“Where should I place my mouthpiece when I play my trumpet/cornet?”
The placement of your mouthpiece can be affected in many ways. If you have scare tissue as I do, (a friend through a brick and hit me square on the chops) you will notice that the affected area does not vibrate as other tissues does. If your dental facial structure is less than ideal, (front teeth protrude or are highly irregular) you may encounter more comfortable or less comfortable areas to place the mouthpiece. The position of your jaw will also affect your mouthpiece placement. If the world was perfect and none of the above issues affect you, the ideal mouthpiece placement would be centered under your nose and placed evenly both up and down on your lips.
“What advantage is there to placing the mouthpiece in the center of the lip?”
Most players agree that the mouthpiece should be on or close to the center of your lip, directly under your nose. When we discuss the distance up and down on your lips, then we get into personal opinions. There are as many accomplished trumpet players playing on a “high” setting as there are those playing on a “low” setting. And the others play well in the center. So what’s the difference?
Generally speaking, the higher the mouthpiece is set on your lip, the more vibratory area is put into play. It has been proven through clinical studies that the upper lip is the only section of the lip that vibrates when playing a cup mouthpiece instrument. Even though the lip area which surrounds the opening of the mouth is in fact circular, like a rubber band, when buzzing on a cupped mouth only the upper area vibrates and the function of the lower area is there to support the upper portions of the lip.
As the amount of vibratory area is increased but moving the mouthpiece upward, the amount of meat is increased and in most cases the tone quality and flexibility of the player changes. This change is usually a darkening of the tone and increased flexibility. On the other hand, if the mouthpieces is below the center position were the mouthpiece is situated, more on the lower lip and less on the upper lip, the resulting change is generally an improvement in the upper register and a corresponding brighter tone quality. Most players try to begin in the center and during their development shift to a more productive and/or comfortable placement.
“I have been playing off to one side on my lip or, above or below and don’t seem to be improving.”
If you have been playing on an extreme mouthpiece position (left or right/ up or down) and feel that this is hindering your progress, make sure that the placement is the cause, not something else. Changing from an extreme position to a more conventional position is not easy and you will have to evaluate the amount gained with that of the amount lost when making this change.
Moving a mouthpiece from one area to another would be as if you are starting all over again. It can be very frustrating and I only recommend this change for a person who has no other recourse. It takes dedication and a strong will to make this change. Ask yourself, “Is it worth taking a couple months off my regular playing in order to make this change?”
I am reminded of one of my earlier students who decided to make the change. This students’ mouthpiece placement was far to the right and low enough that very little upper lip was in the cup. His playing was drastically hampered by this position. I explained the issues involved with his choice to move the mouthpiece and he agreed to the switch. At that time this student was playing regularly in his own rock band and a change would require him to replace himself in his own band for an extended period of time.
We began the change at the end of the spring semester and throughout that summer he began learning to play all over again. By the next fall semester he had improved greatly and by the next spring semester he was playing decidedly better than the year previous. I suffered along with him as his playing dropped suddenly from fair to absolute bottom. Gradually we celebrated with each month’s improvement.
After that year he started playing in his band and we both agreed that the change, even though at times discouraging, was well worth it. The culmination of his effort was his wonderful performance of the Arutunian Trumpet Concerto on his senior recital. Without the change he would not have been able to perform that piece. Without his dedication and drive, he would not have been successful making the change.
I consider that student to be one of my most respected and determined students I have had the pleasure to work with.
“I want to center the mouthpiece, now what do I do?”
When deciding to change your mouthpiece placement, it is best to be working with a teacher so that your progress is constantly being checked. The first piece of equipment you will need is a mirror. You will be checking your mouthpiece position frequently to make sure bad habits do not return.
I have listed some suggestions for you and stress that you must start slowly and progress only as quickly as your chops will dictate. “DON’T EXPECT RAPID IMPROVEMENT!”
These exercises are to be played with only the mouthpiece three (3) different times the first day (morning, afternoon and evening). “You will not need your trumpet/cornet until next week.”
- While looking in a mirror, (do not trust what feels correct) center the mouthpiece.
- Take a deep breath and buzz a long note on any pitch.
- If the note starts easily, you are on your way to a new mouthpiece placement.
- If no sound came out try again on a lower note.
- If no sound came out try again on a higher note.
- Once you are able to get a sound, work for a more centered and richer quality.
- Reset your mouthpiece on you lip, (checking with mirror each time) buzz a note and then bend the note as far down as you can.
- Reset your mouthpiece on you lip, (checking with mirror each time) buzz a note and then bend the note as far up as you can.
- Repeat all exercises from day 1.
- Continue to slide notes up and down until it feels less strange to you.
- Start a note in the middle register and tongue it with four short notes followed by one long note.
- Start a note in the lower register and tongue it with four short notes followed by one long note.
- Start a note in the upper register and tongue it with four short notes followed by one long note.
- AT ALL TIMES, CHECK YOUR PLACEMENT IN THE MIRROR.
- Pick out three or four familiar tunes (Happy Birthday, Three Blind Mice, etc.) and buzz them at a very slow tempo and in a relaxed manner.
- Take frequent breaks between numbers and think about your placement and your tone quality.
- Repeat your songs at different volumes in different keys.
- Repeat all exercises from day 1 and 2.
- Start playing one octave scales on your new placement beginning with low C.
- Slur all of your notes at first, then start tonguing each note.
- Rest frequently.
- Slur scales in this order- C, D, Bb, F and finally low G.
- Tongue scales in this order- C, D, Bb, F and finally low G. Repeat each note four times.
- Repeat all exercises from day 1, 2 and 3.
- Purchase Advanced Lip Flexibilities for Trumpet by Dr. Charles Colin.
- Practice page 25 in the book.
- At all times, check the placement in the mirror and rest frequently.
- Take the day off and go fishing. That’s an order!
- Repeat all exercises from day 1, 2, 3 and 4.
- Take the day off again.
Day 8 and following
Place your mouthpiece in your instrument and repeat all of the pervious exercises in the order and amount suggested. This means starting on day one and doing only what is suggested on day 1, but this time with your mouthpiece in you instrument.
By the end of your second week, your mouthpiece placement should be well established and you should, with discretion, be able to continue with page 26 of your flexibility book. Once you are able to perform this page easily, then go back to page 9 and begin these exercises in the order they are published. At this point in your recovery process, you should not exceed one page each day.
Points to remember-
- Regularly check your placement in the mirror.
- Start you practice with your sound in mind i.e. warm and relaxed.
- Rest frequently at first.
- Minimize your mouthpiece pressure. If you think you are pushing too hard on your lip while playing on your mouthpiece, put some Vaseline on the shank of your mouthpiece so that your fingers slide easily.
- Don’t expect to rush the first two weeks. If you do, you will have to start over.
- Get in the practice of “brush your teeth” after every practice session. The action of brushing will speed the recovery time between practices. No..Really!