Trumpet Skills

Understanding Tension and Compression in Playing the Upper Register

In the realm of instrumental learning, particularly for brass instruments such as the trumpet, mastering the intricacies of the upper register is paramount. Students must develop proficiency in the lip compression technique – lips pucker (or image lips a little bit forward), especially playing in high register. When students usually play an ascent range to the upper register, they naturally close their mouth and increase the mouthpiece pressure on their lips. The state at this time is (one or more of them) as follows:

  • Flattening or drooping of the upper lip;
  • Increased pressure from both hands on the mouthpiece;
  • Floating breath;
  • Raised shoulders;
  • Thickening of the neck;
  • Throat is closed;
  • Closure of the throat;
  • Tightening of the root of the tongue.
  • Sharp sounds, not in pitch or silent etc.

The reason for these problems is that only tense of two corners of the mouth is applied – that is, the two corners of the mouth are firmly fixed, or the lips are closed tightly when playing an ascent high register, or the amount of mouthpiece pressure is increased, rather than the compression of the lips – the lips should be pucker/pouted forward. Understanding the delicate interplay between tension and compression in the embouchure is crucial for successful performance in the upper register.

Compression – Usually, when we blow the horn from low to high, we will gradually strengthen all the blowing functions, such as closing the mouth, firming the corners of the mouth, and the pressure of the mouthpiece to the lips. When the pitch range goes up, the lips must have an image of pucker, because if the lips are compressed, or have this feeling of pucker, then the puckering lips create a perfect buffer between the mouthpiece and the teeth, which is enough to withstand the mouthpiece pressure for high-pitched, or extreme high-pitched. Otherwise, excessive mouth corner tension makes it difficult to compress lips – pout. Some beginners rely more on mouthpiece pressure because the flat lips (particularly in the upper lip) make the muscles tired and tense, causing the lip’s blood to not flow.

Professor Dave Hickman, in his renowned work “Trumpet Pedagogy,” describes the ideal lip posture as “shrinking, slightly curling in, or folding.” This approach encourages the lips to gently close around the mouthpiece, supported by the surrounding facial muscles. This technique not only provides a solid cushion for the mouthpiece but also maintains lip flexibility, ensuring smooth contact and optimal sound production.

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