I’ve taken great pride in witnessing all of my trumpet students improve after they make the conversion to braces. In order to help alleviate their fears, I share that track record with students who are worried about getting their new braces, but that news has often been met with skepticism by some of my fellow trumpet teachers, and there are many products out there (brace guards, waxes, etc.) proving the frustration that exists when most players go through this process. The skeptics should have heard “Fred” (a student’s chosen alias) this week, just two and a half hours after getting his new braces.
Fred just finished the fourth grade, and has not played in a band program yet, giving us the luxury of time to pursue a balanced approach to trumpet playing and music. Although he had the initial, common beginner’s impulses to play the trumpet with mouthpiece pressure, loose lips and a receded jaw, he soon discovered there was an easier way to produce more musical results. His progress continued to the point where he could play high C’s (above the staff) with a good, clear sound, and maintain that position in the low register as well. Whenever he experienced a lack of consistency, he knew how to reset his embouchure and get the air flowing again, showing a good base of both knowledge and awareness.
When Fred showed up with the new braces (on just the top teeth) we worked on bringing the lower jaw forward (just slightly ahead of the braces). He then made his “M” position and tested it by blowing air. So far so good, so next he lightly placed the mouthpiece on the embouchure and blew again. This step is critical, but Fred’s past experience served him well. In spite of the new braces, it seemed like business as usual for Fred…until he started to accelerate his air even more. Hearing a small boy get a mature trumpet sound on a G on top of the staff is one thing, but to hear the airspeed increase and the notes climb freely and crescendo through the instrument’s overtone series, with no constriction (or mouthpiece pressure…remember, he just got his braces) is something I never have witnessed in over thirty five years of teaching. Although Fred had earlier shown good progress with his air and embouchure development, reducing the mouthpiece pressure even more unleashed the potential of his solid trumpet playing mechanics! Bravo!
It should be noted that I watched Fred very carefully during his ventures into the upper register, making sure that he was not forcing the notes out or using any other techniques that would be detrimental or become the basis of a bad habit. He was able to play these impressive notes because he was thinking about and aligning the elements of good form, not because he was initially trying to play high. Of course there there is also the natural curiosity a young boy has (or anyone with a trumpet players’ DNA), for once he realized how well the technique was working he was eager to test it even more. There is a lot more to trumpet playing than high notes, but the images (both mental and physical) that are developed through playing in this register correctly are the same ones that are the basis to great sound quality, flexibility, endurance, etc. throughout the range of the horn.
Also worthy of mention: Brent, a recently graduated high school senior has had his own success story with braces earlier this year, but now has just had braces installed on his lower teeth. No problem, for he has a movable jaw and the knowledge of where to position it in relation to the top teeth (and their braces). Now that the lower braces were there, Brent did not need to have the lower jaw as far forward (like Fred did). After carefully setting his lower jaw (and aligning his lips properly), Brent’s sound and efficiency suddenly improved as well. With this system the mouthpiece weight favors the bottom slightly, but with those new braces there he was inspired to reduce the overall pressure even more. The smile on his face was proof of how well things were working!