I Just Got Braces, Is This End of My Trumpet Playing?
Just because you have braces you are not a bad trumpet player. In this article I will explain a couple of things that will help the young player with braces. Over my 16 years of trumpet playing four of those years were with braces. I will say that not everything I did will work for every player and I may not have every answer for each person. The best thing for the player is to be patient and practice frequently; besides those two things, there are some techniques and things that will help the student.
The first thing every student needs to do is be aware of when the lips are tired. When playing the trumpet with braces, the player will notice that they fatigue a little faster than they did before they got the braces installed. How do I know when my lips are too tired to keep playing? For each player it is different, for me my lips would swell to the point they physically would not buzz. Other players may feel some soreness and the lips/face muscles will decide that it is time to take a break. Some other people may not experience any discomfort but the lips themselves may just stop buzzing. When you notice any of these things then you should stop playing and take a break for at least as much time as you had been playing before you pick up the trumpet and play again. I mentioned soreness and discomfort earlier; this is a natural thing for players with braces, but do not confuse this with pain.
Soreness can be overcome by regular practice habits and patience. If you cannot tolerate the soreness or feel of playing with the braces I recommend using bee’s wax. Apply bee’s wax over the brackets and wires where you place the mouthpiece and set the embouchure. Remember that this may cause an extra little bump under the lips when playing that may alter the placement of the embouchure. Bee’s wax will remove the discomfort of playing with a wire in the lips, but will not fix everything that will occur with the braces.
For those who have a hard time playing with the bee’s wax, then I offer a steady practice guide of how to help conquer the discomfort of playing with the braces. First thing to remember is that you do not want to try and play your highest notes on the first three days of having braces. Also practicing in several smaller sessions versus one long practice time is better for the player who just had braces put on. When you practice, I recommend starting with blowing a natural sound on the lead pipe. Start with a lower sound when playing the lead pipe and then gradually getting higher as you get more comfortable with the way the new embouchure feels. After blowing on the pipe I have my students/self just play long tones for 5-10 minutes, this is more to help adjust the player to the new embouchure. The next step in the practice regimen is to play lip slurs, the lip slurs will be one of the most important parts of practicing when you have braces. Again remind your student or self that this takes time to adjust to, and over time with practice a small callas will form on the lips where the player sets the embouchure. After playing the lip slurs I would recommend taking a break that is as long as you had just played, then go back to practicing. When you go back to practicing start with the lip slurs, and then do your actual practicing of repertoire. The best thing for a young player with braces is just to practice and stay positive.
The final thing to do when you or your student have braces applied is to constantly remind you or them that playing with braces is a process. This takes time to adjust, often students will be upset and frustrated, and they really need a lot of positive encouragement. If the student does not take private lessons, this is a great time for them to start. Students will have a greater chance of staying with the instrument when they are in private lessons, the teacher will also have more ideas to help ease the transition into playing with braces. Finally parents need to constantly remind the student that they are working in uncharted areas with braces.