Do You Ever Suffer From Stiff Chops? Part #2

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Continuing with our discussion on the problem of stiff chops…..

While teaching lessons at my university, I realized that many of our students were complaining about stiff chops or the lack of flexibility. Along with this problem invariably was the observation that their lips seldom felt good. After collecting information of such students practice habits, it became obvious that they were overdoing their time in the practice rooms in order to get all their lesson material accomplished. And because they were expected to practice one hour a day for every hour of credit, it was time to figure out a way to improve their musical development and at the same time feel good about their embouchure.

The solution to this problem was the introduction of a more complete “warm down” exercise which would relax the embouchure more quickly for a more complete recovery from a hard day of playing.

Two elements were added to their practice routine which included-

1. Lip flexibility exercises.
2. Soft volumes during the cool down.

One of the best books ever written for lip flexibility is Twenty-Seven Groups of Exercises by Earl D. Irons. This treasure of exercises has been around for a long, long time and is still recommended by most trumpet instructors. In addition to the lip slurs which extend upward to include playing to G above high C, are great exercises in multiple tonguing.

To include a “cool down” segment into your regular routine, begin with group #6. Start on the last line of that exercise and work towards the front of the book. Remember to perform these slurs at a very soft dynamic level for you are playing in order to relax you lip, not strengthen it. Continue with group #5, then #4 and so forth until you reach the first lip slur in the book.

Another exercise which will quickly relax your embouchure would be pedal tones. Play these notes also at a very soft dynamic level and soon you will begin to feel a slight tingling sensation in your lips. The soft, slow vibrations of the lip are what you want for this action speed up the recovery time in your embouchure. This more rapid recovery time will be felt the next morning when you begin to play, for the more rapid replacement of oxygen in the lip with help you regain that friendly feeling in your chops.

Now, let’s talk about trombone playing….

As I mentioned in my Part #1 of this series, I have found some remarkable benefits for trumpet playing from playing trombone. In the morning I warm up to an F above high C and put the trumpet in its case for the rest of the day, unless I have to record an arrangement later that day. In the evening I put in anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours practicing my trombone. Each day that this routine is continued, I have noticed that my trumpet playing improves as well as my trombone playing. In an earlier life, I would not have even tried this combination but at this point in my journey, it works well. The added meat in the trombone mouthpiece seems to help strengthen the same muscles needed for trumpet playing and the low frequency of the vibrations help to relax my embouchure for my trumpet playing the next day.

In our next post we will interview a professional trumpet player who had just gone through an extensive period of playing shows and will share with us his thoughts on coping with stiff chops.

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.