How To Play Trumpet Without Pressure
If you are wondering how to play the trumpet without mouthpiece pressure then we have to get one thing clear right from the start…
…it can’t be done. There is no such thing as NO mouthpiece pressure!
But wait a minute, stay with me here…
Before you stop reading and get pissed off for wasting your time on my blog, let us rephrase the wordings a bit….
Our goal should be to use as little mouthpiece pressure as possible
Now we are talking because this is something that is achievable. You see there is always going to be some mouthpiece pressure. It is inevitable, and the higher and louder we play, the more pressure we will use. This is just the way it is, however…
…we should try to reduce that pressure as much as we can and in this blog post I will share 5 tips for doing just that.
So let’s get to the action steps…
Tip #1: A few minutes everyday,
practice with the “no pressure grip”
Take a look at this video for instructions on HOW to do that and also HOW incorporate it into your trumpet practice…
Don’t get scared of the exercise down below. There is no way you can fail because the idea is to test how far you can go before your “no pressure hand grip” starts to slide. Keep reading for further instructions…
First you should find your “non pressure working notes”
- Use the no pressure grip as I explain in the video
- Play at a comfortable mezzo piano level, not too soft and not too loud
- Keep going until you feel that the trumpet starts to slide on your hand
Let’s say you get to the “B-flat” in bar number 12 and your hand starts to slide on that B-flat note…
…great, you have just found your limit. What you should do now is make the last slurring phrase, BEFORE the phrase your hand started to slide, your four working notes.
In other words, your personal non pressure working notes will be
- G – C- E- G
After having found your working notes, don’t play any of the other phrases. Only play your working notes as a no pressure exercise
Those four notes makes up your non pressure exercise and is to be practiced with the no pressure grip. After having found these notes, do NOT play any of the other phrases, don’t go higher than the “G”!!!
…and don’t waste time on the lower phrases!
Play your four “non pressure notes” four times in a row and on the fift, and last time, use your normal grip and try to transfer the “non pressure feeling” from the exercise to your normal way of holding the trumpet. After this, take a short break and rest for a couple of minutes.
The notes should be played slurred and at a mezzo piano level, just as when you did the test.
“The idea of using the phrase BEFORE your hand started to slide is because we want to work from a position of strength rather than keep practicing on the edge of failing. Doing the latter is not as effective for progress and, in a way, that would just be practicing to “fail” over and over again.”
Incorporate the exercise into your normal practice routine
When you are practicing your trumpet and you are, for example, working on an etude or a piece of music you should, every so often, take a little break and do the exercise.
- Practice your piece of music for 20 minutes
- Practice the no pressure exercise. (your four notes, fime times in a row)
- Rest for 3-6 minutes
- Continue with your music piece as normal and you normal grip
Throwing that exercise into our normal practice routine is important because it trains your brain that you want to play with as little mouthpiece pressure as possible. In other words…
…it has a “carryover effect” to the rest of your playing.
Try to take the same “feel”, that you have when playing the exercise, with you for the rest of your playing that that day. This will help with using less mouthpiece pressure with everything you play on your trumpet.
Final words about the exercise
Don’t overdo it!
Even though we are using very little mouthpiece pressure during the exercise it is pretty taxing for the lips. This is because there is no “help” from physical pressure, so they have to work in a slightly different manner in order to produce the notes.
This is why it is important that you do not overdo the exercise. Just sprinkle it in here and there during the week but avoid doing it more than 3-5 times in one day. Remember that you are already repeating the notes five times for every one time you do the exercise.
Tip #2: Reduce mouthpiece pressure by building stronger corners
In order to play the trumpet with no mouthpiece pressure, or as little pressure as possible, it is important that the corners of our mouth are strong. If we have underdeveloped embouchure corners then we will try to compensate for this by, you guessed it…
…pressing the mouthpiece harder against the lips.
What do I mean by “corners” ?
The corners of the lips / embouchure is the supporting muscles where the top and the bottom lips meet.
The picture is there for showing what I mean by “corners” only and is NOT a picture for you to try and “emulate”. We are all unique and the looks of the embouchure will vary from person to person. For example the right corner of my chops are higher up than my left corner. This is nothing I do on purpose, it is just a result of muscle, teeth and face formation.
How do we develop corner strength?
My favorite way of doing this if holding out long tones on “f” or “g” above middle c. They should be played at a soft volume with a good sound. I also recommend putting a little bit of vibrato on the note in order to help building control of the center of the lips…
…the vibrato also helps the center of your embouchure to remain responsive and sensitive to the airstream.
When playing those notes, here’s your checklist
- Play softly
- Use a slight vibrato
- Stop BEFORE you get tired
- Rest for 5 minutes
Do NOT go past the point of you starting to feel tired in your face muscles. The optimal length of the exercise is to play until you feel that you are soon about to get a bit tired and then STOP. In other words you are closing in on the edge of getting tired but you never go all the way there.
Build instead of tearing down
By doing it this way the body will send signals to build strength in your chops WITHOUT you having to tear down the muscles. You see, there are two ways of sending strength building signals to our muscles…
…one is by making a muscle completely exhausted, tearing down the muscle fibers, so the body starts sending “building signals” in order for the muscles to be able to do it the next time (this is how most body builders train their muscles)…
…another way is to go CLOSE to the point of “starting to get tired” and tricking the body to send the same building signals, however we did actually never get tired and no muscle fibers were broken down.
The problem with the first option, where we train to exhaustion, is that the muscles need a very long time to recover in order to come back and be stronger. You can for example train bench press on Monday and rest 3-5 days and then come back stronger but…
…needless to say, this is not really the best approach for building trumpet muscles or corner strength.
I recommend you do more of the second option
Unlike the example with the bench press, we can’t afford several days of rest. One exception, if you want to try the exhaustion way of building, is to do the strength building exercise as the last thing you play for that day and ONLY for a few minutes, then STOP and rest all the way until the next day.
If you are lucky, your muscles have recovered over the night. Personally I sometimes do this (perhaps once a week, or two as the absolute max) However I find that, more often than not, my face muscles will not be fully recovered the next day with this approach…
…this is why the second option, (stopping before getting tired) is my favorite and is the one I recommend you do more of. It is indeed possible to build a very strong embouchure without pushing yourself to absolute exhaustion and it is perhaps…
…the smartest way!
If you do want to try the first option and really push your embouchure muscles then this is a suitable exercise for that. Remember to play it at night as the last thing you do.
The above exercise is from my article how to play trumpet without getting tired. I usually play the exercise two times with a few minutes of rest in between. Then, after the second time, I’m done for the day.
IF you feel that you are not getting stronger after a couple of weeks trying this, or if you are getting burned out, then stop doing it. Don’t waste any more time on it and only try to build using the “stop before you get tired option”, I just talked about.
Tip #3: Develop efficiency and great “aperture control”
In order to be able to play with minimum mouthpiece pressure, efficient playing is important. By efficient playing I mean playing with no more energy than necessary. Another way to put it is that we want all of the air we use turned into lip vibrations.
Also, having good control over the aperture (the small opening in our lips/embouchure that let’s the air out) is one important piece of being able to play the trumpet in an efficient manner.
How do we develop efficiency?
Here are a few things that you should practice on a regular basis in order to achieve this…
- Soft long tones
Playing a lot of soft long tones will help a lot with teaching the lips to vibrate with a small amount of air.
- “P” attacks
Practicing exercises where you start each note by saying the letter “P” instead of normal articulation. “Phaa phaa phaa” instead of “taa taa taa”
- Lip bends
Make a habit of doing a few lip bends every day. Doing those will help significantly improve aperture control.
- Soft long tones
Here is a good exercise you can practice to help you develop efficient playing
This is an exercise I use myself for improving sound quality but the reason it works for that is exactly because it works on the aperture control. Play it three to four times every day to help you develop efficient playing. Do not start with a setting that is too “lose” because then the jump up do the “D” in the second bar will be uncomfortable. Keep the corners firm.
Tip #4: Rest! …in a smart way
No matter on what level we are, we should always incorporate plenty of rests,between the practice sessions as well as during our practice session…
- Practice for 40 minutes
- Rest for 40 minutes
- Practice a phrase 3-4 times
- Rest for a minute and two
…and so on. The above was just an example but you get the picture. We have to rest often in order to not get tired chops and start forcing stuff. Because, as you remember, we should avoid going past the point of getting tired if we want to build in a smart way…
…and in addition to this, practicing on tired lips is a recipe for creating all sorts of bad playing habits. So never skip the rests!
It can also be beneficial to take one whole day off sometimes if you have had a period of intense playing. This does not mean that you are lazy because sometimes, less is more.
Tip #5:Use good breath support to limit mouthpiece pressure
The title of this blog post is “how to play trumpet without pressure” and “without pressure” is of course referring to the amount of mouthpiece pressure on our lips.
As I already said in the beginning, there is no such thing as zero mouthpiece pressure and our aim should be to reduce the amount of mouthpiece pressure as much as we can and develop a way of playing where we use as little mouthpiece pressure as possible…
…there are other forms of pressure though…
Not all pressure is bad!
Enter: air pressure and air support!
It is absolutely crucial to use a good breath support if we want to play the trumpet with minimum mouthpiece pressure.
- Hold your chest up and keep your spine as long as you can
- Relaxed in-breath (keep everything open, imagine a “yawn” for the correct feel
- Imagine the air going in as “low” as possible, all the way down to your stomach (even though it of course only fills you lungs)
- Support the air stream with your core muscles (the muscles all around your middle section of your body) They should feel “energetic” while you, at the same time, are relaxed.
Try to do this exercise without the horn
Put your index fingers at the side of your stomach. Try to inhale in a deep way that pushes your index fingers outwards. This is a good way of inhaling when you are playing your trumpet. To support the airstream, imagine pushing, outwards, against the index fingers while you are playing…
…note: your belly and middle section will still be going inwards while you are pushing air from your lungs during your trumpet playing…
…however, by imagining you pushing the index fingers outwards from the side of you, while you play, you get the right “energy” in your support muscles and thus you are giving the airstream life, support and power.
How mouthpiece pressure affects different kinds of chop settings
Some embouchures are more sensitive to mouthpiece pressure while others, on the other hand, can take quite a bit of abuse before suffering any consequences. This is true, both when it comes to how our teeth, lips and faces are built as well as what “embouchure typ” we use.
Thin and stretched lips
If you have thin lips and if you also have the bad habit of stretching your lips like a “smile” when playing higher notes (not a good idea by the way, but many players still play like this) you are particularly vulnerable to mouthpiece pressure.
If you feel that it would just be too much work to change the embouchure setting, then you should at least try to implement the tips on this page and really try to reduce your mouthpiece pressure. It might be what saves you from having to give up trumpet playing later on, as many trumpet players, using the smile embouchure, are having to give up the trumpet when they get a little older.
A puckered embouchure setting
The Maggio embouchure is when we pucker our lips slightly and push them a bit forward, making the center of the lips thicker and more “meaty”, it looks a bit like the monkey demonstrates on the picture below…
Because the Maggio chop setting / embouchure makes the center of the lips thicker (kind of life a meaty pillow under the mouthpiece), trumpet players who are using this kind of embouchure are able to tolerate much more mouthpiece pressure.
More meat under the mouthpiece means better protection and this is also why trumpeters, using this way of playing, are often able to play for longer periods of times in the upper register without getting tired, compared to other trumpet players.
I personally use the Maggio embouchure
I am personally using the Maggio embouchure and, of all the embouchures I have tried, I like Maggio the most…
However, this is something that is very individual and everyone has to do their own experimenting. The book I am holding in the picture has got detailed descriptions how to use the Maggio embouchure and if you would like to learn more the book is available on Amazon…
…it is also full of exercises in order to help the player get the Maggio chop setting to really “lock in” and work in an optimal way.
The Tongue controlled embouchure (TCE)
The tongue controlled embouchure also helps a bit to protect the player from mouthpiece pressure because the whole chop setting is kept more “forward” than for example with a smile or Farkas embouchure. The tongue against the bottom lip also helps to, both reduce the pressure, as well as to protect the player from the pressure…
…however the TCE embouchure does not protect the player as much as the Maggio embouchure does, which is the chop setting that is the most forgiving to mouthpiece pressure.
A few phenomenal trumpet high note players use the TCE embouchure with great success.
The Farkas Embouchure
Even though the Farkas embouchure is not the same as the smile embouchure some of the “smile muscles” are activated for trumpet players using this chop setting. The Farkas embouchure is also known as “the puckered smile” due to forming this embouchures activates both the pucker muscles as well as the “snearing / smile” muscles a bit.
For many people, using the Farkas setting, the lips becomes somewhat thin and, just like with the smile embouchure, the player becomes more vulnerable to mouthpiece pressure. Many successful classical players use the Farkas embouchure but they also have to constantly be careful not to use too much pressure against their lips.
Final Words About Mouthpiece Pressure And Trumpet Playing
Mouthpiece pressure is a serious problem for many, leading to swollen lips after playing the trumpet and other issues that negatively affects our trumpet playing and learning how to reduce mouthpiece pressure is something that takes time…
…it is nothing that we do overnight.
In fact, learning to play the trumpet with as little effort as possible is a lifelong process, it never ends. We should not let that fact discourage us but instead look at it like a challenging but exciting game…
…a game where it is impossible to reach the final level.
Love the challenge!
Thank you for reading the article “how to play trumpet without pressure”