All About Embouchures (Wikipedia)

As I was looking for various resources online I came across an interesting article on Wikipedia on the embouchure. The article includes a section devoted to several different “systems” of brass embouchures.  As far as Wikipedia articles go this one is not too bad;  it includes several citations, but no author(s) is named. I would definitely consult the actual sources before basing any other research on this material, but the article is just fine for a bit of informal information.  What was particularly interesting to me was the actual categorization of these systems – many I had heard of, some not so much, and others not at all.

After a brief general discussion about the embouchure as well as a bit of background on the research of Donald S. Reinhardt, the article discusses the “Farkas embouchure,” and includes descriptions based on those included in The Art of Brass Playing. Most of my early knowledge about how the embouchure functions came from reading The Art of French Horn Playing and The Art of Brass Playing, so I have a special place in my heart for the clear, concise way Farkas described the embouchure.  That being said, I now realize that his approach can and should be modified depending on the student and his or her particular facial structure.  And although Farkas had some strong convictions about embouchures, I know from talking with one of his former students that if things were working, he didn’t force you to change (at least in the case of this particular student).  The article also includes a subset of the “Farkas embouchure” called the “buzzing embouchure.”  I wasn’t that familiar with this terminology, but according to the article “The Farkas set is the basis of most lip buzzing embouchures. [Rafael]Mendez did teach lip buzzing and got great results. One can initiate this type of buzz by using the same sensation as spitting seeds, but maintaining a continued flow of air. This technique assists the development of the Farkas approach by preventing the player from using an aperture that is too open.”

Next is the “Stevens-Costello embouchure,” which I wasn’t familiar with at all, although there is a Facebook page for the method, with lots of information on both the method and its creators.  Both the Facebook page and the Wikipedia article include exactly the same wording in their description, but I’m not sure which one came first.  From what I read, the method advocates the use of a slight rolling or curling of both lips to form the embouchure.  Although this may seem unorthodox (especially in the horn world) the concept is gaining some ground with horn players and teachers as one of many possible paths to range development. Another additional resource on this method is a very nice website dedicated to Roy Stevens. The site includes video footage, clinic handouts and brochures, and lots of other information.

Next is the “Maggio embouchure,” which I first encountered in graduate school.  One of my colleagues in the horn studio actually did some work with Maggio’s method, and had an amazing high range!  That being said, I wasn’t entirely clear on whether the method itself helped this person to expand range, or if range was never a problem in the first place.  The Wikipedia article mentions that Maggio’s set up was unusual in that he advocated a “puckered” embouchure, and I remember that the method book itself included a picture of a chimpanzee’s puckered lips.  Although I couldn’t find an online resource dedicated to Maggio, I did find Claude Gordon’s Official Homepage. Another legend in the trumpet world, Gordon studied with Maggio, so there is probably some overlap in their approaches.

The final system mentioned in this article is the “Tongue-controlled embouchure.”  The main proponent of this method is Jerome Callet, a well known brass guru in New York.  The article notes that Callet and others believe the English translations of famous methods by Arban and St. Jacome were misinterpreted, resulting in an improper application of their technique.  Also important in the method is that the tongue remain “forward and through the teeth at all times.”  This part sounds intriguing to me, although if I keep my tongue between my teeth I am unable to get a buzz at all.

Looking at these various approaches I think one thing to take away is that there is no one “right” way to play a brass instrument, simply recommendations, suggestions, and other advice gained by teachers over their years of experience. Because no single method may be the key to a player’s development, I think it is important to at least be aware of the numerous pedagogical and philosophical “schools” out there.

To close out this post I have two more items.  The first is that it seems like trumpet players are more interested in these sorts of embouchure “methods” than horn players, and I wonder why that is.  Horn players I would wager encounter just as many (if not more) embouchure issues than the other brass instruments, but my perception is that there is less systematic research out there by horn players on how the embouchure functions. My second item is related to the first, and that is to point out some additional resources on the embouchure. These include Embouchures.comHorn Matters, and Wilktone, three excellent (and reliable) modern resources on the embouchure as well as many other topics.

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