Lip slurs are a common exercise in the trumpet playing community. And with good reason, they help make playing easier. The good news is, lip slurs are a simple exercises, that most any player can implement into their routine today.
What are Lip Slurs?
Because of the way the trumpet works, you can play many different notes using the same valve combinations. This image shows all of the notes you can play using any of the seven valve combinations on the trumpet. All of the notes you can play on a single valve combination are also referred to as the harmonic series, or overtone series.
(click picture for better resolution)
Since there are so many notes one can play using a single valve combination, trumpet players need to learn to navigate the harmonic/overtone series using our bodies. This is done by finding a balance between airflow and resistance.
Essentially, we need to train our bodies to find the proper airspeed for any given note using compression in the body. This compression comes from a number of places including the tongue, muscles of the torso and all of the pieces of the embouchure.
A great way to learn how to create the proper airspeed for any given note is to practice lip slurs. To do a “lip slur” you simply play one note on the harmonic series, to another note on the same harmonic series (using the same valve combination), without re-articulating the 2nd note.
Something like this:
How Do I Get Started with Lip Slurs?
A common strategy for getting the knack of lip slurs, is to imagine saying specific vowels as you play. In a three note slur the lowest tone is vocalized as “oh” the middle “ah” and the upper note “ee.” This encourages a subtle movement of the tongue, which directs the speed of the air, and changes the pitch.
Now, once your tongue is working for you in this way, it’s best to forget about it, and keep your focus on maintaining a homogeneous sound from one note to the next. With practice, your body will discover how to efficiently navigate the harmonic series.
Practice Notes and a Routine
- It is important to know where you’re going. Alternate singing and playing until you know what each note of the lip slur sounds like.
- Give yourself plenty of practice time on the slurs that are “easier” for you. The further you refine your fundamentals, the easier all the “hero” stuff will be later.
- Practice lip slurs only as fast as you can maintain the feel of “blowing through” the phrase. This is the doorway to excellent technique. Check out players like Allen Vizzutti, and notice how they “just blow” through amazingly technical excerpts. This is the feeling of good technique, and you can experience that feeling right now by striping the work down to a manageable level.
- Practice your slurs until you feel you’ve got some good work in, and then stop before you feel tired. No need to bust your chops.
Just for fun, below is a lip slur routine I’ve been using recently with great success. Remember, work where you are and have some fun with it! There is truly no need to “push the envelope.”
Blackwell’s 2015 Lip Slur Routine
Hopefully this article has given you a launching point for you lip slur practice. Be sure to subscribe using one of the opt-in/subscription forms on this site to stay in the loop with new content, exercises and special offers!
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