Shaky Tone On Trumpet When Playing. Hands? Lips? Embouchure?

A man has shaky tone on the trumpet

Why You Are Getting A Shaky Tone On The Trumpet…
…And What To Do About It

Many of use have, at some point in our lives, had issues with a shaky tone when playing the trumpet. This can be caused by many things such as shaky hands, uncontrollable lip trembling and a host of other factors that I’m going to write about in this article…

…one thing is for sure though, a shaky tone is an irritating issue. I should know, since I have suffered from it myself and it wasn’t until I discovered the things I’m about to write about, that I started to see big improvements in keeping my notes steady.

Shaky Tone on Trumpet
Possible Cause #1: Lack Of Air Support

You have to constantly keep the air moving and you have to do it in a way that supports the airstream. Failing to do so can indeed show itself in form of a shaky sound. This is because without a good support the air wont flow evenly.

Example

If you are going to squeeze the toothpaste out of the tube, there is two way to go about it.

  1. You grab the tube in the middle and squeeze it
  2. You squeeze in the bottom of the tube

Both will get the toothpaste out but the first option will push some of the toothpaste up and out and some of it will also be going DOWN towards the bottom of the tube. This is because you squeezed in the middle and the toothpaste wants to move away from the squeezing point, thus the paste goes in two directions…

…and since some of the paste is also going towards the bottom, there will not be a strong, steady and even “flow” of paste coming out of the opening of the tube.

Don’t squeeze in the middle because then the toothpaste goes in two directions. Just like your air…

If you, on the other hand, squeeze hard on the bottom of the tube, there is nowhere else for the toothpaste to go but UP and all the force you use gets focused in one direction only, thus making the “flow” steady and strong.

The same is true when it comes to using your air when you play the trumpet. Don’t push the “tube” in the middle, when you want to get the air out. Push from the bottom up. A steady air support means a more steady tone, with less shakiness.

Now of course the comparison is not exactly accurate but the fact is that, if you do not push from the bottom, the air will not go as straight out as it could do since a small amount of air will perhaps go a bit down at first, before seeking its way out of your lungs.

Squeezing like that will produce an uneven airsteam that is not steady with a continuoss flow…

…this does not happen if you breathe and support your air correctly.

What to do about it

If you would like to learn more about air support you can read my article how to reduce mouthpiece pressure and scroll down to “tip #5” in that article. Over there I explain exactly how to support and “push “the air correctly.

Trembling And Trumpet Playing
Possible Cause #2: Magnesium Deficiency

Did you know that the most common reason for tense, shaky and trembling body parts are because we are deficient in this important mineral? The trembling can be noticeable in different body parts depending on the person. Some experience it only in form of cramps while others might experience shaky hands or shaking of the head or even the face muscles…

…which means the lip muscles/embouchure as well.

But here’s the deal

If your face muscles are affected then obviously you will have a shaky tone on the trumpet, but even if the magnesium deficiency shows itself in the arms, neck or hands, well that will also make it hard to keep the tone steady, not to mention the whole breating aparatus because it is surrounded by muscles…

…and if those muscles are tense twitchy, or if they are trembling, the whole airstream will be shaky and thus, it will give us that unpleasant shaky tone that we so desperately would like to get rid of.

How do we get so deficient?

Some experts estimate that over 65% of Americans today are deficient in magnesium. This is because the soils are getting more and more depleted. Crops grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today.

Also, the processed foods, that we eat a lot of today, tend to deplete the body of minerals and with those two factors combined, most of us end up with a pretty significant magnesium deficiency.

Here is How To Fix it

I use to have big problems whit shaky hands and trembling of different body parts. When I startedeating foods that contain high amounts of magnesium, in combination with taking a really high quality magnesium supplement, the trembling got significantly better, and as a direct result I experienced a lot less uncontrollable shaking in my trumpet tone.

Here are a few foods that contain magnesium

  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Tofu
  • Seeds
  • Fatty Fish

WARNING!

In addition to this I started taking a high quality magnesium supplement but I have to put a warning here. Do NOT buy any of the following magnesium supplements:

Do NOT buy any of the following

  • Magnesium oxide
  • Magnesium glutamate
  • Magnesium aspartate
  • Magnesium sulfate

Avoid those as the body can hardly absorb them at all and the sulfate and aspartate can even become neurotoxic when unbound to other amino acids. Unfortunately magnesium oxide is the most common form of magnesium sold in grocery stores and health stores, even though the body can only absorb a fraction of it.

I recommend a form of magnesium called  magnesium L-Threonate instead, since it has an extremely good absorption rate and in addition to that it is the only form of magnesium that has the  unique ability to cross the blood brain barrier and quickly enter the brain. This is why it also has numerous brain benefits. One of them is a significant reduction in anxiety, which I find particular useful as a stressed trumpeter.

I have not yet found magnesium L-Threonate in ordinary grocery stores. I’m sure some stores must have it though and I guess it depends on where you live. Personally i order the L-Threonate from Amazon, you can
click here to check the price, and read other real user reviews.

Shaky Tone When Playing The Trumpet
Possible Cause#3: Air pockets Under The Embouchure Corners

Air pockets under the embouchure corners OR embouchure corners that are too “lose” and not kept firm, can lead to having a shaky tone on trumpet.

There is nothing wrong with air pockets and a LOT of trumpet virtuosos have air pockets when they play, HOWEVER they should not be right under the embouchure corners.

What do I mean by “corners”?

The embouchure corners are what supports the whole playing apparatus. In order to play well, and to have a good steady tone on the trumpet, the corners have to be strong and they have to be kept firm. If they are too lose they won’t give enough support to the center of the chops and for some people  this will lead to a shaky sound when playing the trumpet.

The corners simply means where the upper and the lower lips meet. The arrows show where the corner muscles are, for me.

Sorry for the misspelling in the picture. It is supposed say EMBOUCHURE

Here Is How To Fix It

You fix this by making a habit out of keeping your embouchure corners firm while playing AND by building more strength in the corner muscles.

One of the best ways to build corner strength is by playing soft long notes in the middle to “semi high” register. The “G” on top of the staff, the”F” right under and the “A” right above the “G”, are my personal favorite notes for building corner strength. I call these notes “my golden notes”. I recommend you do a little experimenting to find your golden notes but remember…

…the long notes should be played softly, and by long notes I really mean LONG. I’m talking about 30-120 seconds here with fast breaths through the nose, when you need to inhale.

ATTN.

Many people use poor air support when playing soft notes so be careful not to play the long notes like that because, as you remember, playing the trumpet with poor air support is a recipe for shakiness.

Shaky Trumpet Tone
Possible Cause #4: Anxiety Or Nervousness

One of the most common symptoms of anxiety is shaking and trembling. Just like with the magnesium deficiency this can show up in different parts of the body for different people.

There are three different types of anxieties that could cause you to shake when you play the trumpet

  • Performance anxiety
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder (performance anxiety is a part of social anxiety)

It is possible to suffer from anxiety even when not performing or playing in front of others. Many people have anxiety for no particular reason (this is called generalized anxiety disorder) while others only feel anxiety when there are people around (social anxiety).

If you suffer from generalized anxiety disorder it is very possible to experience a shaky trumpet tone in the practice room, even if your are not performing. For most people though, performance anxiety is the most common form of anxiety.

Here Is How To Fix It

Anxiety ca be difficult to completely cure and unfortunately many people will have to settle with just being able to better cope with the anxiety…

…there are however a lot of things you can do, and a lot of tools you can use, to significantly reduce your anxiety and some people can indeed completely overcome it. I recommend you read my article how to not be nervous when playing the trumpet, as it is full of tips on how to deal with anxiety. Both performance anxiety and anxiety in general.

Don’t forget the magnesium, from tip #2, as magnesium can be a great help for reducing anxiety as well.

“There are numerous studies showing that magnesium can even be pretty effective for reducing anxiety for some people”

Shaky Notes On The Trumpet
Possible Cause#5: Poor Functioning Embouchure

Trumpet embouchures and the the whole mechanisms behind them can be tricky and sometimes we let bad habits creep into our playing without us knowing it. This can lead us to ues a lip setting that does not really work as it should.

How To Fix It?

If you are not an experienced trumpet player this can be difficult to fix on your own. Try to get some help from a professional trumpeter or a trumpet teacher.

There is no way that I could, with text alone, and in writing, explain how to fix embouchure problems (especially because every case is different) but feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below, if you are experiencing any kind of  embouchure problems and I’ll see if I can find the time to get back to you and help you out.

Trembling and Shaking When Playing Trumpet
Possible Cause #6: Blood Sugar Issues

Blood sugar issues will very often lead to shaking, just like anxiety and magnesium deficiency. I recommend you talk to your doctor if you think this might be an issue for you. Also, in the article about performance anxiety and trumpet playing I give a few tips on very effective ways you can keep your blood sugar levels steady as a rock.

A Few Other Reasons Why You Might Experience Shaking When Playing The Trumpet

The following are a few other possible reasons why you might experience shakiness, when you play the horn. And I do not want to give any advice on these…

…why? Well, because they are issues that are best to discuss with your doctor. I’m merely pointing out the last possible causes for a shaky trumpet sound here.

  • Parkinsons
  • High blood pressure
  • Epilepsy
  • Brain tumor

Conclusion

Whether the cause is some physical disease, or if it’s because of some technical problems with your playing, I really hope that you’ll find a solution to the shakiness soon. I hope this article has been informative and at least given you some insight.

Everyone of us would like to be able to play the way we “imagine” the ultimate trumpet sound in our minds ear to be, and a very shaky trumpet tone is probably not something we hear when we imagine that sound. However, there are people that just have shaky hands, or other parts of their bodies, without anything being wrong with them…

…for example, most of the time my hands are shaking a little, even if I’m not nervous but if I use the magnesium supplement I talked about, I can still control it pretty well and, most of the time, it does not affect my trumpet playing at all..

…however, for those that are more unlucky and have permanent shaky hands it is important to still keep playing and not to quit playing the trumpet because of it. Trumpet playing should never be about perfection. It should be about having fund and having something that enrich our lives…

…with or without a shaky tone.

Thank you for reading and feel free to leave a comment down below. Do you experience shaking when playing? do you have it all the time or is it worse when you perform? …please leave a few words.

Thank you for reading this article!

-Robert Slotte-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Shaky Tone On Trumpet When Playing. Hands? Lips? Embouchure?”

  1. Dealing with this as of this last year. Would love to discuss it more. 50 year old male professional trumpeter in a premiere military band on DC.

    1. Hi there!

      Thanks for commenting. Sounds a bit strange if it started suddenly for you. You never had the issue before in your life? I don’t want this to scare you but if nothing has changed in your playing (the amount of playing, playing circumstances or some fomr of an embouchure change) and you suddenly started experienced shakiness, then my first thoughts is that it could be related to some physical / medical issues. Of course I’m just speculating here so don’t freak out 🙂 Have you been to a doctor? I think the first things I would check is blood pressure and blood sugar issues as well as asking the doctor about how parkinson’s starts.
      Other than that, what I personally do, is trying to limit the amount of coffee I drink as well as alcohol. Another thing that makes it worse for me is sugar / carbs. If I go on a low carb diet, my shakiness reduces pretty significantly. And like wrote in the article, magnesium is super important. I also sometimes experience shakiness if I have overtaxed my embouchure. The cure for that is of course rest and in addition to that I find that playing didgeridoo or buzzing with a tuba mouthpiece helps speed up the “recovery”.
      When it comes to exercises on the trumpet, for me, soft long tones helps a bit with shakiness. Not as much as the magnesium and limiting caffeine though.

      Good luck and I really hope that you get this sorted out!

      Warmest regards,

      -Robert-

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