The background to
this chapter and the build up to my change in embouchure can be found in
In June of 1991 I
was forced to stop playing for some eight months. I had my teeth
rebuilt, 18 stitches in my lower lip, ribs and thumb broken, and a
cracked jaw. This was due to a road traffic accident (see appendix 1)
Reading books and
seeing diagrams about “How brass players do it” (by John Ridgeon)
and thinking about my playing I had to make sure that I wouldn’t go
back to my old ways of using pressure first. I started to practise
buzzing first. This was difficult, as I, to this day, have no feeling in
the front of my lower lip. I persevered and could buzz many tunes –
the buzzing meant that I was able to control the pitch of my playing
better and could move around the ranges easier. The buzzing meant also
that all of my embouchure muscles were even and radiated out from the
I noticed that my
upper teeth were a little long and came into contact with my lower lip
also that my left lateral incisor tooth was twisted so I asked my
dentist to file the edges down. My lower lip also had a stitch or thread
added inside anchored at the top down to my chin.
I then had to think
about my embouchure and why my aperture was closing when I went for
higher notes. My aperture vibrated on the fleshy part of my top lip,
back about two millimetres from where it was supposed to be. I had read
that I was meant to “roll my lips in” to strengthen them and vibrate
the aperture on the actual lip and not the fleshy part. My sound was
more controlled and the control over my lips was greatly increased.
Previously when I
vibrated my lips the Orbicularis Oris around my mouth had tightened
unevenly, my top lip closed over my bottom lip. The Levator Labii
Inferioris and Depressor Labii Inferioris pushed upwards from below and
Depressor Alae Nasi pressed downwards from above. The Depressor Anguli
Oris pulled downwards so that the muscles were pulling against each
observation of my previous embouchure was that the tongue would
constantly be touching my bottom lip so articulation was problematical.
I had gained the
embouchure through lack of knowledge and being told that there was no
problem by teachers and that practice would “put everything right”.
I sounded ok but I wanted to be better than OK. In my head I could hear
what I wanted to do but my embouchure would do otherwise. I played
trombone, French horn and euphonium for long periods but wanted to play
the higher brass instruments.
My new embouchure
was much different. The Obicularis oris rolled in evenly around my lips.
The Depressor labii inferioris, Depressor anguli oris and Mentalis all
pulled backwards easily. The Dilator and Compressor nasi of the nose and
the facial muscles detailed above all pulled outwards.
When playing in the
higher register these muscles pulled further outwards and gave the
embouchure room to move. My Orbicularis palpebrarum around my eyes and
the temporal fascia muscles around my ears also pull back.
Now I had control
over my range and playing became a joy.
A quote from the
great Herbert L. Clarke, the top soloist with the John Philip Sousa
Band.from his autobiography “How I became a great cornetist”:
“One day I picked up the instrument for the usual practice and
imagine if you can my surprise and almost bewilderment when the first
tone I produced with ease was the formidable high C! It was almost
startling, but I tried it once more and for the second time produced
this heretofore all but impossible tone. Now the whole secret was out,
only there really wasn't any secret about it! I had used only a little
pressure of the mouthpiece on my lips and so allowed them to vibrate
naturally, instead of pressing against them with so great force that all
lip vibration was stopped and tone would not come from the cornet. It
then dawned upon my mind that, always when trying to reach a high note I
had been pressing the mouthpiece so hard on the lips that it kept them
from vibrating at all. I had been like a man trying to walk with his
legs bound firmly together!”
ability and being able to play what I heard in my head made me so much
more confident. Although later two other problems surfaced whilst
playing with Black Dyke:
I developed in New Zealand a lung disease/ condition called
Sarcoidosis, which affects the lungs and immune system. It is
non-contagious but restricts breathing.
My tonguing had been learnt with restriction on the space
available in my mouth due to the position of my teeth. Double tonguing (ta-ka)
and triple tonguing (ta-ta-ka) were easier but needed to happen at the
back of my mouth instead of forward. This is now rectified but the
schedule of such a great band meant that I could not devote the time to
it then. My sound was too hard whilst multiple tonguing.
Next I needed to
think about my tongue and breathing correctly. Knowing that my buzzing
and whistling were regulated by the up and down movement of my tongue I
experimented and after a short period was able to buzz long tunes.
The flow of air
through the body to the instrument should be a smooth. Any obstacles
should be removed. An open throat is needed for the air to flow through
slowly for lower notes and lower dynamics. For louder and higher notes
the airflow is accelerated. The channel for the air to travel through is
narrowed depending on the range or dynamic required.
above diagram shows the movement of the tongue through different vowel
sounds, this is the same for both whistling and brass playing.
When playing in the
upper range on my brass instrument the sides of my tongue – at the
back of my mouth – push against my upper molar teeth (fig.13). This
helps to create the smaller channel for my air to flow through faster,
thus forcing the lips to vibrate faster.
When relaxed to
play throughout the normal range of the instrument there is still a
considerable amount of tension in my body. Firstly, in my embouchure and
secondly in my diaphragm region. Pre-1991 I would have tensed my arms
and pushed my mouthpiece against my teeth to gain increased range.
Now I buzz the
notes and tense my stomach muscles downwards through my groin area all
the way to my “backside” then past to my upper leg muscles – so as
to “anchor” my body. This proves that the higher the pitch of the
note, the greater the tension in the muscles.