Let’s talk slurs: part 1, stretches

On the trumpet, slurring is a big challenge. I often hear students ignoring written slurs, because they’re hard. Or sometimes I hear young trumpeters playing slurs poorly by gapping the air between the notes. In this mini-series on slurs, I would like to make slurs easier by explaining key concepts and suggesting exercises to help.

Primary motor for airspeed. The first concept is that, when everything else is equal, air speed determines pitch. If air speed is increased, the pitch goes up. If air speed decreases, the pitch goes down. If this seems overly simple, it’s because there are so many things that determine air speed. The primary, or most basic, motor for airspeed is the torso breathing apparatus. I want to explore this primary factor by suggesting some exercises.

Stretches. I learned these exercises from Roger Behrend, a fantastic euphonium soloist in the U.S. Navy Band. He called these “stretches.”

Stretch, going down. In this exercise, play a 2nd-line G at a forte dynamic. Slowly drop your jaw while you maintain airspeed. The dropping jaw will slow the airspeed down by increasing the volume in the oral cavity (imagine how a river slows down when it enters a bay). The pitch will begin to bend down. If you do not change this jaw motion, you will arrive at the harmonic break between the G and the low C. Then, you will go over this break in a rather rude way, and you will arrive at the low C. The harsher and ruder this break change is, the better for this exercise.

Stretch, going up. In this exercise, play the 2nd-line G again at forte. This time increase the air speed by increasing the effort from your torso area. Keep increasing the air more and more while maintaining the same tongue and jaw position (if you were to expand your oral cavity by lowering your tongue or jaw, you would get louder and stay on pitch, but that is not the object). Eventually, you will cross over the harmonic break and get to the 3rd-space C. If you are doing this correctly, the break will again be rude sounding.

These two simple exercises help set you up for better slur practice, because they bring so much attention to the primary airspeed motor (the torso), and because they encourage healthy air between notes (instead of the all-too-common slur that has gaps between the notes). Below, I made a video to demonstrate. First in the video, I do both the down and up stretches. Then I play a small number of slurs, incorporating stretches. Finally, I do the same slurs normally, while remembering the good air flow established in the stretching exercises. Since the total set takes less than 40 seconds, they are very practical to do before a more extensive slurring practice session.

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