What Is the Rational For How You Set the Mouthpiece?

IIIAA topic over at the Trumpet Herald got me thinking about the initial placement of the mouthpiece on the lips. Robert P asked,

When setting the mp are your lips completely relaxed or do you in some way manipulate them – tense, flex, stretch, pucker etc.?

How would you describe what you do when you set the mp?

The following several posts offered essentially two different procedures. Some folks stated that they set the mouthpiece on the lips only after they firm the lips in some way. Other players offered that they prefered to place the mouthpiece on relaxed lips and firm the embouchure before playing. What I find most interesting, however, is the rational behind these opposing viewpoints.

For the record, I’m in the “firm your lips first” camp and my thoughts here pretty much come from Donald Reinhardt’s here. To paraphrase Reinhardt, it’s best to have as little distortion in your embouchure formation as possible. Firming the lips first and then placing the mouthpiece on them is meant to help they player keep their embouchure formation stable and avoid any twisting or winding up of the lips with the mouthpiece. It also helps the player place the mouthpiece more consistently in the same spot on the lips.

So what is the rational for setting the mouthpiece on relaxed lips? That’s a little harder for me to summarize. It seems that few players actually advocate this, it’s simply what they happen to do. Some of the Trumpet Herald users seem to do this because they are either emulating a player who does this or following the advice from a particular teacher, without elaborating on why they feel this way. The best argument for I’ve heard is that it helps maintain relaxed playing technique and the lips are only firmed when they need to be, while playing, although I don’t think this outweighs the benefits from firming first.

One post brings up the “paralysis by analysis” trope. There’s too much to think about already so why bother? The problem with that argument (or rather, one of the many problems) is that if one way will lead to better results, not adopting it is limiting. If one way can lead to problems not being aware of those issues makes it impossible to accurately troubleshoot. Certainly teachers need to intellectually understand this.

Speaking of embouchure problems, I have heard several logical reasons why placing the mouthpiece on relaxed lips isn’t ideal. I’ve already mentioned above that this can lead to twisting or winding up the lips with the mouthpiece. If you’ve put the mouthpiece pressure on the lips and then firm the lips you can pin the lips in a position that is inconsistent every time you place the mouthpiece back on. The lips have to slide against the mouthpiece rim in order to get into their ideal position inside the cup which means you’re hitting a moving target with your embouchure every time you replace the mouthpiece. If you’re not putting on enough mouthpiece pressure until that split second before the initial attack then you’re making it even more of a moving target.

Regardless, one important point to discuss before moving forward is that regardless of how you set the mouthpiece for the initial attack, when you inhale between phrases if you open your embouchure formation to take in air and firm them again at the attack you’re going to be hitting that moving target again – even if you set the mouthpiece on firmed lips to start with.

Advice and Conclusion

Reinhardt’s process for setting the mouthpiece and how to maintain a stable embouchure formation is, in my opinion, something that all players can benefit from practicing. While his description is of an ideal, making small steps towards that goal can provide good results without obsessing over every small step in the process. Here is a way you can go about practicing this by breaking things up into small chunks.

  1. Pick a warmup with at least 5 minutes of simple exercises that you already have memorized. Long tones and overtone slurs work great for this, particularly if you start in different ranges for a bit.
  2. Use a mirror or video your embouchure so that you can see what you’re doing. Don’t worry about analyzing what you’re doing while practicing, but be aware of what you see.
  3. For that 5 minutes or so of your warmup always firm your lips before placing the mouthpiece on your embouchure formation. It’s not the lips center that holds them firm, it’s the mouth corners. You’re not worried about what note you’re going to play, you want the mouth corners firmed and locked in their playing position.
  4. At first, after setting the mouthpiece breathe through the nose to get used to the “ideal” of having the embouchure already in place. As you practice this, watch your mouth corners in particular in the mirror or video. At first they may loosen up or wiggle around a bit when you inhale and before the initial attack. Before and after the attack you are striving to make it look the same. Your ideal goal is if you turn the sound off on the video you would be hard pressed to tell when the sound starts by watching the embouchure alone.
  5. As you get comfortable with nose inhalations, begin breathing through the sides of your mouth while keeping the lip center touching lightly together inside the mouthpiece. Maintain the mouthpiece pressure as if you were already playing. Simply relax the mouth corners and inhale slowly. It might help to really wet the mouth corners with saliva before placing if your finding they want to stick together. When you attack the pitch the mouth corners should snap into place.
  6. After a few minutes or so of this, forget about it and move on to whatever else you want to practice.
  7. Take a couple of minutes during your warm down to practice the placement again.

That’s it, just a few minutes or so a day. You might find this very weird at first, particularly if you have been doing things differently for decades, as I had. It took me years of practice to internalize this technique to the point of where it’s automatic when I perform. During that learning process, however, I noticed my embouchure formation being more consistent even when I was skipping or missing steps. Other players may take to it quite easily. It’s well worth the effort you might have to put into it to head towards the ideal.

Do you already firm your lips before placing the mouthpiece? Was this a conscious effort on your part or the natural way you play? If you haven’t thought about it before or if you consciously place the mouthpiece on relaxed lips, please considering trying this out for a couple of weeks or so and report your progress. Did you find it helpful or a waste of your time? No change?

Becoming a Better Sight Reader

I wasn’t always good at reading music. When I was a young piano student I frustrated my teacher because I tried to play things by ear instead of learning to read the manuscript. I could get away with this for a while because my mother is a piano teacher and taught out of our house, so I got to hear her students playing a lot of the standard repertoire that I was assigned. Eventually, however, the music got to be too challenging for me to do this and I struggled.

By the time I got to high school I started to take reading music more seriously and got better at it. The thing is, I never really made a huge effort to “practice sight reading,” I simply practiced music and developed a pretty good ability to sight read. In retrospect, it wasn’t just the practice reading music that helped me. I recently came across some advice by Eric O’Donnell on sight reading that is worth reading.

Sight-reading, like many other techniques that we develop as musicians, is a skill – a skill that can be learned and continually improved upon. Rather than putting yourself in a room and trying to blindly improve your sight-reading chops by doing it over and over again, look at the specific elements involved in this skill and work on developing them.

O’Donnell lists five different areas to work on when practicing for sight reading: Concentration, Read bigger chunks of music, Recognizing rhythms and patterns, Looking ahead, and Continue through your mistakes. Read through his entire article to get his discussion on each of those ideas, it’s very good.

I have a couple of things to add to his advice. First, listen to the music you’re practicing – at least the style. Each style of music has it’s own idiomatic rhythms and pitch patterns. Part of what makes sight reading easier is recognizing how the visual patterns you’re looking at should translate into sound. After you’ve heard enough music in that style and seen those patterns enough you’ll make the mental connections that your eyes and brain can gloss over them and look ahead more easily.

And lastly, learn music from the page. In other words, don’t practice sight reading, practice reading the same thing over and over. While I encourage my students to memorize things like scales, chord arpeggios, and tunes, it’s still valuable to practice reading them on the paper. Sure, you may not need to read that scale because you have it memorized, but seeing it on the paper will help you recognize that pattern when you see it in another context. Furthermore, you want to go back and correct your mistakes so that you’re not reinforcing playing something wrong.

Sight reading is a skill, like any other, and it take time and effort to get better at it. Following O’Donnell’s advice will help you speed up your progress by approaching it more efficiently.

Weekend Picks

Here are some random music related links for your surfing this weekend.

An old post by David Valdez in Casa Valdez, he discusses the 8 Tonic System for Improvisation to help you explore new sounds in your improvisations.

The 8 tonic system is an attempt to organize and simplify the methods that have been used to teach improvisors to use Hexatonic/Triad-Pairs in the past. Hexatonic scales used for improvisation is now an important tool of the modern improvisor, yet there are inherent problems with the methods that have been taught up to this point. The biggest problem with Hexatonics is that they immediately sound formulaic and too much like a pattern. The other problem is that in order to use a wide variety of different Hexatonic/Triad-Pairs the player must commit many different formulas to memory in order to make the correct calculations to find the HT/TPs. These formulas are short calculations, like: Major triad from the #11 and Major Triad from the b13, but they start to add up and get overwhelming.

Here’s an interesting discussion by a rock guitarist that I think is good advice for any musician on improving your rhythm.

Here’s an oldie but a goodie by James Boldin for music teachers on Guidelines for Private Instruction.

And lastly, here’s a briefer performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle by one of the masters.

What Can a Japanese Pasta Chef Teach You About Jazz?

I continue to be very busy lately between teaching and gigging, so apologies for letting things be so “dark” around here. Tonight (Saturday, September 26, 2015) I’ll be performing at the Kinston Ballroom in Knoxville, TN for the Knoxville Lindy Exchange with the Gamble/Wilson Swing Orchestra. I really enjoy playing with big bands and this one will be especially fun because I usually end up having to be the music director and deal with all the business stuff when I do big band gigs. This time I get to be a sideman and just enjoy playing.

In the mean time, a bassist who grew up in New Jersey and New York went on tour to Japan and learned how to play jazz from a Japanese pasta chef.

The chef’s name was Toshiaki Yanase, and cooking pasta wasn’t even his main gig; he also ran a small fruit stand! His life story, and his dishes ended up being symbolic to much of what I experienced in the country, and drew some interesting parallels to improving in music. I was on tour with a wonderful Japanese pianist named Yuki Futami. And while traveling throughout the country, inspiring encounters like these were all too common-some directly related to music, and others like in the case with Toshi, perhaps a bit more metaphorical. I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned during my stay.

An Introduction to the Pedagogy of Donald S. Reinhardt

The following article is a rewrite of an earlier one originally published in 2003 on the Online Trombone Journal, entitled An Introduction to Donald S. Reinhardt’s Pivot System. Because the OTJ is currently not being updated and the code used to publish everything is so old the original article is currently unaccessible on the OTJ. I decided that this would be a good time to revisit the article and make it more accessible to folks wanting an introduction to Reinhardt’s teaching without overwhelming them with details that may not be relevant to their teaching or playing. If you wish to read the original article I have posted it here.


Doc_reclinedDonald S. Reinhardt (1908 – 1989), was an American trombonist and music teacher. As a young man he was frustrated with his lack of technical progress on the instrument, in spite of practicing very hard and studying with many experienced music teachers. One day an accident damaged the tuning slide on his trombone and when it was returned from the repair shop the counter weight was inadvertently left off. When Reinhardt went to play again the loss of the counter weight led to a much lower horn angle than he usually played, however the results were markedly better for him. Because the different embouchure that resulted was so unusual compared to the other brass player’s Reinhardt knew he became interested in studying how other musicians played. Over time, he analyzed and categorized thousands of players’ embouchures, tonguing, breathing, and other mechanical aspects of brass technique.

In 1939 the theater orchestra where Reinhardt performed was fired and so he took some time off to travel across the United States with his wife. While on this trip he met a young trombone student in Kansas, whom he gave a short lesson to. Helping this student led to Reinhardt’s interest in teaching brass musicians how to better achieve technical mastery of their instruments. Over the next couple of years he gave brass lessons for free in order to test out his ideas. In 1954 he established a teaching studio in Philadelphia.

Reinhardt called his approach to teaching brass the “Pivot System,” a name he would eventually regret. The term “pivot” led to the impression that he taught brass players to tilt their horn around while playing, while the term “system” implied that there was a universal approach that all brass students were to follow. Instead, the goal of his pedagogy was to find the physical and mental procedures that allowed each student to progress according to their anatomical and psychological makeup. He wrote:

The PIVOT SYSTEM (sic) is a scientific, practical, proven method of producing the utmost in range, power, endurance and flexibility on the trumpet, trombone and all other cupped-mouthpiece brass instruments. It was originated not only through forty years of research and experimentation in practical playing, teaching, writing and lecturing to many thousands of professionals, semi-professionals, supervisors, teachers, students, etc., but also through designing and producing personalized mouthpieces and being consultant of instrument design for several leading manufacturers of brass instruments.

This system, working on tried and tested principles, first of all analyzes and diagnoses the physical equipment of the player and then presents a specific, concrete set of rules and procedures which enable the individual to utilize, with the greatest possible efficiency, the lips, teeth, gums, jaws, and general anatomy with which he is naturally endowed.

– Reinhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, 1973 page XI

Because of the personalized nature of Reinhardt’s teaching it is very difficult to provide a summary of his pedagogy. He would break down his discussion of playing mechanics into three primary playing factors, breathing, tonguing, and embouchure. Depending on the needs of the student Reinhardt would emphasize one playing factor over another and developed individualized routines to help students improve.

Breathing

Reinhardt’s ideas on teaching breathing mirror what many other brass teachers and players have advocated over the years. He felt that the foundation of good breath control began with good posture, whether seated or standing. Two areas where Reinhardt approached breathing somewhat differently from many other brass teachers were his suggestions on “timed breathing” and mouth corner inhalations.

Reinhardt believed that rather than always taking a full breath to play that brass players should aim to take in enough air to play the phrase comfortably and no more. He felt that over breathing, particularly for the upper register, caused problems, including dizziness and strain. Under breathing would lead to a thin tone and lack of coordination with the tonguing and embouchure. He asked his students to practice breathing in slowly when possible, rather than trying to inhale enough air to make the phrase as quickly as possible.

More unusual than Reinhardt’s recommendation for timed breathing were his advice on mouth corner inhalations. Reinhardt felt that many playing issues were caused by brass musicians pulling their lips away or out of position from the mouthpiece to breath. In order to combat this tendency he instructed his students to keep the mouthpiece in place on the lips while breathing through the mouth corners. He likened the mouth center to an “outtake valve” while the mouth corners functioned as an “intake valve.” When the inhalation was complete the student was to snap the mouth corners forward into playing position immediately and without hesitation begin the blowing.

Tonguing

Reinhardt’s instructions on tonguing could be very detailed and different for students, depending on factors such as the size of the student’s oral cavity, length of the tongue, relationship of the lower lip to the lower teeth, and other anatomical and stylistic considerations. However, he broke down the mechanics of tonguing on a brass instrument into the following.

The tongue as used in the PIVOT SYSTEM has three principal duties: one, the level of the tongue-arch is one of the factors for the control of range; two, the length of the tongue backstroke is one of the determining factors for volume and speed; and three, the tongue-level directs and governs the size of the cone-like air column so that it may strike the back of the compressed embouchure formation to produce the lip-vibrations for the particular tone to be played.

– Reinhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, page 82.

He discouraged almost all his students to avoid attacking pitches with the tongue striking the lips. He wrote:

“Whenever a performer permits his tongue to penetrate between his teeth and lips, he is actually opening them to allow the tip of his tongue to penetrate between them. In so doing, he is subconsciously depending upon the timing of his reflexes to bring his lips together again for the purpose of vibrating. Some players get by in this manner for years but as they advance in age and their reflexes slow down, the real playing difficulties commence.”

– Reinhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, 1973, pp. 100-101.

For more information about Reinhardt’s tongue types please visit this page about that topic.

 Embouchure

Arguably it is in the area of embouchure where Reinhardt’s teaching can contribute the most to brass pedagogy. He was perhaps the first brass author to make note of different embouchure types and make them an important part of his teaching. While these ideas remain somewhat controversial still today, the embouchure characteristics he describe have been independently discovered by later authors and researchers and make for a powerful pedagogical tool for brass teachers willing to make the effort to learn more about them.

In order to understand Reinhardt’s embouchure types it is first necessary to understand two basic characteristics that all brass players’ embouchures have, whether or not the player is aware of them, air stream direction and an embouchure motion that Reinhardt originally called a “pivot.”

Downstream Embouchure
Downstream Embouchure

While many brass players consider air stream direction to be the result of the player’s horn angle, use of a transparent mouthpiece shows that the main determining factor of the embouchure air stream direction is the ration of upper to lower lip placed inside the mouthpiece. When a brass player places the mouthpiece so that there is more upper than lower lip inside the mouthpiece cup the upper lip predominates and the air stream can be seen to pass the vibrating lips at a downward angle. When the a downstream brass musician plays in the upper register the angle of the air stream is directed even more so in a downward direction. Conversely, when a downstream embouchure player plays in the low register the air stream angle is closer towards blowing straight into the mouthpiece shank.

Upstream Embouchure
Upstream Embouchure

Upstream embouchure players are exactly opposite. These player set the mouthpiece upon the lips so that the lower lip predominates inside the cup and the air stream gets blown past the lips at an upward angle. When these musicians play in the upper register the angle the air stream passes the lips is even more upstream while in the lower register the air stream angle appears to get blown closer to straight out.

To learn more about brass embouchures and air stream direction please visit this page devoted to the topic.

The other main embouchure characteristic that is used to categorize a brass musician’s embouchure according to Reinhardt was the phenomenon he called a “pivot.” Reinhardt adjusted his definition of this term over time, and would later regret using it as a label for his pedagogy. Early in his teaching career he defined a pivot as:

Pivoting is the transfer of what little pressure there is used in playing from one lip to another. . . The instrument is slightly tilted to get the tone at its most open point.

-Reinhardt, Pivot System Manual for Trombone, 1942, p. 23.

This definition implies that the tilting of the instrument is the important consideration with the pivot, leading many to erroneously assume that Reinhardt advocated tilting the horn up and down in order to change registers. His later definition of the brass pivot is a more accurate description of the phenomenon.

The PIVOT is controlled by pulling down or pushing up the lips on the teeth with the rim of the mouthpiece. The outer embouchure…and the mouthpiece move vertically (some with slight deviations to one side or the other) as one combined unit on the invisible vertical track of the inner embouchure …; however, the position of the mouthpiece on the outer embouchure must not be altered in any way.

– Reinhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, 1973, p. 194.

Where some players would ascend by pushing the mouthpiece and lips together as a unit upward towards the nose to ascend, other players pulled the mouthpiece and lips together down towards the chin to ascend. Many players will also perform best with the track of this motion at an angle, rather than straight up or down. Horn angle may be correctly altered at the same time, but the amount of change and direction the horn angle may change is personal to the player. To learn more about the embouchure motion Reinhardt called a pivot please visit this page devoted to the topic.

Using the player’s air stream direction, direction of pivot, as well as the position of the jaw while both at rest and while playing Reinhardt would classify four main embouchure types with five subtypes, resulting in nine different embouchure types. Because some of these types function the same while playing, most former students of Reinhardt’s tend to only classify students into three or four brass embouchure types.

Before learning about Reinhardt’s embouchure types it’s important to note that he felt that a player’s embouchure type was determined by the student’s anatomical features and isn’t a choice that a student or teacher can make. Reinhardt felt that long term progress and playing success was best done with adopting the one embouchure type that best fit the student’s physical characteristics rather than switching between types or adopting a type that wasn’t most efficient for the player’s anatomy. Each embouchure type has some general characteristics and may respond to exercises and routines in very different ways. Over decades of careful experimentation, Reinhardt developed practice routines and exercises that were designed to help players of different embouchure types progress successfully.

Embouchure Type I and Type IA

Type I Teeth Structure
Type I Teeth Structure

The Type I and Type IA embouchures are rarer than most of the other types. These player’s upper and lower teeth meet when the jaw is in its natural position. Oddly enough, this teeth and jaw structure appears to inhibit anything other than a very high mouthpiece placement (downstream Type I) or very low (upstream Type IA) mouthpiece placement from working efficiently. Other than the position of the teeth, these types are virtually identical to other embouchure types while the musician is playing. Type I embouchures are identical while playing to either the Type IIIA or Type IIIB embouchures and the Type IA embouchure is identical to the Type IV embouchure while playing. Because of this fact, the Type I and Type IA embouchures will not be covered in detail here (Reinhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, 1973, p. 205).

Embouchure Type II and Type IIA

The Type II and Type IIA embouchures are similar to the Type I embouchures in that they are distinguished by the natural position of the upper and lower teeth. Players belonging to this rarer type have lower teeth that protrude in front of the upper teeth when the jaw is in its resting position. Because of this teeth and jaw position these individuals will almost always play with an upstream embouchure, necessitating a mouthpiece placement with more lower lip. Other than the position of the player’s teeth while the jaw is in its resting position, the Type II embouchure is virtually identical to the Type IV embouchure. The Type IIA embouchure are very similar to the Type IVA embouchure while playing. Because of these similarities the Type II and Type IA embouchures will not be covered here in detail (Reinhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, 1973, pp. 206-207).

Embouchure Type III

The Types III, IIIA, and IIIB are much more common than the Types I, IA, II, and IIA. These player’s lower teeth naturally recede behind the upper teeth when the jaw is in its resting position. Players belonging to these types rarely protrude their lower jaw past the point where the upper and lower teeth are even and all three types place the mouthpiece with more upper lip inside the mouthpiece cup.

Reinhardt’s Type III embouchure, often called the “Jelly Roll Type,” plays with a mouthpiece placement with usually only slightly more upper lip inside the mouthpiece cup. Because there is more upper lip than lower lip inside the mouthpiece the air stream is directed at a downward angle inside the mouthpiece cup. The jaw is typically receded beneath the upper and because of this the horn angle is typically tilted lower, often quite extremely. In addition to the receded lower jaw, one of the main distinguishing features of this embouchure type is that the player’s lower lip membrane is positioned in and slightly over the lower teeth. As this type player ascends the lower lip roll becomes more pronounced.

The Type III embouchure motion is usually to pulling down towards the chin to ascend and pushing up towards the nose to descend. In rarer cases Type III embouchure players will do the reverse pivot and push up to the nose to ascend while pulling down to descend.

In many cases a Type III player will have difficulties with the extreme upper register, changing types as he or she plays from around a concert F above high B flat or higher. This is particularly common with trumpet players, due to the smaller mouthpiece size and increased demand on faster lip vibrations. In these situations Reinhardt would reclassify this player as a Type IIIA or IIIB, according to their embouchure in the extreme upper register. True Type III players have a jaw that cannot protrude far enough to make a playing on a Type IIIA or Type IIIB possible. (Sheetz, PivoTalk Newsletter, Vol. 2, #3, p. 3).

One common difficulty Type III players have is their necessity of playing with the bell directed towards the floor because of a receded lower jaw. Players with this trouble need to be careful to not put their head too far back and place undue strain on their neck, restricting the throat (Sheetz, Quirks of the Types).

The Type IIIA embouchure tends to play with the mouthpiece placed quite high, often just under the nose with trombonists. These players also typically protrude the jaw more than the standard Type III players, but never to the point of thrusting the lower teeth beyond the upper teeth. With the jaw in a more protruded position the horn angle tends to be almost horizontal, and sometimes even higher. Because the upper lip predominates inside the mouthpiece cup this type also is classified as a downstream type.

Type IIIA performers always utilize Pivot Classification One, pushing up towards the nose to ascend and pulling down towards the chin to descend. When a student found that Pivot Classification Two worked more efficiently Reinhardt would classify the player as a Type IIIB (Reinhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, 1973, pp. 208-209).

Brass players belonging to Reinhardt’s Type IIIA embouchure often have a tendency to raise their horn angle while inhaling. When they bring the mouthpiece back down to play they crash the mouthpiece rim against the lips, causing swelling and inhibiting endurance. Type IIIA players of larger mouthpieces, such as trombonists, may find that their nose gets in the way of their ascending pivot, necessitating practice increasing their lip pucker instead of relying exclusively on their pivot to ascend (Sheetz, Quirks of the Types).

IIIA
IIIA Embouchure Type

The Type IIIA embouchure tends to play with the mouthpiece placed quite high, often just under the nose with trombonists. These players also typically protrude the jaw more than the standard Type III players, but never to the point of thrusting the lower teeth beyond the upper teeth. With the jaw in a more protruded position the horn angle tends to be almost horizontal, and sometimes even higher. Because the upper lip predominates inside the mouthpiece cup this type also is classified as a downstream type.

Type IIIA performers always utilize Pivot Classification One, pushing up towards the nose to ascend and pulling down towards the chin to descend. When a student found that Pivot Classification Two worked more efficiently Reinhardt would classify the player as a Type IIIB (Reinhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, 1973, pp. 208-209).

Brass players belonging to Reinhardt’s Type IIIA embouchure often have a tendency to raise their horn angle while inhaling. When they bring the mouthpiece back down to play they may crash the mouthpiece rim against the lips, causing swelling and inhibiting endurance. Type IIIA players of larger mouthpieces, such as trombonists, may find that their nose gets in the way of their ascending pivot, necessitating practice increasing their lip pucker instead of relying exclusively on their pivot to ascend (Sheetz, Quirks of the Types).

Embouchure Type IIIB

IIIB
IIIB Embouchure Type

The Type IIIB embouchure is perhaps the most common one, especially among symphonic brass players, and is therefore most frequently described in method books by brass pedagogues who recommend a single embouchure for all students. These players typically don’t place the mouthpiece as high as a Type IIIA embouchure or as low as a Type III. The upper lip still predominates inside the mouthpiece cup and this embouchure is therefore classified as a downstream embouchure. The lower teeth of a Type IIIB player is receded beneath the upper teeth on these players and the horn angle is usually slightly lower than a IIIA.

Type IIIB players always utilize Pivot Classification Two, pulling down towards the chin to ascend and pushing up to descend. When a Type IIIB student finds that Pivot Classification One is more efficient this player should be reclassified as a Type IIIA (Reinhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, 1973, p. 209).

Type IIIB embouchure players tend to have great flexibility and an easier time playing with a darker tone quality, but also have a tendency to become so concerned with a fat sounding lower and middle register that they play with too open an aperture. This results in difficulties playing above a concert D flat above high B flat. Because this type utilizes Pivot Classification Two it is also common for these players to dig the mouthpiece rim into their upper lip, causing swelling and trouble with endurance (Sheetz, Quirks of the Types).

Embouchure Type IV and IVA

Embouchure Types IV and IVA players have lower teeth which recede beneath the upper teeth while their jaw is in their resting position, but since these types place the mouthpiece with more lower lip inside the cup than upper lip the air stream is directed at an upward angle, regardless of the position of the jaw while playing or horn angle.

IV
IV Embouchure Type

In addition to placing the mouthpiece lower on the lips, Reinhardt’s Type IV embouchure plays with the lower jaw quite protruded beyond the upper, in spite of the jaw’s natural position. While playing this embouchure type is identical to Reinhardt’s Type II embouchure. Due to the protruded position of the lower jaw the horn angle of this embouchure type is very high, sometimes higher than horizontal.

Type IV players almost always utilize Pivot Classification Two, pulling down to ascend and pushing up to descend. There are exceptions, however. In those exceptions Reinhardt often found that the mouthpiece placement was too low for this player’s embouchure and the player should adopt a different embouchure type (Reinhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, 1973, p. 210).

It is common for Type IV players to change their horn angle while inhaling and crash the mouthpiece against the lips for initial attacks, similar to the Type IIIB embouchure (Sheetz, Quirks of the Types).

IVA
IVA Embouchure Type

Type IVA embouchures are identical to Type IV embouchures with a couple of exceptions. Like the Type IV, these players place the mouthpiece with more lower lip inside the mouthpiece and the air stream is directed in an upward direction. Unlike the Type IV embouchure, Type IVA players keep their jaw in a somewhat receded position so that the lower jaw is beneath the upper while playing, resulting in a downward horn angle.

The Type IVA embouchure typically utilizes Pivot Classification Two, pulling down to ascend and pushing up to descend, but there are some deviations to this principle (Reinhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, 1973, pp. 210-211).

The type IVA embouchure can be a very delicate embouchure type in the player’s early stages, which may be one reason why so many brass method books actively discourage utilizing this embouchure. When the Type IVA placement is a little wrong the whole embouchure system can often break down completely. Similar to the Type IIIB embouchure, Type IVA players often dig into their upper lip while pivoting down to ascend, causing excessive swelling (Sheetz, Quirks of the Types).

Further Exploration

The best way to learn more about the pedagogy of Donald S. Reinhardt is to study from one of his former students, particularly the few who attended his teacher clinics. Most of the students that Reinhardt taught focused exclusively on their personal correctional procedures and may not be as qualified as others to correctly classify a student’s embouchure type or design a good routine. Today there are more “second generation” students who learned about Reinhardt’s pedagogy from one of his former students and who have gone on to make it part of their own teaching.

Baring lessons with a qualified teacher, the most detailed book about Reinhardt’s teaching is The Encyclopedia of the Pivot System. Reinhardt’s intention with this large text was to help students who were taking lessons with him. It is organized in a frequently asked questions format by topic, but little effort was made to arrange the materials in a linear manner. The writing style can be very technical at times and this book may not be the best introduction to Reinhardt’s pedagogy, although serious students of the Pivot System will want to read this book. Pivot System for Trumpet/Trombone, A Complete Manual With Studies is a much older book and much of the writing in this book is considered out of date compared to the Encyclopedia of the Pivot System. It does, however, contain many exercises that Reinhardt developed to help players with breathing, tonguing, articulations, embouchure development, range, dynamics, and more. Like the Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, these books are best explored under the guidance of a teacher experienced with Reinhardt’s pedagogy who can help the student design a routine that fits the individual’s particular embouchure and tonguing types.

Selected Bibliography

Elliott, D. (1998). Ten questions with Doug Elliott, The Online Trombone Journal [Online]

Everett, T. (1974). An Interview with Dr. Donald S. Reinhardt, The Brass World, Vol. 9, No. 2, 93-97.

Reinhardt, D. S. (1973). The Encyclopedia of the Pivot System of the pivot system for all cupped mouthpiece brass instruments, a scientific text. New York: Charles Colin.

Reinhardt, D. S. (1942). Pivot System for Trombone, A Complete Manual With Studies. Bryn Mawr, PA: Elkan-Vogel, Inc.

Reinhardt, D. S. (1942). Pivot System for Trumpet, A Complete Manual With Studies. Bryn Mawr, PA: Elkan-Vogel, Inc.

Sheetz, David H. Gone But Still Important, PivoTalk on the Web [Online] Unavailable

Sheetz, David H. Quirks of the Type, PivoTalk on the Web [Online] Unavailable

Wilken, D. (2000). The correlation between Doug Elliott’s embouchure types and playing and selected physical characteristics among trombonists. D.A. diss., Ball State University.


Additional Resources

Trumpet Herald Donald S. Reinhardt Forum
An online forum devoted to discussing Reinhardt’s teaching and the Pivot System. Discussion here is actively moderated to restrict content to things written or spoken by Reinhardt exclusively.

Donald Reinhardt Facebook Discussion Group
A Facebook group for discussing the pedagogy and life of Donald Reinhardt.

Donald S. Reinhardt Foundation Official Website
The official web site of the Donald S. Reinhardt Foundation, a not for profit organization devoted to preserving the teachings of Reinhardt. At this time this web site has not been updated since 2011.

The Reinhardt Foundation Facebook Page
The Facebook page of the Donald S. Reinhardt Foundation.

Christian Lindberg On Mouthpiece Buzzing

This excerpt from a Christian Lindberg video master class where he discusses why he doesn’t practice mouthpiece buzzing. It’s caused quit a “buzz” online, since he goes against what is traditionally taught.

The gist of Lindberg’s argument is that getting a resonant buzz on the mouthpiece and a resonant tone on the trombone really require different things and when you practice a good mouthpiece buzz you’re actually practicing a poor trombone sound. Now I’m skeptical of Lindberg’s demonstration, since how we think we are playing doesn’t always reflect what we’re actually doing. That said, I think the point he makes is valid.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that mouthpiece buzzing, done a certain way and with appropriate moderation, doesn’t help. I generally don’t practice mouthpiece buzzing a whole lot anymore myself, but find myself going to it while teaching lessons frequently. I will usually have my student play a passage on the instrument, then take out the mouthpiece and buzz the same passage. When buzzing, I instruct the student to only tongue the initial attacks after a breath and let the air and embouchure change all other pitches. Repeated notes, say four quarter notes of the same pitch, will be buzzed as one long note, one whole note in my example. Following the mouthpiece buzzing I ask the student to immediately put the mouthpiece back into the instrument and play again.

The results are usually instantaneous. It seems to help players move more air and also focus the embouchure more precisely on pitch. It also doesn’t usually last for very long, so I tend to use this more as a quick “pick up” technique to get the student focused on more positive results. There are, in my opinion, other things which are more beneficial in the long term to practice, but are harder to describe because they depend on each individual student’s embouchure and stage of development.

What do you think? Does Lindberg have a point or is he off base? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

pBone as a Practice Tool

IMG_5009A couple of weeks ago I finally broke down and picked up a pBone. If you’re not familiar with what a pBone is, it is a plastic trombone available in different colors (I got a red one). They play surprisingly well, noticeably better if you put a metal mouthpiece in rather than the plastic one that comes with the instrument.

I picked up a pBone because I wanted a super-cheap instrument I could carry around very easily and not worry too much about it getting knocked around. Since I picked it up, I’ve noticed a couple of unexpected benefits from practicing on it that I hadn’t anticipated.

First, while the instrument does play pretty well it is stuffy in the low and upper register for me. This has been forcing me to really focus my chops and air on playing the correct pitch, rather than on allowing the instrument to slot the pitches for me. In some ways this is similar to mouthpiece buzzing practice in that if I play something low or high on the pBone and then immediately switch over to my real instrument it feels easier than usual and sounds better.

The other benefit I’ve noticed is when I practice Donald Reinhardt’s “Endurance Routine.” If you’re not familiar with this routine, you will play for an entire hour without taking the instrument off the lips for the entire time. While this is certainly tiring on the chops, I find that my left arm gets very tired from holding my trombone up the whole time. I generally won’t play this routine with my symphonic horn, which weighs more than my jazz instrument, specifically because my left arm gets so tired after about 20 minutes or so into the routine. Since the pBone is very light, I find that my arm deals with holding up the instrument for so long much easier and I can concentrate on keeping my chops set for the whole time without having to hold the instrument with my right had between exercises just to let my left arm down for a moment. It makes it much easier to get through the whole routine for me.

There are a lot of plastic instruments becoming available these days. I’ve seen plastic trumpets, flutes, and clarinets and I think there are others available too. While these instruments aren’t great, they are good enough to suit many purposes, including making instruments available for students who might not otherwise be able to afford to purchase an instrument to learn to play. At MusicWorks! Asheville, an elementary music program I teach at, we have some plastic flutes and clarinets that our woodwind students are learning. Eventually they will need to move on to real instruments, but the plastic instruments fit our needs perfectly at this stage.

Weekend Picks

It’s Friday and it has been a while since I’ve posted some random music-related links for you to surf this weekend.

Coping With Change As Brass Players Age is an essay written by trombonist and composer Brad Howland. Frankly, everything he mentions in there is good for brass players of any age.

An odd side effect of a mood-stabilization drug might actually be able to help adults develop absolute pitch. Read more about it on Want Perfect Pitch? You Might Be Able To Pop a Pill For That.

While this Music Timeline is short on classical music (meaning none) it is a neat interactive way to explore popular and jazz music styles.

Believe it or not, my own composing has been influenced by cartoon music. Here’s an old Warner Brothers cartoon that I love, featuring music written by the great Shorty Rogers, The Three Little Bops.

Wynton Marsalis’s Twelve Ways To Practice

Arbonmethod.com has republished an article by Wynton Marsalis wrote for Education Digest in 1996 called Wyntonʼs Twelve Ways to Practice: From Music to Schoolwork. One of Marsalis’s goals was to talk about how to get the most out of your practice time, whether it’s musical practice, athletics, academics, or anything requiring dedication and hard work over time. Go and check out what Marsalis has to say in detail at the link above, but here are his 12 suggestions and my thoughts on each of them.

1. Seek out instruction

When I poke around online I frequently find questions posted on brass fora by music students looking for help. Often times the best advice given to them is to find a teacher. The fact that we have such a powerful resource like the internet has become today is extremely helpful for music students, but it’s no replacement for personalized instruction and individual attention.

2. Write out a schedule

I don’t have a written schedule any more, since my day to day activities change so frequently, but I do have a general plan of attack for getting my practice time in. One of the reasons that I feel I can get away with this nowadays is that I spent my time in college keeping a pretty rigid practice/composition schedule that was written out. Putting it on paper really helps, so try it out.

3. Set goals

You’ve got to have a target to shoot for if you want to improve, and you need to set goals that are long term (too difficult for you right now), medium term (almost possible for you right now), and short term (obtainable today).

4. Concentrate

It’s very easy for me to get distracted by other things during my practice. Multitasking just doesn’t work. In fact, if my recollection is correct, resent research suggests that folks who feel they are good at multitasking are fooling themselves and actually perform worse at multitasking than people who feel they are poor at it. Turn off the TV/computer/cell phone, etc. Put all your attention on what you’re practicing and you’ll get more out of less time.

5. Relax and practice slowly

When you practice you’re not simply getting better, you’re developing habits. You want those habits to be correct. Spend your time practicing slowly enough to play correctly and as relaxed as possible and you’ll find it easier to transfer the same correct playing mechanics and relaxed effort into faster playing and performing.

6. Practice hard things longer

In order to get better you need to work on your weaknesses. It can be frustrating to practice longer on things you’re struggling with, but the payoff in the long term will be better.

7. Practice with expression

Personally, I would amend this suggestion slightly to emphasize that you should always spend part of your daily practice focusing your practice goals on playing expressively. There’s a time and place to take your mind off of musicality so you can pay attention on playing mechanics, but never forget that your ultimate goal is to make music.

8. Learn from your mistakes

We all make mistakes. It’s human nature to deny those mistakes to ourselves. This is the biggest mistake because without experiencing failure for what it is, we won’t be able to make the necessary corrections. Be honest with yourself. It’s also easy to get too down on ourselves when we recognize our failures. Instead, understand that during this time we have a choice to turn it into a positive learning experience. Don’t dwell on them, acknowledge them and work out what you can do to improve.

9. Donʼt show off

This one is similar to #6 above. It’s fun to play what we can already do well, but this isn’t practicing, it’s showing off. You’re not supposed to sound great in your practice, you’re supposed to be pushing yourself and working on things that are a little harder than you can currently do. Otherwise you’re not practicing, you’re rehearsing or performing.

10. Think for yourself

Dr. Tom Streeter, my trombone and jazz teacher from college, used to always tell me that his goal was to make me my own best teacher. He didn’t teach me to play music, per se, he taught me how to learn music.

11. Be optimistic

Having a positive attitude about yourself and your goals will go a long way in not only making it more fun, but also in your willingness to put in your daily practice. It also makes you more fun to work with, and since music is usually a collaborative art, your fellow musicians will be more fun to play with. Since what we do in the practice room is what tends to come out in performance you’ll want to practice being positive in your practice too. If you don’t feel optimistic, fake it ’till you make it!

12. Look for connections

This one is easy for me, since I happen to be interested in lots of different things, some completely unrelated to music. Always keep in mind that art is not created in a vacuum. Find the inspiration and advice from where you can.

You should definitely go to Marsalis’s thoughts on his twelve above points. If you have any of your own thoughts to share, please leave them in the comments below.

Stabilizing the Embouchure

Daniel shared a video of his embouchure with me and asked me about helping his range. After watching it, I wrote the following in response. Since the advice I gave Daniel is something that I continue to work on myself, I thought I’d share it here.

By the way, I still have a backlog of emails from players who are waiting for some embouchure help from me. I’m sorry about the delay, and please feel free to drop me a reminder email about it.


Hi, Daniel.

Your situation is one that is kind of tough for me to be specific based on what I can see on a video. In person there are some things we could try and they might provide better clues, but for now I think you should think about having a good overall embouchure formation. Once that’s working a little better it becomes easier to get more personalized.

Watch the video and see how your lips open for the breath and then have to come together quickly as you attack the pitch. This way of breathing is great for taking in large breaths very quickly, but it’s rough on the chops. First, every time you take a breath the mouthpiece has to lighten up on pressure when you open your lips, but then has to “crash” back against your lips for the attack. It’s not as stable and it’s rough on endurance. Secondly, when you go to attack the note it’s very tough to have both the lips firmed correctly for the note and the mouthpiece to be on the right place on the lips.

Just for practice, I’d suggest you take any warmup/routine exercises you do and as you go through a practice session, do a little bit of the following:

  1. Firm your lips as if you were going to buzz.
  2. Place the mouthpiece on the firmed lips and don’t allow yourself to change the position of the lips at all (you might want to wet your lips to set the mouthpiece so it can more easily slide to where it wants to go without twisting up your lips in any way).
  3. Breath in and play the exercise.

When it comes to inhaling for the first note of the exercise you should start out by leaving your chops set, ready to play. You can learn to do this in stages:

  1. Breathe through the nose (your lips firmed and the mouthpiece pressure as if you were already playing).
  2. Breathe through the mouth corners while keeping the lips inside the mouthpiece together. A little more mouthpiece pressure than you might use while playing can help you keep the lips center together while breathing through the mouth corners.

Eventually it can really help to go to breathing through the mouth corners like #2 just above all the time, not just for the first note after putting the instrument on your lips, and not just for exercises. But for now just spend 5-10 minutes a day at the beginning of your practice trying this out for the first notes you play when you put the horn to your lips.

If you find that as your practicing this that your mouthpiece placement wants to drift in any direction (up, down, left, right), allow that to happen. Your placement looks very close to half and half, which actually is not that common. If you find getting the high notes out is easier with a placement higher or lower on the lips, spend some practice time playing with that mouthpiece placement and see what happens.

After a couple of weeks of trying this out let me know how it feels to play now and even take another short video. Please take a look at the link I sent earlier. It will tell you the things to video record that help me figure out what’s going on.

Good luck!

Dave