Tips on How to Develop Good Trombone Embouchure
Whether you are a trumpet player, a trombone player or a saxophone player, you need to develop a good embouchure, no matter which brass instrument you are learning to play. In this article, we are going to concentrate on trombone embouchure.
Keys to Good Trombone Embouchure
How to develop good trombone embouchure may not be the first thing we think of when learning to play the trombone, but it is one of the best ways to improve your sound and tone quality. First of all, we should discuss what trombone embouchure is.
Embouchure is the way in which a musician applies the mouth to the mouthpiece of the trombone to improve the air flow using the upper and the lower lips and allow you to create the perfect note—whether you want a long tone or you really hit that high note. Many factors can affect embouchure when it comes to brass instruments, including how the player uses air, the tightening of their cheeks and jaw muscles, a flat chin, and tongue manipulation.
There are three basic trombone embouchure techniques: high placement, center or mid-high placement, and low placement, each producing a different, but equally good sound, tone quality, and length of tone. In this article, we will cover the correct way to develop good embouchure techniques which can become part of your warm-up routine, as well as discuss different tips and what should be avoided with the three basic embouchures to ensure that you always create the right air flow for a good tone and a good sound.
High Placement Embouchure
High placement is when the instrument’s angle is close to straight out or even slightly turned down. The player moves up towards the nose to reach a higher range and produce a bright and clear sound within an easy and high range. To descend, the player will pull down.
Your bottom lip should be in front of your lower teeth; you do not want the bottom lip to roll out because it can cause double buzzing. Keep the corners of your mouth firm as you draw in air, and a flat chin should make a U-shape around your lips and pucker around the mouthpiece for a good tone.
High placement is the most common embouchure type and can easily be confused with the center or mid-high placement embouchure. The player will have between 75% and 90% of their upper lip inside of the mouthpiece.
Center or Mid-High Placement Embouchure
Like high placement, for center or mid-high placement, the player will have most their upper lip in the mouthpiece and, instead of pulling up, they center. 75% of their upper lip is in the mouthpiece opposed to only 50% of their bottom lip. The motion is different because they pull the mouthpiece and their lips together down along the teeth to ascend instead of pulling up toward the nose.
It is easier to develop a dark timbre when mid-high placement is used and, for players that use this embouchure, flexibility is easier. Mid-high placement, like high placement, is a downstream embouchure. However, there is an opposite motion where the horn is tilted down to ascend and tilted up to descend.
Low Placement Embouchure
Low placement embouchure is the least common of the three types. In the other two techniques, most the upper lip would be inside of the mouthpiece. In low placement, it is the opposite. Around 90% of the bottom lip is inside of the mouthpiece, and they play with a horn angle that is close to being straight out.
Low placement provides a brighter tone and being able to find higher ranges is one of their strengths, but they can also be oversensitive when practicing, especially if they feel that they are performing the wrong motions for low placement embouchure.
Embouchure is not something that can just be assigned to a musician. There are many factors that play a role in deciding which to use. These factors are usually based on the player's anatomy and what they will physically be able to do.
A trombone player’s embouchure method is not decided by themselves or their teacher. The type that is used depends on your own anatomy. You should not try to adapt to the style of your teacher or another trombone player that you like. It varies from person to person depending on several factors including the shape and size of the player’s lips, teeth, gums, and jaw and how these are related to each other.
Common Problems with Embouchure
1. Heavy mouthpiece pressure
Problem: If there is the presence of a lot of pressure on the lips, it will restrict blood flow which can tire the lips out more quickly. Excessive pressure will not enable their playing; it will hinder them because the muscles at the corner of the lips are not being used properly.
Correction: Be sure to do your warm up exercises before practice such as lip buzzing. Performing lip buzzing and intervals will help strengthen your facial muscles and will become useful in hitting the higher registers.
2. A Bunched-Up Chin
Problem: Some players have been known to thrust their chins upward instead of keeping them flat and arched down; this motion causes the chin to bunch up and will affect the player’s flexibility and the tone when they hit notes in higher registers.
Correction: Perform lip buzzing without the mouthpiece. It is close to impossible to do the lip buzzing exercises if the player’s chin is bunched up and not flat.
3. Lip Protrusion
Problem: Sometimes a player’s lips will pucker too much, and this will cause the lips to sag in the mouthpiece which will affect proper embouchure. Lips should also never be pulled back over the teeth.
Correction: Again, lip buzzing exercises are a great way to fix a lot of embouchure problems. Using the aid of a mirror to see how your lips, chin, and mouth look is also effective in helping to adopt a better technique.
4. Excessive Smiling
Problem: When the player has a smile on their face while playing it will cause the sound to be thinner and endurance will suffer as well as the tone. Smiling will reduce the amount of control you have and the player’s flexibility will begin to decrease.
Correction: Watching yourself play in the mirror will show you where you smile and if you pucker your lips or smile; this will help you find the balance between the two. Finally, lip buzzing will aid you tremendously in exercising your facial muscles, lips, and chin.
The key to developing good trombone embouchure is making sure to conduct your warm-up routine before you begin to play. Lip buzzing is a key element and is an effective means of correcting any improper embouchure techniques. Finally, take the time and get to know the anatomy of your face. Watch yourself practice in the mirror and familiarize yourself with the shape and size of your lips, teeth, gums, and jaw. Once you find the best embouchure for your facial type, it will be easier to spot problems you have later.
For answers to other Frequently Asked Questions about Trombones, visit our Trombone Buyer's Guide.