Jaw Position/Horn Angle Changes and Guess the Embouchure Type – Allen Vizzutti

A recent topic on the Trumpet Herald Forum reminded me of the below video of Allen Vizzutti playing some extremely impressive double tongued octaves. Check it out.

What I wanted to comment on here is Vizzutti’s noticeable horn angle changes as he changes octaves. You can clearly see that as he ascends he brings the bell of his horn down slightly and to his left and does the reverse to descend. It seems like a lot of motion, but considering the overall range he’s playing it’s really not all that much change. This change isn’t quite so noticeable when he’s playing music that doesn’t have such large interval leaps. In the below video you can see some good shots of him not only playing large interval changes but also playing phrases where his horn angle changes aren’t that noticeable.

It’s worth noting here that the specific angle changes Vizzutti is making here aren’t going to be the same for all players. Many players, myself included, find that bringing your jaw slightly forward and angle slightly up works best to ascend. Some players may find the general direction of the horn angle change to be more or less straight up and down while many players will find some angular deviation, like Vizzutti’s. The important part here is that it moves pretty much in a straight line and more or less the same amount between octaves. What works for one player isn’t going to be the same for another, and what works for a single individual can also change over time as the player develops.

I’d also like to point out that while many (perhaps most) brass players look at these horn angle changes and call this a “pivot,” this is not what Donald Reinhardt, who coined the term, meant by it. Reinhardt used this term to refer to the way that players will slide the mouthpiece and lips together as a single unit up and down along the teeth and gums to change registers. I prefer to use Doug Elliott’s term “embouchure motion” instead, because it’s less likely to be confused. Two players with the same direction of embouchure motion may end up making the opposite changes in horn angle. It can be very personal to the player and isn’t an easy thing to generalize.

You can get a very clear look at Vizzutti’s chops in these videos, enough to take a guess at his embouchure type. I’ll put my guess after the break. Continue reading Jaw Position/Horn Angle Changes and Guess the Embouchure Type – Allen Vizzutti

Kind Words From Rusty McKinney

Rusty McKinney, bass trombone
Rusty McKinney, bass trombone

A short while ago I got an email from Rusty McKinney, formerly the bass trombonist with the Utah Symphony. Rusty is one of the examples of an upstream orchestral player I mentioned in my article about five common embouchure misconceptions, specifically referring to the myth that all players need to place the mouthpiece centered or with more top lip inside the mouthpiece. Rusty has a low placement and plays quite well with it! He gave me permission to quote our email exchange and so here are some of the things he mentioned to me, with a few of my thoughts scattered between.

HI Dave,

I ran across your site and saw that you mentioned me in your upstream are in “Myths ” section. I often make the upstream list and am intrigued and slightly amused that it is usually me and jazz artists!

Like Rusty, I too find it interesting that most of the upstream players that we know about are jazz players. It’s definitely true that downstream players are more common, not because of any inherent advantage but because more players don’t have the anatomical features that make upstream players work best. I also feel that because teachers have a tendency to teach what worked for them personally that many upstream players are taught to move their mouthpiece higher on the lips and are forced into a downstream embouchure inadvertently. These players will typically struggle and either never reach their full potential or give up brass playing altogether. Because jazz players are more likely to be self taught and classical players tend to go through formal music education (particularly in conservatories, where tradition is strong) this tends to weed out upstream players in favor of downstream players.

Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I am more in your neighborhood than I used to be. I left the Utah Symphony about two years ago to switch my emphasis to being a church music director and as such I am now fulltime at White Plains United Methodist Church in Cary, NC.

I am still playing regularly, often subbing in the NC symphony, and playing for NC Opera and various orchestras that are put together for Duke Chapel. And I have given master classes this past Spring at UNC Chapel Hill for Mike Chris’ Studio and at UNCSA for John Ilika’s studio.

Hope we can connect sometime. My upstream embouchure still works just fine!

One of the common arguments I hear from downstream teachers who discourage the low mouthpiece placement that is what makes an upstream embouchure is that it will eventually break down. Rusty is a perfect example of how an upstream embouchure can function very well long term, when the player learns to work with his or her natural tendencies.

Too many folks dismiss the embouchure and that is a bad thing. I would have been ruined by well meaning teachers had I not been so bull headed. And been lucky to find folks along the way like Doug [Elliot] who either understood how the upstreamer functions or as with others who didn’t care how I did it, as long as I got good results and had endurance.

One of the funniest moments was when I was in Jr. High and my teacher, a respected ( and rightfully so ) college professor had me play for a visiting artist from Las Vegas. He had a few suggestions about improving my legato but said nothing about my embouchure. When my teacher started pointing out all the things that were “wrong” with my set-up the clinician said, “Hey man, if  you can get a sound like that you could stick the mouthpiece in your ear for all I care!”  It was pretty funny. My teacher wasn’t especially amused.

Great story. Thanks to Rusty for stopping by and allowing me to post his emails. I’m excited that he’s now so close to where I am (Asheville, NC) and the next time I make it out east towards him I hope that we’ll be able to hook up and share some upstream embouchure stories.

My own upstream embouchure is still working fine too!

Guess the Embouchure Type – Wild Bill Davidson and Ashley Alexander

It’s time for another “Guess the Embouchure Type.” This time I’m going to take a look at trumpet player Wild Bill Davis Davidson and trombonist Ashley Alexander and see if I can guess which embouchure type they have. Take a look at the below video and see what you think. My guess after the break.

Wild Bill Davis Davidson is a tough one, while Ashley Alexander’s is quite easy to spot.  Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type – Wild Bill Davidson and Ashley Alexander

Waltz of the Two Lips

I just came across the below YouTube video, coincidentally a couple of days after bringing this research up to Paul T. and not being able to remember the name of the author.  Jay Bulen, now professor of trombone at Truman State University, filmed trombonists’ embouchures using a camera and strobe light set up inside the mouthpiece to study the lip motion while buzzing. This video shows the lips of Peter Ellefson, who teaches trombone at Indiana University.

One of Bulen’s test subjects, whose name I’ve forgotten, sent me the video footage of his embouchure while I was researching for my dissertation. Because you don’t get to see the embouchure formation from the outside, it’s hard to put these videos into context to determine a player’s embouchure type, but in the case of Ellefson’s embouchure it looks like the upper lip predominates, so his embouchure must be one of the downstream types.

Bulen’s research, titled Synchronized Optical and Acoustical Measurements of Trombone Embouchure, was published in the The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. Here’s the abstract:

Outward striking‐ and inward striking‐reed models have been proposed for representing brass players’ lips [Sanoyesi etal., Acustica 62, 194–210 (1987)]. The models differ in the predicted relationship between mouthpiece pressure and lip displacement. To investigate this, Yoshikawa measured the phase relationship between mouthpiece pressure and lip strain as indicated by a strain gauge taped to the upper lip [J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 97, 1929–1939 (1995)]. However, the relationship between strain and displacement have not been experimentally established, and Yoshikawa’s assumed correspondence ‘‘is still a hypothesis which needs refinement’’ (p. 1931). Optical measurements are required. Synchronized optical and acoustical measurements of a trombonist’s embouchure have been made under performance conditions, using an adaptation of techniques described in Sercarz etal. [Am. J. Otolaryngol. 13, 40–44 (1992)]. Using strobed videoscopy, individual video fields are coordinated with mouthpiece pressure by means of timing signals. The phase relationship between mouthpiece pressure and lip displacement will be reported for a variety of fundamental frequencies and intensities. In addition, estimates will be presented of the aperture area and the mouthpiece volume swept out by the lips.The goal of this informal workshop, a continuation of Session 1aSC, is to bring together several researchers working on various aspects of voice perception. Historically, the study of voice has been treated as a more‐or‐less autonomous area quite distinct from other research problems in speech and hearing sciences. In this workshop, some of the traditional problems of voice classification and perception will be discussed and reviewed and then these efforts will be related to recent findings in speech perception and spoken word recognition which have shown important dependencies between traditional voice parameters and perceptual analysis of the speech signal.

Guess the Embouchure Type – Kurt

Kurt and I were involved in a discussion on the Trumpet Herald Forum a while back and we got sidetracked into a private discussion. I had asked Kurt if he would be willing to video tape his chops so I could take a closer look at them and he sent me the below video. Take a closer look and see if you can guess his embouchure type. My guess after the break.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type – Kurt

Bass Trombonist’s Embouchure Filmed With High Speed Video

About a year ago Stephan had some questions about my dissertation (The Correlation Between Doug Elliott’s Embouchure Types and Selected Physical and Playing Characteristics Among Trombonists) and I sent him a copy (in case he had insomnia). Recently he emailed me to ask about a bass trombonist friend of his who has been frustrated with some embouchure struggles he’s been having. His friend is worried about how his tooth structure might be affecting his tone quality. I asked him if he could take some video of his friend’s chops and Stephan came through with something I didn’t expect. Because it’s in high speed there’s no sound (filmed with 600 fps and replayed with 30 fps, which results in slow motion factor of 20), which makes it actually a bit harder to put what we’re seeing in context. Still, I am able to spot two things that I would recommend Stephan’s friend might try out. Take a close look at the video below and see what you think. My thoughts after the break.

Continue reading Bass Trombonist’s Embouchure Filmed With High Speed Video

Guess the Embouchure Type – Bob Havens

Bob Havens was the featured trombone soloist with the Lawrence Welk Show for almost its entire run. He joined the show in 1960 (the show began in 1951 as a local Los Angeles program before going national in 1955) and he remained until the show ended in 1982. While I tend to find the music performed on this program hokey at best, it was always extremely well performed and you would be hard pressed to find better musicians. Bob Havens is no exception to that, he always played great on those shows and frequently demonstrated he could blow jazz very well too.

Check out this video of Havens being featured on Basin Street Blues to see what I mean.  He’s certainly playing for the audience of the program, but his improvising is very tasteful and you can hear what a great trombone player he is here. We also get a few good looks at his chops, so while you’re at it see if you can guess his embouchure type. My guess after the break.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type – Bob Havens

Stratos Embouchure Trainer

Here’s something interesting I recently came across. The Stratos embouchure trainer. It purports to to help you, “adapt your embouchure to get the best from your newly-adjusted jaw position.” Here’s the inventor, trombonist Marcus Reynolds, explaining it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2cIIMUYiZA]

I have to admit going into the video that I was a little skeptical of the claims right off. Early on he makes a statement that the Stratos will eliminate a “red ring,” but a red ring in and of itself is a meaningless indicator of how much or little pressure a player is using. There’s too much individual variation here, but for some reason this myth is prevalent. He also discusses air stream direction as a matter of jaw alignment, which probably does have some influence, albeit a minor one. Air stream direction is dependent on the lip ratio inside the mouthpiece and you can have downstream players with a jaw position forward, like Reynolds is advocating, or upstream players with a receded jaw position.

My next point of contention is Reynolds apparent endorsement that getting the jaw forward and the horn angle up is best for everyone. It’s true that this is common, but not universal. Personally, trying to raise my horn angle and get my jaw position forwards has had very poor results, I simply play better with a receded jaw and a lowered horn angle. Not having tried out the Stratos, I can’t say that my results trying this would be the same or different, but I’ve taught too many other students and seen other players who also play best with a lowered horn angle to think that a Stratos would be helpful for these players.

However, there are a lot of players who would do better with the jaw position and horn angle that the Stratos apparently encourages. For these players, this device might be a very helpful practice aid. Since it’s adjustable, it might even be possible to alter the angle of it and use it for correctional procedures with players who don’t want their jaw position aligned. I don’t think it’s the panacea that Reynold’s seems to think it is, but it’s an interesting idea and it’s worth a closer look later.

Reinhardt On Free Buzzing

I was recently asked if I could clarify Donald Reinhardt’s thoughts on the position of the lower lip while free buzzing. Rather than paraphrase it again, here is the direct quote.

The membrane (red) of the lower lip must be rolled in (not curled in) and slightly over the lower teeth, while the tip of the overlapping upper lip is simultaneously reaching down to make its light contact (just touching) with the lower lip at the vibrating points.

Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, p. 167

One specific question was what Reinhardt meant by “roll” and “curl.” My interpretation is that the inner membrane of the lower lip shouldn’t be stretched up and over the lower teeth (curl), but rather the vermillion (red) of the lips rolled in to contact the top of the lower teeth. While the vermillion is capable of accepting pressure pretty well, the inner membrane isn’t. Curling your lip over your lower teeth would position the inner membrane over the top of your lower teeth, while rolling the lip encourages placing vermillion slightly over the top of the lower teeth. Whether or not this was Reinhardt’s reasoning, I don’t know. There may also be a difference in what specific embouchure muscles are targeted that Reinhardt felt was optimal, but as far as I know he never wrote about or described his reasoning to any students.

Another concern was whether my paraphrasing to roll the lower lip “in towards” rather than “over” the lower teeth makes for a noticeable difference. In my opinion, any description of free buzzing is designed to get the player heading in the right direction and that adjustments are made as needed. Reinhardt crams a lot of detail into that one sentence and I find it a little unwieldy and sometimes unnecessary to explain free buzzing that way. I’ve had some success by telling students, “Think of your lower lip gently hugging your lower teeth, now bring your top lip down as if you’re saying ’em’.” Sometimes that doesn’t do the trick and I need to describe it differently. I also think that depending on what a student is capable of, it may be best to intentionally deviate slightly from the exact description, so long as the correct muscles are targeted (mostly the muscles that intersect at and just under the mouth corners). Sometimes I’ll have the student roll so there’s more lower lip over the lower teeth, sometimes less. So whether you prefer roll “in towards” or roll “over” the lower teeth, keep the inner membrane of your lower lip off the lower teeth and you probably will be fine to get started with free buzzing.

In my opinion, the two most important things to remember while free buzzing is to go for a mosquito-like sound as much as possible – soft, thin, airy, and high pitched at first, and keep in mind that all you really need to do is a little bit of free buzzing. Free buzzing as Reinhardt describes is strenuous enough that you probably only need a couple of minutes a day at first.