Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001 17:25:40 -0800
From: "Scott Englebright" <>
Subject: Air

Fast vs More

Many people who play the trumpet never seem to grasp the concept of 'faster air' and 'more air'.  To most, the two are synonymous.  Most of us have heard others referring to them interchangeably.   However, in order to play well, you must be able to make the distinction between velocity and volume.

It is well known that faster air creates higher notes.  Without getting into physics, playing high basically boils down to how fast your lips are vibrating.  Remember when you would blow up a balloon, squeeze the open end, and create that obnoxious squealing sound?  Well, your lips basically work the same way.  The greater the tension, the faster the vibrations and the higher the pitch.  Since the balloon isn't concerned with tone clarity, it's not bothered with getting a tight, squeaky sound.  When we play by creating faster lips vibrations, it's imperative that we focus on speeding up the vibrations WITHOUT changing the lip tension.  If the lips change, typically so does the clarity of sound.  Now, for those of you who are still in the dark, let's take the next couple of chapters and discuss the terms 'faster' and 'slower' air.

When you hear people mention faster air when they play, they are usually referring to higher notes.  As stated above, the faster the air, the faster the vibrations, and the higher the pitch. When you inhale a full breath and blow through the horn to play, you probably don't think about the little, important things that can make playing easier and more fun. If you are going to think one thing, make sure it's the amount of air you inspire.  The less air you have to use, the worse you will sound and the more difficult playing will be. Now, when you think of faster air, think of how your face is formed just prior to blowing out a match.  Got it?

Now,  without changing the resistance you feel when you blow, form your normal embouchure by reforming your lips.  After that, take in enough air to blow out a cake full of candles and play your horn.

Hopefully that made things a little clearer.  Now that you understand 'faster', let's discuss 'more' air.  When you breathed as you did to blow out the candles, you probably realized that there is only one way to fill your lungs.  An important thing to remember is that what is important is 'what' you do with the air you have inside.  If you take in a lot of air and aren't efficient at exhaling to play the trumpet, you won't see results.  Also remember that you usually don't have to think about breathing at all.  You have to think and concentrate when you breathe to play a wind instrument!! Now that you have taken in air and have formed your embouchure, try playing the loudest note possible.  To play louder, you have to use more air. Make sense?  It should, but that's not the whole story.....

Since there is only one way to breathe in, isn't there only one way to breathe out?  Well, yes and no.  When playing the trumpet, you know how versatile you can be by playing louder, softer, higher, lower, or any combination of these.  How can this be if air simply comes in and goes out?  Well, it was stated earlier that what you do with the air inspired is of utmost importance.  When you played that loud note earlier, what would have happened if you used a little more air?  That's right, you would have played a higher note.  Let's figure this out.  When you play a note, your aperture (the little hole that air goes through to vibrate the inner part of your lips when you play) should only vary slightly.  If you don't change the size of that hole and you use more air, that air becomes faster air.  Let's look at your ordinary garden hose for comparison. When you cut on the water with your garden hose attached,  the water may travel 3 or 4 feet out.  If you were to attach an open nozzle with a much smaller diameter, the water shoots out much farther.  Now, think about playing the trumpet using your air in the same way the water travels out of the hose.  When you cut the water all the way up (force out as much air as possible), the water travels the greatest distance (your range ascends).  When you cut the water down (use less compression to force out less air), the water doesn't go as far out (your range descends).  Think of each note that you play having it's own little 'level' or stair. When you play a constant, steady note, you are on a certain level.  If you keep using more and more air without changing the size of your aperture, you hop up to the next stair or the next higher note (open, 1st, etc...). When you use more and more air, your note gets louder and louder until the breaking poinit (next partial note up).  If you  use less and less air, the note gets softer and softer and eventually hops down. If you use too little air (or not enough air to stay on that certain 'stair'), you drop down to the next note. What if you wanted to play a softer high note on the trumpet?  Well, the system remains the same, but on a much smaller scale.  As stated earlier, the aperture should only vary slightly.  If you close the aperture slightly (much like the aperture of a camera or the iris of your eye increasing and decreasing  the pupillary space to regulate the amount of light hitting the lens), less faster air will travel through creating a softer high note.