I cannot count the number of times I've heard the simple adage:

To play higher, use faster air. To play lower, use more air, but slower.

And unfortunately, this statement is just as confusing to the student the 100th time they hear it as it was the first time.

So how exactly are these two statements different? If you're using a faster airstream, aren't you also using more air? Are there other factors at play (aperture size, for instance) that help clarify the distinction?

I would also be curious to hear other, more helpful ways of imparting this information to a student.

3 Answers 3


Because the aperture (the center of the embouchure, where the air column comes through) must be larger and the vibration created "wider" for lower notes, a larger volume of air is required per duration of time a low note is sounded, compared to higher pitches.

For higher notes, because the aperture is smaller, the "same" volume of air as some other note, moves faster. ("Same" as what, I'm not specifying -- it's a felt experience rather than a metric one).

My teachers sometimes described low and high notes as being closer or farther away, respectively. "Imagine blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. For low note, the cake is close by; for high notes it's across the room."

For my part, I describe the air for all notes as being identical. What is required is to support the air enough to overcome either the openness or closed-ness of the aperture it must be moved through.

  • 2
    I’m not a brass player but I understand the basic concept of brass instruments. This may sound silly but I have an 18 month old grandson who likes when I take a pool noodle and buzz into one end and create a didgeridoo type sound. It’s easy enough to change my embouchoure and get different pitches but because the “bore” is so large (about 1”) you can REALLY feel the difference in the amount and speed of the air flow when you go from low to high pitches. Like I said, it may sound silly but it also might be a good way of demonstrating the difference. Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 6:06
  • I'm considering posting a new question: "How in the world did it occur to @JohnBelzaguy to blow into a pool noodle?"
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 6:09
  • Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! Gotta keep those little ones entertained! Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 6:13
  • @JohnBelzaguy I'll just leave this here. youtube.com/watch?v=mqkdw8-D0wY
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 6:19
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    ...seriously though, Has anyone made the analogy of water freely coming out of a hose and then partially covering the opening with your thumb so it comes out faster but with less volume? Is it the same? Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 6:32

Consider a garden hose with a multi-sprayer attachment, where you can rotate the sprayer to provide different out flows (eg.: mist, jet, cone, etc.).

If you use the "jet" setting, you'll get water jetting out of the hose. It's moving very fast, but (even ignoring splashes) you'll fill a bucket up faster if you use the "rinse" setting (or take the sprayer off entirely). The "jet" setting has fast water, the "rinse" setting has slow water coming out, but there's more coming out per minute.


faster air I have never heard! faster must concern the vibration of the lips which is built by the pressure of the air, the closing and the tension of the lips to produce higher tones.

Lower tones need more air and looser lip pressure, less tension -> slower vibration.

  • No. The quote is about the air, not the double reed which the lips constitute. If it is as factually accurate as envisioned is a different question. But that is what it is about. Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 17:43

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