A 'new' theory on the off-center brass embouchure

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by zorrosg, Nov 27, 2012.

  1. zorrosg

    zorrosg Pianissimo User

    Jan 30, 2011
    When I decided to pick up the trumpet about two years back, I found the best spot for me was a decidedly off-center placement on the mouthpiece. After much research and asking around, I've finally accepted that it was okay to go with this, and am somewhat pleased with my progress on the horn. I've actually stopped trying to move my mouthpiece more towards the center. Furthermore, I've found out that many famous players also play with the mouthpiece off center, to varying degrees.

    After putting in the couple of hours practice today, I was shifting the mouthpiece around experimentally, and still the sweet spot is the same, right of center. I thought about it for a while, and then it occurred to me that the real reason why the right side was better for me, was because the facial and lip muscles are actually quite a lot stronger on that side (for me). When I used my fingers to feel my face, I can feel that my mouth/lip/jaw muscles are actualy firmer and more toned on the right side, compared to the left. So the sweet spot for me occurs there, because the muscles are more able to form and hold the embouchure in place. If i move to another spot, center or towards the left, I can also sometimes produce a reasonable sound, but I can't get it consistent, and I fade out really fast.

    Most of the reasons that have been put forth seem to point to teeth formations, oral cavitiy idiosyncrasies as the reason why the mouthpiece placement is different for people, and as an explanation of why some embouchures are so off center. This was puzzling too, as I've seen many trumpeters with crooked incisor teeth formations, still able to play well with the mouthpiece centerd across these problematic formations. It seems to me that more significant factor is the difference in muscle strength between the left and right facial portion of people. If the person has both sides kind of equal in strength, then most likely the centered position would be the optimal position for them, and left sided persons would find it better with the mouthpiece left of center and so on.

    As this idea was initially a bit strange to me too, I thought about myself at length. We aren't generally aware that our faces or lips are stronger on one side than the other so it is a bit of a foreign concept. In my case, I've always been strongly right sided, everything there seems to be significatnly stronger than the left side. Furthermore, because of some dentition problems, I realize that I generally do most of my chewing on the right molars rather than the left. So, the muscles there actually do a lot more work than those on the left side. Therefore it is no suprise that the right side of my face, especially the mouth and jaw area, is significantly stronger.

    This same concept also explains for the first time (to me), why Kenny G, for example, plays with the mouthpiece far to one side of his face. I play sax, and I have a centered embouchure, and in general, the off center embouchure is also a lot rarer in woodwind players compared to brass. But I can understand now why even a reed player could possibly get better results with the mouthpiece favoring his strong side of the face. Also, brass embouchure is physically more demanding than woodwind, so perhaps that is why off-center embouchures are more common among brass players.

    So what do you all think, does this kind of make sense?
    aleggs likes this.
  2. mgcoleman

    mgcoleman Mezzo Forte User

    Jun 22, 2010
    Interesting. Another instance supporting the idea of a strong side for the face could be ocular dominance, something everyone with a firearms background has likely experienced.

    I am right-handed, definitely right eye dominant, not sure if I favor a side for chewing food, but I play off-center to the left (due strictly to dental arrangement).
  3. BustedChops

    BustedChops Mezzo Forte User

    Oct 1, 2011
    My front right tooth is crooked and it affects my playing. If I don't play off center I don't get good tone.
  4. Needs Practice

    Needs Practice New Friend

    Oct 14, 2012
    San Jose CA.
    Interesting. My sweet spot is to the right with a little more upper lip than lower - though as a beginner my embouchure cannot be said to be developed. Everything just works better there for me - tone, range and endurance. When I put my mouthpiece to my lips in the absence of a mirror - that is just where it goes. I'll be following this thread and sharing it with my teacher.

    Funnily enough I am a cross dominant shooter - right hand left eye. I find when I am standing at my music stand with my mouthpiece right of center, my left eye settles well on the music. I don't think this had any influence on where my mouthpiece placement has settled to date, as in the initial stages of making noise with the horn I had no music in front of me.
  5. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    Most of the players that I have interviewed with off center embouchures had one thing in common: No music stand for the first years of playing and a habit of laying the music on the bed next to them.

    I am serious. I think that most of the off center activity is a product of environment not intellect.

    If we are practicing stuff that is good for us in a healthy way, our playing migrates to its most efficient position/state. Evolution not revolution. No need to invent reasons to become static.
  6. zorrosg

    zorrosg Pianissimo User

    Jan 30, 2011
    Intriguing information, but that's not the way my embouchure ended up being off center. As a kid, some 30+ years back, playing a bugle in the school band, my embouchure was already skewed to the right side as it seemed to be the easiest position for me to make a sound. Picking up trumpet after a long lapse, I still find the easiest position for me remains right of center, for mouthpiece position.

    Anyway, I just 'discovered' Melissa Venema, another trumpet wunderkind, and noticed that her embouchure is clearly off center and to the right too. She gets quite a beautiful sound, so there's hope for the rest of us. You can check out her sound and embouchure on this (and other) youtube clip :

    Andre Rieu Melissa Venema Amsterdam Arena - YouTube
  7. VetPsychWars

    VetPsychWars Fortissimo User

    Nov 8, 2006
    Greenfield WI
    My face is just crooked. :-) But the amount of off-centeredness is very small.

  8. acarcido

    acarcido Forte User

    Dec 28, 2009
    Ontario, Ca
    When I first picked up playing trumpet (1983 Whew!), I was constantly being tutored not to puff your cheeks, center yout mouth piece on your lips and blow using your diaphram. After learning this way, it just became natural to always do this. I did toy with the off centered position of playing but our instructor (Pro trumpeter) would re-emphasize the importance of centering. He would tell us, "you play the way you practice". Something I have always believed. I think its a learned behavior and not really what best fits. A right handed person can learn to use the left with practice. Thats just my two cents on this topic.
  9. whyit

    whyit New Friend

    Aug 12, 2012
    Corona CA
    I am right handed and left eye dominant. I real bummer for skeet shooting. However I have an off center embouchre, to the left. My instructor is of the whatever produces the best tone camp. I tried to move it to the center a few years ago, and honestly I am not sure I could have made the change with any amount of practice. Once you get used to the mouthpiece palcement for years it is hard to change. In my opinion
  10. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

    Jan 28, 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    So far out on his face that he is actually playing it from within his buttock.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2012

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