So, like many of you, I am taking private lessons with a trumpet player who knows a lot more about playing than I do. (Just an aside: if you are not taking lessons, you should. I will blog a post later on why private lessons are extremely important to your progress). My last lesson was entirely spent on air speed and focus. This was the general pattern of the lesson after he had explained to me the correct technique and shown me that it does indeed improve my playing:
Instructor: “Go ahead and play this for me.”
Me: “Okay.” (commence playing)
Instructor: “Do you think that was enough air?”
Me: “No.” (commence frustration)
Instructor: “Okay, try it again but let’s use more air this time.”
Me: “Okay.” (play again)
Instructor: “Yep. You are using enough air, but now you are focusing the air stream in the incorrect way.”
This happened at least seven or eight times over the course of about 60 minutes. Part of the problem is I have been able to get an alright sound for many years without the appropriate amount of air. However, I am ready to take the next step in improving my playing. To make a long story short, using correct air support in conjunction with correct embouchure when playing trumpet is extremely important. With that said, I would like to submit the following:
Mr. Cichowicz stated that, in his opinion, the area, which is the least understood, is respiration. We know that breathing happens from the first to the last minutes of life. However, what we use to play requires much more energy and vitality than normal, everyday breathing. Cichowicz first went through his concept of inhalation, saying that it should resemble a “yawn or sigh,” and invited the audience to experiment with this idea. He then went on to say that often the difficulty arises when we bring the instrument up to play. A “hissy” breath results when we forget the inhalation is to resemble the sigh or yawn. Cichowicz demonstrated this by breathing in with a “hiss,” and then speaking, showing how it produced a tightening in the voice, just as it does on the trumpet. Priming the muscles for the most efficient position, then, results through the “yawn/sigh” inhalation.
Exhalation, or the blow, Cichowicz said was, again, a simple action, yet it can go wrong. Analogies of blowing out a candle or holding a piece of paper and blowing it so it will move were Cichowicz’s examples of exhalation. However this freedom is, again, often restricted when we put the instrument to our faces. The abdominal muscles tighten, constricting the throat. Abdominal pressure against the air stream produces a negative effect, and this “compressed air” weakens the air column. Cichowicz said that many times the player says he is “really blowing” but the sound remains tense because of this compressed air; pressed air loses strength.
The above excerpt is taken from an article in an ITG journal dating from 1999. Vincent Cichowicz gave a master class at the 1999 ITG conference. You can read the rest of the article here (and I highly recommend that you do).
Cathy Leach also chimes in on air flow:
Because bringing air to the lips is so important, it is well worth our time to open and relax our throats. How do we do that?
1. Become AWARE of any tension in the throat area. Symptoms may include throat noise or pain while playing.
2. If you discover throat tension or closing, find out what triggers it. Is it range related? Play soft easy scales and discover what note is the first where you feel tension creeping in. Take your horn away and blow and finger the scale (without playing); note how the blowing is like a whistle. After blowing the pattern several times feeling the air going past your lips, and noting that your throat is open and relaxed while you blow, go back to the trumpet and play the scale using the same relaxed approach. These between-playing blowing sessions are often known as “wind patterns” and are extremely helpful in reducing throat tension. Do a lot of wind patterns!
3. Do breathing exercises to encourage body relaxation. The Breathing Gym DVD and book and the breathing aids available from WindSong Press are excellent tools to encourage free air flow and body relaxation. For additional very helpful exercises see Nelson, Breathing for Musicians, and “Breathing and the Valsalva Maneuver” by Brad Howland (August 1999) at http://www.musicforbrass.com/articles/breathin.html.
4. Make sure that the “good” tension (in the corners of the embouchure, cheeks, and chin—the half-smile/half pucker) and the air are working well. In other words make sure that your embouchure and your air are doing their jobs.
5. Check your grip on the horn. Hold it loosely and watch for any change toward tension in your grip.
6. Practice while looking in the mirror. You can sometimes see tension and dissolve it just by looking.
So what do you do to ensure great air flow? Any great tips? Email me at email@example.com with some good ways to accomplish this goal of “good” air.
Until next time…keep the mouthpieces buzzing…