Well, here we are, end of the third week. Practiced everyday. Positives? By resting as much as the horn is on my face seems to let me practice longer. Sucky things? Found I have bigger problems than just relaxing my face. Something with my embouchure that is hard. Like never did that before hard. Ever try something new? Fun at the start right? Then reality sets in.
Every do this? You wake up and your neck hurts. So you look it up. Based on your symptoms the treatment is? Brain surgery. Clearly, trying to fix myself can go off the rails. Yep. Come on, you’ve never done this at least once? Okay, it’s just me.
How To Fix Trumpet Embouchure?
If you’ve been following along, I have much bigger problem than just relaxing. This basic concept will apply to all players of brass instruments. Doc Severinsen, the most legendary trumpeter known for his full, rich sound posted these 2 long YouTubes (Embouchure 1, Embouchure 2) on how to play the trumpet. It matches many other teachers (Philip Farkas wrote a book called “The Art of Brass Playing“). I used to play with my trumpet pointed down. My bottom teeth were behind my upper teeth. My “normal” jaw position is like that because I have a “normal” overbite. Whatever “normal” means. When I close my mouth, my top teeth are in front of the bottom teeth. Is that how yours are? More importantly, do you play with your lower teeth behind your front? Or do you play like Doc and Farkas say to, with your teeth aligned up and down? Okay, it’s just me.
After going through the Doc videos and the Farkas book, that’s what jumped out. I gotta play with my lower jaw slightly forward. Gotta get my teeth lined up (up and down). Pay attention to the gap between the teeth. Using the lower lip for first time. It felt weird to have my lower lip vibrate.
There have been tons written and researched (thankfully) on the subject of brass instruments. Here’s a research paper called “Fundamentals of Embouchure in Brass Players. Towards a Definition and Clinical Assessment”. Hard to tell it was a written by super smart PhD types. I mean, look how long the title is.
It goes seriously deep on how brass players (trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, etc.) can have problems playing. They talk about a bunch of different reasons, like playing too much, incorrect technique, medical issues, etc. For me, it was not learning how to play correctly in the first place. Okay, same thing as “incorrect technique”. I tried different things and trumpet notes came out of the bell. And I just kept playing, harder and harder to play higher. I thought I knew what I was doing since I got to first chair. Uh, no. Not even close. Like me cruising the net to figure out why my neck hurts.
The paper goes on (and on, and on) about how the teeth do 3 things. I thought, take a bite of my cheeseburger, right? No. The front teeth or incisors have a big role. In terms of our brass instrument embouchure, they:
- Are the “rim” of the airflow depending on how far apart your front teeth are.
- Affect the airflow direction.
- Support the lips.
How do teeth affect the airflow? If you put your thumb on the end of a hose, the water will come out faster. Open your mouth and say “Ah”. Then say “Ee”. Notice how your mouth closes? Or in the case of a brass embouchure, your gap between your teeth will get closer. That’s number 1. Yes, your tongue changes position but that’s a future Ted Talk.
The airflow direction is number 2. If your lower teeth are behind the upper (for me, that’s my “natural jaw position”), the airflow goes downward into the mouthpiece. Last week I was trying to find a position that sounded better by trying different angles. That’s why it sounded like a less wounded animal when I moved it in one way. More wounded animal in other angles. Or at least I think by playing around with how my face is angled to my mouthpiece ‘seemed’ to make a difference in the sound quality. These first two things are important in our embouchure in ways I hadn’t thought about til now.
I only guessed the 3rd one. But I got how they supported the lips, wrong. I used to play in my “natural” jaw position with my lower teeth behind the front. It’s a rather small amount of movement to move your jaw out to get them in line. By trying to keep my teeth aligned (vertically), the air seems to find the throat of the mouthpiece easier. But, and this is a big but for me. My face isn’t used to this. Finding the right amount of pressure on the lower lip to get it to sound less awful is a problem now. I’m hopeful this is growing pains. Totally feel like a beginner now. Like, really crappy sound, can’t find the middle of the staff, do you remember those days? Hope not. So many more things to think about than, relax the face and blow.
How To Play The Trumpet? Resources.
These are the things I found most useful as I keep trying to learn this brass instrument called a trumpet. I think my neighbor’s dog would call it something else. But it’s not the trumpet’s fault. That’s like saying it’s the arrow’s fault that it missed the target.
While my fingers remember the note positions, my brain still is connecting that a D sharp is the same fingering as an E flat. Click on the title and the jump link will take you to that post. There’s also the practice log. I like to track what I’m doing, how I’m feeling. Please let me know in the comments what changes you’d like to see.
I found that when I sat and tried to practice, I ran out of air quick. I was hunched over so I wasn’t using my diaphragm correctly. Click on the title and the jump link will take you to that post. This guide reminds me to sit or stand tall.
Jeff Lewis’s tips on jaw position, teeth gap, and alignment really helped me at this stage.
It really does help. How? Sure, lots of great info I’m finding. But that’s not it. It’s to make sure I rest as much as I play. I’ll find something I wanna watch and watch the timer to make sure I rest at least 1 minute between attempts.
I found YARP. Yet Another Research Paper. This one is by Dr. Roy Stevens. “Embouchure Self Analysis“
This quote makes sense to me.
To function properly, the jaw should be brought forward until the bottom teeth edges are parallel to, or slightly forward of the top teeth edges and open approximately 1/4th inch. This position acts as a basic starting point.Dr. Roy Stevens.
Doing it is the hard part. Yep. This is the end of week 3. But getting the teeth aligned thing is less than a week old. Figuring out how to get sound out is a totally random event. The promise is that when I can get something out that sounds less “wounded animal” like, it gives me hope. Like maybe brain surgery is the right fix? Okay, maybe it’s just me.