Air Concepts

Here are a few ideas about how to use air as a brass player.

Think about's the combination of vibrating lips and the air that a player uses to make them vibrate which makes a brass instrument come alive with sound. So the sound that's made, the music that's made, is a direct result of how you use that air and embouchure.

Since how you blow into the horn affects what comes out of the horn, you'd better know what you want before your start... So making music is a process of reverse engineering!

Therefore, you must always have an idea of how you want to sound, because otherwise, thoughtless breathing will create thoughtless music! Create your own sound. Don't be a victim of generic breathing!!

How you blow is crucial but in order to blow out you need to breath in. Since 'breathing in' doesn't (generally) create a sound on the trombone, you can 'breathe in' many different ways, but, keep in mind that the manner that you 'breathe in' is often reflected in the way you blow out...for example:

  • if you take a breath in tempo you will probably blow out in tempo
  • if you breathe 'fast' you will probably blow fast, if you breathe 'big' you will probably blow big!
  • If you breathe in gracefully you will probably blow out gracefully
  • if you breathe in awkwardly you will probably blow out awkwardly

 I'm not going to get into breathing exercises here but I recommend that you look into this topic. Gaining control of your breathing is necessary to playing a brass instrument well. But again, playing well is making music, which is a process of reverse engineering.


Engineering some music - let's explore how air affects sound on a brass instrument


Without using your tongue, start blowing softly and accelerate the air until the lips start to buzz. Continue playing the note making a series of crescendoes and decrescendoes. Finish by diminuendo-ing to nothing.


Play a different note using the same process. Again - don't use your tongue.

Now try this process in a more rhythmic context.
Start with the rhythms in the following exercise, then continue, improvising your own rhythms. Try rhythmic patterns using syncopation, quarters, triplets, eighths, etc. You are articulating just using your air and embouchure.

OK, now think about what you have just been doing with your air.

  • Was it always the same? NO
  • Was it always steady? NO
  • Was it always fast? NO
  • Was it always slow? NO
  • Was it consistently the same? NO
  • Did the sound change everytime the air changed? YES
  • Do we need to pay attention to how we blow in order to get what we want? YES
  • Get it?
  • yes???
(Advanced players take notice:)
The embouchure is an active - yet often unconscious - participant in this process.
Notice how your embouchure feels, it is the same sensation as a very slow lip vibrato! It is a very slow lip vibrato! Cultivate this awareness because without it your vibrato will be uncomfortable and erratic!
(Let's define 'active' in this sense. Being 'active' is first being aware of a process and then monitoring, and possibly, controlling the process rather than passively reacting to events in an unconscious manner. Many brass players think of their embouchure as a passive vibrating diaphragm. I disagree. For me, it is very active - the aperture of our embouchure is the focal center of a brass player's technique with which every other aspect of our technique relates and is either coordinated - or uncoordinated. To consider it passive is to miss the opportunity to learn how to control the aperture and further our technique! To further explore this concept of Active and Passive behavior, read 'The Inner Game of Tennis', then revisit here...)

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