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Do You Stutter on the Trombone? You Are Likely Doing the Valsalva Maneuver, Learn How to Control It!
This article will provide useful information to help promote stuttering control on the trombone. I’m going to discuss a condition that quite a few brass players (myself included) have dealt with. This is known as the VALSALVA MANEUVER, a condition that causes stuttering. If you don’t stutter on the trombone, this article is not for you. This is for people who have trouble starting a note on the trombone under pressure. Stuttering is a very complicated subject, and the remedies are so many that I can list only a few in this article.
My revelations on this topic can be useful for the following:
Trombone players who have trouble starting notes.
Other wind players who stutter (French horn, trumpet, tuba, etc.).
Band teachers who have trombone (or other brass) students.
All other stutterers (music or not).
About the VALSALVA maneuver
The Valsalva Maneuver (VM as I will now call it) is a natural process that occurs when the muscles in your body create high levels of air pressure, while holding the air in your body. In normal life, VMs occur naturally during bodily functions such as sneezing and coughing. But during speech or brass playing, VMs can cause major problems that cause stuttering.
When the brain mistakenly activates these muscles, they work together, tighten, create additional pressure and make it almost impossible to start a sound on the trombone. Such problems usually occur in nervous situations (such as during a solo in a band, a quiet section in an orchestra, or even while tuning in a band rehearsal).
The Valsalva muscle network (muscles used in VM) include the throat, tongue, mouth, abdominal muscles, and anus.
To get a feel for the Valsalva muscles and how they work together, try this exercise: 1. Close your lips as if you were saying the “M” word. 2. Keep them lightly closed and do not allow them to open individually. 3. While keeping your lips closed, try to whisper the word “TOE”. 4. Remember not to let air escape your lips when whispering TOE.
As soon as you try to whisper with the “T” part of the TOE, pay special attention to how the abs (abdominal muscle) is activated and tightened. Try whispering TOE even louder and notice how the throat and tongue tighten as well. You may also have noticed that the muscles in the anus tighten. These are the muscles of the Valsalva network.
After trying the above exercise several times, I want you to try adding Step 5: Once you’re stuck on TOE, completely relax your abdomen, paying special attention to how your tongue and throat follow it. Notice that as you relax your abdominal muscles, the rest of the -VM does the same.This is a very good exercise to make contact with these muscles and learn to relax them.
In the rest of this article, I want to show you some of the exercises that I have acquired from different numbers in controlling the Valsalva maneuver when performing:
Do these exercises every day before playing the trombone (helps master volsalva).
Physical exercise: at least 20 minutes of relaxing physical activity (in my opinion, the best is walking, but other good sports are swimming, running, cycling and aerobics). As we all know, exercise helps to relax the body; So use it to your advantage.
Relax: 10 minutes of deep breathing exercises a day. Find a nice quiet place to sit. Take deep, open, relaxed breaths. Take a big, calm breath.
Stay calm: Stay calm throughout the day (wherever you are and whatever you’re doing) by taking deep, calm breaths (also, try to count 4-8 counts for inhaling, and 4-12 counts for exhaling). If you’re walking somewhere, count your steps and breathe to them (see if you can walk 8 steps while breathing in, then breathe out for 8 steps). Counting your breaths in rhythmic ways can also be done while cycling, swimming, running and many other rhythmic sports.
Do these exercises every day when you play your trombone
Practice without the tongue: Practice about 15-30 minutes each day without the tongue. Most trombonists who stutter (or don’t produce a good trombone sound) are not using enough air flow. When you remove the tongue from practice, it becomes a matter of “AIRFLOW” to play well. Later you can add a soft and relaxed tongue to your playing. Play some scales, some petal sounds, some songs and other varied music without the tongue; Then play them all again just like before, but with the tongue. When you add the tongue back in, the focus is still on a very relaxed exhalation. We want to maintain a natural air flow with no pressure anywhere.
Focus on proper breathing: Always beware of using pressure when inhaling. Just allow your body to expand naturally (make sure your stomach is always relaxed). Focus on calm inhalation and get a lot of wind (calm breath, calmer exhalation). When you are about to play a sound, relax your belly as you exhale. Breathing should always feel like one continuous breath movement.
Play for 5 minutes on your mouthpiece: Try playing a sound only on your mouthpiece. At first, don’t use language at all (just like in the last exercise). First buzz some sirens (start low and siren up to really high, then back down). Also, hum some light songs (or Christmas carols) to her mouth without using any language. Then play them again, add the tongue.
Other helpful tips
All these tips I show you are for practice, not performance. When executing you have to go on what I call “autopilot” meaning you leave your unconscious mind to do the details (that you trained so hard on). This allows you to focus on making music! During a performance, if the focus is on technical things like starting a note, it gets in the way of more important things like being a brilliant artist.
Count yourself (quietly) when you start a song. Feel free to tap your toes with the beat to help keep you rhythmically grounded. You can do it like 1 – 2 – ready – go ahead. Or even better, make it like: 1e&a 2e&a Ready&a Goe&a. This is called sub-beating and it helps keep you steady. Always keep a steady pace, even if you stutter.
Always breathe to expand instead of expand to breathe. When you do the latter (extend to breathe) you can trick yourself into thinking you are breathing, when in fact you are not.
When you breathe in, you may notice the coolness of your throat, which is a good indicator of whether or not you are taking wind in. If your throat feels cool when you inhale, you’re probably moving a lot of wind.
Practice at least one hour every day.
The Valsalva maneuver is never a good thing for trombone players. A recent study showed that professional trombonists never use Valsalva in their playing.
There are many great books written on stuttering (about stuttering while speaking) that can be very helpful for trombone players. I recommend reading all the books you can on the subject.
The act of trying not to VM will increase the chance of this happening. Therefore, it is better to just let it happen. Don’t make a big deal out of it if it happens. Instead try to relax and remember what you were doing and thinking right before it happened. When you get home, immediately write down in your journal everything you noticed. Were you too stressed? Is your soul strong? Were you worried that other people might laugh at you? Write down everything that comes to your mind.
There is a book that is considered one of the greatest books ever written on stuttering (for speakers) that works the same for trombonists! If you read the Amazon reviews (at the Valsalva link below) you’ll see that several trombonists have testified about this book (as well as many speaking stutterers). It definitely works if you read the book cover to cover (the very end of the book has a gold mine of information). Customers rate it 5/5 stars. To see it, just go to this site: [http://www.ValsalvaManeuver.net]
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