Date: Mon, 7 Aug 2000 20:35:57 -0500 (CDT)
From: ('Pops')
Subject: Tension

I've written about tension several times but since the topic came back up....

When I first went to 'Jake' I was 'playing' in symphony and lead in jazz band. I had already long since switched embouchures from Farkas, to Maggio to Stevens. With the Stevens I could 'play' super g  at will.

My first lesson was a complete let down. I was only allowed to play a simple lip slur from second line g to middle c. I was told that I would need to learn how to breathe and when to use support.

He had me place my hand on my stomach and play the lip slur. I took a breath turned the air around and played a supported g-c lip slur.

I was told not to use my abdominals on notes that low . He played a lip slur with my hand on his stomach low c-g-c-g- high c. I felt no tension at all until he went to high c.

What I learned was that there is enough pressure being applied already to your  ribcage in all directions from the air to properly support low notes.

If we think of letting a low g roll out of the bell of the horn rather than blowing it out the sound is very free. Likewise a low c might travel a few feet in front of us. A middle c would travel still farther....

'Jake' advocated no abdominal pressure at all under middle c. This can not happen as our muscle system is always under some tension but he meant no extra intentional pressure.

This left more strength in reserve for the upper register. The higher notes are to shoot out of the bell and drill a hole in the back wall of the concert hall.

Was this simple lesson learned in an hour or a day? No it took a while to stop kicking in my abdominals until I got over middle c. Even then to learn the difference between  some pressure and a lot of pressure took more time. After all fourth space e does not need the kick high c does.

The airway must always be open both in inhaling and in playing. One problem is posture. I've seen many experienced players slumped over while jamming. I've seen them with their heads down our their arms against their ribcage. If we give this its proper importance then we see that these things WILL lead to a closed throat, shallow breaths and poor support.

If the jaw is pushed forward slightly this will cause the throat opening to be larger than it normally is. Try it. Move the jaw forward slowly and check if you can feel your throat open up. Think of the effect that can have on your tone.

The more forward jaw position will also make your lower lip take on more of the workload. This increases endurance (after you get used to it). Notice that I said more forward Stevens demanded an even tooth alignment. I advocate moving it until the throat opens. This will be different for every player.

Another key feature in maintaining an open airway is a pivot. You could write hundreds of pages about this. But that's already been done. In a nutshell by raising or lowering the bell of your horn while you are playing you can maintain a more open airway and clearer tone. As you play higher and lower notes the air stream will slightly move in the mouthpiece. If we can keep it lined up with the throat hole the sound is better. The SLIGHT bell movement will produce an opposite movement or realignment of our lips to the mouthpiece.

Now which way do you move the bell? Try this test . Play a low g 1-3. Move the bell up then move it down. One way should improve the sound. When you move to a lower note from now on always pivot this direction. The opposite direction will aid the upper notes. This is a good movement whenever you have to leap between notes.

The tongue arch has been used for years to speed up the air inorder to play higher notes. Most people arch to the point where the sound quality is affected.  Instead of arching up to eeee try aaaaah. This is a more open sound yet it still compresses the air slightly. After all the tongue arch cannot give you an extra octave. It is merely  used for rapid note movement. The abdominals compress the air for your range. As for the tongue arch using a long aaaaaa sound instead of an eee for the top of the arch gives a more open mouth position and therefore a fuller sound. If you are playing 3 ocatves over high r# then you use whatever is needed to stay there.

As for a specific vowel for below middle c, middle c to Eb ... that is not strictly the case. All lip trills , slurs and leaps are accomplished  in part  by using a tongue arch. If you have maxed out your tongue motion at Bb below high c how do you plan to continue going up? The tongue arch is like an elevator it should help you to compress and thereby speed up the air to achieve higher notes. Surely if you did practice out of the Irons book this was apparent. So you start out on the low c to second line g and lip slur back and forth. Both of these notes are below middle c yet a tongue arch is useful in speeding up the excerise. Likewise if you are playing a high g and want to slur up if you are already in the extreme eeee position where do you go? My suggestion is to attempt to substitute a long aaaa when possible and save the extremes for a reserve.

Now for the full breath on every note or phrase. Have you ever had to play 1 note by itself to fill out a chord in a song? What about the 3 or 4 measure phrases? These do not require as much air as a full 8 measure phrase.

At the end of a very short phrase an inexperienced brass player will feel a need to exhale before he or she can take a breath. If this overbreathing continues for any length of time the player will sometimes turn red or gasp for air. No you didn't run out of air for playing however, your body really likes to have oxygen in your lungs. What has hapened is you took a full breath and used less than half. Now when you take a full breath you only replace half of the stale oxygen deprived air in your lungs. As this continues you end up gasping for air. Does this sound familiar?

Overbreathing really is a kind of self suffication (in the extreme). The exception was taken for high notes. Well here WE may be using different standards. Some people consider g on the staff to be high while others are referring to an octave or so over that. In this extreme upper register overbreathing becomes more apparent.

Have you seen people get dizzy, lightheaded, or blackout. They were overbreathing. I know some people say if you release the pressure really slowly it will not happen. If you did not overbreathe and have so much leftover air under pressure it would not happen either.
Timed breathing is another aspect of playing. Some people always take a deep full breath. When playing in the upper register this creates tension. The upper register takes air compression and speed but not air mass. The low notes need the full breaths. Try a half or quarter breath before you play your next high g. This will allow your muscles to do their job.

Lip tension, tongue arch and air speed are great for changing pitch in a particular register. But lip compression is needed inorder to change registers.

Arching the back of the tongue causes headaches and blackouts. So please remember to use a forward arch.

A combination of 6 things are NEEDED to play trumpet well.

Close lip setting (aperture) + mouthpiece pressure (just enough to make a seal) + lip compression + lip tension + tongue arch (forward) & Air (speed and support).  These 6 points control the range of the instrument. There are many variations available in how these can be added together to play any one note.

It is possible to play a double high c with a close setting and compression only. Stevens' static exercises are played that way.

Adding some mpc pressure to that can flesh out the notes yet these can be done with almost no tension.

On the other hand lots of people play high c with an open lip setting lots of lip tension and mouthpiece pressure. With the lips pinned open there is no compression.

This is tiring because of muscle fatigue from the tension and impared bloodflow through the lips caused by mouthpiece pressure.

Inorder to move from the open setting to a closed setting the player has to learn to relax the tension and back off on the mouthpiece pressure.

Compression works far better than tension so both range and endurance improve.

Now to obtain a big full sound you need a balance of lip setting, compression, tension, mpc pressure, tongue arch and air usage. This balance changes by register.

For example the low register needs more air mass to fill the bigger aperture but less air speed or pressure. The lips require little tension or compression. I have found that people can put the close setting to real use quicker by learning to relax the chops.

Trust me we all put some tension back in as we ascend. I have to constantly remind people (in the upper register) to relax some and take the workload off of the lips.

There is natural muscle tone (tension), there is loose and flabby, and there are stages of tightness (tension). You have certain levels or amounts of tension that you rely on for each register. (Some change tension every note, others by the difference in the harmonic series and still others by octaves.)

The dependence on tension, where and how much you change is based on how you use the other playing factors. Lip compression (lip against lip not facial or corner tension), lip setting (how close they are before the airstream starts), mouthpiece pressure (this can easily seal off the aperture an open setting needs 5 X as much as a close setting). Added to this is the way you use your air.

In my case because of a close lip setting I use the normal resting facial tension on the entire 1st set of notes in the harmonic series (Low F# to low C). The next set (low C# to second line G) uses a little tension but far less than open aperture players do on low F#. In fact the 3rd set (second line G# to middle C) uses less tension than lots of people start with on Low F#.

Tension is tiring. It also adds stiffness to the lips and prevents a free vibration.

Added stiffness is how tension helps to play higher notes but it restricts and limits the ease of tone production of the mid and low register.

One way to judge your tension level is to see how much of the face is involved. Under high C it should be completely limited to the lips and corners (1/2 '' away from the lips). I see a great many players who are tense in the cheeks (this robs you of endurance) and neck (this hurts your tone). Over high C I have tension in the area around the lips going out in all directions about 2 inches or so. My cheeks and neck never get tense.

Lip compression is the act of 1 lip pressing against the other. Like pinching the thumb and forefinger together.

Inorder to do this with your hand the thumb must be touching the finger (there can be no air space between them), It works the same way with the lips.

There are 5 main ways that this lip compression is obtained.
1. The entire chop setting is drawn toward the center. Corners pulled in and top and bottom lip pulled together. Like the drawstring example in the Farkas book or the making a fist in Jacoby's book or the diagram in Callet's book. Three different embouchures that all use the same method of lip compression.

2. Using the muscles of the chin to push the lower lip into the top lip. This creates a knot of muscle at the chin and it moves the center portion of the lower lip.
3. Using the muscles of a frown to compress the lips together. The Roy Roman bulldog face. A frown will pull the top lip down slightly as it pushes the center part of the bottom lip upward.
4. Using the jaw to assist register changes. This is the way Roy Stevens taught. He started with a very open jaw (tooth) position. That way he could bring the lips in toward each other in more compression by moving the jaw upward. (This is fine if you make sure to keep the teeth apart at all times.)
The interesting part is these techniques work with more than 1 embouchure setting. (The lips do have to touch.) I gave examples of 3 different embouchure settings for #1 but that applies for all 4 types of compression above.
5. Is done by use of a pucker. The compression is partially created by the lips in their pucker and partly by the mouthpiece holding them in place. This can only be used in 2 of the 4 main embouchure systems.

Finally tension FEEDS on itself. If your face is tense then you need more abdominal tension to play every note. After a while you add tension to the neck and throat to control all that extra air from the abdominal tension. That creates an increase of tension...... All of this is tiring and give s a poor sound.

Relax and LET the notes out.

Information about my trumpet & embouchure books.
Best wishes
Clint 'Pops' McLaughlin