Without a doubt, one of the most common questions Trumpetmaster receives are questions about " MOUTHPIECE PRESSURE". Hundreds of questions are asked and hundreds of answers are given. Questions range from "There's a ring on my lips" to "My lips are numb".
The shear number of similar questions got me to thinking. Why not come up with a way or find a way (or assessment) that a player can use to help determine if they are using too much pressure.
This is a "self assessment" for the person who isn’t blessed with a good teacher but has access a cheap recording device.
By using this method, a person can record themselves and assess the likelihood of using too much pressure by listening for the characteristics listed below.
Some players (with exceptional ears) notice the characteristics listed below in their playing without the benefit of a recording themselves but never quite knew why they happened.
I wish this was my complete idea but some was gleaned from a famous trumpet text (pages 19 &20) which I highly recommend to any brass player.
------------------------ Here goes!!---------------------------
The fastest way to obtain notes on a brass instrument is to adjust the amount of mouthpiece pressure against the lips. Very little pressure for low notes and a lot of pressure for high notes. It makes sense and, it works!
Since it seems to be human nature to follow the path of least resistance, we find the average brass player (who isn’t blessed with a good instructor) obliged to develop their own PRESSURE SYSTEM of playing. The only advantage of this system is a "quick start".
Let me point out the disadvantages of "strong-arm trumpet playing as I have seen them:
FAULTY INTONATION (playing out of tune)is the most common failing of this method. This type of player tends to move sloppily up and down to notes instead of striking the center of the intended pitch.
WEAK LOWER REGISTER Continued pressure causes the lips to swell or thicken to the point that they will not vibrate at the low frequency required in the lower register. The tone in this register is usually "windy".
COURSE EXECUTION An inability to play delicately. The staccato notes tend to be short and detached and have a sharp, ragged edge to them instead of being light and round as a bubble
BLIND NOTES Notes that fail to sound out, often happening in soft passages.
UNEVEN SLURRING Fails to get a smooth, flowing sound and pitch usually suffers.
SPLIT NOTES When the player attacks a note, then flies off to the partial above or below the intended note.
NUMB LIPS This is when the lip become numb from cutting off the circulation. An often asked question on TM.
DAMAGE TO LIPS After years of playing with extreme pressure the tissue will become damaged not unlike feet after wearing too tight shoes.
1)Pick up the trumpet and play a soft fat long tone.
2)Stop playing, and take the tuning slide out.
3)Now, play a "soft" long tone(it will sound like a buzz) through the mouthpiece and lead pipe.
4)Strive to get a soft steady buzz sound that does not quiver.
5)Now, begin to apply a little mouthpiece pressure.
6)What do you hear and feel? The sound goes up when you apply pressure and down when you reduce the pressure and you should feel that it is real easy to use pressure to change the pitch. If there is no change in pitch, you are already pressing the mouthpiece against the lips too hard.
7)OK, Stop. Blow out the lips like a horse to loosen them up and imagine (yes, imagine) your lips are a meat pillow that your mouthpiece rests on. Don't crush, smash, or flatten the meat pillow. Just put the mouthpiece against the lips tight enough to create a seal so air doesn't leak out.
8)Now, play the lead pipe again and this time use the corners of the mouth to change the pitch. Those are the muscles you need to focus on.
9)Do exercises involving lip slurs using the 7 valve combinations(one minute for each valve combination) using the corners of the lips instead of mouthpiece pressure to change the pitch.
Go as high and as low as you can "while maintaining a good sound".
What is a good sound? Soft and light, not brassy, blatty, and smeared. Be sure to not fall back into the old habit of mouthpiece pressure when you get tired. If you notice you are using pressure while playing, stop playing, blow out the lips like a horse, and start again.
10) Will this exercise kick your butt? OH MY YES! You are using muscles you've not used before and they need to be strengthened. When you do these DAILY exercises, play the slurs with a soft full, unbrassy sound.
You will be amazed how much better your overall playing will get in as little as a season. If necessary, bust up the exercise into two parts. Do the first four valve combinations, take a break and then do the remaining valve combinations.
11)The 7 valve combinations for lip slurs are:
Assess yourself by recording yourself. That way you become your own teacher. Ask yourself when you listen to the recordings(on the way to school or work), "How do I sound? Is it soft and unbrassy? Do I hear some of the characteristics listed?"
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO WHAT THE LIPS AND THE MOUTHPIECE ARE DOING. DON'T FALL BACK TO USING MOUTHPIECE PRESSURE WHEN YOU GET TIRED.
In addition, a good video to watch on youtube is Urban Agnas' "Flow".
Pay close attention to what he says about relaxation, how to breath and posture.