How Loud Is Too Loud?

There is a temptation, particularly in ensemble situations, for young trumpeters to play too loudly. A student might feel they need to play loudly to hear themselves well, to stand out amongst their peers, or to help lead the group. Sometimes ensemble directors demand large volumes as well, especially in jazz band or marching band settings. Volume is a slippery slope for young trumpeters. Consistently playing at loud volumes before one’s embouchure is ready to handle it can easily lead to developing an overspread aperture, which comes with a host of issues. By keeping volumes in check, educators can help their trumpet players achieve better endurance, facility, and tone while avoiding some common pitfalls related to overplaying.

One of the greatest benefits of maintaining a controlled volume is increased endurance.The louder one plays, the more stress they place on their embouchure. Keeping volumes at a reasonable level saves the embouchure from undue stress, leading to more efficient playing. If you set out to run 10 miles, you’re going to run at a slower pace than if you were to run 1 mile. Your legs can only sustain the stress of high speeds for so long. The muscles in one’s face are no different. Maintaining a relaxed volume the majority of time allows for more sustained success during a rehearsal, performance, or practice session.

Loud volumes also make it more difficult to execute technical passages, especially passages that move across a large intervallic range. Loud volumes require the aperture to be more open than quieter volumes. The more spread an aperture gets, the less nimble and responsive it becomes. Therefore, soft to moderate volumes allow for the agility necessary to execute intricate lines. As mentioned previously, prolonged playing at high volumes can lead to an overspread aperture, which can be quite difficult to rein in. Simply lowering one’s volume may not be that helpful, then, if the player has been consistently sustaining loud volumes. In order to maximize technical proficiency, it’s in best interest of the trumpeter to spend the majority of their time playing at a comfortable volume.

The widening of the aperture from overplaying can also be detrimental to one’s tone. The responsiveness lost by an overspread aperture causes the tone quality to become more airy and unfocused. It also becomes more challenging to play quietly and to maintain a controlled sound in the lower register. There are times when the desired tone or musical effect demands playing at a loud volume and allowing the aperture to spread. However, for the majority of situations it’s most desirable to exhibit the tonal control that comes with playing at a reasonable volume.  

The upper register is always a hot topic amongst trumpet players, and many players become fixated on increasing their range. It takes considerable time to develop the strength and technique to play well in the upper register. Often, when attempting to play high, young players overblow and apply excessive mouthpiece pressure to compensate for their lack of embouchure strength. While playing loudly can help in hitting higher notes for a while, patiently developing the ability to play in the upper register without excessive volume and pressure will lead to greater control of tone and pitch, along with the ability to play up high for sustained periods.

There are many reasons that can tempt students to play unnecessarily loud. As teachers, helping trumpet students avoid those temptations and keep to appropriate volumes for their stage of development will lead to better skill development and more consistency in their playing. Knowing how loud is too loud will vary by student, but listening for the qualities mentioned above can help to determine whether a student is pushing their volume limits to their own detriment.