Improving your High Range
A strong high range can be a great confidence booster. A weak high range can be terribly frustrating. Younger players often obsess over high range.
Be patient. It takes time and diligence to correctly build a strong high range. A good high range is a combination of…
- Fast, focused air
- Oral cavity/embouchure.
Many brass players tense up too much for high notes. This is especially true in two areas: the throat and mouthpiece pressure.
A relaxed throat is an open throat and should produce no vocal sounds, especially during articulation.
Try this: Throat Check
Have a friend listen as you play. If vocal sounds can be heard, the throat is tensing up and cutting off the air to the lips.
Muscles need blood. Less pressure allows more blood to get to the lip muscles, increasing endurance and avoiding injury. Zero pressure in the high range may not be a practical goal. You need some pressure, but see if you can achieve the same results by using less. Remember this saying..
“Every day, a little less pressure.”
Try this: “The Wall Trick”
Stand near a wall. Gently place the back of your trombone (the tuning slide) against the wall and stand normally to play. The wall should resist your ability to push the mouthpiece against the embouchure. Play slow ascending lip slurs to get the feeling of going higher without pushing so hard. Now step away from the wall and play the same slur. How’s that mouthpiece pressure?
The Low Supports the High
Easy low notes should promote a relaxed air stream. Gentle low playing also loosens the muscles so they can vibrate more easily. Just as athletes stretch before an event, low notes help your high notes.
2. Fast Air
High notes require a faster jet of air under greater pressure.
Try this: “SSSSSS”
Loudly say “SSSSS.” Notice that you must generate pressure from your abdominal muscles to make this sound. This is similar to playing a high note. Warning: Don’t overdo it!!
Try this: “Birthday Candles”
Take a deep breath and blow focused air as if you are aiming that air through a hole in the wall to blow out a candle on the other side.
Try this: “The Straw Trick”
Get one of those tiny straws used to stir coffee. Blow fast air through it and notice the resistance. This is similar to the resistance of high notes. Your goal: flowing air without locking up.
Try this: “Up and In”
As you ascend, it might help to lift in just below the ribs and up at the sternum.
3. Oral Cavity and Embouchure
Slight changes within the mouth and in the lips can assist the high range.
Try this: “Tah-eee”
Most players benefit from slightly re-shaping the oral cavity as they ascend. Low notes are best played with an “ah” vowel (tongue down). Raising the tongue into an “ee” vowel may help with higher notes. You can find some interesting MRI videos of brass players online (Sarah Willis and Douglas Yeo, for example) that demonstrate this point.
Try this: “Aim the Air Down”
As the notes go higher, think of angling your air stream down. This is usually done by rolling the lower lip in a bit. Warning: this strategy won’t work for everyone. For example, some players have more of an underbite, pointing the air in a different direction.
Watch out for the “smiling embouchure.”
If the embouchure corners turn up when you ascend, this spreads the upper lip thin, leading to a weaker tone quality. Remember these tips about embouchure formation:
- The corners of the mouth should be held firm, remaining level or turning slightly downwards as if the player has a determined look. The corners should move very little (or not at all) as you ascend.
- Throughout your range the skin just below the lower lip and above the tip of the chin flatten out, becoming smoother. Some refer to this as “pointing” the chin. A dimpled, “peach pit” chin results from mashing the lips together vertically and should be avoided.
Don’t forget to rest!
After giving the embouchure a hard workout, give it a chance to rest. Muscles need time to recover and strengthen. If you push them constantly, you only break them down and may injure yourself.