Embouchure 101 Part 9C – Case Study Three

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.

Earlier in this resource I showed the below trombonist. Take another look at his embouchure and first determine his embouchure type (or refresh your memory).

This trombonist has a Low Placement embouchure type, but his mouthpiece placement is pretty close to half and half. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, mouthpiece placement close to half and half like this can be problematic. With this Low Placement embouchure type trombonist it looks to me as if he’s working harder than he needs to in his upper register.

It may be helpful here for us to consider Low Placement embouchure type players as like Very High Placement embouchure types, but upside down. In other words, perhaps a better way to think of upstream players is having a “very low placement.” Take a look at these two photographs, the first a Very High Placement trombone embouchure and the second a Low Placement trombone embouchure.

Very High Placement, high Bb
Low Placement, high Bb

The proportions of upper to lower lip inside the mouthpiece are basically reversed. In other words, the upstream Low Placement embouchure in the photo has a lot more lower lip inside the mouthpiece compared with the trombonist in the video.

About a year after I recorded the clips from the above video I had the opportunity to video record the same trombonist during a master class. Both the guest teacher and I coached him to try moving his mouthpiece placement even lower, to make it look more typical for Low Placement embouchures. Watch and listen to the results.

Notice that as he begins placing the mouthpiece even lower on his lips than he is used to he starts to overshoot the high notes. You can see moments of experimentation as he tries to figure out exactly where the mouthpiece placement works best, but at the end he finds a lower placement that allows him to squeak out a Bb above high Bb. It would probably be best if he placed the mouthpiece always with this setting. It doesn’t really affect his lower range that much and by fine tuning his embouchure motion and breathing he would be able to keep flexibility and tone in the lower register.

Making an embouchure correction such as this one is conceptually easy to understand, but leading brass students towards the different mouthpiece placement may be challenging. A very small change in mouthpiece placement can feel really drastic to a brass musician. If a player could benefit from a much larger change in embouchure form, such as a much lower mouthpiece placement, getting the student to actually make such a correction may require asking the student to exaggerate at first. For example, experiment and see just how low the mouthpiece can be placed and still work, then come back int he opposite direction and see if a slightly higher placement then the extremely low one is better.

Often times embouchure tweaks and corrections may seem obvious to you as the teacher, but you may need to convince the student that your suggestions will work better (particularly if it goes against something they’ve previously been taught). When a brass musician has been playing a certain way for years (or decades) a change can feel so unfamiliar that it borders on uncomfortable to the student. Embouchure corrections also frequently take time to become consistent. For example, finding the “sweet spot” where the mouthpiece placement works best can be difficult at first. Over time, as the student becomes more familiar with the feel (and look, if using a mirror) of where the mouthpiece should go, they will become better able to consistently get the placement into its best spot.

Procede to Part 10, Postscript.

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