Guess the Embouchure Type – Harry James

Greg sent me the following message.

Another interesting guess the embouchure type for you – very clear shot at .55 of this very famous player. Almost looks like a smile embouchure but I’d guess not due to his successful longevity.


Check out the YouTube video that Greg sent me and take your guess about Harry James’s embouchure type. My guess after the page break.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type – Harry James

Don’t Get Medical Advice from a Music Teacher

I’m not going to link to the web page in this post. I don’t really want to bring more attention to it than I’m already going to do. If you really want to find it, I’m sure that searching the internet will get you to it. But I often see this happen – a music teacher giving medical advice about maladies that seem (to them) to be related or somehow connected with brass playing, even though the music teacher is unqualified (and probably wrong).

So let me start with my usual disclaimer any time that I discuss heath issues. I’m not a medical doctor and I’m not qualified to offer medical advice. I won’t be giving you any medical advice here, beyond the suggestion that you should consult with a medical professional for health issues. I would never trust my doctor, dentist, or some other medical professional to suggest how I can improve my tone or which alternate position to use, that’s not their area of expertise, it’s mine. So why should a music teacher feel that giving students medical advice is OK?

This part of the website is to provide information for musicians who suffer from physical conditions, especially those symptoms known as asthma, Bell’s Palsy, and focal dystonia. For some readers, the solution that I’m offering will sound too good to be true. They may even get angry, convinced that no single process can solve such seemingly different conditions.

No citation on purpose – don’t go to this web page for medical advice

It’s not that I’m convinced no single process can cure the above conditions (which is doubtful) as much as I’m upset that the above individual is acting in an irresponsible way. This person should be ashamed. If a student decides to forgo real medical advice for a serious condition because the student believes the above garbage there can be real harm. Asthma attacks can kill. What a non-expert thinks is Bell’s palsy could actually be a stroke. There are serious consequences here.

I’ve been down this road before…

No citation on purpose – don’t go to this web page for medical advice

Yes, this person has been criticized for offering misinformation about health and medicine before. Rather than consult with a professional about it and get facts straight, this individual chooses instead to double down and continue to mislead students.

The bottom line is, I don’t make claims without first doing research and obtaining evidence. 

No citation on purpose – don’t go to this web page for medical advice

This individual doesn’t provide any citations or links. “Research” isn’t about looking on the internet for information that supports your preconceived ideas, it’s about subjecting a hypothesis to an honest test in an attempt to falsify your idea. If it withstand scrutiny, then you might be on to something. If it doesn’t, then you need to revise your hypothesis. If you have evidence in the way of citations, then put them in your essay. Don’t make outrageous claims and that you say are based on “research” and “evidence” unless you provide them.

Out of curiosity, I looked up what research on the benefits of playing a musical instrument says about treating asthma with playing a wind instrument. The problem with searching the internet (or even an academic library) is that you’ll find a lot of references to journals of dubious quality. This is an issue in all academia, music research included. “Publish or perish” run rampant through academia, so many predatory journals have sprung up over the past couple of decades that publish poor quality research or are biased towards a particular viewpoint. If you want to find a “journal” that supports your position or a quack who agrees with you, it’s not too hard to do so.

This is particularly a problem with journals that are specifically devoted to so-called “complimentary and alternative medicine” (CAM). Do you know what medical professionals call complimentary and alternative medicine that has been proven to be both safe and effective? Medicine! There’s no need to separate it unless you’re trying to brand your treatment, which is what CAM really is – a marketing term not a medical one. But here’s what one article in a journal devoted to CAM has to say about asthma and wind instruments.

The literature search identified 867 citations, from which 8 (three RCTs and five nRCTs) low and high risk of bias studies were included in the review. All RCTs used music listening as a form of complementary treatment. One RCT of the low risk of bias indicated positive effects on lung function in mild asthma. In two others, despite the decrease in asthma symptoms, music was not more effective than the control condition. In two nRCTs a decrease in asthma symptoms was reported as an effect of playing a brass or wind instrument; in two nRCTs the same effect was observed after music assisted vocal breathing exercises and singing. Mood improvement, decrease of depression and anxiety were also observed.

The paucity, heterogeneity, and significant methodological limitations of available studies allow for only a weak recommendation for music therapy in asthma. This study highlights the need for further research of mixed methodology.

Do asthmatics benefit from music therapy? A systematic review, Complementary Therapies in Medicine
Volume 22, Issue 4, August 2014, Pages 756-766

The bold emphasis above is mine. If a journal devoted to CAM, like the one I quoted from above, is finding only weak results then you have to be a particularly stubborn or ignorant crank to claim that trumpet playing will treat or cure asthma. Or, more likely, you’re not really searching the literature well and simply looking for things that already support your preconceived notions.

Continuing with our misinformed music teacher:

Common health conditions, as labeled by the medical community, are frequently only a side effect of a hidden, more primary cause. Further, when you make a correction at the level of the primary cause, the side effects typically disappear.

No citation on purpose – don’t go to this web page for medical advice

Again, this individual offers no citations, but I’m not sure that the above criticism is even accurate. Medical professionals are very much interested in helping patients with correcting the cause of symptoms. I think it’s pretty well understood by doctors that curing a disease or disorder involves finding the cause and eliminating it.

In the case of our sample trio of conditions – asthma, Bell’s Palsy, focal dystonia – what is the cause? Ask a medical doctor. He will say, “We don’t know the answer to that yet.” The best he can offer is symptom management, in the hopes that somehow the body eventually heals itself. Of course, from his frame of reference, that means drugs, which not only don’t ever cure anything, but actually lead to the creation of more problems. As the old alternative health saying goes, “the body is not crying out for more drugs.”

No citation on purpose – don’t go to this web page for medical advice

It is true that medical science doesn’t always have all the answers about what causes the above listed disorders, but they have good ideas and I trust the judgement of scientists who have devoted their education and careers to learning more about disease and how to cure them. Sometimes managing symptoms and allowing the body to heal itself is the best treatment. Symptom management may be a stop gap in some medical cases, but if you suffer from asthma, for example, a prescribed drug may just save your life. A music teacher who actively discourages taking medically prescribed drugs is behaving recklessly.

Regardless, just because the causes of a particular disorder like focal dystonia isn’t understood by medical science doesn’t mean that a music teacher has a better idea. In fact, I imagine that a music teacher has a much less chance of understanding medical issues.

My day job is still [music] teaching. However, an increasing amount of my time is spent investigating the brain.

No citation on purpose – don’t go to this web page for medical advice

This individual has no business pushing crackpot ideas on neuroscience, no matter how much “research” this individual pretends to be doing. At what point should a music teacher be believed over someone who spent 8-10 years in school studying medicine, a year of residency, and multiple years or decades of clinical practice or scientific research on neuroscience?

As it turns out, a high percentage of chronic health issues actually stem from the negative mental environment created by a single, correctable brain condition – hyperpolarity of brain functioning.

No citation on purpose – don’t go to this web page for medical advice

Again, there are no citations provided for what “high percentage” of health issues are caused by “hyperpolarity.” This is getting dangerously close to blaming the victim for health issues that they have no control over.

Note: Hyperpolarity of brain functioning is not taught in medical schools. Nor will you find it in any medical literature. In short, it is not recognized as a medically treatable condition.

No citation on purpose – don’t go to this web page for medical advice

This person doesn’t define “hyperpolarity of brain function.” A brief search for scholarly articles on “hyperpolarity brain” actually comes up with a number of hits. I haven’t bothered to read any of them, but it actually appears that hyperpolarity is recognized by medical schools. Here’s a link to a definition and short video explaining hyperpolarity and membrane potential put together by Dr. Marc Dingman, who actually earned his PhD in neuroscience, unlike our misinformed music teacher.

So, the advice I give you regarding hyperpolarity can in no way ever be misconstrued as “medical advice.” This is as close as I get to offering a disclaimer. 🙂

No citation on purpose – don’t go to this web page for medical advice

That above quote is what pushed me over the edge and prompted this rant. It’s incredibly disingenuous. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Suggesting someone who has been prescribed drugs for a serious medical condition does more harm than good and then later stating you’re not offering “medical advice” is devious and reprehensible.

Elsewhere, this same individual wrote, “I do not have – nor do I want to have – a medical degree.” If you’re not willing to put in the hard work and learn to understand medical science, then you have no business talking about it. Particularly when it is contrary to the advice of those who have put that time in to become certified medical professionals. You might think, what’s the big deal? I invite you to look through this web site and understand the harm it causes. This person is openly advocating that prescribed medication for asthma and other maladies “actually lead to the creation of more problems.” Do not believe anything this person says about health! To be honest, I don’t really trust much of this person’s ideas on music either, but at least crazy ideas about music don’t end up killing people.

Purveyors of misinformation like the individual I’m complaining about deserve to be marginalized. Their b*******t needs to be called out for what it is. If you are looking for health advice, talk with your doctor, not a music teacher. Especially not this one.

Washington Post March for Big Band

Today is Independence Day in the United States. For the past few years the Asheville Jazz Orchestra has performed an annual celebration around July 4th. Yesterday we played this year’s concert and premiered a brand new big band arrangement I just completed of Washington Post March, by John Philip Sousa. Here’s a midi realization.

As always when you use a computer to realize a piece of music intended for acoustic instruments, you’ll have to use your imagination. I could spend a lot more time cleaning up the playback and making it sound better, but that’s more work than I feel is worth for something intended to be played by real musicians. But you will get the general idea and it makes a decent demo.

When I compose my big band music I generally start with some hand written sketches first and map out the whole arrangement. Once I have the overall form and sections planned out I’ll get my score set up in Finale. Rhythm section parts and soloists I usually use Band-in-a-Box to create, export them as a midi file, and then import it into Finale. I can then copy and paste what I need into my big band file. I find it particularly helpful to have a bass part going while hearing back my horn voicings. Sometimes little quirks or errors in the importing process end up sounding pretty cool to me and make their way into the actual chart.

Trumpet Gurus Hang – Rich Willey

I’ve posted about the Trumpet Gurus Hang Youtube channel before here. Every week José Johnson brings in a trumpet player or teacher to talk making music. The latest episode features Rich Willey. Rich is based in the same area as me, so we have played together many times. Rich also studied extensively with Donald Reinhardt, one of the primary sources of my dissertation research. He is also currently working with my mentor, Doug Elliott, who’s teaching and pedagogy helped me break past my own musical hurdles and strongly influenced the way I teach.

Check out this episode to learn a little more about Rich and Reinhardt’s teaching.

Memorial Day

Here in the United States today is Memorial Day. This annual holiday honors the men and women who gave their lives in service to the country.

Here is the Asheville Jazz Orchestra’s recording of my arrangement of the armed forces marches in a big band style.

Guess the Embouchure Type – Andrea Giuffredi

Andrea Giuffredi is a very fine Italian trumpet player with a series of YouTube videos with exercises and backing tracks. You can put them on, listen to Giuffredi play the exercise, then play the exercise back. Here’s an example, which conveniently is a series of exercises based on octave slurs. Octave slurs are useful for guessing a player’s embouchure type because the interval is large enough that you can usually spot the embouchure motion fairly easily. Take a look at this video and see if you can guess his embouchure type. My guess is after the break.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type – Andrea Giuffredi

Creativity is a Mountain Lion

Do you know about The Oatmeal? It’s enormously popular. Its creator, Matthew Inman, has been publishing his quirky web comics since 2009. His comics touch on a variety of subjects, including science, history, grammar, technology, and animals. He also has wonderful comic series on creativity that has a lot of great advice for anyone who is working in a creative field or who wants to be more creative in their hobbies.

But as you’ll see, creativity is not a horse. It cannot be trained or ridden. You cannot tell creativity “I would like ten of those, please.” Because creativity is not a horse. It is a mountain lion.

Eight marvelous and melancholy things I’ve learned about creativity, Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal

Inman’s eight chapters are:

  1. Erasers are wonderful
  2. Your ears are plugged
  3. Creativity is like breathing
  4. There are only bad ideas in brainstorming
  5. This is not a petting zoo
  6. The wondrous utility of self-loathing
  7. Killing your darlings
  8. The business of art

I can’t do justice to Inman’s style trying to summarize his thoughts, and it would also deprive you of the humor and insights he brings to the topic of creativity. Go check it out and see if it helps you be more creative too.

Exercises for Horn Angle Changes

In my last post I discussed horn angle changes that brass players will make while changing registers. If you haven’t read that post yet, I recommend you do so first so that you will better understand why these exercises are helpful and how to alter them to fit your own embouchure technique or those of your students.

Briefly, all brass players will push and pull their lips up and down with the mouthpiece rim along the teeth and gums while changing registers. The general direction of this “embouchure motion” is up and down, but the direction that the musician pushes or pulls to ascend can be different from player to player. Some brass musicians push up towards the nose to ascend and others pull down. But even within these two basic variations, most players have at least a little side to side motion that happens as well, although it should probably always function in a straight line. In the hypothetical example to the side the musician pushes up and to the right to ascend and pulls down and towards the left to descend.

Because teeth and gums are not a flat plane the horn angle will need to adjust while making this motion in order to maintain the stability of the teeth and gums underneath the mouthpiece rim and lips. The horn angle change, in combination with the above mentioned embouchure motion, helps the musician play a particular pitch with less effort and more in tune. See my post on Horn Angle Changes For Brass for details on what is going on and how to test individual players.

Once you’ve worked out the proper embouchure motion and horn angle changes for a particular student there are exercises that can be done to help the brass musician internalize those changes and make them part of their subconscious technique. With students more prone to freezing up or otherwise having difficulty concentrating on “how” to play can be advised to more their focus to as external a focus as possible. In other words, instead of concentrating on keeping the embouchure “legs” stable by putting more weight on one side of the mouthpiece rim, get the student to aim the bell of the instrument at a point along the wall across from them.

Octave Slurs

I usually don’t bother writing out the specific octave slurs, since it can depend on the current abilities of the student, but you can see some basic examples in the image to the left. I usually also have each set (between the “railroad tracks,” which indicate to stop for a moment and rest) repeated, but starting on a different pitch for each repeat. For example, play the first two measures as written (C in the staff to C below the staff) and then repeat it, but slur from the low C to the middle C. When you get to the sets that span two or more octaves repeat starting on each pitch (e.g., C in the staff, C below the staff, and C above the staff).

I will often use octave slurs as my warmup and have them be my first notes of the day. For each pitch there is a particular spot on the embouchure motion “track” and the accompanying horn angle change where the note sounds best and feels easiest. While practicing octave slurs you can watch yourself in a mirror or aim the bell or slide at spots along the wall to help you visualize where each octave sounds best. Work on keeping the amount of change the same between octaves, just moving in a different direction to ascend and descend. Play them slowly enough that you can make the small adjustments you might need at first to get every note in its correct spot. Over time you’ll find it easier to move to the correct angle change right away.

Spiderweb Routine

The Spiderweb Routine is one of Donald Reinhardt’s exercises. Again, it’s not really necessary to write this all out and the particular pitch you use as the center of the “web” will be different, according to the individual student’s particular needs and goals. In the example to the right the center of the exercises is the Bb on top of the bass clef staff. It starts by slurring up a half step (repeated) and then slurs down a half step. Then up a whole step and down a whole step. It continues with a minor 3rd and so on until each slur is an octave.

Use the center of the “web” as home base for horn angles and embouchure motion. At first, when the intervals are small, there will be very little change to the horn angle. When the interval starts to get to be a perfect 4th and larger you should start to notice the appropriate angle changes. On the first time through each set the student can make small adjustments to the horn angle to make sure that it’s in the most efficient spot for that particular note. On the repeat strive to make the horn angle go to its correct position right away. Pay close attention to the amount of change by watching in a mirror or noting where the bell is pointing. Make the amount of change be the same to ascend an interval as it is to descend the same interval, just in the opposite direction.

As I mentioned above, the center note of this exercise can change according to the student. For players who have the anatomy suited for a Very High Placement or a Low Placement embouchure types I generally recommend a higher starting pitch. For me, I usually practice this exercise starting on the F above the bass clef staff and often use this as my first notes of the day.

I also tend to not practice this exercise just by itself in its entirety, depending on what my goals of the practice session are. The Spiderweb Exercise is part of a larger routine that Reinhardt used that he called Warmup #57 (he probably had a reason for that number, but I don’t know exactly why). In that routine you would play through four sets of the Spiderweb exercise (e.g., up and down a half step, then up and down a whole step), then play through one overtone flexibility study in 4 or more positions/fingerings, then play some ascending chromatic exercises before resting a few minutes. Then when you come back you repeat that patter, but now the Spiderweb Exercise is up and down a minor 3rd and then up and down a major 3rd before switching to the other exercises, rest, and continue. In other words, the whole routine is sort of like circuit training in that you’re touching on three different types of exercises, resting, then repeating each of those exercise types but expanding them in range.

The Spiderweb Routine can be a pretty strenuous exercise to play in its entirety, so it can be a good one to use if your practice time is limited and you want a good workout for your chops. But if you have even less time or want to spend more time on other materials you can skip certain sets in it so that you’re slurring first in minor 3rds, then augmented 4ths, major 6ths, and then octaves (these notes would end up creating a fully diminished 7 chord, by the way), or any similar sort of combination. I would recommend, however, that whatever interval you slur up to that you also practice the same descending interval. Use that as a chance to check and see if your horn angles are consistent between the intervals as mentioned earlier.

Embouchure Motion Stabilizer

This exercise is a variation on another one of Donald Reinhardt’s. You can read more about Reinhardt’s original exercise here. My variation starts on a higher note (one octave higher) and ascends first, rather than descending. Remove the mouthpiece and rest a moment at the “V.” Similar to the other exercises above, play the slurs slowly enough to give yourself time to make those small adjustments to your horn angle and observe the angle with a mirror or by sighting along your bell. On the repeats strive to go directly to the most efficient angle right away.

Ultimately, it’s not as much what you practice, but how you practice that is important. What these three exercises have, however, is they incorporate large enough intervals that the horn angle changes should be noticeable to both the teacher and player and they are simple enough so that the student can play them and keep the attention on making the horn angle changes (or, for that matter, the attention can be brought instead to tongue position, breathing, embouchure motion, or whatever fits the needs and goals at the time). The point here isn’t to teach yourself how to focus on horn angle, it’s to internalize the correct horn angles so that attention can be on something else, like music. I wouldn’t practice an etude or solo repertoire with horn angle changes in mind, but if it’s helpful you could also address horn angle changes then too. If, for example, there’s a large interval leap in a solo you’re working on you might draw an arrow over the note after the leap in the direction you want to move your horn angle to remind yourself to bring that horn angle to its correct spot. But generally speaking you want to use something simple and unmusical for this sort of technique practice, then forget all about it when you’re done with it for the session and work on other things, including sounding good.

Horn Angle Changes For Brass

If you look at a large enough number of different brass musicians play over their entire range you’ll notice that some of them will noticeably alter their horn angle when changing register. Some will do this to a large degree, others appear to not do so much at all. Some players might appear to tilt their instrument bell up to ascend, while others might do the opposite. Many players even bring their horn angle side to side as well.

What’s going on here? What’s correct? How much should a brass musician worry about this when practicing? How much should a teacher understand?

One of the first things to consider with regards to a horn angle change is the position of the lower jaw. Donald Reinhardt wrote,

The principal duty of the lower jaw while playing is to provide an adequate playing base or foundation so that both the inner and the outer embouchures may function as one solid synchronized unit, regardless of the player’s type classification. This playing base must hold intact while the jaw is protruded and receded (according to the register being played), regardless of any jaw malocclusion that may exist in the player’s jaw formation.

“Encyclopedia…,” p. 152

Reinhardt at times would advise his students to exaggerate the horn angle changes in order to encourage the correct jaw manipulation. So for Reinhardt, getting a student to change the horn angle was often a way to encourage the correct jaw position for the student. He didn’t want the student to be thinking about the jaw while playing so much, so by altering the horn angle the jaw would need to move into its correct position in order to maintain the foundation of the teeth and gums under the lips and mouthpiece rim (which Reinhardt often referred to as the “legs” of the embouchure, likening it to the four legs of a table or the three legs of a tripod). This tracks with what researchers who study the development of motor skills say about keeping your focus as external as possible. You could concentrate on the sensation of your embouchure “legs” by paying attention to how the rim is in contact with your lips, but Reinhardt wanted to move the focus outward, towards the bell of the instrument instead.

There does appear to be a direct relationship between jaw position and horn angle, but this can be personal to the individual brass musician. Many players will, for example, protrude their jaw slightly to ascend and recede it to descend and the horn angle should follow the jaw in order to maintain the “legs” of the embouchure. But almost everyone has a malocclusion to a certain degree and the jaw will often also move from side to side. Watch this trumpet player very closely and note how his jaw moves both in and out and side to side as he changes register, but also note his horn angle.

The view from his side shows that his jaw comes forward slightly as he ascend, while he also brings the horn angle lower, which seems opposite of what you might expect (more on this topic below). But I find the front view a little more interesting and helpful to demonstrate side to side angles. Notice that as he ascends his jaw moves to his left and when descending his jaw moves to his right. But his horizontal horn angle remains pretty static. Watch it again and listen for the intonation and tone on the higher and lower pitches. Does it sound just a little pinched and flat on the high C to you?

For fun, I asked him to play the same slurs, but to also try bringing his horn angle over to one side and compare what happens. Notice that when he slurs from the middle C to the high C he still brings his jaw over to his left while ascending. When he also changes his horn angle towards the right to ascend I feel the pitch is more in tune and the tone more focused. When he brings his horn angle to the left to ascend (the same direction his jaw is moving) the pitch on the high C is definitely flat. The effect is easier to see. Bringing his horn angle to his left to descend helps the low C to be more in tune and focused while bringing his horn angle over to his right (the same direction his jaw is moving) obviously chokes off the note.

This sort of side to side horn angle change is often accompanied with a jaw movement side to side as well and it seems to work best when those two things happen in the opposite direction. If the jaw is moving to the right to ascend, then the horn angle should probably move to the left. This seems to be universal for all brass players with some side to side motion in the jaw/horn angle. When this is working efficiently, according to the individual player’s variation, it can also minimize both the jaw change and horn angle change when they work together. It can also help correct some other mechanical issues. For example, for years I would have to reverse the direction of my embouchure motion to play a pedal Bb. It made playing down in my low register difficult for me. When I began to practice bringing my horn angle to my right while allowing my jaw to move to my left the reversal of embouchure motion direction began to minimize and is almost eliminated for me now.

Speaking of the embouchure motion the way a player pushes and pulls their lips and mouthpiece together along the teeth and gums while playing directly influences the correct horn angle as well. Consider again having the “legs” or the feeling of the rim against the teeth and gums. Our teeth and gums are not a flat surface. There’s some curvature to it, both along the horizontal and vertical. A player’s most efficient embouchure motion is usually also not straight up and down, there’s almost always at least a little side to side variation as well. When changing registers and making the correct embouchure motion a player should follow the shape of the teeth and gums underneath the mouthpiece rim and lips. If while ascending, for example, the brass musician pushes up and to the right the horn angle will probably work best if it comes up slightly and moves to the right as well, following the teeth and gums underneath.

Think of a ball and socket joint. The mouthpiece is like the socket while the musician’s teeth and gums are like the ball. When the socket/mouthpiece are pushed up and to the left it follows the shape of the ball/teeth and gums. It’s not the horn angle that dictates the embouchure motion as much as the embouchure motion dictating how the horn angle needs to change.

Since everyone is going to have different anatomy, everyone’s horn angle will be unique to the individual musician. But there are methods that teachers and players can use to help work out what works best. I’ve touched on this topic in my Embouchure 101 resource, but I’ll briefly describe how I currently work with students to help them with their horn angles.

I will ask a student to sustain a note and move their horn angle around left and right and listen. I want to see how far the musician can bring the horn angle to either side as well as hear what this does to the tone and pitch. If the pitch goes flat when the angle is brought to the left it will probably go sharp when brought to the right. Somewhere in between will be where the pitch becomes most in tune and the timbre will be the most focused. Then repeat on the same note keeping the horizontal horn angle where it is, but tilt the horn angle up and down finding where along the vertical access where the pitch is most in tune and tone is most focused. You can also try moving the bell of the instrument around in a circle, starting with a very big circle and then making it smaller and smaller, circling in on the best angle for the particular note. Repeat on higher and lower notes. I use pitches along the open fingering/1st position partials.

Each note will have it’s own horn angle that makes the pitch play best and assuming that overall embouchure form is working well enough and that the breathing and tongue arch aren’t getting in the way you’ll also note the individual player’s pattern. The horn angle will change gradually along one direction as the notes ascend and gradually in the opposite direction as notes descend. Typically the amount of horn angle change to ascend an octave from a particular pitch will be the same as descending from the same starting pitch, just in the opposite direction. If it’s not, try to see if minimizing the angle change in one direction or making more in the opposite direction works. As a starting point, I feel it’s best to keep these angle changes consistent between octave, similar to working with the player’s embouchure motion.

In summary, everyone will have their own unique changes of horn angle while playing because everyone has different facial anatomy. The player’s horn angle is determined primarily by the shape of the musician’s teeth and gums underneath the mouthpiece rim and lips and angle changes help provide the player with a firm foundation on the teeth and gums for the rim and lips. Some players will tilt their horn up and down more while others may bring their horn angle from side to side more. The amount of horn angle change a musician needs can vary from player to player, but it will generally be close to the same amount to slur up an octave as it is to slur down an octave from the same note. A teacher can help a student work out the best horn angles by watching and listening to the student move the horn angles left to right and up to down, paying attention to where the pitch goes and where the tone is most focused.

The next post will discuss some exercises that a brass musician can use to solidify horn angle changes and make them work subconsciously so that the musician can concentrate more on playing more expressively.

Basic Brass Embouchure Characteristics

Here is a 13 minute video I put together to discuss a couple of basic brass embouchure characteristics that I think are important for all players and teachers to understand. If you’ve poked around here on my blog or watch some of my YouTube channel before you already know about this stuff.

I made this one pretty quickly compared to the time I’ve spent on other videos I’ve posted on this topic. This video was specifically made to quickly address some things I was trying to discuss on a closed internet group that is nominally devoted to brass embouchure advice. I say “nominally” because the main purpose of this group seems to be the administrator pushing his wares, lessons, and Patreon page and there’s very little actual discussion about brass embouchure technique or advice.

The little discussion about brass embouchure technique that has been posted there has a lot of misinformation. For example, there are people who believe that lining up the teeth and getting the horn angle close to straight out makes the player blow the air stream straight down the shank of the mouthpiece (not true). Others seem to believe that tilting the horn angle up makes the player upstream and tilting it down makes the player downstream (also not true). Everyone seems to be well intentioned, they are just misinformed.

My big gripe over the direction the discussion on that group takes is that so much of the conversation revolves around information that’s just wrong. We can honestly discuss the details of things like mouthpiece pressure and jaw position (two things the administrator of that group is very focused on), but it bothers me when recommendations are based on erroneous details. It’s much better to base our pedagogy on reality, not confirmation bias. Particularly if the suggestions involve spending around $300 to purchase a device that is of dubious use, in my opinion.