Herbert Clarke Noticing Upstream Cornet Player

A discussion about my Playing in the Red Blindfold Test over on the Trumpet Herald Forum brought up Herbert Clarke. Looking through my copy of his Technical Studies I didn’t find any specific recommendations about mouthpiece placement, so I decided to poke around online and see if there was any advice attributed to Clarke about mouthpiece placement. While I wasn’t able to find anything specific, I did find something interesting that apparently was written in Clarke’s Series of Autobiographical Sketches. Clarke tells the story of how he went to a concert and heard a very fine cornet player solo.

The number, an extremely difficult cornet solo which demanded great endurance in playing was the Excelsior Polka by Frewin (I later purchased a copy for cornet and piano). At the ending of the solo the young player was given an ovation of tumultuous applause, in which I joined vigorously. The cornetist again arose, but this time stepped to the front of the platform, and to my wonderment played the entire solo through for the second time without seeming tired or making a slip. The remarkable thing about his performance was that he played so easily, gracefully; apparently with unconcern, and without any facial muscular contortions or movements. His face did not become purple, distorted, or show any signs of strain. I always had made such hard work in playing even a simple little polka which did not reach G on the first space above, that to watch him play with such perfect ease a number which seemed filled with top “C’s” and then end it on the highest note, actually dumfounded me. It was both a revelation and an inspiration!

After the close of the concert I inquired as to the players identity, and learned that he was a Walter B. Rogers who came from the little town of Delphi, in Indiana, I also found out that he played at the Opera House when the season was done.

Later Clarke had the opportunity to watch Rogers perform up close and he noticed his mouthpiece placement. Clarke tried to imitate Rogers here but found it impossible for him.

After the show was over I walked along to think about it, and finally determined to try to imitate this “wonder”. The next morning after breakfast I took my cornet to my room and commenced to experiment, but the more I blew the harder it became for me. Then I stood before the mirror and tried to adjust the mouthpiece to my lips the same as I had observed Rogers do the night before, placing just a little of it on the upper lip with more on the lower lip and drawing the latter in slightly over the teeth, but not a tone came out of the cornet! I tried it again and again with no better results, and then I did actually get mad. I kept up this experimenting all that day, and the following night bought another front seat ticket for the some show. On this night Rogers played a cornet solo between the acts, not standing up before the audience but remaining seated. The selection was Hartman’s Carnival of Venice, and well, perhaps I did not watch him as he played it!

Based on Clarke’s description (bold emphasis is mine) it is probable that Rogers had an upstream (low placement type) embouchure. This embouchure type is less common than the downstream types, but is correct for a sizable minority of players. Many teachers recommend against this embouchure type based on their own experiences trying to play this way and failing. Downstream embouchure type players will almost always find playing with an upstream, low placement embouchure challenging, to say the least. Here’s what Clarke found when he tried it.

The next morning I tried the same way of playing as on the previous day, only changing the position of the mouthpiece against my lips, and again struggled to produce tones. The only result being that I found myself worse off than before, and by the end of that week I could play neither in the old way nor in the new. This was so discouraging that I nearly arrived at a point of giving up the whole thing in disgust. Fortunately for me, however, I had been born with a goodly amount of perseverance and obstinacy in my makeup and stuck to the game although not without admitting to myself that if it was necessary to play the cornet in the old way and suffer with the some strains and headaches as before, perhaps it might be as well if not better to discard playing altogether.

For some reason upstream players tend to do better playing downstream than downstream players incorrectly playing upstream. This seems to reinforce the idea that placing the mouthpiece so there’s more lower lip inside is wrong. However, for players with the anatomy that is suited for a low placement embouchure type this won’t work as well as sticking with the best placement for their face and learning to work with it.

The moral of the story is that you should work with the mouthpiece placement that works best for you and learn to play your entire range that way. Trying to “fix” your chops by imitating someone with a different embouchure type can be destructive to your playing. Asking your students to adopt your own embouchure type because that’s how you happen to play isn’t always going to work either.

Brad Goode’s Skeleton Mouthpiece Warm-Up and Guess the Embouchure Type

I’ve had this YouTube video bookmarked for a while and been meaning to post it. Trumpet player Brad Goode demonstrates a warm up he uses with a “skeleton mouthpiece” (sometimes called an embouchure visualizer).

One thing that I’d like to echo that Brad says in his video is that the “visualizer” is not really very good for looking at the embouchure. The lack of normal resistance sometimes will make the lips form in a slightly different position than they will when playing, which is why I prefer to use a transparent mouthpiece for embouchure diagnosis. The skeleton mouthpiece has some interesting potential for practice, though. Check out how Brad uses it and while we’re at it, let’s play “Guess the Embouchure Type.” My guess after the break.

Continue reading Brad Goode’s Skeleton Mouthpiece Warm-Up and Guess the Embouchure Type

Guess the Embouchure Type: Martin Kretzer

It’s been a while since I played “Guess the Embouchure Type.”  Aulis sent me a link to a video he spotted of the Berlin Philharmoniker performing an excerpt from Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra with a good look at trumpet player Martin Kretzer’s embouchure.  Take a close look at around 2:07 and 2:14 and see which embouchure type you think Kretzer has.  My guess after the break.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type: Martin Kretzer

Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players Take 2

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

A Big Band of Upstream Players

Embedding was disabled on this YouTube video, so you’ll have to follow this link to watch the Don Lusher Big Band from 1987 perform Two O’Clock Jump.  It’s a good performance, with lots of good soloing in the brass section.

What’s so interesting is that the “low placement” upstream embouchure players in Lusher’s brass section outnumber the more common downstream types players.  Lusher himself is a “low placement” player as well and at least 3 of the 4 trumpet players are upstream players.

As I alluded to, it’s a little unusual to have more upstream players in a group than downstream players, as most people have the physical characteristics that make them better suited for one of the downstream embouchure types.  Still, it does happen occasionally.  A few years ago I was directing an all-county honor jazz band made up of high school students.  Out of the 8 brass students, 4 were upstream and if you counted myself and the band director at the hosting school, the upstream players outnumbered the downstream.  It’s uncommon, but it happens once in a while.  This video can make a good demonstration to show people who deny that “low placement” players can have good range and endurance or who want to claim that it’s so rare that they teach all their students to avoid it.

Tip of the horn to Paul T. for sending this one in to me.

Embouchure Question: Top Lip Pressure

Brian stopped by and asked the following question.

I’ve watched all your videos in the last 2 days and have been studying Reinhardt with the encyclopedia for quite awhile and I appreciate your use of “embouchure motion” rather than pivot. My embouchure is upstream, off to the L side, angle almost straight out. I had been using side movement: R and up for low reg. and L and down for higher reg. In the ency. Reinhardt says it is best no matter what type to put pressure on lower lip but in listening to your videos you say that with a low placement upstream emb. more vibration happens with the lower lip and I seemed to have confirmed this today. Putting more pressure on top for low notes and then more pressure on bottom lip for high notes. This seems to free up vibrations and the side mvt. is not so extreme. Is this correct for low placement upstreamer? thank you, Brian

As always, I have to caution you about taking advice from someone who can’t watch you play in person.  It’s really tough to know for certain what’s going on. Continue reading Embouchure Question: Top Lip Pressure

Guess the Embouchure Type: Tyree Glenn

About a week ago John shot me an email after coming across this photo of trombonist Tyree Glenn for sale (not sure how long that link will work).  I poked around and found a video that has a couple pretty good looks at Glenn’s chops.  Take a look and see if you can tell what his embouchure type was.  Embedding was disabled, so you’ll have to follow this link to watch it.  My guess after the break.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type: Tyree Glenn

Embouchure Question: Top Lip Slipping Out Of Mouthpiece

Hank stopped by to ask a question I’ve also had to personally deal with.

I’ve found that the only way I can get the sensation of “embouchure motion“, i.e. the MP/embouchure/jaw `tracking’ along the teeth foundation either for ascending or descending, is on a so-called `dry’ set up.  If I try a `wet’ set up the MP tends to slip down onto the red part of top lip in stead of the whole assembly moving/tracking. Thanks, Comments?

This is actually a pretty common issue for some players, particularly those who belong to the Low Placement embouchure type, but also sometimes Medium High Placement players as well.  These types both have an embouchure motion to pull the mouthpiece and lips together down to ascend.  When the lips feel slippery, sometimes the mouthpiece placement will slide on the lips to a lower placement like Hank describes.

First of all, there’s nothing inherently wrong with placing the mouthpiece so the rim sits on the red of the upper lips, in spite of what many teachers and players believe.  My own embouchure, shown at the right, has the rim right on the red of my upper lip.  This just happens to be where it works best for me, and is a quite a bit lower than most Low Placement embouchure types I’ve seen.  Perhaps the reason your mouthpiece wants to slide down there is because that’s where it works best.  Try it out and see what happens.  But without watching you play in person, that’s just a wild guess.  Caveat emptor.

I did mention above that I’ve dealt with this issue myself, though.  As you can note from the photo, if my top lip starts to slide up it goes right off the rim, so I have to be careful.  I’ve tried a few different things, all of which help to a certain degree.  Here they are, in no particular order. Continue reading Embouchure Question: Top Lip Slipping Out Of Mouthpiece