Embouchure Type Questions: Which Type Is Right For You?

Tristin sent the following question to me about his embouchure.

Hi! I am a sophomore at a fine arts school and I love to play the trumpet in band. However, while I was playing one day, I noticed that I change embouchure to play different registers of the trumpet better. I then tried experimenting to find a suitable embouchure for me to play the full range of my instrument, but I found that I can play pretty much the same with all the embouchure types you wrote about: very high, medium-high, and very low. This confuses me greatly, and I do not know which embouchure is best in the long run according to my anatomy. i find myself constantly switching between the three every time I play to try and find which one is best. To worsen the situation, I started to develop a double-buzz and my playing is going downhill. Which embouchure setting is best for me? I’m not sure if this helps, but I have an overbite, though I seem to even the teeth when I play. Thank you.

As always, I can’t offer specific advice without being able to watch you play (preferably in person). I don’t teach video lessons for embouchure troubleshooting because I don’t find them conducive to troubleshooting, but sometimes I can spot something if you are able to post a video of your playing. Check out what I wrote here for what I need to see in order to help you out.

While I can’t tell you which embouchure type is going to be best for you in the long term without watching you play, I can speak generally about your situation. Keep in mind that everyone is different and what I’m saying here may not necessarily apply to you. Sometimes players will want to practice in a way that helps make a correction and then go back to another way of playing later.

Which brings me to my first general point. Assuming your the typical age for a high school sophomore in the U.S., your anatomical features that determine which embouchure type is going to work best for you may change around. Some folks continue to grow up until they’re about 21 years old. Even older brass musicians will sometimes find embouchure features changing around as teeth naturally shift or as they develop as players. Even if I could be there to watch you play it might be that you just need some more time playing before your embouchure type settles down. This is far more common than most people realize. It can be very frustrating for a player, particularly if they have no idea why they’re struggling.

Rather than worry about what embouchure type you should be playing on, it may be better for you to practice developing good embouchure form. While embouchure characteristics vary from player to player, there are some good rules of thumb for all players that will help you use the most efficient muscles and develop the strength and control you’ll need when your embouchure type settles down.

One exercise I like to help players develop strong chops is the free buzzing exercise I wrote about here. Just a little bit every day long-term is best with this exercise. Don’t overdo it and remember it’s just an exercise, not a method to diagnose your embouchure. Think of it like weight lifting for your chops.

Regarding your double buzz, it’s entirely possible that it’s being caused by you shifting your mouthpiece placement all around trying to find your best embouchure type. Since I suggest you not worry about your embouchure type for now, pick a placement that’s not too centered and stick with it for your entire range as much as you can. Usually I will recommend starting with the placement that works best for your high range and practice descending from there. That said, there are too many exceptions for me to say this should be universally followed. A double buzz can be caused by several different things. I’ve written about it here for some further information.

You mention you have an overbite and bring your jaw forward to more or less align your teeth when you play. That would suggest either a “very high placement” embouchure type or a “very low placement” type, because for these players this jaw position is most common. Again, there are too many exceptions for this to be a truism. Also, just because you’re protruding your jaw to play now doesn’t mean you’ll always want to or that this is necessarily correct for you now. Much like your best embouchure type, I wouldn’t be too concerned with what your jaw is necessarily doing right now beyond keeping it more or less in place and reducing or eliminating a jaw drop to descend.

Since you’re studying at a fine arts school you are probably getting exactly the sort of instruction and experiences you need to get better. While I hope that I’ve been able to give you some helpful ideas, your best resource right now will be the teachers and instructors you get to work with in person. Have fun and good luck!

Embouchure Question: Does Trombone Playing Develop Trumpet Endurance?

Here’s another question from way back (February!) that I’m finally getting around to.

Hi Dave,

First of all, many thanks for all the information you make available here. It is invaluable.

Here’s my question, in a nutshell – Will picking up the trombone and practising for, say, 30 minutes a day help a cornet / trumpet player develop their endurance, beyond what they would get by just playing their main horn?

I understand this might vary from case to case, and on the quality of the embouchure on both horns. But assuming an efficient (even if not highly developed) embouchure on both horns, would you say this would generally help from a purely “muscular” point of view? Could it even prompt a more efficient embouchure by “forcing” the player to “do things right”?

A little bit about me if you don’t mind – I’m a comeback cornet player after a 5 year break.
My range and endurance were never great. I never got above, say, a G on the staff.
The good news is – I don’t care about range too much. As an amateur trad jazz player, I don’t want to hit screaming high notes. As long as I can play within that range comfortably and play a singing solo, I am happy. So my main concern is really endurance. I still find myself struggling sometimes about 6 months into my comeback.

I would love to meet you in person, but I live in London so that would unfortunately not be possible any time soon (hey, who knows, I might be coming to New England some of these days). Sooner or later I might make a video as and send it to you to have a look at if you don’t mind, which would of course be much appreciated.

Many thanks again for all your time and effort you put into the site. Sorry if this turned out to be a long message!

All the best,

This is really a good question, and to be honest I don’t have a very firm answer for you. I used to double on the different brass instruments, but I found it difficult to keep all of them up and especially had trouble moving from low brass to high brass. These days I infrequently play brass other than trombone, but I also have a much better understanding of how my embouchure works than I did when I was doubling seriously. As a result, I can play with a pretty decent range on any brass instrument, albeit with limited control and not such a good sound on high brass.

Most of the time when I pick up a secondary instrument it’s in a teaching situation to either demonstrate something or fill in a missing part. I do still sometimes practice trumpet in order to work on some specific things for my trombone embouchure. Occasionally I’ll play a low brass secondary and I find adapting to the valves more tricky than a different mouthpiece on low brass.

I think brass players can learn a lot about how to play their primary instrument by practicing other brass instruments. Generally speaking, going from something smaller to something larger (trumpet to trombone, euphonium to tuba, etc.) can help many players learn to move air better and relax the embouchure formation. Many trumpet players will play some trombone as a warm down (in fact, I recommend trumpet players who practice lots of pedal tones replace that with trombone playing).

Moving from larger to smaller (tuba to trombone, euphonium to horn, etc.) can often help players learn how to focus their air properly for their upper register. I don’t have the source at my fingertips (so take this with a grain of salt), but I recall that Arnold Jacobs (I think) once measured the air pressure required to play the exact same pitches on different brass instruments and found them very similar. For example, a trombonist playing a B flat above the bass clef staff will use the air similarly to playing a written C in the treble clef staff on trumpet (both Bb 4). There’s also probably some good strength building in the embouchure musculature that helps translate when going back to the lower brass instrument.

As you suggest, practicing on a secondary brass instrument with a significantly different mouthpiece size can force you to “do things right,” or at least to help you move into a more correct direction. I feel it’s best to go into such practice with an understanding of what specifically you’re going to work on and to carefully monitor your playing so that you can avoid picking up the wrong things or going too far in one direction. If you’re finding it beneficial to your primary instrument keep practicing your secondary, but don’t overdo it and get too much of a good thing. Likewise, if it’s causing problems you should dial it back or even eliminate it for a while.

To all the other brass doublers out there let us know what you feel in the comments below. Do you find practicing a secondary brass instrument beneficial to your primary instrument? Do you find differences going from a larger to smaller compared with going smaller to larger?

Embouchure Questions: Relationship Between Free Buzzing, Mouthpiece Buzzing, and Playing

I really need to go through my inbox and respond to all the good questions I’ve gotten. This one is from January.

Hello, Dr. Wilken. My name is Kevin and I am a college sophomore who plays the trombone, and I just had a few questions. First, I would like to ask what the relationship is between free buzzing and buzzing on the mouthpiece alone. I can free buzz a little bit, but I do not do it often. And I can buzz on the mouthpiece fine although I wasn’t really able to when I first started playing which was about 3 years ago. Should you be able to free buzz a note and translate that into mouthpiece buzzing? Also, what would be the best thing to do to try and play with great tone? A lot of times when I play, I play with a nasally sound, and I really want to fix that. I realize that I should probably already know the answers to these questions since I have been playing for a couple of years, but my initial training wasn’t too informing because I switched somewhat spontaneously about halfway through high school. Thank you very much for your time.

There are similarities between free buzzing, mouthpiece buzzing, and playing your brass instrument, but there are also some important differences. If you’re clever and understand how your embouchure should function (or have proper guidance from a teacher) you can use buzzing to enhance your playing. If you’re not sure what you’re doing or are working under a false assumption, you can develop habits that potentially work against your playing.

In order to put this into context you need to have a basic understanding of the different brass embouchure types. Of the three basic types, two place the mouthpiece higher on the lips and are considered downstream embouchures. The third is less common, places the mouthpiece low on the lips, and is upstream. You really can’t choose your embouchure type, the one that works best for you is dependent on your anatomy, not your teacher’s embouchure or what player you want to emulate.

One of the reasons why this is important is so that you broaden your understanding of the influence the mouthpiece and instrument have on how your embouchure functions. Consider first that when buzzing, either with the mouthpiece or lips alone, you don’t have the instrument slotting the correct pitch according to the overtone series. This means that you can be a little bit off with your embouchure firmness for any given note and the horn will force your embouchure into the correct pitch, assuming you’re close enough.

Try taking a legato phrase or three from a Rochut etude or something similarly lyrical. Play those phrases on your instrument first and make sure you know what the pitches sound like, then buzz it on your mouthpiece. When you buzz it, I recommend you eliminate tonguing from the equation and only allow yourself to tongue the initial attacks after taking in a breath. Don’t worry too much about glissing between pitches, although if you can accurately mouthpiece buzz without sliding from note to note you should. Immediately after mouthpiece buzzing pop the mouthpiece back into the instrument and play the passages on your instrument.

Usually after this sort of practice players will find that their playing feels easier and the tone sounds more focused and resonant. Mouthpiece buzzing correctly will force you to focus the embouchure vibrations perfectly, rather than relying on the instrument to help slot the embouchure for you. It also requires more air to mouthpiece buzz. When you transfer the feeling of mouthpiece buzzing to playing the instrument it can make the playing more efficient in these ways.

However, often this feeling and improved timbre go away after a minute or so of playing. Furthermore, it’s pretty easy to mouthpiece buzz in a way that isn’t so conducive to good playing, but works great on the mouthpiece alone. Because of this, and also because the improvements you’re working on with mouthpiece buzzing can also be developed in other ways, I hesitate to recommend mouthpiece buzzing unless I am able to show a player how I prefer to approach it and how to avoid problems. In a nutshell, try to mouthpiece buzz with the exact same embouchure formation as you play with. Don’t let your lips get blown more into the cup when buzzing than how you normally play. It may feel to you like this is a good thing when you transfer it to the instrument, but I don’t feel this practice is sustainable in the long term for most players.

Free buzzing is also a different animal from playing and mouthpiece buzzing. As an upstream trombonist, I use free buzzing in my own practice purely as a strength building exercise. I feel that all players can benefit from some simple free buzzing exercises for just 2-5 minutes a day (follow my link above on free buzzing to learn about one exercise). Many downstream players can also benefit from free buzzing into the instrument. For downstream players at an appropriate stage of development free buzzing a pitch and then bringing the mouthpiece and instrument up to the lips can help them find the most efficient mouthpiece placement, horn angle, lip position, and fine tune other embouchure characteristics. For upstream players, and some downstream players, this exercise will work against your playing, so use at your own risk.

Regarding your question about playing with good tone, it’s difficult to offer specific advice since I haven’t been able to watch you play. Mouthpiece and free buzzing can help, if done correctly, but could also potentially mess you up if overdone or practiced wrong. Don’t forget the importance that breathing and tongue position have on your tone quality too. There are times in a player’s stage of development where it might be better to accept a thin sound short term in order to practice playing correctly long enough to develop the knack for opening up the sound.

Guidance from an experienced teacher with regular lessons will go a long way here compared to advice given over the internet. You mentioned you’re a college student, but not if you’re enrolled in trombone lessons at school. Most colleges offer private music lessons for credit, even if you’re not a music major, so check that out in the fall and see if you can get weekly lessons. Even if you already study from your college trombone professor, you might try visiting another teacher for a lesson from time to time and get a different perspective.

Good luck and keep us posted on your progress.

Bill Bing on Playing On the Red and Guess the Embouchure Type

Regular readers may already know that one of my pet peeves is the huge number of brass teachers who (ignorantly, in my opinion) discourage all students from placing their mouthpiece in a way that the rim is contacting the red of the lips. It’s fairly common to hear players talking about the “evils of placing on the red.” I recently came across another example of this by trumpet player Bill Bing.

Bing is skeptical that brass players (or at least trumpet players) can play successfully with the mouthpiece placed in such a way that a lot of rim contacts the lower lip. That said, other than a brief mention at the beginning, the rest of this video doesn’t mention placing on the red at all.  Nor does he explain why he feel’s it’s a bad thing other than that he’s never noticed it before. The closest thing to explaining why this is wrong is when he comments that he didn’t personally find it successful.

My personal experience happens to be the exact opposite of Bing’s. He found it didn’t work to place the mouthpiece on the red of his lips and made a correction that made things better. On the other hand, I found that after being instructed to play with a centered mouthpiece placement moving my setting onto the red of my upper lip actually worked best. It really depends on the individual player and is something that I don’t like to generalize.

At any rate, watch Bing’s video (particularly at around 4:51) and take a guess on Bill Bing’s embouchure type. My guess after the break.

Continue reading Bill Bing on Playing On the Red and Guess the Embouchure Type

Embouchure Questions: Playing Didgeridoo and the Sensation Theory

I’ve got a lot of embouchure questions piling up and want to try to get more of them answered here for folks. Here are a couple from way back (and sorry for the long delay in getting back to you folks!).

Krešo asks:

Hello Dave. I am curious, I bought a didgeridoo and started to mix my trumpet playing and didgeridoo playing. I play didgeridoo mostly as a warmup before trumpet. It seems to get blood flow to lips quicker then else. What do you think about that and can I damage my lips with it?

I have a couple of didgeridoos myself and enjoy playing them once in a while. Personally, I’ve never found them to be detrimental to my brass playing, but you have to realize that a didgeridoo does generally use different techniques and that if you get too used to it and aren’t aware of what you’re doing you might bring some of the didgeridoo technique back into your trumpet playing.

One thing that a number of brass players have experienced is that a bit of playing on a brass instrument with a significantly larger mouthpiece can work great as a warm down. For example, trumpet players might play a little trombone to warm down or trombonists might play a little tuba. The difference between this and what Krešo mentions is that this is as a warm down, not so much a warm up.

I’m not certain that I would use didgeridoo as a warm up, but without being able to watch you play it’s hard to say if what you’re doing could cause some potential risk to your playing or not. One way it could be detrimental is because a didgeridoo feels very different from trumpet and if you try to make your trumpet playing match your feeling of playing didgeridoo you could create some inefficient habits.

John sent the following, not really a question, but some good insights and related in part to Krešo’s question:

Here is James Morrison talking about his warm up or lack of warm up.  


I had heard that he takes the horn out of the case and starts the gig.  When he appeared at the U. of Montana Jazz Festival he said that he hadn’t played any trumpet for the previous two weeks.  I saw him take the horn out and start the rehearsal.  He sounded great from the first note on.  I believe he does what Reinhardt calls the “Sensation Theory”.  I talked to Doug Elliott about this and he agrees.  Doug said that he also never warms up anymore.  The main point is that a player really only needs a couple of minutes of warm up at most.  Anything after that is practicing.

My most influential teacher regarding brass embouchures is Doug Elliott and I recall him saying the same thing to me about his lack of warmups. One of Doug’s teachers was Donald Reinhardt, who wrote a bit about a concept he called the “sensation theory.” In the Encyclopedia of the Pivot System Reinhardt wrote:

The SENSATION THEORY is the approach to the instrument whereby the player relies primarily on feeling rather than on sound to produce his notes. Generally speaking, the more completely the dependence on feeling the player can achieve, the more accuracy he will acquire. As dependency on sound is lessoned, the player arrives at how a note will feel rather than how it will sound. His accuracy and assurance will grow commensurately. . .

Your pre-playing sensation is the feel that you experience in your embouchure formation and anatomy a split-second before you execute your attack for the particular tone to be played.

Your playing sensation is the feel that you experience in your embouchure formation and anatomy during the actual blowing of your instrument.

Your unified sensation, the “must in all consistent brass playing, is the merging of your pre-playing and playing sensation into one solidified feel.

Some folks will confuse this concept with ignoring the sound altogether. Nothing could be further from the truth, but what Reinhardt was advocating was consistency in making your embouchure formation and anatomy matching as closely as possible to what you do when you play before you even start blowing. Brass players who get braces, for example, know first hand how strange it can feel when the braces get put on and taken off and it takes some time to adjust and get comfortable with the feel because of the changing support of the teeth and gums behind the lips and mouthpiece rim.

Or as another example, I remember when my braces came off and I wore a retainer (which I took off to play) I spent a few days talking a little funny because the retainer covering on the roof of my mouth meant that where I was used to putting my tongue to speak consonants had radically changed. Even though I knew exactly what the sound of the words I was speaking should have been, it took me some time to get used to the different feel.

Most brass players will go after this feel of playing unconsciously. Reinhardt was an advocate of specifically going after this unified sensation, which involved some specific playing and practicing techniques that are somewhat unique to his teaching (such as the mouth corner inhalations).

How many of you play didgeridoo? Do you ever feel that practicing didgeridoo is detrimental to your main brass instrument or have you only found positive or neutral effects? How do you think playing didgeridoo affects the playing sensations on your main brass instrument? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and let us know what you think.

More Thoughts on the Stratos Embouchure Trainer

I’ve written about the Stratos device before, although I notice the video I embedded there has since become private. However, there is a newer and much longer video posted now where Stratos inventor, Marcus Reynolds, talks about it at the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine conference in 2013 (I believe).

It’s a rather long video, so if you don’t mind spoilers here is my synopsis.

First, bear in mind that this is essentially an infomercial. You can probably skip the first 60 seconds, since it’s really just soothing music with some scrolling text testimonials and description of what you’re about to watch.

The device itself is interesting. It basically clamps on to your leadpipe or mouthpiece and places an adjustable piece against your chin. If you want to work on bringing your chin forward/your horn angle up I can see how this could be helpful. Reynolds also demonstrates how it can be used to play with less pressure, although I personally feel it’s better to try and identify what is making the player use too much pressure and fix that instead.

I’m not sure how I feel about the demonstration where he keeps putting all the weight on the Stratos on his chin, keeping it off the lips. at 5:08 Reynolds intentionally sounds bad with almost no mouthpiece. He doesn’t elaborate on why it’s a good thing to practice this way, beyond the old trope about “letting the blood into the lips.” In my opinion, if you want to practice like this you should go all the way and simply practice free buzzing.

At around 8:00 in Reynolds talks about a conversation he had earlier with one of the doctors attending his presentation. He mentions how practicing with the Stratos on and then removing it had the effect that the player wants to keep the chin forward. It’s curiously sort of a backwards effect, when you think about it. By placing something against your chin and pushing it back for a while you end up wanting to bring your chin even further forward. While not all brass players will actually want to bring their chin forward to play, this is one area where the Stratos might actually be very useful.

And I have to gripe, of course, about Reynolds’ repeating the old myth that the air stream passes the lips and gets blown straight down the mouthpiece shank (starts about 9:14). Regular readers will already know about some of the evidence that’s available to see brass air stream direction. There may be some value to using the Stratos for some players, but I suspect that it’s not going to help a player learn to blow straight down the shank. In fact, this situation is actually bad for brass playing. If this is the basis on which the Stratos works, then it’s based on a false premise and should be reexamined.

At £149.99 (about $250 U.S.) the Stratos device is not cheap and I probably won’t be getting one any time soon to teach with. I would also love to see someone research carefully and take a more objective look at how well the Stratos works and what it’s helpful for. There’s a lot of potential, I think, but I’m sure it’s not a panacea and might actually hurt more than it helps in some situations. Caveat emptor.

Jim Chesebrough Sabbatical Project – 50 Lessons

Dr. Jim Chesebrough, who teaches at Keene State College, has a sabbatical project going on now where he’s traveling across the U.S. and taking lessons from a variety of different brass teachers. He’s video recording each lesson and then leaving some thoughts up about them on his web site here. It’s a very cool project and sounds like a great way to not only revitalize your own playing but also learn some new approaches and pick up some new teaching tricks.

I learned about Jim’s project when he contacted me asking if he could take a lesson from me as part of it. I’m very honored to be considered, since there is some very august company in his list of teachers. Jim was interested in picking my brain about embouchure with me, so we spent pretty much the entire lesson going over that. It’s not something I always focus on, but it may be one area where the information I can offer is different from what he might get from other teachers.

That said, I know he’s planning on grabbing some lessons with a couple of brass teachers that I’ve learned a lot from, Dave Sheetz and Doug Elliott. It will be interesting to hear what Jim learns from those guys and compare it to what I thought. In our lesson we ended up discussing some comparisons and contrasts of what Donald Reinhardt taught, for example, and some other more traditional approaches to teaching brass technique. Both Dave and Doug studied extensively with Reinhardt.

Check out Jim’s web site from time to time. As he adds new lesson notes and videos I’m sure there will some great stuff up there.

Jon Faddis’ 1977 and 2013 Embouchure Comparison (and “guess the embouchure type”)

Check out the following video of Jon Faddis performing in 1977, when he would have been only about 24 years old. It’s amazing trumpet playing, but take a close look at his embouchure formation and see what you would think if you didn’t hear the sound.

We get to see Faddis taking a breath up close a couple of times and you can see how much he pulls his lips off the mouthpiece and has to reform after every initial attack. His mouth corners don’t look all that symmetrical, which may not necessarily be a bad thing, but his upper lip looks like it’s a little loose on his left side.

It’s always interesting to see such great playing, even when you can spot things that are “wrong” with it. Of course it’s hard to argue with playing like in the above video.

Now compare that to this video from 36 year later, in 2013.

In this video you don’t see so much of Faddis pulling his lips off the mouthpiece when he takes a breath in. Instead, his lips stay in place on the rim and he breathes in through his mouth corners. His corners look more symmetrical to me in this video. There’s overall less excessive moving going around with his embouchure in this more recent video. Everything looks more stable overall. At least this is how it looks to me.

I find the idea of being able to view great brass players’ embouchures early on in their careers and compare their playing later on to be an interesting avenue to explore. How do players in their early career compare to years later? Do players with more longevity tend to have certain embouchure characteristics or develop those features as they continue to play?

And while I’ve mentioned Faddis in some other posts here concerning his embouchure type, I don’t think I’ve actually done a “Guess the Embouchure Type” with him. After watching the above videos, what’s your guess? Mine after the break.

Continue reading Jon Faddis’ 1977 and 2013 Embouchure Comparison (and “guess the embouchure type”)

Embouchure Change Questions: Overbite, Mouthpiece Placement, and High Range

Here’s another embouchure question from my pile, sent by Khai from Malaysia. As always, keep in mind that I’m going to have to speak somewhat generally and make some educated guesses, particularly since I haven’t watched Khai play.

Hi, I’ve been playing the trombone for about 3 years in my high school band. But a year ago, a senior told me that I am using a wrong embouchure, when I hit a high F (which would be my highest “comfortable” note) I would have a pretty extreme upper lip overbite which would more or less completely cover the pink flesh bits of my lower lip and my tone would sound really thin and airy. I have worked on changing it for a while by evening out my lips for a 50-50 or 60-40 ratio, well its pretty underdeveloped but its easier to go for higher notes even though there’s no good sound quality in it, and if I play softly the tone is alright but as soon as I try to go above a middle F in forte the tone gets weak and I run out of air really fast, I don’t feel like my lips are really vibrating and like I’m only using air to play the notes. So here are my questions. Do I need to change my embouchure? How do I change my embouchure? And how do I increase my lip vibration when I get to higher ranges? Do you have any tips that could help me with my embouchure change if I need to? I will really appreciate any tips or advice you can give, thanks.

I assume that by “high F” you mean the F a couple of ledger lines and a space just above the bass clef staff, and not the F above that. If you’re talking about the F above “high B flat,” then that would be high enough that my guess is that your embouchure is working fine up there and you should play your whole range with that setting. If this is the first F above the bass clef staff, then the same might apply, in spite of what a senior told you. Then again, maybe you would do well to make an embouchure correction for your entire range. Without being able to watch you play, preferably in person, it’s really impossible to say for certain.

You mention an overbite, by which I’m assuming that your lower jaw is naturally receded. Again, without being able to watch you play, I can only offer some possibilities. One thought is that you should bring your jaw forward some, possibly even as much so that your teeth are aligned. That said, some players do better with a receded jaw position and perhaps you are one of them. You might be able to benefit from Donald Reinhardt’s “jaw retention drill,” which is an away-from-the-instrument exercise. Follow that link to check out what this exercise is and try it out a bit daily for the next few weeks. If your jaw needs to come forward more to play this exercise can help you get more comfortable with this position.

You mention mouthpiece placement, but it’s not really clear to me where you’re placing the mouthpiece normally and what works best for your upper register. I would avoid trying to place the mouthpiece so that you’ve got a 50/50 ratio. Some brass musicians do play well on what might look from the outside like a half and half placement, but one lip or another must predominate inside the cup and the majority of players should place the mouthpiece so that there’s clearly more than one lip inside. Check out this link here for a little more about mouthpiece placement and air stream direction. You might benefit from trying to place the mouthpiece in both the upstream and downstream positions and see if you can find a “sweet spot” where the upper register becomes easier to play. While you’re at it, experiment a bit with placing off to one side or another too. Many great players have off-center placements, some very much so. Don’t worry too much about a big, rich tone at first, just see if you can find a placement that allows you to play high. It’s often easier to open up the sound after you find an embouchure that works for you rather than to try to go for sound first and then build range.

Ideally, all this sort of experimentation (and some others that are too difficult to describe just now) would be done in a private lesson or two. It’s quite difficult to do this stuff, even if you have some experience working with brass embouchures, let alone on your own. Whether or not you should change your embouchure depends on whether or not there are issues that are being caused by an incorrect embouchure type for your face or whether it’s due to you having other incorrect playing mechanics that are making your current embouchure work less than ideal. Often times the answer is a little bit of both.

My last piece of advice for you is to try to build some embouchure strength and control with a little bit of daily free buzzing. Follow this link to watch a video describing a simple exercise I recommend and read up a bit more about it. After a couple of weeks or so practicing this exercise it may become more apparent whether or not an embouchure change will be necessary for you or if you just need to make corrections in how you’re currently playing. Again, without being able to watch you play, that’s the best I can do.

Good luck!

Embouchure Consultations: How To Ask For and Get My Help

As I’m trying to get caught up on some of the brass embouchure questions I’ve been emailed I thought it would be helpful to put together a single resource about how to ask for, and get, my help. Too often folks will contact me for help and I simply have to reply that I’d have to watch them play (preferably in person) to offer any advice. That said, there are some things that people can do that will help me get an idea of what’s going on so that at the very least I can speak generally, if not more specifically.

1. I have to see it.

Unlike some other folks’ approaches that either have a one-size-fits-all approach or even dismisses embouchure issues as related to breathing or use of the tongue, I really need to watch you play in order to understand what’s going on. Every individual has a different face, so every player has a different embouchure. Although there are certain patterns that you can learn to recognize, even players that have a similar embouchure type will have unique issues that can make what they need to work on different. There’s no way around this point, I have to be able to watch you play.

I don’t teach video lessons, and I’m skeptical of anyone who does. Having taken some long distance lessons myself as well as met with folks informally via Skype to try to help out with embouchure issues many times before, I know how incredibly difficult it is doing a video conference in place of an in person lesson. However, I suppose it’s better than nothing in circumstances where a knowledgable teacher isn’t available for some reason or another. Unfortunately, my schedule is usually busy enough that I really can’t afford to take a couple of hours out of my time to meet with players via a video conference, particularly since I refuse to take any money for this.

A temporary compromise is for you to video tape your embouchure for me playing some things and let me take a look. Sometimes I can spot right away what a player is doing and give very particular advice, so it’s worth taking 30 or 60 minutes to video tape your embouchure and let me get a closer look.

First of all, if you’re having a particular issue (trouble with range, a double buzz, difficulty holding a steady pitch, etc.) I need to see what it looks like when that happens. This may seem like a no brainer, but I’ve lost count of how many times someone has gotten in touch with me about problems with their upper register only to send me video footage of them playing in the middle and low register only. In order to correct problems we need to diagnose what’s going on when things work wrong, so please try to video tape it.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, problems in one register can sometimes be caused not by how you’re playing in that register but by something you’re doing in a different register. Additionally, there are sometimes other issues that I would consider a priority before any sort of correction to your specific problem can be addressed. I also need to see how you’re playing over your entire playable range. Octave slurs are a great thing for this because it also gives me a very clear look at not just how you’re playing a pitch, but also how you’re changing pitches. Here is a basic set of octave slurs that should help give an idea what I like to observe.

Octave Slurs

The specific pitches are less important than getting slurs that span over your entire range.

Take video that is close up enough that all that is mostly visible is the overall embouchure area, including the chin, mouth corners, cheeks, etc. Take a look at some of the embouchure videos I’ve created and you’ll get a good idea of the angles and how close I’d like it to be. Also please try to get views from both the front and sides (although with trombonists it can be hard to get a view of the left side because the horn gets in the way, that’s fine).

Rather than emailing the video file to me directly, post it someplace so I can download it when I’m ready to take a look at it. Large files as email attachments are sometimes inconvenient if I have to wait for them to download while I’m trying to take care of other business online.

Sure, if you have some general questions or just can’t get video posted for me to watch, feel free to contact me anyway. Just don’t be surprised if my response is, “I have to see it.”

2. Describe your specific questions in some detail.

Are there certain situations that make your issues more problematic? Did you notice these issues after a particularly demanding playing schedule or change of equipment? What does it feel like? Give this some careful consideration and give me as many clues as you can think of. Sometimes these things are irrelevant, but at other times they can help me come up with an idea that I won’t get from watching your video alone.

3. Be patient and polite.

I tend to stay pretty busy with teaching, performing, composing/arranging, conducting, blogging, social obligations, etc. As much as I’d like to help everyone out as quickly as possible, please also keep in mind that I do this stuff for a living. Because I don’t feel that this sort of consultation is worth charging you money for, you’ll need to wait for me to have enough time to give your questions the attention it deserves. Believe it or not, it can take quite a while to look through your questions and video and compile my best response.

If you don’t hear back from me in a couple of weeks or so, please feel free to drop me another line and update me on your issues. Like many of us, sometimes my email inbox piles up or I accidentally delete your message or otherwise forget. A polite reminder is helpful for me.

I hesitate a bit to bring this next point up, but I do get bothered by how often I spend a couple of hours or more going through video and putting together what I hope are thoughtful and helpful recommendations only to never get a thank you back. A quick reply to acknowledge you got my message goes a long way to me. If my suggestions don’t make sense or aren’t helping, let me know and I’ll see what I can figure out. No response at all, however, makes me less inclined to help you (and other folks) out in the future.

4. Don’t expect too much.

The way I teach really doesn’t lend itself to long-distance consultation. If your situation is interesting enough to me I will sometimes try to arrange a video conference to help you out, but even this is really a less than ideal way to diagnose and troubleshoot embouchure issues. There have been times where I have been able to help players, but there have also been times where I just couldn’t figure out what was going on. On a couple of occasions I’ve tried to help someone online and though I had come up with some good suggestions only to meet with the player in person and changed my mind. More frequently I’ve offered suggestions that the player didn’t fully grasp online and when we met in person I was able to get them pointed in the right direction. Online correspondence is just not conducive for this sort of teaching.

Maybe I can help you. Sometimes I can’t. Be prepared for the possibility that what I recommend isn’t going to work for you.

5. Please don’t contact me via YouTube.

If you’re reading this you’ve already discovered my blog. Many brass players will see my videos posted on YouTube and either ask questions in the comments there or via a YouTube message. While I usually see those (eventually) and try to get around to replying to them, YouTubes comments form and message features are really inconvenient enough for me that I’m likely to not get around to responding to you. The best two ways to get my attention are to either contact me here or leave your question in the comments section on a relevant blog post here.

Don’t let all the above discourage you. Brass embouchures happens to be a topic that I am passionately fascinated about and it’s really quite easy to get me to virtually talk your ear off about it. Simply dropping me a line or leaving a comment on a post here about your questions is usually enough to get me interested and I’ll do my best to give you all the help I can (eventually).