Date: Wed, 08 Jul 1998 11:17:59 -0400
From: Tim Phillips <>
Subject: re: air pocket/corners/Jim Manley (long)

This is also in response to your request Don.

Without seeing and hearing you play, it is very difficult to make an accurate diagnosis.  NOTHING beats having a live competent teacher work with problems like this.  Since listening and talking are mutually exclusive actives, it is very difficult for you to be teacher and student at the same time. So...

FWIW (for what it's worth)

Generally speaking, people who play with an air pocket under their upper lip are using excessive mpc pressure to seal.  This air pocket creates more pressure that must be clamped down.  In addition, air under the upper lips serves no purpose in buzzing, so it a wasted motion.  It also may mean that you are playing very inefficiently and have trouble playing loudly, especially in the mid upper to upper range.

Solution?  See a competent private teacher who can help you adapt the way you blow to increase the work load to the corners and thereby collapse this upper lip and use the muscle tissues rather than stretch them.  Done correctly, you can make the change and not loose much, if any, ability during the transition.  Yes, I am talking an embouchure change, but not one of these things that takes you several years to recover from.  This is a subtle change that allows the body to "get used to the idea" gradually.

Recently, I went to see a fellow TPINer, namely Jim Manley, for a lesson.  For those of you who do not have Jim's CDs, get them - especially if you are a high note junky (except for the last one where he plays mostly tasty jazz stuff for those of you who think he can only play high notes :) anyway).  Jim is one of the few people I have ever had the pleasure of standing in front of that can play from his double pedal C to triple high C on the same setup and keep a fairly consistent sound.  Meaning, it doesn't sound like a door squeaking when he is up over double C.   Of course, I was curious how he does this since I had never been able to play over an E over double C on my best days and nothing over F over high C has been a close acquaintance since I was in college.

Jim talked about efficiency.  Not over blowing the embouchure, and placing the workload where it belonged (forgive the paraphrasing Jim).  This process started in the pedals.  I have never been able to get a great sound in the pedal range and pedal C could only be minimally accomplished.  He gets to the pedals by bending down from low C and noticing that as you bend low C two things happen.  1 - the lips come forward and 2 - as you get on the low side of the horn, the resonance increases.  I found that I was using muscles in the neck and pulling the corners back as I was ascending.  This is counter productive to easy high range. This is also overly analytical and thinking of the chops instead of the music and sound (so it is practice room only activity).  By bringing the lips forward into more of a pucker and getting them closer together, it increased resonance of the buzz at the lips and eventually the response of the pedal C.  Then the trick became to get the low C out with the same setup as I use for the pedal C.  This took weeks.  I noticed, however, that as I worked the pedal C, the corners started to burn and as I started getting the low C, the corners started to burn as well.  I was also using a video camera (camcorder attached live to the tv) to watch what the corners were doing.  The trick then becomes how to continue this on up into the horn.

This is still work in progress, but on July 2, triple C happened for the first time in my life and I can tongue on notes up to a above double C.  Because it is strengthening my face, my "legit" playing is also benefiting.  I have done some church services and weddings and was amazed at the ease and comfort that has crept in.  The analogy is that it is easy for a weight lifter to bench press 200 pounds - it ain't as easy for someone out of shape.  Having never really used my corner muscles to play, it was a tiring activity when I got over middle C - now, it ain't as tiring anymore.  Practice now is in the hope that as the control comes with the new setup (and yes I am switching back to something resemble my old when I perform), this new ease of tone production will allow me to "warm-up" on the Brandenburg :).  Oh, I forgot to mention... I work less hard (a purely subjective statement) to get the triple C to speak than I ever did for a double.  As a matter of fact, the harder I try to work, the less it speaks...

I hope that this has been at least entertaining, if not helpful.

Tim Phillips
Hudson, North Carolina

Rich Morris wrote:
>         Does anyone have any experience in solving the
>         problem of having air between the upper lip and teeth?
>         And how much of a problem is it?