Every morning I go through this process of reminding myself of the fundamentals of sound production. There are four stages: 1. Posture, 2. Breathing, 3. Buzzing, and finally 4. Introducing the Horn.
I'm not a medical expert but I have done a bit of research into the importance of good posture. It seems that good posture is not only good for your long-term health but it also has great benefits for your playing. I find it's not enough just to tell someone to not slouch...it's important to understand why good posture is beneficial.
Before I take my mouthpiece or horn out of the case, I do a series of exercises related to posture and breathing. The first step in this process is to stand with your feet shoulder width apart and imagine that the crown of your head is attached to a string that is suspended from the ceiling. It seems more common these days for us to lose the arch in the back of the neck (Cervical) from poor sitting habits. This first step gets the head up and back which helps to reintroduce what many in the health world call the "arch of life" (the curving inward of the back of the neck that reduces the strain on the upper back muscles). This process also opens up the throat for increased resonance...which you will appreciate a bit later.
Secondly, (very important that this is done correctly!!) slide your shoulder blades down toward the ground – not inward but downward. This causes your shoulders to move down and back. As well, it will raise the sternum which opens up the chest cavity. Also, you'll notice that the arch in your lower back (Lumbar) becomes more pronounced. It is the combination of these inward curves (lorditic) and the outward curves (kyphotic – Thoracic and Sacral) that provide stress relief to your skeletal system and internal organs. Also, you'll note that once you've achieved a good posture position, taking a deep breath is made easier.
Now you are ready to start working on breathing.
The great Canadian trombone player, Ian McDougall, has told every one of his students: 1. always take in as much air as you can, and 2. keep the air-flow constant.
In-Out No Stops!!
The first breathing exercise I do involves working on the seamless in-and-outflow of air; the Continuous Breath. Keeping the throat muscles relaxed and open (just like when you yawn), inhale and then exhale in what feels like one motion. Just like when you toss a ball straight up in the air; it appears to change direction to come back down without stopping its motion. Practice inhaling and exhaling in this way (tempo should be a quarter note equals 60 bpm; inhale over one beat and exhale over 3 to 5 beats) until you feel that you're breathing in one fluid motion. (Remember: pace yourself so you don't hyperventilate – count to three after each exhale before you inhale again). Once you feel you're doing well, continue doing it but now let your mind wander onto other things. This helps to internalize the concept in your mind.
All the Way Out
Second step: now with your exhale, you want to push the air out until have nothing left. When you do this, you'll really feel your abdominal wall muscles go to work. This exercise puts you directly in touch with these very important breathing muscles. You'll notice that your immediate instinct is to use these muscles to breathe in again. Remember to watch your posture throughout; you don't want your chest to collapse during this exercise.
In a previous article of mine I describe the particulars of breathing and embouchure.
Like Yer About to Burst!
Thirdly: take in as much air as you can (inhale over 3 beats at the same tempo as before, exhale over 5 to 6 beats – this will increase a bit with repetition). While maintaining all of the concepts that we've already addressed, start taking in larger breaths. Focus on filling up from the hip bones to the collar bones; just like filling up a sand-bag. After about five more breaths, you should feel that your lungs are really stretching with each inhale. Doing this exercise on a regular basis helps to increase your lung capacity. Again, allow this sensation to internalize by allowing your thoughts to stray once you have gotten the knack of it.
Holding your mouthpiece just like the Queen holds her tea cup (lightly between your index finger and thumb) at the base of the shank, place it on your embouchure and buzz a mid-range note. I find, for trumpet, F4 concert is a good note to use. When making the sound, it is important to find the balance between the resistance generated by the aperture of the lips and the compression from your air source. This is where we find the true center of pitch.
Remember to start the note without the use of the tongue. Practice whispering the word "HEY" and feel what happens to your breathing muscles (put your hand on abdominal wall) when you do so. Now do the same thing with these muscles to start the note. You'll notice that the note starts immediately – it is important that the air is there for the beginning of the note and doesn't creep in partway through. Now focus on holding the note steady for at least 10–15 seconds (steadiness is achieved through the balance of compression and resistance; just like standing in a wind tunnel and trying not to fall over). Repeat until you are satisfied with the results and then continue a few more times while allowing your mind to drift onto other things (hmmm...what should I have for dinner tonight? hey, look at that squirrel climbing into my car, gee the grass needs cutting...well, you get the idea). Again, by doing this you are letting the concept settle into your subconscious so it becomes second-nature while you're playing. Also, with each repetition, listen for the sound resonating in your skull. I try to get this resonance as big as possible during my mouthpiece warm-up. This helps to reinforce the concept that the sound does not come from just the lips but from the whole body.
Still no horn...still no tongue...just the mouthpiece. Again, starting on the same note as before, glissando up and down very slowly and evenly. At first, I'll usually go up and down approximately a fifth and then increase the interval as I progress. It is important to smooth out any interruptions in the glissando. Try and make it sound just like an air-raid siren. If you have enough air, you can go up and down twice in one breath but it's more important to make it even and seamless. Also, remember to not use your tongue to start the note. This exercise should be done until it's internalized, as before.
4. Introducing the Horn
Now, finally, you're ready for the rest of your instrument. At this point, I start straight in with the Vincent Chicowicz Flow Study #1. The first couple of lines are taken at a quarter note equals 50 bpm, then the tempo increases slightly as you progress, to accommodate for the longer lines. This exercise normally carries on up to the high 'D' above the staff using the same base scale pattern.
This is the first time I introduce the tongue at the beginning of each line. Remember, however, that the air is what starts the note, not the tongue; the tongue is purely there for cleaning up the start of the note. Focus on singing this exercise in your mind as you play. Keep the air moving all the way through from beginning to end and make a big beautiful sound throughout. From there, I move on to other aspects of trumpet techniques, always keeping in mind my posture, breathing, and sound.
Playing the Music
I do this series of exercises every morning and have found that, since I began, I have managed to maintain a level of consistency and an increase in endurance that allows me to feel confident to meet the playing challenges I encounter. Having gone through the process of rebuilding these concepts every day and internalizing them, I am free to express myself musically through the horn and not be concerned with the mechanics while I'm playing.
An accomplished and respected musician in both the classical and jazz genres, Mike Herriott is also widely recognized as a multi-instrumentalist. Mike is much in demand on trumpet, trombone, and bass, both on stage and in the studio, and has shared the stage with some of the world's finest musicians, including Maynard Ferguson, Slide Hampton, Phil Nimmons, Tommy Banks, Hugh Fraser, Chucho Valdes, Kenny Wheeler, Rob McConnell, and Ian McDougall.