“More air!!!”, the teacher shouted. The student that stood 3 feet away took the largest inhale humanly possible; posters were pulled off the wall, the music stand swayed back and forth, the walls were flexing and cracks formed, the earth’s rotation slowed ever so slightly, and the teacher dug his nails into the tiled floor to avoid the gravitational pull towards the inhalation vortex. What should’ve happened next was that the student then played the loudest, best-sounding G on top of the staff ever!
What really happened at this point:
The over-zealous student started choking as he tried to turn that monstrous quantity of air around to funnel through his cheap knockoff of the stock Vincent Bach 7C mouthpiece. The result through the horn after he was finally able to put his lips together was a sputtering of the most brash-sounding tuning C in the history of tuning C’s that fell to a 2nd line G before all sound ceased. The planet then returned to it’s homeostasis, leaving the teacher scratching his head while thinking, “but that should’ve worked; that’s what my teachers told me to do.”
“Try again!”, the teacher exclaimed, since there was nothing else to do at this point. The student then inhaled, slightly less than before for fear of choking, and played a 4th space E. Realizing that he was too low because the teacher was repeatedly pointing his finger towards the ceiling, the student forced his remaining air through the horn while a white-knuckled hand grip caused the metal mouthpiece to ground the lip flesh into hamburger against his front teeth. A very small, Peter-Griffin-impish-laugh-sounding top o’ the staff G popped out. The teacher smiled and said, “You did it!” While recovering from tunnel-vision, the student etched out a smirk around the mirror-imaged white half-circles that would turn red and remain branded to each lip hours later.
When/where did this take place? This grossly exaggerated story probably happened as far back as Biblical times when shofar players were trying to sound as terrifying as possible in order to scare the opposing army, and still continues today on the trumpet or cornet in band rooms across the world. Don’t believe me? Go to your local school, or maybe the one or two beyond that if the band director doesn’t use the “more air” line or actually explains it in more detail.
What do they mean when they say “more air”?
Some are implying faster air to play higher notes. Some are implying more volume of air to play with a fuller sound. I might be willing to bet that half who say the phrase probably have no clue and are reciting what they heard someone else say. I cringe when I hear someone say, “more air” because the student is left up to his/her own devices and more often than not, fails (in addition to now thinking that playing the trumpet is hard).
Some options to think/talk about instead of “more air”:
For a higher notes:
You do need the air speed to be faster in order for the lips to vibrate. Some of the ways this can be done is with more lip tension, mouthpiece pressure (not recommended), chest compression, and tongue position. There are many good books/videos/teachers available that discuss one or more of these in detail (some I’ve looked at include: Carmine Caruso, Cat Anderson, John Lynch, Bobby Shew’s Yoga Wedge Breath, Nick Drozdoff, Carl Fischer, Patrick Hessions, Jerome Callet…some work, some definitely do not work for me). You can also sometimes get faster air/higher notes by forcing a huge volume/quantity of air through the horn, but you’re probably going to be overblowing, will notice a finite upper limit without being able to squeak out anything above, and won’t sound good on low notes immediately after playing high.
It’s entirely possible to play soft high notes. I talked to Joey Pero (Vegas trumpet player, toured with Maynard) on a break at a rehearsal about playing high and he demonstrated the most beautiful-sounding and barely audible high G I’ve ever heard. On top of that, he wasn’t working hard to do it. He had everything mentioned above in perfect balance. I also took a lesson with Walter White (trumpet player, not Heisenberg) awhile ago and he did something similar. Chris Botti is another player that has a great sound while playing soft. He isn’t playing in the upper register in this song, but you can see how close he got to this woman’s ears and she wasn’t taken aback by it: Night Sessions Live, 2002. It is worth noting that this was almost an hour into the concert. It is also worth noting that if that woman wasn’t his girlfriend before the show, she probably was after.
“Cold air” vs. “warm air”:
“Cold air” happens when it’s moving fast and you’re playing higher. There tends to be less moisture in the air stream and if that happens in the lower register, the sound could wind up less full. “Warm air” is achieved by thinking of “fogging a mirror or window” (this is over-used as well, but it’s one of the easiest analogies to have a beginning student that has no idea what a good trumpet player sounds like play with a better sound).
There are many trumpet players who sound like they’re playing the trumpet when they switch to flugelhorn. This is because they don’t make the mental and physical switch (sound concept and opening the back of the oral cavity and throat to an extreme “fogging position”). You will also notice great-sounding classical and jazz players who are limited in range to a D or Eb above high C because they’re trying to continue to “fog” as they reach their upper limit (disclaimer: this isn’t always the reason for limit in range, as there may be several other factors as well). This “fog” concept is also why the flugelhorn’s practical range is high C; if you’re playing it properly, it’s more difficult to play higher than that accurately. It is possible to play higher than a D/Eb while “fogging”; Malcolm McNab is a perfect example of this. He plays the most rounded sounding double C ever possible on his Exquisite album.
I may have mentioned in a previous post, but what works for me may not work for you, hence why I don’t say, “go study with Bobby and learn the Yoga Wedge Breath” or to learn any other method I’ve worked on. I also do not make any claims that these ideas are entirely mine; I’m sure someone else has arrived at similar conclusions through similar studies and experimentation…heck, I bet someone else has even come up with a similar hypothetical situation as my opener. No plagiarism intended!
While I’m not consciously thinking about the techniques while playing, elements listed in this blog post are happening in the heat of the moment. Which ones? I have no clue sometimes and if I do, it’s well after playing for the night. The key is to work on something until it becomes automatic.
I hope that you don’t stop searching for ways to make playing the trumpet more efficient/easier. Easy = fun = less limitations = more fun. Let your air do the work; however, more is not always the answer!