Emil's Epilogue


Dr. Jonathan Kruger, Rochester Institute of Technology

Dr. James Mclean, SUNY-Geneseo

Dr. Mark Kruger, Gustavus Adolphus College


Research done on muscle tension in brass performance has focussed on the embouchure (e.g., White and Basmajiian, 1973), on remedying embouchure problems using biofeedback (Hauser and McNitt-Gray, 1991), or selective control of individual muscles within the face and embouchure (Lapatki, Stegeman, & Jonas, 2002). For string players, a larger body of literature has examined the relationship between muscle tension, perceived exertion and fatigue, or reduction of muscle strain (c.f. Chan et. al., 2000; Berque and Gray, 2002; Fjellman-Wiklund et. al., 2003; Shan et. al. 2004) Although Henderson (1979) demonstrated tension in the throat of trumpet players changes with pitch, much less work has been done on general body tension in brass performers. Our study examines changes in muscle tension in the shoulder and lower back in the context of changes in mouthpiece pressure applied to the embouchure, intra-oral air pressure used to energize the embouchure, and breathing patterns during a musical task and as a function of expertise. We hope to identify strategies that performers use to create air pressure which are counter-productive because they lead to extraneous muscle tension and/or mouthpeice pressure on the embouchure.


Thirteen trumpet players played a concert Bb scale, arpeggios differing in articulation and dynamics, and excerpts from the Haydn Trumpet Concerto. Extraneous muscle tension was measured electromygraphically at the left trapezius (shoulder) and the lower back. Measures were also made of expansion and contraction of the upper chest and abdomen, air pressure inside the mouth measured by placing a fine tube (attached to a gas pressure sensor) inside the performers mouth, and mouthpiece pressure on the embouchure recorded by placing a force sensor in a sleeve between the mouthpiece and the instrument. A trumpet mounted camera recorded embouchure movement during performance.


Successful performers demonstrated selective control of extraneous muscle activity and created the highest levels of air pressure at the embouchure. This control was most apparent in high ranges of the arpeggios and during difficult passages of the Haydn concerto.


By observing muscle tension, internal air compression, breathing patterns, mouthpiece pressure, and sound simultaneously it is possible to see differences in physical approaches to wind instrument playing as a function of both individual expertise and musical task.


These observations support pedagogical approaches to brass teaching that make students aware of the effect of excess muscle activation at either the embouchure or in other muscle systems on performance.