Can't Play High Notes

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by dfusselman, Dec 2, 2008.

  1. edcon1981

    edcon1981 Mezzo Forte User

    Jun 25, 2008
    Central Jersey
    oh, THAT'S what you're talking about. i misunderstood. and i may have been bad and not watch all of your video. my bad...

    yes! i'm normal :D
  2. dfusselman

    dfusselman New Friend

    Dec 2, 2008
    My research is this: I could not play high notes after decades of practice (including getting into music school in college). I thought it might be due to asthma, or just poor technique. I practiced very diligently and can play many instruments, including trombone and euphonium-of which I could play as high as I did on the trumpet. I eventually noticed that I have a blob of tissue in the center of my lip and I wondered if that might be a hindrance. So I played way off to the side and after about 30 minutes of practice over two days, my range increased about an octave. I was playing double Gs after about 2 hours of practice. It was a complete sea change. However, playing about an inch away from center doesn't give you great control or tone, so it wasn't a final solution.

    I then wondered if there were ANY professional players who had lips like mine so I spent days on the Internet finding photos of ANY good player. They were all flat or nearly flat. There were two players that appeared to have a pretty good sized "widow's peak" (which does also refer to hairline) Don Ellis, and Wynton Marsalis. It's hard to get a good idea about this from photos, but the more photos of Don I found, the smoother his "peak" became. Also, measuring something like this should occur BEFORE you play. Playing Double C's is bound to cause some swelling ;-) Anyway, I had the opportunity to meet Wynton last year and I did focus on his chops and he does have a bit of bump there but it's not very big.

    A very curious set of chops go to Gerard Schwartz. He actually has an indentation in the middle of his upper lip--almost like a hairlip. Perhaps that would let him play higher more easily because he can create a very tight aperture with that feature. From my limited research I would say that 95% of professional trumpet players are almost totally flat, and the rest aren't far off. I should reiterate that all I'm concerned about is the 1/2 inch or so in the middle. I have no idea what percentage of people have what I am talking about, but it could be as low as 1%. Perhaps lower.

    Also, to play with good tone you have just a little bit of pressure in the center. You just can't mash your lips together and expect to make anyone happy with your tone. Having that extra tissue dangling down right where the aperture is messes everything up. You can squish it but then you won't have the LACK of pressure you need for a good vibration.
  3. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    Hey fuss,
    I am certain that there is no correlation. I know players that even bit through their lips, have massive scar tissue on the upper lip and can play double Cs cleanly. I also know many players that play far to the left and right of center with no problems.

    I have a problem with players focussing too much on the chops. They are not 90% of playing, breath support is. When your support is together, the demands elsewhere decrease dramatically. I am positive that lip geometry is of little significance. Too many various methods work too well.

    I also can attest to the fact that aperature considerations are a waste of time. As was recently pointed out in amother thread, the M-bouchure starts with the lips pressed lightly together. The lips flap against one another and that creates the basic sound. Strong chops have VERY pliable lips with excellent control of the muscles surrounding them. The lower or louder that you play, the wider the lips flap. Aperature is only a visualization to let us know which muscles can use help.

    I see a lot of criticism about pressure, but in spite of this, I have to admit that it in many cases WORKS. You CAN have a nice tone and reasonable range even when using excess pressure. This is the case with most players. What suffers is endurance and the ability to move to the next step up. I am not advocating mashing your chops, but if I have a 6 hour gig, I will do what is necessary to get the job done and that many times involves excess pressure.
  4. dfusselman

    dfusselman New Friend

    Dec 2, 2008
    Hey rowuk,
    Thanks for the reply. There are obviously many players with different lip structures, and Herbert L. Clarke ripped a lot of skin off his upper lip when his mouthpiece froze to his chops. But until I see a picture that proves I am wrong, I won't be totally convinced. There might be other factors involved, but for me, playing way off to the side gives me an extra octave+. I don't think there's any explanation other than it's flat there, and I have yet to see a photo of a good player with anything other than flat or fairly flat upper lip in the middle 3/4 inches of the lip. Show me a picture of someone that has a lot of extra skin there and I'll send you $5.

  5. gbdeamer

    gbdeamer Forte User

    Oct 16, 2008
    "But until I see a picture that proves I am wrong, I won't be totally convinced."

    That's like saying, "Until someone shows me a piece of moon rock, I will believe that the moon is made out of cheese".
  6. Brekelefuw

    Brekelefuw Fortissimo User

    Mar 21, 2006
  7. dfusselman

    dfusselman New Friend

    Dec 2, 2008
    Brekelefuw, that was a very good try! Here's more of Freddie Hubbard:

    He definitely isn't completely flat on his upper lip. His chops are similar to Wynton Marsalis and Miles Davis. He certainly can play high. But it isn't what I'm looking for. He or she needs to have about a 45 degree angle of tissue going down in the middle 5/8th inch or so. Freddie has about a 15 degree angle and that's over about 1 inch of tissue so it's just a bit rounded right in the middle. I will send some more photos of my chops when I get to my other place (I don't have any photos on this computer).

    Kudos for a great try that approaches what I am talking about. It was more gradual compared to my chops. I won't totally throw it out, though, because there is significant swelling there.

  8. RobertSlotte

    RobertSlotte Pianissimo User

    Jul 7, 2008
    Interesting theory dfusselman. I´ll help you to look if we find any good screamers with the widow´s peak your describing.
    And all you guys who flames his theory right away without thinking: prove him wrong instead of just saying: "noo thats not right"
  9. siarr

    siarr Pianissimo User

    May 18, 2007
    Hollywood, FL, USA

    I can understand where you're coming from, but I too have known guys with big "beaks" who could play great. There was one guy I used to know who had such a prominent beak, we called him "triceratops." However, I have also had a life-long struggle to play high notes, and have no trace of a beak (see attached photo). I've always had a relatively dependable concert C, but when continuing upwards my lips simply stop vibrating, no matter how I adjust my embouchure, angle, etc. I always felt that my problem was my lower lip, which is very uneven and thick. I also had a broken front tooth as a kid, which started me playing to one side, a habit I never completely broke. Anyway, as others have said, there are too many variables to attribute the problem to one physical factor, though it's certainly possible that your theory has some validity for some players.

    Best wishes,

    Attached Files:

  10. Bill McCloskey

    Bill McCloskey Piano User

    Apr 22, 2007
    Of course the question I have is, if you have always had problems playing the trumpet, why don't you switch to sax?

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