Before we get into the how and why of excessive mouthpiece pressure, we need to identify what it actually is and establish how it is produced.
What is mouthpiece pressure? When the rim of a brass instruments mouthpiece comes in contact with the lip, it produces mouthpiece pressure on the lip. Some pressure is required in order to seal the two from leaking air as the player begins to blow through the lips. If too little pressure is exerted you will have air leaks. If too much mouthpiece pressure is exerted, the player will limit the vibration of the lips and in extreme cases, damage can be sustained by the lips.
How much pressure is correct? The amount of mouthpiece pressure will vary in accordance to the volume (decibels) and range of the notes. When playing extremely loud, a slight increase of pressure is necessary in order to compensate for the increased amount of air being blown into the instrument. Less pressure is also needed when playing in the low register of the instrument as compared to slightly more pressure used in the higher register. Please note that I have described the increased pressure as being “slightly” increased for an excess of pressure is not good and now we will identify what is ideal as compared to excessive.
How do you know if you are using too much mouthpiece pressure? The usual signs of excessive mouthpiece pressure are-
- Bruising or pain under the rim of the mouthpiece while playing or after playing
- Long lasting (ten minutes) dent in lip after removing mouthpiece
- Thinness in tone in all registers
- Split lip caused from playing for long periods of time and/or in high registers
- Ridges forming on the inside of your lip where your lip makes contact with your teeth
- General lack of endurance
- Inability to play very soft passages
- Difficulty starting notes at soft volumes in all registers
- Excessive tension in neck and shoulder muscles after practicing
- Lasting (ten minutes) dent in your little finger of your right hand where you hold your instrument
- Left hand tends to go to sleep during long (one hour) playing sessions
- Soreness or stiffness in your jaw area after long playing sessions
All of these are signs of possible excessive mouthpiece pressure and now after pointing out the signs, we move on to what can be done to alleviate the problem.
What can be done to lessen excessive mouthpiece pressure? If you are a beginning player, you have a definite advantage over an older player for your habits have not yet become established and consequently the time needed for the correction will be lessened. For a long-time player, the correction time will take longer but the advantages you will gain will be well worth the effort. In my next post I will describe three methods which should correct your excessive mouthpiece pressure problem and I will begin with the least aggressive and continue with more difficult exercises.