Trumpet Embouchure: The definitive guide
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The first thing we will look at is how to form a trumpet embouchure.
The 4-step process we are going to look at applies not only to trumpet players, but also to the rest of your brass players as well.
So if you play french horn, trombone, tuba etc. even though our instruments are different in a lot of ways, they are basically the same in terms of forming an embouchure.
The embouchure is formed the same on any brass instrument.
If we look at a drum, or, say, a saxophone mouthpiece or a guitar we're going to find that there are actually some commonalities between how all these instruments work.
Understanding how vibration works on those instruments can actually help us to understand how the trumpet embouchure works as well—how the lips vibrate.
We need this in order to achieve everything we need to do with the embouchure.
The first commonality we have is a top vibrating material.
Notice that the top vibrating material on a drum is taut—it's pulled tight or stretched. It is not just sitting there. Stretching creates a readiness for vibration. The material wants to vibrate. That's very important to remember.
You need to set the lips in a way that they want to vibrate.
Imagine when someone plays a tight drum that is ready to go and with very little effort they can get a big sound.
When the top material is not taut the drummer needs a lot more force to equal what the other players are playing. He gets much less sound out.
Inevitably, a lot of trumpet players end up in this same circumstance where the forcing to get the sound out because the vibrating material that they are setting up to begin with is not ready to vibrate.
The same goes for the guitar strings. They are taut and pulled and stretched from one side to the other, so that the middle has readiness to vibrate nicely and freely.
The degree to which the vibrating material is taught is going to affect the pitch
The same logic applies to a drum hit. The degree to which the drumhead is stretched is going to affect the pitch.
With the trumpet embouchure we have the ability to actually change, at will, the amount of tautness that is in the lips.
That is part ingredient of how we change pitch on a trumpet.
With the saxophone mouthpiece, we can't stretch wood but we can curve it thinner — which is exactly what happens towards the edge of the reed where vibration occurs much easier because it's curved thinner.
When you stretch something, you're also thinning it out to a slight degree.
You want to thin out the lips when you are playing, but there's a certain degree of flatness that needs to be achieved.
The vibrating materials of all the instruments we've talked about also have that in common.
They are all flat.
Another commonality between all these instruments is that while they have a preclusion to vibrate, they have a maximizing of the vibration somewhere else.
That sounds complicated, let me explain.
On a drumhead, we have a seal around—the circular outer part of the drum. There is no vibration that happens beyond the seal.
That's where the preclusion to vibrate is created.
However, towards the middle of the drum, you get a very easy vibration.
That's where we get maximum vibration.
The better the seal we have around the perimieter, the easier it is to project the sound to the maximizing area because we're not letting any of that vibration escape on the outside the seal.
If we look at the guitar, we have the same principles at play.
We have preclusion to vibrate at the nut beyond the last fret on one end and at the bridge on the other. That stops the vibration from happening outside of that length of the string.
And when you push your finger down the fret, you are creating a new point.
The same idea carries over to the saxophone mouthpiece. The ligature holds down the reed nice and tight, with no vibration so that we can get maximum vibration at the tip of the reed.
Let's move to showing how we can set these principles up in a trumpet embouchure.
I'm going to show you the approach that I have seen the best trumpet players in the world use time and time again.
By using these approach, you can get everything that you want in terms of playing your trumpet higher, louder, being able to play technical passages, having great flexibility and articulation, getting the best sound, maximising vibration and so on and so forth.
But keep in mind that you have to have a combination of good setup and technique to be an excellent trumpet player.
Bad habits are still going to nullify a good setup anyway.
You'll need a visualizer for this exercise. We want an object that emulates the mouthpiece while allowing us to see what's happening.
An object such a wedding ring will suffice.
Notice I say aligned teeth.
The front of your upper and lower teeth should be perfectly in line. You have to bring your lower jaw forward to achieve this alignment.
Then you're going to push your lips together and tuck them so your lips are completely hidden. Hide the soft tissue of your both your lips.
Make sure your teeth remain aligned and closed so your not putting your lips over the them. That is the main reason why you need to align and touch your teeth together first.
It is okay if the chin bunches up and everything pushes in, in an inward motion.
That's step #1.
This is where we're going to need our visualizer.
On top of step #1 above, put the seal on your lips as you would a trumpet mouthpiece and press firmly to create a nice seal. We are going to be creating a seal all around the perimeter of the ring (or visualizer).
The seal should not be firm enough to hurt your lips, but it should be a firm amount of pressure.
You can think about this as if we're forming a drum, basically. Imagine what we have so far is the skin that is going on the drum.
We are not stretching it yet, we are just attaching it first.
That ring should also feel as if it's resting equally between your top and bottom teeth. You can try this directly on your teeth first to get an idea of the sensation you expect.
You need equal weight top and bottom but on the lips which are on the teeth. So we are creating a sort of sandwich of the teeth, lips and mouthpiece.
Make sure that you do not relax your lips as you put on the ring. The idea is to make sure there is not chance of getting the flesh of the lips on the rim of the ring.
This is easily the most effective setup for players who have larger lips and they are trying to figure out how to how to fit them inside the mouthpiece.
The other reason for this is we want somewhere to stretch firm.
If the lips are not actually together, then at step #3 where we stretch the lips out, we won't have anywhere to go because we will already be there. We're not going to get tautness.
When you can feel the weight of the ring on both set of teeth, you will notice that part of your lips inside the ring will bulge out slightly.
This is the most important step.
We want to make sure that we are creating room between the lips for the air to vibrate as it moves through.
That room or space called the aperture is very important.
If we do not have a consistent way of creating that aperture, every single time we play, then we don't have a consistency as trumpeters.
If you don't have a consistent way of doing it, you're sort of playing a game of Russian roulette with your trumpet sound. You will have "good" days and, of course, "bad" days.
The third step is to pull the lips out.
When you do this the first time, I actually want you to do overdo the action. It's a little strange but it's hard to pass this feeling onto people of how to do it the correct way. Overdoing the action the first time is the best approach.
You're basically getting the lips out of the way, so that you can get an airstream.
Make sure that it's not just the jaw opening but that muscles are pulling the upper lip up, and the lower lip down.
If you show your top teeth, you are using the levator muscles. If you show your bottom teeth, you are using the depressor muscle. In fact, when you blow, normally, you instinctively start to use this muscles.
The pressure that we are keeping from step #2 should remain while you do this.
Without overdoing it, it's basically the same idea but you're only going to about a quarter of an inch to an eighth of an inch of space, to make sure you have just the perfect airway.
After you get this setup you can relax. You can even talk through it.
It's going to be set in place.
Don't move onto step #4 until you see that space staying there.
If you go to move the lips open, but then they are closed afterwards, you didn't stretch them enough.
When setting up step #3, you need to feel your lips moving on the rim, otherwise when you close the lips back up, you'll be left with the same non-existent space between the lips.
That's important to know and practice.
That's why we are using a visualizer in the first place.
You don't just open the mouth. You actually have to pull the lips out.
Also, when setting up step #3, beginners often make the mistake of pulling out to the side to stretch the lips out. That's not going to get the lips spaced out up and down. It just starts you on a bad habit called "smile embouchure".
You want to make sure you are not pulling out to the sides. That's just going to thin your lips out.
Do not pucker your lips forward to try to get them to come out of the mouthpiece.
You can often know this by excess lip protrusion coming out around the sides. We don't want to see that. We want the lips to stay flat on the teeth the entire time.
Before jumping onto the step #4, we should have a nice airway established and taut lips.
In this step, we want to wet the middle of the lips one time with the tongue and then take a nice breath and blow.
Eventually, the breath can be taken in step #3, and at that same time, you can actually poke the tongue through and wet the lips in that step.
But, we're not going to do that right away.
I want to make sure this steps are nice and separate first to allow you to really concentrate on step #3 before jumping to step #4.
Just keep in mind that when you start to combine all these steps together, it will happen very quickly, you won't even notice that you're setting up in a 4-step manner.
Basically, everything is ready to go now.
The only thing we have to make sure of at this point the lips are wet, just like we do with a saxophone reed. This minimizes friction.
If you set up everything correctly but then you have really dry lips, that can actually throw everything off. This is one of those little parameters that we want to actually make sure is in check.
Don't worry about opening the jaw when your setup is ready. This should distort the setup that you've created.
It's being held in place by that pressure and the aligned teeth behind the lips.
This is why it was important that we maintain the pressure and the teeth behind when forming the embouchure.
When you blow, you either get a vibration, or just air rushing through.
This is very important in determining whether we've created a good setup.
You want to make sure you can just get air by itself, that tells us that the lips are far enough apart that they are not going to get into each other's way — that they are not going to create excessive disturbance in the vibration.
However, we want the lips to be close enough together to be able to create the vibration.
If you set them too far apart, you can get air without a vibration. But this is somewhat of a less common problem.
Most people have the problem of not getting the lips far enough apart.
In fact, there is a lot of talk out there of a closed aperture embouchure. A closed aperture embouchure doesn't make any sense. An aperture by definition is an opening.
The best option is to have an aperture that can be as large as you want and also as small as you want it. but in order to have both of those possibilities, you have to start with an open embouchure.
If you can get air by itself without disturbance and you can get a good vibration, then, you're set. You have a good aperture.
If you get disturbance, it means that the lips are touching. We don't want the lips touching. We want them apart. We want them to be able to create vibration without rubbing up against one another.
Try opening up until the edge of the flesh of your lips meets the edge of the rim of the ring. The flesh of the lip is where the best part of the sound is.
If you pull out far into the flesh of the lips, that might lead to endurance issues because whatever pressure you apply to the lips will be much more.
Some people will argue that fact, but if you look at the majority of the best players, especially one's that have the best range and endurance, they don't play on the flesh of the lips.
I am not saying there aren't exceptions, but the exceptions don't make the rule — the majority makes the rule.
You should be able to go from the air right into the buzz.
Any note you play on the trumpet, you should be able to start with just air and then go to sound. This is a very important thing to realize.
If when you go to play a note, you're going "pa"that means you are starting with the lips closed. Instead of doing that, think of "fffa". That means you're starting with airstream.
When the lips are closed first and they go "fa", then that means every time you start a note, you're getting an articulation with your lips.
When you try to do an articulation with your tongue, you'll have a dirty sounding articulation because not only is the tongue trying to articulate, the lips are doing the same thing. You're getting a double articulation of sorts.
We want to have a nice clean articulation.
We want to make sure that the lips are open and that the tongue is doing the articulation.
Most problems with trumpet articulation are not problem with the tongue, they are problems with the emission of the sound coming out from the lips.