Playing smarter, not harder; playing with less effort in the upper register while increasing range and power.
Steady air and relaxed breathing can increase range, efficiency and power. This can be accomplished by playing in the upper register in the same relaxed manner as you do in the lower register. There are simple and effective exercises included in this article which shows how to integrate steady relaxed air into trumpet playing.
Diaphragmatic Breathing (Abdominal Breathing)
We naturally breathe correctly while sleeping and mainly with our diaphragm. This is referred to as Diaphragmatic Breathing (Abdominal Breathing). Diaphragmatic breathing helps maintain the ideal level of oxygen in our blood (about 98-99%) so we can feel better and our ability to perform tasks is enhanced. We will also remain relaxed so that we do not become tense when playing in the upper register.
Here is an exercise to examine how you breathe. Lay on your back, place a few books on your stomach.
Try to lift the books up about an inch each time you inhale and relax to exhale (the books will go down when you relax to exhale). You will notice that your rib cage does not expand during inhalations.
This exercise can be repeated for about 3-5 minutes. This will help your brain and body establish the process of Diaphragmatic Breathing.
Next, sit upright or stand. Make sure your back is straight and no constriction is taking place. Breathe in as deeply as possible first filing the stomach and then filling the lungs with air from the bottom to the top. You will notice the upper chest and ribs will also fill up with air.
Hold the air in you lungs and take another sip of air, then another. You should feel your shoulders raise. While still holding the air, relax your shoulders and you should feel your ribs stretch slightly. Release the air slowly.
Now we should ask, how does this relate to brass playing? What is the appropriate amount of air to take in? The answer is found from practicing how to breathe while practicing the exercise below.
Breathe in the manner above, then hold out a low C below the staff (Trumpet) as long as possible and as SOFT AS POSSIBLE and Try to keep the air as steady (and soft) as possible for each note. Rest about 30 seconds between each note. Repeat playing B, Bb, A, Ab, G and Gb (F#).
As you progress through the exercise you will notice the tone should become more steady and you will feel more relaxed. The relaxed feeling you experience is what you should be striving to feel like anytime you play trumpet. Relaxed and steady air is the key to upper register playing. You will discover how much air to use as you practice the exercise. The purpose of this exercise is to emulate or duplicate the feeling you get playing low with playing in the upper register (or as close as possible).
Always focus on steady air above all else.
Steady air helps you play passages with increased efficiency and with an even sound. Breathing slower and in a more relaxed manner has a positive benefit by using your air more efficiently, increase your ability to concentrate, decrease head rushes, and augment your ability to focus. The embouchure and muscles associated with brass playing are able to become more synchronized which uses less energy and increases endurance, range, flexibility and efficiency.
When to expect results.
The brain has a complex system of neruotransmitters which send synchronized signals throughout the body. When we learn a new task or activity, our brains automatically strive to gain a sense of mastery of the task. As this occurs, new neural connections are created in the brain and usually develop significantly approximately every 30 days. The longer the task is practiced, the better you will get at the task. However, it is important to remember to rest frequently to avoid becoming tense or tired.
Practice how to get better at relaxing when playing the trumpet.
Rest frequently to avoid becoming tense or tired. If you practice becoming tense or tired and fatigued, your brain will associate playing the trumpet with being tired and fatigued. Rest frequently before you become tired. Inevitably you will become fatigued at some point. Be sure to play long tones or buzz just the mouthpiece and focus on soft and steady air. The lower notes below the staff such as the exercise described above seem to help. For some people, middle G in the staff also seems to be the most effective. The reason for this exercise is to associate trumpet playing with being relaxed. Your brain will automatically associate the trumpet with however you feel about it when you play it.
The more relaxed you are when you play, the easier the process of playing trumpet will be. Remember to think relaxed when you perform in the upper register just as you would if you were playing in the lower register. This is only a basic sample of some of the concepts related to upper register playing. Other components such as the throat, tongue placement, aperture and embouchure also play a crucial role in upper register playing. For private lessons via Skype, contact me.
Mark Zauss, DCC, DAPA, FAPA, NCC, BCPC, CCHMC, BCPTSDC, LMHC
e mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: This is blog entry is not for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment of a medical condition. Please consult your physician if you experience a more serious condition or symptoms.
Trumpet player, Licensed clinical psychotherapist.