I have reserved discussions on range, endurance and playing efficiency for master classes and visitors to the HT shops. But today I will make an exception and shed some light on the physics of playing in the upper register. In reality, this is mostly the same as playing in the mid and low registers, but most players like to think playing high notes is different.
So why would anyone expect that producing a big beautiful tone in the upper register is any different than playing low notes? Well, any trumpet player will tell you that the higher the note, the more effort is involved. Right? My answer is a firm, "No".
To understand this better, I first need to define my variables so that we're all on the same page. My definition of low, mid and high notes is probably different than yours so I'll start there. These are an example of one way to define registers and I'm sure you will have your own ideas on this subject.
I am not really a high note player in the sense that I do not strive to play lead in latin, commercial or big bands. Even though I've performed these genres regularly over the years, I prefer to play lyrical, technical and melodic solo trumpet so screaming high notes are not important to me. Performing up to double high C at mf or p within a lyrical melody is more my style. However, to demonstrate the efficiency, control and the potential of my trumpets, I do scream a few high notes now and then.
So what's all this talk of physics and trumpet playing? Well, when I was a teenager in college, I began modeling the mechanics of trumpet playing to better understand my own playing deficiencies. Despite taking lessons from some very reputable trumpet players and professors, I was experiencing problems that my teachers told me to outright ignore. My range and endurance was seriously limited at the time and I truly wanted to become a great musician on trumpet. So I turned to physics since the vast majority of my successes up to that point could be explained by science.
This blog entry is not intended to explain every piece of the physics model I have put together over the past 20+ years. My goal is simply to introduce you to the concept of exploring science as a way of improving your own abilities on a brass instrument. In a world full of books and methods offering solutions through visualization, exercises and abstract thinking to achieve the almighty super C, I challenge you to take a more logical approach. Science holds the answers to your questions if you only take the time to create your own working model of brass playing.
So rather than giving you a list of variables, exercises and solutions, I challenge you to answer the following questions to better define and explore the mechanics of brass playing for yourself. Every player is different so your answers may be slightly or drastically different from other players. And these differences could be the key ingredients that have been holding you back from moving forward in your playing.
Watch my video again and write down your answers to the following questions:
Before building trumpets became my full time job, I taught a brass studio of 80 students. Yes, it was a full time job that I balanced with nightly rehearsals and performances. My approach to teaching all instruments has been to engage the student in a discussion of all aspects of performance including the physical mechanics.
Most of my younger trumpet students played a two octave chromatic scale from low C to high C and back down as part of their warm-up in 4th and 5th grade. Their most difficult notes were often below low C as their lips were not long enough to produce these pitches in a 7c mouthpiece. I never told my students that high C was a difficult note. In reality, we discussed the mechanics of playing trumpet eventually expanding our understanding to notes above the staff and then they simply played those notes.
Each of these kids had a working physics model of how and why the embouchure, air stream, instrument and mind worked together to produce specific results. And those who internalized this model became the most proficient. In fact, many of the kids excelled so quickly that they lost interest in practicing until I gave them much more challenging musical goals.
I no longer offer regular brass lessons as I have more than enough trumpets to build for clients. However, I have considered offering an online course or possibly publishing a real workbook/text designed to create and expand your own physics model of brass playing. Until then, please engage within this blog entry by leaving a message of your answers and additional questions. I will likely post a series of follow-up blog entries for those of you interested in receiving complimentary group lessons within this format.
Remember, the accuracy of your personal understanding of a problem will determine the results. If you do not understand the concept of a computer mouse, you cannot direct the cursor to access the vast potential of a computer. Likewise, a limited understanding of any aspect of brass playing will in turn limit your results as a brass musician.
Read the follow up Physics of High Notes continued after you've answered the questions above.
8/19/2014 07:59:04 am
1. volume and air speed seem to be constant.
8/19/2014 07:59:37 am
8/19/2014 09:25:05 am
1) .Air volume appears to be consistent through out. Air speed increase as going up.
8/19/2014 10:33:19 pm
8/20/2014 12:53:04 am
8/20/2014 08:29:59 am
1. Air volume appears to be consistent throughout. While I can't tell what your air speed is, I would think based on my understanding of physics that if everything else remains the same then air speed would have to increase as you go up in range.
8/22/2014 06:14:08 am
1 air stream consistent and steady throughout. The air pressure Is probably increasing as you go higher but I didn't notice a change physically.
8/23/2014 01:04:07 am
My only comment is really a question. For lip length, it would be the lower lip shorter for those of us who play 2/3 upper 1/3 lower and vice versa. Would a 1/2 placement have a smoother transition or would it be awkward to decide which lip would vibrate at any given point. Also, does the longer lip vibrate more freely? Does the lower lip have as much control as the upper under any of the embouchure positions?
8/23/2014 10:45:03 pm
1) It seemed to me that you were using very little air. You were using less air as you ascended, more air as you descended. My understanding is that air speed increases as you ascend.
10/6/2015 01:04:30 am
4/18/2016 02:33:17 pm
Someone recently sent me a message telling me that this blog entry is complete nonsense. Okay, that's your perspective, but I often wonder why there is a tendency for some players to get upset about people like myself working hard to explain and demonstrate the mechanics of the embouchure. To each their own!
12/24/2018 05:10:53 pm
Whoever said your blog is nonsense is stupid. What part of watching you play in the upper register and asking the audience what they noticed nonsense? As for me, I don't need an in service on the upper register, I'm already there for decades now. This is what I see;
5/12/2020 09:27:40 am
ok, so what i know is wrong about yours is that you're supposed to anchor the trumpet on the bottom lip and keep pressure off of the top lip so that the top lip can provide a nice sound. if you anchor on the top lip and have the bottom lip vibrate, then the sounds aren't going to be as good.
8/18/2016 04:04:16 am
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9/30/2016 06:09:10 pm
In Max Schlossberg's Daily Drills, Harry Freistadt writes that low, middle and high notes are accompanied by ta, tu, tee respectively, which, I guess, changes the shape of the oral cavity. This seems to correlate with Lilli Lehmann's diagrams in her book How To Sing. The 3 zone method seems to work for me. I guess it also changes the speed of the air stream and influences lip vibrations.
Brett C Maxwell
12/3/2018 09:52:31 pm
Former trumpet player, but I was re-pondering something that confused me back when. Why is it that C G and C are all produced playing with valves open? I would expect C F# C instead as the notes would be evenly spaced half an octave apart.
11/12/2019 01:11:21 am
thanks for the information
7/11/2020 08:14:39 pm
So you said at the end that 5th graders could play to high C because they didn’t think it was hard. I have a question. I play on a G on top of the staff, then I go up with half steps. But eventually, even if I think, “It’s just a half step; not much is going to change” the tone gets bad and eventually I get no sound. Please help (though my range is starting to grow as I play in the upper floor.)
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Inventor, Musician, Educator and Founder of Harrelson Trumpets, Trumpet Momentum and Harrelson Momentum.