Embouchure Question

I got a message from a horn student who watched one of my YouTube videos showing Low Placement type embouchures.  He writes:

My F horn teacher won’t let me play this way. Its the easiest way for me but he says “I’ll get great and then I’ll hit a wall and never get better”.

I know my instructor knows what’s best but he said that my embouchure is wrong and I can’t play that way.  And then I find out through this video that you can play with more lower lip.

What do you suggest?

This is a tough call, but it is unfortunately a fairly common issue that players with upstream/Low Placement type embouchures run into.  In situations like this, there are basically four things you can try.

1.  Listen to your teacher and give his recommendations a serious go.  I can’t be there to watch you play in person, but your teacher has.  There may be a very good reason why he is recommending you change.  I should comment, however, that most players who end up with a Low Placement embouchure type on their own do so because this is what’s correct for their anatomy.  There’s something about this embouchure type that makes it less common than the two downstream types.  For some reason most downstream players can’t seem to make a Low Placement embouchure work at all for them, while upstream players can muddle along with one of the downstream types.  I can speak from personal experience, however, that if you’re truly an upstream player and you move your mouthpiece placement up higher on the lips you’ll end up hitting the wall that your teacher wants you to avoid.

2.  Follow your teacher’s advice in your lessons, but when you’re out of the lessons use the embouchure type that works best for you.  I know of a handful of Low Placement embouchure type players who did this through college.  I personally don’t think this is the best option because it’s being deceptive.  Still, if you like your teacher and he’s helping you a lot in other areas you might be able to improve this way, just know that what he recommends about embouchure may not always apply to yours.

3.  Get another teacher.  This isn’t always an option, but if you’re serious about horn playing and your teacher’s advice is just making you struggle more, a more open-minded teacher may be better for you at this time.

4.  Get your teacher to look through my 50 minute video presentation called Brass Embouchures: A Guide for Teachers and Players and ask him what he thinks.  If he’s not the YouTube watching type, ask him to contact me and I’ll be happy to mail him a free DVD copy of it.  You might also ask him to take a close look at the embouchures of Dennis Brain and Bruno Schneider who both appear to be upstream/Low Placement embouchure type horn players.  If he has questions or concerns, I’m happy to communicate with him and maybe I can offer some suggestions that will help you both out.

Your situation isn’t uncommon and other players have gone through this before too.  With apologies to my horn playing friends out there, it’s is more common for horn teachers to be a little more close-minded about the upstream embouchure type, but teachers on all brass instruments can be the same.  The embouchure that works best for you is dependent on your anatomy and no amount of practice will make an embouchure type that doesn’t fit your face work better for you.  You can’t choose your embouchure type based on how your teacher or your favorite player plays.  Teachers shouldn’t force their students to use the same embouchure type as them.

Ultimately, this is a situation where I can’t really help any more than suggest some options.  Like your personal embouchure, which is always unique, the circumstances and relationship you have with your teacher will require an individual solution.

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