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.
Where no obvious reason seems to exist for the adoption of any particular method, it is in order to ask “Why?”.
And if the “experts” provide you too readily with an answer, bear in mind that they may not, in fact, have any clearer understanding of how successfully to perform the task than you do yourself.Joe Barbenel, John Booth Davies and Patrick Kenny
Now that you’ve made it through this series you have a better understanding of brass embouchure mechanics than most other brass players and teachers out there. You now have the information you need to put embouchure advice into proper context, correctly analyze your students’ embouchures, and help them correct embouchure issues. I’ve found it a useful tool as a teacher and a player and hope that you will as well.
You may have questions, clarifications, or corrections you’d like to send me. One of the reasons I chose to use this web site format for Embouchure 101 (rather than a book or video documentary, for example) is so that I can easily update it (and keep it freely accessible for anyone with internet access). If you’re confused about something, found an error, or just have a disagreement to point out, I want to hear about it and try to fix it. Post your thoughts here, or feel free to email me through my contact form.
If you really enjoyed this resource and found it helpful, please share it with others who might too. Please send them to the beginning of this series here.
Brass embouchure technique is not well understood by most musicians and teachers, partly due to a culture that avoids analysis and partly because differences in musician’s anatomy can make correct embouchure technique work in a variety of ways. Empirical evaluation of brass embouchures shows three basic patterns that all brass musicians to fit into, regardless of how they learned to play or how they think they play.
Very High Placement – Places the mouthpiece high on the lips, closer to the nose. They usually have around 75% or more upper lip inside the mouthpiece and they typically keep their teeth aligned and the horn angle close to straight out, but some exceptions exist. Their embouchure motion is to push the lips and mouthpiece together up towards the nose to ascend and pull down to descend.
Medium High Placement – Places the mouthpiece high enough that the upper lip predominates, typically around 60%-70% upper lip inside. Their lower jaw tends to be receded somewhat and their horn angle will usually have the bell tilted slightly down, but some exceptions exist. Their embouchure motion is to pull the lips and mouthpiece together down towards the chin to ascend and push up to descend.
Low Placement – Places the mouthpiece low on the lips, closer to the chin. They usually have around 60% or more lower lip inside the mouthpiece. It’s typical for them to have their teeth aligned and a horn angle close to straight out, but some exceptions exist. Their embouchure motion is to pull the lips and mouthpiece together down towards the chin to ascend and push up to descend.
It’s probably best for brass musicians of all embouchure types to keep their lips firmed from the mouth corners and to play with their chin flat and firm. Mouthpiece pressure on the lips seems to work best when it’s kept fairly constant and consistent throughout the entire range. Horn angles may change as players slightly alter the position of their jaw or follow the shape of their teeth and gums while making the embouchure motion.
When brass musicians deviate from their correct embouchure form playing difficulties can develop. These issues can sometimes be disguised, even unconsciously to the player. Making an appropriate correction to a student’s embouchure form can minimize or eliminate the playing difficulties and ultimately allow the musician to focus more on expressive performing.
I’m not particularly insightful or observant. I was lucky enough to have studied with Doug Elliott, who first taught me about the brass embouchure types and helped me make corrections to my own embouchure. He often shares his knowledge online to students and teachers alike.
A large part of this resource was also based on information written by Donald Reinhardt. My teacher, Doug Elliott, was a student of Reinhardt’s. Reinhardt was the first brass pedagogue that I’ve come across who not only identified different brass embouchure types but also made that information an important part of his teaching.
Any errors, misunderstandings, or misinformation in Embouchure 101 is my fault, and not that of my references or teachers.
Perhaps the people that deserve the biggest thanks are the anonymous brass musicians who graciously allowed me to record their embouchures and experiment with them. They agreed to participating in my researching knowing that their technique would be analyzed in detail then shared. Without their willingness to have their embouchures recorded and published I would not have the examples necessary to put together this resource.
Lastly, I want to thank you, the reader. I put together this series because I feel that this information should not be in the domain of a “chop doc,” but rather be common knowledge. Thank you for considering my resource and making the effort to understand.
Questions, comments, and corrections to this resource can be posted here.