Brass Advantage with Wayne Downey
Embouchure, Mouthpiece Placement,
and Range Development
Welcome back to the land of “All Things Brass.” Over the past few months I’ve been receiving e-mails from many of you containing questions concerning embouchure development, breathing, tonguing and a host of other brass related topics.
I’ve decided to share three of those e-mails with everyone with the hope that the information in my responses will be beneficial to all.
I recently received an e-mail from Vince who asked:
I always had kind of a weird embouchure and I thought that might be limiting me. So I thought that with a fresh start I would experiment and try to get something more “normal.” Thing is, there is still a discrepancy between what feels good and what looks good. What feels right to me is a mouthpiece placement that’s about 2/3 upper lip, 1/3 lower and slightly off to the right side. I noticed that a lot of the lead players (screamers in my corps) seem to play with a lot of lower lip, so in an attempt to become one of them I tried playing with a 2/3 lower lip, 1/3 upper lip embouchure but it feels weird as all get up. Of course, it sounds like crud too, but I figure I could get used to it with practice. Question is, is it worth the effort?
Vince to be honest with you, embouchure changes are “Pure Hell”. The less-than-satisfactory response in your playing, due to the change you’ve made in your embouchure, is not out of the ordinary to say the least.
First things first; let’s talk about what “is” the accepted norm and what “could” be right for you.
For Trumpet, Trombone, Euphonium and Tuba players the ideal placement of the mouthpiece is centered both horizontally and vertically on the face, 50% on the upper lip and 50% on the lower lip. For Horn players the best placement is with 2/3 of the mouthpiece on the upper lip and 1/3 on the lower lip.
What these guidelines don’t take into consideration are a variety of factors that I refer to as “Dento Facial” features. These features include, but are not limited to, protruding and chipped teeth, the location of your teeth in your mouth cavity, the size of your teeth as well as a host of other dental abnormalities such as overbite (or under bite) that could and usually do affect mouthpiece placement.
Rule of Thumb: “Always strive to find a mouthpiece location that feels comfortable and exerts the least amount of uneven pressure onto the vibrating surface (the upper and lower lips).”
If you find that your mouthpiece placement is a bit off-center and it promotes “Good Vibration” (pardon the pun) as well as even pressure on the vibrating surface don’t worry. The rim of the mouthpiece optimally will lie on either the flat of the tooth or the grooves between the teeth. What you’re trying to avoid is the rim of the mouthpiece pinching the lips against a protruding tooth or exerting an uneven pressure on either the upper or lower lip.
If your mouthpiece placement is “Out of the Norm” but feels comfortable and promotes the proper vibration it’s best to leave well enough alone.
Another factor to consider in your mouthpiece placement is the size of your lips. Lips come in a variety of sizes (thicknesses & width) and since Mother Nature doesn’t always create “all things equal” both lips could be different sizes. If your mouthpiece placement restricts the vibration of either lip your sound will be fuzzy and unfocused. The vertical position of your mouthpiece must be adjusted to give both lips the opportunity to vibrate freely and evenly. Simply stated, the rim of the mouthpiece shouldn’t restrict a large portion of either lip from vibrating due to poor placement.
As always you must use your tone as your guide for success. If the quality of sound improves with a mouthpiece placement change but it looks ugly “don’t worry, be happy” (Yikes, another bad joke.)
Lastly it’s also important to make sure that you’re centering your mouthpiece over your aperture. The mouthpiece must be centered over the aperture to ensure even vibration of the vibrating surface (both lips) but also to maximize control of your air column as it relates to it’s size and direction. Symptoms of a mouthpiece not being centered over the aperture usually include stuffy tone, playing sharp and limited range. An embouchure visualizer, which you can buy at most high-end music stores, can best aid in the diagnosis of that placement problem.
Vince as you can see there are many factors for you to consider when it comes to proper mouthpiece placement. What’s right is what’s right for you and only you!!! Please consider the guidelines and suggestions above placing an emphasis on what feels right and what sounds best for you.
Change is always worth it, if it’s the right change!!! Your tone has to be the priority and your guiding light.
Here’s an e-mail from Phillip who asked: “Can a Tuba be referred to as a Contrabass?”
The term Contrabass is another term for Double Bass – denoting a musical instrument with a range one octave lower than the normal bass range. It originates from the Italian word Contra which means, pitched an octave below. For example – in the clarinet family you have the Clarinet, the Bass Clarinet and the Contrabass Clarinet (which is pitched one octave lower than the Bass Clarinet).
The drum corps activity many years ago applied this nomenclature to a newly developed instrument that was pitched an octave lower than the baritone (which at that time was considered the bass instrument in the bugle section) and called it the “Contrabass.”
Although the legitimate world of music doesn’t call a tuba a contrabass, in fact by definition, the tuba is clearly a contrabass because it’s an octave below the bass instrument in the brass choir.
Finally, an e-mail from Tristan asked: “Should I play every exercise in your XtremeRange Development Method book “ChopBuilders” every day to improve my range?”
Tristan the exercises contained in “ChopBuilders” are not designed to be played all in one day…
First and foremost it’s important for you to determine the limitations of your range both in the upper and lower register of your instrument. To accurately determine those limitations try a few of the exercises that extend fairly high and a few that descend into the pedal register. You’ll know immediately when you’ve found the extent of your range when you find yourself overworking, straining and your tone becomes thin and uncentered.
Once you’ve found where you range ends in both directions select 1-2 exercises in both the lower and upper register that you can play easily with a great sound. Practice each of those exercises every day until you feel that you’re ready to extend your range. When that day comes select the next exercise (in the series of partials) in both directions. Continue this process until you’re able to play every exercise in the book with a great sound without any tension, tightness or constriction.
It’s important for you to realize that toning, strengthening and building muscle is what “ChopBuilders” is all about, so take your time and be patient.
Well that’s about it for this month, don’t forget to send your questions or topics to: AskWayneDowney [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com and when you get a chance log onto my website www.XtremeBrass.com for all your brass needs. I’ve just released Frank Dorritie’s new brass method book titled “XtremePower & Range” and my new compilation of XtremeBrass Etudes titled “SuperStar Etudes”.
“Don’t Let The Chance Pass You By”. See Ya Soon…
Wayne Downey is the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition to his long-term role as Music Director of the 11-time DCI World Champion Blue Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 20 Jim Ott awards for “Excellence in Brass Performance”, Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands – as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show “Blast” and in feature films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical director for the Blue Devils. Wayne’s latest venture – XtremeBrass.com provides brass players of all ages and skill-levels, as well as educators, personalized lessons and access to his championship-winning techniques and methods. We’re honored to have him as one of our contributing columnists. -jmd
Wayne Downey was the first of Drum Corps Planet’s panel of subject-matter expert columnists – providing our readers with expert information and insight from the best teachers and leaders in the drum and bugle corps activity. In addition to his long-term role as Music Director of the 14-time DCI World Champion Blue Devils drum and bugle corps – where he’s won 21 Jim Ott awards for “Excellence in Brass Performance”, Wayne is distinguished as one of the finest brass teachers/clinicians and arrangers in the world. His work has been featured by some of the world’s most-respected drum corps, high school and collegiate bands – as well as the Tony and Emmy award winning show “Blast” and in feature films. In 1991 Wayne was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Drum & Bugle Corps activity as the musical director for the Blue Devils. Wayne’s latest venture – XtremeBrass.com provides brass players of all ages and skill-levels, as well as educators, personalized lessons and access to his championship-winning techniques and methods.
Posted by Wayne Downey on Tuesday, June 13th, 2006. Filed under Brass Advantage.