Embouchure Question: Top Lip Slipping Out Of Mouthpiece

Hank stopped by to ask a question I’ve also had to personally deal with.

I’ve found that the only way I can get the sensation of “embouchure motion“, i.e. the MP/embouchure/jaw `tracking’ along the teeth foundation either for ascending or descending, is on a so-called `dry’ set up.  If I try a `wet’ set up the MP tends to slip down onto the red part of top lip in stead of the whole assembly moving/tracking. Thanks, Comments?

This is actually a pretty common issue for some players, particularly those who belong to the Low Placement embouchure type, but also sometimes Medium High Placement players as well.  These types both have an embouchure motion to pull the mouthpiece and lips together down to ascend.  When the lips feel slippery, sometimes the mouthpiece placement will slide on the lips to a lower placement like Hank describes.

First of all, there’s nothing inherently wrong with placing the mouthpiece so the rim sits on the red of the upper lips, in spite of what many teachers and players believe.  My own embouchure, shown at the right, has the rim right on the red of my upper lip.  This just happens to be where it works best for me, and is a quite a bit lower than most Low Placement embouchure types I’ve seen.  Perhaps the reason your mouthpiece wants to slide down there is because that’s where it works best.  Try it out and see what happens.  But without watching you play in person, that’s just a wild guess.  Caveat emptor.

I did mention above that I’ve dealt with this issue myself, though.  As you can note from the photo, if my top lip starts to slide up it goes right off the rim, so I have to be careful.  I’ve tried a few different things, all of which help to a certain degree.  Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Take a fine grade of sandpaper and lightly rub the rim.  The very tiny scratches it makes will make the rim feel like it has a little more grip.  If you try this, I’d use do it just a little bit and try it out before you go all out.  You won’t ruin your mouthpiece if you’re careful and use common sense, but it’s easier to sand the rim again a little more than to go back in the other direction.
  • You can try adopting a dry top lip and a wet bottom lip, or even a dry embouchure altogether.  Both have advantages and disadvantages and it can be worth exploring the opposite of what you’re used to and see what happens.  One thing to be careful of with a dry embouchure is you don’t want to twist your lips up with the mouthpiece rim.
  • You might try using a mouthpiece with a larger rim size.  You can keep the same inner diameter but give yourself some more contact with the top lip that way.  I’ve recently been experimenting with a larger rim and found that the additional rim contact on my top lip feels pretty good.  Everyone is different, though, so you might actually do better with something smaller.
  • Lastly, what I’ve found most helpful in keeping my top lip from slipping up and off the rim was to avoid too much downward embouchure motion when I ascend and to keep the feel of the rim and lips together over the teeth.  Donald Reinhardt called it the “four legs” of the embouchure.  Like the four legs of a table need to all be in contact with the floor, the rim/lips need to be felt with the teeth/gums underneath.  Keep a little more weight on the lower lip, since the upper lip is more sensitive to pressure (good advice for all embouchure types).  Sometimes it’s helpful for a player to exaggerate the embouchure motion at first to get used to making it work correctly in a trouble area, but most players seem to need to work on minimizing their embouchure motion, particularly in the extreme ranges.  I’m still personally working through this still myself.

These days I play with an entirely wet embouchure and rarely find my top lip slipping out, so if that is your ultimate goal it is definitely possible to play dry for a while and switch back after you learn how to make your embouchure motion work a little more efficiently.  Keep in mind that without being able to watch you play in person, I can only speak generally and give you some things to think about.  If you can catch a lesson with someone in person, that probably trumps any advice I can really offer here.  Good luck!


AJ, probably something similar, but to really know for sure I’d want to watch you play and see what’s going on anyway. You could need more mouthpiece pressure on the bottom lip. Maybe the lip is not in the correct position when you set the mouthpiece. Maybe a dry bottom lip will be all that’s needed to get a feel for how it should work and then go to wet. All that I can do is speculate without watching it.

Dwight Clinton

What about a mouthpiece that has a rim with a little more grip? Would that be an option? I have the same problem when ascending from below the staff.

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