As you strive for accuracy, consistency and efficiency, think of each note as a target. When you hit the target square in the center, the note is resonant and secure. The precise positioning of each note requires a clear command from the brain, a focused and consistent air stream, and subtle adjustments of the embouchure.
The clearer you hear a pitch in your mind, the more accurately you will target it on the horn. If you are faced with a tricky line—perhaps fast or high—practice it slowly and down an octave to fix the pitches in your ear. For awkward intervals, play them on the piano first. Until you hear the musical line clearly in your mind, you are shooting blind.
Adjust Your Aim
The airflow must be smooth, continuous and aimed at the target. Imagine a video game where you shoot gamma rays at aliens that appear and disappear on the screen. The action moves quickly on screen; keep your finger on the trigger, firing a continuous stream of rays as you adjust your aim for each new target. On your horn, think of your air as the gamma rays, and the notes as the alien targets.
Threading the Needle
Finding the ideal embouchure setting for a note requires your full concentration and subtle but critical adjustments of the position of the lips on the air stream. This slight change is particularly true in the upper register; it is common to over-adjust as you approach the outer reaches of your range.
Think of your embouchure setting like threading a needle: Rather than stabbing repeatedly at the head of the needle with the thread, take your time and line it up. The higher you play, the smaller the head of the needle and the closer it is to the other needles.
Precision is required, not brute force. Play slowly and carefully, looking for the sweet spot on each note, the bull’s eye on the target. When you successfully thread the needle, the note responds with a “ping” and feels quite easy to play.
About the Author
Jazz trumpeter and author Chase Sanborn is a session player based in Canada and a member of the jazz faculty at the University of Toronto. His instructional books & DVDs (“Jazz Tactics,” “Brass Tactics” and “Tuning Tactics”) have garnered worldwide praise for their insightful and entertaining approach to playing and teaching music. Chase is a Yamaha Artist. For more information, visit www.chasesanborn.com.