Playing trumpet with braces

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by mike w, Dec 27, 2014.

  1. mike w

    mike w New Friend

    Dec 27, 2014
    Guildford, United Kingdom
    I thought I would relate my experience as it was character-forming, and who knows, it might just help someone else out there in some way. Now 30+ years later I can see the value in this experience.​

    When I was in 6th grade I was finally allowed to play a musical instrument. I had been in love with the trumpet from probably age 5 when my parents played the then-popular Herb Alpert and Al Hirt records that were on the radio. So when I got my trumpet I just played and played, probably averaging 3-4 hours per day, until I had finished the year long course book well in advance of the lesson schedule. I was goofing around playing popular music a month after I got the horn, when other kids were now playing middle G on the staff. People said "wow this kid is good!" I was obsessed.

    Then my Dad announced that I had to get braces. My first question was "but how am I going to play trumpet?" No real answer. My band teacher Eric Metz (trombonist) took me aside and said something along the lines of "Mike it's not physically possible to play trumpet with braces. Your braces will tear your lips up from the pressure. You should quit and take it up again when the braces are off." I refused to quit. He suggested I switch to tuba where the pressure would be less. Not quitting. Or maybe even trombone? Nope - I will find a way to play trumpet with braces.

    As luck would have it the chairing competition was the day after my braces went on. The kid with the fewest errors is first chair, etc. I knew the piece we had to play and it was trivial. I was the kid who was playing "Cotton Candy" by Hirt, and who everyone expected to be first chair. When it was my turn to get up in front of the band and play, no sound came out. It was so painful I couldn't contain the air stream. I sat back down again and a kid told me I was bleeding. My mouth had loads of blood in it and the mouthpiece was scarlet and dribbling blood onto the brass. I was last chair out of about 15 kids.

    I refused to give up. I pleaded with the orthodontist to help me and he gave me some wax. I asked to buy a whole load and he just have me about a pound of it! After enough wax was on I could make a slight airy buzz. This slowly became an airy note and then a solid note. My range was up to about A in the middle of the staff. I seemed to be developing a thickness to the inner lip. I got loads of mouth ulcers - it was torture.

    Slowly I built my range and power up and I started to "challenge" kids higher than me in the trumpet section. When a challenge happened there was a duel based on a piece chosen by the instructor. We were allowed one challenge per week and I beat about a dozen kids to get into the first section.

    Then came seventh grade. I practised 2-3 hours per day, spending time on naive range extending exercises, timing my single and double tonguing using a metronome, playing pieces faster and faster so i could play error free at very fast tempos,etc. When chairing came I was top of the second trumpet section due solely to my limited range: G on top of the staff. Our band instructor was a professional baritone player and he once showed off his lip strength on trumpet by laying the trumpet in his hand and playing the G on top of the staff. He said it was a good goal to shoot for. I later showed him I could easily do that!

    Eighth grade came and went and I was still top of the second section despite practising 2-3 hours per day. Technically I was better than the lead player, but didn't have the range.

    Ninth grade came and I placed in senior band, unusual for a freshman, but was stuck in second section.

    Tenth grade came and braces were off! Chairing was shortly after this and guess what: I could barely play a note with my braces off!! I ended up in the middle of the third trumpet section. But now I didn't need wax. Now I could practise for four hours with no bleeding! I challenged my way up and up and up and made it to the lower end of the first section.

    Summer before Eleventh grade and my Dad said I could take private lessons! I practised probably four hours per day or more all summer and my range was up to about G above High C with confidence and solid good tone. It seemed to be a plateau. The teacher had given us a chairing piece to practise all summer and I learned it to death, getting my teacher to help as I bashed through Arban.

    When chairing time came, I got in at 7:30 am and played first. My instructor was again Eric Metz who was amazed to see me still playing trumpet. I played the piece and Metz stood up and just applauded. He wrote down "zero" on the sheet. He said "now get outta here!" I had played it flawlessly - zero errors. I was first chair in senior band as a Junior in high school, which some said had never happened before.

    I was also section leader as a senior and everyone assumed I would go on to become a pro. Actually I ended up going into physics, but there you go.

    Still, that was a life lesson.

    I have a Bach Strad I pull out once a year, oil the valves and play a few scales. And I think back on when I had braces...
  2. tjcombo

    tjcombo Forte User

    Nov 12, 2012
    Melbourne, Australia
    Great story - Thanks Mike. Welcome to TM.

    The sad part is the last line about playing just once a year these days. I see a glimmer of hope for you - you've taken time to join TM and tell your story. Surely there is a desire to play again lurking inside you? There are a lot of comeback players here as you may have observed. I started playing again after a 25 year break.

    I know that physics can be fun, but what made you stop playing?
  3. Hornlife98

    Hornlife98 Pianissimo User

    Nov 16, 2014
    Excellent story. I too had braces on, but it never impacted my trumpet playing, barring a two week acclimation period when they came on/off; I guess I was just lucky.
    You should pick up your horn more!
  4. mike w

    mike w New Friend

    Dec 27, 2014
    Guildford, United Kingdom
    Thanks tj - the last time I played seriously was a midnight Christmas mass with an organ in Milwaukee. It was glorious, and I knew I wouldn't have time for my obsession if I wanted to work hard in university. So it seemed a fitting stopping point. I guess I knew I wouldn't be able to give it enough time and dedication to do it justice.

    What led me to TM was stumbling across Give It One by Maynard, then wondering about whether the science of altissimo playing had advanced since the 1970s. Comeback? I'd need time for that - I'm in a very busy job these days and would have to steal it from somewhere like sleep or family... maybe someday!
  5. mike w

    mike w New Friend

    Dec 27, 2014
    Guildford, United Kingdom
    Wow you must have not had the railroad track type of metal braces that had metal studs pointing outward into your lip! I remember later seeing kids with a sort of plastic semi-invisible type of braces - that would have been better...
  6. Dviglis

    Dviglis Mezzo Piano User

    Mar 29, 2014
    I find this interesting because I started out with braces so, even all these later, my lips are incredibly resilient. I did experience some of that bleeding but not to the extent that you did. Thanks for sharing!

  7. mike w

    mike w New Friend

    Dec 27, 2014
    Guildford, United Kingdom
    Funny, my old trumpet teacher was interested in how I was forced to play with relatively little pressure and said maybe having had braces was an overall plus for the longer term!
  8. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

    Jan 28, 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    Oh so close. Had you have gone into chemistry you would have been God like.
  9. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    Great story!

    Had you at that time understood the physics of sound production, you probably could have modelled the wax to help you play better. Generally I go with my students to the orthodontist and let them know what is possible and why/how playing the trumpet will not screw up what they are trying to do.

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