Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players Take 2

Here is a cleaned up version of my 50 minute video presentation called Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players.  While I’ve had this presentation up on YouTube already, I had to split it into 6 parts when I initially posted it.  Later I tried to post it in a single video, but the audio and video didn’t sync up towards the end.  This time I believe it should work just fine all the way through.

Andrew

You mention that beginning trumpet players generally find their own appropriate embouchure setting which is driven by their anatomy. What about those of us who don’t, or those of us whose anatomy changed and the setting didn’t keep up? I have a personal reason for asking and will get to that in a moment. For a broader audience I imagine that there are teachers who have “jammed” young students into a particular upstream/ downstream type and mouthpiece placement based on dogmatic adherence to a particular “one size fits all” model. If those students develop some comfort and control albeit with sub optimal embouchure for their anatomy, how would that student go on to figure out the type that best corresponds to their anatomy? Is there a systematic way of working through the issue or is it just trial and error? Granted if that student is using one of the three major types, the student will have only two others to try. But the immediate results of any embouchure change are generally awful, so it is hard to know how long to try the “new” type before concluding “better” or “worse”. In my case I was probably appropriately downstream with medium/ high mouthpiece placementuntil college. My range was not effortless, but I could consistently reach F above high C. Then, I had 8 teeth removed and 2 years of braces which entirely changed my lip’s relation to teeth. When I resumed serious playing with the same placement and embouchure set, my range capped out at Bb, C on a good day with sun moon and stars aligned. Previously I had a bright, clear, ringing tone. After the changes I would describe it as fat, dark, warm. I’ve continued to play off and on for 30 years, sometimes to a level of great endurance and power, but a very capped range. Finally, tired of this limitation I started studying everything written that i could find without leaving the couch…thank god for the ipad and your blog). Two nights ago and again last night I tried a low placement and upstream set. I was rewarded with some truly horrid but effortless shrieks squeals and squeaks ranging from middle c to double high c.

The tone would have been wonderful for cutting turbine blades, bats flew out of the chimney, and my wife and children threatened divorce/murder. Only a trumpet player would view such a result with elation; I was ecstatic. However, none of what I did was in any way musical and I couldn’t even get below middle c without re setting to my prior embouchure. I dont know whether to proceed forward and unleash these horrors in hopes of developing a low range, nice tone etc. it seems a herculean task as it both feels from the sensations, and looks, from viewing your videos, that it is now the lower lip that is doing most of the vibrating where previously it was the upper. Maybe, had i any knowledge of these principles i would have made the switch after getting the braces off. I’d willingly do it now as i am not dependent in any way on the trumpet for a living-(more likely will be listed as “cause of death” on my toe tag. On the other hand why make a complete change over if a more modest change would overcome the range problems? So, back to the general and specific issue: how to work through this systematically, or better yet, jump start with some knowledgeable instruction based on observing anatomy and playing capability? Any thoughts welcome. Awesome blog by the way. I feel like I’ve finally connected with a web of people who are trying to turn this arcane and quasi religious/taboo subject into something understandable to mortals.

Kind regards,

Andrew

Dave

Hi, Andrew.

Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. I’ll try to answer your questions.

You mention that beginning trumpet players generally find their own appropriate embouchure setting which is driven by their anatomy. What about those of us who don’t, or those of us whose anatomy changed and the setting didn’t keep up?

This described my own situation. I was a couple of years into doctoral studies still struggling with my chops when I learned that I should be playing on an upstream embouchure.

If those students develop some comfort and control albeit with sub optimal embouchure for their anatomy, how would that student go on to figure out the type that best corresponds to their anatomy? Is there a systematic way of working through the issue or is it just trial and error?

There is a certain degree of trial and error involved, but it’s more of a process of elimination. Sometimes a student will have issues not related to playing on the wrong embouchure type (loose mouth corners, excessive jaw movement, etc.) and it’s important to try to correct those things before working out the correct embouchure type. After you’ve been looking closely at embouchures for a while you will start to develop a knack for certain situations that you’ve seen before.

Granted if that student is using one of the three major types, the student will have only two others to try. But the immediate results of any embouchure change are generally awful, so it is hard to know how long to try the “new” type before concluding “better” or “worse”.

Depending on the situation, there is usually some immediate benefit that you can find when making an actual embouchure correction. For example, when I changed to an upstream embouchure my high range was immediately better by a lot. It took time to develop endurance and control and to open up the low register, but it was clear that the embouchure change was correct.

Two nights ago and again last night I tried a low placement and upstream set. I was rewarded with some truly horrid but effortless shrieks squeals and squeaks ranging from middle c to double high c.

That sounds similar to my situation. If this is correct for you you will want to practice descending from those “squeakers” and learn how to make your correct embouchure motion (let me know if you don’t understand this term).

Depending on the amount of playing you need to do you can either switch embouchures to play in the middle/low register until (if) you learn how to descend with the upstream embouchure or just go cold turkey and try to do all your playing on the upstream setting.

Whether or not this is correct for you is impossible to say without watching you play. Any chance you can post video of your chops?

Dave

Andrew

Dave, Thanks so much for your quick response. I’ve shot some video on an iPad and downloaded it to my computer. How do I get it to you? I don’t see an email address. Thanks, Andrew

Oscar

Hello Dave, I play the French Horn and i saw this video and i realized that i have a medium high placement embouchure. I struggle immensely with anything above my high F and sometimes on a good day i can get my high G. While my high range suffers, i can play all the way down to my peddle tone F. What could i possibly do to strengthen my upper range? thank you for your time, i really enjoyed your video. it has brought a great deal of insight.

Dave

Hi, Oscar.

Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you found the video interesting.

In order to offer you any advice I’d have to watch you play. Just because you think you have a medium high placement embouchure type doesn’t necessarily mean that you correctly typed yourself. Or maybe you are playing on that embouchure type but this isn’t correct for your anatomy. It’s really tough to troubleshoot embouchure issues remotely, but if you can post video footage of you playing over your entire range maybe I can spot something that might help.

Dave

Dave

Mouthpiece buzzing is really different from playing on the horn, so I’m not sure that it would be helpful. If you can borrow an instrument sometime you can send me a message via my contact form and I’ll reply with my email address. Or you can upload the video to YouTube and send me the link via the contact form.

Oscar

The closest thing i could get would be a marching french horn since my band is switching over to marching season but ill try to get an actual horn soon. thank you for your responses

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