About a month ago I had the opportunity to take a road trip up to Silver Spring, MD to grab another lesson with Doug Elliott. For those of you unfamiliar with Doug, he is a fantastic trombonist and highly regarded mouthpiece manufacturer. He is also an expert on embouchure form and function and knows more about finding good mouthpieces for individual players than anyone else I know of. He was also the major source for my dissertation (The correlation between Doug Elliott’s embouchure types and selected physical and playing characteristics among trombonists – it’s a good read if you have insomnia) and it’s his terminology that I prefer to use to describe brass embouchure types.
While in my lesson last month Doug made some mouthpiece recommendations for me to try, which has gotten me thinking more about how different embouchure types tend to favor certain mouthpiece characteristics. I’ve picked up some of this from Doug, and some others who know what they’re talking about. Here are some of these observations.
Very High Placement Type
Players belonging to the Very High Placement embouchure type tend to do best with mouthpieces that have larger rims and sometimes deeper cups. I’m not certain why the larger rims are useful for these players, but Very High Placement embouchure players tend to have a brighter sound, so those players will often play on a deeper cup if they want a darker sound.
Very High Placement embouchure type players may also find that a sharper rim is helpful. In this case, the best rim “bite” may related to the player’s jaw position and horn angle. Most Very High Placement type players have a jaw position that more or less aligns their teeth, resulting in a horn angle close to straight out. For some reason this makes a rim with a sharper bite work better, or at least not feel as uncomfortable as players with a receded jaw and lowered horn angle. That said, I have heard trumpet players belonging to the Very High Placement type complain that they don’t like sharp rims. I would imagine that on high brass is would be more of a problem, since the mouthpiece pressure gets concentrated into a smaller area on the lips, but either way, take it with a grain of salt.
Medium High Placement Type
Medium High Placement embouchure type players usually have a darker sound naturally, so they tend to not play on mouthpieces with cups as large as other embouchure types. Other embouchure types tend to find the upper register a bit easier to develop than Medium High Placement players and this probably also helps explain why these players favor more shallow cup sizes.
I haven’t personally noticed that much consistency with mouthpiece rims among Medium High Placement players, but I think they would probably also not favor large rim sizes or a sharp bite. I note here that most players of this embouchure type tend to have a receded jaw position with a lower horn angle and I think that a sharper rim here might be uncomfortable on the players upper lip. Again, I’m just speculating here.
Low Placement Type
This is the embouchure type that I personally have, but upstream Low Placement embouchure players are less common than the above downstream embouchure types. In many ways the Low Placement embouchure type is like a Very High Placement type in reverse and they share some similar playing characteristics. For example, both these types tend to find the upper register one of their playing strengths and have a tone that is on the bright side. Like the Very High Placement embouchure type, most Low Placement type players favor mouthpieces with deeper cups. Because their high range is a strength, Low Placement type players who want a darker sound don’t really suffer a range drop by playing with a deeper cup. I personally play on a somewhat large mouthpiece cup size.
As far as rim characteristics for Low Placement players go, I can discuss two different viewpoints and describe a recent personal experiment. Donald Reinhardt apparently felt that upstream embouchure type players should play on the smallest sized rim they felt comfortable with. A few years ago I had a lesson with Doug and I tried out some even smaller rim sizes and we decided it really made no discernible difference for me, but the rim I was already playing on was relatively small anyway.
But in my recent lesson with Doug we had been discussing this idea about Low Placement embouchure types being essentially upside down Very High Placement types. Doug, who studied with Reinhardt quite extensively, told me he’s been questioning Reinhardt’s suggestion here lately, since he’s seen so many upstream players with larger rim sizes. I tried out some larger rims, going a size larger each time. As the rim size grew larger, my tone gained more focus and became more resonant until I reached a point where the rim was too big.
Long story short, I ended up taking a new mouthpiece rim home to experiment with for a while. Currently, about a month later, I’ve started to play on this larger rim almost exclusively. It does feel like my endurance has gone down a bit, but I suspect that some of that has more to do with the mechanical corrections I’ve been working on since my recent lesson. It may be that Doug is on to something with this new insight into rim size and Low Placement embouchure players.
As far as rim bite goes for Low Placement players, I suspect this is also related to the individual player’s horn angle and jaw position. Most upstream players keep their teeth more or less aligned and have a horn angle close to straight out. Some of these players may feel similar to Very High Placement players and like a sharper mouthpiece rim. I personally have a receded jaw position and a lower horn angle and prefer a more rounded mouthpiece rim.
Before finishing, I’d like to remind everyone that you will want to be somewhat skeptical if you try to take the above suggestions. First, make sure that you’re getting your embouchure type correct. It’s pretty hard to simply watch a video about this and type yourself, try to get someone who knows what they are looking at accurately type your embouchure. Secondly, the characteristics I’ve discussed here are only tendencies, and you can quite easily find contrary examples.
What do you think? Do you find the above observations accurate or have you found something different? Did I leave out some important bit of information? Please leave your comment about what embouchure type you think you belong to and share your favored mouthpiece characteristics.