Involuntary smile embouchure forming

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Trumpeter3197, Sep 16, 2012.

  1. Trumpeter3197

    Trumpeter3197 New Friend

    Jun 30, 2012
    I've been playing trumpet for close to 10 years now, and lately I've been working a lot on range, as I've been moved up to play lead. Last year was the first year I really worked on range, and my range soared within a month of range work. Starting near the end of last year, my range suffered mercilessly (went from a strong double C to a weak high Eb). My teacher and friends attributed this to playing too much in the upper register and damaging my muscles. Over the summer I had several periods of range building, followed quickly by range drops again. It's now been a full year since I started working on range, and I can estimate it's been about 10 or 12 times now where I've built my range like crazy and then it drops just as suddenly as it came.

    I saw, from doing research, that my embouchure might me the cause of all of this. When I play in the upper register, do lip trills, or just get tired, my corners involuntarily form a smile embouchure, the embouchure that I've heard so many bad things about. This is completely out of my control, however, I've tried forming a pucker embouchure and I can't get a sound out, and as hard as I try not to smile when I go high it's simply impossible.

    Could this be the source of my awful range problems throughout the past year? If so, how can I fix it? Again, the smile forming is completely involuntary.
  2. Pete Anderson

    Pete Anderson Pianissimo User

    Feb 27, 2008
    Sounds to me like possibly overuse/injury which caused bad things to creep in, and then those things were reinforced without you realizing it.

    I had this exact same thing happen to me once. I was getting better and better and better, and then for no obvious reason my endurance started getting worse and worse and worse. I was super careful with my chops and only played like 30 mins - 1 hour per day, taking lots of rest. Even so, my range and endurance were getting worse and my chops showed signs of overuse even though I was barely using them at all. Very frustrating.

    Finally, I looked in the mirror randomly one day and noticed that my corner on the right side was stretching out as far as it possibly could when I played. I hadn't felt or noticed any difference in my embouchure but it was completely altered. The general wisdom is to not pay attention to what the chops look like, but in this case where all of a sudden my embouchure was drastically different and all of a sudden it didn't work anymore, it seemed like there was a good chance this was the problem.

    Here's what I would do: take 3 or 4 days completely off if you can. Ease back into it, and play in front of a mirror so you can spot when the smile is happening. When you notice it, correct it. You don't have to stand in front of the mirror the whole time, but maybe play a bit and then check the mirror just to see if the smile is there or not.

    Since it's happening involuntarily, it will probably take some time and many tries to correct until you figure out how to push the muscles in the opposite direction. Be patient.

    I could be off base about this, though:

    This kinda makes it sound like you're simply overdoing it a lot.

    When you have good days, it's tempting to just go nuts and play a ton, even if your chops aren't ready for that amount of playing yet. When you're just developing your chops and you seriously overdo it, it can take a week or two to recover back to full strength and flexibility. Try to be careful. Stop BEFORE you get tired. It's very hard to do this when you're having a good day, but just think how nice it will be to have an equally good day tomorrow, and the day after, etc.

    Good luck...
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2012
  3. Pete Anderson

    Pete Anderson Pianissimo User

    Feb 27, 2008
    One important thing to clarify... When you say this:

    By "strong double double C" do you mean the 2nd ledger line C? Or the one an octave above that?
  4. Trumpeter3197

    Trumpeter3197 New Friend

    Jun 30, 2012
    Double C is an octave above 2nd ledger line C, high Eb is 3rd ledger line.
  5. Local 357

    Local 357 Banned

    Jul 1, 2011

    No. The range problems were caused by over training. You like to play high notes and over did it. A very common problem.

    I've been seriously involved in the study of embouchure since about my ninth year on the horn and that was back in 1973 (started in '64). 39 years to be exact. From what I've learned since then have found that the so-called "smile" setting isn't anywhere near the demon it was once considered. In fact since studying and developing alternative embouchures I've found that the great majority of what is taught about chops is wrong. Almost every month I find another element of "common wisdom" to be incorrect. Sometimes every week I expose something old that is not applicable...

    The great majority of common wisdom is so in name only. Ideas like "faster air" "large mouthpiece helps development for young players" "tongue arch for range", "don't play with a closed throat" etc. Being either invalid technical issues or inaccurately described conditions.

    The thing with a "smile" embouchure is that it often will tend to be a positive for a forward jaw trumpet player. You proved this yourself when you said:

    I've tried forming a pucker embouchure and I can't get a sound out, and as hard as I try not to smile when I go high it's simply impossible.

    Usually only the forward jaw trumpet player will find much use for the "smile" and so the others won't adopt it. You like to have a little less flesh in the mouthpiece because you gain access to the upper register through other means than the pucker in crowd do. This due in all probability to the support the lower lip gives the upper on the more forward jaw setting. This kind of forward jaw player is also more likely to set his mouthpiece on dry lips.

    In a more forward jaw setting the upper lip spends a longer length of distance supported laterally by the lower lip. This extra length through the aperture tunnel can give a HUGE ASSIST to extreme range. There may also be others besides the forward jaw player who may be inclined to adopt the smile setting.

    Your other peers consider the "smile" setting disadvantageous because they're the "pucker in" types who must penetrate the mouthpiece cup with all kinds of flabby lip flesh in order to crank out the higher register.

    One area of possible deficiency if you're not careful with the "smile" is that it could work against your endurance. This due to the thinner lip mass between the teeth and mouthpiece rim. So when spreading your chops before placement consider doing BOTH a "smile" AND a "pucker". This "pucker" not exactly a pucker but a thickening of the lip mass between teeth and mouthpiece metal.

    Before setting your mouthpiece push lip mass forward to make it thicker and then adopt your regular mouth corner pull, place the m/piece and see what happens. The thicker you make your lips between the mouthpiece rim and teeth will prevent pre-mature blood circulation loss. Like putting more air in a tire. But unlike most of the others you won't need to pooch a whole ton of flabby mass of lip into the mouthpiece cup just blow high notes.

    They do. You don't. People are different.

    I have more ideas on the subject if you want them. Later!

    Last edited: Sep 16, 2012
    Cornyandy likes this.
  6. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

    Jan 28, 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    You are loosing tone in your muscles. Not sure why this is happening, could be primary neurological, could be primary muscle, but also from secondary causes. This is too complex of an issue to solve without face to face contact and some time observing your playing, detailing your practice and performance characteristics (videos would be helpful as well).
  7. Dave Hughes

    Dave Hughes Mezzo Forte User

    Oct 19, 2010
    Rochester, NY
    I too smile when I get tired, as I am a natural upstream player. Done to the extreme, its an over-compensation- which does have results, for awhile, until as 357 says your endurance goes faster. However, I concur there's nothing wrong with the smile- except maybe a really bright tone when you don't want one. When you feel your corners going up really high, too high, just concentrate on opening up your jaw, that seems to work for me. Another good correction point is to let the horn come to your chops, not your chops to the horn. That will get you more in the center and help to alleviate laser-tone and over-exertion.

    PS: I learned these correction methods from some pretty good teachers, and they do work. Also, relax your shoulders and torso, that way your not fighting a high-pressure airstream- I still have work to do on that!
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2012
  8. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

    Jan 28, 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    I smile when I get a gig!
  9. Ed Lee

    Ed Lee Utimate User

    Aug 16, 2009
    Jackson NC
    Whether it appears that you are smiling or not, depends somewhat on your whole facial make-up and kick in your personailty.

    I've found songs average about 5 minutes to play, and even playing time in a symphony rarely goes longer without a pause. Thus, I'm to ask why one would practice playing for a continuous hour. When I say my lip time is a now a half hour, doesn't mean I'm not taking frequent breaths in that time. But, during practice, my trumpet is in my lap or on its stand the next 15 minutes. Too, for practice, I only hit the routines and etudes once or twice a week, but I really like to practice chromatic runs and slurs, the latter attempting octave slures (that I've never been really satisfied with).
  10. Cornyandy

    Cornyandy Fortissimo User

    Jan 9, 2010
    East Yorkshire
    I would listen to local and not stress. I do a lot that is, pehaps, Idioscyncratic due to an early teacher, but although I've anly really had one discussion with local about my embouchure when discussing why sharp mouthpieces don't hurt me, I always read if posts. For example I tongue from varying points in my mouth depending on a number of factors, but learnt a long time ago it works for me. I wold also suggest too much research without the input of your teacher isn't a good thing you can become ridiculously confused. I am a great believer in doing things naturally perhaps with small modifications. (mainly because I had my natural English Tenor voice ruined to such a point that I hardly sing anymore due to too many teachers trying to make me into a big voiced bel canto opera singer)

Share This Page