How To Relax While Playing Trumpet
When it comes to trumpet playing, there are few things I have struggled with as much as getting rid of unnecessary tension. It took me so many years before I finally got where I am today and in this article I’m going to share the tips and tricks I have learned along the way….
I recommend that you try them all, implement the tips you find work the best, and practice/ use them on a regular basis. Because almost every trumpeter knows……tension is one of the biggest enemies to great trumpet playing.
Note: I recently wrote the post how to relax and open the throat while playing the trumpet and while that post is mainly about the throat, there are some overlaps in some of the tips. So, if you came over here from that post, just skip over the tips that seem repetitive because there are a lot of other helpful tips here on how to play trumpet without tension, that the other article did not touch on.
How to play trumpet without tension
Tip#1: Never hold the air in
In order to be relaxed when you are playing the trumpet, at no point should the air stand still. Think about it. The air is in a constant movement either as an in-breath or an out-breath. Many people have the bad habit of breathing like this…
Inhale- stop/hold- exhale
Every “air stop” is building tension. And waht’s even worse, the tension is cumulative, meaning, the tension stays in the body only to build and increase, during the whole orchestra rehearsal.
Ideally there should be no “stop” between the inhale and the exhale. Or, at least, the “stop” should be as small as possible.
Inhale – Exhale (with no holding the air in)
Why do we develop this bad habit?
It is a mental thing. We are afraid that the wrong thing is going to come out of our trumpet bell. So the “stop” is a form of hesitation. Just like you can see people who are competing in track and fields hesitate sometimes. Think about the high jump competition, for example…
…how often have you seen a jumper run up to the bar only to suddenly stop and “not jump”? It is a form of fear. Well, this is what we do when we put that “stop” between our in-hale and ex-hale.
We like to justify this, however, as a means to get our chops ready and that we need that small amount of stop in order to “fine tune” the setup and mentally get ready…
While this is somewhat true it is not the way we should go about it. We should practice the setup so many times, that we can set up our chops so quickly, that it won’t interfere with the breathing. This will yield the greatest results in the future.
So stop “stopping” and learn how to “let go”
Getting rid of that hesitation will make us play better in general and we will be able to be much more relaxed when playing the trumpet. At least in the long run. And you know what the ironic part is? …
…by stopping and hesitating, because we fear we are going to mess up our entrance, we are actually even more likely to mess it up than if we just let it go and “jump out”…
…think of it like a golf swing. After the golfer puls his arms back, he does not stop before he moves the arms forward again, to hit the ball. If he did, he would lose the momentum and tension would build instead.
So stop holding the air in and you will be able to be more relaxed while playing the trumpet.
When you let go, you will notice it instantly but it will have even greater effects over the long run, as you will no longer “build up” that tension from constantly hesitating.
This will result in…
…you becoming a more relaxed trumpet player!
How do we fix the hesitation problem?
To fix it, begin with breathing exercises without the horn. Breath in and then out without putting that destructive “stop” in between. Then move on and do the same thing with the mouthpiece alone. After you have mastered the “no hesitation attack” with the mouthpiece you go to the trumpet.
It takes some discipline to break a bad habit but it is very doable. In a couple of days you will be doing this without even having to think about it.
How to relax when playing trumpet
Tip#2: Emulate the cornet sound
What, we are supposed to be trumpet players!!…
…why throw a cornet into these tips?
Here’s the deal…
What we can hear inside the brain, I call it “the minds ear”, is what eventually will come out of our bell. The minds ear is kind of like the CEO of our whole playing apparatus. The minds ear knows what we are going to sound like, and it gives orders to the rest of the trumpet playing mechanism to act according to whatever idea the CEO is happen to be having…
…if we are tense and play with a thin sound, try imagine that you are playing with a warm cornet sound. It won’t take long before the minds ear/CEO are giving all kinds of orders to our playing mechanism, to open up, relax, soften up over there, loosen over here…and you know what the best part about this is…?
….the best part is that it all happens subconsciously. All you have to do is imagining that cornet sound and the minds ear will start giving orders and take care of the rest.
How to be relaxed while playing trumpet
Tip#3: Shoulders down!
In order to play the trumpet in a relaxed way you have to play without raising your shoulders. The shoulders should be hanging down like they were attached to a rope. Well, they are in fact attached to our spine…
…imagine that a rope is attached to the top of your head and that rope is holding you up, lengthening your whole spine. Keep this long and open posture while you are playing and let your shoulders freely “hang” in a relaxed way.
Raised shoulders and the downfall of our playing
As soon as you start to raise the shoulders, tension creeps into your playing faster than you can say “anxiety”. Raised shoulders makes us tight and it also makes us breath in a shallow way, which will make us even more tight. This is because there are specific receptors in the upper airways that get’s triggered by shallow breathing, and when triggered, they release the stress hormone cortisol. This is NOT good for relaxed playing!
As if all this wasn’t enough, we also have delicate nerves in our neck area that can get pinched if we play with raised shoulders. When this happens, we notice a spike in anxiety, tension and even dizzyness.
Starting too see how important relaxed shoulders are for avoiding tension in your trumpet playing?
How do we fix this?
- Pay attention the coming days and try to notice every time you start to raise your shoulders
- Continue to be alert and every time you notice that you are about to raise them, change to an alternate behavior instead. (It could for example be a mantra, a deeper breath, a positive affirmation of some sort or something else, besides raising the shoulders)
Playing trumpet without tension
Tip#4: Drink a glass of water
As soon as you feel tension creeping up in your trumpet playing, STOP, and take a zip of water. For some reason this really helps and this has to be one of the simples tips on this page.
I recommend that you always keep a glass of water in your practice room. Try to limit it to your practice room though, as I'm not sure the audience would appreciate if you do it in the middle of playing "My heart will go on", on that music gathering you have later this month =)
How to play trumpet without tension
Tip#5: The In-breath should be slow and deep
I think most trumpeters are aware of how important the in-breath really is but I still felt I needed to have it on this list. The list would simply be incomplete without it.
- Breathe in slowly
- Let the air go deep into your lungs, "hhhhhhaaaaaa" (think of the sound of Darth Vadar
- You should feel your stomach coming out while you are doing this
- And you should NOT feel your shoulders raise and tense while doing it
How to relax while playing trumpet
Tip#6: Skip the coffee prior to the gig...or your practice session
If you want to play trumpet in a relaxed way, skipping coffee can benefit you greatly. And if you happen to be sensitive to caffeine, oh man, the differences can be night and day!
Here's the deal:
Coffee is a powerful stimulant. Meaning it speeds up the signaling in the nervous system. When the nervous system are running on higher speed, it is MUCH harder to be relaxed while playing.
But I like my coffee!
So do I, So do I...however, I do not drink it prior to my gigs just because of the very fact that it makes it harder to play the trumpet in a relaxed way. Especially when nervous.
Enjoy your coffee but know what it does to you and choose the right time to drink it. Why not grab a cup AFTER your practice session rater than prior to it? And...
...the same goes for your gigs as well, of course.
How to play trumpet in a relaxed way
Tip#7: Eat foods that are high in magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that helps relax the muscles. I have sometimes noticed differences in how much I'm able to relax, while playing trumpet, when I eat any of the following foods:
- Dark Chocolate (85% cacao or more)
- Fatty Fish
- Leafy Greens (I personally eat a lot of spinach)
- Bananas (high in magnesium but also high in sugar, this is why I don't like them because sugar can actually also make me tense)
How to relax when playing trumpet
Tip#8: Relaxing breathing exercises
Every now and then, when you take the mouthpiece off your mouth and have a few bars of rest, do a little relaxed breathing. If you breathe in a specific pattern it will slow your heart rate down as well as relax your muscles and lower your blood pressure.
- Breathe in through the nose for 3 counts
- Breathe out through the mouth for 6 counts
While you are breathing out, push you lips together ever so slightly to create just a bit of resistance. This helps having a smooth, even out-breath.
Try implementing this relaxation breathing exercise into your practice routine, as well as to your band or orchestra rehearsals, and give it some time. I'm almost willing to bet that you will notice benefits in a couple of weeks.
Playing trumpet without tension
Tip #9: Try a natural supplement to relieve anxiety and tension
If you try everything here and you still find it hard to play trumpet without tension, particularly during performances when you are nervous, I feel your pain. That was exactly the way it was for me for many years and to be honest...
...I messed up quite a few gigs because of that.
This was until I found a product called ProVanax. It's an amazing product and the only negative thing, I have to say about it, is that it's pretty expensive, (you can click here to check current pricing at vendor). However you can somewhat get around that by ordering several bottles at once, as this will give a big discount.
Why the natural anxiety supplement?
This natural supplement has been nothing short of a miracle for me and my performance anxiety. Whenever I had a confidence slump, of felt I was not really strong, or well prepared, I would always take it to calm my nerves because...
...well, because it worked so well. It feels amazing going from crippling anxiety to a warm, relaxed and calm feeling, being able to play great, on top of that.
Nowadays I have been performing so much, and I have practiced and implemented so many other tools, so I don't use it all the time, anymore. But I still have a few cans of it at home for the most important gigs becasue, sure, I still get performance anxiety from time to time.
If you would like more your can click here to go read other real user reviews about that product.
If you do decide to try it, my advice to you is to take it on an empty stomach, as it works much better that way! Also, the strongest effects kicks in about after 3-4 hours so take that into consideration so you'll get the timing right.
Playing trumpet with no tension
Tip#10: stop resisting the tension
What we resist, persists. The more you try to fight the tension, the more tense you will become. This is a fact. What you should do instead is to try to just notice it, without putting any judgment on it. It's neither good or bad. Just notice it, feel it and try to "ride" one the wave of the tension.
I know this is easier said than done but with a bit of practice, it can actually become a pretty fun game, really trying to learn how to master this. However, know that this tip only works if your tension is mental.
It takes some practice but I'm sure you are going to be able to do it...
...and when you do, it becomes so much easier playing the trumpet and when you finally get it you're like... "woohooo, THIS is how to relax when playing trumpet"
Trumpet playing is difficult enough as it is and learning how to play trumpet in a relaxed way will help so much with every other aspect of your playing. Playing with a lot of tension will lead to bad playing habits and all kinds of problems and what's worst of all...
...it will take all the fun out of playing music!
With these words I'm going to head for the practice room myself in order to log in a few hours or practice before I go to sleep.
Thank you for reading this article about playing trumpet in a relaxed way
I hope you found this article informative, and if you did, please consider commenting something down in the comment section below. I would love to hear from you. How about your experience with tension and relaxation? Do you find that this is something that you have to work on? Feel free to leave a few words....