Getting braces can be quite an ordeal for a young person, and if they are trying to learn how to play the trumpet at the same time the frustration level can increase substantially. Some give up music entirely, others change to another instrument without a mouthpiece, or to a low brass instrument with a bigger cup, while others experiment with brace guards and/or wax to keep from shredding their lips with the mouthpiece pressure. Others just suffer through the experience, and a select group figure out the proper solution for themselves (Jacob, listed in a previous post, was one of those fortunate few). If those who struggle with this problem can learn how to replace the excess mouthpiece pressure with solid fundamentals they could actually play better than before they had their braces.
Ennis is my most recent student to go through this transition, and just like I promised him…all of my students actually get better with braces. He had already been laying the foundation for this change when we first started working together by learning two important skills: making the correct embouchure formation without any help from the mouthpiece, and being able to hold that position when the air was added, again without the aid of the mouthpiece. In addition, if the seal is uniform around the mouthpiece (accomplished with the lower jaw position and with the horn placed properly and at the correct angle), and if the air support is solid, there is no need for heavy mouthpiece pressure. This may sound complicated (or oversimplified?), but a smart middle school student like Ennis had no trouble learning these skills when given the luxury of time to develop them. An interesting followup: Ennis made first chair in his middle school band!
As with all my students (including those without braces), we did not try to play any music or exercises at first, for starting with that approach only reinforces the old way of playing that is not working. A trumpet builder does not try and play the instrument while it’s being constructed. Instead he follows a successful model or blueprint very carefully, investing his time in the quality of his work. When the instrument is finished, the playing that immediately follows is to test the instrument…to gather the feedback that will inform him of what he may have missed during the assembly process, or to decide what tweaks can still be made.
When everything is working, Ennis can now play a beautiful high G on top of the staff with very little effort, and his formation and sound in the mid to lower registers is much more focused. There are even signs that a high C will soon be ready to speak. Now instead of frustration, there is positive anticipation. Great work, Ennis…the best is yet to come!