In my last blog, The Physics of High Notes on Trumpet, I asked you to watch this video and answer the following questions. I have provided some feedback without giving you direct answers to provoke more thought on each variable.
1. Describe my use of air throughout the demonstration. Did the air volume change as I played higher and lower? What about air speed?
Air volume defines the physical quantity of air flow. Play a long tone in the staff beginning at pp then crescendo to f and back to pp. Think about air volume and how this changes with audible volume or decibels.
What is air speed? Have you ever stopped to consider how fast or slow the air is being released into the mouthpiece? Think about how air speed changes in relation to air volume. This is the result of our physical design and this is true in almost all of nature.
2. I played most of this clip with one hand to keep my right arm out of the equation. How much mouthpiece pressure was present on my lips? Explain my use of mouthpiece pressure in detail.
I often use the minimum pressure necessary, but mouthpiece pressure does change slightly as I play higher and lower. It is more common for mouthpiece pressure to be a major factor in controlling pitch whereas I rely on other mechanisms to achieve the upper register.
Take a minute to honestly assess your use of mouthpiece pressure as you play high or for long periods of time. How can you explain the mechanics of your specific use of pressure. Compare this to what you believe is true of my demonstration. This is an exercise is discovery so don't expect to find an exact answer.
3. It can be difficult to gauge volume in terms of decibels in an online video. Describe your impressions of volume in this example and how this may apply to brass playing in general.
I bring up volume as this is extremely important in understanding what is realistic when playing in the upper register. Low notes are generated by long waves, which have greater potential to increase in amplitude. In other words, it is generally easier to play low notes loud. And conversely, it is more difficult to play high notes loud. Natural laws state that the higher the note (shorter waves) you produce, the softer the dynamic (lower decibels).
Many trumpet players believe that high notes should be played as loud as possible. But in reality, this is the most difficult and unnatural state of a high pitch. Sure we all think of Maynard or your favorite lead player who can rip out a double high C at ff. But this kind of playing goes against all the rules of physics and it is the exact opposite of how I and many others learned to play in the upper register.
I played this example starting at ff (by accident) and immediately reduced my volume to f. Then I decrescendo as I play higher. My double high C was around mf like many of you suggested. It is natural to reduce audible volume as the pitch increases and great care should be taken to make this a habit in your practice sessions. Creating this one habit in your playing will allow your embouchure and the rest of your body to truly exercise the range of movement necessary to play both low and high.
Forcing out high notes at a high volume prevents most players from ever discovering the entire set of variables necessary to master the mechanics of brass playing. Hopefully, this has given you more to think about rather than direct answers.
4. I mentioned longer and shorter lips in my definitions of range above. What are your thoughts on lip length as it relates to range? Why is there a break between the top and bottom lip as it relates to range?
Again, without giving direct answers, my goal here is to get you thinking. How does the length of a violin string determine pitch? Is there any way your lips, or more specifically one of your lips could be controlling length? This is a key element in mastering the full range of any brass instrument and ironically trombone and tuba players often discover this before the high brass players.
Please leave your comments and I'll pick up where we left off next time.