When the baseball player hits the ball, energy is transferred from the player to the ball, via the bat. How far the ball travels is determined not only by the strength of the player, but also by his or her ability to effectively transfer energy. The “sweet spot” on the bat is where the transfer of energy is most efficient.
The brass player also deals with transfer of energy. The lips are set into vibration by the force of air, that energy is transferred to the horn, and sound emanates.
An efficient brass player converts each bit of air into lip vibration, producing maximum results for a given amount of effort. Playing feels relatively easy and pleasurable. The inefficient player wastes energy trying to overcome poor playing habits with brute force. When brute force trumps efficiency, the sound is forced and choked, range and endurance suffer, and playing seems like a struggle. The brute force player is bound to encounter problems down the road. Eventually the “gears” will need to be rebuilt.
Efficiency is best developed at soft playing dynamics. With a small amount of air traveling past the lips, an inefficient embouchure setting will simply not vibrate. Many of the strongest brass players advocate practicing quietly to make sure proper playing habits are instilled.
Brass players are often encouraged to “relax” while playing. This concept can be difficult to grasp because playing a brass instrument is clearly a physical activity that requires muscular exertion. The key is to relax muscles that are not directly involved in the production of sound, eliminating unnecessary sources of tension in the body. Picture a slow motion video of a great running back at slow speed. Despite the high degree of muscular exertion, there is a sense of relaxation or ease. From this smooth flow of energy comes the phrase “ease of the athlete.”
Developing a more efficient approach to playing your horn will reap benefits in every area of playing. Try to be loose and flexible and allow your body to find the easiest way to produce the sound.
About the Author
Chase Sanborn is a jazz trumpet player based in Toronto. He is on the faculty at the University of Toronto and is the author of “Brass Tactics,” “Jazz Tactics,” “Tuning Tactics” and “Music Business Tactics.” Chase is a Yamaha Artist. Visit his website at www.chasesanborn.com.