Embouchure Question

Here’s another embouchure question I’ll take a stab at.

I’ve watched all your videos in the last 2 days and have been studying Reinhardt with the encyclopedia for quite awhile and I appreciate your use of “embouchure motion” rather than pivot. My embouchure is upstream, off to the L side, angle almost straight out. I had been using side movement: R and up for low reg. and L and down for higher reg. In the ency. Reinhardt says it is best no matter what type to put pressure on lower lip but in listening to your videos you say that with a low placement upstream emb. more vibration happens with the lower lip and I seemed to have confirmed this today. Putting more pressure on top for low notes and then more pressure on bottom lip for high notes. This seems to free up vibrations and the side mvt. is not so extreme. Is this correct for low placement upstreamer?

What you’re describing here is both normal for almost all players, regardless of embouchure type, yet incredibly personal to each individual player.  This is a complex topic and from the outset I can’t say without watching you play whether or not what you’ve described above is actually correct for you.  Instead, I’ll try to explain some of the relationships I’ve learned about between the embouchure motion and horn angles.

Before I try to tackle that topic, though, I want to briefly explain Reinhardt’s recommendation to “keep the weight of the mouthpiece on the lower lip.”  As you noted, in the Encyclopedia of the Pivot System he wrote,

Since the lower lip is much less sensitive and not so inclined to swell as the upper lip, it is more capable of receiving the brunt of the playing burden.  Whenever possible, this increased lower lip contact should be utilized throughout the range of the instrument.

I’ve found in my own playing that this is true, and in general most of my students seem to play better when they do this as well.  It’s important to mention that you shouldn’t allow your jaw to recede out of its normal playing position when you do this.  For some players, rather than recommend they bring the horn angle down just a touch I’d suggest they bring their jaw further forward.  For some players I wouldn’t mention horn angle or jaw position at all and simply suggest that they think of 60% of the mouthpiece “weight” on the lower lip and the other 40% on the top.

That said, horn angle isn’t usually static while playing.  There’s a complex interrelationship between the angle the horn is held, your jaw position, and your embouchure motion.  This is where each player is unique.  I’ll try to explain this a bit, but it gets complicated and in order to offer advice for a particular player I’d have to see the embouchure.  Caveat emptor.

While I try to minimize any jaw drop to descend, I don’t think that the jaw should be held rigidly in place while playing.  Players of all embouchure types will probably find that as they ascend their jaw will protrude very slightly and it will recede just a bit to descend. (note – Players who have a large jaw drop to descend will often find the reverse, as their jaw tends to protrude when it drops, so they bring it back into position to ascend up from there.  I try to discourage this and what follows assumes a minimal or no jaw drop while descending.)  Most players don’t have a uniformly straight jaw movement, however, they have a slight jaw malocclusion.  For example, when my jaw protrudes it also moves slightly to the right and it comes back toward the left when it recedes.  This movement can be very slight on some players and quite large on others.

As the jaw protrudes or recedes and moves slightly to one side or another this can change the precise angle that keeps the properly balanced mouthpiece contact and allows the lips to vibrate freely.  Now combine this with the changing shape of the teeth and gums underneath as you’re making the embouchure motion.  Most players don’t have teeth and gums that form a perfectly flat surface, they’re usually curved and have different “peaks and valleys” of teeth and bone.  The horn angle that will work for a particular range interacts with the jaw position, embouchure motion, and shape of the teeth and gums.  You can understand why this becomes very personal and unique to each individual player.

If it helps, I’ll describe how this interacts for me personally.  Like you, my embouchure motion is down and to my left to ascend and up and to the right to descend.  When I slightly protrude my jaw to ascend my jaw will move slightly to my right.  I also bring my horn angle slightly towards the left.  My horn angle will also come up very slightly as I ascend, but I try to keep this very minimal so as to keep more of the “weight” of the mouthpiece on my lower lip.  When descending the opposite happens, my jaw moves slightly to my left and recedes a touch and more horn angle move towards the left and maybe down a touch.  For me personally, the right and left horn angle changes are more pronounced than an up and down angle change.

Finding out how your own horn angle, embouchure motion, and jaw position interact is best done under the guidance of a teacher who understands this stuff.  Sometimes players will figure it out on their own unconsciously, but sometimes they also develop unconscious inconsistencies in the way they do this which can cause inconsistent playing.  A general rule of thumb I’ve found helpful for most players is that whatever amount of change you’re making (embouchure motion, jaw position, horn angle) to ascend an octave will be the exact same amount to descend from the same starting part, just in the opposite direction.  A lot of players get in a habit of going too far in one direction at the extreme ranges (I do in my low register, some do it in their upper register).

How to best practice this is difficult to generalize.  I personally spend a short time warming up where I’m consciously testing to find my best amount of embouchure motion, angle change, and jaw movement and then move on to a short exercise where I consciously try to minimize them as much as possible.  After a few minutes or so of this I usually forget about it and practice other things.  For a student I might recommend something similar, more detailed, emphasize exaggerating or minimizing it, or ignore it altogether for the time.  It gets personal pretty quickly, so use your best judgement and don’t allow yourself to get too locked into doing it one particular way.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.