Discussion on “The Pedagogy of Arnold Jacobs” by David Brubeck

Recently I came across a nice two-part article on the pedagogy of Arnold Jacobs (Part 1Part 2), written by trombonist Dr. David Brubeck.  I’ve already briefly discussed the pedagogy of Arnold Jacobs before here and here.  I’ve been personally very influenced by Jacobs.  Many of my teachers utilized his “song and wind” approach, I was fortunate to see a master class by him live as a college student, and I’ve borrowed heavily from what I’ve learned about his pedagogy in my own teaching and practicing.

Often times the recorded advice Jacobs gave students may seem contradictory, as he was known for addressing the individual student, yet much of the core of his method is remarkably consistent from source to source.  For those of you who have already read some of the books about Jacobs or seen some of his master classes, Dr. Brubeck’s article will be familiar.  If you’re not, it makes for a good introduction into how Arnold Jacobs taught, or at least how his teaching has been interpreted and carried on by former students.

As with any teaching method, there is a danger of misinterpretation by those who would seek to superficially garner a nugget here and there without understanding the underlying principles and objectives.

Brubeck’s warning at the beginning of his article is worth repeating and also serves as a good reminder to take all my following comments with a grain of salt. Continue reading Discussion on “The Pedagogy of Arnold Jacobs” by David Brubeck

Arnold Jacobs On Embouchure: A Criticism, Part 2

A few months ago I posted a criticism of Arnold Jacobs pedagogy, specifically related to his dismissal of embouchure as an important factor of brass playing.  I recently got a comment on that article that has some very common misconceptions to my brass embouchure research.  I wanted to take a moment and address some of those now, using this comment as a launching point for further discussion.  I hope that my commenter, Kaj Fagerberg, doesn’t feel singled out here, as his points echo many made by Jacobs himself.  Due in part to Jacobs’ pervasive influence, these misconceptions are widespread among brass players.

Kaj writes:

I think what Jacobs is saying is that the embouchure must vibrate, that’s all it does. There is not a magic setting that one must find, it just produces vibration to produce sound. Our teachers spend so much time trying to get us produce a perfect textbook example of the embouchure, that they forget it’s goal is to vibrate. Yes, a functioning embouchure vibrates, just as a distorted one can. There is no difference. That is the point he is making.

I think it’s a pretty simplistic view that all the embouchure does is merely vibrate.   Continue reading Arnold Jacobs On Embouchure: A Criticism, Part 2

Arnold Jacobs on Embouchure: A Criticism

Today I’m going to go after one of brass pedagogy’s sacred cows, Arnold Jacobs.  Since so many teachers and players have been strongly influenced by Jacobs’ teaching (myself included), I should give a little background first.

Jacobs sometimes summarized his teaching philosophy as “Song & Wind.”  This influential concept is sometimes described as the musician’s focus should first and foremost should be on being a musical communicator, the “song.”  After that, a brass musician’s attention should be placed on good breathing, the “wind.”  One of the reasons that this is such a popular pedagogical method is because it’s very effective.  Putting attention on the musical expression does have a tendency to work out the kinks in a player’s technique.  Efficient breathing is also an extremely important part of good brass technique.

Just so I’m clear here, I’m not advocating that we throw the baby out with the bathwater.  However, just because Jacobs had an expert understanding of the physiology of breathing and application of that knowledge to playing brasswind instruments doesn’t mean that his statements on other areas should be taken for gospel truth, as many seem to think.  Case in point, his statements on the embouchure. Continue reading Arnold Jacobs on Embouchure: A Criticism

My “Anti-Jacobs Stance” – A Clarification

YouTube user ChokatinSheepseki initiated a conversation on the comments section for my video Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players. Because YouTube limits the number of characters in each comment there it makes it very difficult to have an intellectual discussion there and it’s very easy to leave an erroneous impression. In an effort to respond to some of his comments and to offer ChokatinSheepseki a chance to more clearly and directly criticize my ideas I thought I’d post some more lengthy responses here. I’m going to pull some of his comments out of context in order to address a single topic at a time (you can read our whole exchange here in order).

You have it all backwards, and your anti-Jacobs stance simply makes you look all the more arrogant.

And in the next comment:

You appear to be taking an anti-Jacobs position in a desperate attempt to gain notoriety.

I was pretty surprised by the statement that I have an “anti-Jacobs stance.” I have offered some criticism to some specific ideas he has said about brass embouchures here, but  I direct that criticism to specific ideas that I believe to be factually inaccurate. In fact, in that same article I mentioned how much Jacobs has influenced me as a teacher and player and acknowledged how effective his “song and wind” approach can be. I merely am arguing that there are other tools that are useful and good teachers and players need to grow beyond a single teacher/player’s approach – particularly as new information becomes available.

A few years back you told me that you thought Jacobs was WRONG on many issues. Now you say that he had a profound influence on your teaching and practice.

I’m afraid I don’t recall the specific conversation ChokatinSheepseki is referring to. I participate in a number of brass forums as well as frequently reference Jacobs here. At any rate, I don’t see how commenting that Jacobs’ ideas on a particular aspect of his pedagogy needs revisions makes me “anti-Jacobs.”

I have an axe to grind when it comes to people who feel that they can gain some credibility by “taking on Jacobs” and being utterly disrespectful by posting a photo of spaghetti stuck to a wall in a cheap attempt to downplay the importance of breath, wind…whatever you want to call it. If that’s not arrogance, I don’t know what is. A CSO member would never behave like that, even if they were spot on with their “convictions.”

This is what is sometimes called a “straw man argument” (ironically also an ad hominem attack, the very thing that he is accusing me of). In this case, ChokatinSheepseki’s criticisms aren’t specifically against something I actually said, but a misrepresentation of my thoughts that is quite easy to criticize. In fact, in the very article he mentions I wrote the following:

“One of the reasons that this is such a popular pedagogical method is because it’s very effective. Putting attention on the musical expression does have a tendency to work out the kinks in a player’s technique. Efficient breathing is also an extremely important part of good brass technique.

Just so I’m clear here, I’m not advocating that we throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

In the video that ChokatinSheepseki’s comments on I said:

“Looking at the embouchure closely shouldn’t imply that breathing is unimportant to good brass playing, it definitely is. Breathing is, however, better understood by most teachers and therefore receives much more attention. I’m merely recommending we add another tool to our toolbox, not replace what’s already effective.”

That’s hardly downplaying the importance of breathing to brass playing.

spaghetti_on_the_wallFor the record, I did use a photo of spaghetti splattered on the wall as an illustration for Jacobs’ statement he always addressed an embouchure issue with assignments of music. I made the analogy that without a good understanding of embouchure form you can end up unconsciously trying out so many different things in an effort to make a correction that in the process of fixing one thing you might end up with other issues that need to be addressed later.

ChokatinSheepseki appears to agree with that particular statement by Jacobs that assignments of music should be sufficient to address brass technique by itself.

The CONCEPT of a good sound in the BRAIN puts the body in the position that it needs to be in. Of course, you can try to consciously manipulate muscle groups and produce sounds, but such commands mean that the focus will not be on the music.

This is an interesting idea and one that we can have an honest discussion about. With regards to whether the body and brain will simply figure itself out when the attention is placed on music, there has been some research done on the difference between learning complex motor skills through intrinsic methods (goal oriented, e.g., pay attention to the music) and explicit methods (process oriented, consciously manipulate the motions you need to play). Having done some academic reading to learn more about his, I learned that when one is used exclusively, research indicates that the intrinsic approach is superior. However, research where subjects used a combination of the two approaches showed even better long-term results (this topic deserves a post of its own later that focuses exclusively on this research).

This is one of my criticisms of how many have interpreted Jacobs’ teaching into such a false dichotomy. If you listen to his masterclasses or read the books about his teaching very carefully you’ll note that one of his psychological tricks was to convince his students that he wasn’t telling them how to play while he was teaching them how to play. Case in point, here is an excerpt from Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind, written by Brian Frederiksen and edited by John Taylor. The bold text below is my emphasis to address my point.

A common problem is that of a double buzz, or as Jacobs calls it, “segmentation.” This happens when the embouchure is set for vibrations higher than what is actually desired. A major factor is insufficient air to fuel the vibration. It is, in fact, hardly ever an embouchure problem. The tongue’s position is too high and forward in the mouth. To correct segmentation, adjust the embouchure to vibrate at the pitch that is desired – play with a thicker air stream and keep the embouchure open.

Frederikson  (1996), p. 126.

In other words, address the physical causes of the double buzz not through assignments of music, but by correcting the specific mechanical issues that lead to the double buzz. This is contradictory to Jacobs’ other statements that he addresses embouchure issues only through assignments of music. My feeling here is that when dealing with brass technique we can spend some time dealing with the mechanics of how to play, provided that we also keep the end goal of making good music in mind and be sure to spend practice and teaching time addressing that as well.

Again, because ChokatinSheepseki and others frequently misinterpret my thoughts here, I’m not suggesting that focus on music and breathing are bad for your brass playing. They are extremely useful tools when the situation warrants. However, there are other approaches that when used at the correct time and place can also be helpful. There’s no need to use one exclusively over the other.

While ChokatinSheepseki “politely” refused my offer to move our discussion over here where the comments aren’t restricted to such a short length, I hope that he will reconsider and take the time to point out the specific parts where we have disagreements. Contrary to the implications in his criticisms, I do not have an “anti-Jacobs” stance. Furthermore, I’m perfectly willing to change my opinions if presented with good evidence and logical arguments that point out flaws in my presentations.

I’ll close this post by letting ChokatinSheepseki have the final word for now.

Actually, I sent you a G-rated version of my original comment.

I’ll let you get back to more important tasks, such as analyzing embouchures to see if they go north, south, east, or west, and pinpointing the exact number of coffee beans Beethoven preferred in his morning brew.

The Evidence On Mouthpiece Buzzing Efficacy

Back when I was a high school and college music student my brass teachers never really emphasized nor discouraged mouthpiece buzzing. It didn’t seem to be a point of controversy. I knew that a lot teachers recommended it, but I didn’t really consider it more than doing it occasionally. As a doctoral trombone student, my mentor, John Seidel, did have certain exercises that he used that involved buzzing on the mouthpiece. These days there are many high profile brass performers and teachers who actively discourage it while others argue that it’s extremely valuable.

I’ve written about this topic before (here and here), but until recently I haven’t gone out of my way to get a decent look and see what empirical evidence is out there for and against mouthpiece buzzing. I did a quick search in a college library catalogue for “mouthpiece buzzing,” limiting it to sources published since 2000, to see what would come up in the academic and professional literature. I ended up finding 35 articles/papers that had something to say about mouthpiece buzzing, of which only 29 actually addressed whether mouthpiece buzzing was useful for teaching and practice. By no means is this a comprehensive literature review, but rather gives us a snapshot into what sort of information is available and what the state of current research is on the topic.

Rather than summarizing each reference, I instead just looked at the following five criteria:

  1. Does the article/paper empirically research the efficacy of mouthpiece buzzing?
  2. Does the article/paper speculate on the efficacy of mouthpiece buzzing with relevant and/or accurate information?
  3. Does the article/paper avoid speculation on the efficacy of mouthpiece buzzing using anecdotal, irrelevant and/or inaccurate information?
  4. Does the article/paper properly cite sources or otherwise logically reason out its arguments for the efficacy of mouthpiece buzzing?
  5. Is the article/paper pro-mouthpiece buzzing, con-mouthpiece buzzing, or neutral?

Note that I’ve phrased the questions in the above criteria in order to make “yes” answers show that a resource would be a helpful reference for objectively looking at the effectiveness of mouthpiece buzzing. Likewise, any “no” answers mean that this paper or article would not make a very good objective reference. That’s not to say that the paper isn’t good, it just won’t be able to objectively answer the question on whether or not mouthpiece buzzing is a positive or negative practice approach.

I also feel compelled to point out that I mostly skimmed these papers and articles, glossing over things that weren’t relevant to the topic of mouthpiece buzzing. It’s entirely possible that I missed or misunderstood some points in this literature and so you should take my evaluation of them with a grain of salt.


You’ll see in the below chart that the vast majority of papers and articles I found simply state their opinion on mouthpiece buzzing without citing any sources or backing it up with logical speculation. It largely seems that almost everyone simply assumes mouthpiece buzzing is useful and the rational comes down to either tradition or anecdotal support. Some of them contain surveys of literature and/or brass teachers that endorse mouthpiece buzzing, but this is a poor method to judge the effectiveness of a pedagogical approach – if the pedagogical tradition is already biased towards mouthpiece buzzing then we can assume most players and teachers will be similarly biased. That doesn’t necessarily mean that mouthpiece buzzing is bad, but the reasons for it are flawed. As you’ll note in my chart below, very few people have subjected mouthpiece buzzing to an honest test.

Likewise, you’ll note that the vast majority of the literature I found falls into the “pro” camp towards mouthpiece buzzing, while only two ended up as “neutral.” I didn’t find any resources that were definitely against mouthpiece buzzing in this search, although I know of a few high profile teachers or players who are against it. A literature search for the term “mouthpiece buzzing” is probably going to be biased towards papers and articles recommending it, since authors who are against the practice are not likely to mention it at all if they are recommending another method.

A very large number of these resources got a “no” answer on Criteria 3 (does it avoid inaccurate speculation) because it claimed that the instrument functions as an “amplifier” for the buzzing lips. While this may be a good analogy for teaching and there is an element of truth to it, the actual physics behind the standing wave inside the instrument makes that idea too simplistic to logically speculate on the efficacy of mouthpiece buzzing as a practice method. This is one of those ideas that’s been repeated for so long that a lot of brass musicians accept it without question.

As an aside, one of the reasons I restricted my search to resources written in the 21st century is because in a recent Trombone Chat forum conversation one participant lamented that much of the discussion there revolved around pedagogy from 50 years ago or longer (specifically, that of Arnold Jacobs). That said, a great deal of the articles and papers I found cited Jacobs or even were specifically devoted to his pedagogy. Jacobs’s pedagogy is still dominant, at least in English language resources. While I feel there’s much that his approach has to offer players and teachers, there’s also much that needs revision and too often it’s the later that gets cited in support of certain pedagogical practices (you can read more of what I’ve written about Jacobs’s pedagogy here).

Out of the literature I found, there was only one study that made an attempt to measure whether or not mouthpiece buzzing is an effective practice tool, “The Effect of a Researcher Composed Mouthpiece Buzzing Routine On the Intonation and Tone Quality of Beginning Band Students,” by Jason Beghtol. In Beghtol’s review of the literature he doesn’t cite any other study that similarly tested mouthpiece buzzing, leading me to believe that it’s likely no one has done so before him. I think it’s very important to note that the results of Beghtol’s tests showed no statistically significant results between his sample population of students who were given mouthpiece buzzing instruction compared with his control group. Keep in mind that there were some limitations of methodology that make it difficult for us to draw up conclusions that will apply to the general brass playing population, but so far the only empirical evidence concerning the use of mouthpiece buzzing shows that it’s no more effective than not mouthpiece buzzing at all.

TitleCriteria 1Criteria 2Criteria 3Criteria 4Criteria 5
“Dr. Nathaniel O. Brickens: His Pedagogy, Career, and Influence On Trombone Performers and Educators,” Dunwoody Mirvil, 2008NoYesNoNoPro
“A review of the unique injuries sustained by musicians,” Michele Heinan, 2008NoNoYesNoPro
“Pedagogical Methods of Vincent Cichowicz as Witnessed by Larry Black, 1964-1966,” Brittany Hendricks 2013NoNoNoNoPro
“Developing a Solid Bass Trombone Sound,” Aaron Wilson, 2016NoNoNoNoPro
“A Guide To Daily Routines,” James Boldin, 2011NoNoNoYesNeutral
“Conrad Herwig Masterclass,” Antonio J. Garcia, 2014NoNoNoNoPro
“Endurance: Thoughts On Winning the Unwinnable,” Patrick Boyle, 2009NoNoNoNoPro
“A Lost Embouchure Found: A Journey Back From Focal Dystonia,” Ashley Gulbranson, 2014NoNoNoNoPro
“Empowering Musicians: Teaching, Transforming, Living,” William J. Dawson, 2016NoNoNoNoPro
“Starting the French Horn: Step-By-Step to Ensure Success,” Drew Phillips, 2019NoNoNoNoPro
“Song and Wind In Canada: The Impact of Arnold Jacobs’s Teaching on Canadian Tuba Pedagogues,” Jonathan David Rowsell, 2018NoNoNoNoPro
“A Pedagogical Approach For Developing the Endurance, Technical Facility and Flexibility Necessary to Perform Anthony Plog’s Concerto for Solo Trumpet, 14 Brass, and Percussion,” Michael Sullivan, 2014NoNoNoNoPro
“The Modern Trumpet Player,” Tony Carlucci, 2011NoNoNoNoPro
“Steps Toward More Effective Brass Blowing,” Chad Criswell, 2009NoNoNoNoPro
“Technique Tips: Accuracy,” Jeffrey Agrell, 2010NoNoNoNoPro
“From Blat to Beautiful: Help Your Trumpeters Develop a Great Embouchure,” Alicia Sanderman, 2004NoNoNoNoPro
“Making a Good Sound On the Trumpet,” Thomas Dust, 2007NoNoNoNoPro
“Embouchure Problems In Brass Instrumentalists,” Richard J. LedermanNoYesNoNoPro
“Five Basics For a Horn Embouchure,” Andrew M. McAfeeNoNoNoNoPro
“Euphonium Euphoria: Encouraging Great Sound and Facility from Your Euphonium Players,” Aaron WilsonNoNoNoNoPro
“No More ‘Bad Days’ – A Trumpet and Brass-Instrument
Warm-Up Routine that Works,” Christian McIvor, 2017
“Upper Register Training for Young Horn Players,” Drew PhillipsNoNoNoNoPro
“Endurance: Thoughts On Winning the Unwinnable,” Patrick Boyle, 2009NoNoNoNoPro
“To Bee Or Not To Bee: The Art of Buzzing,” Mike HeriottNoNoNoNoPro
“Teaching Beginning Trombone Players,” Todd L. Fallis, 2001NoNoNoNoPro
“Lessons Learned From the Slide Trumpet,” Chase Sandborn, 2003NoNoNoNoPro
“The Buzz On Horn Buzzing,” Jon Chappell, 2008NoYesNoNoPro
“Mouthpiece Buzzing,” Gillian MacKay, 2012NoYesYesYesPro
“The Effect of a Researcher Composed Mouthpiece Buzzing Routine On the Intonation and Tone Quality of Beginning Band Students,” Jason Beghtol, 2018YesYesNoYesNeutral

You might wonder after going through this exercise what I personally think at this point. My opinion on mouthpiece buzzing hasn’t changed. There are probably some situations where it can be a useful tool, when done a certain way. It’s also possible that doing it wrong or too much can actually be counterproductive. I think it’s very likely that when done correctly and moderation that it’s not really all that more useful than practicing other things that have less risk of working against how we want to actually play the instrument, so I’m going to continue to avoid it in my own practice and use it sparingly in my teaching.

Eliminating the Smile Embouchure

After over 10 years of blogging I figured that I had already covered this very common embouchure issue in its own post, but after wanting to help out a teacher with some questions about it I searched and realized that I’ve only discussed the smile embouchure in the context other topics. In this post I’m going to dig into the smile embouchure and go over some common suggestions for eliminating it that I think are inefficient before I go over what I’ve found to be the best approach. If you want to skip all that, check out this post on free buzzing.

Around the turn of the last century it was apparently common for brass teachers to actually instruct students to ascend by pulling the mouth corners back into a smile. It works, to a degree, similar to the way that stretching a rubber band while you pluck it will cause the band to vibrate faster and therefore sound a higher pitch. This technique has a characteristic look.

Avoid the Smile Embouchure

Today this technique is almost universally rejected by brass teachers. It tends to limit the upper register and endurance. Pulling the mouth corners back to ascend eventually reaches a limit to where the musician simply can’t smile even further to ascend, resulting in a range cap. Stretching the lips back also makes the lips more sensitive to mouthpiece pressure. This results in difficulty with endurance and also simply risks injury due to mouthpiece pressure.

While brass pedagogy seems to have come to a general consensus on avoiding the smile embouchure, we don’t have an agreement on the best way to help students make corrections to the smile embouchure. Part of this disagreement is due to every student being a little different and responding to instructions in their own ways, but a large part of the disparity in instruction seems to be due to a general lack of knowledge about what’s happening in the embouchure in the first place.

Awareness and Conscious Effort Is Inefficient

If you’ve never struggled with the smile embouchure yourself it might seem that the best way to eliminate the smile embouchure is to help your student become aware of the problem and ask him or her to consciously stop it. Mirror observation is often used for feedback and brass teachers will often prescribe exercises that start in the range where the corners are not pulling back and ascend gradually into the trouble range. The idea here is to start from a point of good technique (mouth corners in place) and strive to keep that technique the same while ascending.

This usually doesn’t work, at least not very efficiently. It’s notoriously difficult for brass players to make this sort of adjustment for a couple of reason. First, these musicians have a “conditioned response” to ascending on their instrument. It’s simply too habitual for them to just stop. Secondly, and even more relevant, the muscles at and around the mouth corners are usually too weak to hold them in place while ascending.

It’s pretty well established now that the area around mouth corners are responsible for a lot of the muscular effort for a well-formed brass embouchure. There have been studies that empirically investigate which muscles in the embouchure are active while playing a brass instrument. The more advanced the player, the more focused the embouchure effort is on keeping the corners firm (and the chin flat). The advanced trumpet player in the image above (the top row) shows a much more focused muscular effort at the mouth corners (and chin) than the beginner (middle row) and trumpet student (bottom row).

One reason why it’s so difficult for brass students to eliminate the smile embouchure is because the muscles that should be holding the mouth corners in place are too weak. Just as you can’t expect someone to bench press 200 pounds without building up to it, a brass musician can’t hold their mouth corners in place without developing the strength to hold them in position.

Embouchure Problems Are Embouchure Problems – QED

One of the most common approaches I come across from teachers, who I feel should know better, promote the idea the all embouchure problems are really breathing problems. These teachers insist that the best way to help a student make corrections to a smile embouchure are to work on breathing. Many also emphasize assignments of music, rather than technical exercises.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong in teaching good breathing and musical expression, any smile embouchure correction that happens as a result here is largely going to be in spite of, rather than because of the focus on breathing. Don’t misunderstand what I’m pointing out. Excellent brass technique requires efficient breathing and musical expression, but embouchure problems are embouchure problems. Teachers who advocate for developing embouchure technique purely through good breathing and musical expression usually insist that it’s ultimately better to take a student’s attention away from their embouchure. That may be all well and good, depending on the student, but in the process they ignore what the real cause and effect of the smile embouchure actually is. In this case, I think advocating that the teacher have a good understanding of embouchure technique here is different from discussing how much of that to communicate to students and when.

In a little bit I’ll show you how you can get a student to stop pulling the mouth corners back into a smile while forming an embouchure almost immediately (with some qualifications). I have never seen working on breathing to help a student correct a smile embouchure as immediately. If fixing the breathing fixes any “embouchure problem” immediately then the original issue was misdiagnosed. Embouchure problems are embouchure problems – by definition.

Sure, working on breathing and musical expression can (eventually) result in a brass musician correcting the smile embouchure. However, this is because the student is developing embouchure strength and control over time from practicing the instrument, not because the breathing is better or the musician’s mental image of the music is in mind. Furthermore, some players who happen to be more prone to a smile embouchure appear to have difficulty building embouchure strength simply by playing a lot (see Low Placement embouchure type players), at least more so compared to peers who have different anatomical features.

Free Buzzing

In my experience, regular free buzzing practice is the fastest and most efficient route to eliminating the smile embouchure, for a number of reasons. While I go over my rational, it’s important that I specify how I teach free buzzing and address some common concerns about it.

There are many brass players and teachers who dismiss free buzzing because it doesn’t directly relate to how the instrument is played. This is true, but if you are careful and methodical about your approach you are actually exploiting this difference. Consider the “conditioned response” difficulties I mentioned above.

For advocates of fixing the smile embouchure with breathing and musical expression, my rational for addressing it instead with free buzzing should be already familiar to them.

For example, in order to change the preconditioned responses elicited in a student when playing his or her instrument, Mr. Jacobs will simply remove the musical instrument and have the student blow on the back of the hand, buzz on a mouthpiece, or breathe into a strange apparatus. By conditioning the correct response away from the horn, it is then transferable to the instrument. This offers the additional benefits of keeping exercises from dulling musical passion, enhancing strangeness, allowing a multi-sensoral approach, and avoiding previously conditioned baggage. Most importantly, this additive approach keeps players from having to go back to square one on their instruments-particularly valuable for professional players who must maintain a busy schedule. Thus instead of altering a bad behavior, Mr Jacobs advocates that one simply learn a new correct behavior to supplant it by changing stimuli and eventually transferring the response back to the horn. Meanwhile, the old, undesired behavior will extinguish itself from lack of use.

The Pedagogy of Arnold Jacobs: Part 2 of 5, by David Brubeck

When a student has developed a habitual way of playing the instrument that is getting in their way, it’s very difficult to approach it from what they are doing wrong. Instead, it’s more effective to go after what to do correctly. Furthermore, crafty teachers like Arnold Jacobs used ways to remove the trigger for the conditioned response (the instrument) and make corrections where those bad habits didn’t come into play. As the proper technique became learned, the instrument was gradually added to the mix.

Free buzzing does exactly this, with the added benefit of actually building strength in the muscles that hold the mouth corners in place. Furthermore, free buzzing higher pitches softly and with a mosquito-like sound makes it virtually impossible to pull the mouth corners back into a smile. Instead of helping to raise the pitch, it hinders it. While free buzzing the brass musician has to keep the corners locked in place.

So to return to what I wrote above, it instantly fixes the smile embouchure, albeit in a different context. It introduces “strangeness” removing the conditioned response. Even better, where playing the instrument allows the student to pull the corners back to ascend before the range caps, free buzzing only reinforces the correct mouth corner position. For these reasons, I feel that using free buzzing to eliminate a student’s smile embouchure is superior to addressing it directly while playing or through breathing and musical expression.

How to Free Buzz

My personal favorite free buzzing exercise to teach is from Donald Reinhardt. He prescribed slightly rolling in the lower lip inward and just over the lower teeth while bringing the top lip down to lightly touching the lower lip.

Without any assistance from the mouthpiece or the instrument, form the lips in the prescribed manner and sustain a buzz on middle concert B flat to the fullest extent of a normal playing breath. . . Buzz and inhale three times in the prescribed manner and strive to make each buzz a higher pitch than the previous one – then rest.

Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, p. 169, by Donald Reinhardt

That’s it. Maybe 3-5 minutes at most. Done as described and with just a little bit of work daily spread out over several weeks it should make for noticeable improvements without the risk of feeling “muscle bound” or otherwise screwing up a brass musician’s chops.

As an aside, I edited out the part where Reinhardt instructs holding your finger over your lips when inhaling and breathing in through the mouth corners for clarity here, but I do teach and recommend that in my more detailed discussion and video of this exercise. I also want to point out that the free buzz should be soft and thin sounding. Try to make it sound like a mosquito buzz.

That one exercise done daily for a few weeks or so should translate into a reduction of the smile embouchure at least, and over time can even eliminate it by itself. If your student needs some more help, there are two additional ideas you can try with free buzzing. One can be helpful for pretty much all players, others require you to know and understand the student’s basic embouchure type. These are also based on (if not outright taken from) exercises I picked up from Reinhardt’s writings.

Using Reinhardt’s description of a free buzz above, instruct your student to free buzz a pitch that is at least F below middle C (concert pitch, in other words F3 or F inside the bass clef). Keep the free buzzing tone soft and mosquito-like. After free buzzing that pitch, have the student play the pitch on their instrument as a long tone, then stop and rest. Then buzz pitches up a scale and repeat this exercise until they start feeling fatigued. Observe how the mouth corners look, but it’s not necessary to have the student watch in a mirror unless it helps then to see it (another option is to have the student watch in the mirror every other pitch). This exercise, which I feel is good for any brass player, can help eliminate the smile embouchure by helping the student to experience the correct mouth corner position while free buzzing and then quickly try to translate that to the instrument.

If the student is one of the downstream embouchure types, particularly the Very High Placement type, you can take the above exercise but instead of free buzzing and then playing the pitch on the instrument next, have him or her free buzz into the instrument. For some downstream embouchure type players this can be an excellent way to fine tune other elements of embouchure form as well as the mouth corner position. Low Placement/upstream type brass player will not want to practice buzzing into the instrument, since their mouthpiece placement too drastically changes certain elements of their embouchure form while playing compared to free buzzing.

Free buzzing ticks off all the boxes that we know is effective for correcting instrumental technique. It specifically strengthens the muscles we want. It forces the brass musician’s mouth corner form towards the habit we’re trying to develop while also removing the trigger for the habit we’re trying to eliminate. Lastly, it’s effective over time, but it’s probably more efficient than any other common approach to correcting the smile embouchure.

Remember, keep your student’s free buzzing light, soft, and somewhat airy sounding. A little bit every day spread out over time is much better than a lot at once.

One final idea for those teachers who insist that everything their student works on should have musical value. Use the same described procedure for free buzzing (soft and thin sounding, keep it above F3, etc.) but free buzz simple tunes. Personally, I think it’s fine to work on instrumental technique by removing it from a musical context at times, but if your student has difficulty switching focus back on the music or slips too easily into trying to multitask while playing, free buzzing melodies has the same benefits.

The Current State of Brass Embouchure Pedagogy

A topic on Trombone Chat got me thinking about the current state of brass embouchure pedagogy.

As Doug notes in the forum thread, traditional brass pedagogy has been dominated by Arnold Jacobs’s approach. In this approach you actively avoid working on the embouchure. In essence most brass students are taught to breathe well and focus on the end product. You should ignore the embouchure.

And that’s why brass embouchure research is so rare and generally unknown outside of a few. Fortunately I was encouraged to explore this topic for my graduate research. I know graduate students who were actively discouraged from doing any sort of pedagogy research on brass embouchures because it wasn’t appropriate or worth doing.

What does the latest research say about teaching brass embouchures? I just scanned through an academic library searching for “(embouchure) AND (pedagogy)” for publications that have come out in the past 5 years. I found just 6 relevant hits.

The Effect of a Researcher Composed Mouthpiece Buzzing Routine on the Intonation and Tone Quality of Beginning Band Brass Students
Beghtol, Jason. The University of Mississippi, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2017. 10746240.

No mention of embouchure types that I noticed. (The abstract notes, “Results suggest the inclusion of a daily mouthpiece buzzing routine does not have a significant effect on beginning band brass students’ intonation or tone quality.”)

Bardins, Sandis; Marnauza, Mara. Problems in Music Pedagogy; Daugavpils Vol. 13, Iss. 1/2, (2014): 97-110.

This one mentioned embouchure twice. The author’s point in both of those sentences is that breathing is important to a well functioning embouchure.

This leads to creating an unnecessary tension and stress in the body, because the natural inspiratory reflex (so-called Herring-Breuer reflex) is not implemented (White, 2005), and also contributes to the expiratory muscle fatigue and rapid decrease of the physical endurance – general for the body, because the body is not supplied with oxygen, as well as embouchure, which receives a reduced amount of air for creation of a sound and has to compensate it by pressing the mouthpiece against the lips.

This approach to mastering breathing patterns in wind instrument playing has several advantages:

3. a more stable air flow which relieves work of the embouchure, thus increasing its endurance and working limits in ultimate registers.

This article pretty much represents mainstream brass pedagogy. Fix the breathing and embouchure will do fine, no need to learn about how embouchure works.

Approaches to the Horn Embouchure: Historical and Modern
Author: Schons, Anthony
Journal: The Horn call
ISSN: 0046-7928
Date: 02/01/2015 Volume: 45 Issue: 2 Page: 58

I actually can’t find this full text online, so I don’t know what it says about embouchure. It could be relevant and I’m curious because I’d like to see how horn pedagogy has evolved (or not). Horn pedagogy seems to have its own quirks that you don’t see in other brass teaching.

Insights on Dealing with Braces
Whitis, James. School Band & Orchestra; Las Vegas Vol. 17, Iss. 9, (Sep 2014): 36-38,40,42,44,46

This article is not scientific at all and is based on the author’s personal experience both having braces and teaching students with braces. I don’t think the advice in there isn’t bad, per se, but it is very incomplete. I’ve seen a lot in the literature that’s like this, one teacher or player’s anecdotes are described, but rarely subjected to any testing.

Song and Wind 2.0: goal-oriented teaching in the applied studio
Karen Marston
International Trombone Association Journal. 42.1 (Jan. 2014): p32+.

The only reason this came up in my search was because the term “embouchure” was in one of the citations (Fletcher, S. (2008). The effect of focal task-specific embouchure dystonia upon brass musicians: A literature review and case study. Doctoral Dissertation. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.). Here’s the specific citation.

From this perspective, it has been easier to discuss, disseminate, and perhaps even implement the comparatively clearer assertions of more behaviorist-leaning teachers; therefore, despite enthusiastic support for Jacob’s ideas, the dialogue on teaching within our field often continues to target task-oriented concepts. (Fletcher, 2008; Marston, 2011)

I’ve read both Fletcher’s and Marston’s dissertations (she cites her own dissertation a lot in this article). I think her criticism of “task-oriented concepts” are off base. The criticism that so much of this type of teaching is contradictory is, to me, evidence that a model, such as Donald Reinhardt’s and Doug Elliott’s embouchure type approaches need to be better understood in order to evaluate and compare different pedagogical practices. If you aren’t analyzing things correctly, you’re not going to teach the right task oriented concepts in the first place. Sure, it’s a lot easier to focus on product over process and get an immediate benefit. But if you’re going to truly compare task-oriented versus product oriented pedagogy you should at least learn how to do both right.

And again, I have to make the point that it’s valuable for teachers to understand the process too, even if they minimize their discussion of the mechanics of brass playing with their students. The whole point of Marston’s article is to teach brass technique by emphasizing the end goal, and while acknowledging that there are smaller steps to reach that goal, at no point does she make any mention to what good brass technique is other than to mention breathing.

And Marston’s impressions that task-oriented teaching is dominant today seems off to me. If the 6 papers and articles I found today are representative, Song & Wind is getting more attention.

A pedagogical approach for developing the endurance, technical facility and flexibility necessary to perform Anthony Plog’s Concerto for Solo Trumpet, 14 Brass, and Percussion
Sullivan, Michael. California State University, Long Beach, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2014. 1528052.

This last one is a case study of one student’s preparation for a demanding performance. The embouchure references in here seem to be mainly related to specific exercises the author found particularly helpful in preparing to perform, but an awful lot of those embouchure exercises reference air flow as the key. While I don’t want to minimize the role that good breathing plays for successful brass playing, it does represent mainstream brass pedagogy’s approach that the only thing that is important for embouchure is to have good breathing.

So there you have it, for what it’s worth. Bear in mind that this was a cursory search and there are probably some hidden gems that I didn’t come across. I also intentionally kept the search terms narrow and eliminated hits that weren’t relevant (anything related to woodwind for example and historical papers). Of the 6, three emphasized breathing as the key for embouchure technique. One article was based purely on anecdotes, so the information should be taken with a grain of salt. Only one made any attempt at scientific inquiry and subjecting pedagogical ideas to a test.

Point of clarification update – there are definitely more than these out there, probably a lot more, it was just what happened to be accessible through one college library web site. My interest in using these six was to use it as a snapshot for what current  research happens to be out there on brass embouchure pedagogy. 

Are Big Band Brass Players Losing the Concept of Being Team Players?

Playing trombone is NOT like punching people!

I remember reading this essay by Doug Yeo years ago, Me, Myself and I: Are Orchestral Brass Players Losing the Concept of Being Team Players?. Back in 1997 Yeo expressed his concerns that trends in orchestral brass playing had not necessarily been for the best.

Go into the parking lot of any brass conference, convention or workshop, and you’re bound to find more than a few cars with the bumper sticker that reads, “Question authority.” Some would argue that this mindset is the province of trumpet players alone but that surely is not the case. Over the past twenty years, American orchestral playing has been undergoing a significant change, as brass players have (with some notable exceptions) asserted themselves beyond their traditional role in the orchestra.

Most students go through their “loud” phase, of getting together with other players and just knocking the living daylights out of orchestral excerpts. This can be great fun to do, good for the face and boosting to the ego. But excerpt sessions don’t always relate to the real world, and as many brass players have developed a more “muscular” concept of playing, the American orchestra has, in my mind, begun to suffer.

Yeo’s essay is specific to orchestral brass playing, but much of it seems to relate to big band brass playing as well, at least among the big bands I get to hear and play in. The details are different, as are some of the influences, but a lot is similar.

The job of balancing an orchestra lies with the conductor alone. But there is no denying that a 15 member brass section can ruin any orchestral concert (despite what the conductor wants) very easily as the combined volume of the strings and winds can never compete with that of even a single trombonist. Arnold Jacobs once told me that in his view, the bass trombone was the instrument of the orchestra that had by far the greatest “high volume potential” owing in part to the fact that after the flute, the bass trombone utilized the highest flow rate of any wind instrument, including the tuba.

John Berry, in his excellent jazz pedagogy text The Jazz Ensemble Director’s Handbook, wrote about the “Monster Bass Trombonist.” He’s describing a common trend in student musicians, not professionals, but occasionally I run into this player in the professional world (not recently, and not anyone I work with regularly now!).

About once a decade the music world renders up a bona fide (pardon the pun) “Monster Bass Trombonist” – you know, the guy who can play louder than any human on earth…

…A good MBT (or even a bad one who thinks he’s good) can “cop an attitude.” He becomes a star. He basks in compliments. He becomes a junkie for oohs and ahas. He craves ever more. He plays LOOUUDD!!! . . . All the time!

Well, it’s not just bass trombonists. You find them in the whole brass section.

In his essay, Yeo brings up equipment trends in orchestral brass playing.

Part of the problem is simple ignorance; the idea that Bruckner symphonies are to be played at maximum volume would horrify Bruckner, the reserved, insecure, Catholic composer of music for and about the church and the inexpressible “beyond.” Let us not forget that his symphonies also require us to play as soft as possible. Unfortunately, many players look at passages marked fff and simply blow until the seams pop. Unsatisfied with the way their instruments respond to this treatment, they continually hunt for something that will allow them to play even louder with a reasonably good sound. Hence, we now have tenor players in many major orchestras using bass trombone slides and 3 or 4G mouthpieces, and bass trombonists without leadpipes, playing mouthpieces that resemble tuba mouthpieces, and gigantic dual bore slides. All of these changes do indeed allow players to play louder.

This mirrors equipment choices of big band brass players, although the influences are different. Many big bands pride themselves on the “faster, louder, higher” school. Certainly big bands like Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson have greatly influenced big band style and the demands of those styles strongly influence big band brass players to make certain equipment choices that favor louder and higher.

About 15 years ago I went to a clinic the great big band composer/arranger Bob Florence was giving. One thing that really stuck with me is that he said, if the details I remember are correct, that he never uses mp dynamics any longer because bands never play soft enough. If he wants mp, he writes p. For p he writes pp.

I’ve been playing and directing the Asheville Jazz Orchestra for a while now. We’ve played a lot of gigs together, but some of the ones that stand out in my mind as being particularly good were those times we played without a sound system. Everyone listened closely, especially during solos, and dynamics were played consistently correctly. Knowing that there wasn’t a sound technician “fixing the mix” for us forced everyone to become team players. It was just a mental switch, but it made a huge difference in the overall quality of our music.

What about your experience? Are the big bands you play with a “blast fest” all the time? What gigs have you played were the musical quality was excellent specifically because everyone was a great team player?

Embocadura Distonía Tratamiento – Algunas preguntas y críticas

From time to time I get asked to translate some of my articles into different languages for nonnative English readers. Unfortunately, that’s beyond my abilities but some of my readers have graciously volunteered their time to translate some of my posts. E. Díaz recently translated my article, Embouchure Dystonia Treatment – Some Questions and Criticisms, into Spanish.

Muchos gracias, E. Díaz!


A menos que seas uno de mis lectores regulares, es posible que hayas llegado hasta este post buscando consejos sobre alguna disfunción severa de embocadura. Aunque espero que las siguientes líneas puedan provee algunos caminos útiles para explorar, mi audiencia objetivo son los maestros de músicos que se promueven como los “doctores del pitar” o que pretenden diagnosticar y/o tratar lo que con frecuencia se conoce como “distonía de embocadura”. Para los propósitos de este trabajo, estaré usando el término “distonía de embocadura” y “disfunción de embocadura” de manera intercambiada. Trataré de ser específico con mi lenguaje tanto como sea posible, pero mantengan en la mente que lo que algunos llaman “distonía de embocadura” puede no ser un desorden neurológico, sino un problema de la mecánica de la embocadura.
El Instituto Nacional de Trastornos Neurológicos y Derrames (NINDS, siglas en inglés) define “distonía” como:

“un trastorno caracterizado por contracciones musculares involuntarias que causan movimientos lentos y repetitivo o posturas anormales. Los movimientos pueden ser dolorosos, y algunos individuos con distonía pueden tener temblores u otras características neurológicas. Hay distintas formas de distonía que pueden afectar a un músculo, un grupo de músculos o musculos a lo largo del cuerpo. Algunas formas de distonía son genéticas pero la causa de la mayoría de los causos es desconocida.”

Específicamente más relevante para las embocaduras de quienes tocan metal, la variedad de distonía que necesitamos entender se conoce como “distonía focal específica de una actividad”, nuevamente, definida según el NINDS:

“las distonías específicas de una actividad son distonías focales que tieneden a ocurrir solo cuando se lleva a cabo repetidamente una actividad particular. Los ejemplos incluyen el calambre del escritor que afecta los musculos de la mano y ocasionalmente los del antebrazo, y solo ocurre durante la escritura. Distonías focales similares han sido llamadas calambres del mecanógrafo, del pianista y del músico. La distonía del músico es un término utilizado para clasificar las distonías focales que afectan a los músicos, específicamente su habilidad para tocar un instrumento o actuar. Puede involver las manos en los instrumentistas de cuerda o teclado, la boca y los labios en los de aliento, o la voz en los cantantes”

Antes de continuar, necesito aclarar mi formación y mis ideas sobre la distonía de embocadura. Como siempre intento señalar al discutir algo médico, no soy un profesional de la medicina y en ninguna manera estoy calificado para tratar un desorden neurológico. Mientras intento describir algunas causas posibles, o por lo menos correlaciones, de las disfunciones severas de embocadura más adelante, mis ideas y consejos no deben de ningún modo considerarse un consejo médico válido. Siempre debes consultar con un profesional médico si sospechas de una condición médica.


Esto me lleva a mi primer crítica, los maestros de música que pretenden diagnosticar y tratar desórdenes médicos. Deténganse. Mientras sus intenciones pueden ser buenas y quizá estén ayudando a personar a recuperarse de una disfunción de embocadura, hay un riesgo de que se cause un gran daño. Llamen a lo que hacen lo que es, resolver problemas de embocadura. A menos que tengan el entrenamiento médico y la licencia para legalmente tratar y/o diagnosticar condiciones médicas, están sobre la línea de practicar terapias o medicina sin licencia.

Mencioné daño potencial. Brevemente diré que hay razones no-médicas por las cuales algunas embocaduras se dañan y provocan síntomas parecidos a la distonía focal de embocadura. A menos que estén calificados para diagnosticar una condición médica, su proclamación de que un estudiante que llega a ustedes tiene “distonía de embocadura” puede causar que esa persona dilate o evite un tratamiento médico necesario. Si el estudiante tien la parálisis de Bell o un derrame ligero, por ejemplo, postergar un diagnóstico correcto con su atención médica correspondiente puede arruinar las oportunidades del estudiante de recuperarse por completo. O puede conducir a complicaciones más serias que estén más allá de tocar un instrumento de metal. Las condiciones médicas como distonía focal específica existen y deben ser tratadas bajo la supervisión de una persona calificada.

Dejen la medicina a los profesionales y ustedes deberán aconsejar a sus estudiantes a buscar atención médica, cuando sea apropiado.


Algunas veces me sorprente lo ignorante que es el campo de la pedagogía de los metales de la forma y función de la embocadura. Hay definitivamente una cultura de ignorancia que evita que los músicos de metal aprendan a entender realmente como su embocadura funciona y poner en un contexto más amplio como distintos músicos tocan de manera distinta. Una de las voces más influyentes en hacer que los músicos y los maestros permanezcan dichosamente desprevenidos fue Arnold Jacobs. Jacobs alentaba a sus estudiantes a “pensar en el producto, no en la metodología” (Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs: A Developmental Guide for Brass Wind Musicians/Así hablaba Arnold Jacobs: Una guía para el desarrollo de músicos de aliento metal) Sea o no su intención que su idea se tomase de esta manera, muchos maestros de metal han interpretado que esto significa que uno nunca debe analizar la técnica de los metales.

Roger Rocco, un antiguo estudiante de Jacobs, ha escrito en su blog que la distonía de la embocadura es causada en parte por:

“Enfocarse en la consciencia de sí mismo, en el análisis de sí mismo, o del instrumento”

Él no cita ninguna fuente médica que corrobore su declaración, ni esto se alínea con lo que fuentes de buena reputación declaran sobre la distonía específica. Como el mayor volumen de la discusión relacionada con distonía focal del blog de Rocco es ideológica y filosófica, pondría en cuestión su declaración aquí.

Otra aproximación común, pero mal guiada, es la de asumir que la disfunción de embocadura es meramente un resultado de sobreuso. La página y libros de Lucinda Lewis cometen este error. De acuerdo a Lewis:

Para el propósito de la discusión aquí, el síndrome del sobreuso de la embocadura se refiere a cualquier problema crónico relacionado con la embocadura que dure por más de dos semanas e incluye cualquiera de los siguientes: dolor de labios, moretones o inflamación crónica, entumecimiento, labios de cartón, abrasiones recurrentes en los puntos de presión, abrasiones inducidas por el aire, falta de aguante, sonido desenfocado, falta de control de tocar y problemas crónicos del registro agudo.

– Broken Embouchures, de Lucinda Lewis.

Lo que ella ha hecho aquí es tomar virtualmente cualquier problema de embocadura y lo ha colocado bajo la sombrilla de “sobreuso de la embocadura”. El problema no es solo que sobre-simplifique, pero además prescribe un tratamiento general que puede no ser relevante para la situación. Los problemas crónicos del registro agudo pueden venir de una variedad de problemas mecánicos, muchos de los cuales no se relacionan con el sobreuso. Las abrasiones de los labios pueden ser exacerbadas por retorcer los labios hacia arriba con la boquilla. El hinchamiento de los labios y los moretones pueden ocurrir porque la colocación de la boquilla no está balanceada correctamente entre el labio superior y el inferior. Un periodo particularmente demandante de tocar puede ser la paja proverbial que rompe la espalda del camello, pero la mecánica incorrecta está atrás de los factores con los que se debe empezar.

Es fácil encontrar ideas similares a lo largo de la literatura musical, pero las fuentes que descartan el análisis de la embocadura a menudo carecen de una discusión completa y precisa de la mecánica de la embocadura. No puedes analizar algo que no entiendes. De lo que carecen es que si tú analizas algo incorrectamente vas a tener problemas haciendo las correcciones necesarias.Si combinas esto con la lamentable frase de “análisis lleva a parálisis” vas a tener una profecía que se autocumple. Haz tu tarea primero.

Como un área general, la pedagogía de los metales se lleva a cabo en gran parte ignorando la forma y función de la embocadura. Algunas personas lo hacen conscientemente y están orgullosos de esos. Otros están mal aconsejados. Me gusta pensar que la mayoría de los músicos y maestros simplemente han recibido mala orientación y que con un buen acceso a buena información podrán ser capaces de tomar decisiones más informadas sobre cómo practicar y enseñar el desarrollo de la embocadura. En ambos casos, activamente hacer que la gente evite aprender acerca de la realidad está haciendo un despropósito a nuestros estudiantes y debe ser detenido.

Los tipos básicos de embocadura no son un tema difícil de entender. Si sientes que tener una comprensión general de la teoría musical es útil para tocar música (y espero que no tengas que ser convencido de eso), entonces, con seguridad, hacer un esfuerzo similar para entender las embocaduras está muy bien dentro de tu capacidad. Sí, existe un tiempo y un lugar para olvidarse de la técnica de los metales, pero “no tires al bebé con el agua de la bañera”. Debes hacer un esfuerzo para entender completamente un tema antes de que lo descartes por ser innecesario o equivodado.


Para tratar la disfunción de embocadura, primero necesitas entender su forma y función. Al haber muchas ideas contrarias debes tener las herramientas para colocarlas en un contexto adecuado. He escrito bastante extensivamente sobre esto en este blog, pero continuare con alguna información básica sobre esto en este post para puntualizar mejor.

Si te fijas de cerca en la embocadura de los músicos pronto descubrirás que cada embocadura es distinta. Esto tiene sentido, pues cada músico tiene características anatómicas distintas. Habiendo dicho eso, también notarás que existen algunos patrones específicos en las embocaduras. Usando dos características observables de una embocadura funcional puedes empezar a categorizarlas en distintos tipos. Estos tipos de embocadura no son métodos de práctica o instrucciones, sino que describen características observables que todas las embocaduras tienen, estén o no conscientes de estas los instrumentistas.

La primer categoría es la de la dirección del aire. Mientras muschos músicos están convencidos que soplan el aire hacia abajo de la boquilla, observar esto con una boquilla transparente muestra algo distinto. Virtualmente todos los músicos exitosos ponen la boquilla de modo que un labio o el otro predomine dentro de la boquilla. Cuando se coloca más el labio superior dentro de la boquilla la corriente de aire toma una dirección hacia abajo (downstream) al pasar los labios. Lo contrario pasa cuando se coloca más el labio dentro, el flujo de aire pasa los labios y choca la copa de la boquilla arriba del tubo (upstream). El ángulo del instrumento, a pesar de ser importante para la embocadura, no determina la dirección del aire; es la colocación de la boquilla la determinante.

En estos días la dirección del aire debería ser un conocimiento común, pero no lo es. Esta característica ha sido independientemente descubierta y confirmada por una variedad de fuentes y existen documentos disponibles en bibliotecas académicas y mucha información disponible gratuitamente en línea. Aún más importante, no es difícil darte cuenta por ti mismo. El *link* que posteé en el párrafo previo muestra algunas fotos y videos y las boquillas transparentes no son difíciles de conseguir ni caras. Si tú estás ayudando a músicos con disfunciones severas debes de estar atento a la dirección del aire y a si la embocadura de tu alumno es upstream, downstream o alternan entre ambas. Querrás entender que no todos tocan con una embocadura que satisface su anatomía y deberas estar consciente de que cambiar la colocación y el flujo de aire puede ayudar o lastimar a algunos, a veces de manera dramática.

La otra característica de la embocadura que es aún más desconocida en el ámbito es lo que me gusta llamar “motricidad de embocadura” (embouchure motion). Virtualmente todos los músicos de éxitos, estén o no conscientes de esto, empujarán y jalarán la boquilla y los labios juntos como una unidad hacia arriba o hacia abajo a lo largo de sus dientes y encías al cambiar registros. La dirección general y el ángulo específico que esta motricidad varía de músico en músico, pero se muestra como una parte esencial de una embocadura funcional. Algunos músicos por lo general empujan la boquilla y los labios hacia la nariz al subir el registro, mientras otros la jalan hacia abajo. Estos patrones básicos tambien están correlacionados con la dirección del aire del individuo. Los que tocan upstream casi siempre jalarán hacia abajo para ascender a los agudos, mientras que los downstream pueden hacer lo mismo o lo contrario. Otra vez, este fenómeno ha sido descubierto y verificado por distintas fuentes, pero aún no está ampliamente divulgado.

Usando estas dos características básicas por sí solas es posible categorizar tres tipos básicos de embocadura por lo menos. Utilizando otras características, tales como la posición de la mandíbula y el ángulo del instrumento, es posible (aunque probable e innecesariamente complicado) definir aún más tipos de embocadura. Si tú estás ayudando a los músicos a recuperarse de una disfunción severa deberás estár atento a estos tipos básicos de embocadura y aprender a distinguirlos. Estas son variables importantes que debes considerar.


Si bien no he visto muchos casos de distonía o disfunción de embocadura como tales, cada caso que he visto detenidamente (y en algunas ocasiones, documentado), exhibe alguna forma de alternación del tipo. Un puñado de estos son músicos que probablemente debería estar tocando upstream y que por alguna razón no lo están, a menudo por los consejos de un maestro bien intencionado pero sin pericia. Aún más común, sin embargo, veo alternación entre ambas variantes downstream. Si miras la motricidad de embocadura tendrás dificultad para ver si están jalando hacia abajo o empujando hacia arriba para ascender a los agudos. Algunas veces dan la vuelta a la dirección en un punto particular de su registro o van muy lejos con la motricidad de la embocadura en cierto punto. *aquí hay un ejemplo de youtube* grabado por Joaquí Fabra, quien cree que la distonía es un problema conductual y quien trata a la distonía como un problema psicológico. Al mirar el video de este cornista puedes ver la motricidad de su embocadura alternar la dirección.

Aquí está otro video de Joaquín Fabra que muestra a un trompetista. Observa como la motricidad del músico en la primer parte del video muestra boquilla y labios haciendo pucheros alrededor de casi cada ataque. Cada vez que toca una nota está intentando darle a un blanco movedizo. Más adelante del video, el trompetista está casi carente de síntomas y podrás ver la consistencia en la motricidad de la embocadura, particularmente en el ataque inicial de las notas.

A mi parecer, Fabra ni siquiera considera que el músico está alternando. En su entrevista con Dave Stragg, Fabra deja bastante claro que el percibe que la distonía es causada por una condición emocional y el evita la discusión de la mecánica de la embocadura, llegando incluso a dar a entender que el análisis de la embocadura es parcialmente la causa de la condición en primer lugar. Considerando su aparentemente carencia de entendimiento de los tipos básicos de embocadura, pero la corrección de la alternación, yo diría que la aproximación de Fabra se vería beneficiada de no tratar meramente los resultados psicológicos de la disfunción severa, sino de corregir conscientemente la mecánica de la emocadura.

Regresando a las ideas de Lucinda Lewis, ella siente que un programa de tratamiento de la disfunción de embocadura requiere que el músico de metal regrese a la embocadura previa al colapso. En Embocaduras Rotas (Broken Embouchures) escribió, “Reparar tu embocadura quiere decir rehabilitar la mecánica a su integridad pre-daño” (2005, p.40). Lo que falta en su texto es, como sea, considerar si la embocadura pre-daño era funcional en primer lugar. Mi analogía favorita para esto es el levantar objetos pesados con la espalda. Puedes estar tocando mal por un rato, particularmente si eres fuerte. Pero si lo sigues haciendo serás más propenso a lastimarte. Si sufres de una disfunción severa y mejoras al regresar a tu embocadura previa debes considerar que quizá solo estés mejorando en tocar mal. Los maestros deben de estar atentos a la embocadura de sus estudiantes y a la forma general de la embocadura para poder eliminar los cambios de tipo que sean los culpables de una disfunción. También puede ayudar a los músicos a corregir el cambiar de tipo antes de que ésto provoque un colapso, en primer lugar.


La mayoría de mi escrito aquí está dedicado a la falta de atención a la mecánica de la embocadura por parte de los maestros y estudiantes de metales y a nuestra incapacidad de poner esto en un contexto adecuado al atender a la disfunción de la embocadura. Si el campo de la pedagogía de los metales está aventando la toalla aquí no podemos esperar que la comunidad médica tenga mejor desempeño y los músicos que sufren de la disfunción quizá no vayan a ser bien atendidos por doctores y terapistas que traten la distonía. Pero más allá de este problema, que será corregido cuando más músicos estén más conscientes de este tema, necesitamos comenzar a hacer mejores preguntas sobre la distonía de embocadura. Algunas de estas preguntas pueden (y deberían) ser investigadas objeticamente, pero nuevamente, esto necesita comenzar al nivel de la comunidad musical, quienes no solo tendran una participación más importante en este tema pero quienes también deberán tener la formación necesaria en la técnica para mejorar las embocaduras.

Pero para mejorar esto los educadores musicales necesitan tomar más en serio la metodología de la investigación. Hata cierto grado, nuestra falta de consciencia de cómo llevar a cabo investigaciones e interpretar artículos académicos es entendible. Antes que todo somos artistas y nuestra preocupación primaria debería ser la expresión musical. Habiendo dicho esto, el pensamiento crítico es también una capacidad que se remunera dentro y fuera de la música. Corresponde a todos los maestros, no solo a aquellos que tratan la disfunción, aprender a conducir investigación, aprender sobre los sezgos cognitivos y cómo buscar información precisa y de calidad de temas musicales. Una vez que hayamos cambiado nuestra cultura de la ignorancia por una de prencamiento crítico y consciencia podremos comenzar a hacer preguntas (y a investigar) cuestiones que potencialmente dirijan hacia un tratamiento más efectivo de la disfunción de emocadura. Aquí hay algunas preguntas que personalmente creo debemos hacer:

  1. ¿Son algunos tipos de embocadura más propensos a la disfunción?
  2. ¿Qué características de embocadura (por ejemplo, cambio de motricidad de embocadura) pueden correlacionarse con la disfunción de embocadura?
  3. Es el cambiar de tipo de embocadura una causa de transtornos neurológicos específicos que pueda ser mapeada en el cerebro o es el problema neurológico el que causa el cambio?
  4. ¿Qué tan a menudo es un diagnóstico de distonía realmente el resultado de cambiar de tipo?
  5. ¿Conduce la corrección consciente de la alternación entre embocaduras a una mejora en la disfunción?
  6. ¿Conducen los programas que son existosos en tratar la disfunción severa a correcciones de la alternación entre embocaduras, aún si la alternación no está considerada en ese programa? De ser así, ¿Servirían mejor los procedimientos que encaminan a un músico a evitar la alternación?
  7. ¿Llevan a problemas psicológicos las fallas mecánicas relacionadas con la alternación de embocadura? De ser así, ¿puede lograrse una reducción o eliminación e los problemas psicológicos a través de correcciones mecánicas?
  8. ¿Cómo pueden los maestros ayudar a los músicos que padecen disfunción severa hacer un programa de tratamiento balanceado que ataque los problemas mecánicos relacionados con la embocadura y psicológicos relacionados con la incapacidad para tocar?


He criticado y nombrado a algunas personas aquí y también, previamente, en otras ocasiones en linea. Algunos de estos maestros han tomado esta crítica personalmente, aún cuando esta no es mi intención. Por favor, nótese que yo hago lo que puedo para enfocarme en las ideas, no en las personas como individuos. Así también soy cuidadoso de probar y calificar mis opiniones tanto como sea posible ya sea de mis ideas está basada en evidencia objetiva o mera especulación. Más aún, me he equivocado en el pasado y continuaré cometiendo equivocaciones. Una de las razones por las cuales posteo mis pensamientos sobre este tópico públicamente es para que los expertos puedan señalar las fallas en mi razonamiento.

El método científico ha sido tan exitoso debido a su naturaleza autocorrectiva. Los maestros de metales que ayuden a los músicos que padezcan una disfunción severa necesitan seguir más este método. Esto involucra cuestionarse sobre las ideas de los otros, retando nuestras propios supuestos y comprometerse en un debate abierto y honesto con los demás. Muy a menudo vemos esto como descortés y nos olvidamos de que así es como se hace el progreso. Ningún individuo que trate a la distonía tendrá todas las respuestas, no importa qué tan exitoso sea su programa de tratamiento. El genio solitario que guía el camino para todos es solo un mito. Colectivamente somos mucho más inteligentes de lo que somos individualmente.


Si llegaste hasta aquí y eres un músico que padece disfunción severa de embocadura quiero concluir con mi consejo para ti. He tenido éxito en ayudar algunas personas con problemas al pitar y también sé de un puñado de amigos a lo largo de los EUA que puedo recomendar, pero si quieres ayuda probablemente tendrás que trasladarte a menos que vivas en su área. Las consultas por video, a pesar de tener potencial, generalmente no se prestan a diagnosticar problemas de embocadura y a encontrar la solución.

Hay maestros que tienen éxito en tratar problemas de disfunción que no demuestran una consciencia de los tipos de embocadura y cómo corregir las alternaciones, pero yo por lo general animaría a un estudiante a buscar ayuda de alguien más reconocible. Hagan preguntas. Más aún, cuando buscas ayuda creo que es necesario tener en cuenta el efecto Dunning/Kruger: mientras más blanco/negro se torne una discusión, más probable es que se vuelva ena discusión filosófica que una realidad objetiva. Los programas de tratamiento que se basan en el Sistema de Pensamiento de Harold Hill tienen más probabilidades de éxito a pesar de, en vez de por lo que aprendas. Una segunda opinión puede ser una buena idea, aún si aparentemente te está funcionando.

Otra vez más, puedo estar equivocado. Tómate tu tiempo para seguir los recursos y links que he posteado aquí sobre la función y disfunción de embocadura y juzga por ti mismo. Mi objetivo aquí es conscientizar a los músicos y maestros de la información disponible para colocar los consejos en un contexto apropiado, no para espantar a las personas de un punto de vista opuesto. Le doy la bienvenida a preguntas y críticas a mis propias ideas y te invito a que las pongas en la sección de comentarios de abajo.

Air Pressure, Pitch Range, and Dynamics

A recent discussion over at the Trumpet Herald forum got me thinking a bit more about the relationship between the pitch and dynamic being played by a brass player and how the breathing functions. Many brass players and teachers talk about using “faster air” for high notes, “blow harder” for loud notes, or “hot, wet, breath” for getting a rich, dark sound. These sorts of descriptions are fairly common, although many variations exist and not everyone feels similarly about their effectiveness in playing and teaching.

It is, of course, necessary to consider that playing sensations are a pretty unreliable way of talking about what exactly is happening in the player’s physiology or in the acoustics of the instrument. What to one player might feel like “blowing harder” might seem more like “faster air.” Furthermore, what works for a brass student and one stage of his or her development may become counterproductive later. This is why it’s important to have a good teacher who can watch you play and make corrections as needed. Teasing out those corrections often will take the form of analogies such as the ones I described, but we have to fall back on trial and error.

All that said, I find the science behind playing mechanics and instrument acoustics fascinating. Regardless of how you feel like you play, there may be some insights we can glean as players and teachers into breathing by taking the time to learn more. This can be a controversial topic, as reading through the Trumpet Herald topic can show. It’s even been a topic I’ve blogged about here that inspired some heated debate in the comments. In part this is due to differences in opinion about whether knowing this can be helpful or is a waste of time. My thought here is that trying to learn more about the way things work is never a waste of time, provided you are aware of the risks of going down the wrong path for a bit and recognize that you might just need to backtrack. Better still is to learn from those who have already done the research and had something to say about it.

One group of researchers, Jonathan Kruger, James McClean, and Mark Kruger, replicated a famous informal experiment that Arnold Jacobs supposedly did measuring the air pressure of brass players on different instruments and comparing how much blowing pressure and airflow were used for pitches. Jacobs noted that as the blowing pressure increased as the player ascended in range while the airflow decreased. He also claimed that players of different instruments would use a similar intra-oral pressure for the same pitch, so that a trombonist playing a “high Bb” would be blowing with about the same amount of pressure as a trumpet player playing the “middle C” (both pitches would be Bb4). Kruger, et al, found some of this to be true, but some of it to be different.

Intra-oral compression does increase as pitch increases and airflow decreases as pitch increases in each of the four members of the brass family. Both measures are also sensi- tive to changes in loudness (dynamic). Figure 2 shows changes in airflow and internal air pressure for a trumpet performer ascending the open pitches from the G below middle C upward while playing as close as possible to 85 decibels. As Jacobs observed, the larger bore instruments require less intra-oral compression and produce more air- flow when playing in their normal ranges than the higher instruments. Contrary to Jacob’s assertion about the simi- larity of instruments playing the same pitch, we observed measurable differences.

Other researchers have done similar experiments and found similar results. Kenneth Berger’s article in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Respiratory and articulatory factors in wind instrument performance (full article behind a paywall, abstract only), notes that the trumpet requires more intraoral pressure that other wind instruments studied.

A third paper published by 10éme Congres Fancaise d’Acoustique is thankfully written in English here. Freour, Causse, and Cosette noted similar results. In their article, Simultaneous Measurement of Pressure, Flow and Sound during Trumpet Playing, they wrote, “…it appears that pressure increases with both pitch and loudness, that flow increases with pitch and tends to decrease with dynamic.” They also note that the results of their study open up new questions that can now be addressed, such as the influence of air compressibility and even blood distribution in the respiratory system while playing.

So what are the implications for teaching and practicing brass instruments? At the very least I think we understand that blowing pressure and air volume do depend on the pitch range and dynamic being played. Knowing this, we might want to practice and teach being more aware of how we’re blowing while playing and changing those factors. Through this awareness we can learn our personal playing sensations in such a way as to memorize the feeling of when things are sounding and feeling good as well as better troubleshoot for those times when they are not.