Holding “The Position” for 30 Minutes

Usually when a student is asked to make the “M” position correctly they end up with a lot of excess tension, located primarily in the upper chest, throat and embouchure center. If the player can successful play a note this way it is often clear and high, with a lot less effort than they might expect (which can be very encouraging and exciting), yet it may now be the middle and lower registers that are difficult, if not impossible to play.  The reason for this is excess tension, which at first may be hard wired in their minds as a part of the new embouchure.

I am always telling students to take more time to set up, and those who do so are rewarded with much better results.  However if even more time is taken to remove that unneeded tension the results can be even more impressive.  One of the best ways to eliminate the tension and develop the image and strength for the new embouchure is to hold the position for an extended length of time.  This is very similar to holding a yoga posture, which requires strength and oftentimes balance, but in turn develops flexibility and a focused mind.  I chose 30 minutes almost arbitrarily, but after more thought could see that number was realistic and had its advantages.

Well before the 30 minute time frame fatigue will begin to build, making it much easier to identify and locate the source of that fatigue and know that is also the location of the tension.  At that time the body will also be very motivated to relax, and if the muscles are not required to hold the position (and most of those that are tense are not) then they should be allowed to release.  The remaining muscles involved with holding the position should then be much easier to identify, and their job should also be easier since their opposing muscles are most likely the ones that were carrying the excess tension.  The 30 minute time frame allows for this process to unfold, for conditioning of the proper muscles, and the experience of “living” in that space.  Awareness is also increased, which will also help any needed modifications in the future.

Jon (an adult student who plays in some of his own jazz groups) was my last student to take up the 30 minute challenge.  The next day when he came to his lesson I could tell something big had happened, for not only was the embouchure set better, Jon was also more relaxed and focused, and his posture and horn angle were more than noticeably improved.  His airstream was relaxed and free flowing, and the embouchure seemed very calm as he blew.  Months of improvement happened overnight, and the positive changes have remained in place ever since.  Very impressive, Jon!

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8 Responses to Holding “The Position” for 30 Minutes

  1. Iuri says:

    Thanks for these great tips. I could understand of what are we supposed to hold. Its the mouthpiece, the trumpet or only the embouchoure.

    • bobgillis says:

      The main intent here was to hold the embouchure for that length of time, but I personally need the very close proximity of the mouthpiece to the embouchure, to get a much better idea of the shape the embouchure is making to ideally interface with the mouthpiece. That includes the distribution of the mouthpiece weight (which can still be judged even without the actual weight of the mouthpiece), the kind of seal being created at the sides of the mouthpiece’s cup and rim, the size, shape and location of the lip aperture, and the alignment of the top and bottom lips in the vertical plane (which is the same plane of the mouthpiece rim when viewed from the side). Since it’s the arms that will be holding the mouthpiece to the lips (when it’s attached to the trumpet), it wouldn’t hurt to give the arms the same kind of precision training at the same time.

  2. Darrien Ollivierre says:

    I’m still trying to figure out the exact shape of the embouchure. Do you have pictures of what it should look like?

    • bobgillis says:

      Hi Darrien,

      Thanks for your question, which is a good one. There’s a reason that there is no picture of the embouchure on the blog. Everyone’s facial and dental structure is different, and so what it takes to achieve the ideal balance of embouchure focus, a free flowing airstream, jaw position, mouthpiece placement and weight distribution will be different for everyone. There is also the aspect of what the position feels like, which cannot be conveyed visually.

      If I would post a picture, there would be several of them…a variety of faces and lips, and the way they would look like in their state of rest, what the set would look like while anticipating the air, and what it would look like while actually blowing air…with and without the horn.

      Without my being able to see how you are setting up, you can best answer your own question by following all of the guidelines as carefully as you can.

      All the best,


      • Darrien Ollivierre says:


        That makes a lot of sense, that way the picture doesn’t lead us to a set up that is unfit for our own face. Thank you. I’ll continue to read and digest your thoughts throughout the site and work with it.


  3. Colin Ball says:

    what is the M position?

    • bobgillis says:

      Hi Colin,

      The “M” Position describes the embouchure formation produced when you imagine saying the letter “M.” It aligns the lips and places them in close proximity to each other with a minimum amount of tension. As trumpet players, we also make sure that this gentle contact between the lips allows the center to be the point of least resistance, so the air can freely pass through the center of the formation when we blow.

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