Always remember TINA...
By Mark Van Cleave
I have had many students that come to me with a wide variety of very inefficient embouchures. The sound to grunt ratio is very poor. Many times, this is a result of a poorly formed aperture.
"a poorly formed aperture." - now THAT sounds very technical and somewhat profound. If I ever had a teacher tell me that, I would probably say something like: "Oh, I see... yes, I will have to fix that right away..." I would probably say/think that without ever knowing just what this so called aperture is exactly, and especially... just how am I going to fix it anyway?
Well, the aperture is the hole or space between your lips that the air flows through. It is very common to hear brass players and especially trumpet players talk about opening up the aperture to help improve and broaden their sound etc. hmmmmmmmmmm!
In the title (Always remember TINA), I am not referring to some girl named Tina… in fact, I am not referring to anyone at all. TINA is really an acronym to make this concept easier to remember. It should really be like this: “Always remember T.I.N.A.”. T.I.N.A. stands for There Is No Aperture! Now… don’t get excited… this does not mean that an aperture does not exist, or is not formed when you are playing, but the word “is” puts this into more of the present tense as in; there IS no aperture right now, prior to playing, before the note starts, etc.
In a recent article of mine (The Two Things…), I discuss how the lips should start in a closed position when starting the sound… and as soon as the sound starts, the aperture appears. The aperture is not something that the player should try to create or form. It is something that just happens automatically and perfectly if allowed to. One example is to make an aperture with your lips and then blow... the only sound you will hear is the sound of air blowing... no buzzing. You see... apertures (holes) can not produce lip vibration (sound).
An aperture that is formed in an intentional manner by the player (and not blown into existence) is almost always too large and thus very inefficient by design. Many times, players get into the habit of starting with a large aperture and then closing it as they start a note…. stopping right at the point where the sound start. This is the point where the lips are just barely able to touch and vibrate. This will produce a weak and airy sound where you can actually hear the air passing through the lips without stimulating any vibration/sound. The lips vibrate best when they are in a position where they have no choice but to vibrate. This position is very difficult to form by design… but it is very easy to form if you do not try to form it and just blow it into existence.
Starting with your lips in a relaxed and closed position (not too tightly sealed), the lips have no choice to do anything but vibrate when you start to blow air through them. Yes, it will take a certain amount of air pressure to break the seal of the closed lips and then power up a good vibration, but the lips WILL vibrate… because they are TOUCHING! And, the resulting aperture is EXACTLY the perfect size. The lips are not closed and they are not open past the point of vibration. Once the sound starts, the aperture stops opening and will stay in that perfect position… if you let it.
So, I tell students to always remember T.I.N.A. before they play any note. This encourages them to start each note with the lips together and also helps discourage many other chop problems from forming.
So don’t forget T.I.N.A. when you are practicing! When performing, you don’t have time to think about any technique (even as simple as T.I.N.A.)… you will have to rely on the playing skills that you have already turned into reflexes with repetitive precision practice. Sort of a you are what you eat (or in this case… practice) kind of thing.
So… practice with precision and remember T.I.N.A.!