Have you ever seen the James Bond film Moonraker? You know, the one with the giant ogre like villain with the hideous and scary looking mouth filled with jagged and piercing metal, Jaws they called him.
That’s the image that comes to my mind when I think back to having braces. Extreme? Perhaps, but braces are generally not fun for young people, and braces and brass instruments together are at the least a recipe for some uncomfortable, frustrating, and perhaps even painful and bloody (yikes) times.
But you can learn the trumpet, cornet, trombone, French horn, tuba, or euphonium with braces! There are some important sort of tricks of the trade, cautions, and protective measures you can make to make it easier however. And I want to encourage you if nothing else, do NOT give up.
When it is difficult now, when you are frustrated, when it hurts, keep in mind that you will one day be free from those shackles of the teeth! And when you are, horn playing will become much less cumbersome, more fun, and I hope you will appreciate it that much more!
So, for some simple but important tips, tricks, cautions, and protective measures:
- ALWAYS resist the temptation to push the horn/mouthpiece into your lips. If you do this you will be showing the fairly sharp metal ends of your braces bracketing into your lips which can do permanent damage and even cause bleeding. Some of us do this (I call it the pressure cooker) without even knowing it when we can’t go higher with a healthy embouchure and proper air stream.
- BE prepared to “cheat.” I wouldn’t really call it cheating, but be prepared to work smarter and not harder. You know those little wax strips they sell that van be placed between your gums and your teeth/braces? They will affect your sound and range, but I’m not overly concerned with either during your braces stage. My concern (as should be yours) is that you are on the horn, learning, making music, and having fun.
Buy some and try it. Don’t just put some in there and play a few notes and go, “man this sucks.” Actually spend 15 minutes or so shedding with some that way every week. If it is workable I would consider at the least having it handy for long practice sessions or classes.
- CAREFULLY consider your music and think about your chops when you are playing. If you must, take higher phrases or notes down the octave. I won’t get mad at you. If it is a choice between turning on the pressure cooker or taking the high road to the lower octave, make the jump.
The name of the game with braces is to protect your gums at all costs. And treat them well. Most likely discomfort will come from the gums, not the lips, and it can be avoided! Flossing or water picking regular (my preference) will also help.