Happy Father’s Day!
Back around Father’s Day, 2005 (during my undergrad at Manhattan School of Music), I was MORE than thrilled to learn that for the first concert of the next semester I would be playing principal trumpet on Bruckner’s 4th Symphony with Kurt Masur conducting! UNFORTUNATELY, I had recently started having jaw pain and it was quickly starting to affect my trumpet playing. With a deadline in sight, I had to figure some things out.
Below is a letter I wrote to a trumpeter in a similar boat. Many people have come to me about this so I am sharing the letter with you.
I KNOW HOW SCARY pain can be when it creeps up while playing your instrument! Please let me know how this helps.
When playing, be sure you are consciously making your most a beautiful sound as effortlessly as possible. Without hearing and seeing you play, I can only say that it is very common to “over” play the trumpet and not let the instrument “play itself.”
A great trumpet player is a master of wind.
The “ideal” amount of air is often more than we think but not too much—the perfect usage of air will yield an exceptionally pure tone, requiring little to no effort.
The only pressure needed to play the trumpet is the precise amount needed to create a seal between the mouthpiece and the lips (so little/no air escapes), which is not a lot (though it does increase with range and volume). Pressing any harder than this causes a chain reaction of tension: First, by flexing our arms and shoulders, forcing the trumpet into our face, we blow much harder to compensate and meet this pressure, thus encouraging us to push the trumpet even harder into the lips, pinching them between the mouthpiece and the teeth. This unrefined use of air causes an endless internal fight to make a sound while keeping a seal. It hurts! Plus, it doesn’t usually sound good.
While I am not a doctor, my guess is that this is happening to you, on some level (we all do it!), and it’s causing you to flex all sorts of muscles, including your jaw. It is also very possible that you are grinding your teeth at night (your dentist should be able to confirm this). I know quite a few trumpeters with teeth grinding or clenching issues (myself included), which is easily remedied by wearing a mouth guard at night (the cheap $30 one at drug stores works fine, a dentist will charge a few hundred dollars).
Of course, don’t jump into extremely high or loud playing. Continue listening to your body so that you can become aware of what is causing the pain before it Becomes unbearable.
Your practice sessions should be a self discovery exercise where you dissect trumpet playing into it’s most basic parts. As simplistic as it sounds, 99.99% of trumpet “issues” are air or sound concept related. Keep it easy and beautiful and you will come back better than ever before!
Do stay in touch, I ‘m here to help.