Hissing behind soft palate

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Hissing behind soft palate

Post by drivelikebrazil » Tue Jun 19, 2018 3:47 pm

Just for context: I've been a lurker for a while back at TTF and now here, and finally worked up the resolve to get back to regular practice and playing (despite having no groups to play with :cry: ). It's been about 10 years since I've seriously played the horn, and after few months of regular practice I'm finally starting to feel like I can actually get back to where I was.

However, I've been noticing a slight hissing sound while I play that seems to be coming from behind my soft palate. I don't remember having a hissing sound back in high school/college. Is this just part of getting back in shape, or do I need to do something specific to knock it out?

Thanks in advance
Doug Elliott
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Re: Hissing behind soft palate

Post by Doug Elliott » Tue Jun 19, 2018 4:15 pm

Do you mean an air leak into your nasal passages? That's all I can imagine, if you really mean behind your soft palate.
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Re: Hissing behind soft palate

Post by drivelikebrazil » Tue Jun 19, 2018 7:00 pm

That's definitely a better way to describe it, yes. Is this a common 'getting back in shape' problem that will go away with more practice?
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Re: Hissing behind soft palate

Post by paulyg » Tue Jun 19, 2018 7:17 pm

Try buzzing the mouthpiece, that can tend to sort these kinds of problems out, or at least highlight what you're doing differently on the horn.
Paul Gilles
Aerospace Engineer & Trombone Player
Doug Elliott
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Re: Hissing behind soft palate

Post by Doug Elliott » Tue Jun 19, 2018 9:13 pm

It might go away with practice but it could also be a structural defect with your soft palate that allows air to leak past it. Somebody, I think it was Elliot Chasanov, wrote about having that problem and I think he actually had surgery to fix it.
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Re: Hissing behind soft palate

Post by Wilktone » Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:49 am

My wife is a speech therapist and tells me this isn’t normal. She asked if you ever have food or liquid regurgitate from your nose? This could be a symptom of velopharyngeal insufficiency and she recommends you try to visit with an ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor). Ask the ENT if seeing a speech/language pathologist might be helpful for you. There may be some specific therapy you can do to strengthen the seal to the nose.

She also mentions that this is more common with folks who are overweight, so depending you might find exercise and a healthy diet also helps.

But don’t take medical advise from the internet. Visit your doctor and get a referral if he/she thinks it’s right for you.

David Wilken
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Re: Hissing behind soft palate

Post by drivelikebrazil » Thu Jun 21, 2018 6:58 pm

Thanks everyone for all of the input!

Dave, other than the classic laughter while drinking, I haven't had any issues like that, but I'll definitely ask the doc about it, just to rule that out.

Thanks again!
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Re: Hissing behind soft palate

Post by SaigonSlide » Mon Jun 25, 2018 3:17 am

Do you notice more in the upper register? I have a bad habit of lifting the back of my tongue ALOT when playing some notes in the upper register to speed up airflow. It does kind of make a hissing sound.
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Re: Hissing behind soft palate

Post by brtnats » Mon Jun 25, 2018 9:33 am

When you go swimming, if you put your face in the water, can you feel water filling your nose and dripping into your throat?

I ask because that's what happens to be, and it has since I was about 5 years old. My trombone teacher in college noticed it, and it's some kind of defective seal of the soft palate. It doesn't impact my life, so I haven't opted to have it repaired, although repair is an option. If I'm playing really loud, and you're standing very close to me, you can kind of hear it, but usually the air pressure of playing pushes it closed.

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Re: Hissing behind soft palate

Post by ghmerrill » Mon Jun 25, 2018 11:12 am

I've noticed the same problem in the past year, having committed to playing bass trombone full time and staying away from the tuba. It's only in the high register and is clearly caused by higher pressure in the mouth and nasal cavities. In my case, I KNOW what the cause is ...

Over 20 years ago, my ENT carved a bit off my soft palate as part of a uvulectomy in an attempt to treat my chronic snoring. Unfortunately, he got a little much and over the years I've had to be more careful about eating certain things which can "go the wrong way" if I don't take care. I can also have trouble taking certain kinds of pills and capsules if I'm in a hurry. But otherwise, I never noticed any other effects until I started working on the octave above the staff on the bass trombone. Now I get just the sort of hissing sound reported here. Not constant, and I can affect it to at least some degree, but it clearly happens when I'm straining a bit for higher notes (and is probably a clue that I'm doing that wrong!).

Also, as we age, those tissues become somewhat "softer" (resulting in old people snoring more readily), and that may be part of the cause.

Oh ... and the success in treating my snoring? It didn't work at all. What did work (about ten years later) was going on a CPAP machine nightly to treat sleep apnea. Changed my life.
Gary Merrill
Wessex EEb Bass tuba
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1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba
Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)
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Re: Hissing behind soft palate

Post by Slyde » Fri Sep 07, 2018 5:36 am

This is a known problem amongst some wind players. I have treated several people for this condition, flute, oboe, French Horn, bagpipes but to date never trombone. It may well resolve as you get back into practice and your soft palate strengthens. It is known as velopharyngeal incompetence in wind players. Basically the soft palate is not strong enough to occlude the nose from the mouth when you blow. Just keep practicing and see if it resolves. If and only if you are at a professional level and it is affecting your career would I suggest you consider surgical treatment as this can have potential side effects. You would need to see an experienced cleft palate surgeon (of which I am one) who can properly investigate the problem and be sure it is someone who knows what they are doing as the wrong procedure could ruin your playing days and give you sleep apnoea.
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