Yes, I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Now that the semester is finally over and grades have been done I plan to get back to some regular updates, starting with another question from the internet. Kevin writes:
Hi my name is Kevin and iv’e been playing trombone for 5 years now. I am currently a junior in high school. Ever since i started playing, i have always used more mouthpiece pressure than one would normal use. Every time i finish practicing, i always get the “pressure ring” round my lips. I really don’t know how i can break this bad habit.
First, don’t worry about a red mark where you place the mouthpiece, it doesn’t mean anything. Players with fairer skin will get more of a red mark. Some players just get it more than others. It’s certainly not an accurate judge of mouthpiece pressure.
Speaking of mouthpiece pressure, I don’t know for sure that you’re using too much pressure or not. In fact, even experts are poor judges of mouthpiece pressure. Unless you’re feeling pain or you’re actually loosening your teeth, I wouldn’t be too concerned.
It also greatly affects my range. I tend to pinch when playing in the upper register, which gives me a very thin tone. I also have less endurance than my other peers. Since i use a upstream embouchure, my director suggested that i shift my mouthpiece so that i am playing with more upper lip.
I have a couple points to make here. First, ask (politely) your band director to watch the video series I’ve made available here. Because downstream embouchures are more common, most brass teachers end up playing with a downstream embouchure, but they unfortunately assume that all their students should be the same. If your teacher understands you have a good reason to keep your mouthpiece placement there, he or she can instead focus on the real cause of your problem, which is probably not your mouthpiece placement.
Without watching you play, I can only guess what’s causing your upper register cap and endurance issues, but the first thing I’d look for is to see if your mouth corners are pulling back into a smile as you ascend. For some reason this issue is more common with upstream embouchure players than the downstream, but it’s a problem either way. Lock the mouth corners in place where they are and don’t let them pull back as you ascend. This will help both range and endurance.
This way i would have less pressure on my upper lip, and it would stop my pinching/pressure problem. But i really don’t feel comfortable with this new embouchure. I really don’t know what to do because i don’t want to risk my embouchure and tone by using a different embouchure.
I haven’t watched you play in person, so I can only guess as to whether your upstream embouchure is correct for your anatomy or not. That said, most players who end up playing upstream on their own should be playing that way always.
You won’t be able to practice your way into playing better with an embouchure type that doesn’t fit your face.
I sometimes believe that one problem could be that i really don’t breathe fully when playing.
Checking your breathing never hurts. Good breathing is very important to brass playing. But throwing good air at a bad embouchure won’t fix it.
I read that players, who use excessive mouthpiece pressure, will never increase their endurance because the blood flow is being restricted in the lips. And, the muscles in the corner of your lips rarely work because of the pressure being put in the center of the lips.
Excessive mouthpiece pressure will hurt your endurance. Your lips aren’t really meant to be mashed with the metal like that. If you can gradually develop the muscular strength to keep everything firm when playing, you’ll find that not only will you not need as much mouthpiece pressure to play, but also that your lips accept the pressure better.
What would suggest? and how could i fix this problem?
Check your mouth corners when ascending first. My best guess is you’re smiling to ascend. If so, practice slow ascending slurs while watching yourself in a mirror and keep your mouth corners locked in place when you ascend. Don’t let yourself pull them back when you want to.
You might also try doing some light, airy-sounding, mosquito-like free buzzing (more on this topic later this summer). That will help you develop the muscles you need to both keep the mouth corners locked in place and also to cushion the mouthpiece pressure on the lips. And it also will give you a chance to practice and build strength without needing to worry about mouthpiece pressure. Just a few minutes a day is more than enough free buzzing.
Lastly, be patient and know that it will take some time. If you can get together with a private teacher, that’s the best way to learn how to play. If your private teacher wants you to move your mouthpiece placement up, ask him or her to watch my video series. Good luck!