Lip compression isn't enough

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

  1. Local 357

    Local 357 Banned

    Jul 1, 2011
    While ruminating over some p/m's I had sent to a couple other members earlier today it occurred to me that the info might be helpful to the general community here too. None of this stuff is hard to understand at all. And I think that perhaps that is an important point as well:

    Most good ideas are SIMPLE.

    To quote myself from a letter:

    Lip compression isn't enough. Not without properly segregated muscle usage. This could be the reason so many trumpet players find that most excellent pencil exercise unhelpful. Surely they increased the strength and power of the facial and embouchure from the pencil exercise. Those muscles necessary for strong endurance and range that is but they did not learn how to divide or segregate the muscle usage according to the proper task each group is assigned*.

    The problem wasn't that the pencil exercise didn't help them increase strength. Not all all! The strength gain was very necessary. The pencil exercise is FANTASTIC!!! However they did not learn to SHUT OFF the tension of the lip flesh they left within the mouthpiece cup.

    Instead when they went about applying their strengthened muscles to upper register performance they squashed all their lip flesh so tight that no sound could emanate from the horn. Unintentionally sabotaging themselves from the very start.

    Think about it: If all you do is mash your lips hard against each other then what sound can come out? In fact you can push your lips so hard against themselves up to a point where no air can even pass through the horn!

    So clearly lip compression isn't enough. That if used without channeling the muscle usage "lip compression" could actually be counter productive. The pencil exercise DOES increase strength and identify muscles very necessary for high range and endurance. However due to the nature of holding the pencil between the lips the exercise (by itself) can not teach the mind to differentiate between the two groups of facial muscles that simple MUST SEGREGATE their tasks.

    However the exercise following at the bottom will help you do this. Oddly when we try this trick we do not use our lips or even the mouthpiece at all. What I describe is the segregation of muscle usage in the fingers, hands, wrist and arms to make a comparative analogy.

    1. While standing let your right or left arm hang down by your waist in its natural position.

    2. Tightly firm up EVERY MUSCLE IN YOUR ARM. From your little pinky up through the hand, wrist, forearm, biceps, triceps and shoulders. Every finger should be very taught. Your whole arm is now tensed. Tighten every muscle almost to the point of slight discomfort.

    3. While maintaining ALL muscle tension in the rest of your arm, wrist and shoulder RELAX all your fingers! Yes hold the rest of the arm tight as can be but keep the fingers hanging loose as a goose. Wiggle them a bit while holding the rest of your whole arm taught as can be.

    Its a little tricky to do this isn't it? OK so what does this have to do with embouchure you may ask???

    The tension you've put in your arm is analogous to the firm mouth corners and facial muscles necessary to control the RELAXED, supple lip mass within the mouthpiece cup. The loosened fingers represent the RELAXED lip flesh within the mouthpiece cup!

    Our fingers, hands and arms are by necessity appendages which are intimately understood by our mind. They have to be as survival is at stake. Not so much with the embouchure and facial muscles. These were designed for talking, and chewing mostly. Playing the trumpet takes your chop muscles miles past their original evolutionary design.

    So practice the finger, hands and arm exercise a few times and then apply this same concept to your embouchure and facial muscles. In other words hold all your facial muscles very taught but RELAX all lip flesh within the mouthpiece cup. I'm pretty certain most everyone here with range, endurance and/or tone concerns will be pleasantly surprised. Fairly soon after trying the idea too I'm willing to bet.

    Then after you have learned to effectively segregate the muscle usage in your chops you might consider coupling the idea with a very slight jaw closure for that last perfect fifth or so of your high range. Conventional wisdom generally says we keep our teeth apart about 1/4 inch most of the time when playing the trumpet**. However if you can keep your inner vibrating lip flesh very loose within the mouthpiece cup you may be able to squeak or play another perfect fifth to an octave higher just by closing your jaw a tad and blowing the air a little harder. Seen it happen a number of times. Really.


    I actually have a term and abbreviation to apply for the segregation of the described muscle usage. For today I'm leaving it out though. An idea that isn't copyrighted yet. I don't intend to make a whole ton of money in marketing/promotional efforts. My main goal is to distribute these easy to understand ideas to help some poor kid somewhere work things out. Or to help an old timer who has found high range on the trumpet ever so elusive. That's my reward: to prevent some poor schmuck from spending five decades without ever playing a solid High F or thereabouts...

    However the term and its abbreviation I will keep to myself. For now anyway. "nuf said and I suppose one shouldn't worry. Because as per Howard Aiken:

    Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats.

    Good luck with this!

    *Incidentally, if you want to know a lot of what it is that makes for a gifted trumpet player range wise? Like those disgusting cats who learned to blow FAT Double C's halfway through junior high? Well it was that their chops (for various reasons) automatically properly segregated those facial muscles which stay firm and those that stay loose. They were able due to nature and luck of the draw to subconsciously adapt the concepts illustrated above. In fact what most of these type tend to do is play with dry lips. Now before you go out and try this take note that a lot of us simply can not play with dry lips. So forget about that unless it works for you. Also there is more to the game than just blowing dry. However with the strong grip the dry lips create in the embouchure of a gifted trumpet player it allows the TOTAL RELAXATION OF HIS CHOPS INSIDE THE MOUTHPIECE!!! Playing with such supple chops the air passes through easily. Unencumbered by this tension he often gets a HUGE FAT BIG SOUND this way but with less than half the work the rest of us commonly employ.

    Thus the reason he tells his students to "just relax your chops". Except that for these students (unless they adapt something similar to the ideas listed above) the directive to "just relax your chops" can not possibly work unless supplemented and combined with proper muscle segregation. Again, not a difficult concept and just common sense. Good ideas usually are simple.

    And the dry grip the gifted, natural phenom typically uses on the outer side of the mouthpiece cup mimics the strength the rest of us are attempting to gain through isometrics like the pencil exercise and the PETE.

    **A concept from Stevens-Costello. Oddly I've found that my best low tones on the trombone come out with my teeth touching! Go figure?
  2. Comeback

    Comeback Forte User

    Jun 22, 2011
    Fort Wayne, IN
    Interesting post, Local 357. Thank you! I've been fumbling around with parts of what you describe w/o the more complete understanding I now possess.
  3. turtlejimmy

    turtlejimmy Utimate User

    Jun 6, 2010
    Yeah, interesting post. Simple, but a bit long .... I'll take away "Relax the chops". What's up with all the tension??? Just relax the chops. Simple to say, not so simple to do. Good stuff to think about.

  4. GijsVis

    GijsVis Piano User

    Jul 23, 2012
    I tried it, and I play like never before, Local 357, you should make a book of some kind. I'ld definitely buy that.
  5. Recursion

    Recursion Mezzo Piano User

    Jun 22, 2012
    Cape Coral, FL
    Thank you for sharing. I too took "relax the chops" from it, Mr. Resident Tortoise; and yeah, not so simple to do sometimes. I think it's easy to tense up when going above the staff, and forcing oneself to relax takes a conscious effort by me. But alas, I'm still in the "re-learning" mode. :dontknow:
  6. Jerry Freedman

    Jerry Freedman Piano User

    Mar 4, 2005
    A recommended book for Caruso students used to be Zen in the Art of Archery. In this book a journalist and his wife spend a few years in Japan. In order to "get into" the culture he decides to study Japanese archery. Apparently a properly strung Japanese bow is not trivial to draw yet the archery teacher draws it in a flowing, tensionless manner. The journalist notes that the muscles in the teacher's arms don't appear to be flexed. Miraculous? maybe not. All the zen meditation in the world is not going to bend the laws of physics. The teacher had practiced so much and developed himself such that only the necessary muscles were contracted and those only contracted to a minimal necessary degree.

    Isn't that what we are after in trumpet playing. The chops can't be totally relaxed, there must be some flexion. We have to purse the lips, roll them in, pucker them out, flex the corners whatever but we just want to minimize the muscle involvement that is required
  7. trumpeterjake

    trumpeterjake Pianissimo User

    Aug 5, 2012
    Connersville, Indiana
    Great post. But what are your suggestions for practicing? Quietly playing? Would you recomend working up slowly still? For instance if your highest possble note is a high C, would you tell a person to practice quietly and effortlessly playing the F, G and A below it? Could you specify more?
  8. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

    Jan 28, 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    What Local recommends is spot on... and it is not new... it has been published already. In medicine, we call this stress reduction technique. Not only will it help in fine motor control of skeletal muscle, but it also helps in smooth muscle control and biofeedback. Yes this technique when practiced at LEAST every other day ALSO lowers blood pressure AND reduces stress set points.

    The technique works best when done while isolating muscle groups, such as start with the fingers, move to the wrists, then elbows, then shoulders. Then start with the toes, then ankles, then knees then hips. Then forehead, eyes, jaw, lips, neck. After each muscle group is stressed, the next important part of the exercise that Local omitted, was FEELING the warmth flow back into the muscle groups you just stressed, and feel the relaxation take over. This will give you ultimate muscle control of ALL muscle groups including the embouchure AND will lower your blood pressure AND stress levels.

    It's all about vasomotor control of optimal blood flow to muscle groups. And yes again, Local is right, when you tighten lips into the cup, you BLOCK blood flow to the muscle, causing anaerobic metabolism and lactic acid build up. This causes muscle to function less optimally and fatigue early. So everything Local mentions is well known medical practice and will work for the embouchure as well.
  9. Local 357

    Local 357 Banned

    Jul 1, 2011
    This is a good and interesting question: What should I practice?"

    Because the concept of "proper practice" (whatever that is lol) deals with critical areas such as avoidance of over training, gradual conditioning and other concerns.

    On a gig I don't believe in the so-called "no pressure system". Very few trumpet players actually use the minimum arm pressure technique anyway. Those that do it are probably classically trained types who don't have to get much of a big sound or a "sizzle" to their tone.

    It is only in practice that I avoid jamming the horn. Why stress myself out?

    With the upper register there seems to be two phases:

    1. Getting control of a note. This works in layers: You first squeak the thing. Then build up to it from the middle register. Later you articulate it and lastly use it in a rehearsal or gig.

    2. Getting more of these notes in rehearsal and gigs. Includes developing better volume, power and endurance.

    Number "1" above is the preliminary stage. We may actually carry this phase through our careers though it likely plays a bigger part during our developing years. Me? I've been playing for 48 years but still consider myself a developing player. In 1971 or so I was working "1" above up to my High F or so. Today I'm at that phase from time to time but more in the category of getting my High A through DHC happening. I wasn't a naturally gifted player so those extreme register notes require much more understanding and patience on my part. The naturally gifted players are oblivious to these concepts because they never really had to work for them. At least from a comparative perspective.

    Number "2" above is the dues paying phase. Or putting yourself out there on a stage testing the upper reaches of your musical register. Expect some failures here but keep at it none the less. However don't get too used to hitting clams either. Clams are a part of life and shouldn't get you down but don't keep repeating the same ones. If you truly struggle for a High F in the second set? Well hell don't play it! Know your limitations while meanwhile seeking to exceed them them through intelligent development and gig planning.

    What to practice he asks? Arpeggios and scales are helpful in the first phase or 1. Getting control of a note.. Playing ballads and solos also wise. Here I like to rely on the advice of Maynard Ferguson who taught to "raise the center of your range". Another concept he promoted was to take a ballad, play it well and then take it up a minor third. Practice until the same musicality is coming out the horn as was in the lower key.
  10. kingtrumpet

    kingtrumpet Utimate User

    Sep 20, 2009
    New York State USA
    and somehow Local357 turned me on to the trombone -- and that helps tremendously in helping the "relaxing part" of the whole equation.
    thanks also to Peter Mcneill on here ---- both gave me excellent advice in transitioning to "double" on the trombone. In any case -- it is working for me!!!

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