How the Trumpet (Player) Works, or "Software"

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by jdostie, Nov 18, 2009.

  1. jdostie

    jdostie Piano User

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    I finally read most of the "how a trumpet works" thread, though I started to gloss over the stuff about amplifiers, impedence, and gap. What interests me most is the "Backoffice" or "Software" end of things, which were touched upon briefly.

    Beginning with our "Generator" - the lungs - some would refer to as a bellows type of configuration. This would include abdominal muscles, back muscles, the chest cavity, etc. How the lungs can produce wind energy, and what the player can voluntarily control - posture, chest up, full breath etc.

    Moving on to how posture affect the air column coming through the throat (I belive Rowak indicated that it does/can).

    The throat itself, I am thinking of "Ha" and "Ho" breath sounds.

    Then oral cavity and tongue arch, how this affects air speed etc.

    Finally, the lips/aperature and mouthpiece combination, vertical pressure pushing the top lip against the bottom lip, radial pressure - an inward pressure toward the aperture, and horizontal pressure pressure of the mouthpiece against the lips.

    Those better versed than I will probably have some changes to this list - possible additions or subtractions in case I missed something or have put something in that should really be part of something else.

    Let me give you a little background for what I am thinking about, though I'd rather not limit this to this particular scenario - or start another air speed thread:
    - I know I can produce an emmense amount of air pressure - far more than the chops can handle - enough that if I just blow throught he horn it'll whistle; there is no way that amount of air pressure would be required (at least I don't think so).
    - I know that when I am rested I can produce notes above high C with relative ease - with relatively little effort.
    - When I become tired, it gets harder to produce higher notes - If I push harder with air, I might just overpower my chops - I am assuming that the combination of vertical/radial pressure is failing due to fatigue, so the "natural" response is to add horizontal pressure - and this works - to a point.
    - Yet, I can feel at the point where nothing is working, and my teacher can coach me to again produce notes that I'm otherwise missing - not necessarily to the full extent of my range when fresh, but still.
    - That being the case, there must be inefficiencies that creep in even though the engine can produce more than enough air/air pressure. Moreover, self analysis at the time of failure seems to make things worse - hence I am assuming some sort of tension - restricting air flow? Restricting the free buzz of the lips? Whatever.

    So, you probably get where I am going with this - There are a bunch of factors - which I have tried to outline above. If I'm breaking one of those pieces when I play, well you get the idea.

    What do you think, is this a worthy topic?
     
  2. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

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    Ok, this may turn into a bucket of worms, but I'll give it a shot.

    first of all, the lips are sort of a generator, their movement gets the standing wave or resonance in the horn kickstarted and afterwards interact with the resonance to change its frequency or amplitude (ultimately the loudness that we percieve). There are 4 major forces that affect the lips: the muscle tension, the pressure of the air from our lungs, the backpressure from the horn and the resonance in the horn itself. The horn is out of metal and has a set behaviour that is generally predictable. The backpressure from the horn is based on the efficiency of the resonance. The more efficient the horn, the more back pressure.
    This means that we can blow as hard as we want, ultimately the trumpet will determine how much gets turned into sound. In many cases, the pressure from blowing and the backpressure from the horn are almost identical, we have little air moving.

    Behind our lips, we have an air chamber that provides a damping effect for the lips. When the tongue is higher, our sound seems to become brighter, this is not because of velocity rather because the more focussed air stream favors higher frequencies. Our lips excite more than one tone at a time (fundemental and overtones). The reverse is true when the tongue is low, the air stream is more diffuse and the lower frequencies are not damped as much. I feel that we cannot separate the mouthpiece, lips or airchamber. They all dramatically affect what happens with the resonance in the horn.

    As far as our throats go, there are several myths that need to get cleaned up. Our throat or trachea is not made of soft tissue and it has no ability to "close up". The tension that the player senses there actually does nothing at the throat. It affects the way we breathe (shallower when we are tense) and whether we can go from an inhale directly to an exhale state or whether we have to let the VOCAL CHORDS open first. If we are not relaxed, quite often the vocal chord close and reduce the free flow of air.

    As far as our lungs go, we have one mechanism for inhale: the diaphragm contracts and pulls down causing low pressure in the lungs, the higher pressure of the atmosphere causes air to enter the lungs. The diaphragm cannot push the air back out. In a relaxed state, the elastic lung tissue and other inner organs will push the air back out. If we allow it, additional pressure can be created by pushing with the abs.

    It is my firm belief that for many types of playing very LITTLE push is required if the other factors are under control. One exception is certain types of lead playing.

    So JD in your case:
    1) The immense air pressure that you create can be used while playing, it just will not move quickly when playing - much different than when you are just blowing air through the horn or when you play a note which has started the resonance. The pressure can be used to play higher notes. The backpressure from the horn and your air pressure "compress" the liptissue, make them harder and therefore raise their vibrating frequency.
    2+3) You can play higher when you are rested because the lips function naturally. When you get tired, you apply more pressure and that prevents the lips from freely vibrating. The mouthpiece and the teeth act like a vice, squeezing off the room where the lips can do their thing.
    4) when your teacher makes you stop, and takes measures to reduce the physical pressure on the lips (especially the upper), you get most of your range back.

    The inefficiencies that you talk about are: compensation for correct embouchure with mouthpiece pressure, inefficient breathing due to body tension, lack of synchronization between breathing, vocal chord, tongue and embouchure activity. Loss of connection between the body use, the ears and the brain (here you are on autopilot - the brain tries to tell the muscles to react, but they can't because something else is in the way).

    The body is actually also hardware. The software that I often mention is what is between the ears, how well channels of information can freely flow from the ears to the brain to motor activity and back. the very essense of our musical judgement that determines when and how we breath, where our bodies are at the moment of exhale and what we involuntarily change to make our sound "musical".

    So this is a start. I am sure questions will come and perhaps other angles of view. The human body is infinitely complex and a couple of paragraphs will never do it justice!
     
  3. dhbailey

    dhbailey Piano User

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    Paralysis by analysis setting in, warning Will Robinson, Danger Danger. :-)
     
  4. jdostie

    jdostie Piano User

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    Feb 20, 2008
    Thank you, that - and and of itself was helpful to me. I certainly hope this doesn't turn into a bag of worms . . . I've just had some level of disconnect that I know my teacher is trying to tell me, but is not registering - I hear "push" even though that's not what he's saying.

    "If we are not relaxed, quite often the vocal chord close and reduce the free flow of air." This is something entirely new to me; I have never heard anyone mention vocal chord or larynx in this context. I'd always taken "we can't close or open our throat" to indicate everything back there.

    "I feel that we cannot separate the mouthpiece, lips or airchamber." Here is a statement that I both understand, and yet have trouble with . . . "as you go up in pitch arch the tongue", and "high notes will have your tongue in a hiss" come to mind. Which, I guess is the point of all the flexibility studies. . .

    Finally, "Behind our lips, we have an air chamber that provides a damping effect for the lips. When the tongue is higher, our sound seems to become brighter, this is not because of velocity rather because the more focussed air stream favors higher frequencies." gives me a whole new line of thought; it's not about increasing lip tension and then overcoming it with air pressure after all. Maybe if I can get that to sink . . .

    Thank you though, that is helpful.
     
  5. Al Innella

    Al Innella Forte User

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    To quote a line from a Bogey and Bacall movie," just put your lips together and blow" , works every time. If you try to think about all that was written above you'll never get the horn out of the case before bedtime. Don't over think everything just use your ears.
     
  6. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

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    I don't believe this. You have heard players "grunt" or make other noises while playing. This is a huge issue in the trumpet world.

    Tongue use is an issue. I use the circle of breath to get the mind focus AWAY from the mechanics. We incorporate lipslurs to develop the proper habits without trying to "position" the tongue. I NEVER talk about tongue angle, arch or hissing ever.

    With this part I was just offering a very primitive explanation for a common myth. Increased lip tension is a part of course. The breath support does not really "change" with register (exceptions like lead playing not withstanding). Our lungs have no "turbo" mode

    I do appreciate the warnings about the dangers of ANALysis. The problem is that simply criticizing that attitude is useless. When the questions are there, they often do not let go until we find something to calm our curiosity. If you belong to the lucky couple of % of players that naively play well, congratulations. My whole life has been full of questions and answers that never drag over to my performing. I feel pretty lucky to have been in the company of players and acoustics related specialists with answers.

    I firmly believe that not everybody is born to be a virtuoso. Some of us will only make it to the geek stage and that is OK too. Denial has never been a good solution. In getting to the point of being the best you can be, we all have different paths. The best teacher will pick you up where you are (geekiness and all) and help find the most efficient path to your personal best!
     
  7. dhbailey

    dhbailey Piano User

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    My point in raising the paralysis by analysis specter is that when people become too obsessed with what's going on in the mouth, for example, they forget to think about the tone and projection, they forget to simply listen to the sound coming out of the instrument. And too much attention to detailed explanations of what is going on in the whole trumpet playing experience often makes people stop thinking about the music at all. There is a lot to be gotten from the simple phrase "just play the darn thing!"

    The arching tongue, to return to a point jdostie made, indeed does increase the velocity of the air-stream. This is due to the venturi effect - forcing the same amount of gas or liquid at the same pressure through a smaller opening results in the gas or liquid flowing at a higher velocity. The higher velocity of the air stream which results from arching the tongue does result in a brighter tone. Just as when we whistle, arching the tongue raises the pitch and brightens the sound. But it is because of the velocity as much as the more focused air stream.

    That's how it was explained to me by my trumpet teacher back in college and my subsequent research has done nothing to change that.

    I'm all in favor of people learning more about their trumpet playing -- building on knowledge is indeed the best path, but since none of us can really tell what's going on with the air-stream we're making, not having x-ray vision and all, and being left with descriptive words which ultimately reveal very little until someone experiments and discovers what we're talking about, we are often in discussions of "this is how it works" "no it's not" "yes it is" which merely point out how differently we think about how we play, not really about ultimate scientific truths.

    Rowuk's final statement is the best on that anybody could make in any trumpet playing discussion -- anybody who is confused about their trumpet playing needs to get with a live human teacher who is flexible in their teachings and is willing and able to do just what Rowuk says -- pick the student up where they are, trumpet-wise and intellectually, and then find the path to better trumpet playing and better understanding that will work best with that student.
     
  8. jdostie

    jdostie Piano User

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    Re: How the Trumpet (Player) Works

    You are, of course right about this. However I have read enough posts about "you cannot close the throat" to see this as a symptom of tension, but not that it would close off the air. . .

    I don't believe I have ever read a post where you have. Claude Gordon (I am working with a CG teacher using his methods) said "If there ever was a secret to brass paying it's the tongue." Other places (I don't think it was Claude) I have read and/or been told arch your tongue, or almost like a hiss . . .

    Regarding Analysis, glancing back at "Brass Playing is no Harder than Deep Breathing," I see the following: "So it is with the brass player. He must do hundreds and thousands of repetitions until the tongue fines its position for each note on the scale in every conceivable model until it works correctly by HABIT (NOT BY THEORY)." (caps were in the original).

    I have been called "an analytical" by some, certainly a troubleshooter - someone who likes to figure things out. When I am practicing, I go about the routine set out for me by my teacher. But in my "rest periods" I sometimes think about why things are or are not working. Maybe that's a bad thing.

    It's the confusion that comes when I read things like (paraphrase here because I can't find the exact quote - "double Ab is no harder than high Ab" and something about it's the only note that will come out with the tongue in that position. Combined with my own experience of practically effortless upper register - to struggles. This would indicate that I'm changing something in technique as I tire etc. (Which Rowuk already pointed out.)

    So, maybe this thread was not a good idea. A lot of the time I think of something and decide not to post - perhaps this should have been one of those times. I am going to re-read "Brass Playing is not Harder than Deep Breathing" today before my lesson.

    Have a great day, and Rowuk, if you think that this thread should be shut down I won't be offended - not if you think the title should be change.

    Thank you
     
  9. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

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    JD,
    no reason to close it down. The way that I see it, the geeks that get trapped in their own curiosity are not competing with me for gigs..........

    Seriously, everyone has to find their own way. I have had very (short) intense periods of ANALysis, but what I picked up during those times gives me a bigger pool when working with normal people. If I can speed up your period of ANALysis, then the thread was good afterall. I see little danger because I am not publishing a roadmap to double C. Many players don't even have an attention span long enough for the "good" advice.

    I am not worried about you. Just make sure that you pay attention to what your teacher says. He/she is the only one that really objectively knows your playing.
     
  10. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

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    JD,
    no reason to close it down. The way that I see it, the geeks that get trapped in their own curiosity are not competing with me for gigs..........

    Seriously, everyone has to find their own way. I have had very (short) intense periods of ANALysis, but what I picked up during those times gives me a bigger pool when working with normal people. If I can speed up your period of ANALysis, then the thread was good afterall. I see little danger because I am not publishing a roadmap to double C. Many players don't even have an attention span long enough for the "good" advice.

    I am not worried about you. Just make sure that you pay attention to what your teacher says. He/she is the only one that really objectively knows your playing.
     

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