Brass Advantage with Wayne Downey

Welcome back to the land of “All Things Brass.” This installment of Brass Advantage is titled “Making a Good Sound on the Trumpet” or for that matter, any brass instrument.

If your trumpet players are having trouble playing in tune the problem may be related to tone. A shrill or nasal tone is easily confused with playing sharp and a dull tone can be confused with playing flat. A resonant tone is important for developing the concept of intonation (playing in tune) and for the student’s aesthetic satisfaction. A poor tone must be remedied so the student can play in tune and progress satisfactorily with all aspects of playing the trumpet (or any brass instrument.) To develop a good tone, students need a good embouchure, sufficient breath support and familiarity with a high-quality model tone.

Embouchure Tips

First the student must position the trumpet mouthpiece correctly, not in the pink of the upper lip. To ensure that the student has placed the mouthpiece correctly, do the following:

Working with just the mouthpiece, insert a small straw (a round, hollow coffee-stir stick is ideal) through the mouthpiece so that it protrudes about one inch at each end of the mouthpiece. Have the student hold the mouthpiece in one hand and the end of the straw that protrudes from the mouthpiece shank with the other hand. Have the student grasp the other end of the straw with the center of lips while saying Mmmmm” while slightly rolling the pink flesh of the lips inward. The student will then slide the mouthpiece along the straw until it makes contact with the lips. The resulting position of the mouthpiece should now be ideal to produce a characteristic tone quality.

The mouthpiece may seem to be centered or slightly off center. Whichever it is it’s the correct placement for this student’s lips and dental configuration. In all cases, the inside rim of the mouthpiece will make contact above the pink flesh if the of the upper lip where it cannot restrict the vibrating action of the lips. Once the mouthpiece is in contact with the lips, have the student blow air through the straw while pulling the straw out from between the lips and out of the shank of the mouthpiece. You and the student may be surprised by the solid, resonant buzz that’s produced.

If the mouthpiece is properly situated but the tone is still poor the cause could be an improper balance between embouchure tension and breath support.
Directors often focus remedial instruction on either the embouchure or breath support, without considering the interplay between these two critical components.
A better approach is to provide instruction that develop embouchure and breath support in tandem.

A good embouchure results in achieving the correct balance between breath support and tension in the embouchure muscles. A faulty embouchure is a symptom of an underlying problem, either with breath support or playing posture (the two are closely related). Readers who are avid golfers will understand the analogy that a good swing results in a correct stance and grip. For golfers to focus remedial work on the swing arc without concern for stance and grip would result in the development of an unusual swing. Such golfers play “pretty well” but never see their game progress to the next level of accomplishment. With any brass instrument, focusing on faulty embouchure without addressing playing
posture and breath support will not produce the desired result of a beautiful resonant tone.

Breath Support

Brass players who lack a resonant tone quality or who have an obvious faulty embouchure will benefit from improved breath support. My experience with students is that too much instruction on “how to breathe” only causes students
to become more analytical of the breathing process and results in a tension-filled laborious breath that translates into a tension-filled tone, poor endurance and limited range. Explanations of the breathing muscles are not required. Such
explanations work no better for teaching breathing than explaining the action of the limbs and muscles involved in walking when teaching someone to walk.

The use of metaphors to assist students to achieve a relaxed, full breath is recommended; for example , tell students to “breath as if there’s an umbrella opening inside their rib cage”, “breath as if you are just about to jump into the deep end of a swimming pool,” and so on.

Fundamental to achieving a full relaxed breath is the concept of good posture. Students should practice while standing, chest raised, shoulders comfortably back, head erect with eyes looking straight ahead, feet shoulder-width apart with the weight of the body balanced evenly on both feet and knees not locked.
If seated students must maintain the same upper-body posture as when standing.
When the proper playing posture is maintained relaxed breathing (the key to good breath support) will follow.

“Don’t Let The Chance Pass You By”. See Ya Soon…

Publisher’s Note:
Wayne Downey is the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert
columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from
the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition
to his long-term role as Music Director of the 11-time DCI World Champion Blue
Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 20 Jim Ott awards for “Excellence
in Brass Performance”, Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass
teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by
some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands
– as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show “Blast” and in feature
films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of
Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical
director for the Blue Devils.

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Posted by on Feb 13 2008. Filed under Hornline. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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