More Thoughts on Horn and the Upstream Embouchure

This post has been inspired by an ongoing discussion over at James Boldin’s Horn World Blog.  If you’re joining the conversation now, you can catch up by reading James’s post here, my response, and then his followup.  Briefly, we’ve been musing about why there are fewer horn player’s who place the mouthpiece with more lower lip inside compared to other brass.  Because the lower lip predominates with this embouchure, the air stream is blown upward into the cup and is sometimes called an “upstream” embouchure.

It’s also important for brass teachers and players to understand that a player’s embouchure type isn’t a choice to be made by emulating another player, they are related to each player’s unique anatomy.  When a brass player works against their physical characteristics by adopting an embouchure type that doesn’t suit their face, embouchure difficulties result.

Of the three basic embouchure types, the two downstream embouchure types (placing the mouthpiece with more upper lip inside) are more common. Players who have the anatomy suited to play best with an upstream embouchure (more lower lip inside the mouthpiece) are more rare.  It’s not clear how much less common upstream players are, but my best guess is maybe around 15%.

That said, if you compare horn players’ embouchures with other brass instrument players you’ll probably find even fewer upstream players.  Many horn players speculate that there is something about the instruments itself that makes this so, however there really doesn’t appear to be any difference in basic brass embouchure form and function between any of the instruments.  Assuming this is the case, there must be something else going on. Continue reading More Thoughts on Horn and the Upstream Embouchure

Dennis Brain and the Upstream Horn Embouchure

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at James Boldin’s Horn World Blog on Dennis Brain’s embouchure.  If you’re a horn player you are no doubt already a Dennis Brain fan.  Whether or not you’re a horn player, if you’re a brass musician you should get to know his recordings of the Mozart horn concerti.  Brain is still enormously influential to horn players, in spite of him having such a short career and living a relatively long time ago (1921-1957, he was killed in a car accident).

One reason why I’m interested in Brain’s playing is he appears to have been a Low Placement (upstream) embouchure type.  Watch this video and look closely at Brain’s embouchure.

Brain’s mouthpiece placement is quite low, even lower than most upstream players usually are.   Continue reading Dennis Brain and the Upstream Horn Embouchure

A Tubist’s Embouchure: A Case Study

I put together the above video to show an unusual embouchure I happened to document for my embouchure research.  This case is particularly interesting for a couple of features.  First, since it’s more challenging to get clear video footage of embouchure characteristics on a smaller mouthpiece, the tuba embouchure makes i very easy to see examples of certain embouchure characteristics.  Secondly, this tubist plays very well, in spite of some embouchure idiosyncrasies that make for noticeable flaws in his technique.

First, a little background about the subject.  At the time I recorded this video he was a college music student, actually majoring in piano.  He had played tuba for quite a while, though, and was continuing to perform and study tuba as a secondary instrument.  While a fine player, this subject complained of some difficulties playing in tune at a couple of points while taking this video footage.  He had some difficulties with his high range and at a particular point in his range chipped a lot of notes. Continue reading A Tubist’s Embouchure: A Case Study

The Three Basic Embouchure Types

When looking closely at a large number of brass player’s embouchures certain patterns emerge, irrespective of the player’s instrument or practice approach.  Using two universal features of all brass embouchures, the air stream direction as it pass the lips into the mouthpiece and the pushing and pulling of the lips and mouthpiece together up and down along the teeth, it’s possible to classify all brass embouchures into three basic types.

Since each of these three basic embouchure types function quite differently from each other it’s important for brass teachers to understand them, as different types respond to the same instruction in different ways.  Understanding what proper embouchure form is for each type will help teachers guide their students more efficiently and also understand when a player is playing on an embouchure that isn’t appropriate for his or her anatomy.  When confronted with a serious embouchure dysfunction it can help teachers discover the real cause of the troubles and how to best go about correcting them. Continue reading The Three Basic Embouchure Types

Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players

On November 8, 2009 I gave this presentation to the North Carolina Music Educators Convention, held in Winston-Salem, NC.  I was pleasantly surprised to have a generally full room of musicians and music educators who mostly seemed genuinely interested in learning more about a topic that is typically ignored in favor of a “let the body figure itself out” practice.

In order to make this information more accessible for both my NCMEA audience as well as to the general public, I created a video that includes my slide show notes, video footage, and the narration from my presentation.  I have uploaded this video to my YouTube channel in six parts. Continue reading Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players