What Mouthpiece Works Best For Each Embouchure Type?

About a month ago I had the opportunity to take a road trip up to Silver Spring, MD to grab another lesson with Doug Elliott.  For those of you unfamiliar with Doug, he is a fantastic trombonist and highly regarded mouthpiece manufacturer.  He is also an expert on embouchure form and function and knows more about finding good mouthpieces for individual players than anyone else I know of.  He was also the major source for my dissertation (The correlation between Doug Elliott’s embouchure types and selected physical and playing characteristics among trombonists – it’s a good read if you have insomnia) and it’s his terminology that I prefer to use to describe brass embouchure types.

While in my lesson last month Doug made some mouthpiece recommendations for me to try, which has gotten me thinking more about how different embouchure types tend to favor certain mouthpiece characteristics.  I’ve picked up some of this from Doug, and some others who know what they’re talking about.  Here are some of these observations.

Very High Placement Type

Players belonging to the Very High Placement embouchure type tend to do best with mouthpieces that have larger rims and sometimes deeper cups.  I’m not certain why the larger rims are useful for these players, but Very High Placement embouchure players tend to have a brighter sound, so those players will often play on a deeper cup if they want a darker sound.

Very High Placement embouchure type players may also find that a sharper rim is helpful.  In this case, the best rim “bite” may related to the player’s jaw position and horn angle.  Most Very High Placement type players have a jaw position that more or less aligns their teeth, resulting in a horn angle close to straight out.  For some reason this makes a rim with a sharper bite work better, or at least not feel as uncomfortable as players with a receded jaw and lowered horn angle.  That said, I have heard trumpet players belonging to the Very High Placement type complain that they don’t like sharp rims.  I would imagine that on high brass is would be more of a problem, since the mouthpiece pressure gets concentrated into a smaller area on the lips, but either way, take it with a grain of salt.

Medium High Placement Type

Medium High Placement embouchure type players usually have a darker sound naturally, so they tend to not play on mouthpieces with cups as large as other embouchure types.  Other embouchure types tend to find the upper register a bit easier to develop than Medium High Placement players and this probably also helps explain why these players favor more shallow cup sizes.

I haven’t personally noticed that much consistency with mouthpiece rims among Medium High Placement players, but I think they would probably also not favor large rim sizes or a sharp bite.  I note here that most players of this embouchure type tend to have a receded jaw position with a lower horn angle and I think that a sharper rim here might be uncomfortable on the players upper lip.  Again, I’m just speculating here.

Low Placement Type

This is the embouchure type that I personally have, but upstream Low Placement embouchure players are less common than the above downstream embouchure types.  In many ways the Low Placement embouchure type is like a Very High Placement type in reverse and they share some similar playing characteristics.  For example, both these types tend to find the upper register one of their playing strengths and have a tone that is on the bright side.  Like the Very High Placement embouchure type, most Low Placement type players favor mouthpieces with deeper cups.  Because their high range is a strength, Low Placement type players who want a darker sound don’t really suffer a range drop by playing with a deeper cup.  I personally play on a somewhat large mouthpiece cup size.

As far as rim characteristics for Low Placement players go, I can discuss two different viewpoints and describe a recent personal experiment.  Donald Reinhardt apparently felt that upstream embouchure type players should play on the smallest sized rim they felt comfortable with.  A few years ago I had a lesson with Doug and I tried out some even smaller rim sizes and we decided it really made no discernible difference for me, but the rim I was already playing on was relatively small anyway.

But in my recent lesson with Doug we had been discussing this idea about Low Placement embouchure types being essentially upside down Very High Placement types.  Doug, who studied with Reinhardt quite extensively, told me he’s been questioning Reinhardt’s suggestion here lately, since he’s seen so many upstream players with larger rim sizes.  I tried out some larger rims, going a size larger each time.  As the rim size grew larger, my tone gained more focus and became more resonant until I reached a point where the rim was too big.

Long story short, I ended up taking a new mouthpiece rim home to experiment with for a while.  Currently, about a month later, I’ve started to play on this larger rim almost exclusively.  It does feel like my endurance has gone down a bit, but I suspect that some of that has more to do with the mechanical corrections I’ve been working on since my recent lesson.  It may be that Doug is on to something with this new insight into rim size and Low Placement embouchure players.

As far as rim bite goes for Low Placement players, I suspect this is also related to the individual player’s horn angle and jaw position.  Most upstream players keep their teeth more or less aligned and have a horn angle close to straight out.  Some of these players may feel similar to Very High Placement players and like a sharper mouthpiece rim.  I personally have a receded jaw position and a lower horn angle and prefer a more rounded mouthpiece rim.

Before finishing, I’d like to remind everyone that you will want to be somewhat skeptical if you try to take the above suggestions.  First, make sure that you’re getting your embouchure type correct.  It’s pretty hard to simply watch a video about this and type yourself, try to get someone who knows what they are looking at accurately type your embouchure.  Secondly, the characteristics I’ve discussed here are only tendencies, and you can quite easily find contrary examples.

What do you think?  Do you find the above observations accurate or have you found something different?  Did I leave out some important bit of information?  Please leave your comment about what embouchure type you think you belong to and share your favored mouthpiece characteristics.

5 thoughts on “What Mouthpiece Works Best For Each Embouchure Type?

  1. I’m a very high placement trumpet player and I need a deep cup like you said. I find that as I ascend I roll the top lip out a tad and with a shallow cup I almost always bottom out. I don’t know if this is due to mp placement or just the way I roll my lip.

  2. Horn to mouthpiece set up
    . I play on an Olds Super(1955 vintage model) and a Linberg 10CL. Good for jazz, concert band and orchestra.
    Mouthpiece rims are just getting use to, IMHO. Over the years,
    like most players, I’ve tried a few, but discovered that lot’s of practice and playing, is the only remedy to overcome mouthpiece hassles. Too much analysis can lead to paralysis.
    Like one jazz instructor one told us in class, “Put the horn to your face and blow.” Forget about going into a mouthpiece tailspin, or drilling holes in them. Just play, so you fit into mouthpiece, more than the mouthpiece fitting into you. Same with the horn. No matter how good the set up, we all have our good and bad days. Just gotta plow through and go for the best sound we can get. Enjoyed your expertise on the subject.Edd


  3. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts, Eddie. I’m afraid, though, that you inadvertently stepped into a pet peeve of mine.

    Too much analysis can lead to paralysis.

    Here is what I’ve written on this tired old phrase before. One of my main points in the above post is that with some informed analysis we can learn things that speed up the process of selecting an appropriate mouthpiece for a particular individual player. You will save time and effort doing some targeted experimentation with playing technique and equipment if you take the time to learn about how and why to analyze embouchure types and mouthpiece configurations. At your stage in your career, it’s probably not as useful as a younger player or for a brass teacher, but it’s still worth learning about.


  4. Interesting. There are questions that show up that are probably best answered outside a short discussion. Such as:

    The rounded vs sharp rim shape, could this be a function of teeth alignment and whether the rim creates a pressure point between the rim, the teeth tips where they gap versus the other jaw, and the lip squeezed between? Presumably, coincident alignment would allow a player to use any rim shape without pressure points.

    Does “lip type” factor in the underlying muscles? It seems some may have the orbicularis nearer the surface than others. Such differences in controllable tension would seem to have perhaps greater effect than lip shape? I know some old pros who think “thinner lips” enable high notes more easily.

    People have different contours of underlying teeth. Especially today, when so many have “orthodontist smile” with a wide flat front compared to what they would have otherwise grown up with. Does the shape of the teeth line affect rim width? It would seem at a minimum that those with narrow profiles and wide rims might have difficulty sealing in upper ranges. Though watching Frank Rosolino clown around by extending his chops and playing sideways makes me doubt.

  5. In one of my lessons with Doug Elliott, I shared a video of Massimo La Rosa playing. Doug commented, “He’s a low angle VHP.”. He showed me how I could play better with a pronounced lower angle! I felt like I was holding the horn at an angle similar to Tommy Dorsey, or my friend and teacher Dee Stewart, lately of IU. Point: some VHP’s play better, sound better, not close to horazontal, but with the jaw receded. Hmmm. It helped my corners specifically to stay, as you say so well, like locked in place.

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