What I Learned: Embouchure Change Part 2

by Sean McQuaid

Roughly two years ago, I wrote an article about my embouchure change and what I had learned up until that point in my development. After two years of hard work, I’m here to tell you that there is in fact light at the end of the tunnel! I have been working very hard to improve my chops and they have FINALLY begun to sort themselves out. I thought I would be remiss if I didn’t share some things that have really helped me get through the end of this embouchure change.

The Importance of Soft Practice

When you first began your embouchure change, you were probably just concerned about producing a sound that remotely resembled that of a trumpet. However, now that you have finally reached a point where you are finally comfortable with your embouchure setting, you need to work on getting an immediate response from your chops!

The secret to achieving an immediate response is through soft and careful practice. I know we’re always told to play louder, but believe me, soft playing is even more important. When you practice softly, you teach your chops how to close to the exact point so you can create a sound and really control it. THEN, once you’ve mastered playing softly, you can introduce volume. You will be very surprised by how much more resonant your sound will become if you really dedicate yourself to this. Remember to try and stay relaxed!

Slow Practice = Successful Practice

I know you must be sick and tired of hearing this, but believe me, this is so important for the final stages of your embouchure change! Practicing slowly is actually MUCH more difficult than practicing faster. However, practicing slowly helps develop muscle memory in your chops. Just remember, if you make a mistake, STOP and try again. You want to teach your chops the RIGHT thing to do, not the wrong thing to do. Incrementally introduce speed and before you know it, you’ll be playing fast and accurately again. Your improvement will skyrocket if you take the time to really make sure you practice slowly and perfectly! 

In Order to Play in the Upper Register, You NEED To Do It!

For most people, the first thing to be lacking when they are in the midst of an embouchure change is their upper register. However, as we begin to regain our chops, we want to find new methods to help improve this clear weakness in our playing. And yes, you CAN teach the upper register; it is not something you either have a natural affinity for or you don’t.

There is a huge stigma that playing in the upper register is difficult, however, like most things on the trumpet, you just need to do it. Try taking “Clarke” studies and various tunes up an octave. You will find that if you are focusing on familiar studies/music instead of just playing high, you will be much more successful. If you need to, take the studies down the octave so you REALLY hear the notes you are playing in the upper register. In fact, don’t even think of high notes as high notes, just think of them as notes. The upper register is like anything else, you just need to practice it to be comfortable!

Don’t Forget To Include Music into Your Routine

We get so caught up in our embouchure change that we forget to play music, which is arguably the most enjoyable part of playing an instrument! Try to learn new repertoire weekly and just focus on being as musical as possible. Be sure to introduce music into your routine so you never lose sight of your ultimate goal, music making. Try to be mindful of your fundamentals and sound while you play. If you aren’t happy with the way something is sounding, odds are that you are having a slight fundamental issue. Be patient with yourself and eventually, you will no longer have any fundamental issues.

Use the Embouchure Change as a Lesson

I know that this might be hard to see, but I can assure you that there is a silver lining to your embouchure change. In my experience, it took me nearly 3 years of grueling work before I began to even feel slightly comfortable. While that time was very frustrating, I learned a lot about how embouchure development truly works.

It’s easy to view the embouchure change as a negative, but view it as a learning experience/teaching tool! Starting from the ground up again lets you be aware of every single step you have to take to build up chops. USE THIS WITH YOUR PRIVATE STUDENTS! A great deal of brass players have a faulty chop setting due to a non-brass player band director not pointing them in the right direction. If your student seems to have embouchure issues, try introducing them to some concepts that you tried while making your change.

Final Thoughts

While you may feel you were alone throughout your embouchure change, I can assure you that you are not. There are plenty of great musicians that had to go through a similar experience to you. Talk to other musicians about this and compare how they finished their embouchure change! Becoming a great trumpet player is a lifelong process, and there will many little tweaks you make to your playing as you progress. Remember to keep a level head and remain humble about all the progress you have made.

I wish you the best of luck with sorting out any sort of embouchure issues you are currently having. Just remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel! Happy Practicing!

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