Guess the Embouchure Types: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Brass Quintet

Tip of the horn to John B. for spotting this video of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Brass Quintet.  Back in high school I took a semester of Japanese and recognize the characters in the video as the kana.  I gave up after a short while trying to work out which of the orchestra’s brass players are performing here, so if anyone knows and can supply us the names of the individual performers, please leave a comment. (Update – Dan F. worked out the trombonist, it’s Jorgen Van Rijen.  Thanks, Dan!)

You can get a pretty close look at all five of their chops in this video, but it’s tough to spot all of their embouchure motions because most of the time there isn’t enough of a range change at that moment in the music to see one (this is why in my videos I demonstrate this with octave slurs, it’s a large enough interval to clearly see them).  Still, we can make an educated guess based on mouthpiece placement and there are a couple of points in the video where you can spot a player’s embouchure motion.  Take a look and make your best guess of their embouchure types.  My speculations after the break.

At around 1:04 we get a pretty good look at the trombonist, but he moves around so much throughout the entire video it’s hard to spot any embouchure motion.  His mouthpiece placement is slightly off center (nothing radical about that, most players don’t place perfectly centered and many play best off-center).  It looks pretty much like a downstream embouchure type.  It’s hard to really say for sure because of the camera angle, but it appears that he has a protruded jaw position and his horn angle is close to straight out, so I’m going to guess he’s a “very high placement” embouchure type.  He could be the “medium high placement” type, but without getting a good look at his embouchure motion, I can’t say for sure.

At 1:25 we get a good look at the horn player and shortly after that you’ll see him play a large descending slur.  Notice him pull his mouthpiece and lips together down to descend there.  There’s only one of the three basic embouchure types that uses the embouchure motion in this direction and that’s the “very high placement” embouchure type.  His mouthpiece placement and horn angle do look typical for this embouchure type too.  However, lots of players use a jaw drop to descend at a certain point in their range and this has the result of pulling their embouchure formation down.  It’s possible that this horn player is a “medium high placement” embouchure type and the jaw drop is disguising his descending embouchure motion here.  Around 4:31 you’ll get another good look at the horn player and can spot his ascending embouchure motion pushing up and to his right side, so I think the descending embouchure motion from earlier is not the result of a jaw drop but his actual embouchure motion direction.

There are some other good looks at the horn player’s embouchure, but by that point I was confident enough to guess “very high placement.”  An interesting moment I noted happens about 9:52, when the horn player beautifully plays a difficult passage that goes in and out of the lower register.  You can still see his downward descending embouchure motion, but it now looks like his going down and to his left to descend, whereas earlier I noted that his embouchure motion went to the left (and up) to ascend.  Usually it’s not a good idea to let your embouchure motion hook off in different directions like this.  It’s probably best to try to keep it moving along a more or less straight line, so if it’s up and to the left to ascend, try to keep it down and to the right to descend.  I won’t speculate what would be correct for this horn player or even want to suggest he’s playing “wrong.”  He’s an outstanding player, so treat my above advice as a rule of thumb, but you always need to do what works best and that is going to be different for every player.

The tubist gets a closeup at 1:31.  His mouthpiece placement also looks high enough to be downstream (but with tubists especially it can look differently on the outside than if you look with a transparent mouthpiece).  I also see what looks to be the “very high placement” embouchure motion, but it’s not prominent enough to say for sure.  A tough guess here too.

The two trumpet players are also difficult to guess.  The player on our right (stage left) has a horn angle that looks tilted down, a fairly common characteristic of the “medium high placement” embouchure type.  There don’t happen to be any close ups of this player where he plays an interval large enough to spot his embouchure motion for certain, but I think I see him pulling his mouthpiece and lips together down to ascend and pushes up to descend.  Of the three basic types, it seems that the “medium high placement” type can have the most minimal embouchure motions, at least that’s what I tend to see.  I could be projecting that, though, because I’m already guessing “medium high placement.”  What do you think?

At first I was guessing “medium high placement” for the trumpet player on our left (stage right), but I kept noting what looked like him pushing up to ascend, for example around 8:18 and again around 10:00.  His horn angle is a little disguised by him tilting his head slightly down, but his angle looks a little lower than most “very high placement” types.  That said, I have documented some fine “very high placement” types that have horn angles that are even lower, so it does happen.  My best guess for this trumpet player is “very high placement.”

Regardless, this brass quintet is made up of world class players.  Their performance of the Koetsier Brass Quintet was not only technically flawless but expressively performed too.  Very nice production value of the video as well.  Check it out at least for the music alone.

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