How To Fix an Airy Trumpet Sound
I happen to see that many people type into Google the exact phrase “trumpet how to get rid of airy sound ?” and since this is something I have had to fix in my own trumpet playing I thought I’d try to help the web by sharing my advice on how to deal with this issue.
(There is a trumpet exercise down below that you can use to fix and clean your sound quality but be sure to read everything on the page as it is important that you understand the principles behind the advices.)
What Do We Mean By “An Airy Trumpet Sound” ?
An airy trumpet sound is kind of like when we sometimes get a hoarse voice when we have a cold. We try to speak but instead of a clear sound coming out of the vocal cords we get a voice that is lower in volume and you can also hear air in the sound. Well this, believe it or not, also happens on the trumpet…
…and when it comes to the trumpet it has got nothing to do with having a cold.
Having an airy sound on the trumpet is a pretty common problem and it should be rather easy to fix so if you suffer from it…
Why does my trumpet sound “fuzzy” and what causes that airy trumpet Sound?
That airy sound we hear in the tone is caused because not all of the air is turned in to vibrations. Some of the air goes through the opening in the mouth (the aperture of the embouchure) without making the soft lips vibrate and that’s why we can hear that fuzzy / airy sound coming out of the bell of the trumpet.
It can be incredible annoying right?
When this happens it means we are not playing efficiently!
If not all the air we blow through the embouchure opening turns into vibrations it’s kind of like if not all the gas, used in our car, is burned and just goes out the exhaust pipe without delivering any energy and power to the engine…
…if so, we need to make the engine run more efficiently.
What can cause us to play in this “inefficient way”
There are several bad things that we can do to make us play so that air escapes without turning into vibrations and sound.
Here are the most common ones:
- Having stiff lips or an overworked embouchure
- Playing with an opening in the embouchure that is too big
- The “ear-mind-body connection” is not tuned right and needs to be adjusted
- Wrong size equipment
How do we get into this trouble?
Personally I can say that playing a lot of loud notes with, too little, or not practicing soft notes enough, is the fastest way to get an airy trumpet sound for me. Another way to get into this trouble is practicing or playing too much without taking enough rests.
If we have been playing loudly or having had a heavy practice session we should be sure to do some form of “warm down” at the end of our playing day. If we skip this part then we could indeed run into the airy sound demon. Not good!
The first warning sign is having trouble with getting the notes to “speak” exactly WHEN we want them to…
…as in, they are a bit “delayed” and the attack does not happen exactly when we want and the beginning of the tone is a bit behind (at first there is just air coming out before the sound comes). If this happens to you in the future take it as a warning sign that you are about to get a more airy sound if you don’t fix it.
Another way to get into this trouble is by constantly switching and trying different horns, mouthpieces or even doing some side playing on, for example, the trombone. This can confuse the “ear-mind-body” connection and make us lose that “fine motor control” over the embouchure.
Of course it is ok to try different equipment, and even play different horns and instruments, I’m not saying that it isn’t. What I’m saying is that it takes a bit of time learning to master the switching back and forth without confusing the embouchure and your playing apparatus.
Are you playing on a mouthpiece that is too big for you?
Another thing I’d like to invite you to think about is the size of your trumpet mouthpiece. If you are playing with a cup that is too deep for you or with a rim size that is too wide in diameter you could be setting yourself up for a sound that is not clean and clear.
If you are struggling with attacks (the beginning of the notes) or if you have big endurance issues (you tire quickly and run out of chops) then I would try a smaller size, if I were you. If you are interested then you can read a little more about that in my article about improving sound on the trumpet…
…in the end of that article I also write a little about how different mouthpiece sizes affects the sound and how a mouthpiece that is too big can make the tone “spread” and sound fuzzy.
Finally Here Is How You Fix It
So what’s the solution, how to get rid of airy sound on the trumpet ?
When we already have this problem there are a few steps we should take to get back on track and fix the problem. Be sure to do the following and don’t skip any of them:
- Lip flapping with very lose lips for 2-3 minutes several times a day and always before you start your practice session (just let your lips flap like the lips on a horse and do not buzz them when doing this)
- Do a LOT of soft playing. In fact you should mostly do soft playing at a mezzo piano to pianissimo level, when having problems with an airy sound. Leave your fortissimo playing until your sound is clear and “healthy” again.
- Take frequent rests during your practice session. (Rest as much as you play or even a bit MORE than you play. Example: play for 40 seconds – rest for 60 seconds)
- Always do a “warm down” with soft playing at the end of each practice day. The last couple of notes you play on your practice day MUST be played gently and at a soft volume.
Ok but WHY should I do all this?
- The lip flapping
The lip flapping is important for loosening up the stiff muscles and to get the blood circulation going. At least 80% of the time when we have issues with air in our trumpet sound we are also having lips that are too stiff…
…so do not skip the flapping. Depending on how stiff you are this can help you get rid of your stiffness within just a couple of days to, sometimes, even just one day…or even a few hours.
- The soft notes
They are perhaps the most important of all the pointers. You have to practice soft playing to get the embouchure working efficiently, meaning that it turns all the air into vibrations. When all the air you put through the opening of the embouchure makes the lips vibrate then no “extra” air will be let out, and thus…no more airy sound.
- Rest as much as you play
Most trumpet players rest way too little and often end up with all kinds of playing issues, with the airy trumpet sound being one of them. I strongly recommend that you start developing the habit of playing for only about 40-60 seconds and then sing your next phrase before you play it on your trumpet…
…by doing this you will both make sure that you get enough rest, and thereby you avoid overworking your embouchure muscles, and you will also improve your ear.
- Always warm down
There is this “macho mentality” going on in the trumpet world where many like to say stuff like “the only cool down I need is a cold beer” or “when I’m tired, I just rest” well, for some trumpet players that might work just fine but we are all different and if you easily get stiff and if you easily develop an airy sound, then guess what…
…that’s right, you really should be doing a warm down /cool down as the last thing you do in your practice routine. Take a look at the article how to improve tone quality on the trumpet as in that article you will find a very helpful exercise that I use as my personal warm down trumpet exercise and yes…
…I really do the exercise every day. If I had a really heavy playing day I spend longer time on the exercise, playing it several times, and if I had a light day I might just play it once but…
…I make sure to finish every practice day by playing the exercise.
Play this trumpet exercise to clean the air from your sound
(Play this exercise a few times during the day to “clean” your sound from air. It can also be used to improve your over all sound quality even after you have fixed your airy trumpet sound)
Is a trumpet sound that is airy always a bad thing ?
No. There are for example many jazz players that want that smooth, airy sound in the low register when they play very softly and sure, it can sound really good in that style of playing. However at least 95% of the trumpet repertoire requires a clear and clean trumpet sound with no air in it.
So with that in mind it is absolutely imperative that we FIRST learn how to get than clean sound and then…
…later on, play with an airy sound WHEN or IF the situation calls for it.
In my opinion every trumpet player should be able to play with a clear and clean sound when they want to just because otherwise they will be limiting their trumpet playing opportunities greatly and probably also cause themselves other trumpet playing related issues in the future.
How do we prevent it from happening again?
By doing the warm down that you can find on this page every day you are well on your way…
…and might I also suggest you use it, not only as a warm down but, also play it a few times during the day. Remember to also rest as much as you play and try not to keep trying new equipment all the time to not confuse your trumpet embouchure.
Limit your loud playing and remember to always play a few soft notes after you have had to put the hammer down with blasting some high and high notes. This will go a long way and will prevent you fro getting that airy trumpet sound in the future.
Never forget to warm up
You should of course also make sure you always warm up properly before you start your heavy practice session. If you don’t have a good warm up routine then take a look at my article trumpet warm up exercises and how to wam up on trumpet.
There you have it. Be sure to do the things you have read in this article and I’m sure your trumpet sound will be clean and clear like spring water in no time. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you feel you need more help with this. You can find my contact info in the “About me” section up in the menu.
P.S. Take a listen to a few trumpet players that plays with an airy sound that sounds really good in this kind of music…
…and lastly take a look at the last video and listen how an absolute crystal clear sound sounds like….with 0% air in the sound.
- Till Brönner
He does not always use that sound but in some pieces he does…and it sounds very good indeed.
Chris Botti is also a trumpet player that goes back and forth between a warm, airy sound and a sound that is more clear
And…The one an only…
- Maurice Andrè
With his chrystal clear trumpet sound with ZERO air in the tone. He plays the piccolo trumpet here and there are no airy high notes here: (he starts playing at 1:23)
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