Medical Q&As

Brass player - muscle strain?

I am a trumpeter and have recently had difficulty with controlling the sound of my instrument. Originally I thought this might be asthma related and have been taking a preventative beclazone inhaler but this has not improved the condition much. When playing I feel a tightness in my back and upper lungs and I wonder could this problem be caused by lack of response in a set of muscles. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Trumpeters and other brass players produce sound through their instruments by maintaining a stream of air that causes the players lips to buzz or vibrate against the mouthpiece of the instrument. The first thought that occurs to me is that your current difficulties could be related to problems with your technique rather than being health related. If you still attend a teacher you might discuss this problem because an experienced brass player could provide you with useful feedback regarding your technique. For example could your posture be at fault when playing the instrument? Have you recently changed your practice routine? For example have you changed the chair you normally sit on when practicing or do you practice standing up? Do you need glasses? Maybe you are straining to read your music on the music strand. Perhaps you are not using your diaphragm sufficiently. Another thought is that you might be tensing up the muscles in your neck, shoulders and arms especially when playing notes in the upper register. I also wonder if you are warming up sufficiently before you play. A good warm up routine is as important for a musician as it is for an athlete. Picking up a cold instrument and attempting to play a passage without a warm could affect your lips or cause muscle strain. It is also quite possible that your problem has nothing to do with playing the trumpet and could be related to a recent strain injury that is being exacerbated when you attempt to play your instrument. Your GP would be able to assist you in teasing out that possibility. Finally you might like to consider learning the Alexander technique, which increases your awareness of muscle strain in various parts of the body but especially in the head and neck area. The technique also enables you to relax your muscles. Many professional players employ this technique in order to enable them to play in a more effortless manner.