Guess the Embouchure Type – Jerome Callet

Someone has uploaded to YouTube Jerome Callet’s video lessons, Master Superchops Disc 1. According to this thread in the Trumpet Herald Jerome Callet Forum Callet has decided to allow this video to remain up on YouTube (disc 2, which can be found here, provides more successful players than in disc 1).

I’ve written about Callet’s unusual recommendations a bit in my article on the so-called “tongue controlled embouchure” before. I discuss my reservations on why I generally don’t recommend this technique over there and many players searching for some advice about the tongue controlled embouchure have made this post on of the most popular ones here. At the time that I wrote that post I had not seen this video but based my thoughts largely on what was more publicly available online and in books as well as with conversations with tongue controlled embouchure advocates. Keeping in mind that the tongue controlled embouchure is not unique to Callet and his students, after watching this video I haven’t changed my mind about this technique. If anything, watching Callet work with three different trumpet students has reinforced my opinion that this technique is generally not useful for the majority of trumpet players and I would typically discourage players from trying to incorporate these techniques in their own practice and performing.

I’ll discuss some of my reservations below, but watch the video all the way through and make your own opinions. While you do so, let’s play “guess the embouchure type” with all the players in the video, starting with Callet and then going on to the three students in this video. My thoughts after the break.

Looking through all of the players working on Callet’s unorthodox technique reinforces how regardless of whatever else a player may be doing or thinking, the mouthpiece placement will always imply an air stream direction and there will always be an embouchure motion, if you know what to look for. Using these two basic embouchure characteristics we can see each player using one of the three basic embouchure types

Jerome Callet demonstrates his basic technique first. While we don’t see any of the trumpet players in this video playing into a transparent mouthpiece, we do have an advantage when it comes to Callet as he participated in Daryl Gibson’s 1974 dissertation, “A photographic study of twelve professional trumpet embouchures while playing from the low to the extreme upper register.” I take the results from Gibson’s study with a grain of salt, since his methodology used a mouthpiece rim visualizer which can offer a different view than using a transparent mouthpiece. That said, Callet’s high mouthpiece placement (closer to the nose) would suggest the Gibson’s findings that Callet has a downstream embouchure is probably accurate.

Callet’s embouchure motion is visible at a couple of points in this video, but one good look happens at 5:19. Notice that as he descends he generally pushes his mouthpiece and lips together up towards the nose to ascend and then pulls them down towards his chin to ascend (ignore his pedal tone embouchure, where he resets the mouthpiece and type switches). The combination of this particular embouchure motion and his downstream mouthpiece placement makes his embouchure type fit within the “medium high placement” embouchure type. This is a very common embouchure type.

The first student in this video is Csaba Keleman. Keleman’s mouthpiece placement has more upper lip than lower lip, looking a bit higher than Callet’s placement. His embouchure is almost certainly also one of the downstream types. His horn angle is tilted down slightly, which would be more indicative of the “medium high placement” embouchure type. His embouchure motion is also minimal, making it harder to spot (not uncommon with “medium high placement” players), but you can get a decent look here. My best guess is “medium high placement” for Keleman.

Yuriy Kravets is the second student in this video. His horn angle and mouthpiece placement are very similar to Keleman’s, but that alone isn’t going to make his embouchure type also the same. Keleman’s mouth corners loosen up a great deal to descend, which makes it a little more difficult to spot a consistent embouchure motion, but you can get a pretty good look when he plays octave slurs starting at 35:19. He also appears to pull down to ascend and push up to descend, making his embouchure motion also fit the “medium high placement” embouchure type.

Yuriy’s brother, Mike Kravets, is the last student who Callet works with in disc 1. I always find it interesting to look closely at related musicians play brass instruments and see if they play with similar embouchure types. If the theory that a player’s embouchure type is based on a player’s anatomical features and not on a particular practice method is true we would expect that related musicians, who are more genetically similar than the general population of brass musicians, would tend to play with the same embouchure type. In this particular case, I found Mike Kravets’ embouchure type to also be a “medium high placement” type. His mouthpiece placement is similar, although he is trying to keep a higher horn angle than his brother’s (note that he ducks his head to play, which might make his horn angle appear to be tilted down, but he is actually holding it pretty close to straight out from his lips). He even asks about whether he should bring his horn angle up, which Callet responds by saying, “No, just bring your tongue up, then bring your lower lip up to hold it in place.” While the straight out horn angle is more common with the “very high placement” embouchure type players, you can spot that Mike Kravets’ also uses the same embouchure motion as his brother, pulling down to ascend and pushing up to descend. My best guess for him is also “medium high placement.” Keep in mind that he hasn’t been playing for very long and as players grow and develop they will sometimes begin playing differently.

I have reservations about much of the advice Callet offers in this video. Some of it is based on common misunderstandings of what actually is going on with functioning brass embouchures, but there is also some misinformation that Callet repeats. For example, at 57:36 Callet repeats the myth that the vermillion of the lips contains “no muscle,” which is false. First, the lips are medically defined (and as I use this word) as the anatomical structures that surround the oral aperture including, but not limited to, the vermillion, vermillion border, philtrum, and oral mucosa. The upper lip includes the vermillion up to the nose. The lower lips includes the vermillion down to the mentolabial sulcus. There absolutely is muscle under the red of the lips, although many anatomy drawings have a tendency to show the vermillion as a point of reference and people who don’t dig deeply enough into the anatomy often miss this important point.

Callet also claims that with his method “you’re using the strongest muscle in your body, which is your tongue.” There is a grain of truth to this statement, as this article shows, but this is a misleading statement and even if it could be argued to be true says nothing about whether using the tongue to play trumpet as Callet recommends is going to provide consistent long term playing benefits.

I also feel that Callet frequently makes assumptions about what his students are physically doing based on what he thinks is happening without actually knowing for sure. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, all teachers do this, including me. However, I personally prefer to try to get some confirmation by asking my students questions about what they feel is happening in those cases. For example, Callet tells a student, “That felt easier to play,” where I would have a student play a couple of different ways and ask the student to tell me what feels easier – even if one way sounded obviously better. At other times he assumes that the student’s problem was something like moving the tongue off the lips or closing the jaw where my assumption from watching the video would be that the cause of the troubles was that the tongue was in contact with the lip in the first place, the position of the jaw was too open, or the chin allowed to bunch up. Now understand that I’m speculating merely based on watching a video alone and could very well be wrong, but my preferred pedagogical approach would not be to make such statements about things I can’t see (e.g., what the tongue is doing) unless student confirms it (or unless I see the tongue penetrating the lips through a transparent mouthpiece).

Callet makes other assumptions without evidence when he states, “I would observe the world’s greatest players, whether it was jazz, classical, soloist. . . I quickly found out they were using their tongues complete different.” Callet doesn’t go into details on how he found this out, but there is no evidence that the majority of professional trumpet players use a tongue controlled embouchure. In fact, the general consensus of trumpet method books and teachers who discuss tonguing would suggest that the majority of trumpet players don’t use their tongues as Callet believes at all.

Callet’s basic technique in this video is based first on the “spit buzz.” This is accomplished holding the tongue against the lip (the top lip in this particular video, although most proponents of the tongue controlled embouchure keep the tongue on the bottom lip) and in Callet’s particular case also sustaining pitches with the tongue remaining in contact with the lips. When a player does this the tongue pushes the lips forward and as the note is sustained the mouthpiece will tend to crash back against the lips and bounce around (note one example here). Some advocates of spit buzzing attacks counter that it’s possible to practice in such a way to minimize or eliminate this (something that I don’t really see demonstrated to my satisfaction by Callet in this particular video), but this is one situation where I feel the benefits of this technique don’t outweigh the drawbacks enough to warrant the practice time it takes to avoid them. Articulating pitches off the lips as most players seems to work best in the long term and in my opinion also provides for more consistent and clear articulation in the first place.

I’m also not a fan of Callet’s recommendations on playing the trumpet pedal tones. In my opinion, his advice is an example of how I would say NOT to play. Notice here how Callet puckers his lips forward, rolls his lower lip out, and brings his mouthpiece placement up even higher on his lips. Since pedal tones on trumpet are a special effect at best, and not really played for the most part, I question whether this is also something that is worth taking valuable practice time to work on. Particularly when it might contradict what a player wants to do in their normal playing range. Notice that when Callet demonstrates playing from pedals into the upper register how he has a noticeable break that you can both hear and see. This sort of practice seems to encourage a low range setting and a high range setting. I prefer to teach one embouchure for the entire range and avoid embouchure breaks in the first place.

Now before Callet’s supporters see this post and defend him in these comments (which I welcome!), let me at least mention a couple of important points. First of all, what I’ve tried to do here is offer my misgivings about his method based on the more empirical observations I’ve done in both formal and informal research on brass embouchures, as well as research and data done by others. If you follow some of the links I’ve provided in this post as well as other resources I’ve posted here on my web site you should be able to find data that supports my ideas or citations to other articles or other resources. I try to be very careful in my language to qualify when I have some definitive information that contradicts Callet or when I’m speculating and presenting my reasoning when appropriate. If you find some fault in my logic please address that and I’ll either try to clarify my thoughts or make a correction if needed. I consider my opinion here to be an “educated” one, so if you want to argue against it please make an effort to understand where I’m coming from. It’s probable that I’ve addressed your criticism already here or elsewhere on this site.

Lastly, take everything I’ve written with a grain of salt. Follow my links, read my logic, and make your own informed opinion. And please share your thoughts about my embouchure type guesses and criticisms here.

Lyle Sanford

from way back in the peanut gallery . . . On just the topic of playing pedal tones – I started very late in life playing brass – the horn – and several years into it had an embouchure crisis and just about gave up. Turned it around by doing lots of things, but one of the most important for me was playing a lots of pedal tones and low range notes rarely seen in band music. On a proprioceptive level that taught me how the muscles in the whole face are involved, and that I’d been using mostly just the ones right around the lips, so they had no support. To use a word from the ’60’s, working with pedal tones clued me into the “gestalt” of the embouchure. To go back to the blog discussion of “natural” players years back (which I think you were involved in) – what working with pedal tones taught me was something I think “natural” brass players already know instinctively.

But again, my situation very far from what you music educators are working with on a day to day basis.

On a side note – one of my posts that gets a slow but very steady stream of clicks is the one on lip calluses you helped out on. I think that was also the result of overusing some muscles and not using other enough, and the callus came as a result.

Dave

Thanks for your comments, Lyle (and for the kind words!).

Turned it around by doing lots of things, but one of the most important for me was playing a lots of pedal tones and low range notes rarely seen in band music.

Practicing pedal tones definitely does something for your playing. However, I feel there are other things that one can practice (different, depending on the the player) that can have the same benefit without the associated difficulties.

Lyle Sanford

Dave –

I think what I’m trying to get across is that until working with pedal tones got me to realize what the embouchure was about in it’s totality – there was no accurate proprioceptive framework to make sense of all the other exercises and what they were supposed to be helping me with – so what would be a waste of time to you, and probably most, if not all the students you work with, was for me invaluable in making the rest of it comprehensible. I don’t practice them for long periods anymore, but they are a part of every single warmup, both as physical and mental reminders of how I want to play.

There’s a reason some people fall out of band because they just don’t “get” it right away. You’re working with people who have already passed a number of thresholds to get where they are. My guess is my experience is mostly relevant only to rank amateurs or who those have had a major embouchure crisis and are looking to try something different.

Dave

Hi, Lyle.

Sure, I think there is a benefit from pedal tones on trumpet and horn, but personally prefer to use other things that derive the same benefit without the associated risks. The trouble is that the other exercises can be quite different from player to player and isn’t easy to package into a book or lesson DVD.

Currently I’m working with middle school band students. This Tuesday we’ll be starting the 6th graders for the first time on their instruments (brass, woodwind, and percussion). In the case of brass, I recommended we use the “high” beginner book because young students often resort to the same things that the players demonstrating the pedal tones in this video do in order to get the sounds out. In my opinion, it’s better to learn how to play in a way that will work for your entire range rather than practice multiple embouchures for different registers – and at all stages of development.

Paul T.

Thanks, Dave, for posting this, and for your careful review. Lyle, thank you for your comments as well!

I’ll have to find some time to watch the whole video and then see if I have something useful to add to the discussion.

Lyle Sanford

Dave – Before this post goes under the fold want to ask what you mean by the “the associated risks” of pedal tones. Since you said that I’ve been trying to figure it out every time I practice and can’t. And just to stake out my territory, your metronome post made me realize how far over on the left side of the bell curve I am from you pros – I use it to slowly click subdivisions to figure out all those weird rhythms so beloved of concert band arrangers that I’ve never previously encountered but that veterans can just rattle off.

Dave

Hey, Lyle.

Before this post goes under the fold want to ask what you mean by the “the associated risks” of pedal tones.

That’s a very good question. Give me a day or three to put together a more complete post on this, since I think it probably deserves more attention and explanation than I can rattle off quickly just now.

Lyle Sanford

Thanks – look forward to that.

Also – can’t find it now, but I think you somewhere talked about various facial anatomies and the various issues people have because of that. My question is whether you would ever steer someone away from brass based on that, or do you think there’s a way for everyone if they can find it?

Another way to ask the question is whether “naturals” tend to have the same facial anatomies – or whether the “natural” part comes is simply having a great intuitive feel for what to do with whatever face they’ve got.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, this new blog looks to be interesting:

http://www.themusiciansbrain.com

gordonhudsonnu

Here is my take on the whole embouchure thing. Having had to rebuild my chops with the help of a good teacher when I was in my early 40’s* I found the following:

1. Pressure is generally bad.
2. Tongue level / compression of the air is probably central to all of this
3. Lip corner strength is important because it stabilises everything
4. Efficiency / aperture size is important to stamina.

In other words, there is no magic system. Other than that, it is just down to doing as much playing as you can. There isn’t really any substitute. I am not a fan of any of these systems. They all have truth in them, but everyone’s lips and teeth structures are different.

(*I had to make big changes because my embouchure had spread out. This was caused by continuing to play on a Bach 1 even though I was doing a lot less playing. I ended up with a set up that relied on inflammation to make it work. It took four months to get back to playing and it really did revitalise my playing and I am better now than ever.)

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