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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My personal thoughts on Bach trumpet mouthpieces

Yesterday, I introduced Bach mouthpieces, because they have been such industry standards, and in this post I will talk about my personal opinions of Bach mouthpieces.

I use a stock Bach 1C for my B-flat, C and E-flat trumpets. I will use a Bach 10 1/2 C with a 117 backbore for piccolo (a Benge with a trumpet-sized receiver). My opinions about a few other Bach mouthpieces:

1 1/2C: a wide rim can be helpful for endurance

1 1/4C: smoother inner rim for comfort

1C flugel: A great flugel mouthpiece for me.

1C cornet: not a great cornet mouthpiece for me–too bright and trumpet-like. For cornet, I will go with a different brand (Sparx 2B, but Wick is fantastic, too)

3C: I think the 3C can be a great all-around mouthpiece, nicely suited to some light commercial playing

5C: The 5C can be a great choice for many players, especially intermediate students; also for advanced students who need more endurance and support for high notes or prefer a more focused sound on a regular basis

7C: The go-to choice for a beginner trumpeter. Almost no one who has advanced in playing plays this mouthpiece. I once played a U.S. Navy Band tour on a 7C mouthpiece because of endurance concerns. I had zero endurance problems with the 7C. However, the brightness of the mouthpieces did not always blend with the rest of the section.

7E: I don’t play this mouthpiece on the piccolo, because I think the tone quality is too bright (I believe the stock backbore for this mouthpiece is the 117, which is good).

10 1/2 C (regular backbore): I like the rim and cup combination for piccolo, but I don’t like this mouthpiece as much, because the backbore doesn’t provide the right support for piccolo trumpet. The 117 is more open and provides a more successful piccolo trumpet balance.

Another curious observation: there aren’t many trumpeters who play Bach mouthpieces in “even” sizes (2, 4, 6, 8). I’m not sure why!

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