Classical Trumpet Performance, Teaching

​John Freeman

The Bagpipe Analogy

I was watching a bagpiper play the other day at a wedding, and a lightbulb went off in my brain.  When a bagpiper plays, he is constantly blowing air down into a sac, and then uses his left arm to push down on the sac in order to pressurize it, sending the stored air up and out through the necessary pipes. 

When we play trumpet, we do the same thing just in reverse.  Instead of blowing air into the bladder, we inhale air into our lungs.  Then we just use our lower abdominal muscles in conjunction with the diaphragm to push inward and up on the filled air sack (lungs) which pressurizes the air,  sending it up and out through our mouth.  

The difficult thing is being able to feel how this muscle works, and not just to tighten up all of our abdominal muscles, which can actually constrict the process.

I first noticed how this works when working on my Attack exercises.  I could relax my stomach in between notes, (like when you stick it out to look extra fat, my yoga teacher called this "buddha belly") and then, when I went to play a medium high note, it would come inward. I could feel that abdominal wall coming in to support (pressurize) my air sac (lungs).  I learned that higher and louder notes on the trumpet need more air support, and I could actively use that muscle to push against my lungs to help the air come out fast.  I think there’s probably a mathematical pressurization necessary for each pitch, although the tongue also learns how to coordinate this pressure from below with the channeling it can provide to further fine tune the support for each pitch/volume.  Of course, we don’t need to know any of this in order to play, just helps to be aware of what the body is doing naturally.

Paying attention to this when playing the trumpet takes a lot of strain OFF of the lips.

I realized that the lips are just the reed of the whole machine, not where the power or even accuracy comes from.  Your pressurized air sac (along with tongue/oral shape) creates the necessary airspeed, and your lips are just in the middle vibrating.  (like in the bagpipe)

 Just before you blow out, your diaphragm rises up and inwards to push on the lungs.  

So when we inhale, we should be thinking about the lungs expanding DOWN.  Then when blowing out fast (playing the trumpet), we have to pull it UP and IN.  

As you are holding out a long tone, you can feel your air sac slowly emptying.  As it empties, your lungs collapse upward, and inwards.  You can assist this motion and speed up the process.

To feel your diaphragm working hard, breath in 80%, and then as fast as you can, blow all the air out while keeping your neck, mouth, lips, etc completely relaxed.  You can easily feel that muscle down there.  That’s where your power comes from on the trumpet.