Broken Embouchure

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Jarrett, Nov 18, 2009.

  1. Jarrett

    Jarrett Piano User

    Nov 11, 2003
    Richland, MO
    I been playing for 20+ years , practicing seriously (4-6 hrs a day) for the last 10, I'm an Army band trumpeter. Anyway, I recently got what I believe is referred to as "embouchure overuse" or more specifically, I've come to a point where I can no longer play.

    In hindsight, I believe this is the result of long practice days, and not enough rest. Even though I've been on this schedule for a long time with no problems, It's come to a head last week, and I found myself at the point at which I can no longer maintain an embouchure for more than 10-20 seconds. I have no pain, minimal swelling, just weak muscles, unable to maintain an embouchure. This was literally an overnight occurrence.

    What is the "conventional" wisdom regarding this condition, as I've found no base of knowledge in the medical community here. Do I just lay off for a while? Go back to "basics"?

    I'd like to recover as soon as possible obviously because this is how I make my living, but I am wary of the "too much too soon" approach. I've had vastly varying advice from a number of sources, so I'm interested in advice from people who are teachers, or professionals with first hand knowledge/experience.

    Edit: In rereading my post, I've realized I did not relate clearly my specific question. I've read the past threads, particularly the responses by Rowuk. I understand the answer he gives. More specifically, should I start this rededication to better habits and better practice discipline immediately, or would it be more beneficial to take some time completely away from the horn before I do this.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2009
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  2. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    you are in a different situation than most as you have been making your living with the horn. We can therefore assume that you have more than basic functionality and that the "basics" of breathing and body use are well enough covered - otherwise you would have had problems much earlier.

    There can be physiological issue, perhaps "overuse", I don't think so however. These are normally accompanied by pain or at least noticable stress - twitching, trembling and the like.

    The other option is trickier. It is psychological in nature and THAT is even less possible to diagnose over the internet than embouchures. I have only had experience with a couple of players with this problem and gladly share what we did.

    First things first: This is your living and I have no way of knowing how much "time" you can get to work this out. Normally you need a doctor to back you up and some parts of the military are pretty critical of psychological challenges. I am not a doctor and believe that you SHOULD get professional help, for what is the question.

    My experience with this side of playing has been to accompany the players back to the road of fun playing. One was shortly before a final exam when their embouchure just stopped working. No shaking, no quivering, no pain. We went out for a drink that first or second night and after one beer too many, the truth came out: unbelievable pressure to succeed, fear of failure, lack of a life, few friends - just the horn. 4 years of college.

    I went through my normal circle of breath stuff, maybe we got 30 seconds of continuous play time until nothing more came out. I told him to extend for another semester (I can't, what will people think, my career,...........). I told him that we needed time to sort this out and that a quick fix may result in him breaking down in the middle of his finals - THAT fear became greater than the rest, he talked to his professor and extended.

    He took a week off and I had him replace the trumpet time with getting a life. In fact, he left his trumpet and mouthpieces at my house. That ended up being 4-6 hours of sauna, massage, good food, walks and lots of reading (non trumpet stuff - he read through my whole library of Robert Ludlum thrillers). Some of this we did together - especially the walks (and food). After a couple of days we even were able to talk about things non-trumpet. This was like the first real vacation that he ever took.

    After that week, I had him just buzz a bit in the middle register, I buzz first and he buzzed back, same note, same volume. 15 minutes of buzzing, no problem. He wanted to pick the horn up. I told him, we should buzz for a couple days first. He disagreed, played for about 5 minutes and his world collapsed. No range, no tone, no endurance. I explained that my view is that his playing was no longer fun, his body was addicted and his brain was fighting back. To get the fun back in, we needed a reward system. The week off showed him that there WAS other things in his life of interest and the next 4 weeks went more or less according to my plan:
    Week 1 circle of breath/buzzing - 15 - 30 minutes with quite a few breaks for discussion, the rest of the previous practice time was filled with "other" fun activities, one day a week trumpet free
    Week 2 circle of breath/buzzing/long tones - no tonguing, just exhaling into the horn 30 minutes/day + fun
    Week 3 the above + lipslurs still no articulation, he was up to an hour a day with a fairly decent sound
    Week 4 the above + new repertory. We did not play anything that he previously was working on (I was worried about triggering past performance pressures). He worked at my pace which means the first reading is without the horn. It is singing and with a pencil. Then playing very quietly at a crawl with a metronome, stopping at every difficult passage and really banging the valves down. Once a slow tempo is perfected, we move up 10BPM. We do not gradually work up tempo. Gradually speeding up normally works out to a bit sloppy but getting through. If our slow playing is really clean, we have a solid group of patterns in our brain and can move in fairly big steps with no loss of accuracy.

    So after 5 weeks, his playing was considerably different than before. After an hour or so, he was now able to put the horn down and do something else. His endurance was not that what it was before, but it was great enough for all the stuff that needed to get done. There is no longer the drive to play until he drops and his preparation for new pieces is faster with fewer hiccups. His preparation before picking up the horn was far better than ever before.

    I do not know how much of yourself that you see in this. With 4-6 hours/day and the Army Band schedule (I was in the Band in Stuttgart, Germany in the 70's), I do see BIG potential for your mind fighting back. Feel free to PM me if you have some issues not suitable for the open forum. The real message is to identify the culprit and take steps to replace the bad with good. Without a real lesson, I have no way of knowing what really is behind all of this. Let me know if I can be of help.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2009
  3. Al Innella

    Al Innella Forte User

    Aug 9, 2007
    Levittown , NY
    Sometimes a change in either rim contour or size can help, just to put the mouthpiece on slightly different spot. I knew some one who was doing a recording with Bernie Glow, one song that ended on a high F, was taking ,take after take after take , eventually Bernie's lip started to tire and had trouble with the F, he asked if anyone had a spare mouthpiece in their case, it didn't matter what size as long as it was different from his, one of the other players gave him one and he hit the f on the final take.
  4. trumpet 101

    trumpet 101 Pianissimo User

    Jan 8, 2009
    my lips twitch..... what should i do? (sorry if im getting off topic....) they have been twitching for months, could it be over practicing?
  5. Vulgano Brother

    Vulgano Brother Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 23, 2006
    Parts Unknown

    I can't think of any trumpet-playing related reason why your lips stopped working without pain, unless you snapped a tendon, which should show itself in the mirror. By all means, take some time off, and see your doctor to eliminate any physiological possibilities. If given a clean bill of health, try playing something fun, something you like. Sometimes that can jump-start the chops back into business.

    All the best!
  6. Phil986

    Phil986 Forte User

    Nov 16, 2009
    Near Portland, OR.
  7. oohhh yeah

    oohhh yeah Pianissimo User

    Nov 23, 2008
    B.C. Canada
    Rowuk, did that guy ever recover to his previous skill or did that incident screw him over?
  8. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    It is a new post.

    I can't imagine solving this in 2 or 3 days. remember that I quite often post that success is measured in months. This is serious enough that there will probably be some shorttime results good and bad and longterm changes. Barring a very serious medical condition (I don't think so), I assume at the end he will be a much better player and probably an even stronger person.

    Tragedy does give us the opportunity to evaluate what is important in our lives and take appropriate steps to improve even unrelated aspects. The hardest part for many is asking for help soon enough. False pride makes us keep mental stress bottled up where it can ferment, build up pressure and eventually explode.
  9. Jarrett

    Jarrett Piano User

    Nov 11, 2003
    Richland, MO
    Hey guys.

    I've had some consultation with Rowuk, and after carefully reviewing my practicing habits, have started a new course of study to regain the ability to play. I reviewed the literature posted regarding the ruptured orbicularis oris, and this DOES sound remarkably similar to what I am experiencing... however, after a bit of study I'm convinced the proper course of action is to revise my practice routine and be patient. Surgical intervention is the last thing on my mind right now.

    It's really quite humbling to go from where I was at to where I am now.. But, as Rowuk said, it's an opportunity to evaluate my habits and make a change. I am practicing again (sound like a 6th grader) but the knowledge never goes away.

    Since I've got hours of free time, I've also picked up guitar.
  10. UgoSolari

    UgoSolari New Friend

    Nov 10, 2009
    boulder, colorado
    The preeminent doctor for lip injuries in brass players is Simon McGrail, in Toronto:

    J. McGrail: ZoomInfo Business People Information

    I recommend a consultation. He can evaluate your condition accurately, and recommend
    a course of action. DO NOT waste time hoping that internet advice will be the solution.
    If you have overuse syndrome, you now have a medical issue. Dr. McGrail is the best.
    He helped me recover from an extremely stretched lip in 2001. I am now playing better
    than ever. (I am a soloist/lead player at the international level.)

    Good luck.

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