Embouchure Change Questions: Overbite, Mouthpiece Placement, and High Range

Here’s another embouchure question from my pile, sent by Khai from Malaysia. As always, keep in mind that I’m going to have to speak somewhat generally and make some educated guesses, particularly since I haven’t watched Khai play.

Hi, I’ve been playing the trombone for about 3 years in my high school band. But a year ago, a senior told me that I am using a wrong embouchure, when I hit a high F (which would be my highest “comfortable” note) I would have a pretty extreme upper lip overbite which would more or less completely cover the pink flesh bits of my lower lip and my tone would sound really thin and airy. I have worked on changing it for a while by evening out my lips for a 50-50 or 60-40 ratio, well its pretty underdeveloped but its easier to go for higher notes even though there’s no good sound quality in it, and if I play softly the tone is alright but as soon as I try to go above a middle F in forte the tone gets weak and I run out of air really fast, I don’t feel like my lips are really vibrating and like I’m only using air to play the notes. So here are my questions. Do I need to change my embouchure? How do I change my embouchure? And how do I increase my lip vibration when I get to higher ranges? Do you have any tips that could help me with my embouchure change if I need to? I will really appreciate any tips or advice you can give, thanks.

I assume that by “high F” you mean the F a couple of ledger lines and a space just above the bass clef staff, and not the F above that. If you’re talking about the F above “high B flat,” then that would be high enough that my guess is that your embouchure is working fine up there and you should play your whole range with that setting. If this is the first F above the bass clef staff, then the same might apply, in spite of what a senior told you. Then again, maybe you would do well to make an embouchure correction for your entire range. Without being able to watch you play, preferably in person, it’s really impossible to say for certain.

You mention an overbite, by which I’m assuming that your lower jaw is naturally receded. Again, without being able to watch you play, I can only offer some possibilities. One thought is that you should bring your jaw forward some, possibly even as much so that your teeth are aligned. That said, some players do better with a receded jaw position and perhaps you are one of them. You might be able to benefit from Donald Reinhardt’s “jaw retention drill,” which is an away-from-the-instrument exercise. Follow that link to check out what this exercise is and try it out a bit daily for the next few weeks. If your jaw needs to come forward more to play this exercise can help you get more comfortable with this position.

You mention mouthpiece placement, but it’s not really clear to me where you’re placing the mouthpiece normally and what works best for your upper register. I would avoid trying to place the mouthpiece so that you’ve got a 50/50 ratio. Some brass musicians do play well on what might look from the outside like a half and half placement, but one lip or another must predominate inside the cup and the majority of players should place the mouthpiece so that there’s clearly more than one lip inside. Check out this link here for a little more about mouthpiece placement and air stream direction. You might benefit from trying to place the mouthpiece in both the upstream and downstream positions and see if you can find a “sweet spot” where the upper register becomes easier to play. While you’re at it, experiment a bit with placing off to one side or another too. Many great players have off-center placements, some very much so. Don’t worry too much about a big, rich tone at first, just see if you can find a placement that allows you to play high. It’s often easier to open up the sound after you find an embouchure that works for you rather than to try to go for sound first and then build range.

Ideally, all this sort of experimentation (and some others that are too difficult to describe just now) would be done in a private lesson or two. It’s quite difficult to do this stuff, even if you have some experience working with brass embouchures, let alone on your own. Whether or not you should change your embouchure depends on whether or not there are issues that are being caused by an incorrect embouchure type for your face or whether it’s due to you having other incorrect playing mechanics that are making your current embouchure work less than ideal. Often times the answer is a little bit of both.

My last piece of advice for you is to try to build some embouchure strength and control with a little bit of daily free buzzing. Follow this link to watch a video describing a simple exercise I recommend and read up a bit more about it. After a couple of weeks or so practicing this exercise it may become more apparent whether or not an embouchure change will be necessary for you or if you just need to make corrections in how you’re currently playing. Again, without being able to watch you play, that’s the best I can do.

Good luck!

John Deal

I play horn. I have the same problem.. My overbite, I believe, hinders my upper register. I have played for 40 yrs. and still have troulbe above high G [right above staff]. I’ve tried everything. I notice most brass players who can play high don’t have prominent overbites. When the teeth come together naturally, the lips are already set in a tense position. With an overbite, the tension in the corners of the lips is lost and lips are set in more relaxed natural position. I have a great low register, but always wanted to play high.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.