This is part of a series of articles meant to be read in order. In order to understand this topic you’ll want to start at the beginning.
The first embouchure type I’ll discuss seems to be the most common. It’s so prevalent that many “schools” of brass pedagogy recommend its characteristic mouthpiece placement. Because the typical mouthpiece placement is much more upper lip inside, this type can be nicknamed the “Very High Placement” embouchure type. Players belonging to this embouchure type have a downstream embouchure and their embouchure motion is to push up to the nose to ascend and pull down towards the chin to descend.
The above trombonist places the mouthpiece on the lips quite high and close to the nose. Because of the predominance of upper lip inside you can easily note the air stream gets blown downward, below the shank of the mouthpiece.
Downstream players who have an embouchure motion of pushing the lips and teeth together up towards the nose to ascend will usually have a mouthpiece placement similar to the photo above, very high on the lips and close to the nose. Because of this typical mouthpiece placement, this embouchure type can be labeled as the Very High Placement embouchure type.
Let’s take a look at some different players belonging to the Very High Placement brass embouchure type and look for these playing characteristics.
The above trumpet player is a good example of a Very High Placement embouchure type. His mouthpiece placement his quite a bit more upper lip inside than lower lip and his embouchure motion (up to ascend, down to descend) is also very easy to spot.
His placement is high enough on his lips that you can see the mouthpiece rim is placed right on the vermillion (red) of his lower lip. While some brass methods argue against rim contact on the lip vermillion, there is no anatomical reason why this is incorrect. As long as the player’s anatomy makes such a high placement work best it is probably better to allow a brass student to place the mouthpiece like this.
This trumpet player has some angular deviations in the direction of his embouchure motion. It looks to me as if he is mostly pushing straight up towards the nose to ascend, but pulling down and towards his right to descend. I had him experiment with the track of his embouchure motion and his horn angle a bit at around 2:00 in the video. Unfortunately I didn’t get much of his lower jaw in the frame. It’s typical for players who move the jaw slightly to one side to change registers to have an opposite horn angle change. For example, descending would involve the jaw moving slightly to the right what the horn angle moves slightly to the left.
The above trombonist has the the typically high mouthpiece placement (close to the nose) and a horn angle that is close to straight out with the jaw positioned so the teeth are alined. He also pulls the mouthpiece and lips down to descend and pushes them up towards the nose to ascend.
You can also see that his overall lip formation isn’t as firm as more successful brass players and it seems to be affecting his tone, endurance, and flexibility. As an experiment, I asked him to free buzz. You can see that as he free buzzes his lip formation is much firmer and looks closer to the more successful examples. As he buzzes into the mouthpiece and instrument his lip formation looks great, but he was still having difficulty keeping his embouchure firm during the slur down. Slurring back up with a collapse embouchure formation like this is harder than keeping the lips firmed in all registers.
The above trombonist is also an example of the Very High Placement embouchure type. His embouchure motion of pushing the mouthpiece and lips together up towards the nose to ascend and pulling down towards the chin to descend is quite easy to spot. His mouthpiece placement is around 2/3 upper lip inside and the clips with him playing into the transparent mouthpiece show his upper lip predominates and the air stream is blown downward as he plays.
He also has a somewhat unstable embouchure formation. Notice how as he descends into the low register he has a tendency to pull his upper lip upward out of the mouthpiece. In some of the clips you can even see his upper lip sliding out of the mouthpiece. Many players with a Very High Placement will find that bringing the mouthpiece placement closer to half and half makes it easier to play in the low register, but as you can note from this video it makes it difficult to slur back up out of the low register. I suspect that it is best for players with this issue to set the mouthpiece in the higher placement, where it works best for their upper register, and practice descending without changing the placement. By fine tuning their embouchure motion and whatever horn angle changes might be appropriate (along with good breath control and tongue position, etc.) they can learn to play in the low register without resorting to changing mouthpiece placement or pulling their upper lip out of the mouthpiece.
The above trombonist is another good example of the Very High Placement type. His mouthpiece placement has much more upper lip inside the mouthpiece and his embouchure motion of pushing up to ascend and pulling down to descend is very clear. He has a bright and clear sound that is anecdotally characteristic of Very High Placement embouchure type players.
One interesting feature to look for with the above trombonist are the air pockets that develop under his lower lip as he ascends into his extreme upper register. Because these air pockets are forming so close to his mouth corners I suspect that they are interfering with his overall embouchure technique. It’s probably best to keep air pockets out from behind the lower lip.
Also take note of how he collapses his embouchure formation to descend to the pedal Bb. Slurring back up without resetting on this embouchure formation is difficult. I feel it would be better for him to work on descending while keeping the mouth corners firm and mouthpiece pressure more consistent.
Very High Placement horn players are very easy to find. Most horn method books teach the 2/3 upper lip mouthpiece placement as the “correct” one for horn and the historical tradition has made many horn players quite adamant that all horn players should use this embouchure type. Remember that it’s the player’s anatomy that determines which embouchure type is going to work best, not instrument.
That said, the above video shows a good example of a successful Very High Placement embouchure type horn player. He has the characteristic high mouthpiece placement and the embouchure motion of pushing up to the nose to ascend and pulling down to descend.
His embouchure motion has a track that isn’t straight up and down. As he ascends he pushes the mouthpiece and lips together upwards and slightly towards his right side. But because he rests the bell of his horn on his leg, the angle of his instrument is locked in place. Remember that the teeth and gums aren’t perfectly flat, but have some curvature. Angular deviations in the direction of the embouchure motion almost always seems to also require some horn angle change to the side as well in order to keep a consistently correct feeling of rim contact against the teeth and gums. I had him experiment with changing the horn angle as he played octave slurs, both to ascend and descend. I included the experiment that was opposite of my suggestion for him in the clip (bringing his horn angle to his left side to ascend) for comparison. Listen for intonation and tone as he worked on octave slurs bringing his horn angle to his right to ascend and towards his left to descend. While it was an unfamiliar way for him to play, I believe that after getting used to how his embouchure motion and horn angles relate that it would allow for better embouchure technique for this player.
This last example is another trumpet player. Like the others, he has the characteristic high placement and the embouchure motion of pushing up to ascend and pulling down to descend. Somewhat atypical, however, is his horn angle, which is much more receded than the other examples. While most Very High Placement embouchure type brass musicians will play best with their teeth aligned and a horn angle close to straight out, some will prefer a lower horn angle. You’ll be able to see when he changes to his own mouthpiece that he has had the shank bent so that he can bring the bell of the trumpet up more while still playing with the lowered horn angle. It seems that a lowered horn angle helps some Very High Placement players darken their tone, but I’m not certain that it is always the best option for Very High Placement players.
At around 0:55 into the video he descends into the trumpet pedal register. Notice that in order to get out these false tones he resorts to opening up his embouchure formation so much that air leaks from the sides as well as pulling his mouthpiece pressure way back. This is typical for trumpet players practicing in the pedal register and because this doesn’t relate to how brass embouchures should function in the rest of the range, I generally discourage trumpet players from practicing in this register – particularly if they resort to these techniques.
Beginning around 2:07 into the video you can see how this trumpet player’s embouchure motion, horn angle change, and jaw manipulation work together in the upper register. As he ascends he pushes up and to his right side. His horn angle also changes and moves slightly to his right as well, following the shape of his teeth and gums, while his lower jaw moves slightly towards his left side. This combination of the horn angle and jaw motion moving in opposite direction seems to be correct for players with an embouchure motion track that is off to one side – provided that they do so consistently and don’t allow these characteristics to reverse direction or do so excessively in one register.
After watching the above videos carefully you should be able to recognize other brass musicians whose embouchures belong to the Very High Placement type. They all have similar mouthpiece placements and the general direction of their embouchure motion is always up to ascend and down to descend. Horn angle tends to be close to straight out and the teeth generally are more or less aligned with each other. Some players will have a lowered horn angle and have their lower jaw slightly receded. Usually bringing the jaw forward and the horn angle up will help Very High Placement players, but in some (less common) cases it may be better to keep the horn angle a bit lower than straight out.
Even player’s belonging to the same embouchure type will have their own unique idiosyncrasies. Some players will place the mouthpiece very high on the lips (right under the nose for some low brass players). Others will have a mouthpiece placement that is lower on the lips, but they will still have more upper lip inside and blow the air stream downward. Mouthpiece placement may be off to one side or another and the direction of the embouchure motion can similarly be angled off to the sides.
Players belonging to the Very High Placement brass embouchure type tend to have a brighter tone and an easier time developing their upper register. Conversely, these players may have more difficulty in their low range and playing their low range in a consistent way compared to the rest of their range. For brass musicians of this embouchure type the lip compression can be though of more of an isometric “holding the lips in position” phenomenon, rather than “pinching” the lips.
Some Very High Placement type players will play in their low range by collapsing their embouchure formation, rather than keeping their embouchure firm and descending with the proper embouchure motion. Dropping the jaw to descend also is risky for these players, as it tends to pull the mouthpiece placement down off the optimal spot on the top lip. Both collapsing the embouchure formation and dropping the jaw to descend are a reversal in the musician’s embouchure form (the jaw doesn’t close up to ascend, or at least shouldn’t) and playing this way can affect their playing other parts of their range if not minimized or eliminated.
Many Very High Placement brass embouchure players will find that a larger rim size helps them to correct playing their low range inconsistently with the rest of their range. They usually can also play just as well, if not better, in the high range with larger rims.
One thing to note about Very High Placement type players is that they often will find free buzzing a pitch and bringing the instrument to their lips while buzzing to be a helpful exercise. Sometimes when Very High Placement brass musicians try this out they find that the mouthpiece placement “wants” to end up in a different spot from where they normally play. This may be an indication that the mouthpiece placement should be in that spot, even if it doesn’t feel comfortable at first. Look also for the position of the jaw and the horn angle as the brass student buzzes into the instrument and see if there is any difference from how they normally play. The quality of the sound and the intonation can offer clues here, but in general with Very High Placement types it would be better to sacrifice tone and low range for the high range at first. If the lip compression necessary for the high range is there, work with the student to bring this placement into the low range correctly (using the optimal embouchure motion, rather than collapsing the embouchure formation and dropping the jaw). From there, work on opening up the sound.
Very High Placement embouchure type brass musicians will probably find they don’t need as much time to warm up, compared with other players. It can be very helpful for them to spend practice time working in the extreme ends of their range. They will want to practice playing in their upper register to build embouchure strength and control and practice playing their low register correctly to keep their embouchure form consistent.
For more information about the Very High Placement embouchure type, including some more examples, look here.
Questions, comments, and corrections to this resource can be posted here.