Embouchure 101 Part 9A – Case Study One

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.

This tubist is the first example I used in this series. At the time of these video recordings he was an undergraduate music student majoring in jazz piano. He attended an arts magnet school for high school where he majored on tuba.

The below video illustrates some of the issues I noticed and how I came to my eventual recommendation that he learn to play as a Low Placement embouchure type. The video clips are drawn from a couple of different sessions I had the opportunity to record him.

The first clip shows his air stream direction flip. Above the middle C his embouchure functions like a downstream one and below it is upstream. The middle C happens to be right at the point where his lips begin to fight for predominance inside the mouthpiece. You can see and hear this break point makes it hard for him to slot the pitch in tune. I asked him to play the two octave slurs again softer at 0:43. He has to work harder to slur across his break. At 0:55 I asked him to try some two octave slurs on E. At first he was mishearing the pitch in his head and playing a G, but watch his mouthpiece placement as he tries to make things work. He makes a number of small shifts in his placement, often while inhaling. This unconscious shifting of mouthpiece placement can happen with a lot of players and seems to be common for players struggling to find their most efficient mouthpiece placement.

You can hear as he tries to make the high E slurs that he can’t quite get up there. A downstream brass embouchure at this point would usually peter out gradually and become softer and thinner while ascending. This tubist’s high range seems to just hit a cap.

Even without the huge clue this tubist provides beginning around 1:14 in the video, it is apparent that the downstream embouchure is not working well for the upper register. Unfortunately the camera began focusing on the wall behind him just as he placed the mouthpiece more correctly for a Low Placement embouchure type, but the footage that follows shows it clearly. He comments then that while it feels easier to play in his upper register as an upstream player, he was advised against it before.

Some experiments with using a Low Placement embouchure type follow. It shows that he is able to play with this embouchure type in all ranges. At around 2:13 in the video he plays G above high C. This particular mouthpiece placement, as low as it looks, is probably the best placement for him to play his entire range on. The video clip finishes with an exercise I had him try. I instructed him to start softly on a high range with a mouthpiece setting that worked best for that high range and then descend a bit, slur back up, descend a bit more, slur back up and continue. I think he was feeling a little bit frustrated at this point and a bit bored. He would derive a bit more benefit from this exercise by playing softer and if he needs to breathe to keep everything set for the high register.

In the case of this tubist I felt that the Low Placement type was correct for him because I could see an immediate benefit to his high range and that keeping everything upstream for both his lower register and upper register eliminates his embouchure break. The difficulty in making a correction like this is developing the ability to hold the lower lip in its correct position as there can be a tendency for it to come out too far into the mouthpiece. Players who should be playing as a Low Placement embouchure type often struggle with controlling their middle and low register at first. Exercises that start in their upper register and take them down can help with making their Low Placement embouchure work over their entire range. It’s better for them to practice this while playing soft and to allow the tone to be thin at first.

This tubist was originally reluctant to make a change to a Low Placement embouchure. Part of that may be related to his prior instruction. He had trouble accepting that redeveloping control in his middle and low register with a Low Placement embouchure would work better in the long term compared to continuing on as he was. At the time I recorded his embouchure he was also already moving away from tuba and concentrating on piano. I’ve lost touch with him now, but he was already an excellent jazz pianist and his plans at the time were to concentrate his studies on that instrument.

Proceed to 9B, Case Study Two.

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