I am just getting back into playing the trumpet since high school 16 years ago. I've always struggled with finding the right embouchure. It's been about a month I've been back on the horn and wanted to share my observations and experiences. In High School in Florida I had an excellent music teacher, Mr. Andrew Jack Crew. My senior year our band was ranked among the top in the U.S.A. and we were invited to the Chicago Midwest Clinic. I was the second to worst trumpet player and probably shouldn't have been playing in that good of a band but there were so many other stellar trumpets that I guess they masked me, lol.
Anyway, that's a little back ground about my trumpet experience. I had taught myself to play on the lower part of the upper lip and off to one side. I played like this until Mr. Crew told me I needed to get the mouthpiece up over the top of my upper lip and until I did this I would never be able to have consistency and a beautiful tone/ control of the instrument. I got better my senior year but never felt like a good trumpet player and still had an awkward embouchure.
So the last month I have been reading up and studying all the different suggestions and videos on the internet about embouchure including the Jerome Callets superchops method. I have steered away from this method, not because I think it is wrong or bad, but because it seems too complicated, unnatural, and too much work. There have been students of his saying that after 3 years it's finally clicking and they are playing well. I'm not interested in such an approach nor an embouchure that I have to set things up in a ritual to get ready to play. I want to be able to put the trumpet to my lips without thought and play instantly without any type of ritual, lip puckering, licking, etc. I know some players advocate licking the lips or MP to moisten it. I find that for me doing this has negative results and overly moist lips or a slippery MP is a bad thing for me. My lips don't dry out when I play. To me it's like licking your fingers before you play the piano. Everyone has different physiology and these are just my thoughts. I'm no expert
The last few weeks my main focus has been trying to play with my lips centered in the mouthpiece ( Bach 1C ) with the top of my upper lip under the MP rim. I've experimented with this basic position in various ways and settled on trying to keep the aperture small and lips pinched together in a relaxed way ( I know sounds like an oxymoron). While able to achieve a very nice open tone with effort, my lips felt like they were doing too much work and it was taking too much effort. I knew the problem was not with my breathing. It has felt like my upper lip was not stable and tiring too easily. It felt like to much lip movement/manipulation and nonsense was going on.
After looking at various pro players embouchures one that stuck out to me was how it looked like the bottom lip filled most of the MP and the rim was just barely on top of the upper lip. This looked unusual to me because I was always trying to focus on putting the rim on top of my upper lip while distributing the MP equally between the two lips. Today I was experimenting with not playing centered in the MP but rather playing with the MP off center either high or low on the lips, while still keeping the rim above the upper lip. WIth one position my upper lip mostly filled the MP and my bottom lip just barely rested on lower rim and in the other position my lower lip mostly filled the MP and my upper lip was flattened and stabilized against the upper teeth with very light pressure just enough to stabilize and anchor it so it stayed in place and felt secure.
Both positions felt like they had potential to me, but the last position with the lower lip filling most of the MP felt by far the best to me. The notes were coming out so solid and effortlessly with very little pressure and they just felt solid and anchored like I was in command of them and they did what I told them to do with little effort, rather than me trying to coax and persuade them nicely and convince them to sound nice , like a non compliant high maintenance woman that wants everything her way and trying to bend her to my will, while draining my energy. The sensation was not forceful. I was very relaxed and at ease. It was like when I pluck a guitar string or hit a piano note it produces the note cleanly and precisely with no manipulation or nonsense. I have always felt that playing the trumpet notes should be a similar experience to playing an instrument with "fixed" notes that you just hit the note and no special manipulation should be needed to get the basic full, beautiful tone but it has always eluded me until now.
I've conclude from this experimentation that my main problem has been that my upper lip previously was never anchored or stabilized so it was always flexing, fighting and wasting energy trying to manipulate with excessive tension and movement to produce notes. Now that I am stabilizing my upper lip with very light pressure, it feels solid and just stays there and doesn't tire so fast. Another thing I noticed was that with this MP position, once I found it, i didn't have to develop it or work at it for it to work and sound good, it just seemed to work. Even so, I'm sure range, strength, and endurance would still increase over time obviously. In conclusion, it seems to me that playing either high or low on the MP rather than in the center is helping to stabilize my upper lip and getting rid of all the problems I've been experiencing with inconsistent playing. Not sure if this is the case for others. I'm just sharing this as food for thought for others who are struggling and looking for ideas to experiment with. I don't know if how I explained this all makes sense but I'm open to discussion and suggestions.