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Trumpet/Chronic Embouchure Problem

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Question
I have been playing trumpet for decades, mostly jazz.  I go through a cycle of several months off (because of my work and overseas travel), followed by a month or so of regaining my embouchure until I'm playing reasonably well--clear tone, Bs and Cs above the staff, an hour a day, as strong at the end as at the start of each session--and then the bottom drops out.  I lose my range and my endurance, with no logical connection to how or how much I was playing the day before.  I struggle for a while, take a break of several months, and then repeat the pattern.  I've tried working more on long tones and cutting back my practice time to 40 minutes a day, but nothing seems to work.  It's very distressing.  Do you have any suggestions?  And do you know a teacher in northern New England/Boston who might be able to help me?  Thanks.

Answer
Edwin,

This is a great question and you and I could be embouchure brothers in some regards. I totally feel your frustrations. I've been there and what I will be mentioning has helped me a lot in this. Some may be tough to hear or even do but it's what worked for me in those lulls between gigs and practice to stay ready and at your peak.

1 - Realize that trumpet is like working out. It's an every day proposition. Now, while we can't do a full practice regime every day due to our schedules and the like we have to be willing to incorporate something into EVERY day, even for 5-10 minutes so your lips remember they are trumpet lips and those muscles don't atrophy (which can happen as soon as 2-3 days of no work). My instructor would tell me one lost day is like losing two days of work. Keep that in mind.

2 - Find ways and practices that you could do as time permits. One thing I started doing during my busier work times was to start keeping a mouthpiece in my car at all times. When I have a 1 or 2 hour travel time I can work on my buzz, long tones, and even play along with a favorite CD or the radio in matching pitch, etc. It's fun and does give you some serious help in terms of embouchure and endurance. You' find that a few songs in you're tired and your muscles ache and that's what you want. That builds the endurance. The key in this is that you use the same breathing techniques and approach as if you had the entire horn with you. CAUTION: be mindful of what you are wearing and realize your spit will come out of the mouthpiece. Have something you can drape over nice clothes to avoid the "why is your tie all wet?" looks (LOL). Another help for me is every night before bed I spend 2-3 minutes doing isometric exercises using an embouchure builder developed by Dave O'Neil called the P.E.T.E. You can get some info here on the Warburton site: http://www.warburton-usa.com/index.php/products/accessories/pete?gclid=CKaT9LGhi
Some teachers out there recommend using this as part of the daily routine, but when I spoke to Dave a few years back he stated to make this the last exercise you do each day. I do it right before bed. The process is simple and it fatigues the muscle. As you sleep, your muscles replenish and you'll be amazed at how your strength and endurance improve just doing this small little "lip bench presses".
There are other methods for keeping the base solid. Just search and find ones that you can incorporate. What you'll find is that when you fill in your horn face time with these items, the horn will feel better and you'll be wondering who is playing.

3 - It's all about the breathing. If you do absolutely nothing else because what I have said so far seems goofy and hard to implement in your life do breathing exercises. Get a tempo in your head and breath in for 4 and out for 4, in for 4 out for 8, in for 4, out for 12 using your breathing muscles. This exercising alone increases you breath capacity exponentially and you see and feel a difference.

As for instructors in your area, I don't have anyone that I would recommend over anyone else because at the end of the day it's all about who you feel comfortable with. Instructors usually give exercises and such, but your situation seems to be more about mechanics and the like as opposed to musical ability. Now, if you feel having the accountability is crucial then find someone who understands what you want and need and be OK with a weekly check in to see how you're doing.

I hope this has helped. I appreciate your position and if you need further assistance let me know.

It's all about the music.

Trumpet

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Gene Ramsay

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PLEASE read my instructions to you as a questioner about horns and value, etc. Most of those answers can be found at http://www.trumpetmaster.com

I feel confident to answer all questions regarding trumpet and brass performing, practice techniques, and equipment inquiries. We never stop being "students" in music as we strive to grow technically and musically over our lifetime. Music is something that truly individualizes people and I would treat every question based on the individual asking the question.

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I have been performing on trumpet for over 30 years. I have taught privately for over 20 years and in the public schools for 5 years. I have taught and performed in drum and bugle corps, bands, ensembles, and solo.

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Bachelor's Degree from the University of Montevallo in Music Education.
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Alabama Assistant State Director for Bugles Across America - 2009-2010
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Principal Trumpet - University of Montevallo - 1990-1992
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