Embouchure Questions: Mouthpiece Pressure and Lip Ratio

Yes, I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Now that the semester is finally over and grades have been done I plan to get back to some regular updates, starting with another question from the internet.  Kevin writes:

Hi my name is Kevin and iv’e been playing trombone for 5 years now. I am currently a junior in high school. Ever since i started playing, i have always used more mouthpiece pressure than one would normal use. Every time i finish practicing, i always get the “pressure ring” round my lips. I really don’t know how i can break this bad habit.

First, don’t worry about a red mark where you place the mouthpiece, it doesn’t mean anything.  Players with fairer skin will get more of a red mark.  Some players just get it more than others.  It’s certainly not an accurate judge of mouthpiece pressure.

Speaking of mouthpiece pressure, I don’t know for sure that you’re using too much pressure or not.  In fact, even experts are poor judges of mouthpiece pressure.  Unless you’re feeling pain or you’re actually loosening your teeth, I wouldn’t be too concerned.

It also greatly affects my range. I tend to pinch when playing in the upper register, which gives me a very thin tone. I also have less endurance than my other peers.  Since i use a upstream embouchure, my director suggested that i shift my mouthpiece so that i am playing with more upper lip.

I have a couple points to make here.  First, ask (politely) your band director to watch the video series I’ve made available here.  Because downstream embouchures are more common, most brass teachers end up playing with a downstream embouchure, but they unfortunately assume that all their students should be the same.  If your teacher understands you have a good reason to keep your mouthpiece placement there, he or she can instead focus on the real cause of your problem, which is probably not your mouthpiece placement.

Without watching you play, I can only guess what’s causing your upper register cap and endurance issues, but the first thing I’d look for is to see if your mouth corners are pulling back into a smile as you ascend.  For some reason this issue is more common with upstream embouchure players than the downstream, but it’s a problem either way.  Lock the mouth corners in place where they are and don’t let them pull back as you ascend.  This will help both range and endurance.

This way i would have less pressure on my upper lip, and it would stop my pinching/pressure problem. But i really don’t feel comfortable with this new embouchure. I really don’t know what to do because i don’t want to risk my embouchure and tone by using a different embouchure.

I haven’t watched you play in person, so I can only guess as to whether your upstream embouchure is correct for your anatomy or not.  That said, most players who end up playing upstream on their own should be playing that way always.

You won’t be able to practice your way into playing better with an embouchure type that doesn’t fit your face.

I sometimes believe that one problem could be that i really don’t breathe fully when playing.

Checking your breathing never hurts.  Good breathing is very important to brass playing.  But throwing good air at a bad embouchure won’t fix it.

I read that players, who use excessive mouthpiece pressure, will never increase their endurance because the blood flow is being restricted in the lips. And, the muscles in the corner of your lips rarely work because of the pressure being put in the center of the lips.

Excessive mouthpiece pressure will hurt your endurance.  Your lips aren’t really meant to be mashed with the metal like that.  If you can gradually develop the muscular strength to keep everything firm when playing, you’ll find that not only will you not need as much mouthpiece pressure to play, but also that your lips accept the pressure better.

What would suggest? and how could i fix this problem?

Check your mouth corners when ascending first.  My best guess is you’re smiling to ascend.  If so, practice slow ascending slurs while watching yourself in a mirror and keep your mouth corners locked in place when you ascend.  Don’t let yourself pull them back when you want to.

You might also try doing some light, airy-sounding, mosquito-like free buzzing (more on this topic later this summer).  That will help you develop the muscles you need to both keep the mouth corners locked in place and also to cushion the mouthpiece pressure on the lips.  And it also will give you a chance to practice and build strength without needing to worry about mouthpiece pressure.  Just a few minutes a day is more than enough free buzzing.

Lastly, be patient and know that it will take some time.  If you can get together with a private teacher, that’s the best way to learn how to play.  If your private teacher wants you to move your mouthpiece placement up, ask him or her to watch my video series.  Good luck!


Hi ! I play the trombone , and I would always have some problem with my mouth after playing . I dont get the “pressure” ring around my mouth , but my mouth would get “tired” and whenever I tried to play again , my mouth (at the back) , would hurt . I think it’s my jaw or cheek . Is this normal ? I play high notes a lot. My mouth would always get tired after playing for some time . When I try to play again , it really hurts . I think its my jaws or cheek that is the problem . Any advice u can give me to get rid of it ??


Hi I play the trombone also & have the same problem as Kevin with the whole “pressure ring” & everyone that ive met including professionals say that i wont get better until i change my embouchure. after many attemps to change it i wont get better any tips?


Hi, Randy.

A “pressure ring” isn’t anything to worry about unless you find that where the rim contacts your lips is hurting you. If you’re using excessive pressure that may be a symptom of something else you need to fix that’s forcing you to rely on extra pressure, but without being able to watch you play I can’t say if you’re using too much or if it’s fine.

Can you take video of your chops? If so, sometimes I can spot something but I need to see specific things (see my videos here to see the sort of thing I video tape when I document brass embouchures).



Hi, I have been having problems for a while with range. I had built up my range up to high c and could do it very comfortably and then all of a sudden I loose my range and haven’t been able to gain it back for sometime now. I do notice that sometimes my teeth do hurt after playing for a while. Also my endurance is pretty bad compared to most. I don’t know what’s going on and really need help!

Please and thank you.


Hi, Alphonso.

In order to help you I’d need to see how your playing and preferably be in the same room as you. If you’re around western North Carolina we can meet up for a lesson, otherwise I’d need to see video of your chops. I know a handful of other people I can recommend if you’re in a different area of the U.S., but I don’t know anyone outside of the U.S. that I could recommend.



Hi, I played baritone for 5 years then gave it a break for 2 & I’m just now coming back as a junior in high school. (I feel so far behind when the freshmen are playing better than I am! I need some advice on how to get better quickly.) Some problems I have: I joined marching band & my instructor pointed out that I get a pressure ring when I play. None of my previous band teachers said that this was a problem, but it does seem to be a bit of an issue now. I feel like I am using too much pressure as my lips hurt after playing. I need to stop this but I need some advice on how??
And, I’m am having trouble with filling the horn completely with air & producing a full sound. Any tips?


Hi, Corrie.

Contrary to what many people believe, a “pressure ring” isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re using too much mouthpiece pressure. That doesn’t mean that you’re not using too much pressure, but in and of it self a red mark from playing means nothing.

The only general advice I can think of at this point is to make sure that you’re firming up your embouchure formation enough and correctly. You might not be using too much pressure, but just have your embouchure formation too loose to start with. If you search for “free buzzing” here you should be able to find an exercise that is good for strengthening your embouchure formation.

In order to really help you I’d have to watch you play, preferably in person, but if you can take video and post it online maybe I can spot something helpful.



Hi! I just started trombone about a month ago. I’ve played flute for four years and I’ve always wanted to learn trombone. My private teacher says I need to reduce my mouthpiece pressure to get rid of the red pressure ring. I don’t feel any pain while playing however. I can reah the higher notes without very much issue. I’ve been doing exercises with my mouthpiece to practice reducing my pressure but I can’t seem to play without the red ring afterwards.


Hi, Ashli.

A red ring doesn’t necessarily mean you’re using too much pressure. Lots of folks (particularly with fair skin) will get a red mark from even very light pressure. I’d concentrate on making sure that your embouchure is firmed properly (at the mouth corners mostly) and your lips should be able to handle the pressure from normal playing quite well.

Good luck!



Hi Dave,
I feel as though my tone has gotten worse recently. I have noticed that slight air pockets form on either side of my lower lip and my upper lips as well. I’m not sure if my execute is good but I don’t know how to tell. I also feel as though my breath does not last very long, but that’s a different problem probably. If you have any suggestions that would be great.


Hi I’m Marisa, I play the Euphonium .(or baritone) And My music teacher once told me to stop smiling while play high notes. I’m not really sure what she means or how this effects my playing… Please help me break this habit.


Hi, Marisa.

If you watch your mouth corners in a mirror while playing euphonium a smile embouchure is where the corners pull back as if you were smiling when you ascend.

It’s a tough habit to break. Free buzzing is a good exercise to help with this, but it is best done in moderation and a particular way. Check out my post here for help with this.



Jacob Macis

Hi, I’m Jacob and I play the trombone,

I’m going to be a senior in high school this fall (7th year of playing trombone), and I started developing a problem with one of my mouthpieces that I never have had before. For the classical season of band (usually late fall and spring semesters) I play on a large bore tenor trombone with an Alessi-Griego 5E mouthpiece (I have no problem with this setup everything feels great). During the summer all the way into September however I practice for the Jazz Region Band audition. During this time I spend most of my practicing on a small bore Bach Stradivarius Model 36 with a Bach 5GS mouthpiece. The problem that has formed over the last 2 weeks is that while practicing on this “jazz setup” my mouthpiece tends to dig into my lip and and make teeth marks/cuts on the inner side of my lip where my mouthpiece goes on my face. The problem has gotten so bad now that even after practicing with this setup for just 5 minutes I feel the pain of my teeth digging into my lips. Is it my mouthpiece? Am I using too much pressure? This is the 3rd time I’ve auditioned for Region Jazz and I have never had this problem before. Please help!

Benjamin Lancaster

Hi! My name is Ben and I play trombone. I have lately been experiencing many different problems with my playing. To start off, I have recently been trying to fix a smiling embouchure, beginning in June, and ever since then, my range, endurance, tone, and flexibility has fallen dramatically, as my teacher said it would temporarily.
Almost 6 months later, it feels like anything I try to begin to fix this just makes it worse, as after a short time playing, I begin to rely on pressure to play higher notes. This and marching band, as I believe marching band in the fall also had a big negative impact on my playing, has resulted in a slightly painful callus on my upper lip, of which receives all the pressure in my embouchure. After a period of about 5 days off during Thanksgiving Break which I used to try to heal the callus, it still had not disappeared. This callus first formed during marching band this year, but I had one similar to it last year during marching band. I believe these problems can be traced to me trying to compensate for my attempt to change my embouchure with the extra amount of pressure, and my left corner still raises slightly as I ascend into the high range (I used to play off to the side, which I believe cause a lack of development in the muscles there.). Simultaneously, I must also deal with playing first in both Concert in Jazz band, which further lowers my endurance. Sorry for the really long explanation, but I hope it gives you a better idea of what’s going on. Do you have any suggestions for dealing with my situation?

Benjamin Lancaster

I will send you two 20 minute videos, one at the beginning of my day and one at the end of my day. I have region band on Thursday so it will probably be the weekend when i send them.
Thanks so much!


Israel Sims

Hello Dave,
I play french horn I have been trying to find amauter that I feel relaxed in because when I play my front teeth will pressed into my bottom lip, but really im more concerned that when I play get a ring on my bottom lip than my upper lip. When I talk to my friends they say I need to place my mouth peice more to.my upper lip, but it just dosen’t feel right. My last question is it abmormal to have ring on the bottom lip for a french horn player



The “ring” on the lips is just your skins reaction to normal mouthpiece pressure and not anything to worry about. Some folks get it a lot easier than others.

Having more lower lip inside the mouthpiece isn’t as common, but if it’s working for you it’s probably the best placement you can go with. Horn teachers seem to be more rigid in their mouthpiece suggestions than other brass, but there’s nothing wrong with that placement – as long as it fits your anatomy. If you look for my blog posts about “low placement” embouchure type you’ll learn more.


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