The problem with stiff embouchures is common with trumpet and horn players possibly due to the fact that such a small amount of embouchure is actually in the cup of the mouthpiece when compared to that of a trombone or tuba mouthpiece. Coping with and/or solving this condition can be done in many ways but today I will cover two of the most common- “before and after repair”.
A very good friend and super trumpet player and I visited for some time sharing ideas which have proven helpful for each of us when faced with stiff chops. Mr. Doyle Miller has been performing in Branson for some time and his employment includes the bands of Les Brown, Bobby Vinton, the Rat Pack, Silver Dollar City, Less Elgart as well as musicals and recording sessions in town. Mr. Miller recently completed a series of 45 shows, performing three shows a day and for that reason, I thought it would be a good time to interview him on the subject of stiff chops. The following material was collected from the interview.
Question- When playing as many shows as you have recently, do you every experience stiff chops?
Answer- “Yes, every day”.
How do you work through this condition?
“I had three shows a day to play this past month and my routine was to get up in the morning and play whole notes in the middle register (third space C on down) for about fifteen minutes. Then, as my embouchure loosened, I started expanding my notes from the C going up and down. As soon as I felt that my chops were ready, I would take a break until the first show”.
What do you expect your chops to feel like when you play your three shows each day?
“I work through the first show and by the time the second show rolls around, I feel good and the third as well”.
Do you implement any kind of a cool down after your last show?
“No, perhaps I should but when I finish the last show, I want to go home and start over again the next day”.
How would you describe stiff chops?
“In the morning my lips fell puffy. I’m not sure they actually feel stiff. Puffy lips don’t feel responsive as they do when I’m warmed up”
Have you ever done a cool down in the past?
“Yes, and maybe I should do a cool down but when I finish the show, I don’t feel like doing any more playing”.
Doyle’s preference to putting the horn in the case and picking up his check is more common with the majority of professional players and this alone may be the way you want to solve stiff chops. Another approach to solving the stiff chop problem is to warm up before a gig, but after playing, also implement some sort of a cool down before putting your horn away. This is also true for strenuous daily practice sessions. I have a strong feeling that this works best for me.
While working with Bobby Vinton years ago, my routine was to warm-up on my mouthpiece in the car as I drove to the theater. By the time I reached the theater, I was ready to play. After finishing the show I also would put my horn in the case and start for home. On the way home I would pull out my mouthpiece again and buzz low tones all the way home. After making the trip and buzzing for fifteen minutes, my chops were very flexible and ready for the next day’s playing. If, on the other hand, I had a long day of practicing, before I packed up for the day, I would go through about twenty minutes of pedal tones which super charge my lip with oxygen and the recovery time was started much sooner.
Recently, I have been warming up in the morning and in place of a cool down, I have replaced that exercise with about a half hour of trombone playing. I have seen a big difference in my trumpet playing and I can only attribute the improvement to the lower, slower lip vibrations as well as more meat vibrating within the mouthpiece cup. To be honest, I stopped actual practicing my trumpet for my technical ability on the trumpet exceeds my playing requirements and the trombone practicing helps to loosen my lips at the end of each day.
I have discussed two different approaches to the stiff chop problem and as stated, each works for Doyle’s and my needs. Every person is different but if you are experiencing an inflexible embouchure, the solution might be a longer warm up before the gig or a cool down after you have played.
I hope this will give you some insight into the thinking and beliefs of at least two players.
Here is additional information about Mr. Miller:
Doyle Miller is a native of Russell, Kansas and holds a Bachelors Degree in Music Education from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. Throughout his career, Doyle has performed with musical groups such as Les Brown and the Band of Renown; Tommy Dorsey Orchestra; Harry James Orchestra; Les Elgart Orchestra; Sammy Kaye Orchestra; Russ Morgan Orchestra and Bobby Vinton with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
Doyle currently lives in Branson, Missouri where he has played in many theaters and shows including: The Rat Pack – A Tribute to Frank, Dean & Sammy; Les Brown and The Band Of Renown; Branson Jubilee; The Magnificent Seven and Swing, Swing, Swing. He has also worked or recorded with celebrities such as Bob Hope; Andy Williams; The Lettermen; The Osmond Family;Mannheim Steamroller; Little Anthony and The Imperials and The Lennon Sisters. Prior to moving to Branson, Doyle worked for Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line playing lead trumpet in their show bands touring around the world.