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Having sudden difficulty producing sound

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Trumpet Loser
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Joined: 12 Aug 2020
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2020 6:12 pm    Post subject: Having sudden difficulty producing sound Reply with quote

Hi everyone! I'm a trumpet student - not too young though. I've been flirting on and off with brass for at least 15 years, but unfortunately not as consistently as I should. However, I've been playing for a year and a half now, practicing everyday, which obviously helped me achieve some progress. I've been taking classes occasionally with trumpet teachers, who told me my embouchure was correct, although they both warned me that I tend to blow too much air to the horn, specially in the higher register, and that won't allow me to exercise the right muscles correctly. I play a Yamaha 2320 with a Yamaha 11c4-7c mouthpiece.

Please consider this as some kind of background context.

In the last two months, I started to sound better than usual. Nothing "professional", just an amateur trumpeter enjoying his progress. I got excited and started to practice longer than I'm used to, but respecting the breaks between exercises and always warming up and down. I also started to play notes pianissimo, with the intention of exercising mouth muscles more (a friend of mine gave me that advice) as I wouldn't be relying on the high air stream to help me play those notes.

After a couple of days practicing this way, at some point, I started to feel difficulty to "attack" notes. My mouth muscles were not quite responding, it felt like I was trying to send my tongue the message "play", but I couldn't articulate the sound, until suddenly the note "exploded", loud, almost out of my control. I barely could use a metronome, since it was hard for me to start the sound when I wanted to. Very frustrating.

So I stopped for three days, since I assumed I needed to give my chops a break. My surprise was how behind I went after that three day break. I was expecting to be a little bit rusty on the upper register, but what I discovered is I was playing way worse than I planned. Did I just have any kind of serious injury? I don't think I played more than some other times when I get too excited (sometimes that would get my lips tired the day after, but nothing beyond that), neither I overpracticed slip slurs or high pitch.

Am I playing worse because I stopped for three days? Or because I need to have a longer break? Can anyone give me some advice? Is this normal for trumpet students? What's the way to proceed now? I love trumpet and I don't want to stop playing (I don't pursue a professional carrier, just having fun with friends and occasional jam sessions).

Thanks everyone for your advice, I'll be looking forward to reading your opinions.
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Joined: 24 Dec 2018
Posts: 1748
Location: Endwell NY USA

PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2020 5:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It might be that you feel too much need to 'blow air through the horn'.
The first concern should be to 'produce the pitch that you envision in your mind' - concentrate on the pitch - the loudness that you choose will regulate what ever air flow or blowing that is needed.
Basically - 'sing the pitch with you lips'.

going back to French horn!
Yamaha 668N, Holton DC mpc
The 'next note' is the most important one.
Don't take a '20 minute mouthpiece' to a 1 hour session.
April morning Surprise
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Joined: 23 Mar 2003
Posts: 5141
Location: Hawai'i - Texas

PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2020 8:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Make sure you're not using excessive pressure.
Keep the air flowing, regardless of volume.
Play long tones, broken up into quarter notes but don't stop and stat the air. Play it like one long tone with the air continuing to flow, but just interrupted (keep the air flowing) by the tongue.

Play the Cichowicz Long Tone Studies. Be careful, these Long Tone studies are often erroneously called Flow Studies.

When you can comfortably use the air, try playing something like the Concone Melodies, concentrating on flowing the air. (BTW) this is to supplement, not negate, the above information.
"If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn." Charlie Parker
"Even if I could play like Wynton Marsalis, I wouldn't play like Wynton Marsalis."
Chet Baker
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 14, 2020 6:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Find a respected teacher. Trumpet like the game of golf is in most cases impossible to teach yourself. I golfed for 30 years before taking lessons. In 8 weeks my entire game changed. A good trumpet teacher can spot things you may never know you're doing wrong. It's money well spent.
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Andy Del
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Joined: 30 Jun 2005
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Location: sunny Sydney, Australia

PostPosted: Sat Aug 15, 2020 11:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That above, and don’t listen to friends unless they are experienced, well respected teachers!
so many horns, so few good notes...
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 16, 2020 12:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think you have been doing everything the wrong way round.

It is of course impossible to know this for sure without seeing you so do not simply accept what I say instead think about your approach to playing and trust in your teachers and their words.

Your teachers have told you that you put too much air through the instrument this is I feel the root of your problem. For them to say this you must be blasting out the notes.

Why do you do this. I am going to have to use guesswork and the clues in your words so far. I dont like to guess I am so easily wrong so at this risk.....

You are passionate about trumpet, you want to play for fun, you are a hard worker, you try your very best. This has led you to where you find yourself.

I suspect that your instrument has not helped as well it is I believe stuffy in the high register and requires more air than other instruments so this has perhaps encouraged high levels of effort to push the notes in the high register out.

I think what has happened is you have over time developed the habit of forcing the notes out and you cannot hear how much you are doing this because you are at the wrong end of the instrument. Your volume has been climbing and the air you use has been climbing.

This cant go on and eventually something has to give and it has.

Trumpet is as much in the head as it is in the heart, and your love of playing must be tempered with control.

I think that what is happening is you build pressure on yourself to get the notes out and this pressure itself stops you getting the notes out so the pressure builds and makes it harder to get the notes out and your effort then rises and something eventually gives like a dam wall breaking and the note then explodes out.

You need now to end this, to end the pressure to blow the notes out, and start playing the notes musically and lyrically without effort again.

Be guided by your teachers words.

You are using too much air.

I believe the reason you have deteriorated so badly in that short break is not because you actually did deteriorate it was instead because the break has given you a chance to hear how badly you really play and it doesnt sound good to you.

Your playing did not deteriorate in that short break you had got used to hearing your playing and had become uncritical of it.

I know these are harsh words but to not say them is a disservice to you.

Shift now to playing beautifully. This is not going to be easy so knuckle down. Breaking habits is the toughest thing you can do.

As they say when the going gets tough the tough get going, and I believe from your words that you are tough so I think you are up to the task.

Practice long tones and by that I mean play a single note as softly as you can, on one single breath. Aim for one full minute on one breath and when you achieve this set a target of two minutes.

When you get tired of doing this choose a note and play that note as gently and as beautifully as possible repeat playing this note as beautiful as possible for one full hour. Then back to the long tones. Then back to the beautiful note practice.

If you are doing it right this will be the hardest thing you have ever done.

Take away the need to force out your notes this is about building good habits by repetition.

You have a mountain to climb so put on those climbing boots. All I can do is show you the route to the summit you must do the climbing.

When finally the need to kick out notes on demand goes away the mental pressure to perform those notes disappears.

High volume generates pressure to play, pressure to play increases air pressure, higher air pressure increases volume, high volume generates pressure to play.

I am not surprised you find yourself in trouble, I am just surprised it took you so long to get there. This is probably because you have been trying so hard to play well and is a measure of your commitment.

I want you to spend a week on these exercises not because you need these exercises although you do, but you need to reinforce good habits of not blasting out notes at high volume.

No high volume notes for one week. Break that habit.

Then move back to playing, play a few familiar pieces that stay in the staff and are not taxing. Play them gently and softly, caress the notes.

Forget the high register your aim is to play in the staff as gently and beautifully as possible.

Do not blow the notes into the instrument instead let the notes fall out of the instrument softly.

You should, as a well developed and capable musician be able to play so softly that someone can listen just a few feet away without discomfort.

The better the player the softer they can play.

I will give an example of this soft playing. I played yesterday in a bar outside seated area playing requests and as I was playing I moderated my dynamics of playing because I was only 6 feet away from my nearest listeners.

As I played a bar girl collected glasses and unknown to me she stepped in front of the instrument and stood for a while with her head just 3 feet from the bell without suffering any discomfort at all as I played.

Abandoning high air use brings control of dynamics and your play then elevates.

Using too much air makes you use full volume for all your playing and prevents control of dynamics. With good use of dynamics comes expression.

Control of dynamics is a fundamental requirement of good playing and you have robbed yourself of this ability with your high air use.

If you do take my advice you will need to see a teacher to make sure I am not giving you new bad habits.

A good teacher does not want a gifted student, a good teacher wants a student with commitment and that you have. You will get through this.
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Trumpet Loser
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 16, 2020 8:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks everyone for your responses. I’ll proceed to answer all of you:

- JayKosta: Thanks for that tip. I’ve discovered than when I focus on recreating the note that I’m trying to play in my mind, the actual sound comes easier and brighter.

- Kehaulani: thanks for stressing the long notes practice. I’ve read some people saying that practicing too many of them can make your embochure less flexible, more rigid. Is this true? Thanks for introducing the Cichowicz Long Tone Studies, I’ll try to find them somewhere (any specific edition? or website?)

- Peanut56: Thanks, I’m committed to find a teacher. In the middle of this “new normal” it’s difficult to find one that it’s not online (and I am assuming an online setting don’t let teacher get all the bad habits and an accurate idea of the actual sound you’re producing. Am I wrong?

- Andy Del: you’re absolutely right! I have friends who are outstanding musicians, however they’re not good teachers or they just forgot how to start playing an instrument since it’s so long ago they dealt with those first steps. I also playo drums and guitars and I’ve received a nice set of awful tips and advices by friends who play wonderfully.

-Bflatman. WOW, thanks so much for taking the time to type that long and detailed response. We all know that even for somebody who is an expert typewriter, you invested at least 30 min to put that answer together, so I really appreciate your time. I also appreciate your honesty and your care, and your words doesn’t feel harsh at all. I play percussion since I’m a kid and I’ve been a director of a few percussion groups, I’m used to teach adults with a lack of patience, who want to move forward fast because they easily get bored with the basics, and I know that sometimes you need to tell someone: you’re building your sound over a very weak structure, you need to go back to the basics and reinforce your foundations before stepping up, “you’d rather play a very simple tune perfectly than a complicated tune with a lot of error, because you won’t fool a musician when they listen to you playing an exciting music sheet performed like crap”. So I’ll give a chance to your words, as they sound trustworthy, and I’ll go back to long notes in the low/middle register for one week. Thanks again!
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