June 2011: Breathing animation for horn players

I asked our webdesigner Erik Bongue to make an animation to demonstrate the effect of a strong nose breath to stimulate the soft palate. Click the link above to watch the result. Don't forget to turn on your speakers if you want to hear the breath. Also note the spoiler shape of the tongue and its forward position against the teeth.

Please note that during normal playing one should breath both through the nose and the mouth. The strong nose breath is for stimulation and awareness of the behaviour of the soft palate. Putting the tongue to the front during inhalation is the best tip I had in years! Thanks Erik, wonderful job.

May 2011: Again Lichtenberg

A colleague from the Utrecht Conservatory had a therapist from the Lichtenberg institution (see previous Blog) invitedand scheduled mein for an hour with this friendly lady Ruth Weimar. She not only works with the Lichtenberg method, but she is also a physiotherapist. After having played a little on my horn she invited me to lie down on a stretcher. It was the first time in 47 years that this happened in a trumpet lesson!

With endless patience she worked with me on a lower breath. An eye opener fo me was the insight that the pump of our breath system is needed for the horn, but in the end the real breathing process is meant for a chemical process where oxygen is used in our cells in order to generate energy. Ruth told me that this energy can actually be perceived. It reminded me of prana which I knew from the yoga classes I took many years ago.

The session on the stretcher took at least half an hour, in which I could sense the breath energy in my pelvic floor. This was not easy at all. I had to stop breathing in a rational way. Instead I had to wait till my body told me that it needed new energy in its cells.

Then I picked up my horn and started playinga couple of notes. It sounded amazing, because my tone had a beautiful silver edge which I rarely had heard before. After having practiced intensely for a couple of days I managed to maintain this beautiful color, and my high regester sounded also more open, more brilliant and more relaxed.

One of my conslusions is that the optimal shape of soft palate and tongue cannot be reinforced by motorical actions only. The right coordination between the two is subject to many more subtle influences. Ruth told me that the tongue has five nerves to the brain, and only one of them is used for mechanical actions. Who ever experienced French kissing will recognize this immediately...

In short: there is enough input to experiment, with myself and with students. Unfortunately there is no room for a stretcher in my study room, but who knows what the future brings!

March 2011: The Lichtenberg method

In march  the leader of the Lichtenberger Institute, mr. Martin Landzettel, visited the Utrecht Conservatory. This institute for 'applied physiology of the voice' consist of a group of musicians, scientists, pfysiologists and more, who measure almost anything that is measurable on the music making human being. And they go far! They put cameras through the nose of trumpeters to see what happens with the vocal cords during playing, they put small currents on violin strings to investigate electric changes, etcetera.

I summarize it like this: there is in fact much more happening than a player managing an instrument by evoking vibrations in it. In the Lichtenberg approach both the instrument and the body vibrate, and they (should) interact. In my case I feel the vibration of the trumpet in my hands, arms, teeth and skull, but also the sound coming from the bell reaches my body and ears, creating new resonances, etc. The trumpet and the body together form the instrument, so they should cooperate to obtain the richest possible sound.

The key to all this is the voice. In the workshop we saw a number of astonishing changes. We heard that a violinist with an ah-sound in her mouth sounded completely different compared to an ee-sound. Would you believe, even a harpsichord player was asked to feel the vibrations of the instrument in his larynx. To his own surprise and ours he started playing in a totally new way.

I also had the priviledge to be Martin's guinea pig. I told him that I had a small noise in my sound. For the explosive salsa work I often play that is not such a problem, but I'd also like to develop a more clasical timbre, like Maurice André. First I had to hum with my ears closed. He asked me where I observed the sound the most. At first that question was kind of abstract to me, but soon I noticed that I felt it the most at the back of my skull. Next he asked me to generate more high frequencies. I succeeded by manipulating my soft palate. Then he asked me to bring the sound more to my ears. Agian a vague question at first, but in second instance it wasn't so hard to move the resonance so that I could hear it in my whole auditary channel. It did it by widening my soft palate and lift it as well.

Hereafter I was asked to open my ears, and gradually change the hum into an ah sound without changing anything. Now he a asked me to play the same note on my horn. The difference was enormous, the audience was completely flabbergasted. Someone noticed: "it's like this sound is much more your own". Mission accomplished...

I am now trying with myself and my students to find out where the sesonances areas are. I noticed last week by practicing a few hours a day that the vibrations almost work like a massage. A very subtle and pleasant feeling! I also worked  with students who had already some singing experience, and we were able to really brighten their sound.

For everyone who wants to experiment inspiring approach I gathered a few tips and important questions to ask. If you can do this without a teacher? I have no idea! But do let me know if it helps you taking the next step.

1. Sing with your ears closed on hmm and ah and try to conduct the vibrations as described above.
2. Do the same with your ears open. Sing possible saliva sounds and other irregularities away to that you reach a clear tone. This may take a few minutes.
3. Feel everywhere on your body where it vibrates. Do you feel your strernum resonating? Can you bring the vibration to your nasal cavity? To your forehead? To the back of your skull?
4. Ask similar questions when you play your instrument. Can you bring the vibrations to your larinx? What happens if you manipulate your soft palate? Can you widen it? Can you lift it? Do you feel your breastbone vibrating?
5. Also observe your breathing. Not only a nice low breathing using your diaphragm is important, you should also gently raise your chest and the open up the backside of your back.
6. Is your larynx open? The normal function of the larynx is being a valve, for instance when we lift things, but when we make sound we should keep this valve open.

Enjoy, and keep me posted!