Core Support


I do not claim to be the owner of the above abs. Let’s talk about core support. Or what people mean when they say playing with “support.”

Why support from the core? Well, when we learn to do this we transfer a great deal of the required tension from the chops, tongue, neck, chest, back, etc and relocate it into the larger abdominal muscles. This leads to relaxation of the upper body promoting greater flexibility, improved range, better tone production, and overall ease in playing (which comes in handy during shout choruses!)

There are a number of ways to do this. One is the sink or swim approach of getting in there and playing lead trumpet every day (Hopefully you swim). The other is to focus on it in practice.

The first guy who really preached this to me was Charley Davis. Charley is a proponent of the Bill Adam routine which is a daily routine based on the idea of expanding your registers from a comfortable middle ground and using your sound in front of the bell as a focal point. He also teaches the use of the vocal shape “ahh” through ALL registers.

What this effectively does (in my mind) is force you to find the necessary resistance for each note without using compression/resistance from the tongue. If you are maintaining awareness on keeping your sound open as you ascend the natural area for the resistance is the core. If you were focusing on pinching your sound off it would come from somewhere else :). For me it has been extremely useful to practice in this way and then later train the tongue with flexibility studies.

Charley talked about the “Chi” muscles which are located roughly 2″ below the belly button. This is a major powerhouse area in the human body and is frequently discussed in the martial arts. “Imagine you are slowly pushing a car,” Charley relates. After practicing the Adam routine for about 2 1/2 months I was able to relocate a great deal of tension into the lower abdomen and my sound got pretty huge in the upper register. Imagine how a kelp plant looks. It’s firmly grounded in the ocean floor but as you ascend the top is supple and waving in the water.

Ultimately I fell out of the routine and guess what was the first thing to go? My awesome core support. I could not for the life of me get back into it without that darn daily routine. Oh well, I let it slide…

It was not until many months later that I was reunited with my associations with the core muscles. During the first 4 1/2 months or so of practicing after an embouchure change I was so concerned with the muscles of the face (with good reason, they were getting their asses kicked) that I left the core on the back-burner. The sensation came back, you guessed it, playing lead trumpet.

Another interesting tid-bit (I think so) is that the placement of tension in my core directly relates to the strength of my embouchure. What I mean is that the more control of the note the chops have the lower the support in my abdomen. As My chops become fatigued or I am working in a register I have less control over the compression in my body moves UP from the lower abdomen to the muscles around the rib cage. This is all quite automatic and a result of hours of repetition (a good reason to get into a daily routine). For me the higher up the torso the support comes from the more laser-like the sound becomes. As the embouchure learns greater control  and the support moves down the sounds opens up (it takes a long time I’ll let you know if I ever get there 🙂 )

One way to encourage the transfer of tension to a lower area of your body is to practice your posture! Go get a book on alignment and body mechanics (Alexander technique, etc) and start learning. When you begin carrying your body in a more natural and strong way tension from all over relocates itself to the lower abdomen. This leads not only to greater ease of trumpet playing but a greater physical wellness (more to come on posture later).

An important note; I do not think of compressing the core in a “downward” fashion. What I mean by this is I imagine the tension from the core pushing UP, NOT compressing DOWN with the upper body. I choose this way because it feels to me far safer and natural. (I am also really into posture training so that could be why)

Have fun learning to support from your core and come up with visualizations that are useful to you. I will later post some more specifics about training this area in a few posts on breathing. Remember, core engagement is another piece of the puzzle called trumpet playing. The smarter (more practiced) each piece, the smarter the whole.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave a comment!


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  1. Pingback: You Gotta Breathe to Stay Alive – Part 2 « The Jazz Lead Player

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