A Study of the Involuntary Activation of the Valsalva Maneuver In Brass Players

Photo provided by the Drinko Center for Undergraduate Research at Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA.

I have been awarded a fellowship through the Drinko Center at Westminster College for undergraduate research and am studying The Causes and Effects of the Involuntary Activation of the Valsalva Maneuver in Brass Instrumentalists. In layman’s terms, the Valsalva maneuver is when the glottis closes to block the airway, which is a normal function of the glottis, but it can cause problems in brass players if it happens at the wrong time.

Symptoms vary from person to person but can include lightheadedness, clicking or a guttural sound in the throat, pressure buildup in the chest and/or esophagus, inability to play a note, and/or “musical stuttering” or a sudden burst of a repeated note. For some players, these issues can be cleared up with regular practice, but for some, the remedy is not very clear.

My ultimate goal is to find out what is happening in the vocal tract at the time these issues occur and to develop a pedagogical approach to helping the player overcome these issues.  The goal of this initial 6-week fellowship is to collect data from as many brass instrumentalists as I can about issues they and/or their students experience related to the involuntary activation of the Valsalva maneuver and to gather data during the playing of the instrument as to what actions trigger the issues.

The current research is focusing on two main areas to collect data. The first is an online survey and the second is a playing study which involves playing a series of exercises on their main brass instrument and answering questions about what they feel and experience during those exercises. They can participate in both (if they play a brass instrument) or just the survey (as a player and/or teacher) or just the playing study (again if they play a brass instrument.)

For the online survey, I’m in need of brass players and people who teach brass players (which can include non-brass instrumentalists, such as someone who is a band director) to take a survey about their experiences playing their brass instrument and/or their experiences teaching someone to play a brass instrument. The survey can take up to 30 minutes, depending on if they play and teach or if they just play or teach. For those who just play or teach, the time to take the survey will be shorter. Click here for the link to the survey.  It can be taken any time up to at least August 9. It may run later but I ask people to take it sooner rather than later so I can begin analyzing the data. If the link doesn’t open, please copy and paste the following into the browser:


For the playing study, I have a series of exercises that include long tones, single and multiple tonguing, chromatics, range, lip flexibilities and an etude. The exercises are not meant to be difficult. The point is not to test skill but to try to see what is happening in the vocal tract while the exercises are being played. If the instrumentalist is unable to play any of the exercises, we just move on to the next.

These playing tests would ideally be done in the Westminster College School of Music in New Wilmington since I have arrangements to do my research there, but arrangements can also be made to do it via SKYPE or other video conferencing software if travel to the college is not possible. I will be taking video during the playing test, but only so I can review them later and will not be used in any presentations of the data.

The playing study will take about an hour to an hour and a half but realize that much of the time is not actually playing but talking about what was played so it is not a solid hour or so of playing. Anyone wishing to participate can contact me at heritb22@wclive.westminster.edu and/or if they are taking the online survey, can provide contact information at the end of the survey. I am currently scheduling these between now and August 9, 2019.

Thank you,

Tim Hering

Research Invitation