Regular readers may already know that one of my pet peeves is the huge number of brass teachers who (ignorantly, in my opinion) discourage all students from placing their mouthpiece in a way that the rim is contacting the red of the lips. It’s fairly common to hear players talking about the “evils of placing on the red.” I recently came across another example of this by trumpet player Bill Bing.
Bing is skeptical that brass players (or at least trumpet players) can play successfully with the mouthpiece placed in such a way that a lot of rim contacts the lower lip. That said, other than a brief mention at the beginning, the rest of this video doesn’t mention placing on the red at all. Nor does he explain why he feel’s it’s a bad thing other than that he’s never noticed it before. The closest thing to explaining why this is wrong is when he comments that he didn’t personally find it successful.
My personal experience happens to be the exact opposite of Bing’s. He found it didn’t work to place the mouthpiece on the red of his lips and made a correction that made things better. On the other hand, I found that after being instructed to play with a centered mouthpiece placement moving my setting onto the red of my upper lip actually worked best. It really depends on the individual player and is something that I don’t like to generalize.
Bing’s mouthpiece placement is high enough on his lips that I figured “very high placement” embouchure type from his first notes, but watching him ascend from the pedal register up to C above the staff made me strongly suspect that embouchure type. Watch his embouchure motion here and you can see him push his mouthpiece and lips together up towards the nose as he ascends.
One thing that I appreciated in his discussion is that he does acknowledge that if something is working it’s not necessary to try to “fix” it (and if I’m interpreting Bing correctly, this includes if you’re placing the mouthpiece on the red). Bing also mentions James Stamp’s warm up routines and how Stamp would cater the routine to individual students. Bing is not a “one-size-fits-all” teacher who tries to conform all musicians to his own way of playing.
While I personally discourage trumpet players from going out of their way to play pedal tones, I do find Bing’s advice about playing them to be better than the way many trumpet players play them. He points out that he likes to keep the mouthpiece on the exact same spot on the lips where he plays his upper register.
It’s interesting to watch him play pedal tones in two different ways on this video. Bing demonstrates that he used to pull the mouthpiece to a slightly lower position on his lips to get the pedals out, which made it difficult for him to ascend again. Personally, I would discourage brass player’s from adopting his solution, lightening up on the mouthpiece pressure enough to slide the mouthpiece back up on the lips to where he wants it for the normal playing register.
Anecdotally, it seems that “very high placement” embouchure type trumpet players are better able to get benefits from practicing pedal tones than the other two basic embouchure types. My thought is that trumpet players belonging to this embouchure type seem to be less prone to the issues that can develop from excessive pedal tone practice, but to the best of my knowledge there hasn’t been any research that supports that yet.
What was your embouchure type guess for Bill Bing? Did you guess a different type and why? While you’re at it, take a closer look at his YouTube channel. He’s got a lot of vods up there about trumpet playing that you might find interesting and helpful.