Practicing the mouth muscles for brass players

Composition of the mimic musculature

You can always find discussions on strength building/muscle building of the mimic musculature and on how important or irrelevant they are for the brass playing.
The number of devices that should be helpful for this kind of muscle building, even without an instrument, is growing continuously. The mimic musculature should be built in order to improve the lipping on an instrument (persistence and level).
Now, is the muscle building of mimic musculature actually helpful for the trumpet play and are the devices usable or is it counterproductive, maybe even disturbing to have these muscles?


Controlling the muscles when brass playing

Maybe we should first look at what the muscles have to do in brass playing and what kind of impact they have on the play. You have to get aware of the fact that brass playing has nothing to do with showing off strength, neither in the lip musculature, nor in any other muscles that are involved, but that it's a complex movement pattern that has to be improved.
In this movement pattern, all the involved functions have to work in a coordinated way; the better the tuning works, the more perfect becomes the blowing result. As everybody knows, muscles are always involved in the performance of movements. So in order to perform a movement in a controlled way, you first have to be able to control the involved muscles.


Complex movement patterns

Now it is not the muscular mass that decides about the controlled movement but a trained muscle definitely is easier to control and to move consciously. Right now, some of you might ask why it is necessary to consciously control the movement when brass playing? When walking, I don't have to think of all the necessary muscle movements either. That's true but I don't want to compare walking with brass playing because walking is a normal thing to do in the daily life.
What we're doing in brass playing can't be found in the daily life. Then we would have to compare it to playing tennis, for the complex movement sequences that can be found here, are similar to the ones in brass playing and can't be found in your everyday life. Also do tennis players practice a lot. But there are natural talents everywhere!


Mimic musculature

In this article, I would like to limit my writing to the mimic musculature and the respective muscle development. For this purpose, we look at the lips' tasks and what movements they have to fulfil. The most important task of the lips is of course to produce a tone, to vibrate, so they basically open and close.    


Lip training

The lips have a direct contact to the instrument and their vibration is transferred to the instrument via the mouthpiece. Hence, we can find two different tasks of the lips: On the one hand, they are responsible for the creation of tones, thus also for the change of pitches, as well as for the interception of developing pressure.
The changing of pitches can be supported through the targeted training of the lip muscles, which means that I train the muscles that are responsible for the closing mechanism of the lips. The air takes the part of opening them. More important is the possibility that through contraction of the lip muscles, more precisely the sphincter, the pressure of the mouthpiece on the lips can be intercepted.      

Targeted training

Therefore the targeted training and the involved muscle development – also with “devices” - is very useful. I don't want to recommend certain devices and rate them but they should always seem to support the movement sequence and the musculature in the same way they are also used on the instrument.
It is equally important to practice the use of the respective muscles on the instrument as well. Still, you shouldn't exaggerate the training with these devices because it could be counterproductive. Working with them should only be seen as an additional practice – I always practice with them at night in front of the TV or on longer car rides; or if there's no possibility to play the instrument, like on vacation, in the hospital or when the instrument isn't available for whatever reason. Furthermore, the correct practice with the devices is important.


When and in which way is training useful?

Firstly, you have to try out how you can handle it the best and of course when. For example, I'd never practice with it directly before a Gig or another practical session. When practicing, I make sure to work with the instruments in the same way I would do it in the gym, namely in sets and always with different amounts of exposure.
Furthermore with a high level of exposure and short sets as well as a smaller level of exposure and longer sets. One of them should rather train the short, extreme exposure of High Notes, the second one trains the long exposure in a medium range. You can always vary it, also in this regard, you should always practice a lot and find out what's personally best for you. Moreover, you should try out if it's good for you to take a day of break or rather not.


I can definitely recommend the training with devices, even if everybody has to find out by himself to what extent its usage is good for him. When choosing training devices, you have to keep in mind that they should train the lips in the direction in which the powers of brass playing are working. This means that the lips should be strained horizontally. You can find training devices for the targeted training of lipping and muscle development in every imaginable form and price category. Everybody should choose their personal appropriate device in the variety of offers on the market. I personally practice with the lip dumbbell and the lip expander and achieved the best practical results for my purpose with these devices.

So I wish you a lot of fun practicing with them!