Trumpet Technique - January 13, 2004

My embouchure - the early days

In the early days, I played fairly well with a corner spreading, pressure-based, flat-chin embouchure: the higher I played, the harder I'd push the mouthpiece into my lips, and the farther apart I'd pull the corners of my mouth. I pressed so hard, that I always used to have creases/scars on the inside of my lip, where the mouthpiece was pushing my lip into my teeth. I also had a noticeable line (a half-moon) on my upper lip that followed the contour of the mouthpiece.

With this embouchure, my playable range went up to a D above the staff. I could play a handful of these D's every day, with decent volume and tone. My highest squeak during this period was an F above the staff, which I managed to play only once.

By the time I was a junior in high school, I was a pretty good player for my age, so I didn't worry too much about my range. Sure, I had listened to recordings of pros like Miles, Hubbard, and Wynton. I knew that they could all play higher than I could. I figured my range would also improve, as I got older. This sentiment would change once I went to college.

In college, I met lead players for the first time. These guys could belt out F's and G's above my high D, and they'd do it tune after tune. One guy's upper range was so strong that he could circular breathe while holding a screaming high note. I saw him do it once in a concert, while holding an A above high C.

For the first time, I became self-conscious about my own range. Was something wrong with me? Why could they play so high, while my range was stuck at a handful of painful D's?

I asked several of the high note players, including my college trumpet teacher, how they developed their ranges. And more importantly how should I go about improving mine. I got a variety of answers including:

"Range will develop over time, just keep practicing"

During the last two years of high school, I practiced at least three hours a day, every day. During my first two years of college I averaged four hours every day (even more before the blowout). I practiced more than any of the players who gave me this advice.

"Practice range expanding slurs and long tone exercises"

These exercises were part of my practice routine for a year or two. I never played even a half step higher as a result, nor did my existing range become stronger.

"Play more high notes. The more you play them, the better they get"

Believe me, I tried. If anything, my attempts at high notes were doing more damage to my range than good, due to the excessive pressure I used when playing.

"Point your chin down more to make it flatter"

My chin was as flat as I could physically make it. And, if I somehow could get it flatter, I fail to see how that would magically open up my range.

"Practice breathing exercises to strengthen the diaphragm"

One teacher wanted me to spend over $100 on a silly breathing apparatus. I never bought it, of course. I may have been desperate, but I wasn't stupid. I did, however, do a variety of other breathing exercises.

"Blow harder. make the air move faster"

Hey genius, thanks for the advice. I was always amazed that people thought I hadn't tried something so obvious.

"Get a smaller mouthpiece"

One of the high note players (the circular breather) gave me one of his old mouthpieces. He used the mouthpiece throughout his days in the Armed Services, while playing lead in jazz bands. I used the mouthpiece for about 2 years, with no positive results.

...

If you've played the trumpet for a while, you've probably heard a lot of similar advice. I'm not trying to say that none of this stuff works. Obviously it does work for some people. The problem is that it doesn't work for everyone, particularly people with fundamental embouchure problems: people like me...

Read part 2, finding balance

Comment by Michael

I have been reading your site for a while now, and I just wanted to say that I really appreciate all that you do on this site. It has helped me tremendously.

I am a sophmore in high school, and have been playing the trumpet since beginning of fith grade.

I found your articles on your embrouchure interesting, becuase I have had to work to improve them. For a year, I played on the side of my mouth. It took about a month to center that, and then I started bruising my lips when I practised hard, like 3-6 hours a day. The day after one particularly long practice, I woke up and found that my lips were swollen and I could not play a low C. I also had a half circle on my lips.

Obviously, I was putting way too much pressure on my lips. When I would hit higher notes (above the staff), I would slam the trumpet into my face.

Anyway, I have now reduced pressure to as little as possible and am easily hitting notes about double high C.

All of this was started due to my realizing that if I progressed in the way I was going, I would be having some problems down the road.

So thanks very much and keep it up!

Comment by Rick

Hi Michael.

It's great that you're aware of the pressure issue at such an early age. With summer approaching, perhaps you can take a few months to really work on using less pressure. It's nice to be able to do this when you don't have to worry about sounding good.

I've really gotten a lot out of the Caruso studies and the exercises in the Flexus book --The Flexus book is a killer! Also, while the Balanced Embouchure method didn't help me as much as it seems to have helped others, it did at least help me find an embouchure setting that requires less pressure. If you haven't already, be sure to do some searches on the TrumpetHerald.com. There are tons of suggestions for more efficient embouchures there...

Thanks for stopping by, it's good to hear from you!

btw: I moved your comment here because I think it's a bit more on-topic with this post.

Comment by Mik

Thanks for your sharing, it's interesting to have someone else's issues with his embouchure.

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