The Secret to the High Range: Teeth

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One topic I mention to people in conversation periodically is that of trumpet players and dental modifications. I know to a horn player that thought is pretty stunning, that players might intentionally modify their teeth, but actually there has been some thought about this for years and years in the trumpet community. What it seems to boil down to for them are two factors; that the teeth not be too long in relation to the upper lip and also a gap is desirable. Modifications may be in fact made to enhance these characteristics.

I am sure many readers at this point are still having difficulty conceptualizing this topic (I am sure I would never modify my teeth!) but it is on that is out there and has been for a long time, again especially so in the trumpet world. For example Philip Smith, Principal Trumpet of the New York Philharmonic, brought up the topic in a very interesting CNN interview back in 2001. Check it all out, but I was especially interested to see his answer to the question “How important is dental care to a trumpet player?”

Oh, you gotta take care of your teeth. When I was a kid, my two front teeth protruded. My dentist said, “The best thing you could be doing is playing trumpet, because that will naturally put them in line.” Poor gum health, chipping teeth — all of that is a problem for brass players.

Any kind of change in your teeth can be a problem. If you don’t like the way your teeth look, and some dentist says, “Oh, I’ll just file this down” — you can lose an octave, just like that. There are great stories of prominent high-note jazz players who have a space between their teeth. That space presents a turbulence with the air stream, which enables them to play up high. And some of these players, not liking the look of that space, had bonding done to make it look good — and all of a sudden, they can’t play.

I have observed this same thing with horn players. Players with the easiest, almost freakishly easy high ranges have either slight gap teeth or crooked teeth. In either case it seems to allow a slightly freer vibration of the lips when they are in the formation for making the highest notes, as only confirmed by Philip Smith above. Again, I won’t be in to my dentist to modify my teeth but it is a topic that is out there and one worth understanding, as for horn playing perfect looking teeth are not necessarily the best.

University of Horn Matters