The number one goal of all brass players is to produce a beautiful sound. I like to think of the sound as a living thing that resides within my body. Each day, particularly during the warm-up, I search for my sound and try to release it into the horn.
If you can picture the fluid motion of a violinist’s bow, that is what you are striving to achieve with your air. It should be smooth and directed, extending from the base of your lungs, flowing past your lips into the horn. Make sure the air passage is not obstructed; poor posture or a constricted throat will rob your sound of power and intensity. Hold your horn up and let the air flow freely through your throat. Control it with the tongue and the aperture between the lips, not by tensing the body or constricting the throat.
The amount of lip area that vibrates is very small, particularly on the higher brass (smaller) mouthpieces. Small changes in the embouchure have a dramatic effect on the sound. Become aware of how slightly changing the setting of the lips, or the position of the mouthpiece on the lips, affects the buzz. Each note requires tiny adjustments to produce the purest vibration.
Many players rob themselves of tone by using too much embouchure tension, effectively strangling the lip vibrations. You can hear this problem in beginning brass students. With their lips tightly squeezed together, the sound is usually pinched and lacking in resonance. By searching for the minimum embouchure compression for a given pitch and volume, you allow the lips to vibrate to their fullest—more sound for less effort.
Your horn is a simple length of pipe. When your lips vibrate precisely at one of the resonant frequencies of the pipe, the tone becomes robust, and the vibrations of the pipe actually feed and sustain the vibrations of the lips. This reaction might be described as playing in the center of the pitch, or finding the “sweet spot” where the transfer of energy is most efficient.
About the Author
Jazz trumpeter and author Chase Sanborn has performed with many top artists including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Diana Krall. His latest CD, “Perking Up,” features Chase in duo and trio settings. Chase is a member of the jazz faculty at the University of Toronto. His series of instructional books and DVDs (“Brass Tactics,” “Jazz Tactics” and “Tuning Tactics”) offers an insightful yet lighthearted, humorous look at the world of music. For more information, visit www.chasesanborn.com.