The Landing- A Critical Step for Trumpet Players: Part Two

Part One of this topic discussed how careless mouthpiece placement can compromise an embouchure before a note is even played, and how moving the lower jaw slightly ahead of the top teeth and properly controlling the angle in which the horn is brought in will improve the way the mouthpiece pressure is distributed around its rim.  Perhaps a better title for this post would be “The Docking“…comparing this maneuver more to the interface between two spacecraft, rather than an aircraft’s landing on a runway.  For optimum results, this connection must be airtight and stable, and yet be achieved in a way that allows the embouchure’s center to be both free and focused.

There are a lot of ways to make sound on the trumpet.  Even the greatest players can have widely opposing views, because their opinions are most likely based on their own experience and awareness.  Every parameter that I will address here has an alternate view backed with it’s own reasoning.  Also, there are schools of thought that say each player needs to find their own  most “comfortable” position, while others say that a teacher should never change their student’s embouchure.  This confusion reminds me of the tale of the blind men who each felt a different part of an elephant, each then believing that they had the best description of the animal. To succeed in this world (and as a trumpet player), we need to have not only the clearest, most complete view, but also the keenest awareness, an open, inquisitive mind, and the desire to continually improve.  I’ll do my best to explain the reasoning behind my opinions, and also say that I have never seen these concepts fail…either for me or for my students.  Any failures along the way were because of not adhering to the principles…due to either the lack of knowledge or awareness, or for not putting in the amount of practice time needed to achieve consistency.

In order for the top lip to be as free as possible for optimum vibration, the most receded part of the bottom teeth must be ahead of the most forward part of the top teeth, with 55-60% of the mouthpiece weight favoring the bottom jaw.  Figure A show two views of the teeth (from the top looking down) that illustrate this correction.  It’s important that this slightly forward position is not overdone, for doing so can destroy the vertical alignment of the lips and begin to widen and therefore affect the efficiency of the lip aperture.

The vertical placement of the mouthpiece (in relationship to the top and bottom lips) is debated in the trumpet playing community.  Some say that the mouthpiece should be placed more on the top lip, others say more on the bottom lip, and others opt for equal placement.  An argument made for placing more mouthpiece on the top lip is that the top lip is the reed (which it is), and therefore more of it will vibrate if it is in that position.  The truth is that healthy, optimum vibration is more dependent on the top lip’s exposure to air…how much that lip is below the top teeth edges.  This is similar to the way a playing card makes the sound of a motor (to a kid’s ears) when it is placed in the path of a bike wheel’s rotating spokes…the amount of sound produced is dependent on how far the card is positioned within the path of the rotating spokes.  Also, it is the resiliency of the card that keeps bringing it back to position.  It is the action of the bottom lip hugging the bottom teeth (the “M” formation) that keeps the top lip returning to form during the passing of the airstream.

There are inherent problems with placing the mouthpiece more on the top lip.  Figure B above shows a placement with 2/3 of the mouthpiece on the top lip (marked with an “X”).  This allows the reed (top lip) to be longer than the facing of the bottom lip, which can contribute to leaks at the sides of the mouthpiece.  Can you see that placing the mouthpiece 1/3 on top (also shown above) now makes the facing longer than the reed?  Interestingly, some have also experienced side air leaks when first making this correction, but that problem is due to using the same amount of mouthpiece pressure as for the old placement.  Since the seal is more efficient with the 1/3 top placement, decreasing the mouthpiece pressure in that position will actually help improve the seal.

Figure C above shows what my teacher, Roy Stevens, called the shorter stroke created by the 1/3 top placement…meaning the shorter path the airstream travels before hitting the inside of the mouthpiece cup compared to the 2/3 top placement.  This results in better response, like the smaller steering wheel and smaller steering ratio of a sports car compared to the same on a city bus.  Notice the airstream in both examples is aiming up.  The are several advantages to this image…it aids in keeping the lower jaw slightly forward, keeps the muscles below the corners engaged, helps straighten out the “hose” of the air column, and frees up the throat.  Also note that the teeth are 1/4″ apart, with the lip line (where the two lips meet) at the very center of that aperture.

The view from the front shows another reason for the centered lip line.  It is very important that both lips are exposed to air from corner to corner (represented by the four X’s).  Not only does the top lip need this position for optimum vibration, but when the bottom lip is exposed in the same way it actually strengthens the embouchure. Think of the shape of the space shuttle’s drag chute when it is first deployed.  As long as the airspeed is fast enough, the chute retains its shape.  The combination of a consistent, supportive airstream, along with the “hugging” action of the bottom lip (which also inverts and aligns both lips equally) stabilizes the embouchure formation and contributes to good endurance as well.  Note:  the diagram above represents an approximation of the measurements it lists.  The Google image that I borrowed looks like the teeth are more than 1/4″ apart, which throws off the rest of the scale.  Also, Figure C shows that the bottom lip will not receive as much support from the airstream with the 2/3 top placement, but that is due to an inexact scale.  The lip line is independent of the mouthpiece placement.  I hope that the illustrations (as general as their scale is) will still help support the accompanying text and clarify a mental image.

One would think that a center mouthpiece placement equidistance from each corner of the embouchure (as seen in the last picture above) would be the best, but we are not symmetrical creatures.  There is even more to consider, for the surface pattern of the human teeth (when viewed from the top) is more irregular, sometimes even much more so, than the flat, planar surface of the mouthpiece viewed from the same angle.  Part Three of this series addresses the left-right placement of the mouthpiece, and The Landing: The Final Seal and Focus is the last of this series.

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