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How To Relax Your Throat While Playing Trumpet
Do you feel your throat and neck tense up when you play the trumpet? If so this is a blog post you should read.
Believe it or not, this is a very common problem and something we need to fix because playing with tension will negatively affect your sound, endurance as well as your ability to control your playing.
You relax your throat by keeping your shoulders down, your central nervous system relaxed, your thoughts under control and by breathing correctly as well as a few other things we are going to take a look at in this article. Grab a cup of coffee and take 7 minutes to read this. It could improve your trumpet playing significantly.
How to relax your throat when playing trumpet
Tip #1: Use a mirror
Go to the bathroom, stand close the mirror and blow hard on it. What happens?
…well, not much, probably.
What if I told you to stand a little closer to the mirror and that I want you to blow warm air in a way so that it creates fog on the mirror glass?
Go to the bathroom right now and try it a few times. But wait, while you are doing it, notice the way your throat feels. There is a certain, relaxed, feeling in your throat while you are creating that fog.
Every day, for the next two weeks, blow on that bathroom mirror before you start your trumpet warm up routine and try to take that special feeling you have in your throat, while fogging up the mirror, with you into your trumpet practice room. Keep that feeling in your throat during your playing for the rest of the day.
How to open your throat when playing trumpet in a relaxed way
Tip #2: Toilet paper can be useful
While we are on the subject of bathrooms and mirrors we might as well add another bathroom item to this blog post. This is something that will be useful when you want to learn how to open your throat when playing trumpet.
The next time you run out of toilet paper you should save the empty toilet role.
Take that empty toilet role and permanently keep it in your gig bag or somewhere in your practice room.
Put the empty toilet paper roll in your mouth so that your lips creates an air tight seal around the end of the roll. Breath through the paper roll for a while and notice how open and relaxed your throat and chest feels while brathing.
Do that breathing every now and again during your trumpet practice session, to really get your brain used to feeling that relaxed, open feeling in your chest and in your throat. This is why you should keep that empty toilet paper roll in your practice room…
…preferable in your trumpet case or on your music stand.
How To Relax Your Throat While Playing Trumpet Tip #3: Use the correct vowel
Playing the trumpet is a physical thing and, whether we like it or not, sometimes we do need to use quite a lot of physical effort when playing. When doing this it is a normal reflex to start tensing our throat, neck and chest areas. This is especially true when we are ascending into the trumpets upper register.
Many brass teachers will have us use the vowel “eee” when we go up into the higher register but the problem with this is that it easily tenses up our throat. But we really do have to raise our tongue when ascending so…
…how the heck do we avoid this tensing up then?
Well, by raising the tongue up to the “eee” position but then immediately changing it to more of a “uuu” form. Take a look at this video I posted in the article how to improve tone quality on trumpet as I explain exactly how we should approach this.
At the 2 minute mark I explain this “uuu” concept in detail as it’s just not a matter of the vowel…
How To Relax Your Throat When Playing Trumpet Tip #4: Always keep your shoulders down!
In order to relax your throat while playing the trumpet it is absolutely essential to keep your shoulders down and not to now raise them during your trumpet playing (other than during inhalation, if using the “wedge breath”, but that is something completely different and something we do not have to do unless we are high power lead trumpet players, and even then, we can do without it 99% of the time)
While many of us have heard this advice several times before, not may of us actually remember to follow it. This is because we are often not noticing WHEN we start to raise our shoulders. Whenever we keep our shoulder raised one thing is for sure: tension is right around the corner, waiting for us, and it will attack our neck, throat, tongue and as a result…
…our playing suffers big time!
We often start raising our shoulder because of one, or several, of these reasons…
- Worry and/or anxiety or stress
- Improper breathing
- Poor posture
- Poor health and/or lack of sleep
- Magnesium deficiency
Here’s how you fix it
Worry and nervousness: If you are having problems with anxiety or worry then I recommend you read my article how to not be nervous when playing the trumpet, as it’s full of helpful advice on how you can overcome this issue.
Improper breathing: Always breath deeply, using your diaphragm. You should feel your stomach coming out when you take a deep breath instead of your shoulders going up. However, if you try to take in as much air as humanly possible, then you are overdoing it, and this will also increase tension in your playing. Just aim for a big breath but there is no need for overdoing it.
Poor posture: Imagine that a rope is attached to the top of your head, pulling you up, and lengthening your whole spine. This will ensure that your posture is optimal for playing the trumpet. If you are hunched over then all kinds of problems will creep into your trumpet playing.
Poor health and lack of sleep: Most of us know what to do about this one so there is no need for me to expand on it here. Just be sure to get enough sleep, exercise regularly and skip the crappy diet.
Magnesium deficiency: Some experts estimate that over 60% of Americans are deficient in this super important mineral. If you are one of those then you can forget about relaxed playing since, without enough magnesium, it is literally impossible for the body to relax the muscles.
I make sure to use a high quality magnesium supplement on a daily basis and I have found this to significantly help me relax my muscles, and thus, it improves my trumpet playing. Almost all grocery stores sell magnesium supplements but most of them are “magnesium oxide” and you should stay away from those since the body can hardly absorb that form at all.
I personally use Dr. Mercolas Magnesium Threonate that I order from Amazon because the L-Threonate form of magensium, is highly absorbable and not only that, it is the only form of magnesium that has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier, making it excellent for calming down the brain as well…
…this makes is helpful for calming down worry and anxiety, so it’s helpful for preventing us from raising the shoulders and instead relaxing them, in several ways. Gotta like that.
How To Relax Your Throat When Playing Trumpet Tip #5: Use relaxation techniques
Learning to master relaxation techniques can be an incredible valuable tool to help you relax your throat when you are playing the trumpet. Not only that but you can make use of them in many other areas in your life as well. Why not on gigs, for example?
Try this relaxation technique
Breath in through your nose for 3 seconds and out through your mouth for six seconds. While you keep this breathing rhythm, shift your focus to your hands. Imagine them getting warmer and warmer…and warmer, all while keeping that breathing rhythm of 3 seconds in and 6 seconds out. This technique can be really effective, so don’t underestimate it…
…that said, just like with everything else, you need to practice it to get good at it so do not give up, if you feel that it’s not doing anything for you, the first few times you are trying it.
Final words about how to open your throat when playing the trumpet
Did you know that at least 80% of the time you listen to a trumpet player and you hear a “thin and weak” sound, it is because of the trumpeter is playing with too much tension somewhere? And more often than not this tension is in his chest, neck or throat are.
The most important thing we have, as trumpet players, is our sound…
…the sound of our trumpet, so it goes without saying that eliminating all unnecessary tension is something we should be working on. And we might have to do it several times during our trumpet years.
You see, just like with so many things, problems have a nasty way of wanting to come creeping back into our playing, and then we have to deal with them once more. I have often found this to be the case for me. I finally get a problem fixed and I keep going, only to perhaps two years later, suddenly notice that “what the hell, now I’m playing with too much tension again”.
In order to avoid this I recommend you incorporate a “mental body scan” into your daily warm up routine. Each morning, when you start your playing, mentally go through and examine every body part and scan them for any tension. Don’t find any, then that’s great but if you do…
…well, at least now you know what to do about it.
Thank you for reading this article about tension in the throat and trumpet playing.
P.S. I just wrote a post on relaxation and trumpet playing, more in general, and not just targeting the throat area. There are a lot more tips over there if you are interested in learning more about how to play without tension. You can find that article here >> How to relax while playing the trumpet <<
P.P.S. Are you a relaxed trumpet player or do you often find that you use too much tenstion in your body while you are playing the trumpet? Please feel free to drop a comment in the comment section down under this article. I would love to hear from you! Do you have more tension on band, orchestra rehearsals and on your gigs than during your normal practice routine?
If so, what level would you say that you are playing on? Do you play professionally? Solo gigs? Symphony orchestra? Big Band? Studio work? And do you feel that it has become easier to master and get rid of tension in your playing as the years go by?…or, is it the other way around, that being relaxed while playing is becoming harder and harder as you get older?
Also, if you do comment, know that the comment won’t show up right away but one or two days after you wrote it. This is to protect the website from spam.
3 thoughts on “5 Simple Tips How To Relax Your Throat While Playing Trumpet”
LOL! Just getting back into playing and finding my thr0at and my my wisdom teeth get sore. I do believe the throat is tension, and I’m working on relaxing it. It’s tough to change an old habit. I don’t think I can change anything to help the teeth, though. There’s not much out there on it, but it most likely seems like sound waves/vibration irritating the nerves. Any suggestions? I stopped playing for quite a while after hernia surgery (also from playing) and really want to start playing again – but it seems my body is conspiring against me!
Easy get the teeth removed
I’ve been constricting my throat for probably all of my playing life (50 years) but was only made aware of it after about ten years when it was pointed out to me in a lesson. I didn’t do anything about it as I wasn’t aware just how much it was compromising my playing. However, it has got much worse over the last few years and it really is affecting my sound, range and stamina now. I’ve done a great deal of reading around the subject (often referred to as the valsalva mechanism) and also taken advice but I’m getting nowhere. I completely understand the need to relax, but as soon as I start to play the throat tightens like a reflex action that I simply can’t switch off. The higher I play, the more the throat constricts. I’ve done blowing exercises, buzzing exercises with and without the mouthpiece but as soon as I create any kind of resistance when buzzing the valsalva mechanism kicks in. Even when only playing third space C I can start to feel the self created resistance and a building of pressure in the head. What should be easy, such as G above the stave has turned into a “high note” and suffers as a consequence. I can’t stress enough just how much this problem has become an instinctive reflex action that I just don’t know how to turn around. I’ll think I have the “problem” in perspective and know how I’m going to deal with it, but as soon as I start to play I’m back where I started.