Embouchure 101 Part 9B – Case Study Two

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 example is also one I’ve shown earlier. He was working as a professional trumpet player. He was complaining of difficulties playing in the upper register, an issue he always had. The video clips are from a single session. Watch and listen him play the octave slurs at the beginning of the video. Can you tell what embouchure type he is?

While only watching him play octave slurs from middle C to low C I would type him as a Very High Placement embouchure type. You can see his embouchure motion of pulling down and to his left to descend and pushing up and to his right to ascend. There’s a slight loosening of the mouth corners to descend, but he firms them up again an instant later. It’s pretty common for players to do that and while excessive loosening of the mouth corners would want to be minimized or eliminated, I wouldn’t prioritize the way he descends to low C.

But ascending above middle C looks different. It looks like he’s switched the direction of his embouchure motion and pulling down to ascend from middle C to high C. On high C his mouth corner form shifts again, slightly pulling back. Watching the two octave slurs from low C to high C you can see definite inconsistencies in embouchure form.

Like the tubist I used in the previous case study, this trumpet player’s embouchure type is switching between types. Instead of an air stream direction transition point he has a transition between his embouchure working like a Very High Placement type in the low register and a Medium High Placement type in his upper register. It would be better for him to play with a single embouchure type for his entire range. But which type do you think will work best for him?

The above video shows an experiment you can try to look for where on the track of the embouchure motion a particular note slots best and what horn angle might be optimal there too. I asked him to hold a middle C out while I physically moved his horn angle and embouchure motion around. I’m intentionally moving them in extremely far directions at first, while listening to tone, intonation and where the pitch stops or switches to another note. If the intonation goes sharp, then that’s a clue that the change I’m making may be the correct embouchure motion or horn angle adjustment to ascend. If the pitch goes flat, then perhaps that embouchure motion and angle change will be correct for this player to descend. When the tone opens up, then maybe I’ve found the perfect spot on the track of his embouchure motion and the correct horn angle for that particular note.

In this video, pushing his mouthpiece and lips up (sometimes by bringing the bell down) seems to raise the pitch while pulling them down seems to lower it. The exaggerated angle changes let me hear where his limits are and then I tried to minimize them and find the dead center of where everything seemed to line up.

I grabbed two freeze frames from that experiment to point out where he started when I first asked him to play a C and where I felt the best sound was. His head came up some by the end too (not a bad thing), but I think the horn angle ended up slightly higher at the end too. I did this same experiment asking him to play a few other notes too.

If you decide to try this experiment out with a student, you will want to make sure he or she isn’t following your angle changes by moving their head. It’s also important for the lips to be firmed and enough mouthpiece pressure to feel the foundation of the teeth and gums underneath. You can try to ask the student to just make these changes themselves, if they are able to. Sometimes it’s just faster and easier to do it yourself.

I wanted to try to definitively work out this trumpet player’s embouchure type by discovering which embouchure motion was going to be the correct one. Based on what I had seen with having him hold different pitches out and trying out the above experiment, I felt that his embouchure might function best as a Very High Placement embouchure type. To confirm I asked him to play some slurs and try playing them as both a Very High Placement type and Medium High Placement type.

The first clip I asked him to slur from middle C up to the G above and didn’t tell him anything. It’s really hard to see any embouchure motion at all. At 0:22 I asked him to make the same slurs and to consciously think about pushing the mouthpiece and lips together up towards the nose, as a Very High Placement embouchure type player would do. It starts out hard to tell, but after he takes a breath and continues he catches the embouchure motion on the correct spot and the G opens up and becomes more in tune. Just to be sure, I asked him to use a Medium High Placement embouchure motion and pull down to ascend. Beginning at 0:41 you can see and that experiment. The intonation on the high G is flat and the tone not as good.

Beginning at 0:53 I took the time to make sure that he hear and feel the difference between no intentional embouchure motion and consciously trying the two general directions. He compared all three back to back, starting with how he normally would play, followed by the Very High Placement embouchure motion (up to ascend) and then the Medium High Placement embouchure motion (down to ascend). He agreed that pushing up to ascend sounded better and made it easier to play.

The next step I took was to see what would happen in his upper register. I asked him to again try out the different embouchure motions, ascending from middle C to high C. Beginning at 1:15 above are some of the first attempts. Pushing up to ascend like a Very High Placement type hadn’t yet really clicked for him at this point, but you can hear and see how much harder he has to work to pull down like a Medium High Placement.

At this point I think I was pretty sure that his embouchure would work best as a Very High Placement embouchure type, but even players of the same embouchure type have differences in how they play best. The next video shows some of the process of how to fine tune his embouchure motion to work better in the upper register.

At the beginning of the following video I had asked him to make the ascending slur while pushing up and to his left. Then I asked him to think of pushing straight up, followed by up and to his left. What do you notice?

It’s not definitive, but to my ears pushing up and to his right to ascend is more consistent and sounds better. In order to learn more I wanted to try the same experiment, but see how it works best instead playing middle C and then descending to low C. If my suspicions about his ascending embouchure motion are correct, then his best descending embouchure motion should be pulling down and to his left side. At 0:40 I asked him to use an embouchure motion pulling down and to his left, followed by straight down, down and to the right, and then back down and to his left. It’s still not definitive, but I felt his embouchure motion should be up and to his right to ascend and down and to his left to descend. He agreed that pulling his mouthpiece and lips together down and to his left to descend worked best.

The clues that the experimentations above provided were enough that he could try making his embouchure motion work as a Very High Placement embouchure type. I also asked him to try out some slightly different mouthpiece placements as well, including placing higher on the lips and a bit off to his right side. The video below shows his initial success with both keeping his embouchure motion consistent and the different mouthpiece placement.

I had mentioned the mouth corner position earlier. While not what I ended up prioritizing in this single session, once we had worked out a goal for his overall embouchure type, I did spend a bit of time working with him on his embouchure form. Watch the above video one more time, then watch this next video, which starts with his embouchure before we made any corrections.

Even without discussing his mouth corners and consciously working on them, making the corrections to his embouchure motion has helped the excessive movement in the mouth corners settle down some. Beginning at 0:18 in the video above shows his embouchure towards the end of our session. Making a correction like this can be a little “knacky” and be hit or miss for a student at first, but he was playing with much better embouchure form towards the end of our session, including his overall embouchure firmness in the mouth corners.

Shortly after my recording session with this trumpet player (later that night, if I remember correctly) he called me up to tell me he had been able to play his first G above high C. A few years later I happened to hear from his brother (who plays trombone) and he let me know that the corrections and suggestions I gave this trumpet player had worked well for him.

Proceed to 9C, Case Study Three.

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