Embouchure Training – Part 1

Funny deadlift

Why add resistance to lips?

As discussed in Resistance is not Futile every note requires a specific balance of air speed and resistance. This resistance is collected from a number of different areas in the body and the balances vary from repetition to repetition. These balances are dictated mainly by practice and fatigue.

Since the muscles of your embouchure are relatively small there is a tendency for them to fatigue quickly. Once the embouchure is fatigued the necessary resistances will travel to other areas of your body. Some of these areas offer poor results in efficiency and a loss of musical control. Since control is largely dictated by your embouchure’s capacity for resisting the air stream it behooves you to condition your embouchure to maintain as much of the necessary per-note resistance as possible.

Function

To understand the ways you can train the functionality of your embouchure it is useful to think of its role in two ways; as a tool used to compress the air stream creating a faster air speed and as a stabilizer which holds your chops in contact with one another and the mouthpiece. Training both functions increases the amount of “data” the embouchure has to draw on in performance. This post will cover the role of the embouchure as a form of compression.

Compression

Using the embouchure to compress the aperture is a common though often misunderstood idea in the trumpet playing community. The most popular analogy for compression in your body is that of the water hose, which goes something like this:

You have water pressure from the spicket (air from lungs), the hose (body, throat, etc), and the nozzle (usually the tongue or in this case the aperture).

Water=Air; Greater Distance=Higher Note.

All other things being equal, when you turn the spicket completely up the water travels farther than if you were to turn the water up only half way. To increase the distance traveled you need to the increase the speed which the water leaves the nozzle. You accomplish this by turning the water pressure up (blowing harder) or by compressing the water (adding resistance) at the nozzle (embouchure) or hose (everything else for this example). On a hose this would be squeezing the hose, or putting your thumb over the end of the nozzle.

Now imagine that to create the water/air speed for a high C the distance traveled is 10 units. Say you achieve this distance by using 5 units of water pressure and 5 units of compression. Likewise you could use 3 units of water pressure and 7 units of compression, or 6/4, etc.

If you are always hitting high C how do you increase the nozzle’s role in the equation? Turn down your water. With less water pressure from the plumbing the nozzle compresses the air-stream far more to achieve the same distance.

How does this relate to training the embouchure for varying resistances? By using the least amount of air possible to play a note you train a wide range of resistances in your embouchure’s ability to create a pitch.

Is this Corner Burn?

In discussing strong chops players often refer to “corner” strength. This could be because “chopping out” it is often accompanied by the lactic acid burn in the orbicularis oris (lip) muscle. This is only a small part of the puzzle and it’s beneficial to visualize the embouchure consisting of all the muscles extending back to the ears.

Begin to imagine all the muscles of your face nudging ever so slightly toward the mouthpiece. This visualization creates a cushion for the air and mouthpiece to “ride.”

You can observe this on the faces of a number of great lead/ high-note players. As they ascend their embouchure muscles actually move forward. Lean into it!

Pucker

So What?

By using the larger, stronger muscles from farther back on the face you effectively shift the workload to a more capable muscle group. This technique is best used in conjunction with a more open APERTURE. Think of blowing air to cool hot soup or vocalizing “who.” This embouchure shape maintains an open aperture which does not close off of you as ascend in register. Using the muscles farther back on your face in conjunction with a supple, more open setting encourages equanimity of sound throughout your entire range, better flexibility, improved pitch, more ease in playing and a significant decrease in corner burn.

Application

Get a 2nd line G in your head, breathe in the sound, and then blow as little air through the horn as is needed until a) the note speaks on its own or b) the note does not come out.

If playing softly is new to you then you will likely feel the muscles in your face twitching around. This is to be expected. Your muscles are experimenting with various positions and tensions for each note. You’ll quickly find where you rely on other forms of body tension to play and it may be lower than you think.

Keep in mind that it can takes days before the notes begin to speak in this way – especially if you are doing a lot of intense playing on gigs and are not spending much time working your fundamentals at a softer dynamic level. Coaxing your muscles into new behaviors takes gentle encouragement, not brute force – take your time.

As soft playing becomes easy gradually expand registers. Once you identify with the sensation of letting the chops find the balance on their own you can attempt to play notes well out of your current playing range. As long as you’re not using excessive mouthpiece pressure you don’t run the risk of injury.

Danger, Will Robinson!

Although these exercises sound simple and relatively easy they can be very confusing to your chops – especially if you practice them to fatigue. By over-training your muscles you risk physical and psychological burnout.

Soft long-tones also need to be balanced with a healthy diet of lip flexibilities to keep the muscles of your embouchure supple and reflexive.

If you take the exercises you practice now and make a concerted effort to play them slightly softer over time you will develop greater control. Approaching your embouchure training in this way will give you a more gradual learning gradient which promotes continual long-term growth. By implementing these ideas slowly into your routine you will not adversely affect your gigs and other playing commitments.

Go slow and do less than you think you need to.

Now Check Out – Embouchure Training Part 2


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