Building a wide range is the result of air-control and strength

Building a wide range is essential to becoming an accomplished player. When playing a brass instrument, a we play higher notes when our lips buzz faster. A faster buzz is produced when air passes through the lips faster due to more air-pressure from the diaphragm, however, they can also vibrate faster because:

  1. the hole between your lips becomes smaller;
  2. the lips become firmer making them stiffer;
Exercise: Without moving the slide or valves, slowly slur from your lowest note, up through all the notes to the highest note you can play.   Notice how fast the focused air-flow needs to be to produce each successive note.
Building a wide range

Producing a fat sound

To produce a ‘fat’ or full sound as the pitch rises, keep the size of the hole as big as possible. 

Control pitch by increasing the speed of the focused air through lips that you are holding firmly in place with your muscles.

Do not press the mouthpiece harder against your lips.  This is a common problem that will severely limit your playing potential.

Building a wide range with strength

On trombone, these notes can all be played in 1st position (or open on a valved instrument).  Build strength in your lips by slurring these notes from bottom to top and down again.

Repeat this exercise in 2nd position (2nd valve) and so on to 7th position (valves 1,2,3). 

Then go back up through the positions.

Do this exercise in each practice session. Strong lip muscles are critical to being able to play high and for endurance.

Pursing the lips more tightly will make them firmer and thicker and will produce a higher buzz when supported by sufficient air-pressure. 

It’s a similar concept to whistling.  The hole between the lips becomes smaller as the pitch rises.

Another way to accelerate the air is to reduce the size of the mouth cavity by raising the tongue with a “dee” syllable vs a “doo”.  

The same volume of air through a smaller cavity will travel faster.

Extending range past your limit

At some point, you will reach your physical limit of any one of the elements above, so to go even higher, you will need to use a combination of the techniques mentioned above. 

Practice to increase your natural limits of each technique to give yourself as many options as possible to achieve the results you want.

The most important technique of all, is the proper use of focused air combined with enough strength in your lips to maintain your embouchure as the air pressure increases.  

This is how you should aim to play at all times.

Tip: Subtly push your jaw out for lower register notes and pull it in for higher notes.
Tip: To play louder, blow more air;
To play higher, blow faster air through a smaller hole.
Exercise: Without your instrument, blow out an imaginary candle in front of your lips.  Then try to do it again by moving the imaginary candle 3 metres away.  Pucker your lips focusing on the corners.  Take note of how you blow differently – energy and focus – then use this concept  in your playing.

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