Does Playing Trumpet Damage Your Lips ?

“The smile embouchure is when we stretch our lips more like a smile to get the higher notes. This is not good as the lips becomes too thin and vulnerable”

Lips that hurt from playing trumpet



Does Playing Trumpet Damage Your Lips?

As I’m sitting here, reading some of the questions on Google, I see a few people wondering “Does playing the trumpet damagame your lips?” so I thought I’d do my best to answer that question today.

Playing the trumpet can damage your lips in certain circumstances, however that is not something that should happen. IF it does, the trumpet player was probably not playing correctly to begin with or he or she had a teeth formation that made trumpet playing very uncomfortable.

Example…

If you have a tooth that is sticking out way more than the rest of your teeth in the front of your mouth…

…that tooth could be a problem if you are playing the trumpet in a way that uses too much mouthpiece pressure.

Your trumpet playing should be built on a foundation of good habits

No matter what the structure of your face, lips or teeth is, your trumpet playing should be built on a solid base. A base built on good playing habits. This will minimize your risk of any physical damage to your lips, embouchure muscles or teethes.

On the other hand…

If you have developed your whole trumpet playing mechanism by the use of excessive force to get the higher notes, and you are using a lot of mouthpiece pressure, then things could potentially get nasty…

…especially if you have a sharp tooth that sticks out a bit, like in the example above.

There are also certain playing circumstances that are worse than others

  • Outdoor gigs (playing in cold wether)
  • Very long band rehearsals (with a tough gig following the rehearsal)
  • Very loud high note playing (especially if you have not developed correct playing)
  • Marching band (march and play at the same time…someone might accidentally hit your trumpet while you are playing, that could indeed damage your lips and embouchure)
  • Playing without warming up (never jump in and play demanding stuff without carefully warming up your lips)

Some real life, lip damage, horror stories

  • Wayne Bergeron

There are many incidents of trumpet players having damaging their lips for some reason or another. I can for example think of Wayne Bergeron telling his story about when he, in his younger years, played with a lot of mouthpiece pressure and used more of a “smile embouchure”

(The smile embouchure is when we stretch our lips more like a smile to get the higher notes. This is not good as the lips becomes too thin and vulnerable)

The pressure from the mouthpiece and all the heavy playing made a cut on the inside of his lips and as I understood it was pretty bad at times. This forced him to change his embouchure setup and start playing with a more “puckered” approach…

…this saved his lips and also helped him become the incredible trumpet player we all know him as today.

  • Rafael Mèndez

One of the grates trumpet player who ever walked this planet, a soft spoken gentleman named Rafael Mèndez, was a first class virtuoso that had a horrible lip injury. The lip injury left him unable to play the trumpet for years and this, understandable enough, made him deeply depressed.

One day he was practicing his trumpet, like he always was (many many hours a day) only this time he was warming up in his dressing room. He walked around while practicing, completely into what he was doing, and did not realize he stod too close to the door….

…when suddenly someone rushed in, opening the door, which opened inwards. Rafael was standing right there with the trumpet bell against the door when it happened. The trumpet got smashed into his face, leaving him with damaged lips and a destroyed embouchure. It took hims many years to recover from that horrible incident.

Steps you should take to avoid hurting your lips when playing the trumpet

Play with a slight “pucker/ cushion”

Your lips should feel somewhat like a soft pillow between your teeth and the trumpet mouthpiece. Think that you push your lips forward and outward, ever so slightly, a bit like a kiss… but don’t exaggerate it.

This will protect your lips and that is very important because, after all…

…your lips are spending all of the time you are playing, between two very hard surfaces, your teeth and the hard trumpet mouthpiece.

Always always… ALWAYS warm up before you play!

There is nothing “natural” at all with playing the trumpet. Humans are not designed or evolved to do that and this means we are not constantly walking around being ready to put a piece of hard metal on our face and start making strange noises.

In other words…



…our lips and face muscles are not always warm, ready with a good blood flow in order to get the job done. Talking and breathing does not require much of our face muscles at all, but trumpet playing does…

…so wee need to get the blood circulating in the face muscles before we can go at it. Do some lip flapping, massage your lips and face muscles gently, play some soft long notes with frequent rests. You know the drill, the point being; never ever just start playing something demanding without warming up!

Know you limits and no not push too hard

Don’t sign up to play the lead trumpet in a big band if you have not yet developed the skills to play in the high register. You can not approach it with the mindset “I’ll learn and grow” in this case.

While that mindset is indeed a good one, it is not smart when it comes to high notes and putting yourself in a situation where you suddenly just have to do a lot of them. This is exactly because of the high risk of you damaging your lips, or embouchure, trying to do something that is just too demanding for you at your current level.

Remember, it is good that we push ourselves. We need to do that in order to grow and develop, however we have to do it in a smart way and with the right amount. Because after all, a little medicine makes you strong while too much might kill you!

Play a lot of soft lone tones

I strongly believe that at least 15% of your trumpet playing should consist of long tones played at a soft volume. I call these notes my “golden notes” and these notes are what really builds the foundation of my “lip strength” Stronger muscles around the soft lip tissues means less risk of damaging your lips.

Always start and end your days with playing soft long notes. And also, of course, play a few of them in the middle of the day as well. Personally I make sure to get them in even in a practice session where I practice something completely different than longe tones, and in that case…

…I call it my long tone break =)

Develop a very good breath support

Supporting the air with the correct way of using your body is very important in order for you to play the trumpet without hurting your lips. You should look at the breath support as something that the trumpet sound rides upon….

…it is the very engine of your whole trumpet playing machine.

The better you are using your air the better and longer you will be able to play.

Keep your corners tight and locked

I mean the corners of your mouth. The very point where your lower lip meet your upper lip. Not the center of your lips but the side of your mouth. The corner muscles of your mouth needs to be tight and firm in order to support the middle or center of your lip setting.

It is possible to play with corners that are too loose but this will result in more mouthpiece pressure which…

…increases your risk of damaging your lips, playing the trumpet.

Try this!

Put your right pinky finger in the right corner of your lips and your left pinky in the left corner. Now, try to squeeze the fingers with your lips muscles. Not too hard but give them a good, solid, squeeze. That feeling you get in your corner muscles, while squeezing your fingers, is the feeling you should have in the corner muscles while you are playing the trumpet.

Does playing trumpet damage your lips conclusion

Playing the trumpet the correct way should not damage your lips or even hurt your lips, in any way shape or form. That said, accidents can and will always happen for some people. That is just life, however we should never let anxiety or worry about worst case scenarios stand in our way of doing what we want in life…

…At the end of the day…

…as long as you are practicing correctly and using your brain, you should not even be wasting energy at all, thinking about damaging your lips. Just keep practicing and enjoy your trumpet life =)

Ok that’s it for now. I hope you found this blog post informative.

Thank you for reading  “Does trumpet playing hurt your lips”

-Robert Slotte-

P.S. If you have not already done so, take a look at my article
26 trumpet playing tips to make you a better trumpeter