Air Flow/Breath Control

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The importance of air in relation to trumpet playing is this; without it you cannot play the trumpet.

So how can we get our air really working for us? Well it is important to keep in mind that what we ultimately want to achieve is a steady air stream. When the air stream has a constant flow rate the coordination of our body becomes substantially easier.

Getting to it

To achieve a wide column of air, which promotes a full sound, imagine blowing as you would to fog up a mirror. This “haw” vocalization helps you achieve a warm, slow and steady air stream which becomes the basis of breath control. This is a natural byproduct of adopting an “ah” or “aw” singing approach to the instrument.

Exhaling as if fogging up a mirror gets you to use slightly more compression from the diaphragm than is necessary to simply expel the air. When you couple this compression with resistance from the chops and mouthpiece, inter-abdominal pressure is created which supports your sound and increases the safety of intense playing (not to mention physical exertion in general).

To feel this for yourself exhale as if fogging a mirror (haw) and purse your lips as if blowing through a straw. You will feel a buildup of internal pressure in your torso.

Slow Air for High Notes?

The upper register does require a faster vibrations of the lips which is created by increasing the speed of the air passing through the resistance of the lips/aperture. Remember, though, that your general mouth-shape is always working for you to compress the airstream and direct its speed.  Because of this nozzle, you can play a low C and a high C with the same flow rate from your lungs/diaphragm.

Application

You might consider practicing portions of your technical routine at speeds which you can think about nothing other than maintaining a homogenous, warm airstream. This tempo will most likely be much slower than your current technical abilities are capable of. Don’t worry about this – the focus on breath control will pay great dividends in later technical achievements.

Since your coordination essentially rides the airstream your capacity for maintaining a steady flow rate will improve your ability to get more returns for less work. You want a free flow of energy forward at all times.

Crash and Burn

A useful analogy is water skiing. Once you’ve reached your minimum effective speed the way to stay above the water is to maintain forward motion. If you stop or slow down too much you sink. Trumpet players tend to have a phobic response to difficult passages or fatigue and want to back off the air. This is not helpful since the decrease in air flow causes other areas in the body compensate which leads to greater fatigue and inefficiency.

NOTE: It is useful to train the other resistances in the body by backing off the air in practice. However, on the gig, keep blowing!


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4 thoughts on “Air Flow/Breath Control

  1. The tongue and lip aperture do not ” compress” air.

    The frequency of pulsation increases as the aperture is made smaller and firmer. Air velocity is not the cause of pitch.

    • Hi Darryl,

      Thank you for the note! I have just edited that portion of the article to better reflect (hopefully) the truth, and be more helpful to other players. Which reminds me further to go back and look at some of these posts I wrote when I knew even LESS than I do now 🙂

      Thanks for checking out the material and helping me improve the site.

      James

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