To make trumpet playing easier, one must find the most efficient setup. For me, setup is : mouthpiece placement, lip alignment, teeth opening and horn angle. The goal of the setup is to make the air stream go into the center of the mouthpiece in all registers with the least amount of obstructions.
The mouthpiece placement for maximum efficiency:
Placing the mouthpiece on a high spot will allow the lips to vibrate at higher
frequencies. Players with flat teeth might have problems in the high register.
To fine tune the side way placement, a visualizer can be used. The idea is that the vibrating aperture should lie in the center of the mouthpiece, and not to one side or the other.
The purpose of having the aperture in the middle, vertically, is to direct the air
stream into the hole of the mouthpiece, and not into the cup.
Finding the most efficient position is done by moving the mouthpiece up and down until the sound jumps out of the instrument. (For this to happen, the air stream must go fairly straight outwards, achieved by thrusting the jaw forward.)
I found that I had to move the mouthpiece quite a bit downwards giving me a more efficient setup. Also, this allows the lower lip to do more work.
More about mouthpiece placement can be found in : Brass playing is no harder than deep breathing, Maximizing practice vol.II
To avoid lip overlap, aligning the lips by jaw adjustment might be a good idea. Players with an overbite might push the jaw outwards. This will free the lower lip, which is the strongest by nature.
For me, an interesting experiment was to push the lower lip forward. Blowing hard on my
hand without a mouthpiece, the air stream have a straight out direction with the bottom
lip quite far forward. I guess the reason for this is that the funnel that is formed
inside the mouth is curved downwards. Blowing with a wide open mouth, the air stream is
also directed downwards. This happens even when I thrust my jaw as far forward as
All this indicates that playing slightly upstream by thrusting out the jaw might result in directing the air into the center of the mouthpiece, which is our goal!
I don't think thrusting out the jaw should be exaggerated, as I have been told this can
lead to serious physical injuries.
I think there is a misunderstanding about the Stevens method, that it recommends the instrument pointing upwards. It seems like Roy Stevens recommended an even lip alignment, pushing the jaw forward until this was achieved.
When learning to get the jaw outwards, I like to do it with lip buzzing, on the
mouthpiece and on the horn. The danger is that when the horn is set to the lips, old
habits still are there.
One excellent exercise for incorporating the horn to the new setup, is playing scales where every other note is played on the horn and then repeated on the lips. Doing this looking in the mirror and assuring that the embouchure does not change, will form a natural setup which is the same for buzzing the lips and playing the trumpet.
Buzzing a G scale on instrument and lips
There are many teachers and players that advocate the concept of lip alignment, like Bobby Shew, Bill Carmichael, Jerome Callet, Jim Manley, Roy Stevens.
I have sporadically heard the advice of playing with an open jaw, but never understood the importance of it.
My experiment was shaping the embouchure in front of the mirror. Then, keeping the jaw
and lower lip still, raising the upper lip. To my surprise, I stared right into my front
teeth. I find that with a tooth opening of less than a quarter of an inch, the upper teeth
will touch the lower lip, blocking the air stream.
Teeth opening of about 1/4". Corners pulling downwards.
By lowering the jaw, the aperture will move downward. With teeth opening of about half an inch, the aperture lies in the middle of the teeth opening.
For players with a short upper lip and long lower lip, the above will be typical. But
as common is the opposite configuration, having a short lower lip and long upper lip. For
those players, opening the teeth and bunching the chin might help in aligning the aperture
to teeth opening.
Teeth opening of about 1/2". Corners pulling inwards and slightly upwards.
The problem is that the higher we play, the more we tend to close the jaw. This might
result in the teeth touching the bottom lip, blocking the air stream, we feel increased
resistance, we try harder, we close the throat, we cannot make any sound in the high
It can be worth noting that the Superchops embouchure (which utilizes very little arm pressure) uses the above technique for creating resistance.
Also, raising the tongue is difficult without raising the jaw simultaneously. Some players have solved this by lowering the tongue in the higher registers, making it easier to lower the jaw.
Bunching the chin will lessen the margin from the aperture to the teeth edges for players with a short upper lip. For players with a short lower lip, chin bunching will increase the margin from the lower lip to the lower teeth edge.
The Stevens method, described in The No Nonsense
Trumpet from A-Z, trains the player in aligning the aperture perfectly in the middle
of the teeth opening. Stevens claimed this gave the best results possible. The theory is
that both lips must be exposed to air in order to vibrate.
Finding the pitch center by adjusting teeth opening
If the lower lip is not pushed out far enough, it is immobilized. The trumpet player is
then utilizing only half of the resources available. Playing like this over a long time,
muscles in the chin are not exercised.
The symptoms of this is often the chin is bunched. A bunched chin in itself is no problem, but it might be an indication of muscular imbalance, the other muscles in the face being far stronger than the chin muscles.
In high school, this caused a total meltdown for me, the whole embouchure starting to shake violently when playing. This was a severe problem, which gradually diminished.
To resolve this problem, the jaw must be thrusted outwards. This will exercise the chin and corner muscles so that the muscular balance is rebuilt.
The angle that one holds the instrument should be matched to the angle of the air stream for the best efficiency. Players with an overbite might have problems getting the jaw so far out that the air stream direction get straight out. In this case, the trumpet will be angled slightly downwards.
To find the optimum angle, move the instrument up and down until the sound jumps out.
Don't move the embouchure and the jaw. The jaw must still thrust outwards, even if the
optimum angle is found to be a bit downwards.
I found out that I had a tendency to hold the trumpet too high compared to the air stream direction.
The angle of the air stream might vary in different registers, so that the ideal angle should be found for all registers. This movement of the instrument (or head) depending on register is often called pivot.
Most players with an overbite pivot the bell downwards when ascending. This is called
the normal pivot. I believe the upper lip is then the primary resonator.
The opposite pivot is called a reverse pivot, and is common with players with an underbite. This usually happens if the lower lip is in command.
A famous teacher named Donald Reinhard has written a famous book about pivoting.
Finding the optimum horn angle
Copyright (c) Rune Aleksandersen 1997 - 2002