Mar 9, 2012

Dance with them that brung ya

What in the world do I mean by that?? Well it applies to the fact that once you set for a note with your embouchure, it's almost impossible to change the setting in the middle of the note to improve the quality of sound. Changing an embouchure setting in the middle of a note will most likely cause the tone to wiggle and shake and actually wind up with a worse sound than it began. A better way is to go with the setting that you started with and support it with the embouchure and air, making sure to keep the embouchure absolutely still. If the setting wasn't quite right for that note and you are in a performance situation, a little more mouthpiece pressure may be needed to stabilize the slightly off center setting. Now, don't write me and ask if I'm recommending off-center settings with more mouthpiece pressure, because I'm not.

Finding the right embouchure setting is done in the practice room, but things happen as we all know. There is a tendency to under set when coming from the low register and a tendency to over set when coming from high. A good thing to think about when planning where to set the embouchure for a specific register is; bright and clear. Not that this is always the sound wanted, but I'd say 80-90% of the time.

A good way to find the right setting for each partial series is to imagine a large system of shelves, one for each note. Some are close together and some farther apart.
The important thing is to think of each one on a level surface. This is accomplished by setting the corners of the embouchure at a certain tension for each note and register, and then blowing across a perceived level surface. If the imagined shelf is slanting upward, the air stream is launched at too high an angle, and the sound will be pinched and edgy. If the imagined shelf is slanted downward and the air emerges at too low of an angle, the sound will be diffuse and dull. Aiming the air straight ahead usually results in the best sound although there are exceptions to every rule. In my experience 90-95% percent of low brass players fall into the second category. Sometimes imagining using the whole mouthpiece cup or just parts of it, or even none of it can cause a big change in the type of sound we produce. Consult my previous article; "Going Mental" for more information on this topic.


This article has been translated into Italian by Alberto Tortella.

This article has been translated into Polish by Lukasz Michalski.

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