Why My Head Hurts When I Play Trumpet-Headache When Playing

he has got a headache from blowing in the trumpet

Why Does My Head Hurt When I Play Trumpet?
Headache When Playing

Many trumpeters are getting headaches from playing the trumpet. This happens more often in the upper register or when the trumpeter plays loudly, and usually a combination of the two. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?

The reason for headaches when playing the trumpet is tension and overblowing. Tension in the neck and chest areas are particularly destructive when it comes to trumpet playing and playing the trumpet with a tense neck is almost like inviting Mr. Headache to come play with you. Let’s take a look at a few tips on how to deal with this.

Sore head from playing trumpet
Shoulders down!

Take a pen and a piece of paper and draw 21 squares, or use a paper calendar. For the next three weeks you are going to give yourself a score and write down a number in the calendar after each practice session. Use a scale from 1-10 and estimate how relaxed you shoulders were on an average during your practice session (or during your band practice or gig).

You should do this to reduce tension in your shoulder and neck area and, of course, becoming aware of it is the first step. There is no better way of becoming aware than to give yourself a score for each practice session.

While this might sound a bit unnecessary or strange, do not underestimate it. By doing it for at least three weeks you will make it into a habit and you will learn to instantly notice when you are about to start tensing your shoulders. This way you can deliberately stop it before it get’s out of hand.

Headaches from playing trumpet
Keep the throat relaxed and open

  • The toilet paper roll

If you have problems with headaches when you play the trumpet I would be willing to bet that you also tense your throat and tongue while you are playing. You have one item in your house that can be really helpful for dealing with this issue…

enter: the empty toilet paper roll!

Try this: put an empty toilet paper roll between your teeth and take a few deep breaths. Notice how freely the air goes in and out, passing through your throat without any resistance at all. Really notice how the air feels in your throat.

I would recommend that you do a few breathing exercises, using the paper roll, and incorporate those breathing exercises into your daily warmup routine…

..this will set you up for a more relaxed throat during the rest of your day. You might also benefit from doing a few breathing exercises with the paper roll, all throughout the day, to really remind your brain and body how the relaxed feeling is supposed to feel like.

  • Fog up your trumpet bell

Another good way of learning how to keep everything relaxed and open in the chest and throat is the following exercise:

Go to a window and stand about a half feet from it. Blow forcefully on the window. Come on, go try it and then come back here.

Ok, good, so what happened? …nothing?

Now, go back and try to think “warm air”, blow slowly and create a foggy window. Everyone can do this because we all did it when we were little kids. Try it a few times and notice the relaxed  and open feeling you have in you chest and throat.

This is something you can do on your trumpet before you play an exercise or in between phrases when you practice. A few times during your practice sessions, fog up that trumpet bell and incorporate that same, relaxed, feeling. When you have done this several times, just think “warm air” whenever you are about to start tensing up during a phrase.

Head hurts from playing trumpet
Drink more water!

As many people know, headaches can occur if we are dehydrated. But what not many people know is that we can be dehydrated without suffering from headaches if we are in a state of rest. Meaning, if dehydrated, they might only show up if we do something that requires a bit of force, like exercising or playing the trumpet.

Of all the issues this article talks about, this one is perhaps the easiest to fix….

…just drink more water!  but,  be sure to get your minerals as well, because when drinking more water, we also lose more minerals through the urine.

Pressure headache and trumpet playing Don’t squeeze the middle of the tube

You probably heard it at least hundred times before…

…the phrase “correct breathing”.

Sure it get’s boring to constantly read and hear teachers say it but there are a good reasons for it. The most important reason is, of course, that we will be a better trumpet player if we are breathing in a correct way but another reason why you want to avoid bad breathing is, you guessed it, headaches.

Don’t squeeze in the middle because then the toothpaste goes in two directions. Same as with your air…

If you use your muscles in a way that squeezes your airways in the middle then it is like squeezing a tooth paste tube the same way. What happens to the tooth paste? Sure, it comes out of the opening, just like air comes out of your mouth, but some of it is pushed to the bottom of the tube as well…

…the same is true for your airways. It creates unnecessary inside pressure and this will create all kinds of bad habits and playing issues. And, again, one of them being excessive tension and headaches.

The solution: Is to compress the air from the bottom, just like you would with the tooth past tube. This is done by breathing correctly and using a good air support.

In order to use correct support you are basically switching the muscles you use from your upper airways down to your stomach area, the side of the stomach and your lower back. They are the ones that should be active and energetic.

This is something that is difficult to explain in text so if you are unsure about whether or not your are using your air support correctly I recommend that you go take a few lessons from a good trumpet player or even a good singer. Singers are often much better at using a good air support than us trumpeters.

Pressure headaches and playing trumpet Practice more piano-pianissimo playing

The tension in your playing and in your body is probably coming from somewhere, and 9 times out of 10 this is because of overblowing and using unnecessary force. In other words…

…you are probably not playing efficiently!

Our aim should be to get as much energy as possible out of the trumpet with as little energy input.

How do we do this?

The best way to address this is by practicing softly. This will learn the lips to turn all the air that passes through into vibrations. It will also help us develop greater control over the instrument and that, in turn, will make us play with much less force. If headaches are a frequent problem then this is a must for you…

…do at least 75-80% of your practicing at a soft volume! Later on, when you have developed more control and efficiency, you can again try practicing in a more “normal” way with other dynamics. But generally, piano and pianissimo precticing is very good for us. I talk more about this in the article “How to get rid of airy trumpet sound

Consider visiting a doctor

If you need more tips on how to play relaxed then there are more tips on this in the article how to relax while playing trumpet.

I really recommend that you do your best to eliminate as much tension and overblowing as possible as those things will hold you back as a trumpet player in many ways…

…not only in the form of pain but it will also prevent you from having a big and resonant sound and good endurance.

If you implement and practice all these tips along with the tips in this article, I’m confident that your situation will improve. If it doesn’t then I would consider visiting a doctor to rule out any medical issues that could be the reason behind the headaches.

Final words on trumpet playing and headaches

Playing the trumpet is difficult enough as it is without us having to go through painful physical symptoms while we’re macing music. If we feel any form of pain, not just headaches,  when we are playing the first thing to take a look at is ALWAYS tension.

Unnecessary tension is something that can creep into our playing at any point in our lives, even if we have learned to play relaxed. It can happen to the best of players and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We just have to constantly be aware of it and nip it in the bud before it becomes a problem.

-Robert Slotte-

P.S. Do you find it easy to relax while playing or are you often having problems with unnecessary tension? Please leave a few words in the comment section below. I would love to hear from you and the readers also like to read comments from other trumpet players. 



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