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An attempt to explain the Physiology of breathing with respect to Modern Trumpet Performance

by Richard Carson Steuart and Dr. Med. Karl-Otto Steinmetz

 

 

A personal perspective and general introduction
(by Richard Carson Steuart)

Although just 58 years of age, I have been “teaching” trumpet performance at a College level for well over 44 years now, having been awarded my first “official” and professional position as Professor-Assistant and my own Teaching Studio at the University of Regina’s Department of Music (then Regina's "Conservatory of Music”) in my home country of Canada at the unheard of early age of 14 years.
At that time I thought I was a “pretty good” teacher, since I had no problem playing just about anything asked of me, whether in an Orchestral, Chamber- music, Rock, Show or even Big-Band context and this in both Concert and at any time for my students in their lessons.
However I know now despite my early successes, I am just now starting to have something truly informative and individually significant to say about how the instrument can be played more easily, efficiently and hopefully for those who now study with me, in a more enjoyably musical manner.

I had started studying relatively early (on my ninth birthday), under my father's strict guidance, and taking the trumpet very seriously, moved on after only 6 months to a professional teacher, Professor Dr. John Harding.
With Dr. Harding's AND my father's enormous "combined help" I was able to perform the Virtuoso Romantic Cornet Solos of Jean Baptist Arban and Herbert Lincoln Clarke in Concert as well as "live" on regional television and as a featured Soloist with Concert Band and with Piano Accompaniment and at the age of ten and one half years.
At 11 years of age I won the Canadian National Junior Solo-Brass competition (up to Age 16) performing the J. N. Hummel Concerto in Eb Major (on the Bb trumpet) and that same year did my first Solo-Tour as Pop / Jazz Soloist with professional Big- Band accompaniment, lead by Dr. Harding.

At 14 years I was a full member of the National Youth Orchestra, the 1st Trumpet of the <placetype w:st="on">University</placetype> of <placename w:st="on">Regina Brass Quintet</placename> as well as the Solo trumpet of the <place w:st="on"><placetype w:st="on">University</placetype> of <placename w:st="on">Saskatchewan</placename></place>'s Symphonic Wind Ensemble lead by Prof. Dr. John Steinegger. I had as well been a member of the Regina Symphony Orchestra (from age 12) and under the conductor Boris Brott became the orchestras Solo-Trumpeter at age 15.
Therefore, and I'm sure quite understandably for most people, I thought my self to be a "pretty big cheese" as a Classical Trumpeter in that small (then ca. 120 thousand person) Western Canadian town. And although I had no “real” pedagogical idea of how I "technically" played the trumpet, I was seen to be “the person to talk to” about how to learn to play the trumpet, and as a result many people of all ages began coming to me to study.

Interestingly enough, looking back over my early Study, Concert and Teaching duties in Canada and subsiquently in the U.S. (up to the summer of 1978) and over the past 33 years of teaching in both regional and national music institutions (Conservatories and Universities) here in Germany and throughout in Europe (parallel to 3 decades of international experience in the field of performance from the Renaissance over Baroque, Traditional Classical and the Romantic (on Period instruments) to Modern Classical, “New” Music and even Mainstream- Jazz, Pop, Rock and Feature Film Music, I believe I’m really only just now beginning to understand how the trumpet truly works and therefore how to teach it more effectively! 
This ripening process reminds me of the joke my father Kenneth Leslie Steuart liked to tell about the 18 year old man who, before leaving to study abroad claimed “his father knew nothing about the world and its ways” but at after returning from his studies reported to have been “astonished by how much his father had learned in the very few years of his absence!”

Unfortunately this seems to be a universal problem for Universities when seeking a good teacher, that is: finding one that attracts not only students but has a deeper understanding of the importance of true pedagogical techniques and most importantly the necessary professional performance and teaching experience to be able to impart these techniques to students in a structured and easily understandable form as opposed to being able to “wow” the student through superficial “pseudo virtuoso” performance and “high-note circus” stupidity.

This appears to be a problem not only for less experienced students when seeking a teacher but as well for larger music institutions in both North America and <place w:st="on">Europe</place> when “searching” for a truly good trumpet teacher for their respective Music Faculties. It never fails to amaze me how, especially in the field of teaching trumpet performance, it can be that so called “Professorships” can be given to persons who quite often have no real pedagogical abilities nor aptitude to do such work nor sadly but truly stated even the serious ambition to develop any! More over most have no understanding of the greater responsibilities such positions carry for their students and of course, their student's students.

Certainly giving a Professorship or “higher” teaching position to a successful performer sounds great on the surface. A teacher’s ability to play something or anything for that matter, better than his students or even colleagues is certainly a real asset when demonstrating technique and musical interpretation but this is still a far cry from having developed the necessary fundamental understanding, experience and very importantly, the compassion and human respect needed to help students to learn how to continue to develop playing abilities themselves. In short: teaching them how to teach themselves.Often times, the Teacher/Professor even tries to hold the Institution where he teaches and even his students down to his level, never inviting guest professors and asking only his former students to assist him instead of being open to a “breath of fresh air” through accepting a new and possibly quite differently schooled colleague(s) into his and of course his students musical scene.

I personally have often invited players (i.e. through the <place w:st="on"><placename w:st="on">European</placename> <placename w:st="on">Brass</placename> <placetype w:st="on">Academy</placetype></place>) and/or sent many of my students to other teachers in other institutions so that they can receive a broader understanding of their future work and other approaches to it. Still, the general “human problems” that compel teachers to forbid their students from taking lessons from other teachers and / or performers often have to do with “simple human weaknesses and fears” of the teachers themselves and nothing to do with the pedagogical abilities or musical inspirations of other colleagues.
Simple logic has always proven the easiest way to for me to help a student understand where his or her problems lay, so that he or she can face them honestly and then correct the problems him or herself, through understanding, thought and then serious practise, for in the end I believe “practising is truly the act of teaching oneself “.

This, in my mind is the only real way to “teach”, if you can call it that at all and the self-confidence derived from the positive experience of having an active role in “figuring it out oneself” is a major factor in this process.
The teachers conscious help in developing the self- confidence of the student through logical discussion and comparisons in both musical and technical questions is very important. I believe this is truly the best way for the student to learn to think and hear for him or herself what is “right” and so in turn become free to find his or her own “personality” in the music performed and not, as is so often used by less inventive teachers as a pedagogical technique, have the student try to simply copy the teachers style or technique note for note nuance for nuance. “Please don’t try to copy me and how I play the trumpet”, I say to my students, “one is quite enough of me in this world.”

Discussing problems in range, attack and tonal quality in an attempt to dispel long entrenched (“less effective”) playing habits are of course important in teaching but identifying and correcting (often very early formed) misconceptions as to general emboucher development, tone-production and how one actually breathes before one plays the trumpet can often initiate the most effective and long term improvements for both players and teachers alike. A re-thinking of one’s whole approach to one's technique can often help to revitalize a tired and mechanical playing and/or teaching routine and renew an awareness of the responsibility an experienced teacher takes on with regards to his or her students and there performing and teaching futures.

So to explain my personal perspective further, despite my seemingly “rocket start” as a trumpeter and my early successes as a teacher, my career has not always been so easy as many think and certainly not as I would have liked it to have been. In fact I have more than once had to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” with regards to my own playing technique, only to come out the other side a more knowledgeable and sensitive teacher for my students and develop a better and more compassionate attitude towards my colleagues problems , as well progress technically and eventually musically to a much better trumpeter myself.

Among other real “tests” of my mental and physical endurance, a self diagnosed and very determined embouchure change and corresponding (almost) 3 year long dental correction that I went through at the age of 28 (from January 1983 to early December 1986) really forced me to rethink my whole concept of trumpet playing. This experience taught me not only a great deal about how to play the trumpet (all over again) but as well gave me a deeper compassion and insight into a variety of problems many of my previous students have had that I until then did not fully understand nor have a deep compassion for. In truth they became the biggest winners as a s result of the revamping of my playing because I really had to think through every aspect of how I played the trumpet to make these changes and was there after able to explain how and why I made this “change” at all, to them.
For many of my students and several of my colleagues as well, (including those in the so called German Brass ensemble), it was not clear why I would attempt such a dramatic change, since I had previously played at a level that had permitted me to be a founding member of such internationally acclaimed chamber ensembles as Munich Brass (and this parallel to my participation as the leading trumpeter in German Brass from 1979 t0 1985/6) and at the same time hold down top first chair Solo Trumpet positions such the German Opera in Düsseldorf (1978/9) and the world famous Bamberg Symphony Orchestra(1979/84).
And since I had already won several of top international Radio and Television Solo Competitions in both North America and <place w:st="on">Europe</place> (i.e. the CBC, ARD and the Swiss Radio and TV International competitions) my change seemed for them to be completely unnecessary and in any case to carry with it huge risks for my future performing career.
The space needed in this article to answer to the many questions and various comments as to why I made this choice with a complete explanation and description of the whole process about what happen during and after this change would be to large to illiterate in depth at this time, more than to comment that after beginning to have my several of my front teeth “stripped” on the sides and moved to more opitimal postions and then change to a mouthpiece with an unheard of 18 1/2 mm cup-diameter (for our “feet and inches friends” in the States this is bigger than a Vincent Bach "minus 2" or Renold Schilke Nr.27,... if either company ever decided to make mouthpieces this big for the trumpet), and this for everything including the piccolo trumpet , ...a new understanding of the importance of proper emboucher development and most importantly of all efficient breathing techniques became the main focus of my attention.

Happily I can report that my playing AND teaching ability improved very rapidly because of this (after only three months I was able to perform in Concert both the entire First trumpet and the Solo Horn Solo parts of the J. S. Bach B-Minor Mass without problems) and has continued to improve to this day with my range and endurance never having been better as it is now! It was in short, a very trying and revealing process, but I certainly can now say, when all is said and done, I’m very glad I took the risk!

In the past 6 years I have as well experienced the challenge of a serious case of untreated acute and then chronic asthma which began to gnaw at the substance of my physical health and no less on the foundations of my trumpet performance. Mostly because I didn’t understand it and simply tried to ignore it, my lung condition got worse and worse. Long and repeated bouts of acute bronchitis added to the problem considerably but never caused me to cancel a single performance. Fortunately I finally got medical help in time and now I have it (knock on wood!) completely under control. This too helped me once again to become even more aware of the paramount importance of optimal breathing techniques with regards to proper trumpet performance.

These two experiences were my main motivation to co-write this article together with my “Lung Doctor” and friend, Dr. Med. Karl-Otto Steinmetz (or Doc Karl as I have affectionately grown to call him). It was our aim to help better understand both how we breath and then this with regards to trumpet playing and to pass this information along to colleagues and their students where ever they may be.

Dr. Steinmetz and I actually met when his nephew ( a young graphic artist who worked on one of my earliest Solo LP covers (yes before CDs!) gave his Uncle Otto ( a hobby trumpeter of quite considerable talent and musical achievement ) two trumpet lessons with me as a “birthday present”.

Since that very first meeting Doc Karl and I have become really good friends even playing various concerts together for various community and charity projects and this with both his own ten-man Brass-ensemble Senior-Brass as well as my own Trumpet-ensemble Gabriel’s Trumpets as well as teaching each other in our respective fields of interest and competence, namely lungs and trumpets.

We had had so many interesting discussions over the years regarding the relationship between trumpet performance and the physiology of breathing that we came to believe that our combined thoughts would be of interest and benefit to a broader trumpet playing public. Most of the ideas pertaining to the trumpet that are presented here are my own but certainly not all but nearly all of the medical and scientific knowledge, data and terminology regarding the lungs comes from Dr. Steinmetz who is not only an M.D. But and an internationally sought after Lecturer in his field as a Lung Specialist but also has a Masters Degree in Physics , and has recently become a Guest-lecturer/researcher at the Darmstadt University (near Frankfurt) on the still little understood phenomena of sleep.

Let me now turn our attention to the Theme of our Article and address my thoughts very briefly to what I regard as a few of the most commonly associated misunderstandings with regard to producing a tone on the trumpet.

Firstly, the whole idea of “blowing the trumpet” is a quite misleading concept in itself (even though some colleagues have even entitled their whole Method Books after this false idea) and has in my teaching and playing experience often proven to be the greatest hindrance for trumpeters when attempting to perform on the instrument with ease, grace and endurance.

Air flow is certainly necessary to bring the “skin on the lip”(s) to vibrate when producing a tone but from the perspective of the Science of Physics the movement of air through the trumpet causes only noise and phase-distortion in the sound. Certainly air resistance is necessary and the trumpet provides this in part, but the air is in truth, only an exhaust gas after it passes through the lips having brought the skin to vibrate in a “buzzing” sound (as we like to call it). To understand that it is the skin on the lips that vibrates and not the lips themselves is a very important point in itself. Since with a normal embouchure (that is, without rolling the lips in or pressing them together, a technique which invariably produces a “false embouchure” that is, one that cannot vibrate fully and therefore produces a resulting forced or pinched tone), the skin on the lips can simply not be tighten by the face muscles beyond a certain relatively low level of tension without pressure from the mouthpiece. To ascend beyond the lower frequencies (usually not higher than 440 Herz) a controlled pressure from the mouthpiece and an equal and opposite (counteractive) pressure produced by the air is necessary to increase the skin tension and therefore produce higher frequencies. Without an increased pressure from the lungs the force of the mouthpiece virtually strangles the lips and they receive no blood nourishment causing the cells of the vibrating area to die very rapidly. Without an equal “counteractive” pressure to the mouthpiece we loose as well the necessary control over the nerve cells needed for the conscious formation of the aperture through which the air flows. It therefore becomes almost impossible to perform in the high register without a strained and force sound and, any warmth and fullness of tone disappears. It is this important balance of pressure or equilibrium that will be discussed more fully later.

The instrument itself is as well often misrepresented as an amplifier of sound. In fact it is a simple resonator. Since no supplementary energy is added by the instrument after the sound waves, as vibrating air molecules begin there concurrent energy transfer from the mouthpiece through the trumpet into the surrounding air, we cannot consider the sound to have been amplified by the trumpet at all. In fact the opposite can be said to have taken place, since through the resistance of the air a portion of the initial energy of the “buzzing lips” has actually been lost through friction and heat transfer before the sound ever leaves the bell of the instrument. An optimal resonance is once again a question of equilibrium, absolute mandatory when making the trumpet “ring like a bell”.

These examples are just two of many misunderstood aspects of the simple Physics involved with trumpet playing.

The limitations of the length of this article do not allow us to address all of the many misconceptions with regards to tone production during trumpet performance so we, that is my friend Dr. Karl –Otto Steinmetz and myself will therefore satisfy ourselves with an attempt to concentrate on explaining and if possible clarifying the very most important aspect of trumpet performance: that is, breathing.

We will begin with a description of the lung itself.

The Anatomy of the Lung

The Lung is the organ of the human body with a largest contact surface to the outside world: on average between 100 to120 square meters (m²). It is mainly responsible for the transport of oxygen from the atmosphere into our bodies without which we would not be able to live. Unfortunately, with each inhalation other less healthy substances are also transported into the lung- a common example thereof is the inhalation of smoke (most commonly cigarette smoke).

The lung represents a highly complicated system which must function as one unit together with the mouth, nose, throat, larynx and windpipe and thorax to provide our body with this supply of oxygen.

Because the lung (and/or its function) is absolutely necessary for human life, it is protected in a relatively strong structure in the body, the chest cavity. This structure is composed of bone elements: the ribs, the vertebrae in our backs and in front the breast bone, together with a well developed muscle structure, connecting tissue (for example, cartilage) and to separate the abdominal cavity from the lungs and heart the partly involuntary and partly voluntary muscle/membrane known as the diaphragm.
The bones of the Thorax (or “chest cavity”) ars ten ribs on each side of the  breast bone. These ribs are connected with flexible cartilage material to the breast bone in the front and through small hinge-like structures to the vertebrae in the back. This flexible structure allows a certain elasticity in the Thorax which in turn enables the lungs to adapt or change it’s volume relative to it’s needs (within specific limits) (see fig.4). Together with the encompassing muscle structure and the skin tissue this life essential organ is optimally protected, from a biologically perspective that is. The further transport of the air inside the lung takes place through a highly complex “pipe-system” (similar to that involved in a heating system in an building structure). From the windpipe (the Trachea) to the “lung-bubbles” (the Alveoli) the bronchiole-groups divide in turn into continuingly smaller pairs of bronchi. Every new division is called a “Generation”, so that we must go through 23 Bronchiole-generations before we reach the stage of the Alveoli. Since this system when viewed as an isolated structure, strongly resembles a tree “laying on its side” as it were, one refers to it as the “bronchial-tree".Continuing out towards to the chest wall the lung is separated from the ribs etc. and covered with a very fine skin–like membrane called the Pleura which like an envelope extends over the top end of the lung and continues over the inside of the chest wall to the diaphragm. Through this structure an “airtight” cavity between the lung and the chest wall is created which as will be later discussed, allows a state of negative air-pressure or vacuum to exist. This vacuum area is absolutely necessary for the normal breathing function of the lung and is called the Pleural-cavity.

The human lung itself is regarded to be divided in two completely independently functioning organs. They work autonomously from each other and are as well separate in there relationship to the “Mediastinum” ( a medical term referring to the areas between the lungs which includes the wind-pipe, the oesophagus, large blood vessels and other structures in this immediate vicinity as well as the lower part of the heart). Because of the position of heart which lays normally more to the left side of the chest, the right lung is larger than the left lung. We find therefore on the right side 3 lung “lobes” with a total of 10 segments while on the left side we find 9 segments combined into only 2 lobes.

This concludes our basic description of the Anatomy of the Lung. We believe however that certain knowledge of the anatomical structure of the lung is necessary to understand it’s function especially in the light of an improved knowledge of it’s optimal application with regards to trumpet performance.

 

The Physiology of Breathing

 Physiology itself determines the function of the lung, that this, as has been explained in the description of the anatomical structure of the lung in the preceding paragraphs, it defines the dynamic movement of the chest which is necessary for a smooth “in and out” movement of the breath. As complex as the anatomical structure of the thorax, lungs and bronchi may appear, the functional working dynamics of the breathing process is very much more complicated.

It is therefore necessary to simplify the explanation of this process and to concentrate on the most important aspects of it’s functional dynamics in an attempt to make it readily understandable for a broader reading public.

a) “Volumina” and Air-flow
The amount of air, that a human being can breath in (and of course in turn, breath out) is determined by a number of factors. Some of the most important of these there are: size, weight and sex but to a very definite degree the individuals age has an influence on his or her air capacity . At approximately 25 years of age the human body reaches the peak of its functional proficiency with regards to air capacity, after which its “intake volume” slowly but steadily decreases. This process is not withstanding any illnesses of the lungs or bronchial system that might contribute to an acceleration of this natural process. It is possible however , to slow down this natural loss of lung capacity by Aerobic training i.e. ( jogging, swimming, cross-country skiing, bicycle-riding etc.)

For a clearer understanding of the terminology involved, the three most
relevant “Volumina” terms are explained as follows:

Total-capacity: The entire amount of air in the Thoraxal cavity by maximum inhalation.

Vital-capacity: The maximum amount of air that is possible to inhale and exhale
Residual-capacity: The amount of air that is present at all times in the lungs


"Air-Flow"


Besides the Volumina, or amount of air, that we can bring into the lungs through deep breathing, the “air- flow”, is a very important factor, especially with regards to optimal breathing when performing on the trumpet.

By “air-flow” we are making reference to the amount of air per second of time that we are breathing in and out. It must therefore be clear to every trumpeter what a great importance the control of this “measurable” amount of air must have on the quality of tone and ease of production and/or the development of range, endurance, and flexibility not to forget the more “musical” elements of trumpet performance such as dynamics, intonation and phrasing. The strength of air flow is directly dependant upon how deep we have initially breathed in. This diagram shows very clearly that the power of exhalation (left side, top part) increases in a direct relationship to the amount of air present in the lung.

Interestingly enough this “power of exhalation” after a definite point of exhalation no longer contingent on the strength used to blow this air out. We will explain this relationship in a later discussion pertaining to positive and negative pressure in the lung and in the “pleural” cavity.
Further important factors that influence the effectness of breathing are „Flow-resistance“ and „Flow - characteristic“. Let us firstly turn our attention to „Flow-resistance“. When a gas is moved ( and the air we breath is exactly that, a gas) it behaves essentially as if it were a solid material ( i. e. an automobile) and requires energy to bring it in motion. The amount of energy necessary to move this air in dependant on a number of factors that are clearly definable through the science of Physics.

In the case of air-flow, the Hagen-Poiseuille Law applies (comparable in principal to Ohm’s Law of electrical flow). This law is presented in form of an equation Fig.10. It is not necessary to understand all aspects of this Law. Important for our discussion is however that the degree of resistance (perhaps more easily understandable as the “weight of the air” we are to breath out), is strongly influenced by the size of the opening through which the air must flow. This is what the “r” (for radius) in the equation stands for.

Practically speaking this means that with a reduction of one half of the diameter of the opening through which the air must flow the resistance is increased 16 times. To be sure that no misunderstanding is created here: It is not a question of opening the mouth as much as possible ( which is in any event with the trumpet on the lips when performing only minimally possible) but most influential is the smallest opening in the breathing apparatus “chain” usually the glottis, when discussing optimal airflow. Therefore, only by the maximal opening of the glottis is a maximum of airflow possible to the lips and in turn a maximum of modulation in tone production possible. The second most important factor is the characteristic of the air flow. A flow of gas is said to be either “laminar” or “turbulent” in character. In the first case, a smooth and even flow of air is produced allowing a maximum on tone-modulation and resulting resonance in the trumpet. Here again, it is not necessary to completely understand the Hagen-Poiseuille-Law. It is important however to understand the consequences thereof: If the air-speed exceeds certain levels, a turbulence is created (producing many “eddies” of air like those at the “rapids” in a river) and as a result a smooth and steady flow of air to the lips is no longer possible. It should be pointed out as well that at the point of departure from laminar to turbulent air-flow a sudden increase in the flow-resistance is experienced with the expected negative influence on the control of the tone production (and resonance).

b) Inhalation, Exhalation and Changes in Air-Pressure

Lets turn our attention to the process of inhalation, exhalation and the resulting pressure changes in the bronchi, lungs and pleural cavity. Inspiration and expiration are the result of differences in the air-pressure between the lung and the outside world, that is the Atmospheric pressure. When a negative pressure or vacuum is created in the thorax, air flows into the lungs. Inversely, when a excess pressure exist in the lung the air flows out into the atmosphere. Normally this is an unconscious activity, that is, we need not think to breath. Through the so called “breathing-centre” in the brain certain muscles, especially in the diaphragm, are told to contract and relax in a regular rhythm to supply our organism with sufficient oxygen to live. As opposed to for example the heart muscle, we can as well consciously control the contraction and relaxation of the diaphragm. We can therefore, make reference to and differentiate between conscious and unconscious muscle control with regards to the diaphragm.

While the unconscious part of the breathing process supplies our bodies with the oxygen to live without even thinking for example during sleep, the conscious portion of this capability can be brought to bare when we attempt to optimise our breathing (i.e. when diving without an aqualung or when performing on the trumpet). For this reason we will discuss the stages of inspiration, “holding” of the breath and expiration in more detail.

First the act of inhaling:  Through the combined contraction of the breathing muscles between the ribs and especially the diaphragm (more specifically the sinking of the diaphragm / membrane in the direction of the stomach cavity) a negative pressure or vacuum is produced, first in the pleural- cavity and almost simultaneously in the bronchi and lungs, which causes air to flow into the lungs. Dependant upon the nature of the breath, that is if its conscious or spontaneous , the air moves slowly or more quickly. The possible speed of the inhalation is largely dependant on the extent of muscular development and can be developed through conscious breathing techniques.

When we “hold” our breath, a state of equilibrium of pressure exists between the air in the bronchi and alveoli and the outside air. This state of equilibrium can either be maintained through tightly closing the mouth and nose or by not allowing the chest to return to its relaxed state through consciously contracting and holding the breathing muscles and diaphragm with an open mouth and glottis. One can therefore speak of a storing of energy in the muscle and elastic structures of the thorax which can then be set free by relaxing the muscles thus releasing the air to flow back out of the lung. 
Through the relaxation of the breathing muscles and diaphragm a positive pressure is exerted upon the alveoli (relative to the outside air pressure) causing the air to flow out of the lungs. This process takes place only until an equilibrium is again restored between the inside (thoraxial) and outside (atmospheric) air pressure at which time the breathing-cycle begins anew.

Making direct reference to our previous comments, we wish to make clear that the most important point to understand in the breathing-cycle with regards to trumpet performance is that only in the beginning stage of the act of exhalation, can we refer to a consciously controllable act.

The pressure created in the pleural-cavity can not exceed a certain level during exhalation without having a detrimental effect on the air-flow. In fact when one forces the expiration process to the maximum, the bronchi actually collapse causing the air-flow to stop completely.

The highest possible air-flow (just before the bronchi collapse) is to a great degree dependant on how full the lung were/are at the beginning of the expiration. Because of this it should be understood that despite all of our physical training and muscular efforts after a certain point of expiration it is not possible to continue a consciously controlled exhalation of air from the lungs.

 Exhalation is therefore to greater degree a passive process. Regardless of our attempts to press more air out of the lungs, after a certain point of diminished air-volume it is physically impossible to further control this process.
To conclude our discussion with regards to the physiology of breathing we should like to draw again the readers attention to Fig.9. with which we can best compare and understand the relationship between air-volume and air-compression.
Here we can clearly see that with a maximum of air-volume (inhaled) we have the greatest possibility for a controlled flow of air, which in turn is mandatory for us to have the greatest ease of tone production and modulation needed for our specific musical purposes.
To make this somewhat theoretical explanation more easily understandable to a broader reading public and at the same time directly applicable for those interested in improving their performance on the trumpet we wish to purpose a few simple rules regarding breathing during trumpet performance.

When we have taken a full breath of air (the lungs now have a vital-capacity of 100%) we have the greatest possibility of creating the necessary compression to produce a steady flow of air allowing a consistent vibration of the skin on the lips and the resulting resonance within the trumpet. Through an added contraction of the breathing and diaphragm muscles we have as well the possibility of a ease of tone production in difficult technical passages, loud and soft dynamic and in the highest and lowest registers. It should be noted that maintaining an equilibrium between the pressure of air brought to the vibrational area of the lips (embouchure) and the external pressure exerted by the mouthpiece (absolutely necessary to produce tones especially in the high register by tightening the vibrational area of the skin of the lip(s)) is the key to optimal trumpet performance: that is maximal -tonal quality/fullness, -endurance, -flexibility and -range. Think of <city w:st="on"><place w:st="on">Newton</place></city>’s Law: actio = reactio

This premise is so important we wish to repeat it: The key word here is “equilibrium” (or balance) between the necessary external pressure exerted on the lips from the mouthpiece and the internal force of air from the lungs with which to counteract this pressure and so maintain blood flow in the muscles of the lips and face.
With the reduction of air volume in the lung (reduced vital- capacity) through exhalation, an optimal compression becomes progressively more difficult to maintain and requires a corresponding increase in muscular exertion from the breathing apparatus.
Below 75% vital capacity the airflow can still be consciously controlled but becomes even more difficult to maintain. Correspondingly the pressure that must be applied to the lips from the mouthpiece especially to perform in the high register increases dramatically with diminishing air capacity, resulting in loss in endurance, flexibility and tonal quality. We can therefore consider an air-capacity of from 75% to 50% acceptable for trumpet performance but only within definite limits of range and dynamics.Under 50% of the vital-capacity however, our ability to create compression (and correspondingly a useably sufficient air-flow) in the chest cavity is greatly reduced, regardless of how strong or well trained our breathing muscles my be. Generally speaking, from this point on, exhalation is to a greater degree a passive process which despite all our efforts to maintain an air- movement is not possible to further control.
Therefore we purpose a very simple rule of thumb for trumpeters who wish to improve their breathing and that is “always attempt to perform with as full an air-capacity as possible”. Of course since this is practically impossible we suggest a “traffic-light” scheme to more easily apply this information to trumpet performance.

 100%-75% Vital-Capacity.........Green light = optimal performance possibilities

75%-50% Vital-Capacity...........Yellow light = acceptable performance possibilities (within a decreased range of dynamics, limited technical passages and moderate high- range)

Less than 50%. Vital Capacity....Red light = danger zone for the lips (through an inability maintain an equilibrium / opposite and equal pressure, to counteract the mouthpiece pressure).



Conclusion:
With this article we hope to have dispelled a least a few of the often detrimental and very common misconceptions that exist pertaining to the function of the breathing apparatus and the resulting negative effects on advanced trumpet performance.
Although we consider our work here only to have “scratched the surface” of this somewhat complicated subject we hope our suggestions will help the readers to improve his or her playing through better understanding the breathing aspects of trumpet playing.

The authors welcome any and all discussion and / or comments, since we firmly believe that only through an earnest exchange of thoughts in an open dialogue can an ever deepening under-standing of the physiology of trumpet playing be carried on to the benefit of all serious students and developing professionals

 

 

 

 

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