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 to further one’s control of stuttering on the Trombone. I am going to discuss a condition that quite a few brass players (including myself) have dealt with. It is known as the VALSALVA MANEUVER, a condition that causes stuttering. If you don’t stutter on the Trombone, than this article is not intended for you. It is intended for people who are having trouble starting a note on the Trombone during stressful situations. Stuttering is a very complicated subject, and the remedies are so numerous that I can only list a few in this article.

MY DISCOVERIES ON THIS SUBJECT CAN BENEFIT THE FOLLOWING:

Trombone players who have a problem starting notes.

Other brass players who stutter (french horn, trumpet, tuba etc).

Band teachers who have trombone students (or other brass instruments).

All other Stutterers (music or not).

ABOUT THE VALSALVA MANEUVER

The Valsalva Maneuver (V.M. as I will call it now) is a natural process that occurs when muscles in your body create high levels of air pressure, while holding the air in your body. In normal life, V.M.s occur naturally during body functions such as sneezing and coughing. But during speech or brass playing, V.M.s can cause major problems which cause stuttering.

When the brain mistakenly activates these muscles, they work together, tightening up, creating extra pressure and making it almost impossible to start a note on the trombone. Problems like these usually occur in nervous situations (like during a solo in band, a quiet passage in orchestra, or even during tuning time at a band rehearsal).

The Valsalva muscle network (muscles which are used in the V.M.) include the throat, tongue, mouth, abdominal and rectal muscles.

To get a sense of a Valsalva muscles and how they work together, try this exercise: 1. Shut your lips as if saying the word “M.” 2. Keep them lightly shut and don’t let them open apart 3. As you’re keeping your lips shut, try to whisper the word “TOE.” 4. Remember not to let any air escape your lips as you whisper TOE.

At the moment you try to whisper with the “T” part of TOE, pay particular notice to how the ABDOMINAL MUSCLE (the tummy muscle) gets activated and tightens up. Try to whisper TOE even louder and notice how the throat and tongue tighten up as well. Perhaps you also noticed the muscles in the rectum tightening up. These are the muscles of the Valsalva Network.

After trying the above exercise a few times, I want you to try adding a 5th step: After getting stuck on TOE, completely relax the abdomen, paying particular attention to how the tongue and throat follow suit. Notice that when you RELAX THE ABDOMINAL MUSCLES, the rest of the V.M. network does the same. This is a very good exercise to get touch with those muscles and learn to relax them.

In the remainder of this article, I want to show you some of the exercises I have acquired from various books in controlling the Valsalva Maneuver when performing:

DO THESE EXERCISES EACH DAY BEFORE PLAYING THE TROMBONE (helps control the Valsalva).

PHYSICAL EXERCISE: At least 20 minutes of relaxing exercise (in my opinion, the best is walking, but other good sports are swimming, running, biking, and aerobics). As we all know, exercise helps relax the body; so use it to your advantage.

GETTING RELAXED: 10 minutes of Deep breathing exercises a day. Find a nice quiet place to sit down. Take deep, open, relaxed breaths. Breathe big and relaxed.

STAYING RELAXED: Stay calm all day long (wherever you are and whatever you are doing) by taking deep relaxed breaths (also, try counting 4-8 counts for the inhale, and 4-12 counts for the exhale). If you are walking somewhere, count your steps and breathe to them (see if you can walk 8 steps while breathing in, and then breathe out for 8 steps). Counting your breathing in rhythmic ways can also be done while bike riding, swimming, jogging, and many other rhythmic sports.

DO THESE EXERCISES EACH DAY AS YOU ARE PLAYING YOUR TROMBONE

PRACTICE WITH NO TONGUE: Practice about 15-30 minutes each day without the tongue. Most trombonists who stutter (or who don’t produce a good trombone sound) are not using enough airflow. When you remove the tongue from practicing, it becomes a matter of “AIRFLOW” to play well. Later on, you can add a soft and relaxed tongue to your playing. Play a few scales, a few petal tones, a few songs and other various music without the tongue; then play them all again just like before, but with the tongue. When you add back the tongue, the focus is still on blowing very relaxed. We want to keep a natural air flow with no pressure anywhere.

FOCUS ON PROPER BREATHING: Always guard against using pressure when inhaling. Just allow your body to naturally expand (make sure your abdomen is always relaxed). focus on inhaling relaxed and take in plenty of wind (breath in relaxed, blow out more relaxed). When you’re about to start a sound, relax your abdomen as you blow out. Breathing should always feel like ONE MOTION OF CONTINUOUS BREATH.

PLAY 5 MINUTES ON YOUR MOUTHPIECE: Try starting a sound just on your mouthpiece. At first, don’t use the tongue at all (just like in the last exercise). First buzz some sirens (start low and siren up to really high, then back down). Also, buzz some easy songs (or Christmas songs) on the mouthpiece without using any tongue. Then play them again, adding the tongue.

OTHER HELPFUL TIPS

All of these tips I’m showing you are for practice, not performance. When performing you need to go on what I call “Automatic Pilot” which means that you leave it to your unconscious mind to do the details (that you practiced so hard on). This allows you to focus on making music! During 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 in (silently) when starting a song. Feel free to tap you toes with the beat to help keep you rhythmically grounded. You can do it like 1 – 2 – Ready – Go. Or even better, do it like: 1e&a 2e&a Ready&a Goe&a. This is called subdividing your beats and it helps keep you steady. Always keep a steady tempo, even if you stutter.

Always BREATHE TO EXPAND instead of EXPAND TO BREATHE. When doing the latter (Expanding to Breathe) it is possible to fool yourself into thinking you’re breathing, when actually you are not.

When breathing in, you can pay attention to the coolness of the throat, which is a good indicator if you’re moving wind in or not. If your throat is feeling cool when inhaling, you are probably moving plenty of wind.

Practice at least 1 hour EVERY day.

The Valsalva Maneuver is never a good thing for trombone players. A recent study has shown that professional trombone players never use Valsalva in their playing.

There are many great books written on the subject of stuttering (in regards to stuttering during speech) that can be really helpful for trombone players. I recommend reading all the books you can on the subject.

The act of trying not to do a V.M. will make it more likely to happen. 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 in your journal anything that you noticed. Were you too tense? Did you breathe in tight? Were you worried that other people might laugh at you? Write down everything that comes to mind.

There is a book that is considered one of the greatest books ever written on stuttering (for talkers) which works the same for Trombonists! If you read the Amazon reviews (at the Valsalva link below) you will see that a few trombone players have testified to this book (as well as many talking stutterers). It absolutely works if you read the book from beginning to end (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]