Airy Tone by Older Beginner

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by glennled, Aug 18, 2010.

  1. glennled

    glennled New Friend

    Jul 26, 2010
    Seattle, WA
    I've been tutoring trumpet for about a year now, and one beginning student is quite a challenge. He started weekly half-hour lessons in February and is still stuck with an airy tone, especially as he rises above ~F-G on the staff. As for range, he can make it up to about ~D-E (top of staff).

    He is 50 years old, has a great attitude, and is very determined, but his irregular work schedule sometimes prevents him from practicing systematically (his goal ~ four times per week). He sometimes takes his mouthpiece on trips, but it drives his wife crazy.

    At first, he bought a used Bach Strad, and I thought the problem was just the horn--simply too professional with too narrow slotting, like putting a beginning driver in a race car on a banked speedway and asking him to drive 200+ mph without crashing. He then rented a Getzen that retails for ~$700-900. Somewhat better results, but still no consistent, clear, solid tone as he moves toward upper register--very airy.

    We have worked on proper breathing and opening the throat, we have done long, low pedal tones, we have done scales, arpeggios, and songs. We have buzzed w/o mpc and with it in front of a mirror. We have discussed Gordon's drawing of how the lips contract within the mpc (Systematic Approach..., p. 5).

    Finally, I decided to try to reproduce, for myself on my horn, his airy tone, and to my surprise, I did it! When I rolled out the red part of my lips and placed them together evenly (without overlapping the upper one over the lower one), I got his airy tone. Eureka! It's simply the embouchure, I thought, not the horn, not the breath control, not a closed throat.

    But he thinks it's not so much the positioning of his lips. He thinks it's just lack of strength in his lips and facial muscles. They're weak. So now what?

    Last week I bought Warburton's P.E.T.E. (Personal Embouchure Training Exerciser) for myself. If it helps me, I'll recommend it to him and my other students.

    Also, I've ordered Jeff Smiley's book, "The Balanced Embouchure," to see if the answer lies there.

    And finally, I've joined Trumpetmaster so that I could post this puzzle to you guys. Would appreciate your comments, suggestions, and stories of your own experiences. Thanks.
  2. Markie

    Markie Forte User

    Jan 4, 2009
    Clarksburg, WV
    Hi Glenled,
    First of all, welcome.
    There are a couple of things I'd suggest. Check about mouthpiece pressure and how the air is used.
    On mouthpiece pressure:
    Without a doubt, one of the most common questions Trumpetmaster gets are questions about "PRESSURE". Hundreds of questions are asked and hundreds of answers are given. Questions range from "There's a ring on my lips" to "My lips are numb".
    This got me to thinking. Why not come up with a way or find a way (or assessment) that a player can use to help determine if they are using too much pressure. Kind of a "home assessment" for the person who isn’t blessed with a good teacher but has a cheap recording device.
    A person can record themselves and assess the likelihood of using too much pressure by listening for the characteristics listed below.
    Some players (with exceptional ears) notice these characteristics in their playing without the benefit of a recording but never quite knew why they happened.
    The crux of the biscuit is to stress the negative impact of pressure, the importance of a good instructor and a method for the brass player to assess if undue mouthpiece pressure is being used to play notes.
    I wish this was my complete idea but the majority was gleaned from a famous trumpet text (pages 19 &20). I’ll give a bright shiny quarter to anyone who can guess the text(which I highly recommend to any brass player).
    ------------------------ Here goes!!---------------------------
    The fastest way to obtain notes on a brass instrument is to adjust the amount of mouthpiece pressure against the lips. Very little pressure for low notes and a lot of pressure for high notes. It makes sense and, it works!
    Since it seems to be human nature to follow the path of least resistance, we find the average brass player (who isn’t blessed with a good instructor) obliged to develop their own PRESSURE SYSTEM of playing. The only advantage of this system is a "quick start".
    Let me point out the disadvantages of "strong-arm trumpet playing as I have seen them:

    FAULTY INTONATION (playing out of tune)is the most common failing of this method. This type of player tends to move sloppily up and down to notes instead of striking the center of the intended pitch.

    WEAK LOWER REGISTER Continued pressure causes the lips to swell or thicken to the point that they will not vibrate at the low frequency required in the lower register. The tone in this register is usually "windy".

    COURSE EXECUTION An inability to play delicately. The staccato notes tend to be short and detached and have a sharp, ragged edge to them instead of being light and round as a bubble

    BLIND NOTES Notes that fail to sound out, often happening in soft passages.

    UNEVEN SLURRING Fails to get a smooth, flowing sound and pitch usually suffers.

    SPLIT NOTES When the player attacks a note, then flies off to the partial above or below the intended note.

    NUMB LIPS This is when the lip become numb from cutting off the circulation. An often asked question on TM.

    DAMAGE TO LIPS After years of playing with extreme pressure the tissue will become damaged not unlike feet after wearing too tight shoes.
    Possibly the first indication a player notices of using too much pressure is a prominent ring on their lips.
    Assess yourself by playing songs into a recorder. Ask yourself "am I pressing the mouthpiece harder against my lips as I go up and then ease up on the pressure as I go down and while doing this, do I hear some of the characteristics listed?"
    If your notes are dictated by the amount of pressure you use and you hear some of the characteristics listed above, then work to reduce the pressure with exercises using the corners of the lips to change notes and not mouthpiece pressure. While doing this, PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO WHAT THE LIPS AND THE MOUTHPIECE ARE DOING. When you notice the charateristics listed appearing in your sound, stop, blow out the lips (like a horse), reset the mouthpiece and go back to playing with your focus being on using the "right" muscles(corners of the lips) to play. How do you know when you're doing it right? You'll notice one day that your lips operate more like reeds on a saxophone than they are lips.
    Good Luck
    On Air:
    Watch Urban Agnes videos (free) on "Flow". Pay close attention to what he says about posture, relaxation and how to take in the air.
    Hope this helps.
  3. trumpetup

    trumpetup Piano User

    Jan 12, 2009
    Godley, Texas
    Good post Markie.
  4. Vulgano Brother

    Vulgano Brother Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 23, 2006
    Parts Unknown
    Airy tone, believe it or not, usually means a lack of air. Blowing harder is usually the cure.
  5. Alex_C

    Alex_C Piano User

    May 30, 2010
    Gilroy, California
    It took me a little reading to realize, beginners, even adult/older beginners like I am, are not well served by getting a "professional" horn at first, since the larger bore can make it harder for us.
  6. Keith Fiala

    Keith Fiala Pianissimo User

    Feb 21, 2007
    Austin, Texas
    Try this - without going into a long dissertation. Have the student set the lips closer together inside the mouthpiece. Fill the diaphragm with air and try not to allow the lips to blow open once the student starts to play. This alone may simply solve the airy note problems... aperture too big for the amount of air coming through.

    Keith Fiala
  7. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    Sometimes airy tone can be caused by too much air as well. I've always seen an airy tone as a lack of balance, and it can be an embouchure thing, an air thing, a mouthpiece pressure thing, a mouthpiece placement thing, mouthpiece size thing, etc.

    Without seeing this player and seeing/listening to what they are doing, it's tough to diagnose and come up with a solution.
  8. Keith Fiala

    Keith Fiala Pianissimo User

    Feb 21, 2007
    Austin, Texas
    What you say is true - but usually relates to the aperture being blown open or starting too open in the beginning...
  9. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    The airy tone is air that gets by the lips without being turned into sound. Regardless of blowing too hard or not, the problem is the lips not vibrating freely. My experience has been that if the player is "forced" to play lots of pianissimo lipslurs for a whole week until the next lesson, things improve.

    How can the lips be leaky like this? Chops too weak for good breath support (VERY seldom!), chops too weak for poor breath support (very common), high pressure of the mouthpiece on the lips keeping the lips apart, practicing too loudly or something common in college: mouthpieces with the throat bored out.
  10. bigtiny

    bigtiny Mezzo Forte User

    Aug 14, 2005
    All good suggestions here. I suspect a combination of improper use of air or breathing, and something whacky with the embochure, either using the 'wrong' part of the lips (the curling into the mouthpiece you described) or not having enough support in the embochure.

    I'd recommend slow long tones and lip slurs, MAKING SURE that breathing is proper and that the embochure is maintained. I would also avoid playing anything above the staff while he's sorting this out.


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