The angle of the air stream.

lips and mouthpiece
We have covered the lip, mouthpiece placement, lip tension, aperture size and control, and now it is time to talk about the direction of the air stream.

The air begins in the lungs and is forced between the lips which creates vibrations and in turn produces the sound which emanates from the trumpets bell. The direction of the air on this path will affect the tone as well as the decibel and timbre which we are concerned with today.

The most efficient path for your air stream would be in a straight line but because of the way we are built, the air must be redirected from a vertical path to an horizontal path as it leaves your oral cavity. After making a sharp turn in the back of your mouth, the air is redirected over the tongue and between your lips. If the air is sent in a straight line into the mouthpiece, the resistance to this air stream in minimal and the least amount of disturbance has been created. If the air is expected to bend again in a downward direction before it enters the mouthpiece, more resistant is created. The angle of the air stream has been changed from an inverted “L” direction to a modified inverted “U” direction. The more bends in the direction of the air column, the more resistance is created.

When addressing the angle of the air stream, we need to visualize its path from the bottom of our lungs all the way out the end of our instrument. Take a deep breath and try to experience this journey. Slowly inhale through your nose to your fullest intake of air. Now slowly exhale this air as if you were blowing out a candle across the room. Force the air into a small and pointed stream in order to get the air all the way to the far wall. Keep the stream going as long as you can. Now inhale in the same manner and this time, keeping your head in the same position, blow the stream of air down to your feet. Again inhale, and blow a stream of air to the ceiling. In all cases, keep your head in the same “face forward” position. In order to blow downward, you must place the upper lip over the lower lip. When blowing to the ceiling, the lower lip is in front of your lower lip. Notice that I instructed you to keep your head in the same position. If your head were tilted downward you could blow a stream of air to the floor and still keep your lips even. Same is true with a stream of air to the ceiling if you had tilted your head upward. By keeping your head positioned “face front”, your air stream has the least practical resistance on its path to your instrument. The least resistance is what we are trying to accomplish in order to develop the most efficient path for the air to travel.

In closing, it is my suggestion that trumpet players should play with their instrument in as close to horizontal as possible in order to keep the air stream as free from resistance as possible.

Now for the exceptions to what I have just stated.

If the player has a pronounced “overbite” (upper teeth positioned in front of lower teeth) I encourage the player to thrust the jaw forward in order to match up the teeth and consequently the lips.

If the player has a pronounced “under bite” (lower teeth extend beyond the upper teeth) I encourage again that the same adjustment be made to get the teeth even.

The most efficient path for your air stream is similar to an inverted L.

Time to review.

To summarize the many elements we have covered so far, let me list them as a reminder.

1. Lips are even with each other.
2. Embouchure is firm in the corners and relaxed in the center.
3. The mouthpiece is centered left and right on your lips.
4. The mouthpiece is centered vertically on your lips.
5. Your head should be positioned facing forward, this produces the most efficient path for your air stream.

In following posts we will address the issue of the tongue position and how it affects tone and range as well as the importance of the open or natural diameter of the throat area.

The Correct Lip Alignment And Aperture Size?

lips and mouthpiece
First we must explain to our younger players just what an aperture is and how it affects our trumpet playing.

When we speak of an aperture size, we are speaking of the size and shape of the opening between your lips as you produce a note.

Some players prefer a small opening while other fine players prefer a large opening. What we will accomplish in this post is explain the difference and the advantages and disadvantages of both.

One thing you must understand is that the air must flow between your lips in order for the air to start a vibration of your lips to get a note through your horn. If the opening is too small, this restriction can limit the amount of vibratory area and thus stop any vibrations. The other extreme would be if your lips were too far apart and the same outcome would be experienced. Working towards the most efficient opening is what we will be addressing in this post.

How can we know when the aperture is correct? The answer is the same as it has been in all of our previous post: “The Sound Will Tell You If You Are Playing Efficiently”.

An aperture which is too small generally produces a tight, mousy sound and tends to be sharp in pitch.

An aperture which is too open will have an airy tone and in most cases, be flat in pitch.

Before we can start working to find the most efficient aperture for your playing style, one thing must be checked first. Are your lips even or is your upper lip covering your lower lip when you play. Equally important would be the question, Does your lower lip cover your upper lip when you play. If your answer to either of these questions is “Yes”, then we have a big problem. For your lips to properly vibrate, they must not overlap each other.

Here is a very simple test to make sure that your lips are lined up properly-

Place your mouthpiece in your regular playing position, take a deep breath and start any note in your middle register but be sure to start the note with only the air. DO NOT TONGUE YOUR NOTE. If the note starts easily, your lips could be in the correct position to each other. If on the other hand the note does not start easily, you may have an alignment problem. Concentrate on keeping your lips in position with the upper lip in line with the lower lip. Practicing with only the mouthpiece will help in this exercise. With the correct aperture, you should easily produce notes starting with only air and not notes started with the tongue.

The positions of your lips is vitally important to the production of good tone and if you cannot start a note with the air only, keep working on this before continuing forward on our check list of an efficient playing style.

A Loose or Firm Embouchure?

lips and mouthpiece
Now that we have covered the advantages and disadvantages of a mouthpiece placed vertically and horizontally on the embouchure, the next element to deal with is the firmness or looseness of the embouchure itself.

Many players place the mouthpiece on their lips and begin blowing, never thinking of the firmness or softness of their lip muscles. And one might ask, “What difference does it make”? The difference can easily be understood by comparing the two different sine curves illustrated below.

Loose- firm

The top line represents a relaxed embouchure and the lower line is an example of a firm embouchure. Both notes (lines) were the same pitch and played at the same dynamic level.

Notice in the top example the distance between the highest point (peak) and its lowest point (valley). Most often this distance would represent the amplitude or decibel measurement of the note. The louder one plays, the wider the distance between the top of the example and it lowest point. Due to the fact that both examples were played at the same dynamic level, the difference is not in the volume of the notes but in the timbre or tone of the two notes. Also notice that the general curves of this line is in a smooth, rolling pattern.

Now look at the lower example. Notice that when compared to the top example, the lower has more distance between its top and its bottom. It is also obvious that this example has deeper valleys and higher peaks than the first example. What you are seeing is the difference between a small sound (top line) and a big sound (bottom line).

Also notice that the peaks of the first example are round and broad while the peaks of the second are more pointed and narrow. This is what is referred to as an edge, or brightness to the tone. This edge or brightness is what we work for when playing in the most efficient manner. By using a firm embouchure when playing your instrument, you are spending less energy getting your sound out than if you were playing on a softer, more relaxed embouchure. A brighter or richer tone quality will project further than a soft, relaxed embouchure and thus it is a more efficient embouchure.

Firmness in your embouchure does not mean that your total embouchure is firm. The firmness we are striving for is in the corners of your embouchure, not in the middle or the area covered by your mouthpiece. Firm corners determine a firm or anchored embouchure. Firm corner and a relatively relaxed muscle between, is our ultimate goal.

Practice these exercises with both firm/relaxed embouchures and you should be able to tell by your sound whether your embouchure has the correct muscle firmness.

Exercise to determine the correct firmness of your embouchure-

• Play a second line “G” at a mf dynamic level and relax your embouchure to the point where you can barely produce a sound.
• As you play the note, concentrate on that sound.
• Next play the same note at the same dynamic level but this time firm the corners of your embouchure to an extreme.
• Again concentrate on the sound.
• Play the “G” one more time but this time firm the corners to firmness half way to your first or most relaxed embouchure.

This would be your starting point to begin experimenting with different firmness throughout your playing range. Single notes are better to use when doing these exercises for rapid pitch changes will not help you hear the differences. Long notes are the best when listening and adjusting your embouchure at this point.

Strive to generate a sound which is full of overtones in the mp to mf dynamic range.

Before we continue with our element by element countdown to a better and more efficient playing style, the correct firmness of your embouchure must be found and become as natural to you as breathing.

Placement of Mouthpiece- Up Or Down?

lips and mouthpieceThe question of mouthpiece placement is an issue of air efficiency. When everything is working efficiently ie. mouthpiece placement, angle of horn, mouthpiece pressure, etc. the sound will indicate this balance. When I say efficient conditions, this is indicated as a big sound. Experienced trumpet players recognize this tone and describe it as “fat”, “well rounded”, “on fire”. To the uninitiated it might be described as a room filling sound. This was illustrated to me at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago when Mr. Bud Herseth illustrated a musical passage to his room full of excited listeners. When “Bud” blew an air stream into his horn, the sound could only be described as “on fire”. His sound seemed to have a halo of fire encircling his bell. The room was instantly fill with the most beautiful trumpet sound I had ever heard. That is what I mean by an efficient playing style.

Efficiency depends on several factors and because of the many elements needed for an efficient playing style, most players do not have this balance and because of this imbalance, they will never play to their full potential. That includes yours truly. I am still improving these elements and each time I get closer, I become a better player. Some players seem to be able to have this balance when starting to play and we refer to them as naturals. In some cases this could be the eight year old I encountered in Texas, where the first note he ever played was a F above high C. Up to that time he had never played a note on a trumpet. These naturals are sometimes a frustration to many of us. Most of us are not in that gifted group. The odds of an average player being able to play in the most efficient manner is very slim.

So what can we do to become more efficient players? The secret is in the sound coming from your bell. If your sound is dull, unexciting or uncentered, you will need to start identifying the elements needed for a big sound. In this post we will begin to review the importance of mouthpiece placement. In our previous post, we covered the importance of placing your mouthpiece as close to the center, left and right as possible. In this post, we will describe the differences of placing the mouthpiece equal distances up and down on the lip.

Advantages of the mouthpiece low on your lip-

Generally speaking, a low placement of a trumpet mouthpiece will increase upper range due to the fact that less vibrating area is in the mouthpiece cup.

Low placement of the mouthpiece will generally give the sound more edge which is an advantage when playing in a jazz ensemble, especially in a big band setting.

Advantages of the mouthpiece high on your lip-

Due to the added amount of meat within the mouthpiece, the tone is usually darker in timbre.

Softer passages are much easier with the mouthpiece placed high on the lip.

Flexibility increases with a high setting of the mouthpiece.

The embouchure can gain more strength and endurance with a high setting.

A high mouthpiece setting allows the embouchure to recover quicker than a low setting.

These general characteristics can, and will be disputed by some of our readers and I encourage these contrary opinions to be submitted.

Whether you are a high set or low set player, what we are looking for in your tone is the full rich sound described above. Some players have a tremendous sound playing on a high setting and an equal amount of fine players are using a low setting. The issue we have here is whether the air is being used efficiently when producing a big sound.

“Stay away from extremes”

In order to produce an efficient sound, the most ideal position of the mouthpiece will be centered up and down. By placing the mouthpiece in this position, the player will be gaining advantages from the high and low setting. Moving the mouthpiece lower will lose some tone fullness, endurance and flexibility. Moving the mouthpiece a little higher will tend to lose ease in the upper register. After many decades of playing and teaching, “I feel that the ideal mouthpiece placement would be in the center of the lip, both vertically as well as horizontally”. You might ask “in what position is my mouthpiece”? I play with the mouthpiece centered as much as possible horizontally and just a little high vertically. I prefer the higher setting because I like a darker sound and better flexibility. I also have to mention that I do not have the greatest high range in Branson. Mouthpiece placement is a give and take situation for most players.

In our next post, I will continue to illustrate the most efficient way to play trumpet and at that time I will address the air flow direction into the mouthpiece.

A great musician and a wonderful person to know.. we’ll miss you Steve

steveSteven L Black
(May 4, 1958 – December 16, 2013)

Not often do we get to know such a wonderful person as Steve Black. In a business which is well known for petty jealousies and back stabbing, it is refreshing to come across one who is kind, patient and a true gentleman. Steve was such a person and to have lost him so soon in his life is difficult to understand.

Our prayers and thoughts are with his widow and family members in this difficult time. The world would be a better place if we all were like Steve. We had some great times playing with Steve and his impeccable musical ability will be missed.

steve and band Steve is third from the left in the Rat Pack Orchestra.

Funeral services for Steven L. Black age 55 of Branson, Missouri was held at 12:00 Noon, Thursday, December 19, 2013 at Greenlawn Funeral Home in Branson with Pastor Dale E. Schatz officiating. Graveside services was held at 11:00 AM, Friday, at the Bentonville, Arkansas City Cemetery under the direction of Greenlawn Funeral Home in Branson.

He died December 16, 2013 at his home in Branson.

He was born on May 4, 1958 in Magnolia, Arkansas the son of Heston and Margaret Marlar Black. He was a musician and had been employed at different music theaters in the Branson area where he had been a resident since 1997.
Survivors are his wife: Dawn Schatz Black of the home in Branson. One brother, Marvin A. Black of Little Rock, Arkansas and a sister, Jacque Wood and husband Walter of Magnolia, Arkansas, five nephews and three nieces.

Mouthpiece placement change

lips and mouthpiece
From time to time, students ask the question “Is my mouthpiece in the correct position”?

To their teacher, this is the question most instructors try to avoid. The reason for their reluctance is that to change a student’s mouthpiece position means many unpleasant lessons both for the student as well as their instructor. I will list some of the reasons brass teachers are reluctant to start on this sometimes unpleasant journey.

1. Changing a mouthpiece placement more often than not will entail a sudden loss of what the student is capable of at the time of change. The comfort zone is totally changed’ for most students find that the new position of the mouthpiece feels very foreign and the students ability to play up to their current standard is difficult or even impossible.

2. Performing with a new position is more complicated if the player is actively performing at the time of the change. Most students will revert back to their old position if they are under pressure. In order to make a successful switch, it is best to do so when the person has time to concentrate on the position change and not worry about performing during the switch.

3. In order for a player to be successful in a mouthpiece placement change, both the player and teacher MUST be convinced that a position change will help the player. If any doubt is in the players mind as to the advantage of the switch, making the change is greatly questionable. The player must be convinced that he/she has advanced as far as possible with his/her original mouthpiece position.

4. In most cases, the change in mouthpiece position will have these immediate results-

• The upper register will be more difficult
• The players endurance will be lessened
• Consistent attacks will we questionable
• The players confidence will be lessened
• Many times tone will be affected

With all these possible effects during a mouthpiece placement change, one should be certain that the change will be beneficial to the player.

As painful as this scenario sounds, there are cases where the switch is needed. To give you an example of a needed change, let me share my own situation of a successful change.

Early in my life ( 8-10 years old) a friend threw a large rock at me in play. Unfortunately it hit me square in the chops. Due to this unfortunate accident, I sustained some damage where my mouthpiece usually sets. The timing was unfortunate for the very next week I had to play my solo in state solo ensemble contest. I was able to rest the lip enough to get it scabbed over before I performed my solo and I got through it fairly well. My judge at that time was John Beer (trumpet professor at the University of Iowa). After completing my solo, John gave me some complements and asked me to play my last high C for him. Knowing the condition of my lip from the accident, I tried to explain my situation but he insisted and I complied. Again he asked me to play the high note but suggested that I “put more air through my horn”. Again I tried to explain my accident but again he insisted. I complied and as I got to the end of the note, my lip split open and blood began to run down my chin. The look on John’s face was that of utter shock and disbelief. After many minutes of apologies and obvious concern, I was given my first place evaluation and escorted out of the room. Many years later, while visiting with my good friend, I asked him if he remembered the event but he had no recollection of that moment. To me, it is still fresh in my memory. Due to the eventual scare from the accident, I moved my mouthpiece off center to my left a little. Throughout my career, it remained on the left side. Last year, I decided to bring it to the center to see if it would make a difference and it did. My playing was changed in the following ways.

Positive effects of the mouthpiece placement change to my playing-

• High range has always been a problem for me and with the change (and regular practice) it has improved
• Endurance has improved
• Flexibility has improved
• Tone is more centered
• Entrances are more secure, especially on high notes

Negative effects of the mouthpiece placement change to my playing-

• None

Explaining the advantages and disadvantages of going through this change in a person’s trumpet playing will give you some information as to what it entails and only you will be able to decide if your mouthpiece position change is worth it. In the following posts, I will share additional insight into this very important issue.