Open vs Closed Aperture


*** FreeTB “Aperture Control” Course is NOW AVAILABLE! Check it Out HERE (More info at end of article) ***

  • Introduction

Not everybody likes to talk about aperture – and with good reason – it can be confusing and thinking about it while performing often leaves you dead in the water. However, having a basic understanding of the aperture is useful in interpreting the sensations we feel while playing the trumpet.

  • Aperture 101

In brass playing, the aperture is the parting between the lips that the air passes through while playing.

You’re now ready to move on to the next lesson.

  • “Open” vs “Closed” Aperture Setting

Some people refer to the aperture being either “open” or “closed.”

Technically, the aperture is always open while playing, otherwise air would not be moving through the lips. For our intents, think of the size of the aperture as being on a sliding scale that oscillates  between varying degrees of openness and closedness.

A “more closed” aperture is typically one where the lips are tucked in as in saying “mmm.” This puts more of the lips’ outer skin in contact with the mouthpiece.

A “more open” aperture is one where the lips are slightly more parted, or rolled out toward the mouthpiece. This moves the vibration to the inside, fleshy part of the lips.

Also make note that aperture size is entirely subjective. What may feel open to one player, the next may describe as feeling closed.

  • What’s the Big Deal

To gain an understanding how aperture size relates to the air stream, try this:

  1. Clamp your lips together tightly.
  2. Blow air as hard as you can up against the inside of the the lips.
  3. Further resist the airstream by pressing the lips harder into one another.

Try as you might, you can’t blow the lips apart.

Now try this:

  1. Unfurl your lips like a cartoon character kissing.
  2. Blow air through the inner, pink, fleshy part of the lips.
  3. While remaining rolled out, attempt to stop the airflow by clamping down the lips now

You probably can’t do it.

Differences in aperture setting not only change physical function, they also have a direct effect on your musical results.

Generally, a more closed aperture offers greater tonal control across the registers. It also requires a greater deal of embouchure strength and endurance, especially in the upper register. This takes patience to develop.

On the flip-side, a more open aperture can make it easier to perform in the upper register. Since air moves so freely through a more open aperture, you do not necessarily need strong chops to maintain a higher vibration frequency (aka play higher notes), especially once you learn to transfer the “work” of playing to the larger muscles of the torso area. However, a larger aperture setting makes it more difficult to manage the tone, particularly in the middle register and especially at softer dynamics.

Imagine the perceived difference in aperture size between say, Sergei Nakariakov, and Maynard Ferguson. They are both using basically the same body parts, or physical equipment to play, but have found slightly different balances in performance based on the sound they are/were attracted to, and the style of music each of them performs/performed.

What we want is to find a balance that combines the ease of a more open setting, and the control of a more closed setting, as is dictated by our musical needs and goals.

  • Learning to Control the Aperture

While some players do have success manipulating their apertures “manually,” you will find superior results by resigning to the fact that you are not in control*.

(*With enough experience, yes, you’ll learn how it feels for you to “set” your chops before playing. This comes naturally with time and practice, so don’t bother yourself by thinking too much about it.)

An important idea to note is that the size of the aperture is not controlled AT the aperture. In other words, the size and shape of the aperture is dictated by the entire embouchure (muscles of the face, along with teeth and jaw), and the embouchure’s relationship with the mouthpiece. The embouchure learns to control the aperture subconsciously, and this happens basically as a result of two things; Regularly playing the  trumpet, and listening to yourself and others.

This means you don’t necessarily need to practice any specific “aperture size” exercises (but you can, and these will be available soon on the BTB site). And since this is the case, the most important aspect of aperture development and control, aside from general trumpet practice, is adopting a proper mindset for learning. This mindset is one of acceptance, and keeping your eye on the long-haul.

As you progress, you can expect the size of the aperture to fluctuate in and out of control – and do not become overly concerned when it does. The embouchure does, at times, become “spread,” or simply “too open” to maintain control of the tone. This happens as a result of a lack of playing experience (you are a total beginner), the embouchure fatiguing from excessive playing, or working too far outside your comfortable playing range for too long. When this happens, it’s best to take a break, and give the embouchure a chance to recuperate and re-calibrate.

Ultimately, you are working to develop and widen an aperture “sweet spot” that grants you the ease and flexibility to perform the music you are interested in. This happens as a result of you becoming more comfortable performing on a wider scale of “openness” vs “closedness,” as well as the embouchure learning how to more effectively resist the airstream, and focus the aperture. In other words, your comfort zone moves out, while the aperture focuses in, until you find a nice happy medium that allows you to play the way you want for longer periods of time.

  • Re-cap and How to Train the Aperture
    1. The aperture is the parting between the lips that air passes through while playing the trumpet.
    2. The aperture can be described as being “more open,” or “more closed,” based on the player, and musical situation.
    3. Varying sizes in aperture have an effect on the results you’re getting as a trumpet player.
    4. YOU do not learn to control the aperture. Your body does; through listening, practice, and rest.
    5. Respect any changes in the aperture as a natural, needed part of the learning process.
    6. Spend 85% of your practice time in a comfortable range and dynamic, only occasionally testing your limits. This, combined with frequent rest, gives your body the freedom to experiment, and refine it’s movements.
    7. Practice patience, and rejoice in the fact that you’re moving in the right direction.

*NEW* “FreeTB” Course: Developing Greater Aperture Control

This nine-part video series dives head-first into the theory and practice of aperture control. Huge game-changer for me, and I think you’ll find a lot in the series as well.

Video topics include:aperture-control-course-pic

1) The point of learning aperture control, why I used to NOT worry about it and now feel it’s extraordinarily beneficial.

2) A brief talk on the general differences, pros and cons, of an “open” vs a more “closed” aperture.

3) The easiest way I know to start improving control of your aperture NOW, with what you’re ALREADY doing.

4) Understanding how to model other players so your subconscious can fuel your imagination for years to come.

5) HOW to practice and maximize the aperture control exercises to learn more naturally, easily, and enjoyably.

6) Some finer points on a classic drill for finding just the right balance between flow and tension.

7) Mouthpiece buzzing for people who hate mouthpiece buzzing, and how to find “alignment.”

8) Some finer points on aperture control

9) An Introduction to Isometrics for the Embouchure. Why they are amazing and how to do them.

You’ll need to REGISTER to gain access to the videos (You can re-use login information. Click: “I have an existing account”)

Already registered? Re-access lessons HERE

(Be sure to read top of “courses /book” page if you’re having trouble accessing course)

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  1. Pingback: Breathing for Trumpet Playing | Blackwell's Trumpet Basics

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