Correct Use Of Air

Learning to compress air inside your body is a subject that is discussed by many of the world’s greatest high-note players and teachers. Among these elite it is common knowledge, but to the majority of players breathing is a hugely misunderstood topic. Many teachers in the world today encourage players to use vast amounts of air and dedicate much of their practise routine to attempting to increase the capacity of their lungs. The truth is that increasing the amount of air you can fit inside your body does not make any difference to how much power you can generate with the air.

Thankfully with the advent of tools such as YouTube, the dissemination of good information is much greater than it was in the past. Previous members of the Maynard Ferguson Band such as Lynn Nicholson make videos explaining how they can perform very physically demanding music for long shows without doing themselves physical harm and this information is freely available to anyone with a fast enough internet connection.

The basic mechanics of correct breathing and pushing out the air is simple. Breathe in slowly and deeply, but do not over-fill your lungs. When you exhale, pull your belly button up and inwards. This makes the space that the air is in smaller, and thrusts it out of the body. There is no need to focus on any particular muscle set that you cannot wilfully control – please just make sure that you move it all in the right direction.

Once correct breathing has been established we should talk about the embouchure. The page titled Lips Moving Correctly describes how the job of the embouchure is to act as a valve that controls the release of air. Without the embouchure resisting the air you will have nothing but a violent release of your lung contents. This is something that you can prove to yourself:

Squeezing a plastic bottle from the bottom with the cap off will not expel the contents of that bottle with any force. That is because there is nothing to resist the flow and no compression is created. In order for us to generate compression there needs to be a small aperture that resists the flow of air. In other words, in order to make compression you need something to hold the air in. Drilling a small hole in the cap of the bottle and screwing it back on will give you different experience as now the air has to squeeze through the small hole. Notice how much harder you can squeeze the bottle. Similarly, when your embouchure can correctly resist the flow of air you are able to use more body strength to compel the air into sound production. In order to blow hard you need something to blow against!

Under normal circumstances the only thing that resists the flow of air is the throat of the mouthpiece and the lips. This is why players need to build up strength to have any stamina or ability in the high tessitura of the instrument. However this is the point where the TCE is different. Players who play with their tongue anchored through their teeth resist the flow of air and generate compression with their tongue. A small aperture is formed between the top of the tongue and the cutting edge of the top teeth. The tongue is a much stronger muscle than the lips, and this is why the TCE is so effective. It also means that with practise players who use the TCE will only need around 1/3 of the air that most use to play a phrase. Now they can focus of playing music rather than mere survival.