What’s the Big Deal with Embouchure Endurance?
For trumpet players, embouchure endurance is of the utmost importance. Why? Because once the muscles of the embouchure are overly fatigued, you cannot play music any more.
The Problem, and Mis-Guided Solution
Often, players take a look at the problem , they want to be able to play longer phrases or greater lengths of time, and come to the conclusion that all the need to do is play longer phrases, and practice more. All-in-all, this hypothesis is as good as the next. If you play longer, you’ll adapt to the work load of playing longer.
However, once put to practice, the player often finds this method leads to more problems than improvements. Excess embouchure fatigue sets in, playing becomes a chore, and endurance doesn’t improve as much as one might hope, compared to the work being putting in.
So while the old adage, “do the thing, and you will have the power,” does work to a point, trumpet players may experience greater results by approaching the issue of embouchure endurance from another perspective.
The Proposed Solution: Forget Endurance and Focus on Efficiency
I believe, that by-and-large, trumpet players need to focus first and foremost on becoming more efficient. Why? Because brass efficiency is about getting the most sound, range, and power, with the least amount of work. When it comes to embouchure and trumpet playing endurance, the more efficient you are, the longer you’ll be able to play, with less fatigue.
This is certainly not a new idea to the trumpet community, and Carmine Caruso wrote beautifully about this in his, Carmine Caruso – Musical Calisthenics for Brass.
(Balance = Efficiency)
“Balance is exposing the muscles to a specific physical activity until they synchronize. The better the muscles are balanced, the freer they are to move. In music, the freer the muscles are to move, the freer they are to sound. And, if they’re free, they don’t tire. For example, when an acrobat balances properly on his hands, he is less tired than if he is fighting to hold that balance.”
So you can imagine that the “freer” your playing system becomes, the less energy you expend to get the same, or better results. When you aren’t needlessly expending energy, you do not tire as quickly, and you can play for longer periods of time.
How The Body Becomes Efficient
In my own playing, endurance, especially in the middle to upper register, came easily (everything else was the pain). I rarely tried to extend the amount of time I could play, and in fact, the great majority of my trumpet practice was/is spent playing very short phrases, often only one or two notes at a time, before resting. As far back as I can remember, this is how I practiced, just a few minutes here and there, throughout the day, and I believe this very habit helped me to develop above average endurance at a young age.
To improve your efficiency as a trumpet player, adopt the belief that your mind is constantly searching for the best, most efficient way for your body to complete tasks. This is basically achieved by trying “Method A”, then trying “Method B”, and selecting that method which is most efficient, or uses the least amount of energy for the desired result. In the beginning, the mind oscillates between the two methods for some time, and eventually, the more effective path wins out, and is grooved into habit.
Sounds simple, yes? And it is. However, when it comes to trumpet playing, there are far more than two variables. In fact, playing the trumpet well requires an extraordinary amount of coordination (I feel confident saying this because I take up other physical hobbies simply because progress comes more quickly). The embouchure needs to be balanced, the breathing mechanism needs to work efficiently, you need to learn how to properly direct air speeds, support in the muscles of the torso must be learned, etc, etc. And this is all not to mention the time it requires to learn, and become fluent in the language of music.
(This is why one of the most important aspects of trumpet playing is patience, and why the trumpet is such a rewarding discipline – but that’s another story.)
Training, Not Straining
The good news is that we don’t need to be too involved with the learning process, and the development of movement efficiency. It’s what the brain does!
So to get excellent results we need to 1) yes, practice the trumpet, and 2) cultivate psychological space, a sense of relaxation, and an environment conducive to learning.
In my own experience, one of the most important factors in improving efficiency (and therefore endurance and stamina) is letting go of the notion that you need to achieve something. When we aren’t so wrapped up in doing things a certain way, and getting a certain result (and yes, I see the irony here), our minds are more free to experiment.
The freedom to experiment is paramount in developing efficiency, because, remembering the “Method A,” “Method B” analogy, we may have not found the most efficient “method” yet. The mind can always try new things, and some of those new things may actually work better than what we are currently doing. Of course, others of those things will not, which is great too, since this reinforces the pathways of what does work.
The next bit of the equation is giving yourself a proper amount of rest. This is important to trumpet playing because when the muscles are fresh, they are more able to experiment with form. There’s that word again – experiment.
Imagine you are going out for a jog. When do you think your mind is most productively learning about efficient running form: When you’re relatively fresh and warmed up, or when you’re so tired your toes are dragging on the concrete?
Keeping the muscles spritely in the short-term, and getting enough rest from heavy playing in the long-term, lets the body know that everything is OK, and it can have a bit of fun trying new things.
A Very Brief Recap
- Improved embouchure endurance is achieved as a byproduct of becoming a more efficient brass player.
- When it comes to learning to play more efficiently, experimentation and patience are far more valuable than “workouts.”
- Building endurance is less physical than you think, and relies more heavily your ability to let yourself learn.
Do THIS to Become a More Efficient Brass Player
- Practice when you feel happy, calm, and motivated to learn.
- Starting where you are, let go just a little more.
- Remind yourself that your results do not matter. Practice time is for experimentation, sans judgement and preconception.
- Set the horn down after every exercise.
- The above point put another way: Once you are done playing a phrase, GET THE TRUMPET OUT OF YOUR HANDS. Relax a moment. You may now pick up the horn, and resume.
- End your practice session before embouchure fatigue sets in.
Here’s Caruso’s Book:
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