Embouchure Consultations: How To Ask For and Get My Help

As I’m trying to get caught up on some of the brass embouchure questions I’ve been emailed I thought it would be helpful to put together a single resource about how to ask for, and get, my help. Too often folks will contact me for help and I simply have to reply that I’d have to watch them play (preferably in person) to offer any advice. That said, there are some things that people can do that will help me get an idea of what’s going on so that at the very least I can speak generally, if not more specifically.

1. I have to see it.

Unlike some other folks’ approaches that either have a one-size-fits-all approach or even dismisses embouchure issues as related to breathing or use of the tongue, I really need to watch you play in order to understand what’s going on. Every individual has a different face, so every player has a different embouchure. Although there are certain patterns that you can learn to recognize, even players that have a similar embouchure type will have unique issues that can make what they need to work on different. There’s no way around this point, I have to be able to watch you play.

I don’t teach video lessons, and I’m skeptical of anyone who does. Having taken some long distance lessons myself as well as met with folks informally via Skype to try to help out with embouchure issues many times before, I know how incredibly difficult it is doing a video conference in place of an in person lesson. However, I suppose it’s better than nothing in circumstances where a knowledgable teacher isn’t available for some reason or another. Unfortunately, my schedule is usually busy enough that I really can’t afford to take a couple of hours out of my time to meet with players via a video conference, particularly since I refuse to take any money for this.

A temporary compromise is for you to video tape your embouchure for me playing some things and let me take a look. Sometimes I can spot right away what a player is doing and give very particular advice, so it’s worth taking 30 or 60 minutes to video tape your embouchure and let me get a closer look.

First of all, if you’re having a particular issue (trouble with range, a double buzz, difficulty holding a steady pitch, etc.) I need to see what it looks like when that happens. This may seem like a no brainer, but I’ve lost count of how many times someone has gotten in touch with me about problems with their upper register only to send me video footage of them playing in the middle and low register only. In order to correct problems we need to diagnose what’s going on when things work wrong, so please try to video tape it.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, problems in one register can sometimes be caused not by how you’re playing in that register but by something you’re doing in a different register. Additionally, there are sometimes other issues that I would consider a priority before any sort of correction to your specific problem can be addressed. I also need to see how you’re playing over your entire playable range. Octave slurs are a great thing for this because it also gives me a very clear look at not just how you’re playing a pitch, but also how you’re changing pitches. Here is a basic set of octave slurs that should help give an idea what I like to observe.

The specific pitches are less important than getting slurs that span over your entire range.

Take video that is close up enough that all that is mostly visible is the overall embouchure area, including the chin, mouth corners, cheeks, etc. Take a look at some of the embouchure videos I’ve created and you’ll get a good idea of the angles and how close I’d like it to be. Also please try to get views from both the front and sides (although with trombonists it can be hard to get a view of the left side because the horn gets in the way, that’s fine).

Rather than emailing the video file to me directly, post it someplace so I can download it when I’m ready to take a look at it. Large files as email attachments are sometimes inconvenient if I have to wait for them to download while I’m trying to take care of other business online.

Sure, if you have some general questions or just can’t get video posted for me to watch, feel free to contact me anyway. Just don’t be surprised if my response is, “I have to see it.”

2. Describe your specific questions in some detail.

Are there certain situations that make your issues more problematic? Did you notice these issues after a particularly demanding playing schedule or change of equipment? What does it feel like? Give this some careful consideration and give me as many clues as you can think of. Sometimes these things are irrelevant, but at other times they can help me come up with an idea that I won’t get from watching your video alone.

3. Be patient and polite.

I tend to stay pretty busy with teaching, performing, composing/arranging, conducting, blogging, social obligations, etc. As much as I’d like to help everyone out as quickly as possible, please also keep in mind that I do this stuff for a living. Because I don’t feel that this sort of consultation is worth charging you money for, you’ll need to wait for me to have enough time to give your questions the attention it deserves. Believe it or not, it can take quite a while to look through your questions and video and compile my best response.

If you don’t hear back from me in a couple of weeks or so, please feel free to drop me another line and update me on your issues. Like many of us, sometimes my email inbox piles up or I accidentally delete your message or otherwise forget. A polite reminder is helpful for me.

I hesitate a bit to bring this next point up, but I do get bothered by how often I spend a couple of hours or more going through video and putting together what I hope are thoughtful and helpful recommendations only to never get a thank you back. A quick reply to acknowledge you got my message goes a long way to me. If my suggestions don’t make sense or aren’t helping, let me know and I’ll see what I can figure out. No response at all, however, makes me less inclined to help you (and other folks) out in the future.

4. Don’t expect too much.

The way I teach really doesn’t lend itself to long-distance consultation. If your situation is interesting enough to me I will sometimes try to arrange a video conference to help you out, but even this is really a less than ideal way to diagnose and troubleshoot embouchure issues. There have been times where I have been able to help players, but there have also been times where I just couldn’t figure out what was going on. On a couple of occasions I’ve tried to help someone online and though I had come up with some good suggestions only to meet with the player in person and changed my mind. More frequently I’ve offered suggestions that the player didn’t fully grasp online and when we met in person I was able to get them pointed in the right direction. Online correspondence is just not conducive for this sort of teaching.

Maybe I can help you. Sometimes I can’t. Be prepared for the possibility that what I recommend isn’t going to work for you.

5. Please don’t contact me via YouTube.

If you’re reading this you’ve already discovered my blog. Many brass players will see my videos posted on YouTube and either ask questions in the comments there or via a YouTube message. While I usually see those (eventually) and try to get around to replying to them, YouTubes comments form and message features are really inconvenient enough for me that I’m likely to not get around to responding to you. The best two ways to get my attention are to either contact me here or leave your question in the comments section on a relevant blog post here.

Don’t let all the above discourage you. Brass embouchures happens to be a topic that I am passionately fascinated about and it’s really quite easy to get me to virtually talk your ear off about it. Simply dropping me a line or leaving a comment on a post here about your questions is usually enough to get me interested and I’ll do my best to give you all the help I can (eventually).

11 thoughts on “Embouchure Consultations: How To Ask For and Get My Help

  1. Dave,
    I’m interested in help with my embouchure. I studied with Don Reinhardt in the late 60’s and 70’s – I would have to say not too successfully. At the time he diagnosed me as a 3B. I think this was and is probably correct but I never learned how to play well in the high register. I play a lot of shows and my lead performance is disappointing – at least to me. I am willing to travel to you though it might take me a while to schedule.
    I look forward to your reply.

  2. Hi, Warren.

    I need to watch you play to help, of course. If you ever are around DC, I recommend you try to meet with Doug Elliott, my teacher, for a lesson.


  3. Hi Dave

    I’m an upstream player and have played a number of brass instruments including trumpet, baritone and tuba. I’ve noticed that I consistently play sharp on all of them, so need to pull the slides nearly all the way out to be in tune. Try as I might I don’t seem to be able to lip or blow the notes into tune. Can you suggest what might be causing this? Have you noticed whether particular embouchure types are associated with a tendency to play consistently sharp or flat?

    Kind regards
    Greg Campbell

    1. Hi, Greg.

      In order to say for sure I’d have to be able to watch you play, but I’ve had a similar thing that I’ve worked with where my embouchure motion and horn angle are consistently too far towards my ascending direction. Even though I could get the pitch in tune, it has a sound quality that seems “sharp.” Bringing my embouchure motion towards the low end and making sure that my horn angle doesn’t go in that direction has not only helped my sound and intonation, but also other aspects of my playing too. If you’re aware about your embouchure motion and horn angle tendencies it might be worth experimenting with.

      If you can take video and post it let me know and I’ll shoot you an email and check it out.


  4. Hi Dave

    Thanks for your comments. I think you are right – I tend to overdo the embouchure motion on occasion which also causes the air flow to become pinched as I move into the high register. It’s a fine balance between allowing the motion to happen and overdoing it. By the way, when I first learned to play, my teacher told me that my embouchure should not move at all when I ascended, which as you can imagine caused me grief for years. It’s a bit hard for me to do a video at the moment but I’ll see whether I can do one soon.

    Your website is a fabulous resource for brass players and I wish more people, especially teachers, knew about it!

    Best, Greg

  5. Hi Dr. Wilken,

    I am a very serious horn player, and I will be a high school junior this coming year. I am an upstream player with a significant underbite, and I place the mouthpiece about 90% on my lower lip. I have rather recently been having trouble where my sound cuts out in my mid-upper register to the point where it feels like my lips are not vibrating properly at all. I have also had problems with my mouthpiece slipping down off of my upper lip, leading me to have a trumpet rim made compatible with my mouthpiece for traction. May I send you footage of my embouchure? Also, are you available for lessons if the video footage seems inconclusive? Thank you!


    1. Hi, Jonah.

      Sure, I’ll take a look at video of your embouchure and see what I can tell from that. Once I get an idea, maybe I can also recommend a teacher nearer to you than I might happen to be.


  6. My 15 year old son has been struggling with lip pain for 10 months. He had started playing the trombone a little over one year ago. He had been playing several hours per day and started having lip pain last fall. He’s been to his primary doctor twice and a neurologist. Nothing was found. I’ve made calls to speech and physical therapists but no one knows who the specialist would be for his issues. He has been on a break from playing the trombone for 2 months now. He still reports pain and now doesn’t want to talk much or smile due to fear of continued injury to his lips. He is isolating himself from friends. He loves music and wants to get back to playing. Thanks for your time. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

    1. Ryan, I’m glad you’ve already consulted with medical professionals, which is always my first suggestion. I don’t know how likely it is for him to still feel pain after 2 months off. It’s possible that the initial trigger or damage was trombone playing, but I would think that after 2 months it should at least be feeling better.

      Without being able to watch him play I can’t say whether something in his trombone technique was off and if that is what originally hurt his lips.

      There are medical professionals who specialize in treating injuries among performing artists, but that might be an extreme consultation for a high school age student playing for a year.

      Other than the above, I’m afraid I don’t have any other suggestions I can offer. Good luck!


  7. Dear Dr. Wilken,

    I am an amateur trombone player, 59 years of age. I play in local orchestras and attend music camps for adults. I thought I was being careful with practising- I usually play up to 2 hours a day but in 15 minute blocks.
    I’ve never had any lip pain; however, at a recent concert my lip started to tremor in an uncontrollable manner. I could barely get through the selection. The notes were in the medium register but sustained and quiet. The next piece was fine (faster tempo, more shots etc.). I didn’t think I was nervous but do you think nerves could have caused the tremor? I can play the same passage at home with no tremors. My initial worry was that I might have focal dystonia which terrified me. I’ve been working on breathing and trying to reduce stress and tension but could that take over during a performance setting? This was a quintet setting so I was more exposed than in a larger ensemble. Thank you.

  8. Janice, I’d need to see how you play to be able to offer you any specific advice. If you can post video recording of your playing (see the post above for what I’d want to see), I’ll take a look.


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