Embouchure Difficulties – Spot the Cause

Many brass musicians have had embouchure breakdowns, including some very exceptional players. So it should come to no surprise that a mediocre player, like myself, can run into some issues with embouchure technique. This in spite of my interest in brass embouchure technique and almost 25 years of study in embouchure form and function.

For years I’ve had some nagging difficulties that have caused some problems in my playing. I’m usually able to muscle my way through them, especially after warming up for a while, but I haven’t been fixing the mechanical problems, only getting good at covering them up. This is actually quite common. What’s strange is that I know exactly what I’m doing wrong and what I should be doing, it’s just been a bear to make the corrections happen consistently.

Recently I’ve decided to make it a priority to fix these problems. Since at the current time we’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I don’t have any serious performing obligations so this is a good time to get this done. I’ve been catching some video lessons from my mentor, Doug Elliott, who has been guiding me through an interesting embouchure experiment that has helped solidify things for me. But before I post about that I want to give the masses a chance to see my problems manifest and make your best guess as to what you think is going wrong. Then, offer your hypothetical advice.

Can you spot the mechanical issues? How would you fix them with a student? Post your thoughts in the comments here. On Monday I’ll post what Doug and I figured out was happening and the experiment we tried that eventually made for good improvements.

Daniel Thomas

Hi Dave, couldn’t resist rising commenting on this, my first comment despite visiting your site for many years! I’ve experienced something similar in my practice which has only appeared in my playing since rehearsals and gigs stopped for lockdown, and I’m more than happy to offer some hypothetical musings…

Lockdown has taught me some interesting things about my face, mainly how much I relied on rehearsals and gigs for stamina and strength; I’m a brass band euphonium player, so my face used to get a pretty decent workout three or four times a week. High register for me seems to be a balance of muscles rather than pure strength in the corners as I’ve seen some folks describe, and when I hear that stressed tone in my sound in the high register, or ‘airshots’ and mis-productions, that seems to be a side effect of the muscles being uncoordinated or weak/strong in different areas. My weakness manifests as my embouchure getting too tense in the middle and over-closing, inhibiting vibration and causing stressed sounds and poor production. I think as players we tend to confuse ease with strength, and it’s not our chops becoming stronger that make us “better,” but them becoming more efficient. As for a solution, I enjoy using basics to fix my problems. I try not to place too much concentration on my chops as it almost always gets worse when I start to consciously mess with them, probably due to ignorance! My favourite approach is to back off and return to the simple stuff, long notes, simple flexibilities, scales etc, then gradually try and expand them over time, and I would most likely do a similar thing with students, depending on their issues, playing level, and playing demands of course.

Interested to hear what you make of my ideas, and if you think they are erroneous or misinformed; I’m always looking to try and improve my understanding of this stuff!

Regards,
Dan

Dave

Hey, Dan. Thanks for finally posting!

What you write makes sense, but it’s not quite the issue that the above video demonstrates. If you’re curious, we’re talking about this video on the Trombone Chat web site and you can jump ahead there if you want. https://trombonechat.com/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=19286

Otherwise, I have a post scheduled on Monday that will go over what I’ve been doing to make corrections and how those have worked.

Dave

Bruce McKinnon Jr

This is all FANTASTIC STUFF Dave! I’m really glad I found this today and all this content you have up on your site!

I’ve been playing around with the 3 main embouchure types today and I feel I’m a bit more lost than before. Where do I start in terms of finding the approach that my anatomy is suited for?

Dave

Hi, Bruce.

I’m glad you find it interesting. It’s pretty difficult to do any embouchure typing or troubleshooting on your own chops, particularly if you’re new to it. This post is a testament to that statement, since I had been aware of the issue for years and still was struggling with making a permanent correction to it at the time.

If you’re able to take video recording of your playing similar to the angle and positioning of the videos I’ve posted I am willing to take a look and type your embouchure. Sometimes it’s pretty obvious, but other times it’s not clear and you need to do some careful experimentation to make sure you’re getting the correct embouchure type.

Dave

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