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5/12/2017 The Ideal Trumpet Embouchure

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Reprintedfrom"Pops"McLaughlin'snewbook,TheProsTalkEmbouchure,
releasedinthefallof2002.

TheIdealTrumpetEmbouchure
JohnH.Lynch

WhenMr.McLaughlinaskedmetowritesomethingaboutmyconceptof
theidealtrumpetembouchureIwaspleased,becauseI'veneverput
downmythoughtsinasinglecohesivetreatiseotherthantosomeextent
inmybookanditsaddendum.And,unlessyouhaveboththeaddendum
andthebook,theremarksinthebookmayseemalittledisjointedand
notquitereflectiveofwhatI'velearnedsinceit'spublicationin1984.
Althoughconsistentandoperationallycorrect,theydonot,Ifeel,givethe
depthofunderstandingthatisnecessaryforanoptimallyeffective
applicationoftheideas.PossiblyIcansupplythatnecessaryinsighthere
andclarifymythoughtswiththisbriefmonograph,writtenfromthe
viewpointofapersonwhoisstrivingtoimprovehisembouchure.

Whentryingtoimproveourtrumpetembouchure,itisconstructiveto
statetheobjectivesthatwewishtoacheive.Ifwedon'tvaluethe
altissimorangeortheabilitytoplayforlongperiodsoftime
(endurance),theproblemofselectinganeffectiveembouchurebecomesa
mucheasiertask.Infact,many(almostall)possibleembouchureswill
probablyworktosomeextentandareseenbeingusedbymanyplayers
whojustplayoccasionallyorrarelyabovehighC.If,ontheotherhand,
endurance,flexibilityandhighrangeareimportant,wecansay
categoricallythatwecanbenefitbyadoptingcertainpracticesthattend
toenhancethesecapabilities.Itisinthisspiritthatweapproachthe
examinationoftheidealembouchure,i.e.withtheintentionof
identifyingthosecomponentsofembouchurethataffecttheprocess,to
seehowtheyoperateandcooperatesothatourowntechniquemaybe
adjustedinordertoachieveourgoals.Wewillconfineourdiscussionto
endurance,flexibilityandhighrange,andwillexcludetone,attack,
breathcontroletc.fromourdeliberations,becausetoneissubjectiveand
ultimatelynophysicalcriteriaareavailablethatwouldenableusto
quantifyimprovedtoneotherthanaudienceconsensusorpersonal
preferencesimilarremarksmaybeappliedtoattacketc.whichmust
remainthesubjectoffurthurstudy.Thetechniquessuggestedhereinwill
notinterferewiththeseelementsofplayinginmyopinion.

Itisremarkabletoseethatthetrumpetcanbecontrolledtosuchan
extentastoproducethevarietyofmusicthatitdoeswhentheplayer's
onlycontactwithitiswithhislipsandhislefthand.Ithashelpedmeto
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bearthisinmindbecauseitsuggeststhatanyadjustmentstoimprove
embouchurewouldprobablybephysicallyverysmall,andsubtle.To
stayfocused,wealsonoteinpassingthatoureffortstoward
improvementare,inmostcases,notrelatedtotherequirementsofthe
musicthatistobeperformed.Infact,itmaybearguedthataltissimo
playing,forexample,representsmoreofanathleticismandaprojection
ofpower,thanmusicaswenormallythinkofit.Iwouldtendtoagree
somewhatwiththisandwouldguessthatthereisnotasignificant
segmentoftheearth'scivilizedpopulationthatwouldenjoyhearing
muchmorethanonetripleC.Itishelpfulthentonotethisdistinction
whenweconsiderourgoalssothatarguments,forexample,that"high
range(endurance,orflexibility)isn'teverything",willhavenoplacein
thisdiscussion.Wearenotdoinganythingmusicalhere.Weareinstead
simplytryingtodevelopaphysicalmethodologytoachievethewell
definedendsofincreasedrange,flexibilityandendurance.Andbecause
ofthis,suggestedembouchureimprovementtechniqueswillbe
accompaniedbyphysicalrationaleandnotobscuredbyextraneous
musicalpreferences.Tothisendweproceedasfollows.

I.PREPARATION

Theembouchurecanbedividedintotwoparts,astaticpartwhich
includesanypreparatoryelementspriortoplaying,andadynamicpart
whichincludesanythingrelatedtotheoperationofthisembouchure
whenactuallyplaying.First,let'slookatthestaticpart.

(1.)TheMouthpieceSet

Themouthpiecesetiscritical,becauseitisnotusuallychangedwhile
playing(exceptpossiblyforsomeextremelyraremusicalrequirement
suchasaveryhighsinglenoteorapedaltone).Ifthesetwererequired
tovary,flexibilitywouldsufferorbelostaltogetherduringanykindof
fasterexecution.Thehorizontalplacementofthemouthpiecerelates
primarilytodentalconfigurationand"inthecenterofthelips"istobe
preferredifpossiblewiththeupperandlowerteeth"evenedup"as
muchaspossible.Verticalmouthpiecepositionisanotherstory,however,
andisfundamentaltoasuccessfulembouchure.Ihaveoutlinedina
shortarticle(1.)thatisavailableonthewebsite,

www.asymmetricmouthpiece.com
thereasonstopositionthemouthpieceverticallywithabouttwothirdsof
itonthebottomlip.Othershaveidentifiedthemechanismoftrumpet
soundproductionandsothiswon'tbeconsideredindetailhere,exceptto
saythatithasbeendemonstrated(2.)thatformostofthetrumpetrange
(let'ssayformiddleCandhigher)it'stheplayer'stoplipthatismoving
backandforth,openingandclosingtheapertureandadmittingpuffsof
aircompressionfollowedbyrarefactionsthattogether,excitetheairin
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thehornboretoproducesound.Thebottomlipremainsessentially
stationarythroughoutthisactivity.Itsfunctionisto"pushup"against
thetopliptocontrol,tovaryingdegrees,theeffectivemassofthe
"vibrating"portionofthis(top)lip.Incontrollingtheeffectivemassof
thevibrator,itcontrolsthepitchthemoretheupwardpush,thesmaller
theupperlipmass,andthehigherthepitch(thereisalsotheassociated
secondordereffectofincreasedlipsurfacetension,causedbythesame
increasedbetweenlippressure,whichdistortsthelipsandstretchesthe
surfacetissuewhich,inturn,elevatespitchsomewhat).Thisisa
fundamentaltruthoftrumpetplayingandwasknownasfarbackas
1942.Adetailedexplanationforthiscanbefoundintheinternetarticle
(1.)andinreference(2.),soforbrevitysakewillnotberepeatedhere.
Let'sjustsaythatspecificallyplacingthemouthpiecevertically"one
thirdonthetoplipandtwothirdsonthebottomlip"makesthehigh
registersignificantlyeasiertoexecute,andthusisonecomponentofour
idealembouchure.

(2.)LeftHandGrip

Iftoomuchpressureisused,flexibilitywillbeimpairedimmediatelyand
bothenduranceandrangewillsuffershortlythereafter.Thereare
severalpassivethingsthatcanbedonethatwillreducepressurein
additiontoactivelytryingtouselessofit(whichisusuallydifficult,
becausepressureismoreorlessinstinctive).Onethingistodivertitto
thebottomlip.Whenthehornisbeingplayed,say,belowmiddleC,
whereverylittlepressureisrequired,vibrationofthebottomlip,ifany,
won'tbeimpaired.WhenthehornisplayedabovemiddleCandwehave
theonsetofpressure,thebottomlipisnolongermovingandwithstands
anypressuredivertedtoitverywellwithoutaffectingperformance.This
pressurediversionisaccomplishedbyholdingthetrumpetwiththeleft
handnearthebottomofthevalves,typicallywiththelastthreefingersof
thelefthandbelowthethirdvalveslide.Withthisgrip,anylefthand
pressuretendstorotatethehornbelldownwardaroundafulcrumonthe
bottomlip.Asabonustothispressurediversion,thisrotationthentends
to"freeup"(reducepressureon)thetoplipandtogiveslightadditional
"upwardpush"toourbottomlipwhichaidsourhighregister.So,in
additiontodivertingpressurefromourtop(vibrating)liptoourbottom
(stationary)lip,italsoensurestoplipfreedomandenhancesrange
capability.Thus,althoughlefthandgripisnotacomponentof
embouchureinthestrictsenseoftheword,itactsinconjunctionwith
ouridealembouchureandforthisreason,lefthandgripmaybe
consideredasecondandveryimportantandactiveingredientofour
idealembouchure.

(3.)Pucker

Athirdcomponentofouridealembouchurecanbefoundinthecategory
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ofpressurefighters.Thisisthesocalled"pucker".Ifwetendto
"pucker"ourlipswhenplaying,slightlymoreliptissuetendstobe
forcedbetweenourteethandthemouthpiece.Inparticular,thisismost
effectiveonthebottomlip,becausethisisthelipthatisabsorbingmost
ofthepressure.Anactivewaytoeffectthisistotryto"keepathicklip",
ortotrytomaintain"shockabsorberlips",i.e.trytoachieveamore
"rubbery"or"looser"connectiontothehorn.Thisiswhatweare
strivingforbypuckering.Ifwemanagetokeepalittlemoreliptissue
betweentheteethandthemouthpiece,wewillgreatlyimproveour
flexibility,ourrangeandendurance.Sopuckerisathirdandvery
valuablecomponentofouridealembouchure.

(4.)LipElasticity

Anothercomponentoftheidealembouchurecanbefoundinthe
elasticityofthetissuethatis"vibrating".Forhigherregisterplayingit
behoovesustouse"whiter","springier",moreelastictissue.Redlip
tissuetendsmoretowardflacciditywhilewhitetissuetendsmoretoward
elasticityintrumpetembouchures.Aplayerwilluseneitherexclusively,
butwilltendtoplayonsomeintermediatetissuethatisneitherrednor
white,butsomewhereinthetransitionareabetween.Thebiashere,
however,shouldbemoretowardthewhitertissuei.e.moretowardthe
outsidefringesofthecolortransitionareaofthelips.Thewaythisis
accomplishedintheidealembouchureistocurlthebottomlipbackin
slightlyingeneralforhigherwork(Gjustabovethestaffandhigher).
Fornoteslowerthanthis,thecurlmaybeallowedtorelax.Theslight
"curlingin"actionhasnoacousticeffectonthebottomlip(sincethe
bottomlipisnotvibrating)otherthantopossiblyaddaslightlyfirmer
baseforperformingits"pushingup"activity.Theeffectonthetoplip,
howeveristobepulledinslightly(sincethelipsdon'tslideoneachother
but"sticktogether"),thusmovingthevibratoryactionmoretoward
firmer,"whiter"tissue.Someplayersgetusedtothefeelofthisby
practicingalternatinglowandhighnotes.Thus,aslight,somewhat
variable,bottomlipinwardcurlisafourthveryeffectivecomponentof
ouridealembouchure.

(5.)TheTonguePosition

Theairflowingeneral,shouldnotbeinhibitedinanyway.Ifthetongue
israisedsignificantly,theairstreamwillgainvelocityatthepointwhere
itisconstrictedbythetongue.Butimmediatelydownstreamofthis,
wherethecrosssectiontotheflowrecovers,itwillregainits"pre
tongue"velocity,butreducedbyfrictionandeddylossesandwillenter
theaperturesomewhathandicapped.Theplayermightsensethisasa
slightincreaseinresistanceandmayovercomethisresistanceincrement
byblowingalittleharderwhichcouldconceivablytendtoraisethepitch.
Ifeelthatthisisnotawellcontrolledmechanism,however,andthatthe
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embouchurecanbemuchmoreeffectivelyusedforthispurpose.Forthis
reason,andinordertoavoidinhibitingairflowunnecessarily,Isuggest,
asafifthcomponentofouridealembouchure,thatwemaintainamore
orless,flat,tonguepositionforallourplaying.

(6.)Aperture

Someconsiderationshouldalsobegiventotheaperture.Whileplaying,
thelipswillbetouchingoratleastinverycloseproximity.Ifthiswere
nottrue,i.e.ifthelipsremainedsufficientlyseparatedduringplaying,
theaperturecouldbeconsideredtheequivalentof"blownopen",and
wouldpossiblyproducenosoundatall.Someplayersmayhave
experienceda"blownopen"apertureduringwhichtheyareblowing
vigorously,butnosoundensues.Theproblemofopenvsclosedaperture,
however,isoneofhowthelipseparationisassignedinitiallyi.e.before
anysoundisattempted.Evenwithanessentially"open"apertureset
(relativelylargeholebeforeanysoundisattempted)thelipswilltendto
pinch(move)muchclosertogether(ortouchdependingontheinitialset)
immediately,whenwestartplaying.Thephysicaldescriptionand
mathematicalmodelingofthisdynamicsystemastheairissetinto
motionappearstobecomplexandstillamatterofcontroversythatmay
somedayberesolvedwithhighspeedphotography.Buttomyknowledge
adefinitiveanalysisandsatisfyingmodelhaveyettobefound.Thisdoes
not,however,preventusfrommakinganempiricalobservation.Very
highplayingleadplayersseemtobenefitsignificantlybyusinga
somewhatmoreopenapertureset.Thisis,inpart,becausethe"blow"
changessomewhatabove1500hertz(aboutGabovehighC).The
reflectionpointforsoundwavesinsidethehornbore,isfound
somewhereinthebellsectionofthehorndependingonthenotebeing
attempted.Thispointmovesprogressivlytowardtheendofthebell,as
weattempthigherandhigherpitch,untilitmovescompletelyoutsidethe
bellataroundGabovehighC.Atthispointwehavenoreflection(of
soundwaves),andwearethenplayingasortof"megaphone"rather
thanatrumpetaswemightnormallythinkofit.Uphere(abovehighG),
becausethesoundwavesarenotbeingreflectedlongitudinally(backand
forthbetweentheapertureandthereflectionpointinsidethebell),as
theynormallyare,theytendinsteadtobebroadcastdirectlybeyondthe
bell,essentiallyassoonastheyaregenerated.Whenthishappens,the
sound(abovehighG)necessarily(physically)tendstonoticeably"thin
out"comparedtonoteslowerthanhighGwherelongitudinalvibration
ispresent,andwearethereforegettinghelpfromthehorn.Forthis
reasoni.e.muchthinnersoundabovehighG,Ifeelthatwemightgeta
littlemore(oftheneeded)airtothickenandgivealittlemorebodytothe
sounduphere,iftheapertureisopenedsomewhati.e.made"less
cramped",eventhoughmoreairwillberequired.Highregistersound
also(GabovethestaffuptohighG)seemstobegenerallyalittle

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"bigger"(moreopen,louder)whenweopentheapertureslightly.Thisis
asubtleeffectandmaynotbenoticedexceptbymoresensitiveplayers.
Forthebulkofourplayingthen,Ifeelthatalthoughalittlemoreclosed
aperturemaygiveashadebetteroveralldynamicresponseandbe
generallymoreeasilycontrolled,aslightlymoreopenstance,even
thoughitmayrequirealittlemoreair,seemstoproducemorerobust
leadandaltissimoskill.HarryJamesusedtheartificeofputtinghis
tonguebetweenhislipsandintothemouthpiecetosettheaperture.I
havefoundthistobeaboutrightforme.Itproduceswhatmightbe
calleda"manageablyopen"aperture.Sincethisisn'taveryprecise
procedure,itissuggestedthattheplayerexperimenttofindthemost
effectiveconfigurationuniquetohimselfandhisintendedplaying.The
sixthandfinalfeatureofouridealembouchureisthentheapertureset
(initial,beforesoundproduction).Thisshouldpossiblybeslightlymore
"open"especiallyifvigoroushighregisterandaltissimo(abovehighG)
playingisanticipated.Fororchestralorotherworkthatdemands
exceptionaldynamicprecisionandaccuracy,asomewhatsmaller,more
conventionalaperturesetcanbemoreeffective.

(7.)Conclusion

Thisconcludesthedescriptionofthestaticpartoftheidealembouchure
whichdealswiththeinitialsetupbeforeactuallyplayinganything.A
totaldescriptionwouldnotbecomplete,however,withoutafewremarks
abouthowtheembouchurefunctionsdynamically,inanactualplaying
situation.Inthefollowingandfinalsection,themechanicsofoperating
thisembouchurearebrieflyoutlined.Alsoincludedaresomeideas
describinghowitssucessfuloperationcanbecultivated.

I.OPERATION

(1.)Air

"Choking"tendencies(closingthelarynxandrestrictingairflow),which
arefrequentlyaccompaniedby"grunting"aswhendoingsomething
perceivedasphysicallyverydifficult,arealsooftenpresentwhen
attemptingahighnote.Whenblowingairthroughthroughthelips,
"Diaphramblowing",tendstocorrectthisandpromote"nonchoked"
playing.Diaphramblowing,heremeans,thattheairmovementshould
resemblethatthatoccurswhensayingAahhh.Chokingtendenciescan
alsoberetrainedtoamoreopenlarynxoperationbyloudplaying.

(2.)Pitch

Whenwewantthepitchtogoup,wemustconcentrateonincreasingthe
"betweenlip"pressure.Betweenlippressureherecanbethoughtofas,
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"verticalpressure",asdistinguishedfrom,"horizontal(lefthand)
pressure".Slightlyincreasedhorizontalpressurewillberequiredfor
higherpitchesinordertoensuretheairsealwhichtendstobecome
compromisedwhenhigherairspeedandvolumeassociatedwithhigh
playingareused.Butthis,andanyotherhorizontalpressurethatmaybe
present,canbepartiallyrelievedbyrotatingthehornbelldownward
veryslightly(10degreesorso)whenplayingabovehighC.Thisaction,
combinedwiththesuggestedlefthandgrip,tendstodivertlefthand
"horizontal"pressuretothefulcrumlocatedonthebottomlip,tendsto
"freeup"thetoplipandtendstopushthebottomlipup.Frequently
vertical(betweenlip)pressurescanalsobeenhancedbycontractingthe
lipmuscles,soastopushthelipsforwardinaquasi,"puckering"
configuration,andpullingthecornersofthemouthdown,asin
frowning.Thispuckeringactionalsoservesalsotoincreaseflexibility
andendurance.Thisisprobablynot,however,theonlywaytoachieve
this.Aslongasthesameendeffectisrealized(i.e.maintainingathicker
bottomlip),themethodcanbeconsideredsuccessful.Asstatedearlier,it
shouldberememberedthatallofthetechniquessuggestedherein
representphysicallyverysmalladjustmentsandshouldbepursued
accordingly.

(3.)Practice

Toavoidusingincreasedairflowasasubstituteforbetweenlip
pressure,moderatelyfastlipslurs(trills),overafifth(whichcouldnotbe
executedbyvaryingairpressure)orgreaterinterval,canbepracticed.
Alsowenotethattwooctavearpeggiopracticewilltendto"range
despecialize"thisembouchureandpromoteflexibility.Asaparting
commentitisfinallyobservedthatpressurealso,isinsidiousandtends,
withtime,toencroachonanyseverelydemandinghighperformance.A
lipvibrato,ifpracticedregularly,overthecompletedynamicand
acousticrange,willtendtoensurethatthelipsarethickenough,and
therefore,thatanyhorizontalpressurethatmayhavebeenused,hasnot
beenexcessive.Thisisveryimportant.Uncontrolledpressurecandefeat
anotherwiseexcellenttrumpetplayer.Abilitytoretaincontrolofthe
lips,isthecornerstoneofallgoodtrumpetplaying.

Cheers,

JohnH.Lynch

References:

1.Lynch,JohnH.:VerticalMouthpiecePositionandRange
(approximately1999),availableon,www.asymmetricmouthpiece.com

2.Henderson,HaywardW.:AnExperimentalStudyofTrumpet
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EmbouchureJournaloftheAcousticalSocietyofAmericaVol.13pp
5864July1942
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