Date: Mon, 31 Dec 2007 17:44:06 -0800
From: "Jon" <>
Subject: [TPIN] EFFICIENCY! Part 3

An early Part 3 since I've got to go blow my chops into oblivion on a dance-till-dawn gig later...

First, why am I writing all of this? Well, here's what happened... A couple of weeks ago I had a ton of concerts and gigs, as I'm sure many of us did considering the time of year. Most exhausting was an program that featured Rhapsody in Blue, Cuban Overture, Billy the Kid, and an obscure Ives march. The stage was really hot, I was playing first, and getting through this ordeal seemed next to impossible. As predicted, it was very rough - I did survive, but I just couldn't get my chops to settle in and relax; had no real feeling of stability, and as a result I used way too much pressure and effort.

Afterwards, at home, I tried to analyze the problem. No luck. Went to the web, stumbled across John Lynch's monograph on chops ( and had a revelation. By tucking in my bottom lip a bit I could suddenly "grip" the mpc and relieve most of the pressure. It worked almost instantly, and the next evening, when I had to repeat the concert, I made it through with no problems at all.

Over the past two weeks or so I've been giving this whole "efficient embouchure" concept a lot more thought. Craig Morris, on his excellent site (, writes about how double-reed players spend the vast majority of their time making and modifying reeds, but brass players don't think much at all about their chops unless they're having serious problems. Then they're told to use more air and stop over-analyzing. If you tell a bassoonist to stop screwing with his reed and just blow harder, be prepared for some strong language. Good thing most of them are small and weak... :)

Ok, now for the practical stuff. First, a caveat: this advice, for what it's worth, is directed toward "down-stream" players, which I believe most are. This means that your primary vibrating surface is probably your upper lip. It's easy to determine which you are - just free buzz a low tone and place your index finger on the red of your bottom lip. If the buzz continues pretty normally, you're a down-streamer. If it stops you're possibly anup-streamer. You can check this by using your finger on the top lip too. No buzz up there means down-stream, continued buzz, up-stream.

This is, of course, a generalization, since embouchures are so weird and varied that it may not hold true for everyone. But for most, I think, it does.

Now, the first objective: getting a grip on the mpc.

The word "grip" is sort of a misnomer, since the lips are inside the mpc and, as such, can't really grip anything. But they can be securely settled in there, forming a kind of pouch in which the mpc rests. The easiest way to accomplish this is to place the mpc on the chops (hopefully your normal setting is more on the top than bottom), then slide the bottom lip up slightly. Once you've got this position take the mpc off the top lip while leaving it in position on the bottom. Get a feel for where it now sits on the bottom lip - this is your new anchor point. As you get used to this slight alteration you'll be amazed at how your endurance and range improves. The goal is to firmly anchor your mpc while moving your bottom lip up so as to form a better seal with the top lip.

Second objective: build bottom lip strength.

The easiest way to do this, at least at first, is through isometrics. Here are two sets of exercises:

1. Skip the pencil thing for now and concentrate on the pucker. Emphasize the lower lip when doing these.

2. The Lip Clamp, from Jeff Smiley's "Balanced Embouchure" method. I'm probably risking a copyright infringement suit here, but I'll chance it. Simply roll in both top and bottom lips and squeeze really hard. Do this until they burn, rest, repeat. Try this exercise 2X a day. Also stress the lower lip, as in the first set.

Enough for today. More startling revelations in a day or two...