The validity of some of my approaches to problem solving received unexpected support from the sports medicine and physical therapy fields last summer after I observed the operation of an anti-gravity treadmill during my father’s physical therapy. The patient’s lower body is suspended in a plastic air bubble, which removes a programmable portion of their body weight while still allowing a full range of motion during walking or running. Without the constrains of gravity, posture is easily improved, as is the length of their stride, allowing them to develop the proper strength and coordination and pre-train the muscles for optimal movement. I immediately saw the parallels to the exercises my students do without the “weight” of the mouthpiece on the lips.
This “weightless” approach is less complex than actual playing, but because no sound is produced (often a distraction to training with proper form), things like lip formation, breathing, head and horn angle are held to a higher standard, which also increases awareness and control, and produces wonderful results in the same way the anti-gravity treadmill does. Not only is sound quality, intonation and ease of playing improved, but the player has a solid baseline of experience (and good habits) to refer to when they return to making music.
From most viewing angles the player looks like (s)he is playing, for the instrument is held extremely close to the embouchure. If they are practicing a challenging excerpt of music then the fingerings, rhythms and articulations are all performed in exactly the same way except the breathing must occur much more frequently (we usually adhere to an “every two beats” rule) due to the absence of the trumpet’s resistance and a much faster airstream. The embouchure then begins reacting to air rather than weight, which revitalizes the airstream and gives new life to tired chops.