Embouchure Type Switching – Very High and Medium High Placement Confusion

Long time readers of my blog will know the huge influence my teacher Doug Elliott has had on both my playing and teaching. Doug was the first person I met who understood the role of how anatomical features influence a brass musician’s embouchure. My lessons with Doug inspired me to learn more about brass embouchures and to begin researching that topic seriously. My dissertation, the correlation between Doug Elliott’s embouchure types and selected physical and playing characteristics among trombonists was largely based on a lengthy interview he graciously agreed to give me. The embouchure types I use and much of the other terminology I use were taught to me by Doug. I know other folks who have similar experience studying and teaching brass embouchures, but Doug’s presentation has always been my favorite.

Yesterday I was able to catch the first lesson I’ve had with Doug in a few years. It was also particularly exciting for me because I brought a couple of trumpet player friends along with me and got the chance to again watch Doug teach first hand. I’ve had the chance to watch both of these friends play up close many times before and even been asked for advice about their chops in the past, so it was very interesting to compare my thoughts and suggestions to Doug’s. Of course, I found my own lesson to be insightful. Doug has always been able to spot things that I do inefficiently, even though I can make it work for most of my playing. He also clarified some things for me that I had thought I had a good grasp on, but still needed more guidance with. My lesson, however, is probably worth a post of its own later.

The topic of the day ended up being players who are “very high placement” embouchure types but who have characteristics of the “medium high placement” embouchure type. Both of my friends who came along for lessons were in this situation and some recent online discussions (including my most recent Guess the Embouchure Type post here) and a private email discussion I’ve been having with John W. dealt with this pattern.

This situation has been a tricky one for me to help students with in the past. There have been times where I’ve been able to spot what was going on right away and immediately help, such as one of the trumpet players I documented in Part 2 of my video/blog post on embouchure troubleshooting. In that particular case the trumpet player was playing well with a “very high placement” up to a certain point in his range, but then reversed the direction of his embouchure motion in his high range. Once I helped him keep the direction of his embouchure motion moving up to ascend (instead of pulling down in that range, like a “medium high placement” embouchure player would) his upper register opened up and increased.

My friends had some similar experiences in their lesson with Doug. One of them I was already convinced should be a “very high placement” player. Doug helped him tweak his horn angles and embouchure motion and slightly altered the way he set his embouchure formation. My other friend wasn’t so obviously a “very high placement” type player to me, but Doug spotted it right way. What I found most interesting about watching this lesson was my friend’s tendency to bunch his chin while playing. My thought was that in order to determine this friend’s correct embouchure type would be to get him to first stabilize his embouchure formation and then his embouchure type would become apparent. Doug, on the other hand, found his correct embouchure type and the embouchure formation stabilized on its own, without needing to address it at all. My friend’s bunched chin was a symptom, not the cause, of his playing inefficiencies.

This situation is a pretty common one and I suspect is the most likely scenario for a player who gets diagnosed with what is sometimes caused “embouchure dystonia” or “embouchure overuse syndrome.” Doug seems to agree with me that the cause of the embouchure dysfunction isn’t usually neurological or overplaying, but rather than a physical playing situation causing some problems that turn into a lack of confidence and setting up a downward spiral. Because most players aren’t familiar enough with how brass embouchures function correctly (and how this can be different from player to player), they aren’t informed enough to find the root cause of their problems. I think Doug was the first person I heard use the analogy that this is like lifting with your back. You can get away with it for a while, and even lift very heavy objects like this when you’re in shape. Over time, however, this can lead to troubles and even injuries.

I wonder if this confusion between playing as a “very high placement” embouchure type and “medium high placement” type usually ends up with the player correctly playing as a “very high placement’ embouchure type. If I understand Doug’s point of view correctly here, this is more often the case, rather than players ending up best as a “medium high placement.” embouchure type. This might be because that players who have the anatomy that makes a “very high placement” embouchure type are more common than the other embouchure types. On the other hand, it appears that there’s something about many “very high placement” type players that allows them to play to a high degree with characteristics of the “medium high placement” type, albeit inefficiently compared to how their chops can be working.

I know there are some regular commentators here who belong to the “very high placement” embouchure type. If you are (or think you are), have you ever had a period where you struggled due to playing with characteristics that are associated with the “medium high placement” embouchure type? If you know that you’re really a “medium high placement” have you ever been mistyped (by yourself or others) as a “very high placement?” Please leave your comments and thoughts about anything related to this topic below.

If you’re looking for help with your embouchure I can’t recommend highly enough Doug’s expertise. You can contact Doug for lesson inquiries through his web site. He also makes great customizable low brass mouthpieces, which can learn more about there too.

Paul T.

Hi, Dave.

I tried to post a longer comment here earlier, but it seems to have been swallowed up by the internet and lost for all eternity.

The short version is that I am a Very High Placement player, but went through several years of playing difficulties, where I could hardly play functionally at all. (For example, I remember playing 3rd trombone in a big band playing fairly easy repertoire, and I couldn’t play some of the parts because I didn’t have enough range or endurance, despite a very consistent and diligent practice routine and being arguably in the best [brass] shape of my life.)

I don’t know exactly what I was doing at the time, but it was very similar to playing as a Medium High Placement player (and possibly exactly that, or perhaps like Reinhardt’s Type III).

Switching to a Very High Placement (note that I didn’t have to change my mouthpiece placement; just my embouchure motion) allowed me to play professionally again and was an incredible nearly overnight transformation.

Thanks to you, Reinhardt, and Doug Elliott, who are all in some responsible for that decision.

Dave

Sorry about the lost comment, Paul.

You mentioned that you changed your embouchure motion, but not your mouthpiece placement. Did your horn angle get higher too, more like a Reinhardt IIIA (“very high placement” type)?

Paul T.

Yes, most definitely, and it’s still gradually climbing. My bottom lip has come out a lot more, as well, and it seems to work best for me when it’s aligned with the top lip (whereas before it was tucked under it, which makes me think sometimes that I may have been playing as Reinhardt’s type III at the time).

Anthony

Dave, could you explain a little more what changes Doug made with the bunched chin player? I am a very high placement type player who also has issues with bunching the chin.

Dave

Hi, Anthony.

In my friend’s case, Doug helped him tweak his embouchure motion to make it work consistently the same in all ranges. He also helped him find a generally different horn angle (higher, in his case, probably not uncommon if the player really should be a very high placement/IIIA).

Dave

Justin Neely

Hi Dave,

I’m not a regular commentator, but I’d like to share my experience with this topic and to just let you know how helpful and informative your website and videos are. Thank you!!

I’m a college student who was able to disguise my type switching in high school-that is, until a short lesson with Doug Elliott early on. I was playing with a high placement in the middle register but switched to a medium high placement around G above the staff. I could make this work up to high F! Doug found this strange, suggesting I work with my middle register embouchure motion up through the high range.

I struggled to really adopt this motion, even though it logically fit my anatomy-if I relaxed my jaw, it vertically aligned my front teeth (which I think is Type 1). It gave (gives) me a “smaller,” clear sound which many orchestral trombonists suggested I improve. I would sometimes doubt I was a high placement player and would experiment with the opposite motion (because I can recede my jaw pretty far), which would open up my sound and made high Bb’s deceptively easy. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t get this motion to work in the middle register! With some standard long tone work, I was forced to use a very high placement as that was the only thing that would work consistently. I can play fairly big and loud without a quiver or double-buzz in my sound.

Now I’m finally finding the solid consistency my teachers have been asking for for years! What I find really interesting is that it seems to require the combination of traditional brass teaching (air, long tones, and lip slurs) and this more progressive embouchure analysis (embouchure motion, setting before breathing)…Just as you had put it in one video. Without either path, I would be less well as a trombonist than I am with both.

As a side note…Being a Type 1 player (probably), Reinhardt suggested that either embouchure motion could work. Have you run across any players who are Type 1 and have a descending embouchure motion?

Thanks again!!

Dave

Justin, I’m not certain that you are a Reinhardt Type I. When you bite, are your teeth naturally aligned? At any rate, it’s probably better for you to think about being a “very high placement” type.

I haven’t seen any Type I players with the opposite embouchure motion from expected. Doug’s embouchure film shows a Reinhardt Type III. Normally these players will pull down to ascend, as medium high placement type, but this player pushed up like a very high placement player, but with a very lowered horn angle.

keith beyer

Hi Dave,

My name is Keith and really enjoy reading your website. I found this post and was interested in making a few observations.

I had been doing a range exercise recently and came to a revelation. The exercise was picking 100 high C’s out of the air. I needed to reset every time I went for each one. At first, I was setting further on my left. When I went for it, I would pull down and to my right, a typical “medium placement” characteristic.”

As I was performing the exercise, I thought to myself, lets set more to my right side, or set for a high C. Wow. My horn angle came up slightly, I felt an even foundation on my teeth and my horn angle was closer to straight out.

I know often times, I get called to play 2nd or 3rd trumpet in shows, or gigs. What invariably happens is my aperture gets bigger and over the course of time, my mouthpiece shifts, favoring a fuller sound on my left side.

I was typed by Dave Sheetz as a IIIb, or “medium placement.” Dave knows what he is talking about for sure and is quite patient and observant. I am quite curious of the high placement vs medium high placement %.

I would be interested in getting your take and Doug’s take. I live just north of Philadelphia.

thanks,

Keith

Nick S

Hi Dave,
I know this is an older post, but I just saw this and it seems to be related to what I’m working through right now. In a recent skype lesson with Doug Elliot, he typed me as a “high placement” player, but my embouchure seems to have a number of “medium high” characteristics. My mouthpiece placement is just about 60/40 favoring the upper lip, the horn angle is slightly down, and my jaw is receded. However, my embouchure motion appears to resemble that of a “high placement” player. I have tried to bring my jaw forward, but as soon as I start playing, the Jaw begins to recede. Only in the extreme lower register can I keep it forward. I wouldn’t really be looking at embouchure at all, did I not have significant issues with my upper register and endurance in general. Is it possible that I should be reversing the embouchure motion and playing as a “Medium high” player?

Thanks,
Nick

Dave

Hi, Nick.

It is much more common for “very high placement” players to have the protruded jaw position and a horn angle close to straight out. It might be something that is worth working towards, or at least doing a bit of experimentation for a while and see what happens.

That said, I’ve come across some fine very high placement players who play with a receded jaw position. One trumpet player in the area where I’m based out of even plays on a mouthpiece shank that is bent to allow him to bring his horn angle higher, but he is clearly a very high placement type. It’s possible that you might be similar.

You say you don’t really have any significant issues, so your current embouchure motion is probably working correctly (although it might benefit from some tweaking). Without watching you play I can’t really say much more.

Dave

Nick S

Hi Dave,
Thanks for the response! I have done a bit of work with my jaw position, but, for some reason, my playing really doesn’t seem to work in a protruded position. Also, there is a typo in my previous post… I meant to say that I DO have issues with range and endurance. Would it potentially be helpful if I sent a video of my playing to you? I know you tend not to like doing online consultations, but it would really be impractical for me to try and come meet you in person…

Thanks again,
Nick

Dave

Sure, I’ll take a look at video. I don’t know that I’ll be able to offer any advice better than what Doug told you, but maybe I can spot someth8ng helpful.

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.