Questions about reducing mouthpiece pressure.

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Octiceps, May 26, 2010.

  1. Octiceps

    Octiceps Pianissimo User

    May 5, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    I’ve been playing trumpet for 7 years, and in the last 3 years or so, I have plateaued and have felt little improvement in my tone, range, and technique. Since joining TM, I have come across so many enlightening posts about the hazards of excess mouthpiece pressure that I am now convinced it is the one barrier holding me back. My comfortable range right now is only up to a high C, and that only comes with pressure that sometimes makes my front teeth hurt and puts a nice red ring on my lips. It also causes my lips to really swell up, so that if I were to jump from that high C to, say, an A below the staff, the A would be unplayable because my lips just won’t vibrate. After extended playing time at the top of the staff, if I played at the bottom of the staff afterwards, my tone would be really shaky and hard to keep in tune. I could go into many more examples, but point is, I really need to learn to reduce my mouthpiece pressure.

    So far, I have taken steps to try to do so. I’ve always played with my right pinky in the pinky ring, using the ring as my “octave key,” but just recently I started putting my pinky on top of the ring or in the air. This has taken a little pressure off, but it has also had the unfortunate consequence of making my left arm compensate for that lack of pressure by applying more force. What are physical techniques you guys use to reduce mouthpiece pressure?

    I know for certain that one thing I need to do to play higher notes is to increase my air speed. I do this my “pushing” the air out from my diaphragm at higher velocities, but so far, it hasn’t really done anything for me. I have contracted my abs and blown so hard that my face turned varying shades of different colors and my abs burned, but the results were worse than using pressure. I also work out regularly and do a lot of abdominal exercises if that makes a difference.

    Also, this post by camelbrass lists the 4 Ps:
    I have always wondered what he meant by “tongue level (placement).” Is there something I should be doing with my tongue that will help facilitate higher notes and reduce my reliance on pressure?

    Thanks everyone for reading my long post and answering my questions. I will also ask my band director (also a trumpet player) about this but want to get as much information as I can.
  2. sleight

    sleight New Friend

    May 20, 2010
    1)Get a teacher!
    2)Play a good horn eg Yamaha Bach Schilke etc. You often have to hunt for one that suits you.
    3)Choose a good mouthpiece, I'd start with a Bach 3C and try others higher and lower.
    4)Next play a lot of boring low pitch Xs eg Clark,or simple songs so you don't have to think about the music and think what is happening at your embouchere. Blow so that you only just seal your embouchure onto the mouthpiece. Concentrate on making a smaller aperature in the lips as you raise the pitch. The sound will be soft and unimpressive...good keep it up. Push the corners of your mouth foward. Play softly. You can do this on the lower notes easily. As you go higher find the critical place where you automatically resort to pressure. Go back and try to go above using tighter embouchere and more air instead of more pressure. Don't worry about your sound at this stage. The trick is the balance between the air flow and the embouchere and the training of a new technique.
    5)Buzz! Try buzzing and bringing the mouthpiece onto your embouchere barely touching and off again. Sounds terrible, but do it. Try playing a pentatonic scale with this sound. Good! Don't worry about playing high,
    6)Think about playing rich fat buttery notes. These tend to be better after about 45 mins of practice when you are nearly shot.Play pedal notes and intervals.
    7) Now try point 4) again.
    8) Balance each note. Pick a note and begin soft increasing the volume until the note is giving its richest sound not the loudest. Check the pitch. Do not overblow. Strive for this sound. If you concentrate on rich fat sound your playing should be sweet lovely and easy. You will suddenly love yourself! It is this emotion that plays the best.
    9) Never get frustrated. Stop. Enjoy your life. Beauty is way way way more important than power. Way way more important! If you get a chance try this on a flugel. Not everyone is meant to be a power blower or high screamer. It is hard to listen to more than 3 minutes!
    Last edited: May 28, 2010
  3. Markie

    Markie Forte User

    Jan 4, 2009
    Clarksburg, WV
    OK here's what to do:
    1)warm up by playing a simple song and then, once done, put the horn down for about 5-10 minutes and go get a drink of water. I'm not sure why this method works but I got the idea from John Thomas.
    2) When you come back to play, blow out your lips like a horse and imagine the lips like a "meat pillow". Yep you heard me right, a meat pillow.
    3) When you place the mouthpiece on the lips, do not smash or press hard against the meat pillow.
    4) When you feel the "meat pillow" being smashed, use your muscles around your belt buckle to send the air up. Its a simple act of trading one type of pressure for another. When the lips are being pressed, that's your signal to focus on using the muscles around the belt buckle to push the air up to get the job done.
    We never completely conquer mouthpiece pressure, we just learn to control it.
    hope this helps.
    Also, when the lips get "buzzy" stop and you can't play without a lot of pressure, take a break. In time and with practice. You will begin to feel as if your lips are reeds that "you control" to make the sound.
    Visually, think "Meat Pillow" and don't smash it.
    Last edited: May 31, 2010
  4. Brekelefuw

    Brekelefuw Fortissimo User

    Mar 21, 2006
    I personally wouldn't recommend what Sleight instructed. It doesn't make much sense to me to be honest.

    To answer your question, tongue level involves shaping syllables with your tongue to change the shape of the inside of your mouth.
    When you play low notes, you say the "ah" syllable. This makes your mouth cavity wide open. As you go up in pitch, raise your tongue until it is high in your mouth like you are saying the "ee" syllable. This reduces the volume of the mouth cavity.

    The change in syllables is gradual, and it takes practice to get the hang of.
    Try playing a G major arpeggio downwards from 2nd line g to low g. Hold the low G for a second and then play a G major scale upwards at a medium slow tempo slurred. Focus on each note sounding and responding right away. A lot of people find there is a little 'airball' between low low C and low D or in that area.
    Continue the scale upwards and slowly change the syllable as you get higher. Don't overdo it. Get to the highest good sounding note and hold it for a second.
    Repeat a few times, and really pay attention to your syllables.

    This exercise is called Low G Extensions from Don Johnson's book. It is great for making your range transitions fluid while also focusing on tongue level.
  5. scaramanga

    scaramanga New Friend

    Feb 27, 2010
    Definitely go and find the best teacher you can afford - if you want to achieve anything on the trumpet it will be worth it in the long run.
    In the mean time you could try to play with as little pressure as possible - hold the trumpet with (left hand) two fingers under the bell and your right thumb under the leadpipe near the m/p. This allows you to balance the trumpet but not apply pressure. Now play lowC - G - midC and get the feel. Then hold the trumpet normally and try to play the same phrase with the same very light pressure. Gradually extend your range without adding too much pressure.
  6. andrewoc15

    andrewoc15 New Friend

    May 23, 2010
    New Jersey
    Does a red ring around your lips necessarily mean you are using too much pressure?
  7. mchs3d

    mchs3d Mezzo Forte User

    Sep 30, 2005
    Provo, UT
    No. If you are playing at all, your lips will get red.
  8. Dark Knight

    Dark Knight Pianissimo User

    Apr 7, 2010
    Since I am a new comeback player please take my words with caution. I have been reading all I can about this subject so I could start fresh with better habit than before. I made an embouchure and mouthpiece placement change early that seems "now" to come very natural. (I was taught to really tighten the lips and naturally used mouthpiece pressure to get to higher notes.) Initially, I did lose range while working with a new system, but gained in endurance in terms of the puffy lips that you described. I now have my range back and tone back.

    First, I move to a 2/3 upper lip – 1/3 lower lip placement. Those fractions are not exact but suffice to say more upper lip. As I go higher, with tight mouth corners, I move the upper and lower lips towards the center to decrease the aperture. (Claude Gordon has great description of this. I briefly read the Stamp book in a music store and it seems similar.) The effect gives me the meat pillow described above in another post. I also consciously draw pressure away from upper lip by anchoring the mouthpiece more on the lower lip. This has allowed me to really feel my embouchure muscles around the lip as I decrease the aperture to ascend to the higher notes. I am really happy with the results. I can now play without that mashed lip feeling, and I can really feel how my embouchure muscles work with my breathing to produce the notes.

    I also like the idea of play very simple exercises or familiar songs to concentrate how to do this. I am finally transferring these skills to my regular etudes, but I practiced on simple exercises that allowed me to concentrate and learn how to coordinate everything together.
    Maybe I will get shot down here but I did discuss these things my teacher and she was very happy with the changes.

    Yes, I still have a ring. But, I think that is a natural thing even with minimal pressure.

  9. s.coomer

    s.coomer Forte User

    Mar 25, 2005
    Indianapolis, In
    For anyone to tell you over the internet what to do is only being foolish as no one can see or hear you play. A couple of other posters started with the best advice in the world "go get a good teacher".
  10. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    Tongue level placement amounts to pronouncing a Taaah, Toooh or Teeeh when articulating. Toooh is what I use as a starting point for the biggest sound. Teeeh can often help make high notes articulate clearer for less advanced players with a more "classical approach" to playing.

    Nobody forces you to use pressure. You do, because it works - at least up to a point. When you stop, the first thing that happens is that EVERYTHING goes south until your patience and dedication build the habits necessary to replace pressure.

    My recommendation is a more evolutionary instead of revolutionary approach. Start to practice more and that generally much more softly. Increase your diet of lipslurs and long tones and take breaks after 20 minutes or so. Always get that big breath. If you notice pressure, take a break or a sip of tap water. then start over again.

    During performance, don't think about this stuff. If relaxed is not a habit yet, just do what you need to do.

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