In some trumpet circles, mouthpiece placement is hotly debated, yet in other circles it is simply ignored. Some teachers advocate just putting the horn up to your face and playing. This works- sometimes. Some teachers insist on a 50/50 setup. Others a 1/3-2/3 setup. Still others the reverse. Other issues involve what mouthpiece size is required for a particular player. Even individuals themselves cannot decide what works best for them.
Airstream not working properly
I happened to come across a short excerpt from the late Arnold Jacobs (in the Comeback Players Guide). His theory is that most embouchure problems are a resulting reaction to the airstream not working properly. A lot of things suddenly made sense. However, I don't believe this is a one dimensional issue. Few players ever suddenly correct their breathing deficiencies all at once. Because we are not "perfect breathers", we rely on our equipment to help overcome our deficiencies, even while we acknowledge and work on them. But sometimes, all too often, we don't recognize the root problems and go on, doing the same things we always did- expecting the results to be different on subsequent attempts. If I may use myself as an example...
Back in college
Back in college (I didn't really play trumpet until then) my concept of playing was to open up the aperture and blow softer for low notes and squeeze while blowing harder for higher notes. Now that you've picked yourself off the floor from laughing, its sad, but no one ever told me differently. I was allowed to play a Schilke 18C3D mouthpiece, even though I had been playing less than 3 years. Everything above an F2 was overblown. No control at all. I was not a pretty sounding player. I had a loud sound, but can understand why few folks would want to listen to me play. The setup of my mouthpiece would be what might be considered to be 50/50. Nothing remarkable here. Smaller mouthpieces didn't look right or feel right or sound right to my unknowledgeable, untrained eye and ear. I look back retrospectively and now have a clear idea why my playing saw no improvement in my 4th collegiate year and the two years post-college, culminating in a 22 year musical hybernation.
Most learning and UNDERSTANDING is conceptual
I have come to believe that most learning and UNDERSTANDING is conceptual. Is your gas tank half empty or half full? I think the conceptual part of the equation is where I might disagree with Mr. Jacobs. Yes, I can fully agree that poor air will cause poor embouchure. However, the embouchure must be prepared to accept the airstream and do something with it (like buzz). In its present state, my chops don't buzz easily. In other words, I have to use a little more effort than I'd like to put them into position to buzz with a minimum amount of exertion. I think that's plain old genetics at work. Can I work past this? I now think so, but I know I'm going to have to do things a bit differently than before. Its going to feel odd, but once I'm convinced I'm on the right path, I can have the confidence to stay with the change long enough to be proficient with it. Only time will tell if any change will be an improvement in the long run.
Things recently discovered
The thing I most recently discovered is that my mouthpiece set could be done differently. Without going into detail at this moment, I was shown how to accurately judge how high or low my mouthpiece should be on my face. I found that setting the mouthpiece in the correct region of my upper lip allowed for better support, while allowing maximum vibration surfaces. The set was considerably lower than I had been used to, but the mouthpiece did not cut into the red of my upper lip. The lower lip and portion of my face just below the lip seemed to come up much further into the cup of the mouthpiece. Once the new set was learned, the entire mechanics of playing was markedly different.
It is worth mentioning that I was not told to change the way I flexed, compressed, etc. The change occured in response to the new setup. Just by changing the place on which I placed the mouthpiece on my face created a completely new set of physical requirements.
The first, most obvious sensation was that I was more comfortable on a smaller mouthpiece than I had been using (alternately, Laskey 75 or 80 series, similar to a Bach 1C). The flexibility that had been lost while trying the 68 series was not as big of an issue with the new set. However, retaining the "big" sound that I was used to was another thing entirely.
But the sound issue was one that I was fairly ignorant about as well. I interpreted loudness as big and full. Yes, perhaps it was to an extent, but that did not really leave me much dynamic range. I have come to learn that the fullness of the sound is dependant on being able to create both high and low overtones at the same time. I think some people call this "color".
When I would feel around inside my mouth I could feel a pretty big space between my upper and lower teeth in the front of my mouth. Everyone knows you're supposed to open your teeth. I played with my teeth open....didn't I? Lets approach this differently. Instead of thinking about opening your teeth, think about opening YOUR MOLARS. This means dropping the jaw to create space in the back of your mouth. To achieve the feel for proper spacing, I was told to put a 1cm plastic cube between my molars. At first I thought I was going to break either the cube or my lower molar.
FULLNESS! Not loudness
My immediate sensation was that I was creating a larger orifice in my mouth. No wonder why the sound was so resonant when I tried to play that way. My sound suddenly, from behind the horn, got brighter! Wasn't I looking for a DARKER sound? Nope. Fuller. What I initially did not recognize was that I was producing bright overtones as well as dark overtones AT THE SAME TIME. Translation- FULLNESS! Not loudness. The fullness stayed with me thoughout my range and dynamic levels. The registers evened out. What a revelation!!!
However, with the mouth open as much as I was asked to open it, it initially required some effort to get the lips to touch and buzz. Again, it was a matter of changing the way I was muscularly moving my face. Another side effect of the open molars was that my throat seemed much more open and that the resistance was much more prevalent at the lips. The open molars seemed to keep from overcompressing. Once I got over the initial shock of this new feeling and approach, I tried playing some music. At first I overshot some of the high notes. They somehow didn't seem so high any more and were just part of my playable range. High C wasn't really high any more. Though I wasn't ready to attempt to play in the altissmo, my comment was that when I reached high C, I felt like I had another octave yet that I would be able to play.
Now, we add the airstream to the setup. I find now that I can, almost like a bagpipe, start to pump air, even before a sound is required, using my tongue and lips as a valve. Yes, it takes strength, both in lungs and lips, but when done correctly, I play with much more facility. The bad news is that with any new physical endeavor, it is sometimes hard to replicate. Also, because I'm not used to using my body in this new way, I get tired easily. It is hard to know when to stop, as not to return to my old way of playing.
Now comes the challenge
- To be able to play more musically and deal with the performance issues that come up as greater and greater challenges present themselves.