Good Trumpet Players Are Full Of Hot Air

No, this is not going to be another trumpet bashing article, although we sometimes deserve one. The amount of warm air you exchange through your instrument can be an indication as to how well you are playing. A great way to tell if you are playing with efficiency is to check the amount of condensation coming out of your instrument. The better you play, the more condensation is generated.

Why does water form in a brass instrument?

Most brass instruments (the exception being the Horn- incorrectly referred to as a French horn) are equipped with a water key which is used to quickly extract condensation from the instrument. The reason moisture (not spit) forms in all brass instruments is the fact that as the player forces warm air through the instrument, condensation forms on the inner walls of the instrument and requires the player to dump the moisture from time to time. Feel your instrument. It always feels cool to the touch. Cool tubing in a brass instrument will collect condensation on its interior as the player’s warm air is forced through.

What affects do high/low and loud/soft playing have on the air’s temperature?

The following exercise will demonstrate the effect of warm air and cool air on a brass instrument.

  • Position the palm of one of your hands close to your face.
  • Take in a deep breath and with your mouth fully open; slowly allow your breath to gently exit your lungs.
  • Did you notice the temperature of the air?

The temperature as it fell upon your hand should have felt warm. The reason for this is that the air was being forced to the hand in a large amount and at a slow speed. Now continue with this next exercise.

  • Again position your hand close to your face.
  • As before, take in a large amount of air but this time force the air out through a small opening at a fast speed.
  • What temperature was it this time?

This time the air felt cool on the palm of your hand. Two things had changed from the first exercise. In the first, the air was slowly blown to the hand and in the second, the air was blown in a fast, focused rate. When playing a brass instrument we constantly are changing not only the amount of air blown into our instrument but also the speed of the air. Warm air is used on the low range and cooler air is produce for the higher notes. The volume (this time I am speaking of decibels) also will result in a change in air temperature. Loud playing will reduce the temperature of the air through a small opening because of the increase in air speed and soft playing through the same size opening will comparatively decrease air temperature.

How are these differences affected by the level of musicianship?

This is a fact- “There is more water after rehearsals on the floor around the lower part players than the first part players”. I have checked band room floors many times and have found this to be generally true. As composers/arrangers we have found that when writing for trumpets, you need to consider many issues. First part players tend to play the most exposed parts and for that reason composers tend to give them more time to rest. Lower part players are playing less exposed and more often than not less demanding parts because of the lower register. Because of this practice, lower parts are given more sustained notes and phrases, generally in the lower range. In this lower register and with more sustained notes, comes more condensation to be expelled. Now that we have discussed a reason why lower part players dump water more than first part players, I will discuss another and completely different issue dealing with water dumping.

Does the amount of condensation indicate the quality of your playing?

My earlier section delt with the amount of condensation among the different areas within a trumpet section. I will now address a completely different issue. Within a single player, the water issue can be a helpful indicator as to how well you are playing. If you are playing at your most efficient level, you will need to open your water key more often than if you were playing in an inefficient manner. The more relaxed and open your air passage is, the warmer your air stream will be and consequently the more condensation you will generate. That is one indicator which will tell you when you are playing well. Many times students will complain that they are letting more water out of their instrument. This is good, not bad. This is what you should be striving for. The minor inconvenience of opening your water key should be celebrated for you are becoming more efficient in the use of your air stream. Any improvement in the use of your air stream reflects in a bigger, more relaxed tone. When I am playing my best, I will be saturating the floor with condensation.

Check the floor around you and use the amount of water as a barometer (more accurately- hydrometer) to indicate your improvement as a brass player.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.