Puffiness/Stiffness in Lips

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Madeline, Jun 6, 2018.

  1. Madeline

    Madeline New Friend

    Sep 27, 2016
    Toronto, Canada
    Hi, I feel like I've seen threads similar to this, but none of them really address the situation I'm going through.

    Since about March or April, I've noticed almost a regression in my playing; my tone has much more "dust," and I find that if I want to play notes above the staff I have to force them out (obviously I shouldn't be doing that). When I go for notes that I was able to play with relative ease before, such as a B above the staff, I only get the sound of air, and I can't get the note to resonate unless I force it out. My lips seem to get puffy very quickly, and I have to rest much more to let them recover. It seems to be getting a bit worse each day to the point that it's becoming difficult just to produce a sound, and I'm not sure how to address this. I tried taking a day off completely, and a short routine the next day of soft long tones below the staff and pedal tones to relax my face, but the stiff and puffy feeling is still there. I'm contemplating taking 4-7 days off completely, since I have the time, but I don't want to do that if it isn't necessary. If it helps, I'll try to mention any changes that have happened since I first noticed this problem:

    - Around late February/March my private teacher had me make a change to my horn angle so that it's pointing down more to match my natural jaw alignment (overbite). Before, I had my bell almost straight out, leading me to push my jaw forward to meet the mouthpiece and cause a lot of tension in the jaw. While this has reduced the jaw pain and help with my flexibilities, I find it more difficult to keep the mouthpiece on the bottom lip.
    - My wisdom teeth have been growing in (I'm getting them pulled June 28th), which has been causing some swelling at the back of my mouth.
    - I've been on summer break since the end of April, so I haven't done any heavy playing since then.
    - I haven't made any changes to my practice routine (2-3 hours daily with frequent breaks)
    - I've been battling a lot of chop problems since I made an embouchure change 2 years ago in private lesson.

    That's a lot of information, so thank you in advance,
  2. GeorgeB

    GeorgeB Forte User

    Apr 13, 2016
    New Glasgow, N.S. Canada
    Hi, Madeline, I'm sorry to hear about your problems. There some very experienced players here who will surely offer you some advice so I'll just say this: I've experienced some of the symptoms you mention such as puffy lips, difficulty above the staff, etc., during the early days of my comeback 2 years ago, but those symptoms disappeared when I loosened my grip on the horn and backed off on the pressure. Good luck and try not to get discouraged. The trumpet is a difficult instrument.
  3. Sethoflagos

    Sethoflagos Utimate User

    Aug 7, 2013
    Lagos, Nigeria
    'Puffiness' puts more mass into your lips which dramatically affects how freely they vibrate, particularly above the stave. Your need to 'force' the note to make it resonate is because you're having to do more work to overcome the additional inertia.

    Why did you change the angle you hold the trumpet again?

    Even if this was a desirable move, it sounds very much as if you've made too much of a change too suddenly, and your body is telling you that it's hurting.

    Can you still play okay with your instrument held higher as previously?
  4. LaTrompeta

    LaTrompeta Forte User

    May 3, 2015
    Was Colorado...now Utah
    Hi Madeline, welcome. While we can't diagnose issues on here, I have a few basic suggestions. First, you really should take a couple weeks off. Even professionals do that. If not weeks, than at least a few days. It helps the lips recover and can be a good opportunity to undo bad habits.

    Second, if your private teacher is not addressing this concern, perhaps you should find a new one.

    Third, you need a routine that focuses on fundamentals. I would just start with some Clarke, Schlossberg, Arban, and make sure you do some Concone or Bordogni for sound production and musicality.
  5. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    So, as it turns out, I just attended a master class last night with Rene Hernandez, assistant principal trumpeter of the Baltimore Symphony, and there was one part of what he talked about that I found to be refreshing, because it showed that even pros at the highest levels are human too.

    He talked about times where after doing a lot of hard playing that he needed to go back to the practice room and work base fundamentals again to bring everything back into focus and get the pressure off of the chops. He also talked about times where he has to play after beating his chops up where things function as they should, but that it doesn't necessarily feel good.

    There are exercises you can do to improve this - chiefly lower softer playing, and he even recommended doing some light work with soft pedal tones as a means to get the chops to focus again.

    However, I want to point out some things that you said in your post:

    "Since about March or April, I've noticed almost a regression in my playing...When I go for notes that I was able to play with relative ease before, such as a B above the staff, I only get the sound of air, and I can't get the note to resonate unless I force it out."


    "- Around late February/March my private teacher had me make a change to my horn angle so that it's pointing down more to match my natural jaw alignment (overbite)."

    Color me crazy, but does anyone else see the direct correlation here? While your teacher may have changed your horn angle, there's a reason that you were playing the way you were - it's how the mouthpiece naturally wanted to be in relation to your lips and teeth. By messing with the angle, it's a profound alteration of your embouchure. I don't know the whole story about why your teacher had you make the change, but it seems to me that this change has ultimately been detrimental to your playing, that maybe you need to rethink it, and possibly go back to how it was, which functionally was clearly superior to the new setup with the changed horn angle.

    I'm not telling you what to do, but it's food for thought, and something that you should bring up with your instructor, IMO.
    TrumpetMD, Manfredv and GeorgeB like this.
  6. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    Swelling is natural. After all we doing something very unnatural by buzzing our lips in a small confined area. Some are affected more, some less.

    There are various mechanisms that could play into this situation:
    1) your overall embouchure condition
    2) your breathing (crappy breathing means more pressure, means more reaction from the body)
    3) hydration and salt intake
    4) hormone balance - especially a point for female players. Oestrogen has a much different effect than testosterone.
    5) sleep is our friend. If we are not getting as much, the body reacts in strange ways

    More has changed in your life in the last couple of months than you are telling us. Are you playing harder trumpet parts? Do you practice until your face caves? Are we talking about marching band?

    The list of things will give you some food for thought. When I need to get through an impossible day, I will take an aspirin which does a fine job of reducing swelling.
    TrumpetMD and trickg like this.
  7. Pete

    Pete Piano User

    Nov 17, 2007
    Hi Madeline,

    Have you changed/started/increased any kind of medication? Also, changing the horn angle is sometimes a good thing and sometimes not. Minimizing pressure on the top lip is one thing, but moving the horn angle down or actually pulling the mouthpiece down may put more pressure on your chops than you think.

  8. J. Jericho

    J. Jericho Fortissimo User

    Mar 16, 2011
    Welcome to TrumpetMaster!

    I am not aware of much success resulting from deliberately changing mouthpiece position, unless a player started with a drastically inefficient setup. This is not to say that it hasn't happened, just that it doesn't necessarily work, and it can set up a habit that may have to be changed again. Generally a centered embouchure usually works best. You can find where to place the mouthpiece by hearing what sounds the best over the greatest range. You can angle the horn up and down, respectively, until the sound gets worse and find the best in the middle. Same for pressure; go from too little through too much; the middle works best. This position may or may not change over time, but if you start there, you can eliminate that variable, at least for the time being, and work on discovering other less-than-optimal aspects of your playing.

    My shot-in-the-dark suspicion is that finding a different teacher may be beneficial.
  9. vphtptm

    vphtptm New Friend

    Jul 15, 2007
    Dear Madeline, Your story reminds me of my own. After a real fast start in the trumpet world, I lost my embouchure completely and I couldn't figure it out for many years. I sought the help of remedial teachers, but to no avail. I would be able to play with a giant, round tone, but only for 15-20 minutes, after which I had nothing. As I had a good reputation and leaders knew what I could once do, good things were expected of me and I was thrust into situations where I could no longer carry out my musical assignments. It was thoroughly embarrassing. I put down the horn for a number of years, during which period I did lot of reflecting. Then it dawned on me.

    I had, over a long period, worked my embouchure into a grimace, and developed big facial muscles that did nothing but pull in a downward direction, whereas I needed to develop only--and in a happier way--the small muscles right about the lips. I had to learn to smile again and to get rid of the grimacing muscles. If you happen to be in the same rut I was in, you might simply play a little less for a while, and give your wrong muscles time to forget. When you come back, just remember that the muscles for trumpet embouchure are few, minor, and work in an upward fashion, not a downward one. Get Happy. Smile!--but not too much.

    If you go to youtube and study those videos bearing on the "Cat Anderson G," a method of training that involves a stupid effort to sound the low G on trumpet (second line G), you will see how the idea is to keep things focused right around the point of the lips. Try to relax out (and eventually eliminate) those huge cheek and jaw muscles. I truly wish you luck. If you're like me, you'll find that less is more. I don't profess to know much about the science of embouchure (if there is one), I can only tell you what worked for me.

    Best wishes for the return of a good embouchure. Ohhh, last thing, if you are playing a standard cup mouthpiece (like a Bach 7c), you might find a bigger one more accommodating to your swelling lips. Try a 5C, even perhaps a 1 1/2 C.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2018
  10. Franklin D

    Franklin D Forte User

    May 23, 2009
    The Netherlands
    Personally I leave questions like this to the experienced teachers. If you are not it makes little sense to give well meant but not well grounded advices.

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