In Part 1 we talked about relaxing while playing, and how focusing on that relaxation usually has the opposite effect. We also talked about small ways to reduce tension. In this section, we’ll talk about taking a more relaxed breath and making your air work more effortlessly.
One important way I relax my students’ airstreams is with the “sudden attack.” Many students, without realizing it, hold their breath for a moment between breathing in and playing. Sometimes, they take that moment to set their embouchure or they’re preparing themselves mentally for the next note. Regardless, that moment creates lots of tension in the body as your muscles contract to hold in the air.
Instead, think about your note before you even take that first breath. Think about how your embouchure is going to feel and how the note is going to sound. Then, take in your full, deep breath through your mouth and IMMEDIATELY release that air into the horn, playing the note. When you fill your lungs, the air wants to escape, so let it! You might miss the note on the first few tries. When it works, though, you should have a full, open sound. Sustain the note to keep the air moving and get used to the feeling of moving your air in this manner.
As this type of relaxed breath becomes automatic, shorten the notes to just quick attacks. This will make sure your air is moving and the embouchure is immediately engaging to produce a sound. Focus more on the tone of your attack while keeping the same sudden breathing you had in the previous exercise. This will also help prepare you to play with a relaxed breath when playing shorter notes in rapid passages.
Being a Mouth-Breather
I want to emphasize the importance of taking every relaxed breath through your mouth. Your air passageways open and close differently when you breathe through your nose instead of your mouth. Since all the air will be going out through your mouth into your horn, breathe in through your mouth as well. Muscles that would have to take action if you switch between nose and mouth won’t have to work as hard. This, of course, reduces tension. Some exercises, such as the Caruso Six Notes and the infamous “Pencil Exercise,” require breathing in through your nose. While I have no problem with those exercises in general, I recommend avoiding them while you are working on eliminating pauses in your breathing.
The techniques I describe in Part 1 and Part 2 won’t completely eliminate tension in your playing, but they will go a long way toward helping you relax in key areas. If you are truly struggling with the idea of “relaxed” trumpet playing, I highly recommend seeking an experienced teacher to help you.