I teach many students each week, and all of them are interested in one thing: playing high notes on the trumpet.
I’m not sure where this fascination that higher is better came from (well, I guess we could Maynard Ferguson for this), but it is typically the area that most students, old and young, want to improve on.
Unfortunately, students are often pressured to play high. A first part trumpet player in high school is expected to play up to an above the staff C; sometimes, up to D. Because the student does not want to disappoint the director or look foolish in front of the rest of the band (the trumpet is a very loud instrument, and mistakes are projected just as much as correct notes), he or she will do anything to create these high notes. Often, an incorrect method is used. Most common is using too much pressure.
Some pressure is required to play the trumpet. However, too much pressure can create problems, such as loose teeth and fatigue. As a victim of too much pressure, I know firsthand the dangers that can occur. After 15 years of playing with a large amount of pressure, my two front teeth came loose with a cracking sound one day as I was playing. Five trips to the dentist and $5,000.00 later, I began researching methods on playing with less pressure.
Many factors must be accounted for before attempting a range building exercise. An often over-looked factor is how the student holds the trumpet. The student should be aware that the trumpet should be gently supported by the left hand; the right hand is only used to press the valves. The student should avoid putting a “death grip” on the trumpet with the left hand, and should avoid using the pinky ring on the right hand.
After this has been established, a correct embouchure should then be formed. Much controversy has always been present on the perfect embouchure. However, one that usually works well is a smile-pucker combination. The student is asked to smile, and then slowly pucker the lips while still smiling. The result is an embouchure with firm corners and a center that is loose enough to vibrate (after all, to play a trumpet one must vibrate the lips).
Finally, I will reveal the secret to correctly developing range in students: AIR. This often used, generic solution actually does work. It’s common for many teachers, when all else fails, to blame the problem on air support. In this case, it is air, but it is also a combination of other techniques.
To begin, the student must become used to taking a deep breath. To observe what the student thinks a deep breath is, ask him or her to take one. More than likely, he or she would breathe in loud and fast, and his or her chest would visibly swell up. THIS IS INCORRECT! The student is only using half of his or her lung capacity. I like …