Embouchure Question

This question comes from “albrt2890” on one of my YouTube videos.

I am going into my third year of college as a music ed major. I teach private lessons as well. I do have a question though regarding the position of the mouthpiece on the lips. I have a student (f horn) who plays with a large amount of lower lip however when he descends into the lower register of the horn he changes his mouthpiece position so that he has more upper lip in the mouthpiece. Would it benefit him to try to play horn with the “Standard” embouchure through all ranges?

Like pretty much any question about embouchure issues, I’d have to see it.  Still, that’s an unsatisfying answer and since albrt2890 is learning to teach music, he/she probably wants to learn more about embouchures.  I’ll try to explain how and what I’d look for in a case like this.  That said, there are a lot of variables at work here (breathing, tonguing, all sorts of embouchure features, etc.) and something that I don’t mention here may completely change around the following suggestions.  Caveat emptor, or maybe more properly, this is free advice and you get what you pay for.  Take everything that follows with a grain of salt.

There are a couple of somewhat common situations that come to mind here.  First, some players will change to a different embouchure type for different ranges.  Or, some players are just altering their mouthpiece placement slightly for different ranges while not actually type switching.  I would recommend players avoid both these situations, but checking out which is going on and how to correct it depends on some different factors you need to look for.

If the player isn’t type switching, but still placing the mouthpiece slightly differently for different ranges, it’s a little easier to suggest a course of action.  This is most common with Very High Placement and Low Placement embouchure type players who place the mouthpiece at the extreme top or bottom of the lips.  These players tend to move their mouthpiece placement slightly closer towards the center of the lips for the lower register, but need to reset back to the extremely high or low placement for the high register.

Trumpet player Chris LaBarbara once described certain embouchure types like this as being similar to a muscle car.  When these players are “idling” in the low register their embouchure can run a little rough, but when these players get up into their upper register everything smooths out and their “engine purrs like a kitten.”

These extremely high or low placement players can learn to descend with their high range mouthpiece placement through practice on exercises that start in the upper register (even extremely high upper register) and descend first then come back up (upside down scales and chord arpeggios can work nicely).  Players should decrescendo to descend and accept a thinner sound at first.  Once they work out how to descend with compression they can begin to work on opening the sound up in their lower register.  It helps to understand the embouchure motion and what, if any, angular deviations in the track of the embouchure motion and horn angles are influencing things.

The other situation, when players are type switching between registers, is more problematic and tougher to deal with.  albrt2890’s horn student could be a Medium High Placement embouchure type who’s ascending embouchure motion, pulling the mouthpiece and lips together down, is causing him to actually slide the lips down to the Low Placement upstream embouchure type.  In this case, it would be best to have the student learn to play the upper register on the mouthpiece placement that is closer to the nose.  On the other hand, he could properly be a Low Placement embouchure type who’s embouchure sort of fits the muscle car analogy.  Getting him to play the entire range on the mouthpiece placement closer to the chin might be best.

Trying to work out which, if either, of these situations albrt2890’s student fits is impossible to say without seeing it.  In general, I’ve found that any player who does play with success as a Low Placement upstream embouchure type in the upper register probably should play their entire range with that embouchure.  Still, there are situations where a player is improperly switching to an upstream embouchure, so you have to keep an open mind and not lock your student into something that is going to make things harder.  One of those two embouchures will ultimately work best over the student’s entire range, so you’ll need to try to work out which (if either) it is.

To conclude, I should point out that with many players there are other issues that need to get fixed before their proper embouchure type becomes clear.  Young students who are still growing may find their embouchure adjusting to their changing physical characteristics.  Some players just don’t have the embouchure strength to accurately type their embouchure.  Breathing, tonguing, posture, slide position/fingerings, and other “mechanics” of brass playing also influence the embouchure and can make embouchure troubleshooting difficult until they are worked out as well.  You’ll have to decide what to fix and when, since you can’t fix everything at once.

Andy Hamilton

Hi there! Great blog and a very interesting question. I’m a horn player and student at the University of Northern Iowa, and am very interested in embouchures.

In my experience there comes a point in descending while playing the horn that a switch frequently occurs in the embouchure. The exact science behind why this occurs is not something I understand, but it is addressed in detail in Randy Gardner’s excellent book “Mastering the Horn’s Low Register.” Prof. Gardner’s recommendation is that a player learn to use the “low setting” to play higher than usual and likewise the “high setting” to play lower than usual. However he does say that at some point a break will occur, and provides various exercises and points to consider about developing that shift.

Excellent question and excellently thought-out response. Thank you both!


Hi, Andy.

My video “A Tubist’s Embouchure: A Case Studey” (https://www.wilktone.com/?p=234) shows a player with two breaks. One was in the middle of his range and causes him to chip notes a lot around the break. The other as his upper register. He needed to physically reset the mouthpiece to play above his usual high range cap.

I haven’t read Gardner’s book yet, but I believe that it’s better in the long term to learn to play your entire range on one embouchure, rather than constantly be practicing to disguise a break. Particularly if the break is in a register that you play in a lot. There’s also some anecdotal evidence that over the long term players like this may develop some serious issues later. (https://www.wilktone.com/?p=111 for another one that discusses this in part).

Thanks for you comments!


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