Resistance is not Futile!


*This is the first in a series re-posts of the older material from the site.

Part of the trumpet playing experience is dealing with daily discrepancies in how you feel and sound. These differences are shared by ALL players regardless of experience. As you practice and pay attention to your body you develop a greater intuitive understanding of what it takes to play.

Referring to a model to describe the feelings of playing leverages your practice time by helping you make more intelligent decisions on how you practice. The main ideas of this blog are related to an idea we’ll call the “resistance model.” Once you understand the resistance model through practice and feel it in your body you will be able to make tremendous chop gains within a relatively short period of time.

What is the Resistance Model?

The resistance model is a way of understanding the physical aspect of what creates a tone on the trumpet. The basic idea is this:

  1. The air stream moves through the lips.
  2. Some form of resistance is needed to create the signal (buzz).
  3. Horn amplifies signal (buzz) and creates glorious music.

Now forget about step 1 and 3 for a moment because step 2 is really where the magic happens and by understanding it you are able to really improve your efficiency.

To play the trumpet you essentially move air through your chops. If your lips were not connected to your face they would simply blow away. They need something to hold them together in order to buzz. That something is what we call resistance. In other words, if there was no resistance your lips would simply blow apart (and you would not be playing the trumpet).

How Do We Resist?

Every note is created by a buzz at a certain frequency. This frequency is created by the balance between the air and the resistance. The resistance required to create any given pitch comes from a number of places.

This resistance can come from (but is probably not limited to) the embouchure, the throat, the jaw, the tongue, the chest and torso muscles, the diaphragm, the mouthpiece cup/throat/back bore/rim, the bore size of the instrument, half-valving, mutes, standing on one leg and leaning back…you get the idea.

The different balances created by these areas work together to produce a note and the combinations are seemingly endless. This high-wire act explains why there are so many different ways to play the horn (all of which work). It also helps us realize that range and endurance is simply a matter of total body coordination.

How Does Resistance Relate to Range?

Higher notes are created by a faster vibration frequency (buzz) with the lips. This is facilitated by increasing the air speed. As air speed increases there arises a greater need for the embouchure to resist (so your chops don’t blow apart).

Multi-instrumentalist, James Morrison, describes this sensation in his DVD, How to Play Trumpet the James Morrison WayImagine this simple analogy; you are driving down the road holding a dollar bill out of the window between your thumb and index finger. At 5 MPH you don’t need to squeeze very hard to keep hold of the dollar. As you begin to drive faster your fingers need to grip harder to keep the dollar from flying away.

Faster air-speeds + greater resistance = faster vibrations = higher notes.

Hernias, Eye-Ball Explosions, and Ruptured Necks

Your body is smart and finds the best way to perform a task given the data accumulated through experience. Say you want to rip into a high G. Your efficiency in doing so is determined by the quality of your practice. If you haven’t done a fair amount of slow, intelligent practice on your high range things can get ugly.

Your brain sends the signal “high G” and the body goes, “OK, we’ve got this amount of air going such-and-such a speed and now we need ‘this much’ resistance.” Resistance is then gathered from any of the aforementioned areas.

Wait just a minute! You mean to say that a tight throat and a caved in chest doesn’t mean I “suck” but rather that’s a viable option for creating the necessary resistance? Yes, there is no intrinsically “right” or “wrong” way to play the trumpet. Your physical balance will be different from everyone else’s.

So where is the Best Place for Resistance?

Each balance carries its own set of benefits and challenges. To increase efficiency it is beneficial to focus on transferring the resistance to the embouchure and then the muscles of the core. Balance in these two areas, used in conjunction with a very smart tongue, yields wonderful results in improving ease of tone production in all registers.

To simplify this concept imagine that you need ten units of resistance against a constant air-stream to create the buzz for high C. You know that these units can come from a number of areas in the body or the instrument. If you get 10 units of resistance from your throat you run the risk of passing out. If all of your resistance is coming from your core muscles you may lack varying degrees of control as you ascend. (Can you bend, or articulate a high G as easily as a G in the staff? How’s your vibrato up there?)

The greater your embouchure’s capacity for resistance the more control you have over each note. This control directly relates to you getting the music in your head out there.

What Next?

The pages of this blog contain information on ways you can learn to transfer the resistances in your body. To do this requires very little effort and a commitment to the idea of efficiency in your practice time. Forever hold the idea in your mind that playing can be easier and let your intuition guide you. Above all be patient with yourself and enjoy the process! The more you invest in this idea the greater the ultimate return.

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For More Ideas Check These Out!

Bobby Findley’s book, Bob Findley on Trumpet / A Method Book – A great guide to understanding the resistances used in trumpet playing.

New York trumpeter Frank Greene’s, Brass Concepts, offers lots of goodies on how to play better garnered through experience on the road with Maynard Ferguson.

Roger Ingram’s, Clinical Notes on Trumpet Playing, gives great insight into the information Roger uses to play.

James Morrison’s, How to Play Trumpet the James Morrison Waycontains practice suggestions from one of the world’s greatest brass players.

2 thoughts on “Resistance is not Futile!

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