Pitch control

The pitch that comes out of the instrument is directly connected to the air velocity achieved through air compression.
There are mainly three methods of pitch control : Syllables, aperture control and arm pressure.
Usually we want not to use variable arm pressure to control tone height, but there are those rare moments that call for a shake..
Lip flexibilities, tongue control
Lip flexibilities, lip control and hand control

The tongue height and jaw position also adjust the internal volume of the mouth. Changing this chamber (often called ROC, resonant oral cavity) results in different patterns of harmonics. Using the tongue in this way, the player have a palette of tone colours to chose from.

NOTE : The common analogy to whistling does not hold because only the air column vibrates. A better analogy is singing, which is more similar to playing. Singing a pitch, different over tone patterns can be created by changing the tongue height. The same can be done by playing, pitch being fixed and tone colour changing.


The tongue can regulate the pitch. This is commonly taught as the use of syllables. AH is used for low notes, and EE for higher notes.

I used to believe that syllables alone could not regulate pitch to any significant degree. I also had to pinch the lips together in order to get higher notes. But in the process of getting a softer center of the lips and playing with closed lips, I found out that pitch can to a greater extent be regulated with the tongue alone.

If one uses syllables as the main control for regulating pitch, the tone might become too thin in the upper register. To avoid this, the aperture might be opened up when playing higher to compensate for keeping the same tone quality.

Using the AH syllable, keeping the tongue in the bottom of the mouth, the fattest and loudest tone is available.
Mark van Cleave describes how to fatten the tone in the high register by lowering the tongue.

More about syllables can be found in : Brass playing is no harder than deep breathing, Sail the seven C's
There is also an interview with Bobby Shew on the net where he talks about opening up the aperture for playing high notes.

Aperture control

The aperture can be controlled by the tension of the corners, called puckering, and a varying degree of smiling or pinching the lips together. All these methods of aperture control can influence the pitch that is being played. Several methods of aperture control are usually combined.

REMEMBER : Too much pressure will compromise the aperture control!


When smiling, the lips are thinned out and the aperture gets flatter

We have all been taught to smile and blow. This works well up to a certain point.
But when playing high, smiling is not the way to go. The lips will thin out to a point where they will no longer vibrate. This can also be dangerous, as the thinned out lips are more vounerable to arm pressure.

The aperture gets flatter when smiling, giving a thinner tone quality.

A good exercise for getting rid of the smile, is doing glissandi while looking in the mirror to check that no smile is present.
Octave glizzandi
This exercises is found both in the Shew and Vizzutti books.

The Farkas embouchure combines the smile with the pucker.


When pinching, the lips are pressed together, resulting in a flatter aperture

The aperture can be controlled by pressing the lips together vertically. Compression can be aided by closing the jaw or bunching the chin. (I don't like these ways of extra compression, because they tend to block the air stream. The Superchops embouchure uses these methods conscientiously for creating resistance.)

Tone quality will be thinner as the player pinches the lips together, the aperture flattens.

When a player pinches, I think that the main muscle used is the "Orbicularis Oris", the ring muscle. The corners are not exercised to the same extent as when using the puckering approach.

The Stevens embouchure combines pinching with the pucker.


When puckering, the corners move the tissue inwards. The lips "thicken" and the aperture gets rounder

Puckering the lips, the corner muscles compresses the lips horizontally inwards.

Tone quality will be darker when the corner muscles moves inwards, creating a rounder aperture.

When a player puckers, I think that the corner muscles support the embouchure in addition to the "Orbicularis Oris" (the ring muscle).

The Farkas embouchure combines the smile with the pucker.
The Stevens embouchure combines pinching with the pucker.

Copyright (c) Rune Aleksandersen 1997 - 2002