Brass Embouchures: Playing On the Red Is Fine (as long as it fits your anatomy)

With regards to the best mouthpiece placement there is some controversy among different authors and teachers.  In his text, Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet (Cornet), J.B. Arban stated, “The mouthpiece should be placed in the middle of the lips, two-thirds on the lower lip, and one-third on the upper lip.”  (Arban, 1982, p. 7).  This contrasts with Dennis Wick, who recommended 2/3 upper lip and 1/3 lower lip (Wick, Trombone Technique, 1971, p. 21).  Philip Farkas felt that such differences were related to the particular type of instrument, with 2/3 lower lip being an embouchure for trumpet and 2/3 upper lip better suited for instruments like horn and trombone (Farkas, The Art of Brass Playing, 1962, p. 32).

Although the recommendations of these and other noted brass pedagogues comes with some caveats and is considered somewhat flexible by many, one recommendation about mouthpiece placement is frequently advised by almost all of them – avoid placing the mouthpiece so that the rim sets on the red (vermilion) of the upper lip.  Frank Gabriel Campos wrote in his text, Trumpet Technique:

To function properly, the inner edge of the mouthpiece must be placed on tissue that is supported by muscle, but the lips are composed of fatty tissue that by itself cannot support a normal embouchure.  A performer whose mouthpiece inner edge is habitually placed on the red (vermillion) of the upper lip is using an embouchure that is not capable of producing the flexibility, strength, and endurance necessary for normal performance.  It should be avoided at all costs.

– Campos, 2005, p. 73

With such a large consensus on this issue it would seem that this advice is sound and should be trusted.  Unfortunately for the field of brass pedagogy, this recommendation is not only based on misinformation, but there are many examples of brass players, particularly high brass, who break this rule and perform at very high levels.  While placing the mouthpiece so the rim rests on the red of the upper lip is rare and not ideal for most players, suggestions to always avoid this placement are incorrect for a sizable minority of players who not only are capable of playing well with such a low mouthpiece placement, but actually play most efficiently this way.

This essay will cover some of the most common arguments for not playing with the mouthpiece placed on the rim and show how these points are based on misinformation, inaccurate assumptions, or simply confusion and misunderstanding on the part of the author.  While good intentioned, making such strong statements that a particular mouthpiece placement “should be avoided at all costs” is simply wrong for many players.  With a more accurate understanding of the anatomy of the lips and embouchure form and function brass teachers will gain a tool that can help them make more targeted recommendations when a mouthpiece placement is actually hindering a student’s progress, or whether other issues in embouchure technique should be dealt with instead.

The first issue that should be addressed is that there is always some rim placed on the vermilion, there is simply no placement that avoids it.  If there was something inherently painful or damaging about rim contact on the player’s vermilion then it would surely be noticeable by all brass musicians, regardless of how high or low the placement is.  Proponents of keeping the placement off the red sometimes counter that with less rim contact on the vermilion the damaging effects are minimized or eliminated.  However, by ensuring the rim contact on a smaller area of the vermilion it might actually be that the player is actually concentrating the rim pressure even more than by spreading it out over a wider area (similar to how a single nail can easily penetrate someone’s foot when stepping on it, but lying on an entire bed of nails spreads the weight over a greater surface area).  Regardless, what hasn’t been shown is that the vermilion is sensitive enough to pressure to warrant this caution in the first place.

Campos claims that under the vermilion is merely a layer of fatty tissue and that this is what makes them unable to support the rim pressure of normal brass playing.  Diagrams of the physiology of the lips, such as the one shown here to the right are partially responsible for this misconception.  Such drawings show an overlay of the vermilion to help visualize how the muscles intersect around the mouth.  It incorrectly implies that there are no muscles under the red of the lips.

Here are a couple of more accurate diagrams of the lip anatomy.  Note that with the vermilion removed you can see that the main muscle group encircling the mouth, the orbicularis oris, can be seen to include not just the area surrounding the red of the lips, but also runs underneath the vermilion as well.

It would appear that Campos’s information that the vermilion cannot accept the rim pressure because it is composed primarily of fatty tissue is false.

But just because there is muscular support underneath the vermilion doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t more sensitive to pressure, just that it’s not so likely.  It is true that there are more nerve endings in the vermilion and the lips are one part of the body that is very sensitive to tactile feedback (the homunculus image of what our bodies would look like if they related to the amount of brain space is an interesting demonstration how sensitive our lips are).  Note from that same above link also how much brain area is also devoted to the hands, yet there is no reason to think that your hands are more sensitive to pressure than any other part of our body.

There is a school of thought that feels that too low a placement will inhibit the vibrations of the upper lip, leading to embouchure problems.  Posting under the user name “NikV,” one Trumpet Herald Forum member writes:

I soon realized I was not progressing and then went to a real professional classical musician for lessons. He immediately identified my embouchure placement as a main source of my issues (in addition to not being trained in breathing, air, etc.). He explained to me that by pinching off that top lip so much you are limiting the use of the musculature of your face, and the amount of vibrating mass you are putting into the mouthpiece is not sufficient to develop a good tone.

This is partially true, but a more complete understanding of basic embouchure patterns will show that for some players reducing the vibrating surface of the upper lip is helpful, where with others it can hinder good playing.  Both lips don’t vibrate with equal intensity, like an oboe or bassoon reed does.  While both lips do vibrate with the same frequency (or at least they should), one lip will predominate inside the cup and more surface area will vibrate.  The other lip will vibrate with less intensity and serve in some ways to be more like a clarinet mouthpiece, as a hard surface for the reed/other lip to vibrate against.

This is not “arm chair” speculation, it has been studied and demonstrated by a handful of independent researchers.  A very clear example that is handily available to view online is Lloyd Leno’s film, Lip Vibration of Trombone Embouchures.  This video shows several different players playing into transparent mouthpieces and filmed with a high speed camera so that we can view the pattern of vibrations of both lips.  Follow the above link and note the difference between the downstream players’ lip vibrations, who all place with more upper lip inside, and the upstream players’ lip vibration, who place with more lower lip inside.  For some upstream players, it is actually beneficial for more rim contact to help reduce the intensity of vibrations in the upper lip.  Downstream players, however, will definitely find a low placement to not work as well.   Whether a student is upstream or downstream is not a choice that is made and then practiced into success, it is based on which embouchure type the player’s anatomy is best suited for.

In spite of the lack of evidence supporting the idea that placing the mouthpiece on the red of the lips is to be avoided, many teachers counter that students who have this embouchure characteristic often have trouble.  Posting under the user name “peteb” on the Trumpet Herald Forum, Pete B. offers a fallacious argument as to why placing the mouthpiece rim on the vermilion is supposedly incorrect.  He writes:

I have had a student that played so low that I could see most of his upper lip above the mouthpiece. He demonstrated all of the characteristics I mentioned, plus the complaints of the OP.  [brittle and difficult to control sound, poor articulation, and limited flexibility and endurance, range difficulties]

Pete is confusing a correlation (low placement) with a causation (low placement causing embouchure issues).  While mouthpiece placement is important, there are many other mechanical issues that can cause embouchure problems and you can find student players with a higher mouthpiece placement having those exact same issues.  It may be that with many players the placement is actually too low and in those cases it’s important to move them up, but before moving a student’s placement it’s important to address those other related issues and ensure that you’re not going to inadvertently offer advice that does more harm than good.

Posting under the user name of “hotlipsporter,” trumpet player Charlie Porter writes:

The inner part of the lips are more fragile and more prone to damage. This holds true for EVERYONE. I’m sure there is an abundance of scientific data to back this up.

There may be scientific data to back up Porter’s assertion, however I cannot find it.  Searching through the literature, both medical and musical, does show a lot of scholarly articles dealing with lip damage, but to my knowledge there are none that show the vermilion is more sensitive to pressure and prone to damage from normal brass playing.  Just because I can’t find any doesn’t mean it isn’t there, but such a confident statement as Porter’s doesn’t appear to be backed up.

On the other hand, I have found a handful of articles that would appear to support my thoughts that the vermilion is quite capable of taking rim contact during brass playing without much trouble.  Heston L. Wilson, M.D., writes in the scholarly journal The Clarinet, “…the vermilion portion of the lips tolerates pressure well and the inner membrane does not.”  (Wilson, Lips, The Clarinet, Sep. 2000, Vol. 27 Issue 4, p. 38).

While not specifically related to the topic of placing the mouthpiece rim on the vermilion, Wilson’s quote is another reason why recommendations to actually roll the lower lip out while playing pedal tones on trumpet and horn may actually do more harm than good and perhaps are best avoided entirely.

Returning to the topic of mouthpiece placement, Porter commented:

“You shouldn’t place the rim on the red of the upper lip” is NOT a misconception. The videos you used to support this being a misconception show no players actually playing in the red on the upper lip, only low mouthpiece placement. As long as the rim of the mouthpiece is not on the red of the lips it doesn’t matter how low or how high. However, getting off the red is crucial.

This gets a little tricky to demonstrate, but the following diagrams may help to illustrate my point.  I’ve already commented that there will always be rim contact on the vermilion, regardless of the player’s mouthpiece placement, but Porter and others sometimes forget that the mouthpiece rim in its entirety may be such that it looks as if the placement is above the vermilion, yet the inner rim diameter is still placed directly on the red.  Here are some photographs using a hypothetical rim placement to demonstrate my point.

This first image shows a hypothetical mouthpiece placement by blacking out the area of the lips we really wouldn’t see at all when a brass musician is playing his or her instrument.  Based on this example, a mouthpiece placement demonstrated here would appear to have most of the rim contact off the red of the lips.

This next image is the same individual with the same diameter circle over the lips, but I now simulate where the rim might actually be placed over the lips so that that we can see inside the mouthpiece cup.  We can get a better idea how much rim contacts the vermilion, but depending on how rigid you might be about always avoiding placing on the red, you still might find a mouthpiece placement like this suitable.

In this final image I’ve removed the blacked out portion where the rim might sit.  Notice now that with just the general outline of the rim left in place you can see how much this hypothetical mouthpiece placement is on the vermilion.    Now obviously this isn’t the most realistic depiction of how a musician might place the mouthpiece, but it does demonstrate that when looking at photographs or video examples for mouthpiece placement on the red of the lips you must take the entire rim into consideration.  Many players look from the outside or even on rim visualizers as if their placement is above the vermilion, but a more careful look might show much more rim contact than you think.

Returning to Porter’s comments about placing on the red, he felt that the examples I showed in my video entitled Embouchure Misconceptions: Five Myths About Brass Embouchures wasn’t honestly showing players who place the mouthpiece rim so that it contacts a great deal of the vermilion of the upper lip.  He writes:

If you are going to make a ridiculous statement about not playing in the red being a misconception, then back it up! Where is the video of a phenomenal trumpet player playing in the upper red of the top lip?

You said it was a misconception and followed that bold statement up with videos that featured players with low placement but NOT playing in the top red. If you are going to make a statement like that, follow it directly with videos of players playing that way.

Here are several image clips of some of the players I used as examples in the video Porter is commenting on.  Keeping in mind the entire rim diameter, I think it’s a fair assumption that the following players are indeed examples of brass musicians who place the mouthpiece low enough so that much of the rim contact is directly on the red of the upper lip.  All of the following are professional players, some quite well known.

While these players, and some of the other examples I use in my videos, have varying amounts of rim contact on the vermilion of their upper lip, I think it’s fair to state that you can indeed fine examples of brass players who play quite successfully with their mouthpiece placed on the red of their upper lip.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all players should adopt similar mouthpiece placements.  In fact, most brass musicians probably should not.  But as I’ve pointed out recently, using our own mouthpiece placement or that of a handful of examples we happen to come across is not going to be a useful way of understanding how brass embouchures actually function best for all players.  I know many players who state that they play much better after moving their placement off the red of their upper lip.  On the other hand, I used to place above the red and now place the rim right on the vermilion of my upper lip because it just works better there.  Mouthpiece placement is a very personal thing and related to the individual player’s anatomy, not something you can choose and then practice your way into success.  Learn to work with, not against, your anatomy. Teachers should help their students accomplish the same, rather than forcing them to adopt a mouthpiece placement that may not be suitable.

At the very least, I think it’s helpful for all of us to qualify our statements in such a way that it is obvious whether we’re speculating, offering personal anecdotes, or actually do have evidence to back up our suggestions.  Emphatically discouraging a mouthpiece placement on the vermilion may very well be best for the majority of players, but there are more individuals than most seem to think that not only can play this way, but actually perform best like this.

61 thoughts on “Brass Embouchures: Playing On the Red Is Fine (as long as it fits your anatomy)

  1. What do you think about playing in the red of the lower lip?

    I am a IIIA trumpeter with big lips and a tendency to play deep into the vermilion of the lower lip. The more I allow this to happen, the more it kills my endurance – my lower lip becomes very sore and bruised.

    Recently I’ve been using a slight lip curl and also experimenting with a fractionally lower placement to get me out of the red. This feels to me far more comfortable. There is no soreness and bruising and I can put more weight on the lower lip as Reinhardt recommended. However, the trade off is I cannot use my upward embouchure motion nearly as much and my range is cut short.

    So, I’m kind of stuck. On the one hand I can play in the red and have more range. And on the other, I can play out of the red and have a limited range but more endurance.

    1. Hmm, I would have to watch you play. Are you placing the mouthpiece so that the lower rim is above your lower teeth? One option may be to play with a more closed jaw position. Firming your lips (and perhaps a more prominent lower lip roll like you describe) might be better too. Possibly a placement slightly to one side or another would be worth experimenting with.

      My first instinct would be to look at your overall embouchure firmness. That, or other mechanical issues, might be contribute you to using more pressure than you should be.

      Again, I would really need to watch you play some. Any way you can take and post video footage? Which instrument do you play?

    2. Just had another thought. Many IIIAs (Very High Placement embouchure types is the term I prefer to use here) play better on mouthpieces with larger rims. Perhaps this would also improve things for you, or just a larger mouthpiece in general.

    3. Hi, my suggestion is to avoid experimenting with different embrouchures as it may cause for the complex muscle coordination of your body to get confused. When playing into the red flesh of the upper lip in most cases it means that one uses a simple trick to get higher notes to play: The line between the lips where the vibration happens goes more and more out of center of the ring of the mouth piece and therefore shortening the line. If you look at physics it simply means that a shorter string will have higher vibrations. This is not really right but gets the idea. In principle you can also use a mouth piece with smaller diameter. But do not get confuse with the myth to pull the lips out of the mouth piece to play higher notes as you would higher notes by higher tension on strings. Actually this is contradicious and one should instead lose the ring muscle to have more flesh in.
      A really good school for solving all this, is the method of Malte Burba. It helped a lot for me to solve most of this problems where I was stuck like in a sound barrier.

      1. Hi, Snaj. Thanks for stopping by. A few thoughts on your comments:

        Hi, my suggestion is to avoid experimenting with different embrouchures as it may cause for the complex muscle coordination of your body to get confused.

        I would argue that this depends quite a bit on the sort of experimentation you’re doing and whether or not it is being guided by an accurate understanding of embouchure form and function. Here on my web site I have many resources that describe the basic embouchure patterns that you can find excellent players using. These embouchure types are dependent upon the individual player’s anatomy and not something that one can practice your way into. So yes, you’re correct that playing on an embouchure that doesn’t fit your face can cause “confusion,” yet if you’re not playing on the most efficient embouchure for your face a little guided experimentation may make for better technique. It’s hard to generalize this, since all players are different.

        When playing into the red flesh of the upper lip in most cases it means that one uses a simple trick to get higher notes to play: The line between the lips where the vibration happens goes more and more out of center of the ring of the mouth piece and therefore shortening the line.

        This is really not true. Some players do much better with an extremely high or extremely low mouthpiece placement while other players can play with much better range with a more centered mouthpiece placement. Again, this has to do with the players individual physiology. It’s probably related to the relationship of the length of the lips (the entire lips, not just the vermillion) and the teeth and gums. For example, players with a short upper lip in relation to their upper teeth and gums tend to play better with a mouthpiece placement that has less upper lip inside.

        If you look at physics it simply means that a shorter string will have higher vibrations

        I like to sometimes use the string analogy when teaching brass, but it’s really a false analogy related to brass embouchures. If you look through Lloyd Leno’s film Lip Vibration of Trombone Embouchures, for example, you can see that inside the mouthpiece the lips are drawn in closer to the teeth and gums and less lip mass vibrates inside the cup as the player ascends. It really doesn’t relate to having less lip inside the mouthpiece to play higher. One of the interesting things about this film is that Leno shows a variety of embouchure types, so you can see how the pattern of lip vibrations is different between downstream and upstream players, for example.

        A really good school for solving all this, is the method of Malte Burba.

        There’s not a lot available in English about Burba’s approach, so I’m not really familiar with it. Thanks for the recommendation, though. I’ll look more thoroughly into it when I can.

        It helped a lot for me to solve most of this problems where I was stuck like in a sound barrier.

        Personally, I’m cautious when recommending what worked for my own playing to others. Every player has a different face, so all players have different embouchures and have different practice needs. Again, without knowing much about Burba’s approach I can’t say whether it’s something that works well for one particular embouchure type but not another, but there are very few approaches that are going to be effective for every player. Every brass musician has different strengths, weaknesses, and practice needs. In my opinion, developing an accurate understanding of basic embouchure patterns and how they differ from player to player is a better approach than a universal method that can have many successes but also many failures.

        Again, I’d like to invite you to browse through some of the embouchure resources I have posted here and learn a bit more about the approach I prefer to take here as many of your questions and criticisms have already been addressed I think.

        Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Dave, the lower rim is pretty much in the middle of my lower teeth and I am currently using a 3E equivalent mouthpiece. The excessive pressure only becomes a problem when I try to play with more volume and brilliance. I do actually prefer the fit of bigger mouthpieces, but they kill my range and make me sound even more dull than usual. I’ll try to send over a video for you.

  3. Hi,

    I when I go to place the mouthpiece on my lips, I place it where it lies most comfortable on my lips (center of my mouth). However when I go to buzz my right side of my mouth seems to ‘cave’ in wards (showing no lower lip and a bit of upper lip) and the left side seems to push outward (lower lip and upper lip showing). I think this is a problem for me because I have issues with technical passages (not slurring with out much ‘bumping’ or centering of notes, also a very slight delay when attacking notes in the upper register. Would a natural smile be able to diagnose what I think my problem is?

    My natural smile has the upper left side of my mouth rise and the left part of my lower lip dips. My right side sort of pinches down. (Thought it might be helpful)

    Again, I am not sure what the problem is, this is just my hypothesis. I am a young player, 18 and play Euphonium on Hammond Design 12L if that helps.

    Thank you

    1. Interesting thought, Brett. No one is perfectly symmetrical and it’s possible that placing the mouthpiece off center would work better for you. Hard to say based on your description though. I’d carefully try out placing the mouthpiece to one side or another and see what happens.

      Also, if you’re placing the mouthpiece perfectly centered on the vertical plane as well, most players will struggle with a perfectly 50/50 placement. You want one lip or another to predominate inside the mouthpiece. You can also try moving the placement up higher or lower.

      Then again, you might benefit from free buzzing exercises and simply strengthening up your embouchure formation. You might simply need to build strength up before the best mouthpiece placement will become apparent (or whether you even want to change it).

      Can you take video of your chops to watch?


  4. Hi Dave, my name is João César,32, Portugal. Thanks for this very interesting website. I saw your video 2Embouchure Misconceptions: Five Myths About Brass Embouchures”. My opinion is that you are rigth! There is no “rules” about mouthpiece placement. Everyone should place the mouthpiece acording with is lip and tooths shape. We, human people, all are made form the same material, but at the end, we all have diffenret ways of walk, move etc… We also have different sizes of hands, and foots. That´s why we use diferent sizes of cloves and shoes. So, why using the same mouthpiece placement and mpc size? I place my mouthpiece totaly in the red part of my upper lip. During the years I had problems, like many other players who have a “Correct mouthpiece placement”, and the same good things. I have a trumpet graduation in classical music from” Escola superior the musica de Lisboa” and a jazz graduation by “Codarts” in Rotterdam, where I played lead trumpet and worked closed with the greats trombone players Ilja Reingould(Thelonius Monk Jazz award winner) and Bart Van Lier. They never woried with my mouthpiece placement!
    Two important things for people that play in the red part of upper lip:

    1-Always must do a good warming up.
    2-Just use the pression needed.
    3- Relax as much as posible.
    4-Good breath and air stream.
    5-Play and rest.

    But those things and the same things that “Normal” players shoud do. I´m I rigth?

    Check and use my videos for this pedagogic porpose and give me your opinion. I´m not a trumpet super hero, I´m just a mortal trumpet player. But the thing is that in those videos before the recording we did 4/5 hours rehearsals. Plus concerto. 1 hour.

    For lead I use a shilke 13a4a
    For solo shilke 15c

    Best regardings from Portugal.

    João Cesar

    1. Hi, João. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment!

      But those things and the same things that “Normal” players shoud do. I´m I rigth?

      Absolutely! One thing that always bothers me about teachers who recommend “never play on the red” is that many of them point to players having problems and then leaping to assume the issues are related to the mouthpiece placement. They then go on to list issues that are common, regardless of where the student places the mouthpiece. I would generally say to fix the usual culprits first, then go on to address the student’s mouthpiece placement once you actually have enough information to know whether or not the placement change is going to help or hurt.


  5. “…One thing that always bothers me about teachers who recommend “never play on the red” is that many of them point to players having problems and then leaping to assume the issues are related to the mouthpiece placement.”

    Yes, it sounds like when somebody goes to the doctor with a head pain, and the doctor always says: “Take an aspirine, milk and cookies and sleep”.

  6. hi im a high school trumpet player with an unconventional mouthpiece placement similar to the first picture at the end of the article but not quite. the lower edge of my mouthpiece is on the curve below the red of the lip, and the edge of the upper lip comes over the top of the mouthpiece (and slightly to the right). its a bit hard to explain and i can send you a pic if you like. i used to have a standard embouchure, but after playing a while my mouthpiece slipped downwards gradually and came to be where it is now. I find I have less endurance and it takes more effort to make jumps from low to high and high to low, but my range is great (i play high Cs and Ds with ease). my tone is a little spread, but i dont know if thats a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve consulted with a bunch of teachers and they all urge me to make the change to a conventional embouchure, but im not sure if i want to do it. I am a pretty accomplished trumpet player already (California youth symphony, honor bands, principle trumpet), and i see no issue in my playing except endurance and the extra effort making jumps. I’m not sure if i should give my current embouchure up, and im not certain what embouchure will truly work best for me. i have been experimenting with a conventional embouchure, and while the tone is richer and my flexability seems to increase, i seem to use up too much air when playing (I need breaths way to often) and my mouthpiece tends to slip back to the old position when i try to play high). if i commit to my new position, I am afraid that it might end up failing. I saw your videos on youtube and decided to ask for advice. Will my current position hinder my range beyond my Cs and Ds? is there any pattern to what embouchure position is suited to certain lip shapes? Is my position even a viable position to be in??? the issue of changing my embouchure is a hard one to make, especially since im not sure if the change will make me better than i am now, and im not sure how long it might take me to do so. PLEASE HELP

    1. Hi, Allen.

      I’d have to see you play to give you any advice. Video is an option, but even then it’s hard to help people this way.

      In and of itself, there’s no mouthpiece placement that’s “wrong,” it just needs to be the right one for you. The increased range you get with your placement is encouraging, so perhaps you just need to learn how to work with that placement better. How long have you been playing this way?

      On the other hand, this placement may not be optimal for you. Again, I’d need to watch you play. If that’s not possible, if you have a current private teacher who is willing to consult with me, maybe the three of us can communicate and see if we can work something out for you.

      Good luck!


  7. A comment to “playing on the red”. Jan Allan played on the red for more then 50 years, always on a ver high standard, one of the top jazz trumpet players in Sweden. He does like to on the super high range much, but sometimes when he want surprise the crowd he play some double high c or higher, and he does it with no strain. Regards Svenne

  8. Hi Dave,

    I must respectfully disagree with your theories and conclusions about playing on the red on the trumpet. I have had many students who played on the red of the lip, and some had excellent range, but flexibility, endurance and response were never good. Consistency from day to day eluded them. In a blind audition, I can easily tell within a minute that someone is playing on the red. These young people typically do all they can to play better, and together we try everything we can think of, but in my experience, they have to get the inner rim out of the red tissue to improve their playing. All the lip slurs in the world will not fix this–I have tried many times. Very few prominent trumpet players play this way–Randy Brecker is one–but do you know for a fact that this is working well for them? You do not. I have been trying to help players get past their limitations for 40 years. I realize that no theory or idea applies to everyone, but trumpet teachers around the world agree with me on this point, and not just because I am a nice guy!

    Good wishes,
    Frank Gabriel Campos

    PS–Doc Severinsen does not play on the red.

    1. Hi, Frank. Thanks for stopping by and adding your thoughts.

      I have had many students who played on the red of the lip, and some had excellent range, but flexibility, endurance and response were never good.

      I play on the red and seem to do fine. I’ve had some students who also played on the red and did fine. It might be because I’m familiar with upstream embouchures and have a better understanding of how to teach those players to work with their natural embouchure tendencies. Or it could simply be a matter of expectations getting in the way of the way we teach. Perhaps it’s our confirmation bias. Either way, personal anecdotes don’t really constitute evidence. Perhaps you could respond to the other points I made?

      Doc Severinsen does not play on the red.

      We ALL play on the red.



      1. When Frank says Doc doesn’t play on the red, and you say “We ALL play on the red” I think I can clean this up a bit. I think Frank is alluding to (If I may use directions) North and South of the lips. North is toward the nose and south is toward the chin. Yes, the mouthpiece touches the red at East and West directionally but when a person comes across a great player that plays in the red (North / South or both) their skill at playing is in spite of playing in the red, not because of playing in the red.

    2. Frank,

      Here’s another great trumpet player who plays on the red:

      Lee Morgan

      Here’s another:

      YouTube link

      I could post some others, but you get the idea. My point here is that you can fairly easily find great trumpet players placing in the red (it’s actually easier to find trumpet rather than low brass). Your comment I quoted in the above article states two things I take issue with. First, the idea that this should be “avoided at all costs.” Clearly it is correct for some (yes, a minority) players. Secondly, the lip physiology you describe appears to be inaccurate. If playing on the red was inherently damaging we would all notice it because every brass embouchure has at least some rim placed on the red.

      I really do find your book very useful, but this is one point where I think getting current on the brass embouchure research would show that some of the “common knowledge” in the brass community needs some updating.

      Thanks again for stopping by!


  9. Dave, perhaps you have misinterpreted my comments from the very first. I agree with you that virtually all of us (trumpet players) place our mouthpieces on the red–in other words, the rim is touching on red tissue–and that is not a problem.

    The point I am making is that the inner edge of the rim–the edge where the lip meets the metal on the inside of the cup–should not be set into the red tissue. That should be avoided at all costs. If you are saying that you recommend that brass players do this, then I believe you are taking a big stand that helps nobody. Is there any major trumpet teacher or artist in the world that recommends setting the inner edge into the red tissue? I don’t know of a single one!

    Read the question from Allen above (and your answer) and you will know exactly what playing on the red is like for the vast majority of trumpet players. (I cannot speak for trombone players.) It doesn’t matter what the picture in the medical book looks like, Dave–this setting into the red tissue just doesn’t work very well on high brass. Horn players gave up einsetzen long ago. It is not recommended.

    Frank Gabriel Campos

    PS–Lee Morgan had chop troubles through much of his career. There are some takes with Wayne Shorter (Shorter Moments) where he is struggling to make a tone and one where quits half-way through a chorus.

    1. Hi, Frank.

      The point I am making is that the inner edge of the rim–the edge where the lip meets the metal on the inside of the cup–should not be set into the red tissue. That should be avoided at all costs.

      If by “red tissue” you mean the inner tissue of the lips, then we’re in agreement. If you mean the vermillion (the outer part of the lips that happens to be red), then I disagree that this is necessarily a problem.

      If you are saying that you recommend that brass players do this, then I believe you are taking a big stand that helps nobody.

      That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. What I wrote above is that when a player’s anatomical features make a particular placement correct for that individual then the amount of rim contact with the vermillion makes no difference, there’s nothing inherently damaging about this and for some players this is mechanically correct. I don’t recommend this for most players, but I don’t necessarily discourage it unless it’s clear that this isn’t correct for the particular player.

      Is there any major trumpet teacher or artist in the world that recommends setting the inner edge into the red tissue? I don’t know of a single one!

      I don’t know of any trumpet teachers or players who recommend setting on the inner tissue (inside of the lips) either, but there are plenty who allow placing on the vermillion as I’m describing here. Either way, an argument from popularity doesn’t make an idea correct.

      Lee Morgan had chop troubles through much of his career.

      Louis Armstrong didn’t place on the red and had chops problems too. Neither of our statements proves anything other than that some great players have chop troubles. These things are not necessarily caused by mouthpiece placement.

      Perhaps our disagreement is based on our definitions of “red” of the lips. The players who I show here (and elsewhere on my site) who place on the red are not placing on the inner membrane of the lips. Please also understand that I’m not recommending this for all players, just suggesting that it’s not necessarily something to discourage and certainly not “at all costs.”

      Thanks for clarifying.


  10. Hello, Dave. I play on the red of my lips (although just underneath the white skin, so close that you don’t see any red above the rim). Throughout my playing career, I’ve been quite successful, I’d say. I’ve toured Europe with an orchestra, am a current member of what’s considered Michigan’s finest youth orchestra and was accepted into a very good trumpet studio for college (I am currently a HS senior). I’ve always been told to change my embouchure. I’ve been working with my private lesson teacher about this and over the course of the past couple years, it’s gotten a lot better. Instead of playing so far in the red, a good 5 mm of red above the rim was showing, none is now showing. I’ve also become a much better trumpet player. However, I always get worried if my embouchure is hindering me. My endurance is pretty good, my tone, I think, is good, my technique is good, so I don’t know if I have to worry. But, with all that being stated, I find that after playing for a while and I get tired, I get a little bit of a double buzz in the D-E range just under top line F. My thought is that this is due to some fatigue (I play a lot in school and then when I come home), but could it be my embouchure? I noticed that when I relax, although it doesn’t go away, it’s better, and when I take maybe a day off after A LOT of playing, it’s better. What’s your take on the double buzz and my embouchure? Thank you a lot. And thank you for posting about embouchure stuff and a lot about bras playing; I love your site!


    1. Hi, Justin.

      What you describe isn’t uncommon for a lot of players, regardless of where they place the mouthpiece. That said, double buzz issues can be a person thing and what helps one player might be wrong for another. It could be that as you get tired you’re loosing control of your lower lip, or that your lips are fighting for predominance in that particular range and when you’re tired you can’t muscle them into place. I’d have to watch you play to be more specific.

      I have blogged and put together a video on the double buzz before. You can check it out here.

      Good luck!


  11. Hello Dave,
    Thank you so much for putting this all together. I’m a 9th grade trumpet player with braces who plays lead for my high school’s Jazz B band (we have three jazz bands). I’ve always worried about my mouthpiece placement because even though I can play Double G’s occasionally (Jazz A lead is a monster), due to me having a drastically unorthodox mouthpiece placement (far to the left and on the upper vermilion), people have accused me of using a “cheating” placement. Thanks to you, though, I can finally stop worrying about this because it’s been bothering me for so long. For awhile, I actually thought it was cheating simply because even the directors pointed it out (but they were still cool with it). I just really want to thank you for the hard work you put into writing this, but I have a question; as I mentioned earlier, I have braces. The reason I can play Double G’s with braces is because I’ve been practicing a lot (I hope to make a career out of trumpet playing), but before I had braces, I had a practically perfectly centered mouthpiece placement, and I was a pretty good trumpet player (but I didn’t have much to compare to at my school with so little people there), but nowhere near as good as I am now. Once I got braces in middle school, my placement stayed the same, but once I got into high school (I was in marching, concert 1, and Jazz band first semester), my placement slowly started shifting to where it is now. I’m not even sure if it’s done shifting, but the question I’ve been trying to ask is: why do you think it shifted so much? Thank you in advance for your reply.

    1. Hi, Connor. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts. As far as why your mouthpiece placement has shifted so much, it’s hard to say. Remember that when you were in middle school and with braces that you were still growing and your teeth were shifting around.

      Don’t worry so much about how it looks, but how it sounds and how well it works for you. Good luck!


      1. Wow, once again thanks for the quick reply. You sure know your stuff. Do you have any other articles about trumpet playing somewhere? I’ve been trying to find sources to help me out with pedal tones, tonguing, you know, all the “mainstream” things trumpet players practice.

  12. Hi Dave,

    Last year, I had a teacher point out that I’m playing in the red and that I needed to change it. I had never noticed it because I place the rim above the red of my lip, with the “bite” directly the red. He said that the main issue with this mouthpiece placement is that the upper lip will crawl out of the cup as you ascend. I noticed this is the case with me.

    I’ve been fairly successful with this mouthpiece placement. I played well in my high school ensembles and had really good college auditions (I’m going into my freshman year). However, I have always struggled with endurance and flexibility. The higher I play, the more my mouthpiece position slides down my upper lip. I can hardly get through a performance or practice session without getting seriously tired, and my upper lip feels really beaten up.

    I’m currently experimenting with a slightly higher placement. I can easily play in the center of pitch, and my flexibility and overall consistency have improved, but I lost some of my range (I can hardly play above the staff). The old placement and the new placement both seem to “work” for me. As you mentioned, each player has their own mouthpiece placement that works for their anatomy. If there really is one placement that will best suit my anatomy, I can’t tell where it is. How do I know which placement works best for me?

    I appreciate any insight you might have. Thanks for writing this article!

    1. Hi, Mark.

      I would need to watch you play up close to see if there’s anything I can suggest. In general, I recommend you place the mouthpiece where it works best for the upper register and learn to play the whole range with it there.

      It’s not uncommon for upstream players to have trouble with the top lip sliding off the mouthpiece. You want to find a good solid placement that provides support with the teeth and gums underneath and then also a good spot where you can get the “donut” of muscles encircling the rim and helping to hold it in place. Keep a little more weight on the lower lip too.

      That’s the best I can do without watching you play for now. Any chance you can take video footage?


  13. Hi Dave,

    I’m a small bore trombone player (3B w/7C) that originally used a very high placement embouchure. I disliked the tone/timbre it produced in middle and low range. After some embouchure experimentation, I found widening the aperture by playing on the red portion of the lips produced a more desirable tone in those ranges. I view the strengths and weaknesses of playing on the red as follows:

    1. Does not function in high range (above Ab in treble clef).
    2. There is less endurance.
    3. A lot of practice is needed adjusting to this embouchure.
    4. May not be practical on large bore instruments.

    1. Tone/timbre is more complex.
    2. Shifting is unnecessary.
    3. Natural slurs are relatively easy.

  14. Playing on the red is ill advised. Why? Physiology/biology. The lips are three to five cellular layers thick whereas, the skin just above the vermilion border is up to sixteen layers thick. This is a metal verses skin question. The more skin you can have as protection, the better off you are. If you read Gary Wertz’s stuff from Texas bands, he states that playing on the red is a deal killer. I tend to agree. Some will tell you it doesn’t matter and if it works, fine. But rarely does it work. My suggestion? If you advocate and play on the red, and prefer classical music, play some of the Bach Cello Suites. See how you feel afterwards. If you like jazz, play some Clark Terry or Maynard Ferguson and afterwards ask yourself how you feel. Think of playing “off” the red as taking advantage of some God given padding. The golden rule is: After playing, if the corners ache, that’s a good workout. If the lips hurt, that’s a bad thing. By monitoring this simple rule, a lot of the questions here will be answered.

  15. Well, as there are so many great players around who play on the red, upper or lower, I think it is funny with comments like this. If it works it works. Even after 50 years of playing.

  16. Dave sez: “Im not familiar with Wertz, but hes probably wrong”.
    Whew! I’m outta here. Play the way you want.

    1. Dave sez: Im not familiar with Wertz, but hes probably wrong.
      Whew! Im outta here. Play the way you want.

      Sorry, but I’ve never heard of Gary Wertz and a cursory search on the internet doesn’t give me any details. I think he’s probably wrong that it’s not a “deal breaker,” but since I can’t find any information about him or his views on embouchure I’m not even certain that you’re communicating Wertz’s views correctly.

      Regardless, writing that someone is “probably wrong” is in no way rude or disrespectful to Wertz or you. If you’d like to actually discuss the evidence and details I’m happy to continue. If you want to anonymously troll my blog, then I would appreciate that you do take your ball and go home.

  17. There aren’t any guidelines suggesting that playing on the red is, or isn’t a good thing. In fact, unless you’re playing a french horn mouthpiece, I don’t see how the trumpet rim can actually play on *both* lips with red being the predominant area of contact. In other words, if you do play on “red”, you’d be doing so on only one lip I would think. Having said that, arguing about playing on red vs. skin is kind of like worrying about whether a golfer’s little finger is making the appropriate contact with the club grip during his swing; it’s one of a calculus of factors and in my humble opinion, making *it* the prime factor is simply a red herring. As we know, the lips, the mouth cavity, the under/over bite, teeth spacing, aperture, air flow, tongue thickness, etc etc represent a synergy of dynamics all of whom must be ‘just right’ and in proper balance. In other words, a player with an ideal facial structure suitable at propelling air at high velocity through a tiny hole with little resistance would probably not have significant issues with playing on the red, while a player with poor musculature playing on the layers of skin would be compromised. Just my two cents…..

  18. If Mendez, Dr. Brian Shook, Gary Wurtz and a ton of others say “Don’t play on the red, then why would you advocate otherwise? Your picture of lips and mouthpiece placement is a picture of relaxed lips, not lips formed in a “m” or any other position that readies the lips to play. When a person looks at videos, Alison doesn’t play in the red, Hardenberger doesn’t play in the red so that leaves me with a question. What anatomy is needed in order to require a person to play in the red. What you are advocating is nonsense that you can’t support. Playing on the red will result in a thinner sound, sore lips, and decreased endurance. Trying to blow through plumbing is hard enough let alone trying to make music blowing through plumbing. The question is: What type of “anatomy” requires a trumpet player to play in the red and how do you separate anatomy from bad technique. I say bad technique because many famous trumpet players(who we admire) admittedly started out with bad embrochure technique. To name two, Freddie Hubbard and Louis Armstrong. They had injuries due to improper embrochure placement and had to learn all over again. What type of anatomy requires a person to play in the red. Please don’t say “large lips” because a quick glance at Wynton Marsalis and many others shoots down that idea. Its metal verses skin and metal always wins. Lips have around 3-5 cellular layers and above the vermillion border has as high as 16 cellular layers. Did you ever wonder why your lips are red? Because it doesn’t have as much skin!

    1. “asdfghj,” I want to give you the benefit of the doubt and give you a proper response, but that will take me more time than I have right now. Until then, I would like you to reconsider posting anonymously, as it makes you look like you’re just trolling and you raise some points that are worth consideration. Secondly, please check your spelling of “embouchure.” Your ideas will be taken more seriously if you spell it correctly.

      More to follow when I’ve got the time and inclination.

      1. As for my name, “asdfghj” it’s the first letters from all my children’s name in the order they were born. Hopefully that takes care of the trolling issue.

  19. You’re right, my post was a lot. Let me be more concise so you can be more precise in your response.
    The title of your blog “which you defend” is: Playing on the Red is Fine (as long as it fits your anatomy).
    My simple question is: When taking the human face and lips into consideration, what anatomical structure or situation would warrant a trumpeter to play on the red?
    In a nutshell, if a person plays great and plays on the red, it’s in spite of, not because of playing on the red.

  20. I have been playing trumpet for almost 8 years and for half of that time I didn’t notice that I was playing in the red on my top lip. It was until I got to high school and my band director told me I was playing in the red. I honestly kind of ignored it because it felt normal for me and it was like my comfortable spot to set my embourchure. I would always get pointed out and looked at and get made fun of because I played in the red. But once I got to college, I started taking private lessons and even my trumpet instructor told me I was playing in the red but he didn’t make me change my embourchure. He actually helped me improve it by doing air flow techniques, breathing exercises. I always thought about changing my embourchure but after reading this amazing article I decided not to and continue improving my embourchure. I’m currently on my 3rd year in college and I still play in the red but the top of the rim is down to the edge of my top lip. My trumpet instructor recommended me to get a Marchincewiz CG3 Trumpet Mouthpiece. It’s honestly a really good and comfortable Mouthpiece. My range and tone has been getting better and better ever since I started taking lessons.

    1. Thanks for leaving your comment, Matthew. I’m glad your teacher has been fine with leaving your placement alone. A lot of students in your situation have their embouchure ruined by ignorant teachers (even if we’ll-intentioned).


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