I’ve been going through some articles available on the IWK Brass Research site and found some interesting tidbits on an article by Dr. Matthias Bertsch and Dr. Thomas Maca called Visualization of Trumpet Players’ Warm Up By Infrared Thermography. The authors took an interesting approach to studying the warm up of trumpet players by photographing them using an infrared camera.
During the warm up of trumpet players, face muscle contractions with increased blood flow result in a higher temperature of the overlying skin. This effect can be visualized and quantified by infrared-thermography. The analysis demonstrates that the main facial muscle activity during warm up is restricted to only a few muscle groups (M.orbicularis oris, M.depresor anguli oris). The “trumpeter’s muscle” (M.buccinator) proved to be of minor importance. Less trained players expressed a more inhomogenous thermographic pattern compared to well-trained musicians. Infrared thermography could become a useful tool for documentation of musicians playing technique.
The orbicularis oris is a system of muscles that encircle the mouth. This is the muscle group that is used to both pucker the lips as if whistling and also to draw them closed and back against the teeth. The mouthpiece rim is placed over the orbicularis oris. The depresor anguli oris are the two muscles on either side of the mouth. They are attached to the lower jaw and extend upward to the mouth corners. This is the muscle that is used to pull your mouth corners down, as if frowning. The buccinator muscles are in the cheek areas and are used to hold the cheeks against the teeth when chewing and also are part of the muscles that are used to smile.
This is pretty cool research (pun intended), not only because of the specific questions they answered, but also the proof of concept of the infrared camera as a tool for studying brass playing. Their sample of 16 trumpet players (5 professionals, 5 students and 6 beginners) is a little too small to draw too many conclusions, but their study does suggest a few interesting directions.
The muscles that get worked by the warm up offer a pretty good look at what muscles are activated in trumpet playing and where the muscular effort should be concentrated. All of the players sampled showed increased temperature in the muscles at the corners of the mouth. This is not too surprising, the majority of brass teachers recommend firm corners and most professional brass players keep their mouth corners locked more or less in place while playing. The absence of the buccinator muscle being worked in all but one beginner sample is expected too. The authors stated that this subject’s anomaly was caused by a “buccal playing technique” that they compared to Dizzy Gillespie’s embouchure. The mentalis, a muscle group located at the tip of the chin and used to push the lower lip up, doesn’t appear to be an area where embouchure effort is concentrated among this sample.
As I alluded to above, this paper is more of a proof of concept of the potential of infrared thermography as a research tool to studying the muscular effort of brass players. It would be interesting to repeat this study and instead of comparing beginners to professionals, look to see if there was a notable difference between players of comparable experience but different embouchure types. A larger sample size comparing professionals to beginners would also allow us to make more accurate inferences into which muscles teachers should encourage their students to focus on (e.g., mouth corners) and which probably shouldn’t (e.g., muscles of the cheeks or chin). Infrared cameras aren’t all that expensive now, and the price will likely only get cheaper. There are many different research questions that could be asked using technology like this, for any graduate students out there looking for a thesis topic.