With regards to the best mouthpiece placement there is some controversy among different authors and teachers. In his text, Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet (Cornet), J.B. Arban stated, “The mouthpiece should be placed in the middle of the lips, two-thirds on the lower lip, and one-third on the upper lip.” (Arban, 1982, p. 7). This contrasts with Dennis Wick, who recommended 2/3 upper lip and 1/3 lower lip (Wick, Trombone Technique, 1971, p. 21). Philip Farkas felt that such differences were related to the particular type of instrument, with 2/3 lower lip being an embouchure for trumpet and 2/3 upper lip better suited for instruments like horn and trombone (Farkas, The Art of Brass Playing, 1962, p. 32).
Although the recommendations of these and other noted brass pedagogues comes with some caveats and is considered somewhat flexible by many, one recommendation about mouthpiece placement is frequently advised by almost all of them – avoid placing the mouthpiece so that the rim sets on the red (vermilion) of the upper lip. Frank Gabriel Campos wrote in his text, Trumpet Technique:
To function properly, the inner edge of the mouthpiece must be placed on tissue that is supported by muscle, but the lips are composed of fatty tissue that by itself cannot support a normal embouchure. A performer whose mouthpiece inner edge is habitually placed on the red (vermillion) of the upper lip is using an embouchure that is not capable of producing the flexibility, strength, and endurance necessary for normal performance. It should be avoided at all costs.
– Campos, 2005, p. 73
With such a large consensus on this issue it would seem that this advice is sound and should be trusted. Unfortunately for the field of brass pedagogy, this recommendation is not only based on misinformation, but there are many examples of brass players, particularly high brass, who break this rule and perform at very high levels. While placing the mouthpiece so the rim rests on the red of the upper lip is rare and not ideal for most players, suggestions to always avoid this placement are incorrect for a sizable minority of players who not only are capable of playing well with such a low mouthpiece placement, but actually play most efficiently this way.
This essay will cover some of the most common arguments for not playing with the mouthpiece placed on the rim and show how these points are based on misinformation, inaccurate assumptions, or simply confusion and misunderstanding on the part of the author. While good intentioned, making such strong statements that a particular mouthpiece placement “should be avoided at all costs” is simply wrong for many players. With a more accurate understanding of the anatomy of the lips and embouchure form and function brass teachers will gain a tool that can help them make more targeted recommendations when a mouthpiece placement is actually hindering a student’s progress, or whether other issues in embouchure technique should be dealt with instead. Continue reading Brass Embouchures: Playing On the Red Is Fine (as long as it fits your anatomy)