Saturday, November 08, 2008

Picture This

Every day during practice sessions in the basement, I would pause to gaze at my gallery of trumpet heroes on the wall. Each day they were there, staring at me through their picture frames, watching, listening, and some smiling as I slowly proceeded to blast my brains out. If I stopped playing long enough to listen, I could hear them. They had all at one time influenced me both by their words, of course by their notes, but also by their lives. But with the passing of time, their only help was in what I could recall.

Actually that is not true. When I looked closely at their embouchure as they were playing, I could still get a free lesson. Watching can be almost as beneficial as listening. My own embouchure had been a bit dysfunctional especially in early years, and many problems had to be overcome by sheer willpower. It was my way, the only way, and the hard way. Being coaxed and advised was not as helpful as observing other players - something about a picture and a thousand words. A wiser student would have heeded instruction as well as seeing it in practice, but that is a topic for another time.

Looking at those guys on the wall, I could see that each embouchure had a natural placement of the mouthpiece on the lips. It just looked right. Corners were firm, center free to vibrate, and the rest of the face appeared to focus on the blowing process. Air was directed straight into the cup, with no detours. Both lips shared the work load with an absolute minimum of strain. At least, it looked that way. Upper body was relaxed and upright while the air made its unhampered passage directly to the audience. The mouthpiece looked like it belonged there!

We study the art of music, but we also must learn the art of controlling its vehicle, the air stream. Behind every great trumpet performance there is a well functioning embouchure whose job is to manage air flow. Call him the quarterback, the point man, the executive officer, or the busy air traffic controller of your playing. If he has been trained to handle all that passes his way, you are good to go. Don't be at odds with your embouchure. The quality of your music depends on how well he functions. I was always amazed that so much great music could travel through such a tiny aperture with such efficiency and ease!

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