Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lip Woes

Have you ever felt like calling for an ambulance after valiantly trying to survive multiple rounds with your trumpet all day? You hung in there heroically only to wind up badly bloodied and knocked out by the end of the night. Your next stop, the ER followed by IR. Hate when that happens!

A wailing ambulance rushed you to the nearest emergency room. "What's this one here for, they ask?  Oh, another one for the lip ward.  Put him in triage along with all of the other brass players."

Unfortunately it's going to happen.  From time to time chops will get puffed up, split open, banged in, and bent out of shape. Our ongoing responsibility is to minimize the damage of too much lip involvement, to transfer the workload elsewhere, and to avoid ever seeing the inside of that ambulance again!

The danger zone of course is the embouchure.  Even though every teacher preaches "IT'S THE AIR, DUMMY", we get too late smart. Our mind gets the memo, but our lips and lungs don't.  Consequently the lips smart.  In the heat of battle we default to our pressure zone, the embouchure.

To the rescue - our therapeutic reset reminder and model:
  •  Nice sounds are produced by vibrating lips directing the free flow of air into the horn.  
  •  Flute players are our example of seemingly pressure-free playing.  (Do flute players ever get sore chops?  Always wondered about that.  Always appeared not.)    
  • Is your air column a stream or a strain? Does it easily get bottled up before it even enters the lead pipe? Think of an hour glass with all of the sand flowing easily through in 5 seconds!  Think of whooshes of free-flowing air entering a tuba, rather than pinches of squeezed air compressed into a tiny squeaky oboe reed shrieking out a piercing high C. 
  •  If your audience could see your air stream as it proceeds through the trumpet and out of the bell, what would it look like? Would they gasp as a huge cloud of beautiful fragrant smoke permeates the entire hall, or would they see a shriveled thread of an air column shattering on the floor right in front of you? A flood of fragrance, or something else?
  • Think of Olympic swimmers. If they breathed like we often do, they would all drown, gurgling helplessly at the bottom of the pool.  Relax the release of your air. Practice breathing comfortably with every breath, not just the first one.

There must be a natural rhythm to your inhaling and exhaling. The control of the breath must be mastered to avoid injury.  Observe those who do it well.  Copying is OK. Consider the music that wants to come forth, and don't stifle it by tension and shallow prep. 

Remember, music isn't borne from brute force or shear muscle power.  It's not about the lips but rather the efficient use of unforced air. Strength is involved but it must be under control.

Transfer the lips' 80% work load down to 20%. Anything more isn't fair to the lips. Let relaxed, musically-driven air come to the rescue.  No more wailing sirens!


feedback@stomvi-usa said...

We could not agree more. Efficiency is key.

Lee Carr said...

Never knew playing could be so dangerous.