Trumpet Technique - January 27, 2004

Merging two embouchures

As I mentioned in a previous journal entry, I've been playing with two embouchures since starting the Balanced Embouchure (BE) method six months ago. I begin the day with BE exercises, but when it comes to real playing, I revert back to my old embouchure. My guess is that every experienced player uses two embouchures (old + new) while developing a dependable BE. After all, we spent several years developing our existing embouchures, so of course learning a new embouchure will take time… right?

I don't know if trumpet players are an impatient group of people, but it seems like many of us (myself included) ignore the common sense approach. Instead of patiently letting our new embouchure develop, we get frustrated, looking for immediate results. I suppose this is a testament to how well BE works. When I first tried it, I hit some really high notes. I was thrilled with the idea that I could play them with little mouthpiece pressure… but, of course, I wanted to use it for ALL of my playing, right away.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. BE takes time. In my case, the frustration continued throughout my initial 4 months of playing BE exercises. While I was getting better at BE, I still found it unusable for regular playing due to poor accuracy and a lousy tone.

The turning point for me began a couple of months ago when I added etude playing to my daily practice routine. Specifically, etudes played ONLY with BE. Any etudes will work, but I personally prefer Charlier's. Each day, I open up to a page and play an etude very slowly. I don't worry about rhythm. I don't worry too much about tonguing either. I just try to play the etude as best I can with BE. I don't even play the whole thing… just as much as I can while using a comfortable Balanced Embouchure.

There's a reason I mentioned that I don't worry too much about tonguing. For me (and others, it seems), tonguing with BE is a bit awkward at first. If not done properly, it will cause the note to break, forcing me to reset my embouchure. With practice, though, BE + tonguing does get easier. I just noticed that when I didn't worry about it, I felt less frustrated and consequently improved faster.

I still can't play any etudes with speed or great precision (using BE), but I am definitely getting better. More importantly, since I'm using BE to play *real* music, I've noticed that it's gradually getting easier for me to use BE instead of my old embouchure during my normal playing. And, when I do use my old embouchure, it's looking more like my Balanced Embouchure.

Comment by Rick

I included this journal entry in a recent post on the TrumpetHerald.com forums. A couple of replies suggested that my description of a Balanced Embouchure (as in, "I'm using my Balanced Embouchure today") is unclear.

The following post by the author of "The Balanced Embouchure" clears things up nicely:

There is no particular "look" to a BE embouchure. It tends to have certain characteristics, but these are not always obvious to the naked eye.

However, there is such a thing as a rolled-in setup, which does have a distinct look to it. All the kids on the cover of the BE book are using a rolled-in setup. Several months ago, I explained why I put these particular photos on the cover, but for you newer readers, I chose those pictures to make a point, and counterbalance the flat chin setup which is so over-publicized.

In my experience, less than half of all players adopt a definite rolled-in setup. But the ones that do absolutely understand that it is VERY DIFFERENT than their regular embouchure. For that reason, they tend to call their rolled-in embouchure their BE embouchure. To them it is one and the same.

So, for the record, when I refer to my version of a Balanced Embouchure, I'm referring to a separate embouchure that has a rolled-in setup.

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