This question can mean different things to different people. To a mother of a new born baby, it has one meaning and to a city mayor, it might refer the drinking preference of his/her county. To a trumpet player still another and this is the person I will be addressing in this post.
What is a dry embouchure and what is a wet embouchure?
The difference between the two is the moisture content of the lip area while playing. A wet embouchure is one which has moisture (saliva) under the rim of the mouthpiece and between the lips and a dry embouchure lacks this moisture.
Is it best to play on a dry embouchure or a wet embouchure?
This question has been argued from the beginning of time and the final decision has yet to be made. The reason for this heated debate is the fact that many great players are successful with one and an equal number have chosen the other. Each lip condition has its own advantage and has been used successfully throughout the history of our instrument. I have seen debates from both sides of the aisle and will relate the logic of each.
The advantage of a dry embouchure
The advantage of playing on a dry embouchure is the fact that the player has added security. A dry embouchure player feels the mouthpiece rim is more anchored and less chance of sliding when there is no moisture between the lip and the mouthpiece. This choice is many times preferred by players who use excessive mouthpiece pressure. When an excessive amount of pressure is used, the introduction of moisture between the rim and the lip will cause the mouthpiece to move, thus complicating the players feeling of security. As an example of this problem, I will relate a first hand experience of this problem. While playing the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus during the summer in Iowa, the third trumpet player complained repeatedly of the heat. As we continued to play, his complaint grew into stark panic. What he was experiencing was complications to his playing style as the sweat continued to form on his lip. He was a dry embouchure player and as the heat increased, his playing ability decreased for his mouthpiece kept sliding on his lip to the point that he couldn’t comfortably play his part. No matter how many times he wiped his lips with his handkerchief, the problem continued. You might consider this example when deciding on which embouchure you prefer. Although this situation is not an advantage as my first sentence in this paragraph stated, it is very relevant to the discussion. That was a disadvantage of playing on a dry embouchure but the next is definitely an advantage. If you are performing outside in the middle of winter as I did at the Farm Progress Show in Western Iowa with the temperature hovering at 15 degrees, a dry embouchure can be your friend. In frigid weather or blowing winds, the dry embouchure has a definite advantage over the wet. For a wet lip player, the only solution is a generous amount of Chapstick and apply it often.
The advantage of a wet embouchure
The advantage of playing on a wet embouchure is the fact that the lips will begin to vibrate more easily with moisture lubricating the lips. Softer entrances are easier and the wetness will help make sure that excessive mouthpiece pressure is not exerted. This debate reminded me of an incident at our university when the great high range player Bud Brisbois was giving a master class to our students. The question was asked of Mr. Brisbois, “Do you play on a wet or dry embouchure?” His answer was quick and decisive, “Dry”. To demonstrate further to the student, he began to illustrate his choice. He picked up his horn and wiped the moisture from his lip, but before he placed his mouthpiece on his lip he licked his lips and proceeded to play. After he had finished, the same student asked him the same question and received the same answer. The student challenged the great player by pointing out the fact that before Mr. Brisbois played, each time he would lick his lips. The argument continued until finally another question was tactfully asked. Here was the great player telling our students that he played on a dry embouchure but each time he began to play, he would lick his lips. The question is still debated; did Brisbois (April 11, 1937 – June 1978) use a dry or wet embouchure? I have my feelings and so did our students that day.
As I have illustrated, there are advantages for playing on a wet embouchure as well as advantages playing on a dry. It is my strong opinion that a wet embouchure is the best but don’t forget to have your Chapstick with you at all times.