Embouchure Questions

I’ll be getting around to answering some of the emailed embouchure questions starting today, taking them in the order I’ve gotten them.  Here’s today’s.

I’m a high school trombone player and I’ve been reading a lot of your articles on embouchures and have decided I’m probably one of the Type IVs (that’s how I’ve been playing for the last few years at least). However, when I play in the upper register, my lower lip seems to hide behind the upper lip and looks very similar to the “jelly roll” embouchure type, except that the mouthpiece placement is low as opposed to high. Is this okay or would you recommend trying to change that (or do you think I would actually be a standard type III)?

Since I haven’t seen you play, I don’t know if you’re typing yourself accurately.  First of all, I prefer to not use Donald Reinhardt’s embouchure nomenclature, simply because it gets confusing for people who are unfamiliar with it. Instead of Type IV I use Low Placement embouchure type and the Type III I use Medium High Placement type.  These types were coined by Doug Elliott, a former student of Reinhardt’s, and I feel better help communicating how brass embouchures actually function.

The situation Reinhardt described as the “jelly roll” type is actually pretty rare to find (this was apparently Reinhardt’s own embouchure type).  Essentially, it functions as a Medium High Placement type, but is distinctive in part by a jaw position that is quite receded, resulting in a low horn angle.  It also has a very pronounced (and correct, for players with this anatomy) lower lip roll while ascending.  If you watch a player of this type play into a transparent mouthpiece their lower lip really starts to disappear as they get into the upper register.  Again, this type is very rare to find, and I’ve only seen two examples in person, and one of those was a player who hadn’t touched his horn in years, so I’m not confident that he would end up as that type after practicing again.

Low B Flat
High B Flat

The Low Placement embouchure type has a much different look inside the mouthpiece.  When this embouchure type ascends the lower lip will sort of look like it’s flattening out as it directs the air stream even sharper upstream.  Take a look at the photos and note the difference in the lower lip between the low register and high register notes.  It’s a very different situation than the jelly roll type, as the lower lip is predominating and it doesn’t roll underneath the upper lip at all.

Again, without watching you play, I can’t say if you actually are curling your lower lip in like a downstream player or flattening it out as an upstream player.  Our playing sensations often don’t tell us what’s actually going on inside the mouthpiece, especially if you’re not already familiar with the embouchure types.  For most players who can play as a Low Placement type that usually means they should play that way for their entire range.

Also, does it matter how low the mouthpiece is for a type IV? Is it better to have a very low placement, or is it okay to just have a little more lower lip? My teacher doesn’t want me to put it as low as I can, but he doesn’t mind if there’s a bit more lower lip than upper lip. In this situation, would you recommend using slightly more lower lip in lessons and then in practice have a lower mouthpiece placement?

Assuming that you are a Low Placement type (Type IV, in Reinhardt’s terms), then you should place the mouthpiece as low as you need to in order to play your entire range on one setting.  For some Low Placement players, such as myself, this means putting the rim right on the red of the upper lip.  There is nothing inherently wrong with doing this, as long as it fits your face.  The whole upper lip, not just the red part, is a little more sensitive to mouthpiece pressure, so keep a little more weight on the lower lip, but that’s good advice for all players, not just Low Placement types.

Usually I recommend Low Placement types place the mouthpiece where their highest notes work best, which is often quite low.  Sometimes this makes the low register more stuffy at first, but learning to play your middle and low register with the same setting as where the high register is easiest will make for long term consistency.

As far as what your teacher recommends, I don’t know him and don’t know if he has a good reason for not wanting you to put the mouthpiece lower.  However, most brass teachers aren’t really aware of how to work with Low Placement embouchure type students because they are less common and so they inadvertently try to change their embouchures by having them move their placement higher than it should be.  If you think he’s open to learning a little more, you can ask him to look through some of the embouchure resources I’ve made available here or contact me himself if I can answer any questions or offer any advice.  Your current teacher has the advantage of being able to actually watch you play, so it’s usually best to work with them if you can.

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