Wilktone

Jazz, brass, composition, and other things music related.

Wilktone - Jazz, brass, composition, and other things music related.

Embouchure Type Switching – Very High and Medium High Placement Confusion

Long time readers of my blog will know the huge influence my teacher Doug Elliott has had on both my playing and teaching. Doug was the first person I met who understood the role that anatomical features influenced a brass musician’s embouchure. My lessons with Doug inspired me to learn more about brass embouchures and to begin researching that topic seriously. My dissertation, the correlation between Doug Elliott’s embouchure types and selected physical and playing characteristics among trombonists was largely based on a lengthy interview he graciously agreed to give me. The embouchure types I use and much of the other terminology I use were taught to me by Doug. I know other folks who have similar experience studying and teaching brass embouchures, but Doug’s presentation has always been my favorite.

Yesterday I was able to catch the first lesson I’ve had with Doug in a few years. It was also particularly exciting for me because I brought a couple of trumpet player friends along with me and got the chance to again watch Doug teach first hand. I’ve had the chance to watch both of these friends play up close many times before and even been asked for advice about their chops in the past, so it was very interesting to compare my thoughts and suggestions to Doug’s. Of course, I found my own lesson to be insightful. Doug has always been able to spot things that I do inefficiently, even though I can make it work for most of my playing. He also clarified some things for me that I had thought I had a good grasp on, but still needed more guidance with. My lesson, however, is probably worth a post of its own later.

The topic of the day ended up being players who are “very high placement” embouchure types but who have characteristics of the “medium high placement” embouchure type. Both of my friends who came along for lessons were in this situation and some recent online discussions (including my most recent Guess the Embouchure Type post here) and a private email discussion I’ve been having with John W. dealt with this pattern.

This situation has been a tricky one for me to help students with in the past. There have been times where I’ve been able to spot what was going on right away and immediately help, such as one of the trumpet players I documented in Part 2 of my video/blog post on embouchure troubleshooting. In that particular case the trumpet player was playing well with a “very high placement” up to a certain point in his range, but then reversed the direction of his embouchure motion in his high range. Once I helped him keep the direction of his embouchure motion moving up to ascend (instead of pulling down in that range, like a “medium high placement” embouchure player would) his upper register opened up and increased.

My friends had some similar experiences in their lesson with Doug. One of them I was already convinced should be a “very high placement” player. Doug helped him tweak his horn angles and embouchure motion and slightly altered the way he set his embouchure formation. My other friend wasn’t so obviously a “very high placement” type player to me, but Doug spotted it right way. What I found most interesting about watching this lesson was my friend’s tendency to bunch his chin while playing. My thought was that in order to determine this friend’s correct embouchure type would be to get him to first stabilize his embouchure formation and then his embouchure type would become apparent. Doug, on the other hand, found his correct embouchure type and the embouchure formation stabilized on its own, without needing to address it at all. My friends bunched chin was a symptom, not the cause, of his playing inefficiencies.

This situation is a pretty common one and I suspect is the most likely scenario for a player who gets diagnosed with what is sometimes caused “embouchure dystonia” or “embouchure overuse syndrome.” Doug seems to agree with me that the cause of the embouchure dysfunction isn’t usually neurological or overplaying, but rather than a physical playing situation causing some problems that turn into a lack of confidence and setting up a downward spiral. Because most players aren’t familiar enough with how brass embouchures function correctly (and how this can be different from player to player), they aren’t informed enough to find the root cause of their problems. I think Doug was the first person I heard use the analogy that this is like lifting with your back. You can get away with it for a while, and even lift very heavy objects like this when you’re in shape. Over time, however, this can lead to troubles and even injuries.

I wonder if this confusion between playing as a “very high placement” embouchure type and “medium high placement” type usually ends up with the player correctly playing as a “very high placement’ embouchure type. If I understand Doug’s point of view correctly here, this is more often the case, rather than players ending up best as a “medium high placement.” embouchure type. This might be because that players who have the anatomy that makes a “very high placement” embouchure type are more common than the other embouchure types. On the other hand, it appears that there’s something about many “very high placement” type players that allows them to play to a high degree with characteristics of the “medium high placement” type, albeit inefficiently compared to how their chops can be working.

I know there are some regular commentators here who belong to the “very high placement” embouchure type. If you are (or think you are), have you ever had a period where you struggled due to playing with characteristics that are associated with the “medium high placement” embouchure type? If you know that you’re really a “medium high placement” have you ever been mistyped (by yourself or others) as a “very high placement?” Please leave your comments and thoughts about anything related to this topic below.

If you’re looking for help with your embouchure I can’t recommend highly enough Doug’s expertise. You can contact Doug for lesson inquiries through his web site. He also makes great customizable low brass mouthpieces, which can learn more about there too.

Weekend Gig and Weekend Picks

If you’re in western North Carolina this weekend, come on out to hear the Asheville Jazz Orchestra perform at the White Horse Black Mountain on Saturday, September 20, 2014. We play two sets of big band jazz starting at 8 PM.

Here are my picks for your weekend music-related surfing.

It do be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, ye scurvy dog! Drink yer grog and let loose with some Pirate Music & Sea Shanties.

Now this is concentration. Watch as this flautist performs flawlessly in spite of a butterfly landing right on her nose and camping out for a while.

 Here’s a very interesting and insightful essay posted by trombonist Alex Iles about Versatility vs. Adaptability. He writes:

Just as a gymnast must adapt and constantly re-distribute her weight and energy in order to perform difficult choreographed routine on a 4 inch wide balance beam, freelance musicians must adapt to a wide variety of demands that are constantly changing.

Here’s one for the trumpet players, although every musician will get some good info from this one. Pick up some advice on how to play in a big band trumpet section.

And lastly, since it’s marching band season here’s a description of the Seven People You Meet at Marching Band Contests.

“High Standards” by Lenoir Sax

lenoirsaxhighstandardsA new album by Lenoir Sax, High Standards, is available. This group commissioned 9 sax quartet arrangements by me a while back. I had a lot of fun working on these arrangements for them and blogged a bit on most of the arrangements as they were finished offering some of my thoughts while working on the arrangements and some of the things I found particularly interesting about each tune.

If you want to hear some samples and purchase it you can do so here at CDBaby.

Guess the Embouchure Type – Melissa Venema

It’s been a while since I’ve played “Guess the Embouchure Type.” To bring it back I’m going to take a look at Dutch trumpet player Melissa Venema. She’s a remarkable player at only 19 years old at the time I write this. She was 18 in when this concert video was recorded.

There are several pretty good shots of her embouchure, but it may be tricky to pick her embouchure type. Take a close look and see what you think. My guess after the break. Continue reading

Weekend Picks

Lots of projects keeping me busy lately. Until I can get some more original content posted, here are my weekend picks.

How many times does the chorus repeat in your favorite song? How many times have you listened to that chorus? Repetition in music isn’t just a feature of Western pop songs, either; it’s a global phenomenon. Why? Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis walks us through the basic principles of the ‘exposure effect,’ detailing how repetition invites us into music as active participants, rather than passive listeners.

Not your cup of tea? How about looking through a Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments?

Do you have aspirations to freelance as a musician? Danny Barnes has some great advice on How To Play In Someone Else’s Band.

Lastly, web comic The Oatmeal describes in a both amusing and enlightening way The State of the Music Industry.

Weekend Picks

I’m playing tonight (Friday, August 29, 2014) at Highlands Playhouse with the Asheville Jazz Orchestra. Dinner is served for attendees at 7 PM and the concert starts at 8. Stop by if you’re in the area.

Here are my picks for your weekend surfing.

Liz Ryan offers 7 Reasons To Let Your Kid Study Music. It’s a little different from your typical list that strives to show a connection between musical study and academic success, although there’s a bit of that in there too.

Are you a trumpet (or any brass) player looking for some new exercises to break things up? Check out the Exercise Database For Trumpet Players, Teachers and Students.

In 1920s America admitting to a homosexual relationship could get you thrown in jail or worse. In spite of that, some lesbian blues singers more than alluded to their preferences. Lisa Hix has written a fascinating look at Singing the Lesbian Blues in 1920s Harlem.

Lastly, it’s easy to find YouTube videos of trumpet players showing off their high range. If you find those videos impressive, you’ll enjoy this High Note Trumpet Nation Anthem.

Embouchure Question – Doubling on Brass

Kelly is a brass doubler who was looking for some help with his or her embouchure type.

Hi, i was wondering if there is any way i can tell if im i medium high placement or a very high placement player? I feel i am a flexible player, but i struggle with anything above the staff (Trumpet player) i also play euphonium, but the opposite occurs. Its much easier for my to play in the upper register on euphonium than on Trumpet. does this mean i’m a medium or high placement player?

This is a tough question to answer, even when I’m able to watch you play in person. In order to actually give someone targeted advice about embouchure I at least need to see some video footage (here is a post I’ve put together that describes in detail the sort of thing that I like to see on video). There is so much that can happen with a player that causes similar symptoms that any suggestions I offer without watching a player can be the complete opposite of what they should be doing. Even working with a student in person it can be difficult to tell with just one lesson which embouchure type will work best in the long term for a player.

Based on what Kelly wrote above I would look at how Kelly’s embouchure looks on both euphonium and trumpet and see if they are indeed the same embouchure type or if Kelly is using a different embouchure type for the different instruments. It’s best if a player can play with the same embouchure type for any brass doubles and it will work better if a player places the mouthpieces in concentric circles on the lips, rather than lining up the top of the rim, for example, in the same place. That can result in type switching or even just having to work harder on one of the instruments because the lips may be fighting for predominance inside the mouthpiece cup.

It’s not hard to find trumpet players who can pick up a low brass instrument and play very high, but struggle with the low register. If you’re used to focusing your embouchure inside a trumpet mouthpiece you can more easily force the lip vibrations into that very small surface area inside a low brass mouthpiece and play into the trumpet range. On the other hand, usually the tone isn’t so focused sounding and often these trumpet players have difficulty descending this way. Lip compression needs to start from the mouth corners, not inside the mouthpiece cup. When these trumpet players learn to do this their tone and low register might open up, but they will loose some of their high range until they learn how to ascend from this more appropriate embouchure formation.

Another fairly common situation is to find brass players (even non-doublers) who type switch between “very high placement” and “medium high placement” embouchure types. At times it will be clear after a little experimentation which embouchure type is going to be correct, but it can also be very difficult to tell, particularly for players who have not been playing for very long or younger players. Since your anatomy determines the most efficient embouchure type it is often necessary for the player to allow some time to complete the growth spurt before you can more correctly determine the embouchure type. Players who haven’t yet learned good embouchure form (using the correct muscles, firming the lips correctly, etc.) will sometimes fluctuate between embouchure types as the lack of stability makes it hard to figure out what’s going to work.

Without having watched Kelly play, the best advice I can offer for now would be to strengthen up the embouchure formation with some light, simple free buzzing exercises (follow that link for the exercise Donald Reinhardt came up with). I wouldn’t be worrying too much about which embouchure type you have, since if you guess wrong you can end up doing more harm than good. Concentrate on other things (firm your lips before placing the mouthpiece, keep the mouthpiece on the lips while breathing through the mouth corners, practice good breath control, etc.) and over time allow your embouchure type to develop on its own. Most players will naturally and subconsciously figure out their own embouchure type this way.

Sometimes a player will type switch and not work out their own embouchure type, however. In this case it can be very helpful to catch lessons from someone who has a deeper understanding of brass embouchure form and function who can do some controlled experimentation and help you find your own embouchure type. At the very least, lessons with an experienced brass teacher who doesn’t really deal with embouchure will help you with other aspects of your playing that should help your embouchure settle down and make your embouchure type more apparent.

Weekend Picks

If you enjoyed Lloyd Leno’s film, Lip Vibration of Trombone Embouchures, you might like watching a cymbal filmed at 1,000 frames per second.

Here’s a neat project.

We put a Carnegie Hall orchestra in the middle of New York City and placed an empty podium in front of the musicians with a sign that read, “Conduct Us.” Random New Yorkers who accepted the challenge were given the opportunity to conduct this world-class orchestra. The orchestra responded to the conductors, altering their tempo and performance accordingly.

While the title is 7 Surprising Qualities of the World’s Best Improvisers, I don’t think any of them are really all that surprising. Still, it’s a great read and worth a look.

And finally, I was just talking with fellow trombonist Alan about this video of Tommy Pederson performing Flight of the Bumblebee.

Lake Norman Big Band Season Kickoff August 23, 2014

The past couple of years or so I’ve been a clinician for the Lake Norman Big Band, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization. Each year after their summer break they have a day-long band camp where they bring in clinicians to work with each section of the big band band and then host an informal performance for friends and family (followed by dinner). I’ll be working with the trombones again this year, Will Campbell (from the University of North Carolina – Charlotte) is working with the saxes again, Bill Lawing (Davidson College) is the trumpet clinician, and Noel Freidline (“parts unknown”) is the rhythm section clinician. Even though this band is mostly comprised of amateur players, they are all serious about sounding good and it’s really a very fine big band.

While I’m in the Charlotte, NC area this Saturday (August 23, 2014) I may be able to find time after 5 PM to get together for embouchure lessons in the area before I head back to Asheville. If you want to try to meet up drop me a line here.

Weekend Picks

I just began working on a new project that is taking up much of my free time just now. It’s not ready for a public announcement, but it will be of particular interest to student jazz composers and involve the Asheville Jazz Orchestra. Details on the AJO web site and here when it’s ready to go live.

AJO at Woody's and Becky's PartySpeaking of the AJO, we played a private event for one of our trumpet players, Woody, and his wife, Becky. Their sons threw them a 40th anniversary party. Since it wasn’t a formal performance for us and there were a lot of musicians in the crowd to sit in, I got to go out front and listen for a change. I even moved around and took a bunch of photos. Too bad I didn’t think to bring a better camera.

At any rate, here are some music related links for you to surf this weekend. There’s a bit of a theme this weekend. Everything here is something I take with a grain of salt.

Well it’s about time. Science declares Universal Property of Music Discovered.

Researchers have discovered a universal property of scales. Until now it was assumed that the only thing scales throughout the world have in common is the octave. The many hundreds of scales, however, seem to possess a deeper commonality: if their tones are compared in a two- or three-dimensional way by means of a coordinate system, they form convex or star-convex structures. Convex structures are patterns without indentations or holes, such as a circle, square or oval.

Do you buy it? Assuming the math is sound, it’s probably just an interesting quirk. At least that’s my guess.

There’s definitely some good advice and food for thought, but the headline is just click bait, The End of the Symphony and How Today’s Music Students Should Adapt. I’ve been hearing about the end of symphony orchestras for decades and they’re still around.

Speaking of the end, here is Frank Zappa explaining the decline of the music business. An interesting perspective from someone who experienced a changing music industry, but the business has changed quite a bit more since Zappa recorded this.

And finally, here is “Hans Groiner” discussing the music of Thelonious Monk. The comments on YouTube are hilarious.

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