Trumpet Embouchure Change Tips
Someone asked last week if I could do a video with trumpet embouchure change tips. It just happens that I have a lot of success at helping trumpet players with their embouchures. I have worked with dozens of trumpet players to change their embouchures and some of them have even been pros.
One of the reasons I am good at this is because I went through an embouchure change myself in 1985. Actually, I used to correct people all the time because it wasn’t just an embouchure change. I was rebuilding my trumpet playing from the ground up. It was this change that ultimately lead to the writing of my first book (The Physical Trumpet Pyramid), which is the philosophical foundation of several of the other books.
So, let’s get into this. Here are the nine tips I have for players struggling with an embouchure change:
Yes, I did it again. This is almost always number one in these posts. And I make it number one for a reason. Never forget this line:
All physical work on the trumpet should be done for musical reasons.
If you are not doing enough listening to great trumpet players, then your embouchure change is going to be a lot more risky. Trying to change your embouchure without having a “sound model” in your mind can be disasterous. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it could be a fatal mistake, bad enough to end your career.
THAT’S how much I believe in listening!
When you reach the embouchure you have now, your natural one, you got there from a trial and error process that happened over time. It was a natural process. Maybe you don’t like something about the old embouchure. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to change. But that doesn’t mean everything you are doing right now is wrong. What you are doing now is what came natural to you, based on the sound model you had at the time.
If you try to make an embouchure change to something drastically different, without the benefit of a solid sound model, then you are trying to do this in an extremely unnatural fashion. Maybe it will work for you in the end? But it’s going to be a HUGE struggle without the listening.
2 Assess Your Needs
WHY are you changing your embouchure?
Are you changing for musical reasons?
Here are the top ten reasons NOT to change your embouchure:
- Because your embouchure looks unusual.
- Because you want to play high notes.
- Because your friends use a different embouchure to you.
- Because someone said that you need to change your embouchure.
- Because you watched a YouTube video about embouchure changes.
- Because you were reading about different embouchure and you want to try some.
- Because someone famous has a different embouchure to you.
Remember the line from above… “Always do physical trumpet work for music reasons.” What musical improvement do you hope to make by doing an embouchure change.
If you genuinely need an embouchure change, it can be a huge challenge. It could possibly be the bravest thing you ever did in your life. It’s not just a physical challenge but a mental one as well.
For that reason, there are times when I do NOT recommend an embouchure change. For example, if you are a junior in high school and you have no intention to play trumpet after you graduate, then I would strongly recommend skipping the embouchure change. Don’t do it! Chances are you will ruin your senior year for nothing.
So assess your needs. What is your musical reason for making this embouchure switch.
Also, it’s possible that you don’t need a full fledged embouchure change. Maybe what you need is what I call an embouchure adjustment. I have a student who is going through a slight embouchure adjustment. All we are doing with him is making sure he has enough meat in the mouthpiece. He is making his lips more firm while he plays so there is more cushion between the mouthpiece and his teeth. We are seeing tremendous progress and it has only been a couple weeks.
This is not a full fledged embouchure change. Okay?
Another example of an embouchure adjustment is moving the mouthpiece placement a millimetre or two up the lips (never seen someone move it down). This is also not an embouchure change. This is an embouchure adjustment and doesn’t have the same devastating effects on your daily trumpet life.
3 Daily Routines or Chops Express
As I mentioned above, my Physical Trumpet Pyramid concept came out of my embouchure change. Fortunately I recorded the experience and later used my notes to help a lot of students, not only with similar changes but also with general improvement.
Daily Routines, Chops Express and the new Trumpet Chops series of books is based on the Physical Trumpet Pyramid. These routines are designed to reintroduce you to the trumpet, completely “anew”, each day that you practice.
In that sense, you could say that my routine books put into practice the famous Paganini quote when he said:
“Each day I relearned my technique anew.”Nicolo Paganini
This “starting over every day” approach to trumpet rudiments not only works for embouchure changes but also with coming back after a long time off the trumpet. It helps returning to the horn after being sick or injured. It also works wonderfully as a pedagogical method for teaching beginners. This daily rebuilding structure also goes a long way toward preventing the kinds of mistakes that creep into your playing over time because you are starting fresh every day anyway. Bad habits are destroyed on a daily basis.
In the context of an embouchure change, you want to add only one level at a time. Don’t try to do an entire routine in one day. For example, when you very first begin, spend the first few days ONLY practicing lip buzz. When you master the lip buzz, that’s when you should move on to the mouthpiece placement exercise. Then when you master that, after a few days, you can add mouthpiece buzz.
Let me be clear about this. As you progress through each type of exercise, you are beginning at the beginning again, every day. Start with an air exercise. Do the lip buzz. If you have mastered the lip buzz then do the mouthpiece placement.
I still do this same sequence of exercises as my trumpet daily routine every day that I practice. I still go back to the air, lip buzz, mouthpiece buzz, etc. working my way through the entire Physical Trumpet Pyramid before I move on to practicing music for the day.
4 Avoid Too Much Mirror Time
Looking in the mirror can help. It’s difficult to feel if the setting is right when you first work on an embouchure change. However, spending too much time in front of the mirror can also paralyze you and cause you to make no progress at all.
Don’t be so concerned about what your embouchure looks like. Be concerned, instead, with what it sounds like. That’s how you know if you are making progress. Listen to the sound.
5 Obey the 50% Rule
It’s easy to spend all of your practice time working on exercises because you are desperate to get this embouchure change over with. But similar to point one in this article, if you loose sight of why you are doing this change, it can be disastrous.
That’s why I say that at least 50% of your practice time should be spent playing music. This is even true if you are going through an embouchure change. If, as a result of the change, you only have the chops to play music up to first line E or second line G, then spend time practicing music that only goes that high.
The bottom line is that playing music and playing exercises are two polar opposite mental activities. The more you divorce yourself from the music, the less effective the exercises will be.
6 Plan Ahead
Don’t make an embouchure change right before a major event. That would be foolish.
And when I say it is foolish, I have personal experience with this. I didn’t plan ahead and it was a huge problem.
At the time, I was first chair in the UTEP wind ensemble and we were preparing for a major event at the TMEA convention. I had several solos.
In the rehearsals leading up to the performance, I was in no man’s land. I couldn’t play the old way anymore, and the new way wasn’t good enough to do performances yet. The conductor thought I was trying to sabotage his band. At one point he stopped the wind ensemble and said, “Eddie, what the h*&# are you doing?”
It was devastating to me.
I was eventually able to play on the new embouchure in the performance, but getting there was extremely stressful.
Don’t do what I did. If you know you’re going to need an embouchure change, do it when it makes sense. Wait until the summer or something like that. I am writing this in April of 2020, during the nationwide lockdown. I can’t think of a better time to do an embouchure change.
7 Don’t Panic
You will sound bad during the embouchure change. And there are times after the change when things will slip and you will sound horrible again. This is natural. Don’t let it cause you to panic or loose hope.
And I guess what I’m saying here is, really, be patient. The worst thing you can do is try to rush this process. You probably developed your other embouchure naturally over a period of years. If you want this new embouchure to be just as natural, then you need to give it time.
And I guess I need to clarify what I mean by being patient, in case it’s not obvious.
DON’T TRY TO PLAY HIGH TOO SOON!
Let it develop naturally so that you end up with a beautiful sound AND awesome chops!
8 One Range
I also strongly encourage you to get my One Range book. It doesn’t necessarily help you with the embouchure change itself, but helps you get back to the chops you had when you changed much sooner. Once you make the change and everything feels like it’s running smoothly, there will be a process of rebuilding the chops for greater demands, both in terms of range and endurance.
The One Range book helps you build your trumpet strength in a very systematic way. The good news is that what you do to get you back to where you were is the same method you can use to develop much greater range and endurance than you ever experienced before.
9 Get a Competent Teacher
It is extremely ill-advisable to do an embouchure change without a teacher. There are so many things you can mess up, and mess up badly. Embouchure changes are potentially career ending.
Remember my story about being in no-man’s-land? It is possible to forget how you used to play the trumpet. During that no-man’s-land time, you are extremely vulnerable. If you try to do this without guidance, you are taking a huge risk.
Now you know my general approach to embouchure changes. I have shared with you the theories. They sound simple, but it takes years of experience, decades of experience to put all of these into practice. That’s why I’m suggesting that you find a teacher. That’s very important.