Embouchure Question: Top Lip Pressure

Brian stopped by and asked the following question.

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? thank you, Brian

As always, I have to caution you about taking advice from someone who can’t watch you play in person.  It’s really tough to know for certain what’s going on.

The side to side motion in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing.  Lots of players, including myself, have an embouchure motion that tracks with a lot of side to side motion.  What seems to work best is when the embouchure motion itself is traveling in a straight line and the distance between the same interval is about the same, just in the opposite direction.  If you mean that you’re getting less side to side embouchure motion because it’s more up and down, it’s possible that this is good for you, but it also could be better with the side to side track too.  Without watching you play, I can’t suggest anything in particular other than be open to the possibilities.

On the other hand, extreme movements of any type, including more embouchure motion than is needed, should be avoided.  Low placement type players in particular seem to be sensitive to excessive movement in their embouchure.  The reduction in the side to side movement could be good if you mean that your embouchure motion in general seems to be reduced somewhat.

As far as the pressure on the top lip goes, Reinhardt recommended keeping more “weight” of the mouthpiece on the bottom lip (60% on the lower 40% on the upper is a good sensation for many).  The whole upper lip, not just the red membrane, is more sensitive to pressure and swelling than the lower lip, so this is good advice for all players.  Keep in mind that Reinhardt also recommended that the jaw protrude just a bit to ascend and that this will allow you to keep more weight on the lower lip with a slightly raised horn angle.  The way you protrude and recede your jaw (and sometimes move it side to side) while playing will have an effect on the exact best horn angle for a particular pitch.  The shape of your teeth and lips will also influence your horn angle while changing registers.

There’s probably an influence on how your lip vibrates inside the cup due to mouthpiece pressure, but the primary way we should control it is through muscular effort, not mouthpiece pressure.  Lloyd Leno’s embouchure film shows the pattern of vibrations on both upstream and downstream trombonists.  Take a look at it and note how decreasing the amount of lip that vibrates is done by drawing the lips in towards the teeth more firmly and less of the whole lip participates in the vibration.  It’s the predominance of one lip that makes it vibrate with more intensity than the other, not how much pressure is placed on what lip.

Again, without being able to watch you play I can’t speculate whether raising your horn angle to ascend is a good thing.  You could be doing too much or not enough.  It’s possible that you should play your whole range with a more protruded jaw and a higher horn angle or even the reverse.  The best advice I can really offer is to try to keep a little more weight on the lower lip in all ranges, but if raising your horn slightly is helping you ascend allow your lower jaw to come forward slightly to maintain the pressure on the lower lip.

Paul T.


What Brian is describing (tilting the horn up, and reducing pressure on the bottom lip, for low notes, and the opposite for high notes) is a very common practice. Most people seem to do this intuitively. However, for many (most?) players, this is not the most effective way to play. I’m pretty sure that it’s not a good idea for any downstream players.

This technique is what is often called a “pivot” by brass players at large, and generally frowned upon. It also *may* be what Reinhardt referred to as “flag waving”.

However, a lot of very successful upstream/low placement players do this (e.g. Freddie Hubbard). Do you think this kind of motion is often correct for upstream players?

I know this won’t answer Brian’s question. I’m just curious if you’ve come across any data (or just personal experience) with this type of motion, and whether it’s different from upstream players. Reinhardt (and Doug Elliott) seems pretty convinced that it’s always sub-optimal for downstream types, as far as I can tell, anyway.

Paul T.


If you’d rather save this for private discussion, don’t approve the comment and just e-mail me instead! I never know how detailed you want to get on your blog, so do as you see best.

Brian Finigan

Thanks, Dave and Paul. Before studying Reinhardt my embouchure placement was much further to the left and it was pointed out to me more than once that my lower lip was disappearing as I played so I was advised to use a pout and keep the lower lip out and this became possible with Reinhardt’s methods. Having a slightly crooked L front top tooth I compensated for that but now with a “pout” that tooth does not bother me and I would say that I have at least 60% pressure on the lower lip. I keep things pretty steady up to high C and have discovered that to get above C I need to pivot the mouthpiece to the left. I play both trumpet and trombone and it is much easier to tell which way to pivot on trombone and then I apply the pivot when playing trumpet with the same results. Brian

Leave a Reply

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