Palen Music Center Quick Note
Monday, October 6, 2008
The PMC Quick Note is a weekly service provided to all area directors. It is part of our mission to support the lives of band directors across the Midwest. The weekly Quick Note contains helpful tips and suggestions from area directors, spotlights on area college and university band programs, calendars of upcoming events, advocacy articles promoting music education, links to helpful web resources, and much more. Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.
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What To Do For Students With Braces by Jim Donaldson
Note: This is a wonderful in-depth article on dealing with braces. Click to view the full version or read through the highlights below.
Q: Now that I have braces, what do I do? A: First, adjust your attitude.
You come home with braces. They feel funny in your mouth and your teeth hurt. You've heard the terrible rumors. You can't imagine playing the trumpet with your mouth the way it is. Your teeth just hurt too much. A couple of days later, the hurting has decreased--or maybe you've just gotten used to it--and you open up the case and put the mouthpiece in the horn. You raise your horn to your lips. The mouthpiece sits on your chops like you've never done this before. You take a breath, rather tentative, tongue a note, and blow. The sound is awful. You sounded better in sixth grade (sixth graders: think fourth grade). It just feels so weird. Everything feels different and weird. You play a few more notes, all low. They all sound bad. You try to go a bit higher, the buzz stops altogether, no sound comes out, and it hurts. You are first chair, but the guy on the other end can do better than you now, and he plays with the mouthpiece over near his left earlobe. You play a few more notes and then try a higher one again. Same thing happens, and it is starting to hurt. You can feel the braces start to dig into the back of your chops. Try one more time. No sound. Pain. You put your horn back in the case, shut it, and go jump off a bridge.
That is how it feels, but stop before you get to the bridge.
Don't get discouraged. Keep reminding yourself that others have done it, and so can you. In fact, it seems to Eric Bolvin and trumpet teachers everywhere that nearly every kid gets braces at some point. So be positive and be patient, but be realistic. This is a major trauma, but you are up to it. It is going to take some time for you to return to your best, but you can do it.
Here are some suggestions:
- Jean Pocius recommends that one purse his or her lips a bit, which is done without moving the corner placement (i.e., using the muscles between the corners and the rim of the mouthpiece). This is necessary for efficient playing for anybody, but is all the more important for those with braces.
- You absolutely have to learn to play without pressure or some day, during band, you will bleed to death.
- You will become even more dependent on developing your air control.
- Start by playing long tones, long low tones, really long tones, at soft volumes. Play, as Michael Haig says, until you find a spot that feels comfortable and gives you the best sound and tone, so long as it isn't extreme. Much of the muscle memory of your chops has been disrupted to the point that you have to teach the chops what to do all over again. Get a nice buzz, let the chops get the feel of the mouthpiece again. This will not come the first day.
- Focus on the notes on the lower part of the staff, like the fourth line D and down to bottom line E, unless those are too high, then work lower. Stay relaxed, but do not play lots of very low notes (below staff) or your embouchure will get flabby and your lip aperture will start to open in an unhealthy way.
- Still using the lower part of your range, Kate Myers recommends practicing slurs to develop good fundamental flexibility, starting of course with slurs of a short distance between notes (i.e., no octaves for a while--the stronger you get, the wider you can go).
- Once you can begin to play again, both Eric Bolvin and Michael Haig recommend doing a lot of exercises from the first couple pages of Herbert L. Clarke's Technical Studies. These are great for the buzz, the air, and the sound. Play them softly, at reasonable--well controlled--speeds.
- Jeanne Pocius recommends the playing softly and gently of double pedals (the octave below pedal C). Often the chops of those with braces are stiffer than usual, due to the increased distance between teeth and lips. Don't use any appliance when playing pedal tones--they shake it loose anyway and they are played with so little pressure that the appliance is unnecessary.
- Tonguing is also often disrupted by braces. Jeanne Pocius recommends that one tongue on the bottom edge of the top teeth, rather than on the roof of the mouth, to avoid any wires or retainers that may be behind the teeth. Articulation studies, softly lightly tonguing eighth notes and sixteenth notes over your useful (diminished) range are very helpful. Aim for the least possible tongue movement and the cleanest possible articulation.
- Listen carefully to your sound, compare it in your head to the sound you want. The more you focus on that sound, the better you will get. If you don't have a good sound in your head, go get some recordings of great trumpet players and listen carefully. Go hear trumpet players in concert. You can't reproduce a sound you haven't heard.
- Practice fairly short times (15 - 20 minutes, maybe only five minutes at first), resting as much as you play so you do not do more harm than good. Do not play at all once you get tired or feel some stress. Don't push, don't press. Practice, Kate recommends, two or three or four times each day. Don't over practice. If you do, it just sets you back.
For more helpful suggestions on dealing with braces, read the full-article version. PMC would like to thank Jim Donaldson for his permission to include this material in our weekly Quick Note.
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