Before reading the information on this page, please familiarize yourself with the overview of embouchure found here.
Moving the mouthpiece to a different location on the lips is a traumatic adjustment for most players because it requires the embouchure to rebalance itself. There is only ONE time in a player’s development that this process can take place without serious setbacks: during the first two years of playing, before the player has established long-term habits and trained the muscles to work in a particular way.
If an older (especially high school) player has developed an ineffective mouthpiece placement, my advice in most cases is: leave it alone. Here’s why:
Moving the mouthpiece to a new location is often a two-year process, if the student is doing everything right. During the initial stages, the student will lose many notes from the top of his or her range. This may mean moving from first chair to somewhere in the middle of the third trumpet section, which is humiliating for many adolescents and alarming to their band directors. The loss in range will probably affect the very things that keep young trumpet players motivated and confident: All-State tryouts, Solo and Ensemble rankings, featured solos.
If a student loses faith in the process because it is too frustrating or is taking a long time, s/he might try to move the mouthpiece back to its original position for “important” situations, which will lengthen the entire ordeal. This approach doesn’t work. Inevitably there will come a point at which neither mouthpiece position feels natural, as the old habits lose their familiarity and the new ones are still in development. At this stage, a student who has been relying on his or her old embouchure to any degree will probably panic. Most pre-college students underestimate the difficulty of making a full transition and end up abandoning the process and often the trumpet, assuming that “it didn’t work out” or “my teacher screwed me up.”
If you as a teacher are convinced that your student’s mouthpiece must move, it is worth your time to ask yourself the following questions before broaching the issue with your student:
- Is this student’s commitment to the trumpet contingent upon awards or achievement?
- Can this student’s band director afford to lose this student as a go-to player on the marching field or in concert band?
- Is this student’s band program small enough that this student will still be a go-to player (first part, even if not first chair), even while undergoing an embouchure change?
- Has this student expressed a serious interest in pursuing some sort of music career, and will an embouchure change at this juncture help or harm his or her chances at college admission?
- Does this student implicitly trust you, as evidenced by his or her willingness to follow directions on other assignments?
- Does this student practice regularly, and has this student demonstrated a willingness to practice things that are tedious (particularly fundamentals)?
The answers to these questions should give you a good idea of whether this student’s circumstances are likely to be conducive to a successful embouchure change. If the circumstances don’t seem to support it, your best best is to concentrate your efforts on other components of the student’s development. If the student does decide to pursue music in college, s/he can revisit the idea with his or her professor. Freshman music majors are often in an ideal position to undertake this process, because they no longer bear the pressure of playing first part and have declared music as their primary emphasis, which gives them access to a full-time teacher and the motivation to follow that person’s directions.