O.J.'s Trumpet Page Resources
The embouchure is the mechanism which produces the sound as the air flows. The lips need to be moist, or the air stream will separate them and there will be no sound. This moisture causes surface tension, which facilitates the buzzing process. The air blows through the lip aperture. The higher or softer that you play the smaller the lip aperture is. The lower or louder that you play, the larger the lip aperture will be. High notes need a lot of lip compression and abdominal pressure, not mouthpiece pressure. Lip compression is something all teachers make mention of. Their advice is, tighten up to play high. They don't tell you that this compression is lip against lip, like when you squeeze your thumb and forefinger together to grab something. It's this lip pressure that you need to fight the air stream and soar into the sky. Excessive mouthpiece pressure against the lips will separate your lips by pushing them apart. This lowers your range and causes a poor, thin tone, sluggish technique, shortened endurance and overall a shortened career.

Practicing on a wet embouchure helps to cure mouthpiece placement problems. The mouthpiece will slide some. If you adjust and adjust, or screw it in before playing, start playing on very wet rips. Just set the mouthpiece on the rips, don't screw the lips into the cup. I don't like to play on a wet embouchure, but I have done so to get rid of placement problems. You should too.

As you play your horn you will have a natural tendency to either blow the air stream up towards your nose, or down towards your chin. This tendency is based on your own physical traits, like tooth formation. Don't try to change the direction of your air stream, it never works well. You have to learn to use what nature has given you.

Upstream players usually have a tendency to smile or thin out their lips. You must guard against this, as it will hinder your endurance and tone quality. The jaw should be thrust out and horn pivot up to ascend in 85% to 90% of upstream players. A lot of upstream players tend to bunch up their lips and create a roll under their lower lip. This is natural in an upstream player. Upstream players usually have a brighter tone than downstream players and their range is easier to produce, but not higher. An upstream player needs to look at mouthpiece shapes and larger bells to darken his sound.

Downstream players tend to rely on mouthpiece pressure to play high. This is exactly the opposite of what they need to do. This pressure will cause lip strain and require more and more air. It could also cause an injury. Downstream players should pivot with the bell down while ascending. Not all will. This downward pivot will help you to back the pressure off of the top lip. Backing off the pressure will enable you to soar. You must resist the tendency to over pucker. Downstream players usually have a darker sound and need to look at double cups, or shallow mouthpieces for range.

Embouchures can be divided into three main divisjons, a smile, a pucker, and a puckered smile.

The smile system has so many draw backs and so few teachers, that hopefully it will soon be completely gone. It has a thin sound, reduced range, very little endurance and the possibility of severe lip damage.

The pucker embouchure gives more range and endurance than the smile system, but, it too has fallen out of favor. Louis Maggio is the main remaining proponent of the pucker embouchure.

Professional performers, as well as instructors, use a combination called a puckered smile. This offers a lot of versatility and I will discuss three of these systems.

The first of these has come to be known as the Farkas Embouchure. It is described in "The Art of Brass Playing." It is easy to set. It is the way you blow when you cool soup, or whistle. In this system you point your chin. This action helps to keep your lips from thinning out. The visual key here is that the skin between your lower lip and your chin will be taut. There will be no air pockets. The mouthpiece will have top and bottom, or 1/3 top and 2/3 bottom lip in it. Your lips will not overlap each other,nor will they roll in or out. The mouth corner should be held firm. The horn will be held in a downward angle to allow the air stream to go straight into the mouthpiece. Moisten the outside of your lips, then form your embouchure and gently place the mouthpiece on it.

There must be a gap of inch or so between your teeth so that the air flows freely. This is the embouchure that 90% of the teachers teach and 90% of the players learn. The tone is good, as is the flexibility, but not the endurance. As for range, most people can get to a high D or E with practice. This embouchure uses a tongue arch and a pivot. He did say that a lip overlap gives a great sound.

The Costello-Stevens Embouchure is used by a lot of high note artists. It was first used in the 20's and disappeared for about 40 years. It uses a slight rolling in of both lips and touching evenly all the way across. It also uses 50% top lip and 50% lower lip in the mouthpiece. The teeth will be inch apart and the jaw thrust forward so that the teeth are even. This will give you a level, or slightly elevated horn angle. There is little mouthpiece pressure. To practice this hold your horn by laying it on its side in the palm of your hand. Do not grab it. Place your lips on the mouthpiece and play. At first you will get nothing, but you should get so you can at least play a high C with this exercise. There are some teachers who tell their students to lock their elbows with the mouthpiece 1 to 2 inches away from their mouth and then make the head chase the mouthpiece. Doing this it is not possible to use much pressure. You must use lateral lip compression to play your upper register. Relax the chops and back off the pressure. Make the air do all the work. Not only can it, but you will add an octave to your range. As your top lip pushes down and you bottom lip pushes up you may get a roll of skin under your lower lip. In this system it is normal. This embouchure uses a tongue arch and a pivot. With this embouchure different people pivot in different directions. It is based on how far forward you thrust your chin and which way your air stream goes. Try both ways. It's a lot easier to tell if the pivot going down is right or not. Play a low G, pivot the bell up and then down. One way will sound free and clear and the other will be really bad.

The Super Chops system is taught by Jerome Callet and there is a book out by that name. In Super Chops the pivot is much more aggressive. It pushes the lips over the top teeth and forces the air stream to move and follow it. The lower lip curls in slightly over the lower teeth and the top lip slightly overlaps it. His lip compression is from all sides into the center. This is the only style which demands you not use a tongue arch. Callet says that it constricts the throat too much. He also advises you to tongue through your teeth. As you ascend between the strong pivot and the lip compression you will get a roll between your lower lip and chin. I don't play any higher on this embouchure than I do on the Stevens. It was difficult for me to learn to push my lips over the gap in my teeth and over my upper teeth while I was playing.

With both the Stevens and the Super Chops embouchures draw the mouth corners into the center of your mouth, roll the lips slightly in, and then place the mouthpiece.

Below are the similarities and the differences in the Stevens and Super Chops embouchures. The Stevens is indicated by 'a' and Super Chops is indicated by 'b'.
  1. Good posture. Chest, arms and head up. Relax jaw and open throat.
  2. Teeth 1/2 inch apart. Jaw forward.
  3. Pull the mouth corners in toward your lips. Say "M".
  4. 'a' Roll both lips in slightly.
    'b' Roll lower lip in and overlap top lip over bottom.
  5. Let the lips touch and expose to air. Say "M".
  6. Buzzing firmness before placing mouthpiece.
  7. Place mouthpiece gently on rips.
  8. No mouthpiece pressure.
  9. Breathe and blow. Don't hold it in.
  10. 'a' Tongue arch
    'b' No tongue arch
  11. 'a' Pivot to keep mouthpiece lined up with air stream.
    'b' Pivot and slide embouchure over the top of the top teeth.
  12. 'a' Lip compression will give you upper register. Lip against lip.
    'b' Lip compression caused by bunching up chin. Use chin muscle to aid lip compression.
  13. 'a' Relax the chops. Back off the pressure and make the air work.
    'b' Make air work and retrieve lower lip on each breath.
  14. Always set chops, place mouthpiece, blow.
Nine times out of ten if your upper register does not speak it is because your lips are too tense. Relax and make the air work for you. If your sound is thin and weak you are using too much pressure.

To get a brighter sound roll your lips in, or direct the air stream behind your upper teeth.

To get a darker sound, roll your lips out, or direct the air stream down. Too flat a lip aperture will produce a bright, hard sound. You will not be able to play softly and will have air in your tone.

No matter what embouchure you play, make the air do the work, relax your chops, back off the pressure and use the right equipment for the job. If you need a dark sound, you need a deep cup and wide bell flare. Remember, as a player you will need to play more low A's and G's in public than high A's or G's. Practice your low register and make it sound good.

The first reference to the jaw forward embouchure, now known as the Stevens System, was in a book by Cesare Bendinelli called "The Entire Art of Trumpet Playing" and written in 1614. The next one was in "The Trumpeters' and Kettledrummers" Art" by J. E. Altenburg and written in 1795. Out of 42 books about embouchures, only one from the 1920's, taught the smile system. One taught the Maggio Pucker System, three taught to overlap the lips at all times, and one liked both the overlapped lip and smiling. That one was "The Art of Brass Playing". Mr. Farkas did mention that this would lead to lessened endurance, so you should not smile, but he liked the sound. Thirty-six books taught the Stevens System, even if not by name. Dr. Stevens' mistake was to demonstrate that you do not need mouthpiece pressure to play high. I read the same demonstration in Rafael Mendez's book. Mendez was not criticized because he was a "legit" player, and Stevens was criticized because he was a high note player. It is this "snob factor" which has made a French Horn book written by a French Horn player the most taught system in college. However, the pros do not use that system. Watch them play. I have. Out of hundrede of articles, the only ones which outlined the Farkas system were the ones written by trim. He was a horn instructor. Mr. Farkas never intended his book to be the "Trumpet Bible" of the l900's.

A final note on embouchure. Remember, the key points are: teeth apart, head up, throat open, say the letter M to set the chops, breathe and blow. A few people have problems going from low to high. They tend to reset on a breath. This is caused by placing the mouthpiece on flabby lips and not ready to play lips. Jacoby always had his students set for a G on top of the staff before placing the mouthpiece. From there you can relax for the two lower octaves, or firm up for the top octave. This technique also eliminates most of the lip rolling, both in and out. H. L. Clarke and Rafael Mendez shared Jacoby's view.

A chapter from the book "The Nononsense Trumpet from A to Z" by Clint "Pops" McLaughlin