30 Years ago in Bandworld
Warmup Tips: New Vital Info for Wind Players
by Bobby Shew
Over the years of performing and teaching, I've noticed a tremendous inconsistency of ideas regarding embouchure "warm-ups". Because this is such a vital area of concern, I began questioning and investigating the subject to see what I might discover. Some very interesting things have shown up which I'd like to share here with you.
To start with, I've had the very good fortune over the years to meet many jazz fans who work in various areas of the medical profession and also several fans, who are to varying degrees, involved in sports. Without being a pest, I tried never to pass up an opportunity to find a few comfortable moments to ask them a few questions about muscles, nerve endings, glycogen secretions, etc., always hoping I might uncover some factual and therefore, stable information about the embouchure muscles. Generally, they were excited to share their knowledge with a person playing the music they loved. I also spent a bit of time digging through anatomy books, especially Gray's Book of Anatomy. Certainly, a lot of data was over my head and outside of my area of interest. Therefore, I'm still lacking a lot of the total understanding I seek, but many vital pieces of information have shown up and are making a lot of sense. At the same time they're helping me and my students a great deal.
Any smart athlete always spends time warming up his muscles before putting them to use in a taxing activity. These stretching, pumping exercises are designed to do one specific thing: to increase the circulation of blood into the muscles. This increased blood flow fills the muscles with blood and by doing so, raises the actual temperature of the muscle, thus, truly warming it (them) up. It should be obvious that an unwarm muscle can be more easily strained, cramped, or injured. A pole vaulter doesn't vault the high bar to warm up; a runner doesn't do laps around the track to warm up; the same is true of swimmers, weightlifters, boxers, etc. They all appear to have a personal set of exercises which they do FIRST before heading into their primary activity.
Well, its fairly logical to assume that we brass players are certainly involved in a somewhat athletic-like activity, especially if you're playing a lead trumpet or lead trombone or a bass trombone chair or any kind of extended range playing. I think it really applies to any one playing in any type of situation. It's ALL a lot of physical work on the chops. It would seem logical then that we might try warming up the muscles before we start playing the horn, our primary activity.
I've observed many students suffering in some very negative situations due to their fixed ideas about warming up: the first being that they are generally doing some sort of very literal, rote-like procedure daily and aren't really aware WHEN they actually do get sufficiently warm to play. Lots of warmups tend to tire the students so much that they often have considerable difficulty playing after the warmup. Most students are bored by the sameness of these daily routines, which can tend to set up negative feelings and attitudes early in the day. This just becomes another problem to try to handle. A great many students and pro players I've known are fearful of playing anything at all until they've completed their systematic warm-up routine of pedals, long tones, arpeggios, or whatever. I've known far too many players who were mentally "handcuffed" by this sort of dependence. Actually, nearly all of us have to deal with slightly different feeling chops every day, mostly depending on how much and what kind of playing we do. It seems more sensible to learn to handle each day's conditions in a "zen-like" manner, that is to say: one day at a time. In my own earlier days, trying to warm up a very stiff and swollen or a very thin and weak set of lip muscles was mostly discouraging, frustrating, and worrisome, all of which would frequently cause me to use excessive pressure or some other ill-fated solution to overcome the conditions. This generally snowballed into many more severe injuries to the lips.