Discovering the "Tension/Suppleness Threshold Factor"

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Local 357, Aug 14, 2012.

  1. Local 357

    Local 357 Banned

    Jul 1, 2011
    OK I finally decided to put this label out there. If you've never read or heard of the term before? Well that's because I invented the phrase a few years back.

    "Tension/Suppleness Threshold Factor" or T/STF for short. I dabbled with this idea in the "Lip Compression Is Not Enough" topic but didn't want to name it just yet. Today I changed my mind after deciding that the term really is necessary in order to explain why and when lip compression is or isn't helpful

    "Tension" is the muscular contraction and movements applied to those muscles and lips flesh which rest on or outside the inner rim of the mouthpiece.

    "Suppleness" is required for all lip flesh that resides within the mouthpiece cup in all registers ESPECIALLY the upper register.

    The "/" punctuation between "Tension" and "Suppleness"is actually very important and is put there to emphasize the distinction of these two key areas of embouchure. The "/" is a reminder that the more definition or contrast we make between those two areas of muscle usage the better will be our tone, range, power endurance etc. You may look at the "/" as being similar to the fulcrum used on a child's see-saw in the schoolyard play area.

    "Threshold" is there because it indicates a changing of the "/" or fulcrum. When in the lowest of register the "Threshold" may exist comparatively well away from the mouthpiece rim. Conversely in the upper register the fulcrum sits right on the inner rim edge of the mouthpiece.

    Much of what we do when ascending into the upper register is condensing the size of the threshold or fulcrum. Consider the "/" to be like a dart board: In the lowest register the tension exists only on the outside of the target area. In the upper register it is that area just surrounding the bulls eye. The bulls eye itself is analogous of the vibrating lip flesh within the mouthpiece which must always remain soft and supple. At least it you want to have a decent upper register.

    "Factor" is listed last. It means that the comparative value of zero tension will shrink when ascending or expand when descending. It is a changeable ratio. In addition to shrinkage or expansion more or less muscular tension may be applied in the facial muscles that define the "Threshold".

    How did I discover this idea? Well for one the idea of it being a "discovery" might be a misnomer. Or an exaggeration. While no one else has talked about it before I did (or at least not used my terms specifically) we should remember that Newton didn't invent gravity either. Its always been there. He just defined it. As trumpet players we've always had a T/STF whether we knew it or not. At least from the time you first ventured above a G top of the staff that is.

    I made the discovery some ten years back while on a paid gig that became very tiring to the trumpets (myself and my buddy Bill). The whole gig was near constant playing and many many long tones. As the encore number came around in our final set I felt the need to showboat a little and cap the finale number with a High G (F concert pitch). All despite being nearly exhausted in the chops department.

    So I rested a trifle, like two bars or so and finished off the three bar coda with one of the solidest High G's I'd ever hit ( I have a good one by the way). A fermata was over the note and I held it out with every last licking bit of physical strength that was in my body. Hoping to hell that the music director wouldn't sustain the darn last note much more than six seconds or so.

    While holding this note it seemed like an eternity. Drama in slow motion...

    So at any rate here I am applying the last gram of energy left in my whole being and hoping to hell that the director cuts the thing off before:

    A. Either the note stops speaking thus creating a deafening and embarassing silence (this was a really loud loud note) or

    B. I pass out.

    Whichever comes first... Anyway during this brief moment and while sustaining the High G I noticed one astonishing condition:

    Though my mouthpiece was "jammed like lead to the floor" and applying near teeth bending pressure against my incisors I HAD ABSOLUTELY NO MUSCLES FLEXING IN MY LIPS AT ALL!!! At least no tension what-so-ever on that lip mass within the mouthpiece cup.

    In the weeks and years since then I have worked on understanding this condition and concept over and over. It dawned on me later on that the extreme mouthpiece pressure I was using at that time had increased my Threshold Factor ratio. That by jamming the darn horn against my poor lips I was able to LOOSEN my chops freely within the cup of the mouthpiece. In so doing the tone was freed up and a HUGE volume of tone poured out the bell of the horn on a very high note.

    So the next thought I had was:

    "How can I better define my Threshold Factor ratio without applying the horn so darned hard against my chops that my upper teeth are tested to the point of bending"?

    It was at this point that I discovered that the facial muscles could make this fulcrum all by themselves! That by making a sharper "contrast" of those muscles which do firm up and those that don't I could free up my center lip mass without jamming the horn so hard against my chops.

    As time passed I noticed that the more definition I chose to exercise between the flesh that stays firm and that which does not contract I could play louder and louder without jamming the dog gone horn so hard against my chops! Arm pressure cuts off lip circulation. This in turn reduces vibrancy. Requiring more and more work to gain the same results earlier in the gig before the chops were beaten. My endurance shot up another 100+%. Not to mention confidence on a gig.

    Another thing about T/STF that is cool is that since it is a physical constant it can be used by any trumpet player who chooses to learn to apply and use it. It isn't one of those "systems" like pedal tones which may or may not help a given trumpet player. T/STF will always help a trumpet player.

    The other significant chops concept which is applicable across the board is something the late Lee C defined as "Zone of Efficient Vibration" or "ZEV". Lee borrowed it from Roy Stevens and then expounded on it times ten. It simply means to leave a little extra upper lip mass descending below the upper teeth. Lip positioning on the mouthpiece being irrelevant to ZEV. In fact the best lip positioning on the mouthpiece is a variable factor best left to the trumpet player to decided for himself.

    With ZEV one can explain the reason why so many trumpet players can not play well above the High C. A condition that almost seems like a plague among the great masses of trumpet players. You've noticed this yourself I'm sure.

    How many decent trumpet players do you know who couldn't play above a High D to save their life? Answer: the great majority.

    One thing that the pedal tone systems often did was to shift the trumpet player to a higher lip placement on the mouthpiece. Maggio and Gordon promoted this. Sometimes this worked. Other times it failed miserably. In those cases where it did work it was due to an unintentional correction of the ZEV. In other words the higher lip placement on the mouthpiece automatically dragged more upper lip below the upper teeth. Unfortunately for most pedal tone adherents they would achieve variable results. Had they instead considered lowering their upper lip BELOW their upper teeth? Their results would have been more consistent.

    Play with the correct ZEV? Any intermediate to advanced trumpet player with existing weak upper register will almost instantly be able to blow a solid High F to G or so. Not making this up! Seen it happen on a predictable basis. Doesn't even surprise me any more. Other than the astonishment of those cats who discover how valuable a concept it is to themselves the whole idea seems almost a "ho hum" to me.

    T/STF and ZEV compliment each other. If you have a proper ZEV but weak T/STF? You'll have good register but weak endurance and accuracy.

    Have a good T/STF but improper ZEV? You'll have great endurance, accuracy and tone but little in the way of register above a High C.

    All the above is PROVABLE in every single application. Same as water seeking its own level. Or in other words, any intermediate to advanced trumpet player who learns to apply both T/STF and ZEV will certainly be able to cure his range and endurance problems quickly. At least to a High G* or so. No guess work here.

    Best of all its free.

    *Above the High G is another matter. Some trumpet players will develop these notes fairly easily. Others will struggle for decades. I know the answer as to why this is so but the explanation requires an understanding of what I call "deep embouchure theory". Something that is very difficult to explain let alone be expected to be understood. Plus the technique to develop Double C's in those who were initially limited to just the High G may require a sacrifice of time and effort the average person simply isn't going to put in. Nor should he even be expected to make this kind of commitment.

    However the inability to play Double C's is not a catastrophic limitation. Not compared to the stymie the great majority of trumpet players who are limited by the High C cut-off point. All said and done if I felt like it I could explain how to train anyone to blow a solid DHC. One way or another that is. There are several methods. The problem is that possibly all that they would have is that note and the few ones surrounding it. Possibly so anyway. Unless naturally endowed to develop this way each would find themselves very bewildered and prone to give up the experiment. Trumpet players get very depressed about range issues. Unless they see substantial results on a predictable basis each is likely to give up learning extreme range. You can't blame them.

    But I COULD show you how to do it. End brag share. Apologies in advance.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2012
  2. GijsVis

    GijsVis Piano User

    Jul 23, 2012
    I love your explanations, but one thing I can't figure out is how to apply it, can you maybe explain that?
  3. Cornyandy

    Cornyandy Fortissimo User

    Jan 9, 2010
    East Yorkshire
    I'm trying to cut through the words here, tight outside the mouthpiece, relaxed inside, little pressure only a seal and blow. Please don't think I'm being sarcastic I'm just trying to understand and put it into words of one sylable or less.
  4. jellesmiecht

    jellesmiecht New Friend

    Jun 1, 2012
    So how did you apply this to your students or learned this yourself. Do you have some sort of step by step plan. Just like the people above I don't quite get it.
    I can't even get my top lip so far down, my front teeth are kinda big (not rabbit size but a little big)
  5. Ed Lee

    Ed Lee Utimate User

    Aug 16, 2009
    Jackson NC
    To me this seems to be a variant explanation of the method used to enhance lip and facial muscle strength in the "pencil", "button" and P.E.T.E. exercises viz if you don't have the strength developed in the lip and facial muscles how you manipulate your lips will be a continuing problem for you.
  6. trumpeterjake

    trumpeterjake Pianissimo User

    Aug 5, 2012
    Connersville, Indiana
    So are you saying to firstly find the correct lip placement (which is different for each player) where a players lips vibrate the best? And then you would keep the lips inside the mouthpiece soft and flexible but the lips on the outside and the sides of the mouth should be tight for high register playing? So according to you there should be tension among the fleshy parts of the lip as long as the vibrating part remains flexible?
  7. Chuck Cox

    Chuck Cox Forte User

    Oct 3, 2008
    Cary NC
    I liked your analysis so much that I copied,pasted,and printed it to keep with my horn. was 4 pages. Thanks for taking the time to explain.
  8. trumpeterjake

    trumpeterjake Pianissimo User

    Aug 5, 2012
    Connersville, Indiana
    I did that too!
  9. Local 357

    Local 357 Banned

    Jul 1, 2011
    Oddly enough the best way to explain and apply the value of T/STF (Tension/Suppleness Threshold Factor) as it relates to the embouchure is to use the analogous exercise of the arms from my "Lip Compression Isn't Enough" topic here:

    By emulating the loose fingers, firm arm with the chops we can apply T/STF best. There might be other ways of describing the technique but this is the one that works best for me. The other way is to visualize a dart target. The bulls eye represents the lip mass inside the mouthpiece cup. The rest of the target is the outer embouchure which can be firmed up as much as needed depending upon register and volume. The outer "target" can not only firm up but can CONDENSE the area of muscles/facial flesh that do not flex. Condensing that is up to the point of the inner mouthpiece rim. Anything inside the mouthpiece cup should not get firm. Blocks the sound ESPECIALLY in the upper register.

    This is why the term "Lip Compression" is so inadequate. Surely some muscles must firm up but as soon as they cross over inside the inner rim of the mouthpiece the tone will cut out.

    About the only brass players who can utilize much flexing of the inner embouchure vibrating points are probably the low brass players. They can afford this luxury because the sheer volume of the larger mouthpiece cup allows for some mild tension inside the piece without wholly cutting off the sound. These brass players might be better off to fine tune their chops with T/STF but it isn't as critical

    It is a little tricky to explain but this is due only because of the limitation of language. Indeed "a picture is worth a thousand words" would be doubly applicable. At present however I'm trying to pay off some property taxes and can't yet quite afford to launch a web-page. So we're stuck with my typing...

    I wouldn't necessarily avoid arm pressure. At least not while trying to apply the ideas. I simply mentioned arm pressure because the nature of T/STF is that it nearly duplicates the benefit of arm pressure but without the predictable drop off in blood circulation within the chops.

    Again, the arm tightening, finger relaxation training exercise is probably the most valuable approach. Despite the fact that it has no connection to the embouchure.

    You must be talking about the "ZEV" or "Zone of Efficient Vibration" here. Which is essentially a way of dropping the top lip down so that it can at least allow notes above the High C. Few people who do not drop their upper lip below the upper teeth will find any access to the extreme upper register at all. In fact they will nearly always cut out around a High D. There is one pro somewhere who disputes me on this subject. He insists:

    "I do not drop my upper lip below my upper teeth at all"

    To which I rebut that he either:

    A. Automatically lowers his upper lip a tad without knowing it when he sets his mouthpiece on his chops. Or,

    B. His upper lip flesh is so inherently elastic and vibrant that he doesn't need much of this lip to descend below his upper teeth in order to scream the high ones.

    I also believe that he plays with a more forward jaw than his peers. With the jaw forward the air will contact more of the upper lip even when this lip is resting in its natural position.

    What I tell people to do at first is to walk over to the mirror and observe where their upper lip rests relative to the upper teeth. Look in the mirror with your mouth open about a half inch while leaving your lips resting in their normal position. Observe whether or not you can see your upper teeth. Usually they will be slightly visible. People with buck teeth or cleft palate will have abnormal amounts of upper teeth showing.

    So while looking in the mirror place your left index finger just above your upper lip but left of your nostril. Now place your right index finger just right of your left nostril.

    OK now push the upper lip flesh DOWNWARDS until your upper lip passes about an eighth of an inch below your upper teeth. This will obscure/hide your upper teeth from view in the mirror.

    Repeat this process a few times. ie pushing the upper lip down, releasing fingers and allow to ride up etc.

    Next: Find the facial muscles which can do the same pushing of the upper lip downwards without the use of your index fingers. These muscles are located just left and right of your nose. You might also try pushing your lip corners down a trifle too.

    You don't have to push the upper lip down much. Just enough to get it to hide or cover up the upper teeth about 1/8th of an inch.

    Once you feel proficient at dropping your upper lip this way go ahead and set your embouchure to play the trumpet. Do this according to the way you always do but just drop the upper lip a little lower over your upper teeth. Do not change the position of your mouthpiece on your lips at all. The adjustment is only concerned with the relative position of the upper teeth. Not where the mouthpiece rim rests on your lips. Nor the ratio of upper lip to lower*.

    Play a few scales this way with some long tones. Don't be in a hurry! Just fiddle with this for a bit. In a few days EVERY intermediate or better trumpet player who previously did not have a High F should be able to at least squeak one.

    Some play High F's and G's within a few minutes! Boy does this shock the hell out of them...

    I made the change on the road some 35 years ago. Did it in one night. The first feeling was that my embouchure was somewhat "weaker" this way. However the results behind the horn at first were no different. The reason it felt weaker was because the lowered upper lip loosened the chops up. This allows a much more efficient blow.

    "Weakness is strength" is an Arnold Jacobs quote I believe.

    Then a day or two later I noticed that i could play my High C ALL NIGHT LONG! I've never looked back.

    Granted however I did have a High G even before I dropped my upper lip. However it was less predictable at that time. And not nearly so well connected to my middle and lower register at that time. The reason I had a High F before learning place my chops in the ZEV was because I'd unintentionally pulled more upper lip below my upper teeth from the Maggio pedal tones.

    Pedal tones "work" at times because they indirectly adjust the upper lip lower over the upper teeth somewhat. However once the trumpet player stops playing the pedals on a gig he usually re-sets his chops in their natural position. He then finds that he can not connect to the High F very well. Or he has to jam like hell to pull it off.

    I consider pedals tones mixed blessing:

    1. The trumpet player blows pedals. Does this through puckering. This puckering pulls his upper lip a little over his upper teeth without him even noticing. Creating a slightly more favorable ZEV without him even being aware of it. It also tends to expose the "pooched out" inner membrane of the upper lip to vibration. This inner lining of the upper lip is very vibrant and can sustain high notes well.

    2. However he uses a lot of arm pressure because he isn't cognizant or able to fine tune a more efficient ZEV. So he plays MORE pedals to re-circulate and re-energize his chops.

    3. Briefly his chops recover and he goes back to blowing more high notes until circulation loss sets in and he repeats the process above. This degenerates his playing condition. Reinforces insecurity of performance etc.

    I use pedals only for warm up or after a long lay off on a tacit chart. Not as a way of "juicing" my chops to squeeze the last ounce of high notes out of them.

    *Those systems that dictate a ratio of upper lip to lower lips on the mouthpiece are often mistaken. This is the old fashioned "one dimensional approach".

    Their insistence of a specific ratio of say "1/3 lower, 2/3rds upper"

    is automatically negated by the another system which suggests the exact opposite of "2/3ds upper, 1/3 lower"

    Almost laughable how the ideas contradict each other!

    By "one dimensional approach" we mean how the mouthpiece appears on the outside of the mouth. Unfortunately this does not take into account the more important factor which is WHERE THE LIPS LAY RELATIVE TO THE TEETH!!!

    Roy Stevens used to say: "You can't play on your teeth".

    True fact!
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2012
  10. jellesmiecht

    jellesmiecht New Friend

    Jun 1, 2012
    Okay, I applied it yesterday (only the zev) the sound was huge, first I could only get the sound without changing embouchure from low F# till low C (beneath staff) 2 hours later I could get the results from low F# to C in staff, somehow I play with the jaw more forward and the lips much more relaxed and the aperture is no longer in front of my front teeth. It's amazing :)
    I have the feeling that I can blow much more freely now, didn't know that would be possible.

    Last edited: Aug 16, 2012

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