The discussion of a wet vs. dry embouchure will be brief but it is worth mentioning because it’s something myself and others I know have had to work through.
The basic idea of the dry embouchure is that the drying the lips creates more friction between the skin around the lips and the rim of the mouthpiece. This friction leads to an increased grip while using less physical strength from the muscles of the embouchure. This is similar to a rock climber using chalk on his hands. Imagine if you were trying to climb a wet, slippery surface. It would take a tremendous amount of forearm strength to maintain a grip on the ledge. So in other words a dry embouchure needs to work less to stay in contact with the mouthpiece. This can facilitate an easier upper register and some younger players (my high school self included) figure this out and create a habit which needs to be remedied later in their career. If you see your students doing this, stop them.
A wet embouchure (or non-dried) therefore requires greater tension from the muscles of the face to maintain each pitch. This does take longer to learn but in my opinion if you don’t take the time to develop in this way you are holding yourself back.
First off, you get stronger chops, which is a good thing. Secondly, you will not always have enough time to dry your chops and reset your mouthpiece in between phrases. Thirdly, if you start sweating, you’re screwed.
I played completely dry in high school and college and switching to a wet embouchure was a real pain in the ass. Not only was I getting worn out I was also dealing with the psychological tension of worrying if I would be able to get the notes out on a wet setting. This ultimately proved to be a good thing (as facing our weaknesses always does) and I learned to focus on other aspects of playing rather than my chops (aka the sound of each note, relaxed breathing, etc).
A wet setting is also a real blessing when you’re doing a lot of in-your-face, balls-to-the-wall playing on gigs. The moisture between your chops and mouthpiece seems to act as a lubricant which helps prevent cutting or bruising the lips. I found that when I first made the switch I would be drooling all over myself when I was playing in the upper register (I told myself it was a safety mechanism from my body to protect from excessive pressure but this could be complete bullshit). At any rate as I gained control the skin stayed dryer.
If you’re doing horn moves it also helps to stick your tongue in the mouthpiece before putting in on your lips. This prevents you from smashing your teeth out and can only be accomplished if you’re used to a wet setting. 🙂
If you’re stuck wiping your lips every time you take the horn off your face the sooner you decide to quit the better. If you’re gig is on the line do what you gotta do to survive but if you’re at home practicing or in a rehearsal you owe it to yourself to learn to play on a wet setting.
Playing on a wet setting helps the mouthpiece and lip move around and allows the aperture to optimize itself for whatever type of playing we are doing. More on this in a later posting!
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