Lower Lip in the High Register

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Lower Lip in the High Register

Post by paulyg » Sun Jun 10, 2018 3:55 pm

Hi all,

I'm very curious to get thoughts on a particular subject that seems to elicit strong opinions from excellent players. Conventional wisdom holds that for most players, the direction of the airstream shifts down (for downstream players) when ascending into the high and altissimo registers. In addition to this, the tongue "arches" to form a Venturi, accelerating the airstream.

Several notable players have stated that the lower lip should not "roll in" during this process. Off the top of my head, I can think of a video done by Toby Oft, where he insists on the narrowing of the aperture and the exclusion of the rolling of the lower lip. According to him (and others), the dominance of the upper lip in the high register is a cardinal sin!

I'm of the opinion that physiological differences between individuals play a huge role in the extreme ranges of playing, and how one should approach range extension and maintenance. Mr. Oft is an excellent player with a pristine high register. He also has exceptionally thin lips! I myself have very thick lips, and will freely admit that the action of my embouchure when playing in the extreme high register might be described as "rolling in."

Some of the diagrams in Ed Kleinhammer's book, "The Art of Trombone Playing," have helped me build a case against the absolutism against the "rolling in" of the lower lip. Those players with more mass/volume in their embouchure necessarily will experience some intrusion of the non-dominant lip into the mouth, simply because as they ascend, the flesh has nowhere to go! The aperture does narrow/contract uniformly through this process. The axis of the airstream deflects away from the player's dominant lip.

I've done a lot of thinking about this, because for me the most natural way to play in the upper register is with my tongue arched quite forward, to the point where it contacts my lower lip over my lower teeth. I've managed to play the same notes with the tongue drawn further back in my mouth, but it is uncomfortable, and the difference in tone is not perceivable. Articulations in the high register are a different topic altogether, but while neither system offers the ease of articulation found in the middle register, neither precludes proper articulation, either.

To sum up, I'm of the opinion that the approach of each player to the extreme registers of playing should be primarily informed by trial and error, as the goal is to not only build the strength and facility for the production of those notes, but the mental security to play them as well! If a player is properly guided in their approach to these extremes of playing, i.e. with heavy emphasis placed on connecting these notes to the middle register, ultimately producing them with minimum effort, ect., then these registers will develop properly given time.
Paul Gilles
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Re: Lower Lip in the High Register

Post by Neo Bri » Sun Jun 10, 2018 4:39 pm

There are some embouchure types that do roll in the bottom lip, and for them it is correct. Likewise, other types shouldn't. Without getting into it to deeply, the absolutism you mentioned really doesn't work. Sure, players who SHOULD roll their lip in are in the minority, but they exist nonetheless.

Deep subject. Doug Elliott and I are both Reinhardt guys and can provide user-specific information.

Incidentally, my embouchure type is based off of the notion that the bottom is the "anchor" lip and doesn't really do that much of anything (once the horn is correct) and that the upper lip is the main motivator. Others are totally different.

People get into trouble when they do things either completely wrong (based on general best practices) or play with form that defies their own natural physiology. Basically, you gotta go with how you're built. Not much choice in the matter, generally speaking.
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Re: Lower Lip in the High Register

Post by Redthunder » Mon Jun 11, 2018 4:00 am

I'm an upstream player, so I'm absolutely in the minority, and have really come to resent the idea of any kind of absolutism in brass teaching. In middle and high school, my teachers said absolutely nothing about my chops. Then when I got to college, I had people messing with me, telling me all kinds of wrong information. Included in this group were several notable teachers, who in my opinion looking back, should have known better. The notable exception to this was Blair Bollinger. I did one semester of lessons with him (as a tenor player), and he took one look at my face while I played and said "You look completely different than everyone else around you that plays trombone, and that's okay, because you're not smiling, or doing anything else that I know is detrimental. So don't sweat it, and focus on keeping your corners firm." Which was a huge relief at the time. And back on the old TTF there was a picture posted of Mr. Bollinger playing into a clear plastic mouthpiece, I think it was Doug who posted it, that showed that he was actually an upstream player! As a bass trombonist in a top tier orchestra! Excluding Dave Wilken, he is the only other upstream player I've actually met in real life.

I think part of the reason you get a "majority" of players who play a certain way that becomes "right" to many people, is that everyone else besides those players get weeded out by a system of teachers that doesn't know how to teach them.
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Re: Lower Lip in the High Register

Post by Wilktone » Mon Jun 11, 2018 6:36 am

Several notable players have stated that the lower lip should not "roll in" during this process.
As was noted above, it's a personal thing. And it might not necessarily be the best thing for a single player over time either.

For an opposite example, Doug Elliott's film, "The Brass Player's Embouchure" has footage of Dave Steinmeyer playing in a transparent mouthpiece and you can see a great deal of lower lip roll. Here's what Bill Watrous's embouchure looks like while playing a "double Bb" (cued up to start right on):

He also has exceptionally thin lips! I myself have very thick lips, and will freely admit that the action of my embouchure when playing in the extreme high register might be described as "rolling in."
Your vermillion (the red of the lips) are, in my opinion, an arbitrary physical feature that has little to no relationship to how your embouchure functions. The muscle group that encircles the mouth is present both underneath and surrounding the vermillion.When you watch a player in a transparent mouthpiece and look to see how much of the entire lip vibrates, you will see on very low notes that the lip vibration doesn't appear to be affected in any way by the line of the vermillion. The Leno film is can give you a good look at this (cued up to start right on George Roberts playing a pedal F):

There is a great deal of ignorance, sometimes willingly so, about brass embouchure form and function in general. A lot of it is due to folks who insist that the way they perform is the only correct way. Often times those players/teachers are describing how it feels to them, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's what's happening. Some of it is due to a culture that discourages analysis. It makes it tough for players and teachers to sift through all the conflicting information to find what they need. Better to make informed decisions about your playing and teaching.

David Wilken
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