Playing Trumpet With Chapped Lips

posted in: Trumpet | 12


My problems playing trumpet with chapped lips began when I lived in El Paso, an arid, mountainous area of the great state of Texas. In stark contrast to living in Hawaii, where I had lived previously to El Paso, the desert mountain climate of West Texas was brutal to my lips. There were days when the skin split open so wide that blood gushed out for days. This is obviously a problem if your intentions are to become a serious professional trumpet player.

I have written about this before but with the new Google structure in place, that article continues to sink to the bottom of the virtual sea of obscurity. Since I now have a recent story to write about, I decided to resuscitate the old topic and write about it again.

Bad Sound and Chapped Lips

Not long ago I posted a blog about the 1001 reason for your bad sound. I wrote this article because so many trumpet teachers focus on “How to get a good sound on trumpet,” but never seem to focus on the things that hinder that process. I believe that a very important part of working on someone’s sound is chipping away at all the things that might be ruining an otherwise beautiful sound.

Chapped lips is one of those things that can cause someone to have a bad sound, even when they do everything else right. My father used to tell me not to try to diagnose mechanical problems in a car until you tune it up. I look at working on sound production with my students the same way. Things like chapped lips can cause a misdiagnosis, causing the teacher to prescribe inappropriate, irrelevant remedies.

As I grow as a teacher, I get better at recognizing chapped lips in my students just by listening to their sounds. Chapped lips have a very distinctive sound. Usually. when I hear that sound, I know not to automatically spew the traditional tone production instructions. If I recognize that the students have chapped lips, I will have them do something about the chapped lips before I try to work with them on their sounds.

Staying Hydrated

The most important thing is to avoid getting chapped in the first place. You can often avoid getting chapped lips by staying super hydrated. Drink plenty of water. Chapped lips are a symptom of dehydration. Contrary to what my earlier article seems to imply, dehydration is the not the only cause of chapped lips, but it is the most common cause. So drinking enough water goes a long way towards preventing this problem and maintaining a better trumpet sound.

In my old article I said that staying hydrated was my chapped lips cure and that I rarely needed the treatments anymore. That is still about 90% true today. Because of my kidneys, I have to drink enough water every day. As a result, I rarely have issues with chapped lips. But there are times when that’s not enough and my lips do chap.

Compensating In Performance

If you find yourself in a situation where you must play on chapped lips, there are a few things you can do to salvage the performance. First of all, avoid playing softly at all costs. It is better to be criticized for playing too loud than to sound like an incompetent beginner. Playing softly means literally not playing at all. When the tissue in the lips are dried up, they don’t vibrate. The lips become hard like rawhide leather and gentle, delicate musicianship is no longer an option.

Another thing you can do if you are forced to perform with chapped lips is to temporarily change your embouchure, rolling the lips outward to expose the mucus membrane. On this embouchure, it is the softer tissue that vibrates, not the skin of the lips.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the importance of the warmup. Warming up on chapped lips is entirely different from a typical warmup. The objective is different. When you have chapped lips, the objective of the warmup is to work the leather into a more supple, more pliable texture. Practice pedal tones and easy lip slurs. Do lots of long tones. Sometimes a nice long warmup of long tones and low notes can completely reverse the problems caused by chapped lips.

Healing Chapped Lips

I remain a big fan of the Neutrogena Lip Moisturizer.

It’s funny. I have a adult male beginner student who told me he doesn’t use “lip stuff” because it’s too feminine. Hey, I’m with him on the whole femininity thing. I don’t do “metro male.” I wouldn’t be using lip treatments at all if the suppleness of the lips wasn’t such an important factor in my profession…playing the trumpet!

The reason I decided to write this blog today is because I recently had a short bout with chapped lips again. My lips chapped on Monday. I looked around the house for lip treatment but all I could find was a tube of chap stick that needed to be used up (I don’t like to waste). On Monday evening, the bottom lip had a piece of skin that pealed off and swelled up. No  blood or anything like that, but it was beginning to become difficult to play my horn.


So I continued to apply the chap stick. I used this stuff for almost five days before I finally broke down and took a trip to Walgreens to get the Neutrogena stuff. In that five days, the raw patch on my lip refused to heal.

In contrast, after using the Neutrogena Lip Moisturizer, that raw spot on my bottom lip healed within twelve hours. I do not believe that Neutrogena is the only brand that does this. I have used other brands successfully. But the traditional, normal, chap stick clearly does not have the same healing properties as the Neutrogena does. That’s why I use it and why I try to avoid the cheaper products.

12 Responses

  1. Juan

    hello,
    is it possible for you to post a pic of the product Neutrogena Lip miosturizer? i have been looking for that product i cant find anything with that name. Thank you

    • Eddie

      Hello Juan,

      Here is a link to Amazon.com with pictures and information.

      Neutrogena Lip Moisturizer

      Some stores do not put the Neutrogena Lip stuff with the other lip products. They put all of the Neustrogena stuff in the cosmetic section. That makes it difficult to find sometimes.

      I hope this helps.

  2. Chapped Lips

    This is a very good article, thanks for that. I had never considered how dry and chapped lips would affect trumphet playing. Get your lips smooth by making your own sugar scrub with olive oil, sugar, honey and aloe to aid healing. Apply and rub in a circular motion to remove dead skin then smother with a moisturising lip balm.

    • Eddie

      Hello Val,
      Thank you. I’m glad you liked it.
      And thank you for the information.
      Eddie

  3. Mathew Plaza

    Hey,

    I’ve been on a medication that causes severe chapped lips to the point where I have to put Vaseline on my lips every 10 minutes. Since I’ve been on the medication, my trumpet playing has been struggling. I can’t reach high notes very well, my chops run out within 25 minutes, and my intonation has been really sharp. The only thing that has remained well is my tone. I don’t know if it’s the medication or just my playing has diminished. If you can, can you diagnose and/or tell me how to fix my playing please?

    Thank You!

    • Eddie Lewis

      Hello Mathew,

      Are you using straight Vaseline or one of their lip care products?

      • Mathew

        Strait Vasline. I’m actually using just regular Chapstick now. And sorry I didn’t get to you sooner.

        • Eddie Lewis

          Are you still having the same problems? It’s been a while since you left that first comment.

  4. Jonathan

    Eddie, I have a question. As a comeback trumpet player after about a 15 year layoff, I’ve been having to reform my embrochure and retrain my lips. I’ve noticed that ever since day one that I have this chapped lips “feeling” but it is above my actual “lip.” It feels like it is in the skin between the red part of my lips and my nose where my normal facial hair is. It is worst around where the mouthpiece sits on my skin. The area feels constantly dry for the most part and slight hint of burning. I don’t know what to do. If I don’t practice for a day, it’ll feel better, but I try to practice an hour every day. I do long tones, slurring up and down, technical exercises and simple articulation stuff every day. I used to not feel like this when I was a serious student and player a long time ago. I don’t know if being where I live now in Oklahoma and the dryer weather has anything to do with it, but when I was a student in Mississippi with the extreme humidity, I didn’t have this problem. After I get done practicing, it feels stiff. If I could just get rid of the chapped “feeling,” I would be one happy camper. Do you have any advice?

    • Eddie Lewis

      This is the kind of thing that is difficult to diagnose without seeing you. Are you getting a rash? Or is the skin above the lip just stiff?

      What I will say, based on what you include in your comment, is that I do not believe in practicing every day. I think practicing every day impedes growth. I also strongly recommend following the 50% rule. You can see a video I presented about the 50% rule at Trumpet Live. There are problems that creep into our playing when we only practice rudiments. It is very important to spend at least half of your practice time working on music.

      I hope this helps.

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