What’s an Embouchure?

An embouchure refers to the way you hold your mouth while playing – the lips in particular.  A good embouchure will set you up to play with a good tone, wide range and flexibility. However, a poor embouchure will severely limit your ability to play well.

A poor embouchure can severely limit your potential as a player.  It’s important to get the embouchure right early.  A good embouchure becomes a natural part of playing and very little thought needs to go into ‘playing with a correct embouchure’ once it has become a habit.

A Good Embouchure

  1. Keep the corners of the lips down and firm.  Think of little weights pulling the corners down – anchoring them.  Press your lips together like you are trying not to smile.
  2. Allow the lips to be slightly ‘looser’ in the middle to produce a single and clean buzz.  Think of your lips as having a hole in the middle to focus the airflow, however, in reality, the lips should be together.  The air separates the lips to produce the hole when the lips are buzzing.  Say “Mmmm” and then blow.
Where are the corners? They start at the corners of your mouth and extending all the way to where the buzz begins. Keep a single buzz focused at the centre of your lips.
Exercise: Place a straw or pencil in the center of your lips. Say “Mmmm” and keep the straw pointing straight out using only your lips (not your teeth).
Tip: A good embouchure should not need to adjust itself as the player goes higher or lower.  This is a good test to see how well your embouchure is performing for you.

A Poor Embouchure

There are many variations of a poor embouchure.  Here are some common techniques to avoid:

  1. The Smile – produces thin lips and the player will soon run out of ‘stretch’ as they go higher – severely limiting their range and tone.  The player will then usually resort to jamming the metal mouthpiece against their teeth, pinning their soft lip tissue in between. This can temporarily produce further ‘stretch’, however, after a few minutes, the top lip will become damaged and the player won’t be able to continue playing until the lip has recovered.  Developing strong lip muscles will reduce the need to jam the mouthpiece into the lips.
  2. Don’t tuck the lower lip under the top lip as the pitch rises. This will choke the sound.
  3. Puffy cheeks – keep them against the teeth to help maintain control and a firmer embouchure.
  4. Mouthpiece placement not aligned with the teeth causing uneven pressure on the lips.  Tilt the instrument align it with to the teeth, producing an even, light pressure on both lips.
  5. Too much even tension across the lips creating more than one buzz, making a crackly sound. Bunching of the chin can indicate the lower lip is being tucked under the top lip. Fix by clean buzzing without mouthpiece then playing.

How to find your embouchure

Exercise: Everyone is built differently. Experiment with different positions of your mouthpiece on your lips to find the best position for you, however, adhere to the principles above. To maximise vibration, be sure the pink of your top lip is inside the inner rim of the mouthpiece. Correct mouthpiece placement will prevent the top and lower lips from vibrating at different speeds.

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