day when it happens still.
Anyway, that’s a bit of my drill FWIW / in case that helps in anyway.
Thanks so much for your response. I greatly appreciate it.
At first I thought I could make some significant improvements by not changing my embouchure and just focusing on air, shape, and relaxation. That’s great to a point, but after one year, it helped me notice my tension problems and play slightly more efficiently with a tiny improvement in endurance since I’m aware of adding the extra tension.
Changing my lip position is where I’m struggling right now. My current set is good, but inefficient, probably like 90% of trumpet players in the world.
I can’t seem to get my lips to make the ooh position to raise the pitch. I thought it helped to have my left hand make the “closing” position as I did the largo exercises, then using a mirror and taping myself. But that only confirmed that my bottom lip is curling in to raise the pitch.
So, I did the exercises anyway and didn’t think about results, just the process. I did them in the car on long drives to gigs, while watching TV, in the shower, while running, hiking, waiting in line etc. and I got really good at doing the exercises without the horn.
But while placing the mouthpiece over the airstream to actually play, the mouthpiece has to sit on the inside of my bottom lip. Again, no thoughts about results even though it feels weird and sounds horrible. Process process process.
After a year? I got somewhat decent at playing low C and maybe doing efficient lip slurs from second line G to third space C with a bad bad sound. But the main problem is even with the new setting, I see that my bottom lip is still trying to curl in but it can’t since the mouthpiece is holding it down. I can’t seem to break that habit to raise the pitch, not even from low C to C#.
I’m not a teacher and am probably not qualified to give embouchure advice, but I’m fairly confident the problem is your setup.
I think you’re over thinking it a bit and trying too hard to prevent your bottom lip from moving.
Rolling in your bottom lip under your top lip and aiming the air down is a problem that many players do (Greg mentioned he did that, I did as well).
But, your bottom lip and jaw do move in an optimally efficient embouchure.
Your bottom lip should be inside the mouthpiece, I usually have it tucked in pretty much at the bottom.
The bottom lip must be free to move to reduce the aperture size. The top lip seems to be a bit more stationary and my understanding is it’s the primary vibrating surface.
It’s really hard to interpret things described about the inner workings of the embouchure. On one hand, we must be open to trying new things but on the other, Sound and feeling (efficiency) must guide us.
I recommend modifying your setup so that the bottom lip is inside the mouthpiece. The mmmaaaoohh thing is, for me, more of a mental guide–feel those aperture corners when you think Ooohh…
I recommend experenting with releasing a good PASSIVELY released breath (not a BLOW) through a relatively relaxed embouchure, only engagement in the outside corners and only as much as necessary. Then, when you engage the aperture corners slightly, the aperture should be reduced and the pitch will pop up.
My $.02 FWIW. Good luck–let us know how it goes.
Better yet, I recommend seeing if Greg can do a Zoom to check in on your setup / make sure you’re on the right track, as I’m pretty sure you’re not quite there.
For me airstream was the main key. AAA-OOO, Airstream straight, then corners in and airstream up as you ascend. Practice on your hand. Can you make the air go up without tilting your head?
You should feel tired in around under the lip as you muscles you have never used start to get a work out.
Folding in the bottom lip is the enemy!
Thanks for the comments. I agree, for me folding in the bottom lip has limited my range.
Aiming the airstream upward is weird for me since as I ascend like that it turns into the Cat Anderson approach, with teeth together and bunched bottom chin without much of a sound
I’ve been thinking how important sensations are in our figuring out this mystery for ourselves.
I wish there was a reliable way of explaining what it feels like when “it’s working” but that’s difficult.
I like hixsta’s post above and I agree about folding in / tucking under the bottom lip–something to be avoided.
At times, it does feel a bit like the air is pointing upward and I’ve heard other players describe that as well, but some great players describe the opposite. I think it’s hard to really know what the air is doing inside the mouthpiece, which direction it’s going. But, like anything, if that visualization works for the player then it’s effective.
While you don’t want to roll your bottom lip in, your bottom lip must be inside the mouthpiece and when we ascend the lips should move forward towards the mouthpiece (by engaging the muscles surrounding the lips); to me, the bottom lip feels like it juts into the mouthpiece a little–I recall Greg using a “milk spout” analogy in one of his posts/videos.
For me, what I cling to is paying close attention to what happens when I release air through the aperture–is the sound optimal? Can I effortlessly ascend when pressing the valves down, chromatically upward riding the air stream upwards? I look for optimum efficiency as I’m warming up.
Then I work on intervals–what Shape can I form with my embouchure that makes it so that when I am playing a middle C and I press the first valve down, a D sounds rather than a Bb?
It feels like a pent up energy that I’m releasing through the horn, not that I’m actively producing / blowing through the horn.
It feels like I’m letting it happen, not getting in it’s way.
Sort of like riding a bicycle–if you’re properly balanced, you can take your hands off the handlebars and the bike will almost ride itself.
That’s what I look for, and it’s amazing how easy playing is when you find that. I have to find it everyday and there are times when I am having difficulty and I now catch myself and realize I’m fighting the instrument, not cooperating with it / “letting it happen”. Then I refocus and find my way again.
I have the luxury of zero playing commitments, so I don’t have to keep time with other players, I can focus on playing at a tempo that suits how I am feeling–it is absolutely critical to spend time everyday, especially when warming up, not sticking to a tempo or rhythym, but going with the flow of how you’re feeling, only changing pitch when you’re ready, etc. That helps me be hyper focused on how things I do effect the feeling and sound of playing, find optimal shape and efficiency, etc.
Hope that helps. While it’s true we must focus on Process, not Results, we must objectively observe how our experiments effect the sound and feel of how we’re playing and look for minor tweaks that we can make to improve both. We must own our playing and not stick to someone else’s description of how to play, having too much faith that progress will come. We must be patient, to a certain extent, but the truth is that it’s much more simple than we think it is–IF we don’t get in our own way by engaging muscles we don’t need to engage, etc.
The flip side to the fact that it’s so simple is that it’s also very, very easy to stop playing effectively and go back to old habits. At times, it seems that it’s almost a razor’s edge–on one side, efficiency/optimization, the other–inefficiency, forcing things, limited range and endurance, etc. I think that’s why I focus so much of my attention to ease of playing / how it feels; if it doesn’t feel good / free / relatively easy, I look for a tweak I can make to improve–whether that’s better air of minor tweaks to Shape.
Thanks, all great points! I suppose the confusion can stem from Greg saying “it’s a starting point” when playing in the red. I can clearly place my mouthpiece on two places on the spot where, through zero manipulation, the air stream is straight out. One is way in the red on the top lip, and the other one is way in the red on the bottom lip. The second one makes a sound. But, since it’s “just a starting point” and it gives me the feeling of a free and easy air stream, I try and imagine that same sensation when playing on my regular embouchure after I do several exercises.
The air stream going upwards is a good visualization if it helps to keep the bottom lip from tucking, but I don’t think it should be literally used as the new embouchure for me since my jaw comes up a lot, my teeth have to touch, and so little sound comes out.
I’m still experimenting and trying to discover things. It’s a challenge since the way I initially learned how to play has some deeeeeply ingrained habits.
Super helpful. Thanks, Greg.