Another Embouchure Question

I got another question via email that I’m going to try to answer today.  As always, take my response with a grain of salt.  It’s very hard to diagnose technique issues without being able watch the musician play in person.

Ken writes:

Is there any way to look at a persons lips and decide which mouthpiece would be best? Every teacher starts at Bach 7C but I have read that people with a dew or tear drop have a particular hard time and are advised to pick a different instrument. I have struggled in High School and quit. I have tried three times and quit. I am now 60 years old and am trying one last time. . .  For the first time I am making some progress. But I can’t tell how bad the dew is since nobody seems to know much. So is there some test or book I can compare my lips to and decide if I should continue or throw in the towel?

First, don’t give up!  If you are interested in playing trumpet (or any brass instrument), the key to playing well is to learn how your breathing, tonguing, embouchure and other factors interact with each other.  Some of these things take some time to learn and are really best done under the guidance of a good teacher.  Sometimes players can figure things out on their own, but sometimes a little push in the right direction is all a student needs to break through.

Secondly, I don’t think it’s really possible to simply look at a player’s lips and determine what mouthpiece qualities would work best for a particular player.  Sometimes people will speculate that a player with thick or thin lips is better suited for one or another instrument, but if you look around at good players you’ll see so many exceptions that I wouldn’t recommend a particular instrument based on lip size or shape. (Athough, there are some cases where a low brass mouthpiece may be too large for a player’s face and the nose or chin can get in the way, but it’s often possible to change rim sizes and make it work.)

That said, there are some mouthpiece qualities that players belonging to certain embouchure types may find helpful (please look through that link to understand exactly what I mean by the following embouchure types).  The Medium High Placement players don’t usually want to go with too big a mouthpiece cup as they often have a big and dark sound naturally.  Very High Placement players often find that a larger rim diameter helps and if they want a darker sound can sometimes go with a deeper cup than Medium High Placement players.  Low Placement types players similarly may use a deeper cup for a darker sound, but on low brass they often don’t want to go with too large a rim as the chin may get in the way.  These are not always the case, however.

As far as your “dew drop” goes, I haven’t gotten a close enough look at enough players with them to say for certain that it will have a noticeable effect on your embouchure.  Some players don’t seem to have any issues with it, while I’ve heard of others who place the mouthpiece off to one side.  Since many players do best with an off-center placement, I can’t really say whether a prominent “dew drop” makes an off-center placement better.  I suspect that it isn’t as large a factor as things like the length of the lips to the teeth or the shape of the teeth and jaw.

Thomas Stevens is a fine trumpet player with a pretty prominent dew drop (follow the link to see a photo).  I wasn’t able to find any photos or video online that show a close look of where he places his mouthpiece.  If anyone out there knows of one, or knows first hand how Stevens places the mouthpiece, it would be interesting to see.  There is a video on YouTube of Stevens performing one of his compositions, along with Gabriele Cassone and Hakan Hardenberger.  It’s a pretty cool piece.

There is a distinct possibility that it’s not your horizontal placement that’s causing your troubles, but the vertical placement.  Take another look at the three basic embouchure types and note how these different types have different ratios of upper to lower lip inside the mouthpiece.  While you’re trying out placing the mouthpiece to one side or another, you might mess around with placing the mouthpiece higher and lower on your lips to see if you can find a “sweet spot” where things open up.  I’d try this experimentation with the high end of the middle register and upper register, since it’s too easy to play wrong in the lower register and it won’t really be a good test of whether you’ve found your correct embouchure type.  Rest lots while experimenting and don’t use too much mouthpiece pressure.

It’s really best to have someone experienced in typing embouchures help you out with all that.  If you have access to a teacher that is curious about embouchures, you might have him or her take a look at some of my resources and try to offer you some guidance that way.

Anyone out there have anything to add about the dew drop feature?  Do you have one and find that you place best off to one side because of it or does it not really matter?  Has anyone worked with any students like this and found something that might help Ken out?  Please leave your comment below.

Joseph Markoff

More has been written about embouchures , mouthpieces, warm ups, etc

Do what’s comfortable ….remember the sound is in your head, not the mouthpiece, trumpet brand etc.

Learn to breathe and attack properly and you should be fine ….it is the musical concept that is important….too much is written on technique and not enough on music. ….If you want to make it sound good it isn’t the mouthpiece, trumpet, teacher it is YOU. The music is in YOU and you will make it happen to get the sound you want to fit the music. The sound is the same irrespective of what mouthpiece you play…don’t worry about it…just PRACTICE correctly with intelligence and forget the nonsense about cups, rims etc. Get something that feels good and go with it. Yes, there are times you want a shallower cup for high notes but your sound will be yours whether the range is high or low…

Many may disagree but this is what I believe and has worked for me. The great teachers were great because of their musicianship not what kind of mouthpiece they played. Make it simple and take all the myths out of this natural act which we call playing the trumpet.

Dave

Thanks for your comment, Joseph. I agree with the spirit of your post, but I think some of your thoughts may be too simple and not really address the nuance that brass teachers must consider with each student.

Do what’s comfortable ….

What’s “comfortable” isn’t always an efficient way to to play. Some folks are comfortable with muscling their way through their technique. Many folks confuse “familiar” with “comfortable,” so even if a better way to play is tried, it won’t feel “comfortable” at first.

The music is in YOU and you will make it happen to get the sound you want to fit the music.

Ah, the Harold Hill Think System. I prefer to teach music differently.

Make it simple and take all the myths out of this natural act which we call playing the trumpet.

A great teacher will be able to take the act of playing a musical instrument and make it seem simple to the student. In reality, there’s a lot of complexity that goes into both technique and expressive playing.

Dave

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