Back in October 2012 I conducted a pilot study to see whether it would be accurate to state that one could simply listen to a trumpet player and tell by sound alone whether or not that player placed the mouthpiece with a significant amount of rim on the vermillion of one lip. Since then the plugin I used to collect the participants’ answers is no longer being updated for WordPress and is no longer available, so you won’t be able to take the test that way. Furthermore, the original page I created to show the answers and videos to the participants after they took the test seems to have been lost into the aether. This page is my recreation of that post, but it’s been so long I don’t exactly recall how much I wrote there.
Since I’m writing this up now as a post I’m going to put the results below the “read more” fold. If you’re catching this post from the home page you won’t be able to see the results until you click that link, so try the survey out first and then come back to see how well you did.
All the embedded videos below are the same video with all six trumpet players. I set up each embedded video to start directly on the particular player, however.
Player A does not place the mouthpiece with rim contact on the red of the lips. This player can be typed as having a “medium high placement” embouchure type. Player A has a DMA in trumpet performance, experience performing with a military ensemble, and teaches trumpet at the collegiate level.An Examination of the Anatomical and Technical Arguments Against Placing the Mouthpiece on the Vermillion – David Wilken, 2012
Here is the video footage of Player A so you can see his mouthpiece placement. As I mentioned above, all the videos I’m posting here aren’t edited to show the exact moments that we get in the audio from the test, so keep that in mind.
As an aside, Player A had Bell’s palsy about a year prior to his participating in my embouchure research. He had stated at the time that he wasn’t quite feeling 100%, but he has since seemed to make a full recovery and returned to trumpet playing.
Player A was correctly identified by survey participants 63% of the time. Since his playing on this clip sounds fine and he doesn’t place on the red of the lip I assume that this higher percentage of correct guesses (the highest of all players) is largely due to survey participants assuming that if it sounds OK the mouthpiece placement must be not with the rim contacting the lip vermillion to any significant degree.
Player B places the mouthpiece on the red of the lower lip. This player can be typed as having a “very high mouthpiece placement” embouchure type. Player B has an advanced degree in trumpet performance, experience as a professional orchestral trumpet performer, and teaches trumpet at the collegiate level.An Examination of the Anatomical and Technical Arguments Against Placing the Mouthpiece on the Vermillion – David Wilken, 2012
It’s more often that teachers will advise brass musicians to avoid placing the rim directly on the red of the top lip. Player B places the mouthpiece rim right on the lower lip. I do feel that there are some anatomical differences between the top and bottom lip that make the top lip more prone to swelling than the lower lip. However, this is true for the entirety of the upper lip, not just the vermillion. This is why I like to suggest keeping a little more mouthpiece pressure on the bottom lip for all players.
That said, if the mouthpiece placement is inefficient for the brass musician there is going to be a tendency to compensate by using excessive mouthpiece pressure, regardless of where the placement is. And there are also other factors that can lead a brass musician to using excessive mouthpiece pressure that are unrelated to the mouthpiece contact on the rim of the vermillion. If we want to look empirically at the rim contact and its relationship to mouthpiece pressure we need to control for those confounding factors before we draw any conclusions.
Player B was correctly identified only 42% of the time, resulting in the least accurate guesses overall. Again, I attribute this to the bias that many of the survey participants had. Since Player B does place on the lower lip vermillion but sounds OK, many survey participants seem to have assumed that the mouthpiece placement would be off the red of the lips.
Player C places the mouthpiece on the red of the upper lip. This player can be classified as having a “low placement” embouchure type. Player C is a professional jazz trumpet player with military band experience. He has an advanced degree in music.An Examination of the Anatomical and Technical Arguments Against Placing the Mouthpiece on the Vermillion – David Wilken, 2012
Player C is interesting because he has the exact mouthpiece placement that many brass teachers say should be “avoided at all costs,” yet it’s clearly working very well for him. He’s a very solid lead trumpet player and also an excellent jazz soloist.
Player C was correctly identified as placing on the red of his lip 48% of the time, so this seems random chance. Players A and B, who were the most and least accurate guesses, but these were all still within the range of what we might expect from random chance overall.
Player D places the mouthpiece just barely right on the red of his upper lip. This player is a little unusual in that he is a “medium high placement” embouchure type who places on the red of his upper lip, but the rather large size of his lip vermillion makes this placement with more upper lip inside still have the rim contacting his upper lip in this way. Player D is a professional jazz trumpet player with experience performing with touring big bands. He has an advanced degree in music. He teaches music at the collegiate level.An Examination of the Anatomical and Technical Arguments Against Placing the Mouthpiece on the Vermillion – David Wilken, 2012
In addition to what I noted in my paper above about this trumpet player, Player D is interesting for a couple of reasons. Coincidentally, this trumpet player also had come down with Bell’s palsy about a year before participating in my embouchure research and similar to Player A hadn’t felt as if he had regained 100% of his embouchure function at the time. Also interesting is that this player had an embouchure breakdown many years after this video was recorded. It was determined that he was type switching between a “medium high placement” embouchure type (as he’s playing in this video) and a “very high placement” type. He’s since moved his placement up higher and is playing as a “very high placement” now.
The problems Player D had weren’t related to placing on the rim of the upper lip, per se, but that he needed to switch to a different embouchure type altogether.
Player D’s mouthpiece placement was accurately guessed 49% of the time.
Player E does not place the mouthpiece with rim contact on the upper or lower lip. This player can be classified as having a “very high placement” embouchure type. Player E has a DMA in trumpet performance. He plays lead and section big band jazz and also much classical. Player E teaches music at the collegiate level.An Examination of the Anatomical and Technical Arguments Against Placing the Mouthpiece on the Vermillion – David Wilken, 2012
Speaking of type switching, Player E was doing some type switching between “very high placement” and “medium high placement” at the time of recording this video. For Player E his issues weren’t being caused by an incorrect or changing mouthpiece placement, but reversing the direction of his embouchure motion between those two types.
Player E was accurately guessed only 43% of the time. From comments that I got from participants afterwards I gather that the issues you can hear in his playing made many of the survey participants assume that there must be an issue with his mouthpiece placement. An incorrect mouthpiece placement (for the individual) can cause issues like this, but in Player E’s case it was not related to his difficulties. It’s important to note that many things can work against a brass musician’s sound and range. When we are able to see the player at the same time our normal biases can get in the way of correct interpretation. In other words, if the player happens to place on the red and is struggling and if we’re already predisposed to assume that’s wrong we’ll remember it as confirming our bias. If it’s not, we forget the misses.
Player F does not place the mouthpiece so the rim contacts the red of the lips. This player can be classified as having a “very high placement” embouchure type. Player F has experience playing professionally in orchestra settings and has an advanced degree in trumpet. He teaches trumpet at the collegiate level.An Examination of the Anatomical and Technical Arguments Against Placing the Mouthpiece on the Vermillion – David Wilken, 2012
Player F was accurately guessed 59% of the time.
When averaged out, all 98 participants of my online survey scored at almost 52% accuracy, not even close to suggesting anything other than random chance. One participant scored all 6 correctly. No one got all wrong. You can see the entire chart in the appendix of my paper.
There are several issues with this study, so before you comment how the results aren’t completely scientific, I already know. That’s why this was a “pilot study” and self published. A more thorough study would want to apply some controls to who was allowed to participate in the survey (only experts, rather than folks who randomly came across the survey online) and would want to have more clips to listen to. There are some other controls that could have been applied to make it more rigorous, but ultimately I decided that doing so wouldn’t be worth the bother. If there were results that were outside of random chance in the pilot and they could have been recreated with more formal research it might have been tempting to do so. I honestly don’t feel that it would have gotten any different results.
Combined with the literature review I put together in my paper, I feel that we can safely state that it’s fine to place the mouthpiece on the lip vermilion, as long as that happens to be where it works best for the individual player. Brass musicians can’t really tell the difference by sound alone.
How did you do on the survey? Got a gripe with the conclusions I’ve drawn? Please leave your comments about this below, but please read the full paper and see if your criticism is addressed there first.