High register playing: flexible embouchure

In the last blog post about playing in the high register, I wrote about a stable embouchure. I tried to define what I thought were key elements of a stable embouchure, and I gave some exercises on how to achieve that kind of setup.

In this post, I want to focus on a “flexible” embouchure and how this might help with high register playing.

Flexible embouchure, able to play low and high–some concepts:

  • Play with the minimal amount of effort required for any pitch at any dynamic
  • Develop soft playing
  • Move air in a very small amount for a very long time
  • Minimize any response gaps or “breaks”
  • Become comfortable articulating in all registers

Progressive exercises for flexible embouchure. These are generally “dynamic.”

  • Level 1: Clarke, “Technical Studies,” played as written: very soft, with lots of repeats (challenging one’s self to go longer and longer), always resting a lot in between exercises. Eventually, each Clarke can be played on its own day of the week (e.g., Clarke One on Monday, Clarke Two on Tuesday, etc.).
  • Level 2: Clarke, “Technical Studies,” with articulation (single tongue, “k” tongue, double and triple tongue–for multiple tonguing, try playing “tk” or “ttk” for every printed note in the original exercise). Everything else is the same as mentioned in Level 1 Clarke (above).
  • Level 3: Clarke, but play every other exercise on mouthpiece with a “B.E.R.P.”
  • Level 4: Begin to incorporate Clarke exercises 99-116 (if you have not done so already).
  • Level 5: Charles Colin “Advanced Lip Flexibilities,” Vol. 1 and then Vol. 2 as written (I recommend not using every valve combination. Perhaps only three–open, 1-2, and 1-2-3). Rest a lot in between exercises! Continue to practice the Clarkes (forever–for the rest of your life!)
  • Level 6: Colin “Advanced Lip Flexibilities:” begin to incorporate single, k, double and triple tonguing into the slurred studies. Alternate a slur with an articulation.
  • Level 7: Walter Smith, “Top Tones.” There is an introductory group of scale exercises at the beginning of this excellent etude book. Begin to work slowly with this group, as Smith recommends. Breathe through your nose in between sets and maintain embouchure. Incorporate all of the articulations that we have done on previous exercises (use single for eight notes, triple for triplets, double for sixteenths).
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High register playing: stable embouchure

All trumpeters want to have a solid high register–even if their job isn’t playing lead trumpet in a big band. This is the first blog of a series that will present basic, no-nonsense ideas that will work with you and the playing responsibilities you have right now. The exercises that go with these concepts may take a few months to deliver dependable results for maybe one or two notes higher than your present range. The overall process can go on for years, however.

Stable embouchure, strong and resistant to injury–some concepts:

  • Have good corners (going up or down depending on the type of embouchure you have)
  • “Hug” the aperture, allowing for flexible vibration inside the mouthpiece. This also provides some cushioning between the rim of the mouthpiece and the lips
  • Be fairly centered in terms of vertical placement of mouthpiece (the mouthpiece inner edge of the rim should not cut into the soft, red, fleshy part of the upper lip–but rather is above this area, on the tougher skin)
  • Do not tuck the lower lip underneath the upper lip (upper lip should be right above the lower lip)

Progressive exercises for stable embouchure. These are generally “static.”

  • The author, free-buzzing.

    Level 1: free-buzz long tones and simple, low-range melodies. Focus on a small aperture. Don’t give in to temptation to fold the upper lip over the lower lip.

  • Level 2: regular long tones. Rest between each tone, always emphasizing “fresh chops.” Mid-range and below, only (not high range).
  • Level 3: long tones with lip bends. Bend each note down 1/2 step and then back to the original pitch. At the end of each long tone, try to center the pitch by listening to the resonance of the tone. Mid-range and below, only.
  • Level 4: “Caruso”-style long tones. Play a long tone that last full breath (10 to 20 seconds). The next long tone is played a step up or down in the same way, but do not remove the lips from the mouthpiece to breathe (breathe through nose) and the embouchure remains engaged during breath. The pitch pattern could be chromatic or diatonic, up or down (start on an easy note, like a second-line G or a third-space C). When going up, do not continue anymore if you cannot make any more sound. Optional: start each note with a breath attack (no tongue).
  • Level 5: long lip trills in the upper-mid register. Do not play more than 10 minutes at first.


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