High Range

The following two questions basically ask the same thing. So I will use one posting to answer both.

Q:

Hello Mr. Sprott,

Can you discuss how to strengthen the upper range, especially up to the Berlioz "Symphonie Fantastique" range? I find I can hit it, but there is no power, no volume.

Hi Weston,
I am a Spanish trombonist. I want ask you some advice about embouchure and high range. I read all yours web tips, but I have doubts about embouchure formation and the embouchure in the high range. Can you please help me with these problems?

I love your website and I wish that other famous trombonists would work like you to help young musicians that unfortunately do not have the possibility to study with great trombone teachers. Thank you so much.

A:

Hello,
First of all, thanks for writing in and asking a question. I think your questions are ones that most trombone players are curious about. Hopefully some of the following thoughts will be helpful.

Before concerning yourself with strengthening the embouchure for the upper register, first make sure that you know what the correct embouchure looks like. In my opinion, a properly formed embouchure is one where the lips lay absolutely flat on top of one another. Neither lip should roll under the other. One common thing I see amongst players is a tendency to roll the bottom lip slightly under the top when going into the upper register. This produces two negative results. First, due to the fact that the bottom lip is disappearing behind the top lip, the vibrating surface gets smaller, producing a thinner sound. Secondly, rolling the bottom lip under usually causes the aperture to be more closed and less present, making it more difficult for the air to get past the lips. In rare instances I have seen people who can roll the bottom lip under while still keeping a very open aperture, but at the present, I’m convinced that this is not the norm. If you have thinner lips and a very large cup depth to accommodate the space this technique requires, be my guest, but I don’t recommend it. This is very easy to visualize by forming the appropriate embouchure without the mouthpiece/instrument and looking in the mirror.

Practice scales and arpeggios very slowly in front of a mirror. Play close attention to the ratio of top lip to bottom lip and try your best to make sure that both remain visibly present throughout the entire range of the instrument. Another thing to think about is air direction. Aim to blow in a straight line throughout the entire range. If you notice that you are blowing downward, that means that you are rolling the bottom lip under the top. Although the size of the aperture will change depending on the register, the overall circular open shape should remain.

In addition to this basic structure, make sure that your corners remain firm and stable. It has been said before that a good corner structure is one where the smile and pucker muscles are in a battle, but neither one wins. I think this is a good way to think of it. Make sure to not pull your corners back too far, creating a smiling embouchure. This thins out the lips and lessens the amount of vibrating surface in the mouthpiece. The strongest players I have observed have very little movement occurring outside of the rim of the mouthpiece. Aim to make sure that all the adjustments happen inside the rim of the mouthpiece and that the corners generally remain in the same place.

A good exercise for building this type of strength is to play an F above the bass clef staff in first position. Then, match this pitch in sixth position and slowly glissando up to the high Bb in first position. The key to this exercise is to try and keep your corners in the same place for the high Bb as they were for the F below. Also, make sure that you continue to blow across a straight line and keep the aperture as open as possible as mentioned previously. I prefer to play this exercise at a very full dynamic and re-articulate the top note a few times. For a greater challenge, start on a G and glissando up to a high C, or up to high D or high F, etc. After a few weeks of doing this exercise every second day for five minutes or so, I think you will notice an increase of strength and stability in your corners in the high range and high dynamic.

Another exercise is to simply play very slow scales starting in the middle register where, for most people, the corner structure is well shaped. As you ascend, simply attempt to keep your corners in the same place. I find this to be much more effective than constantly telling yourself “don’t smile”. In general, positive mental cues are more effective than negative ones.

One last thing to think about when working on the upper register is to not to overwork your embouchure. Remember that building a solid upper register takes time just like building any other skill. Avoid excessive amounts of time spent in this range. On the contrary, take a consistent and methodical approach to building the appropriate musculature that allows you to continuously get stronger without injuring your chops. If, for example, you were to have four forty-five minute practice sessions in one day, I would suggest working intensively on your high range for the first ten to fifteen minutes of the second session. You want to do this work after you are warmed up and flexible, but also not so late into the practice day that are you tired an unable to get a good idea of your progress and are likely to injure yourself. If you wanted to max out on the bench press at the gym, you wouldn’t do your entire workout first and save the heavy lifting for last. That would be a poor indicator of your actual strength and would leave you prone to injury. Likewise, don’t worry about blasting out fortissimo high F’s after you’ve already practiced 4 hours. Bad idea!

I hope some of these ideas are helpful. Best of luck with the practicing, and feel free to ask more questions!

Weston Sprott

4 comments

  • Brian

    Brian Somerset nj

    Really great straight foward ideas. Thank you

    Really great straight foward ideas. Thank you

  • naseem ameen

    naseem ameen

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  • Josh A.

    Josh A. Florida

    I really appreciate the point about the embochure in the high range where you said "it has been said before a good corner structure is one where the smile and pucker muscles are in a battle, but neither one wins." I have heard this concept before but this explanation really resonated with me in a way that made it click in my mind. Thank you for this great information!

    I really appreciate the point about the embochure in the high range where you said "it has been said before a good corner structure is one where the smile and pucker muscles are in a battle, but neither one wins." I have heard this concept before but this explanation really resonated with me in a way that made it click in my mind.
    Thank you for this great information!

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous

    Thanks, Weston. What do you think of using a medium bore trombone in these circumstances (eg .508) or is that cheating?! Thanks. Peter

    Thanks, Weston.
    What do you think of using a medium bore trombone in these circumstances (eg .508) or is that cheating?!
    Thanks.
    Peter

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