Tighten the Corners/Aperture/General Embouchure Struggles

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by neal085, Feb 21, 2014.

  1. neal085

    neal085 Mezzo Forte User

    Sep 6, 2012
    Ft. Worth, TX
    So about a month or two back, I was sitting in with my teacher and working through some exercises, and at one point I was getting poor intonation on a note, and he said, "Try tightening the corners a bit."

    Apparently, my subconscious Neanderthal brain latched onto "tighten the corners", and I started making it a point to keep the 'corners tight' when doing all my exercises since that day, and especially as I play higher.

    Coincidentally, I've been experiencing significant inconsistency in range, tone, and endurance over the last several weeks, and my embouchure often fatigues easily. For example, I'll be playing Clarke's or Arban's studies, and my embouchure feels fatigued and out of sorts when I get near the top of the staff, and soon I reach the point where I just need to give it a break. At that point, my gym-rat brain thinks, "Alright, you gave those muscles a good workout! Now get some recovery time, and you'll come back stronger!"

    Hasn't really happened yet, and this morning as I was working through exercises and doing some serious introspection, it occurred to me that I very likely took my teacher's comment completely out of context, so I started thinking about corners and aperture. As I try to play higher, I've been trying to visualize tightening the corners. It occurred to me that as you play higher, rather than think of tightening the corners, the concept should be 'focus the aperture' - it should be something that happens concentrically, not just on the sides.

    As recently as 2 weeks ago (roughly), I could play up to about an E or F above the staff, and my embouchure felt almost relaxed through the B,C,D and then started getting a bit more strained towards the top, but overall, there just wasn't that much effort required. This morning I tried to hit a B above the staff, and everything bulged and strained, and it was very obvious that I was Doing It Wrong.

    I've been working very diligently on doing proper exercises, good technique and breathing, consistent and intelligent practice, and yet I seem to be going backwards of late. The only thing I can think of is that maybe I started jacking around with my embouchure unproductively.

    Am I onto something, and is that visualization of focusing the aperture a good one?

    BTW, I'll be getting together with my teacher again next week, but he always encourages getting other perspectives, so would this collective cornucopia of trumpet wisdom please feel free to sound off in the interim! Me asking for advice on this forum is in no way a reflection on my relationship with my teacher.

    On a completely unrelated note, Bryan Adams just cropped up on my laptop singing 'Summer of '69', and that's darn good listening on a Friday morning.

    Make it a heckuva good Friday, boys!

    ......and girls!
  2. Vulgano Brother

    Vulgano Brother Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 23, 2006
    Parts Unknown
    It's impossible to give you good advice without being in a real-time 3-D environment but heck, I'll try anyway. I prefer "focusing the aperture" to tightening up the corners. Ways of focusing the aperture include soft playing and a balanced diet of tongued and slurred notes. Hope your lesson goes well!
  3. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    I prefer throwing internet aperature discussions immediately into the trash can! I have never read a single one that addressed anything really important to the personal development of the member posting.

    My experience is that we NEVER successfully modify any aspect of our embouchure by an intellectual processes, rather by getting our playing routine focussed on the things that ALLOW OUR PLAYING TO BECOME INTEGRATED.

    If our breathing sucks (pretty common) we need tons of tension in the face to play "higher notes". Sure we can approach the symptom of range with ever more tension - or we can if it applies, solve the problem of our breathing sucking and save the bad habits on top of further bad habits learned and even harder - to be unlearned. The same goes for body use and many other really important factors. If we compensate sucky breathing with tension, you can imagine how many other things become sucky!

    We need to get our big, relaxed breath first, then we need to replace exhale with a resonant play, then we need to learn how to synchronize articulation with our inhale/resonant play cycle.

    Long tones and slurs after specific breathing and body use exercizes are key to my method of teaching. We need to learn to play the resonance of the horn before we even attempt to play "higher notes".

    All of the ass backwards attempts to get a forum solution for a badly developed personal process are doomed to fail. If the foundation is not solid, the house collapses at one point or another!
  4. gzent

    gzent Fortissimo User

    Nov 5, 2003
    Rochester, MN
    Now I'm not saying this applies here, but-
    If one has a problem and the teacher never talks about breathing, it may be time to find a new teacher.

    So many problems seem to be rooted in poor breathing and posture.
  5. neal085

    neal085 Mezzo Forte User

    Sep 6, 2012
    Ft. Worth, TX
    I may have left the wrong impression. Prior to a few weeks back, I didn't pay much attention to embouchure or aperture. My teacher has always stressed breathing as paramount - he's always had me do breathing exercises, and we've never really discussed corners or aperture much at all.


    1. You're clearly not the biggest idiot on here.
    2. I harbor a deep-rooted envy of your avatar
    3. Your post actually clarified my own question for me.

    So to re-phrase:

    A few weeks back I started really paying attention to keeping the corners tight when I play. About the same time, I started having struggles that I previously wasn't dealing with. My original post was born from a concern that I had autonomously started down a wrong path, because this morning it really struck me that the two incidents were likely related. My question is mainly more about whether I did,indeed, set a trap for myself.


    1: Should I completely forget about consciously doing anything with corners/aperture when I'm practicing? From the replies so far, it looks like a resounding yes.
    2: Is a concentric focusing of the aperture what should be naturally happening if you are playing up the scale using good practice habits? My memory is, that is what it felt like before these issues cropped up, but that didn't occur to me until this morning as I was contemplating what a B&S Challenger II would look like with a lampshade on it.
  6. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006

    I can't honestly say.

    1) How can I determine if your breathing is good (at least my definition of good that you may not be familiar with or not recognize even if you were to read everything that I ever wrote about the subject)?
    2) How can I determine if your body is naturally relaxed during the entire breathing process - and stays that way when you start to play?
    3) How can you even start to describe to me what your aperature is doing when a) you start to play, b) during play, c) near the end of your breath?
    4) How can I know if armstrong locks your lips into a position regardless of what you think your aperature is?
    5) How can I determine if you are practicing enough to give me any statistical relevance when you describe something about your playing to me?
    6) How can I honestly comment when I personally think that the aperature is a product of healthy trained activity, not an individual goal for any player to pursue?
    7) How can I determine what is really missing in your playing? Are you perhaps not hearing the exact pitch that you should be playing before you play it (very common)?
    8) How can I take a question seriously that as far as I am concerned is totally meaningless in the development of any player?
    9) How can I measure the effect of what you play today on your embouchure tomorrow?

    I'll say it again: the aperature is a product of breathing, body and face use. It is not static, it can not be mathematically calculated for best "effect". Tightening the corners will not change the ability of the lip to react to air motion. Stiff lips under tension need far more compensation than supple ones. If I eat a whole bag of potato crisps tonight, I will need to perform adjustments to my playing tomorrow. If I drink 3 liters of water today, I will also need to make adjustments tomorrow. I train face motion not aperature size. I give a lot of lipslurs (not scales - they are too slow) for "chop" homework and use them for my own personal daily routine - to keep my lips supple and moving in a favorable manner. I could give a shit about aperature. Some days I need more tension to get through a performance, some days it amazes me how much sound can be produced with so little work. The lowest amount of tension with the highest output is called EFFICIENCY and that also involves playing on the resonance of the horn.

    So, my response is: we don't forget about anything. We accept that no one who hasn't physically seen and heard us play will NOT be able to give applicable advice. We accept that getting better is the integration of all aspects of playing - not a tweak to the face. The first tweak is between the ears, then the entire breathing apparatus, then the face. It is a PROCESS with thousands of individual steps that leads to a logical result.

    I am to stupid to be able to remote control someone who I have never met and who does not share my own personal process (like my students). Sorry.
  7. neal085

    neal085 Mezzo Forte User

    Sep 6, 2012
    Ft. Worth, TX
    Thank you for taking the time to respond and for being comprehensive in your answer. Your points numbers 6 and 8 actually answered the question I had. Basically, I need to stop worrying about the semantics of it and just get back to blowing the dang horn.

    Thanks for all the input. You may feel like you couldn't give me a straight answer, but it actually cleared up my dilemma. Forward progress is now being realized.
  8. coolerdave

    coolerdave Utimate User

    Nov 7, 2009
    San Pedro
    my two cents..
    The Inner Game of Tennis ... great read..
    thoughts on things like tighten the corners etc..
    In the context of my perception of what has occurred in my playing ... and I do stress perception as a comeback player
    Once I became aware of "how a trumpet works" from Rowak , I started trying to improve my efficiency by reducing the size of my aperture ... I really wouldn't recommend this without an instructor because I can see how you could really screw up your playing ... but after a year of this, and probably a lot of things I can't remember things changed .. things like tightened corners made more sense, but I didn't get there by tightening the corners.. I just noticed it afterwards. I really think the reason there is so many different suggestions on playing technique has to do with things like aperture size, dental make up, and like I said a million other things.
    In any case most improvement has come from good private instruction and time in the shed.... for me
  9. Cornyandy

    Cornyandy Fortissimo User

    Jan 9, 2010
    East Yorkshire
    If I can chip in here I have for years used too much pressure and until the last month no teacher has addressed why. Now I have had a range with the second C above the stave if I worked for it and really blew. Imagine my delight today when after 3 lessons with this new guy had me up to a piano G above (not on top of) the stave, controled relaxed and nice. His words before I went up there, just relax and blow all you are doing is blowing air through a tube it ain't rocket science.

    Do beware over thinking, magic bullets, and over concentration
  10. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    Actually I play "hardball" maybe more often than many would care to read - maybe even more than is good for the threads. My major concern is something very different however:

    How do we instill a sense of process in a player instead a sense of "update/upgrade"? Just because we all use software that never even on the day that you buy it is reasonably free of defects, there is a VERY strong sense of "the next step" ingrained in just about everyone that I meet here. The problem is, with MOST trumpet players playing, the foundation is so screwed up, that updating only makes things worse. The brainless focus on a couple of easy "targets" like better mouthpiece, embouchure, aperature, and drag down every "weak" player looking for help. They repost within hours/days with fantastic results and then disappear when the novelty wears off. I have often though about renaming this part of the forum GULLIBLES TRAVELS.

    The process is to get a good view of where you are and then build from the bottom up, not the top down. AND NEVER EVER MAKE A CHANGE WITHOUT REAL PURPOSE. Even when you play with too much pressure, there is NOTHING keeping you from working on your breathing and body use. Once those things get better, face issues melt away almost by themselves - if we don't let up.

    Start from the bottom up. Don't post just to say nothing if someone asks for help. If you aren't making good progress or have major hurdles, why try to screw someone that you don't even know? We don't know better until it is too late. Bad habits need to be unlearned - every smoker can tell you how tough it is to quit! Bad playing habits are no different.

    We are not merely blowing through a tube. We are activating a resonant structure and the more that we let the horn do, the better our sound endurance and range is. Freedom from fear about hitting the notes unleashes creative juices.

    Change your attitudes and we will all profit.

    Now go do the right thing........

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