Axes of tone: head placement

There are so many ways to maximize tone. Slotting, vowel placement and equipment, for example. Today we continue our exploration of the different ways we can change tone. I like to think of these ways as “axes.” An axis is a way to imagine a factor that has a range of impact, and we can have more than one axis (in math, we often think of the X, Y and Z axes). The slotting axis can be high, low or somewhere in between (I like the sweet spot). Similarly, the vowel placement axis can be on a range, so we have an artistic choice, based on our musical tastes.

Today we look at head placement, and by that, I mean how forward or backward we place our head (parallel to the floor). But also how far we tilt our head. Again, we will use the full range of these movements to find the optimal tone. Let’s look at how we can be deliberate in how we choose our head placement. For this exercise, it’s best to either have a trusted listener (like a trumpet teacher) and/or a good recording device. Video recording would be great, because you can visually see your head and compare it to the tone.

Forward/backward: first, in your most habitual head posture, play a mid-range long tone (2nd-line G would be great, but it could be another note). Now extend your head forward as far as possible, and then play the same tone, trying to keep slotting and vowel placement the same. Notice the change in tone. You will probably notice a thinning or brightening or the tone. You’ll also probably notice that this does not feel good! Next, try pulling your head as far back as possible. Again, notice the tone and feeling. Now, try to zero in on the best tone. When you find the best tone, where is your head? My guess is that it is neutrally placed (but maybe not the same place that you normally place it).

Tilt: again, first, get a baseline on your habitual posture (but now we can use the optimal forward/backward position–this is what we did in the previous paragraph). Now compare this tone to a very downward tilt (pointing the bell at the ground). Then try the same thing with an upward tilt (point bell to ceiling). Of course these probably won’t be ideal, but now we have the full range and the tones that are associated with these extremes. Zero in on the best placement in terms of tone. Where is it? My guess is that it is fairly neutral–perhaps with a slight downward tilt.

What is happening here? We are basically finding the head placement which involves the least amount of muscle tension. This allows the tone to happen in the most advantageous environment–the one with the least amount of tension.

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