Guess the Embouchure Type – Phil Wilson

Max sent me a link to this YouTube video of the great Phil Wilson soloing on Lonesome Old Town with the Woody Herman Orchestra. Not only is it a great sample of Wilson’s phenomenal playing, you also get a couple of good looks at Wilson’s chops. Enough to play “guess the embouchure type.” Take a good look  and see if you can tell which embouchure type Phil Wilson has. The best view of his embouchure starts at about 2:26, but you really need to at least start at the beginning of the solo at around 1:57 so you can hear Wilson show off his high chops a bit. My guess after the break.

There are two main characteristics that define a player’s embouchure type, the mouthpiece placement (which determines the air stream direction) and the direction of the player’s embouchure motion. The first is pretty easy to guess with Wilson’s embouchure. His placement is fairly close to half and half, but there’s enough top lip inside that it’s almost certainly one of the downstream embouchure types. The upstream embouchure almost always has a mouthpiece placement that looks significantly lower than Wilson’s placement. Based on his placement alone it’s probably a good guess that he’s an example of the “medium high placement” embouchure type. “Very high placement” embouchure types almost always have a mouthpiece placement that is much closer to the nose.

Wilson’s embouchure motion is a little more tricky to spot. I *think* that I can see him pulling his mouthpiece and lips together down to ascend and pushing up to ascend, but it’s a very small amount of movement. The fact that it is such a small amount of motion is actually another clue that points to “medium high placement” embouchure type because out of the three basic types, the “medium high placement” type tends to have less embouchure motion than the other two, particularly with players at a very high level like Wilson (note, this is not necessarily correct for all “medium high placement” players at different stages in their development and player’s of other embouchure types sometimes also have very minimal amounts of embouchure motion).

So my best guess would be the “medium high placement” type. Did you have a different guess? If so, what made you think so? Have you found another video of Wilson with a good look at his chops or any other brass player that you would like to play guess the embouchure type with? Drop me a line and let me know.

Paul T.

Hi, Dave.

I think his embouchure motion is very clear if you know what you’re looking for (although there’s not a lot of it, as you point): definitely pulling down as he ascends. As for his embouchure type, though, I’m less certain. Medium high placement would be my guess, too, but sure he doesn’t sound like one! I’ve heard some Reinhardt people say that he was a “Jelly Roll” (type III) in that classification. Interesting and unusual example! Thanks for posting.

Dave

I’ve heard some Reinhardt people say that he was a “Jelly Roll” (type III) in that classification.

That’s certainly possible. It *looks* like his lower lip is rolled quite a bit from the outside. Of course, that can be deceiving. From a functional standpoint, there’s not much difference between Reinhardt’s type III and IIIB (in as much as what sort of things they practice, direction of their “pivot,” etc.). I’ve only seen 1 (maybe 2) true type IIIs before, it’s pretty uncommon.

As far as his embouchure motion goes, I’m pretty certain he’s pulling down to ascend too. I agree that once you know what to look for it becomes a lot more obvious, but I’ve been fooled before, so I try to allow a little wiggle room if I’m wrong so I can pretend I knew it all along.

Max Acree

I had an interesting conversation with Doug Elliott about this when he typed me, I too am a IIIB and have a very similiar way of forming my lips in the mouthpiece like Phil Wilson does , as does Dave Steinmeyer I might add. Doug told me when he originally typed Steinmeyer, he had him labeled as a Type III but Reinhardt corrected him. True Type III’s are exceedingly rare, it requires a really receded jaw which usually doesnt exist now because of modern orthodontics and a really really low horn angle (much lower than Phil has right here)/

Dave

Good points, Max. I remember the video footage that Doug took of Steinmeyer and he has a very pronounced lower lip roll as he ascends, but not the receded jaw that is supposed to be a characteristic of the true type III. There’s another trombonist in Doug’s video that is a type III, but if I recall correctly he used the embouchure motion of pushing up to ascend, like a IIIA.

Chuck

Not sure if there’s video evidence of the phenomenon, but I took a masterclass with Phil several years ago and he demonstrated a “buzz glissando” in which he actually rotates the horn partway off his lips to rip up across a large range without hitting the partials in between. Since he rolled the horn forward and down off his face, I think that’s a pretty clear indication of downstream embouchure.

Dave

I agree, Chuck, being able to pull away the mouthpiece and keep the buzz happening without a quick pause would suggest a downstream embouchure.

Wilson does those lip glisses so well. Multiphonics too.

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