How do we play high notes???

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by NickD, Nov 23, 2005.

  1. W Scott

    W Scott Piano User

    Dec 8, 2003
    Carson City, NV.
    WooooHooo! I hit a solid double 'A' a couple of nights ago and it was easy. How?

    Well, a lot things had been percolating in the recesses of my mind. I'm starting my eight year old son on the trumpet. Along with him, my 15 y/o piano playing daughter wanted to try as well. What I have the hardest time getting across to them is to use very tiny adjustments in their chops (along with air) to go up and down a series of notes. It made me realize that what we do with our embochures in playing is done on a very tiny scale.

    I agree with Bob Odneal that you have to have that cushion of lip muscle for the mouthpiece to rest on. What I'd been told by the two teachers I've had since starting on the comeback trail---is that the high notes come slowly. It's the Charles Colin approach in his "Lip Flexibilites' approach of 'work on your highest good note while striving for a note or two higher'.

    What bothered me in this approach is that although it works, it sure looks as if some other folks out there have figured out other, faster ways to get the higher notes. The problem is that so many of those ways are just ludicrous and there are so many scam artists out there peddling junk.

    I bought one of those types of 'easy to play high notes' off of E-Bay. I won't give the exact title or who the guy is, but the basic approach is to bring your jaw forward to form the pad of lip muscle you need. Well, my jaw doesn't move that way. Further, yes the guy could play high notes but his sound was lousy. It would be a good sound for a screamin' rock band, but for anything lyrical it just wouldn't work.

    Along with that video, the seller had thrown in two other books by Pops McLaughlin. Most of us on this forum know Pops and I've always liked his down to earth approach.

    The first book was 'The Next Level'. Pops talks about the need for a balance of lip setting, compression, air, tension, tongue arch and mouthpiece pressure. He then goes on to talk about how the 5 basic schools of thought approach the embochure. Basically, these 5 approaches are different ways to obtain the goal that Pops talked about.

    The second book was 'Chops Builder'. This book has pictures of Pops 'Pencil Exercise' in it. This exercise you can use with whatever embochure setup you want to---as long as you keep the pencil up. Following the pictures, I was able to keep a full size pencil up for one minute----and I'd been practicing this for a week.

    Also in "Chops Builder' is a picture showing a way to hold a trumpet that keeps you from putting too much pressure on your lips. I'd been working on that as well.

    So, I'd been practicing for about an hour on basic skills and high notes. I was tired at the end of the hour and went to do a warm down using Vizzuttis' 'New Concepts for Trumpet' book. Page 9, at the top, has some long tone, slurring exercises that I like to do.

    Because I was tired, I switched over to the 'low pressure' grip in Pops book to play the exercise. Also, because my chops were getting tired after an hour of playing high----I found myself compensating using the 'pout' I used with the pencil exercise.

    I slurred through the first exercise up to the high note. Hey---my chops don't feel tired! Just for grins and giggles, I gently slurred up to the next 'slot' I could find with the same fingering----and did it again, and then again.

    It really shocked me how easy it was to go up into the double register using this setup. I'd never hit notes this high before. What was going on?

    1. Even though I'm not a pressure player, apparently I was using enough pressure to shut down the vibration of the lip. In turn, that impedes blood flow leading to a cramped, tired feeling.

    2. My embochure wasn't set up right to form the cushion of muscle needed for support.

    So, here are some questions to mull over:

    1. How is it that guys like Maynard, and Louis Armstrong play with lots of pressure and still get out the high notes. I've seen a picture of Maynards chops right after a concert and it's not pretty. There's plenty of pressure used. Ditto for Louis as you can see the scars on his chops from the pressure he used. How did they do it?

    2. If playing high is as easy as forming a good cushion with controlled air support----can a young player learn to do this very quickly? Where (and how) did the idea take hold that it takes years to develop the higher register?

    Finally, a look at the horn itself. I noticed that the slots up high were sometimes very close and other times quite a ways apart. So, a third question is:

    3. What about the slotting of a horn? If you have a horn with tight slots that are easy to find and lock on too, doesn't that make the high notes easier as well?

  2. dbacon

    dbacon Mezzo Piano User

    Oct 24, 2003
    Scottsdale, AZ.
    "I think about pushing them forward toward the center of the mouth. When I push my bottom lip up against my top, I feel the corners going into action on their own, and I go from there"

    We've re-discovered the pucker!

    Uan Rasey taught this, Maggio.
  3. NickD

    NickD Forte User

    Tongue position & the high note thing - shakes & lip

    Ok, one thing I left out of "my thing" is the tongue position concepts that work for me.

    When I play low notes I think "awwww" or "oooohhhh" to get the feel of where the tongue will be. When I play high notes, I think "eeee" or even "hisssss" (no, I'm not speaking "passel-tongue" Harry Potter fans!).

    I combine this thinking with the tongue with the lip aperture trends I've already discussed. When I'm playing very high notes, I am very aware of the back of my tongue pressing very hard against the back molars. Sometimes I'm am pushing it real hard up there, though I don't think I need to.

    Now, when I am doing a shake or a lip trill, I combine a control of tongue position and lip aperture control to do it. I NEVER deliberately shake the horn, though some folks do this. That having been said, if I am doing a very wide shake (a perfect 5th or more) one might see some motion to my bell because I pivot the horn downward as I ascend in pitch and vice versa as I go down.

    However the main thing that was running through my thoughts when I was learning how to do lip trills and shakes was "ah-ee-ah-ee-ah-ee," etc.

    I got this from a variety of sources, but most importantly from Colin's Lip Felxibilities, The Earl Irons book, the Walter Smith Lip Flexibilities and the Calude Gordon 52 week method.

    I THINK I've answered the questions that were posed directly to me. I'll have to re-scan the thread to see if I missed any ideas.

    FWIIW, coming from me, the ideas posted by all of you are just wonderful. Thanks for all the sharing.

    Peace, all.

  4. joshuasullins

    joshuasullins Pianissimo User

    Nov 9, 2005
    Silverdale, WA
    This is one heck of a thread. I had a teacher who was extremely into the "math of music". Everything from this kind of stuff, to just intonation. It is very interesting. I think knowing even a little about it brings to light some good issues with everyone's playing.

    I know a lot of players who use a pivot. Watch videos of Patrick Hession, Arutro Sandoval... etc. There are lots of guys who do it. I do it too. I also subscribe to the Mark Van Cleave/Claude Gordon method of controlling the pitch with the tongue. So basically, I have a low set which by altering the tongue placement can achieve great lows and mids. Then I have another pivot that achieves great mids and highs. Then I have a couple more pivots which increase usable range to about an F over double C. It is a very individualized thing (where the pivot is and whether you use one), however, as has been stated, lips vibrating fast enough to create a usable, powerful double C is almost laughable and near impossible. For most people the pivot has more to do with making the air stream flow properly as not to hit the top teeth and lose all the velocity. Given the arch of the tongue needed to create notes requiring such high velocity air, the pivot is simply an adjustment so that the air goes into the piece and doesn't hit the teeth. That is what makes it an individualized subject. Different people. Different teeth, different tongue, different lungs, and respiratory strengths, not to mention the size of the oral cavity.

    As for the aperture, I use a normally closed aperture, like I am going to say "P". The air stream creates the hole.

    Great thread!

  5. NickD

    NickD Forte User


    Ok, how could I have missed THIS!


    Here is MY take, but this is just my humble opinion.

    (Too much pressure) = VERY bad!

    I had soo much trouble from using a stretch and press approach, even when I was on Maynard's band, that I thought it was going to seriously damage my career. In some ways, it DID. During my most important developmental years, I was experiencing staggering inconsistencies - bad spells. This caused fear and stage fright on my part and concerns about reliability on the part of some others. Not to mention the legendary "cattieness" of some competitive trumpeters in the business.

    So when I read about pressure, I get chills. You're right about MF using pressure. He could sound pretty darned amazing even when playing on a bloody mess. I, on the other hand, could really stink.

    I think guys who are extreme high pressure players rely on down time to recover, but I could be wrong. I think Louis was forced to take some time off in the UK when he busted his chops.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not sure anyone truly plays with absolutely no pressure, but I think it is a good idea to use as little as possible, given the demans of your playing.

    Now, as to pressure for ME: I avoid it as much as I can, though when I do find myself adding a bit of pressure, I add it mainly to the LOWER LIP (remember my pivot?). If anything this aids in helping the lower lip come up a bit as I ascend in pitch. Also, don't forget the crazy mouthpiece I use - the Asymetric. The fat bottom rim not only helps in my bringing the lower lip up and ONLY up (not into the mouthpiece) as I ascend in pitch, it also prevents the actual pressure from becoming to high (remember, pressure = force/area; the larger the area for a given force, the lower the actuall pressure, so for a given arm force on my lower lip, the actuall pressure is much less).

    As an aside about my mouthpiece, let me say that they are most certainly NOT for everyone, but if one were to try one, you must get used to setting it a bit lower on the chops (a tiny bit less upper lip in the mouthpiece and a bit more lower lip). This has helped me a great deal.

    OK, I want to get away from the pressure subject! It's creppin' me out, man!
  6. 11thchair

    11thchair Pianissimo User

    Jan 27, 2005
    Evansville In
    I thought I would throw $0.02 more in - mainly because I think I'm screwed up on how I have approached high notes. So I would not mind hearing back. I'm going to have to experiment with what I'm reading here.

    I'm a not trained, comebacker. I was luck to hit G on top of the staff in high school. Present solid range is 1 octave higher. I don't do any of the things I'm reading here except the arching of the tongue.

    Lower lip does not budge and is slightly rolled in tight. Upper lip is sealed in with enough pressure to keep it from moving and blowing out. Upper lip is then thinned out - feels like just a slight ridge forms in the mouthpiece - or at least what I imagine it doing - by relaxing the part in the mp so that the pressure is what thins the lip out. Kinda follows the less mass getting more frequency. Result is a not overbearing high G that floats over the rest of the band. A side note - if I remove the mouthpiece from the receiver I do not get a buzz no matter what the pitch.

    So am I screwed up?
  7. joshuasullins

    joshuasullins Pianissimo User

    Nov 9, 2005
    Silverdale, WA
    I don't think you are screwed up. You are on the road to right, but I think you have some stops to make along the way. I think that you are doing more naturally than you think. For instance, do you notice how when you play a low C your lower lip is not really "rolled in tight"? Do you notice when you set to specifically hit and maintain a double G that your upper lip rolls in slightly as well? Do you notice yourself moving your jaw forward at all and the bell tipping downward? Finally, can you feel your tongue arching the higher up from your original pivot that you move? I am willing to bet that you do these things... perhaps without realizing it. You might do it so slightly that you don't notice. If you aren't doing these things, maybe you should try it and see what happens.

    Just some ideas, but it sounds like you are on the way to doing things right. The only thing that really needs watching is how your lower lip doesn't move at all and that you can't get a buzz. You might be using resonant intonation....?

  8. 11thchair

    11thchair Pianissimo User

    Jan 27, 2005
    Evansville In
    I'm planning on trying some (all) of the things listed. Like you say I may be doing some without realizing it.
    resonant intonation??? What is that?

    Note : I can get a buzz if I want to - I just have developed a technique that does not do it. Being untrained caused me to go this way? Sound with a buzz is different, not as mellow, not as high.
  9. Billy B

    Billy B Pianissimo User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Des Moines, IA
    I am not convinced that it is neccessary to understand exactly what is going on physically to play the trumpet. In fact I think dwelling on such information can be detrimental. While I remain aware of the physical, 90% of my concentration is on the sound, 9% on the breath and 1% everything else. When working the high register I do the same thing as I do in all registers. Slowly working to the bottom of the horn while maintaining the same sound keeps the chops from becoming flabby and demands that the area behind the mouthpiece remain relaxed. Slowly working to the top is the same. At the point where the sound changes I know that I have changed my physical system. Concentration is the key and a mind free of distractions will lead you to the goal. I really believe too much emphasis on the physical is the biggest distraction we have as players. Number two would be that blonde in the front row. :-) Because of this approach I always play better in performance than I do in the practice room. The excitement and the involvement in the music makes my chops work freely. I do have a hard time getting that excitement in the practice room.
  10. NickD

    NickD Forte User

    Point counter-point

    I don't think anyone is suggesting that we need to think this analytically when we play. Heck I don't...

    UNLESS, I'm having a bad night. Then, if I have to, I can resort to correcting my form to get things "right." FOR ME, if my chops aren't working right (bad day), it's my FORM that has gotten sloppy. It's not about physical strength, fo rme. It's about what I am doing.So if I have to, I can resort to technique and fix things. Then I can get back about the business of making music.

    Understanding what I am doing is just another tool I have to keep the machine running when the going gets tough.

    Ostensibly, one should do whatever works for them. This thread is simply a discussion about what is happening when we play - an intellectual exercise. I don't think anyone's playing can suffer from the participation in an intellectual exercise/discussion about trumpet than they would by discussing the effect of the Bernoulli effect on a sinking slider! ;-)

    Or, maybe not...


    Peace, all!


Share This Page