Tone journey: relax

I little while ago, I started blogging about improving your tone. I started with trumpet equipment and then moved on to mouthpieces (remember the “clocking” post?). Today, I want to begin exploring ways that we can improve tone with the way we use our body to play. In my opinion, this is where the biggest gains come from. By upgrading your trumpet, you might have a 10% improvement. Mouthpiece accounts for more tonal change–perhaps as much as 10-40%, depending on the differences. But what you do with your embouchure, your breathing, and your body make up the rest.

The main point in today’s post is to relax. Muscles in the torso, throat and mouth are the most important to your playing, but other muscles can also be important. If they are engaged correctly, at the minimum amount of tension they need to do the job of playing trumpet, then this is perfect. Unfortunately, we often have too much tension. An excess of tension causes endurance and range problems, but, more important to our topic, it causes our tone to sound too stiff and harsh. I want to give you a two-step process to improve in this area.

  1. Recognize where the tension is. Do this when you are playing–when you don’t have to think too much about notes. Long tone warmups are great for this. As you play, let your mind scan your body. Focus your attention on different body areas, from head to toe. Is there enough (or too much) tension? Recognize problem areas consciously–earmark the areas. If there are too many problem areas, then simply start with one and focus on that one.
  2. When you get ready to play the next note or passage, habit is likely to take over, and the tension will come back. Instead of conceding to this habit, pause for a moment. Direct yourself to let go of the tension. Perhaps use a mental model to make it easier (e.g., thinking that your problem muscle is made of jello). Play when you are ready with this new direction. Don’t worry about trumpet playing (missed notes or sloppy response for example) for now. Just focus on your new direction to let go of tension. After a while, you should be able to play something simple without the habitual extra tension.

Keep this process going in your daily warmups. A reminder to relax in the morning will help for the rest of the day. As the days and weeks go by, you begin to change the way you play. Your mind will be more relaxed. Your tone will sound more relaxed.

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