Embouchure & the Role of the Teeth

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by trickg, Sep 5, 2014.

  1. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    I thought I'd post a thread due to a theory I have regarding my teeth and my embouchure, specifically in how it relates to range and endurance. I apologize in advance for the length of this original post.

    To start with, I'm a tooth grinder, specifically at night when I sleep, but it's kind of a tic/habit when I'm awake too. This has led to a pretty slow but consistent erosion of my incisors, both top and bottom, and it has advanced to the point where I may wind up having to take some pretty serious measures that will wind up costing me a lot of money so that I don't wear through to the pulp of the tooth, which will in turn cause me to lose them altogether.

    While this isn't necessarily a good thing, inadvertently it may have been for my trumpet playing, at least where range and endurance is concerned. I don't know if it's the nature of the music I play, or if it's something going on with my dental structure's role in my embouchure, but as time has gone on, it seems like two things have happened:

    1.) My range and endurance have generally improved - I was playing high Fs just a few minutes ago
    2.) My accuracy has generally degraded - it takes me a lot more work to play cleanly and accurately
    3.) In general, my sound has brightened over the years, although this could be a sound concept thing from the kind of playing I do.

    I'd like to point out that both my range and accuracy have generally improved with a fairly recent mouthpiece switch - my first major successful mouthpiece switch since the late 1990s.

    I don't know if my jaw position has shifted out of necessity due to the shortening of my incisors, which in turn has shifted the relationship between my mouthpiece, lips and teeth, or if what I've experienced is a natural progression, but I think back to when I was a full time military bandsman, and two things were generally true that are in sharp contrast to my current abilities as a player:

    1.) A high F just wasn't in the cards - not with any regularity or shifting to an alternate chops setting (played the Fs tonight with my normal chops setting)
    2.) I was a VERY accurate player
    3.) My sound was darker, although that could be attributed to a different set of equipment than I currently use

    Part of what got me thinking about this tonight was an article I read about how Jon Faddis had some cosmetic work done to his teeth, went to play a gig and found he'd lost an entire octave (possibly more) of range, and was at his dentist's doorstep early the next morning to get his teeth put back to what they were.

    This brings me back to the work my dentist wants to do to mine - he wants to do a thing with a combination of veneers and resin to build up and extend my teeth that I've worn so badly. I'm afraid that much of a shift is going to jack up my chops.

    For now, I'm playing better for the kind of music I gig, and I suppose that I should be thankful that I can also gig on drums if I lose my ability to play trumpet.

    I'll welcome any thoughts or personal stories and anecdotes on this subject.
  2. strad116055

    strad116055 Pianissimo User

    May 27, 2014
    i used to play on an embouchure that was based on my teeth. which is to say that it was more comfortable for me to play with a lot of upper lip in the mouthpiece. my embouchure felt natural and well supported. i have an overbite and crooked lower teeth. a nice sound is easy to get up there. great low notes. but there were problems. range and endurance, mostly. notes above the staff were developed and lost countless times, due to swelling and over-exertion. i never could play on one mouthpiece consistently.

    the beginning stages of the trumpet came so easily to me that i never considered, until i changed this embouchure, that i could play any other way. i blamed the fact that i started the trumpet late in life (in my 30's), had bad teeth, and accepted the "fact" that i would never develop even a consistent high C, let alone above. as i am an amateur trumpet player, not a big deal, but still disappointing.

    when i changed my embouchure, i went for as close to 50/50 as i could get and blew. i had tried this before, and typically, no sound came out. for some reason, this time, i did not give up right away. i had always tried to "start over" with a new embouchure back at the beginning level. 2nd line G. middle C. 3rd space C. i could not play those notes. the one note i could play was a top of the staff G. i wasn't "rolling in" for it ala the balanced embouchure method. i just put the horn in the middle and blew. the 2nd note i could play was a high C. it was only slightly more difficult that the G, but not really that hard.

    the thing was, it was not comfortable. it didn't exactly hurt, but it felt very unnatural, like i was putting the horn on my chin. i slowly brought that G down, with the valves. the notes were squirrely and out of tune. i had never sounded that bad. not even the first time i tried to play the horn. it took two weeks to get down to middle C. not to play it well, just to play it at all. it was as though i had simply reversed my problem.

    long story short, all the notes came back. i've ended up with a consistent range to an E or an F above high C, which i never had. i still have to work on sound in the middle to low register. i have not played anywhere near as long on my new embouchure as i did on the old one, and i will be working on it for a long time yet, no doubt. but it far more rewarding to work through the arban book knowing that when i pick up the horn tomorrow, i will have two and a half octaves to work with. i don't swell any more, and i don't inadvertanly hurt myself straining for high notes. i don't have to take days off, and i don't have to look for a new mouthpiece every 6 months. i don't gig, but i play a couple hours every day. my old embouchure no longer works, and the new one is now comfortable.

    so the conclusion that i draw from my experience is this. i play the horn with my lips, not my teeth. the aperture in the center of my lips is more efficient (stronger) than the aperture formed by my old embouchure, which was formed by arranging my embouchure around my teeth, so to speak. my initial desire for comfort and quick results mislead me to believe that being more comfortable initially was better than doing the work necessary to play more correctly. in the long run, in my case, it was a handicap.

    it is very easy to find lots of evidence that says you can play anywhere one your face that feels right to you, and dental structure seems to most always be the reason given. "such and such a player plays in such and such a way and he sounds great." i would say, if you sound great too, then fine. you won't get any argument from me. it is true that we are all unique. but i think it is worth examining one's motives when it comes to identifying with our uniqueness. "have it your way" works for burgers better than it does for music most of the time.

    there are those who consul against embouchure changes and instead focus on a more organic approach that will correct someone's embouchure through the proper approach to the instrument. i certainly respect their opinion and wish that i had the opportunity to study with them. but i'm very glad that i changed mine. i'm somewhat of a tooth grinder myself, and someday, i may have to have dental work. i hope my experience with changing my embouchure will help me to stick with it if the time comes.

    sorry...this was long. good luck
  3. Sethoflagos

    Sethoflagos Utimate User

    Aug 7, 2013
    Lagos, Nigeria

    I'm part-way through exactly the same process as strad116055, though from a different starting point (mainly lower lip). I guess there needs to be some sort of support structure behind the chops but no way does it have to be Osmond family perfect.
  4. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    I have come to the conclusion that there is no data, so each instance is exactly that.

    That being said, there are many instances where the teeth HAVE to change and we need tools to deal with it.

    We are creatures of habit and what we have intelligently trained will be our "sweet spot". The pictures out of the baroque and rennaissance show that playing on the side was "common". That works too!
  5. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    I mentioned the bit about Jon Faddis because he's well known for his extreme abilities in the upper register with the horn - he lost that instantly with a cosmetic change to his his teeth. It's easy to simply say we play with our lips and not our teeth, but the teeth can play a critical role in how the air flows and how the aperture functions.

    There are some who believe that the dental structure can actually be scientifically changed to help correct or improve an embouchure. I've always wondered if my lack of upper register was due to the fact that I have a really big mouth, (seriously - any time I get a mould done of my teeth, they use the second to largest one they have) a very high arch to the roof of my mouth, and front teeth that are flat and straight. It has alway seemed to me that anyone who has really solid upper register has jacked up teeth, but that's only through casual observation of people I've known with no real data to back it up.
  6. strad116055

    strad116055 Pianissimo User

    May 27, 2014
    SHOFAR, SHO-GOOD. i'm going to go off topic here, like i sometimes do. but a good story is sometimes worth it.

    shofar players play way off to the side because the hole in a shofar is so small. there's no mouthpiece. so jon faddis is in temple with family during the high holidays in new york city. they have a top gigging shofar player (there are such people) and jon is impressed, so he goes to talk to the guy. the guy tells him "i'm currently considered to be the best shofar player in the united states." after a little more demonstration, jon asks if he can try the guy's horn. (as in "horn", literally.) jon proceeds to play this guy's shofar lick two octaves above where he had just played it, on his trumpet embouchre. the guy says "i'm currently considered the 2ND BEST shofar player in the united states."

    shofar #2: my wife was playing with the chicago symphony (in the horn section) and the concert contained a premier of a piece commemorating the holocaust in which the horn section was required to double on shofars. since it was the cso, after all, the orchestra bought a set of 4 real shofars and the guys took them home. a shofar is literally a ram's horn with the tip cut off. they grind the edges of the hole down a little, but its extremely small, and very sharp. conferring among themselves, the horn players were having a lot of trouble trying to play these things because they were getting cut up trying to play them with their normal embouchure. my wife could not get a peep out of hers, and the night before the first rehearsal, she was stressing. i took it down the basement, and very carefully bored the hole out just enough that she could stick her mouthpiece in there. incidentally, this created a stench in my house like you would not believe. i've personally never been around a dead sheep, but drilling into this thing made a stink that left no doubt that it had been once attached to a honest to god barnyard animal. but it sounded great. so she goes to work the next day, and she's the only one that can play the thing. the other guys immediately are like "where did you get the idea to do that?" and she says "my husband is a trumpet player. boring things out is what they do." so day two comes, and when she gets to the hall, the stage hands are there with their cordless drills, and everybody in the section is having their shofar bored out to accept a horn mouthpiece. the smell never goes away.
  7. macjack

    macjack New Friend

    Oct 15, 2012
    I'm a dentist. I've never read any article in the dental literature that shows correspondence between tooth position/length/spacing and trumpet playing ability. Certainly you need teeth to support your lips and embouchure. But excellent players have all types of teeth. If you are a grinder, your dentist should recommend a "night guard", which is a plastic protector that fits over your teeth on one arch so if you grind, you grind tooth structure against plastic, and only the plastic wears. This will at least prevent any more significant wear on the edges of your teeth. If you have "work" done that will modify the shape/size/alignment of your teeth, have it done first in a reversible manner so that you can try out any changes. If you do opt for permanent changes, you will still need a night guard because the habitual grinding will most likely continue, and you will most likely destroy the dentistry if it's not protected by a night guard.
  8. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

    Jan 28, 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    I believe teeth are at best the minimal part of the embouchure variable. How you use the facial muscles are most important. I imagine if you develop a grimace from tooth related facial pain, then that would change you embouchure muscle configuration, in which case Dr. Macjack can make it right for you again.

    I found for me, going from a buzzing to a phwoooo embouchure has done more for my embouchure than any other variable. It has opened my facial muscles up to provide more flexibility then anything I could have ever imagined.
  9. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

    Jan 28, 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    They would be the oral surgeons that want to take every advantage they can to extract cash from your heath care insurer and create a cavity in our pocket books through higher co-pays.
  10. limepickle

    limepickle Piano User

    Aug 30, 2013
    Dallas, TX
    I think that it's a topic worth seriously investigating. Maybe some of you are dismissing it too easily.

    Patrick, I wouldn't pursue the "size of mouth" line of thought. I mean Louis Armstrong had
    a massive mouth. Any issue probably would have to do with structure of the mouth as you've
    already suggested.

    Here's an article that talks about some cases in addition to the Faddis case that you already
    mentioned: Music to My Mouth | Article About Greenwich Village Cosmetic Dentist Dr. Peter Silver | New York City, 10003

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