Foremost on the list of trumpet player complaints is the condition of their embouchure or “chops”.
Every trumpet player I have ever known complains about the performance and/or condition of their only contact with this sound producing area in playing the instrument. Why is this?
Here are a few reasons why we gripe and complain.
- We don’t have the range we would like.
- We don’t have the endurance we need.
- We don’t like our tone quality.
- We are unsatisfied with our consistency.
And the list goes on and on………..
When taking all of our needs into consideration, several reasons can be identified as the cause of our dissatisfaction.
- We are playing on a bad embouchure.
- We are not practicing in a productive manner.
- We are playing on the wrong equipment.
- We suck at playing….
And again the list goes on……..
Many times an embouchure problem can be traced to an improper embouchure formation and this will be the first of five areas you may need to address when trying to improve your playing.
Forming the embouchure
- Say the syllable “Dim” and hold out the m sound. This places the lips in the correct position to produce a good sound. As you sustain the “m” firm the corners of your lips while retaining the relaxed feel in the center part of your lips. At this point most players think that the lips should remain touching while playing a note which is contrary to what needs to happen. If you keep the lips together, you will run into the following problems. 1. Your high range will be limited as the lips tighten and restrict the air flow between them. 2. Your lower range will be impeded for the same reason.
- As you place the mouthpiece to your lips, make sure that there is space between your lips for the air to pass through. Knowing how large an opening you will need takes practice and a helpful measurement can be done by placing the tip of your tongue between your lips to get the feel of how apart they are. Without this “feel” of the opening, you’ll never know what works best for you.
Working with the embouchure
- For your embouchure to function efficiently, you will need the firmness of the corners as well as the relaxed center portion of your lips. As several great trumpet players have mentioned through the years “The secret is in the corners”.
- The corners of your embouchure should not move outward (smile) nor should they move to the center (pucker). I have watched some great trumpet players through the years and in every case, they showed no change in any of the registers. While doing a recording session with the wonderful trumpet player Don Thomas in Dallas many years ago, I could not tell by watching his embouchure if he was playing a low F# or an F above high C! Nothing seemed to change.
- Mouthpiece pressure will start creeping into the picture when 1. High notes are required. 2. The player starts to get tired. To guard against this bad habit, practice the high notes regularly and build your strength. Just how to do both of these things will be covered later in this series.
Conditioning the embouchure
- Gaining strength in the embouchure requires regular and productive practice habits. Most players either don’t do enough or in many cases do too much. To regulate the amount of productive practicing, I developed the “rest as much as you play” routine which is covered at another post on this site.
- As well as practicing in a regular and productive manner, one also needs to add work load from time to time in order to continue progressing.
- Long tones have been suggested for increasing strength and on the flip side of these exercises we also need to implement lip flexibility exercises. Flexibility exercises guarantees that you don’t become too stiff or muscle bound.
Things to be watching for
- An excessive amount of long tones will surface in inflexible playing with difficulty to play soft passages.
- Excessive lip flexibility exercises will manifest itself in great tone and agility within wide slurs as well as lack of endurance and possible increase in mouthpiece pressure.