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.

Questions – How To Find a Good Baritone Horn Teacher

I was recently emails some questions from MS who wanted to know about finding a baritone horn teacher for a friend’s son.

A friend asked me for a recommendation of a private baritone teacher for her 10yo son in our smallish college town.  I’m a string player, so I feel pretty in the dark here — although my own 10yo son has been playing trombone for a year, which is why she asked me.

I looked up baritone on the internet.  My impression is that baritone is mainly used for marching band.  Is that right?  I don’t think I’m going to be able to convince them to switch instruments, because for some unknown reason, they own a baritone.  But I’m curious.

BaritoneMy first low brass instrument was the baritone horn. It is a cousin of the euphonium, the main difference between these two instruments is the shape of the bore. The baritone is similar to the trumpet and trombone in that it is a cylindrical bore instrument. This means that from about the leadpipe to the bell flare the instrument the size of the tubing remains more or less consistent. In contrast, the euphonium is like the tuba and horn in that the bore size gradually gets larger the further away from the leadpipe. While this does make for a difference in sound, the basic technique of the two instruments is very similar.

The baritone horn is used in many marching bands and also is a typical instrument in British style brass bands. There is a marching version of the baritone that is designed so the bell points forward, like a trumpet, rather than up, like a tuba or euphonium. While most symphonic band literature typically calls for the euphonium rather than the baritone, baritones are sometimes asked for instead and many school bands use baritones instead as they tend to be a little cheaper to purchase and make for a little easier transition from trumpet to baritone. Baritone parts are very commonly notated in a Bb treble clef transposition like a tenor saxophone, again to facilitate a transition from trumpet to the baritone (although in British style brass bands almost all the parts are notated in Bb treble clef).

So to get back around to your point, baritones aren’t just a marching instrument. If the bell points forward, the particular instrument is designed for marching, but if it points upward like the photo above it is meant to be a concert baritone horn.

My main question is about finding a private teacher.  I doubt we’re going to find someone whose main instrument is baritone.  I think it’s going to be someone whose main instrument is either trombone or tuba.  Is that right?  And does it matter which?  My own son’s first private trombone teacher was a tuba player who used his tuba in lessons for demonstrating and playing duets, but who was very familiar with trombone.  That worked fine for my son, who was already advanced for his age with other instruments, and turned out to be a natural at the trombone, so I don’t know if having a teacher playing a different instrument in lessons would work so well for everyone.  I know from my son’s reports of how the group lessons at school went last year that my friend’s son tends to progress at an average pace.  In other words, my son found listening to my friend’s son frustrating, but not as frustrating as listening to a third child.  So by average, I mean in the middle of a sample of !three children.

You will probably not find a music teacher whose main instrument is the baritone horn, but you might be able to find someone who plays euphonium. This is the closest instrument and might be your best bet for private lessons. That said, an awful lot of trombonists and tubists double on euphonium or baritone and would be more than capable of starting a beginner on the baritone. Since the baritone is often used as a double for trumpet players (or, as in my case, to encourage trumpet students to try out low brass to balance school band instrumentation) a trumpet teacher should also be able to help start a beginner on baritone quite well. This isn’t so much different from a violin instructor who can also start violists, for example. While certain mechanics and literature of each instrument are unique, basic brass technique is the same for all instruments.

My advice is that if you can’t find someone who is a euphonium player for private lessons would be to look first for a trombonist or tubist who teaches privately and then perhaps investigate trumpet teachers. More importantly than what instrument the teacher plays, however, is making sure that the teacher has experience at working with beginners or at least has an interest in teaching students at that level.

You mention that you live in a college town, so I would imagine that the college’s music department, if it has one, would be a good place to start. If the college teachers there do not take on extra private students there may be a college student who is interested in teaching beginners and the professor may be able to recommend a music education major. The middle school and high school band directors would be another resource to check out. Again, they may not be taking on private students, but they often know who the music instructors in the area are and can recommend someone.

Finally, your blog is very interesting reading, but it would be great if some day you could pull out some bits and pieces from your oeuvre that would help someone like me.  What do I need, as a non-brass-playing musician parent of a brass player?  Practical advice about technical and musical development, setting up fun activities for my child at home, help finding good play-along recordings, method books, repertoire books, duet books, etc.  I found the article about buzzing helpful, but I have to read pages and pages of detailed text to find the nuggets that are helpful for our situation.  Also the advice about young players needing to sing the difficult note first, in order to get it into his/her ear first — that’s great to read, but I’d like an easier way to find those sorts of tips, since I’m unlikely to make my way through your entire archive.

Thanks!

Thanks for the kind words and excellent suggestions. My regular readers know already that I tend to focus my posts on things for either the music student or music teacher, but I do get frequently contacted by parents looking for information and advice on helping their children with music studies. I’ll give your suggestion some more thought and see about compiling something more specific for parents and posting it here soon.

Anyone else have any thoughts for MS about finding a private instructor for baritone horn? Did I leave off anything important or would you like to correct something I wrote that is misleading? Feel free to leave your comments below.

Fingering For Brass Players

While trombone is my primary instrument and it’s been a while since I’ve seriously doubled on any other brass, I’ve been thinking lately about fingering issues after doing a “guess the embouchure type” post of trumpet player Giuliano Sommerhalder.  One of the things I noted about the video I used for that post was that Sommerhalder doesn’t place his finger tips on the valves, but instead places the second digit of his fingers over the valves.  Even though this isn’t what is traditionally taught for fingering technique Sommerhalder is obviously not slowed down by this.

Coincidentally, I’ve recently come across a couple of articles online about fingering that comment on these things.  A friend of mine from grad school at Ball State University, Dr. Adam Gaines, wrote a short article for Blessing Brass called There Are Only Three Valves.  In it, Adam notes: Continue reading Fingering For Brass Players

Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players Take 2

Here is a cleaned up version of my 50 minute video presentation called Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players.  While I’ve had this presentation up on YouTube already, I had to split it into 6 parts when I initially posted it.  Later I tried to post it in a single video, but the audio and video didn’t sync up towards the end.  This time I believe it should work just fine all the way through.

The Double Buzz

It’s a common enough experience. You’re happily playing away when suddenly your tone splits into two different pitches. Usually it’s only a simple missed attack and you can instantly correct and hold the pitch stable. Sometimes this happens around a particular note and starts to get impossible to hold the the pitch without the tone splitting. It might even get to the point where you’re so worried about this that every time you get to that pitch you mentally or even physically flinch, which just makes the problem worse.

Having had this problem myself a couple of different times I can really empathize with brass players who are having this trouble. Not understanding what exactly is going on can make it challenging to figure out what to do. Sometimes the solution that seems obvious only makes things worse and sometimes it goes away on its own, only to come back later.

While I’m sure there are many possible culprits, in my experience a double buzz is likely to be caused by one of the following scenarios.
Continue reading The Double Buzz

Rebooting Your Breath

Have you ever felt nervous just before a very important performance?  Have you ever felt so anxious that you literally couldn’t catch your breath as you started to play?  It’s so tough to stop that “fight or flight” breathing once it’s started, because it’s a natural biological response.  It also makes it harder to play a brass instrument.

Sometimes taking a few deep breaths can do the trick, but it can help to “trick” your body into resetting your breathing patterns.  I’ll sometimes do this short exercise just before stepping out on stage and have given it to a lot of my students who get nervous just before performances or juries.   Continue reading Rebooting Your Breath

A Euphonium Embouchure

YouTube user “Suiram1” has uploaded a video of his embouchure.

Suiram1 asked if I had any comments for him.  It’s a pretty short video, and it’s very difficult to diagnose or suggest anything without being there in person, but I thought I’d point out some things I notice.

First, his embouchure is definitely one of the downstream types.  If you look closely at the lips when he’s playing in the transparent mouthpiece you can see this.  There’s more upper lip inside so that lip predominates and the air strikes the bottom of the cup.  This is more common than the upstream embouchure type.   Continue reading A Euphonium Embouchure

Embouchure Misconceptions – Five Myths About Brass Embouchures

If you look around at a number of different resources for brass players and teachers you will notice that while there is a general consensus on topics such as breathing, there is a lot of contradictory advice on brass embouchures.  In the above video I look at five commonly held myths about brass embouchures.

1.  If you want to sound like a famous player you should use the same embouchure as that player.  If you want your students to have a well functioning embouchure, they should use the same embouchure as you.

Most players and teachers seem to feel that the embouchure that works well for them personally must be the correct one, so they instruct others to play similarly.  Sometimes students who emulate a famous player believe the key to sounding that good is to adopt the same embouchure as that player.

The trouble with this logic is that everyone has a different face and what works well for one player doesn’t for another.  There are examples of successful brass players with very different looking embouchures.  A one-size-fits-all approach to embouchure development will be successful if you or your student happens to have the anatomy suited to that instruction, but others will fail. Continue reading Embouchure Misconceptions – Five Myths About Brass Embouchures

A Brief History of Brass Instruments

What is a brass instrument?
Before getting into the history of how brass instruments and brass music originated and developed it is necessary to be clear on what a brass instrument actually is. A brass instrument is defined as an “aerophone,” which means it is an instrument where the musician must blow air into the instrument. The musician produces the tone by buzzing the lips into what is generally a cup-shaped mouthpiece. It doesn’t mean that the instrument is necessarily made of brass, since instruments that are made of other metals, wood, horn, or even animal bone are included in the family of brass instruments. Likewise, other instruments that are made of brass or metals, such as the flute or saxophone, do not constitute members of the brass family of instruments. Continue reading A Brief History of Brass Instruments