Playing Trumpet On The Side Of Your Mouth
Are you having concerns about what the right mouthpiece placement for trumpet playing really is? Well, you are not alone since many trumpeters are asking questions like:
Is it ok to play trumpet on the side of your mouth?
Or they have questions like…
- My mouthpiece placement is far to the left side of my mouth, is this ok?
- I play with my mouthpiece on the right side of my mouth, will this hurt my development?
- My mouthpiece placement is really high on my lips, what should I do?
- I have a very low mouthpiece placement, should I change it?
…So, I thought I’d write an article about the subject mouthpiece placement and try to clear up some confusions, whether or not using a mouthpiece placement on the right side of your mouth, for example, is something that you should be worrying about.
Mouthpiece placement and the way the “setup” looks
Every trumpeter is different and we all have different teeth structures, lip thickness, oral cavities, face structures, and so on. This also means that you probably won’t find two trumpeters that have an 100% identic embouchure/setup.
We are all going to look a bit different when we play the trumpet, and that’s perfectly fine. However, that said, there are a few things that we should consider when it comes to mouthpiece placement and the way our trumpet embouchure looks.
Playing trumpet on the side of your mouth
Where we place our trumpet mouthpiece horizontally (from the middle to the sides of your mouth) is less important than where we place the mouthpiece vertically (how high or low of a placement we have).
Don’t worry if everything is working for you
If you play the trumpet on the side on your mouth and everything is working for you then you shouldn’t worry about it. However, if you have a tendency to gradually place the mouthpiece further and further to one side then you should know that there are limits how far we can go.
How far to the side can I go and still be ok?
As you can see in the first picture, under the headline of this article, I’m playing trumpet on the side of my mouth, as in my mouthpiece placement is pretty far to the right side. I’m actually playing in the picture and it sounds decent, however, this is not my normal set-up. I’m just illustrating how it would look, and in my opinion, a setup this far to the side can still be ok…
…many very good trumpet players are playing either to the right or to the left side on their lips and still sound fantastic.
The mouthpiece placement, far to the right side, that I use in the top picture is OK if you can answer YES to the following questions:
- Is your sound okay?
- Can you play with control? (scales are no problem and you can do lip slurs)
- Is your endurance ok? (this might be a tricky question since so many have endurance problems even if the setup is optimal, but if your endurance is REALLY bad, then it might be because of the mouthpiece placement)
So…how did you do?
Did you answer yes, to the questions?
If so, then I would recommend that you stop worrying about you playing the trumpet on the side of your mouth and keep going, without messing around with the “setup”
If, however, you play the trumpet very far to the side of your mouth, like in this picture, then that is too extreme and you really should change your embouchure.
It is actually possible to play like this, but you will have almost no help from the opposite side of your embouchure muscles and this means your endurance and control will suffer greatly.
Playing trumpet on the side of your mouth
An example of beautiful playing
If you answered yes to the above questions but you still feel unsure about your trumpet playing future, then take a look at this young trumpet player. She is playing very well even though here mouthpiece placement is pretty far to the side.
Watch and listen to Melissa’s beautiful playing in this video clip now!
So why do some trumpeters start playing a bit to the side of the mouth?
There are two reasons for this.
One reason is that, as I already said, everyone has got different teeth and face structures and some peoples teeth are formed in a way thatm the flat surface we rest the mouthpiece on, are angled a bit to the left or right side. This means that, even if they were to place the trumpet mouthpiece dead center of the mouth it would soon, automatically, start seeking its place to where the flat spot is on the teeth.
The second reason is that some peoples muscles are stronger on one side than the other and quite significantly at that. This means that, with time, the embouchure setup may seek a place more to the side, just because the face muscles are able to operate at their strongest at that place.
So again, if your not having any problems then don’t worry about it. Just keep playing and practicing.
What about vertical placement?
How far down on my lips can I place the mouthpiece?
This is more important than if your play the trumpet on the side of your mouth, since this will dictate how well your lips will be able to vibrate inside the mouthpiece cup and how well you can support them.
For some people the mouthpiece can be placed way down without disturbing the embouchure. This depends on where the pink part of the lips starts…
…keep reading to learn more about this.
The mouthpiece will find a spot
Some people are playing with about 1/3 of the mouthpiece on the upper lips and 2/3 on the lower lips. This is what we call an “upstream embouchure” or a type IV (as categorized by Donald S. Reinhardt). These players are in minority, and I belong in this category myself.
Other players use more about 2/3 of the mouthpiece on the upper lip and only about 1/3 on the lower lip and these are the downstream trumpet players. (it does not have to be exact 1/3 – 2/3 but if more than 50% of the mouthpiece is on the top lip, the trumpeter is most likely a downstream player and vice versa)
What does upstream and downstream mean?
An upstream embouchure simply means that the direction of the air stream inside the mouthpiece cup is going upwards, in contrast to downstream players, who point the air stream down, towards the bottom of the cup.
THIS IS SOMETHING THAT MOST OF US DO NOT CHOOSE!
One could almost say that we are “born to play” either upstream or downstream and we have to figure out in what category we belong. There are very few people who can play both and/or choose if he or she wants to be a downstream or an upstream player. 95% of us HAVE to play the way nature intended and the way it “wants” our airstream to go…
…personally, I did not choose to be an upstream player, it is just the way that works for me.
So how to know if you should be using an upstream or a downstream embouchure?
This happens naturally for most people. I would estimate that about 75-80% of all trumpet players are playing with a downstream embouchure. Thats is just what works best for most people. When a beginner is starting their trumpet journey, the mouthpiece will automatically find a natural spot pretty quickly…
…it will be either a downstream setting or an upstream setting and the teacher should NOT interfere. Only if the student has been playing for a few months and he or she can not seem to gain any range, the teacher should have him switch from a 2/3 upper lip to a 1/3 upper lip placement, or the other way around, depending on which way the student started out.
However, the mouthpiece can be placed too high or too low on the lips
It is possible to have a too high or a too low mouthpiece placement on the lips, and in this case the teacher SHOULD interfere. If the student seem to be wanting to play an upstream embouchure and places his mouthpiece low on the lips, that’s all fine, unless he places it TOO low…
…so how low is too low?
- If the upper rim of the mouthpiece is resting on the pink part of the upper lip, then the mouthpiece placement is too low, even for being an upstream embouchure.
Playing in the pink. This mouthpiece placement is too low!
As you can see in the picture the upper rim of the mouthpiece is resting on the pink part of the upper lip. This is not good since the pink part is too soft to be able to support the rim and, in addition to this, it is the center of the pink part that is going to be vibrating, so we do not want a mouthpiece edge pressing down on the soft part, and hindering it from being able to vibrate in a free and efficient manner.
As soon as the inner edge of the upper rim is ABOVE the edge of the pink part of your lips, you are OK
As long as the upper rim is resting on the white part of your upper lip you are good. It can still be placed very low. The rule is that the inner edge of the upper rime HAS to be ABOVE the edge/line where the pink part starts on your upper lip.
The inner edge of the rim is above the edge where the pink starts here, so even if this is a low mouthpiece placement, this is ok.
The same is true for downstream player. They should not play in the pink on the bottom lip
Everything I just wrote about the upstream player, and not playing in the pink, is also true for the downstream trumpet players, only then it is all reversed and we are now talking about the bottom lip. The downstream guys should make sure to not let the bottom mouthpiece rim rest on the pink part of the bottom lip.
And just like with the upstream embouchure the downstream guys have to make sure that the inner edge of the bottom part of the mouthpiece is UNDER the edge of where the pink part of the bottom lip starts…
With a small exception…
…HOWEVER, a small exception is that some players will need to, temporarily, pull the lower lip down a bit, when playing lower notes and this will temporarily pull the pink part of the lips so that it is under the edge of the mouthpiece. For some people this is OK as long as they remember to push the lower lip back inside, as they ascend again.
The optimal downstream embouchure, however, is operating without the bottom lip having to be pulled down and coming outside the mouthpiece.
Conclusion about playing trumpet on the side of the mouth
The mouthpiece will automatically find it’s placement and may end up a bit to the side of the mouth. The same goes with the vertical placement. As long as the mouthpiece placement is not outside of the “rules” I have explained in this article, everything should be fine, and the teacher should not interfere.
We interfere and change things IF the trumpeter is not progressing or if he or she is having problems.
The above “rules” are general and apply to most trumpet players. So this is why we should start the beginners playing in a way that is compliant with them.
However, there are an even more important “rule” and that is, if everything is working really well for you, even if the setup happens to be a bit outside of the “general rules” then don’t change anything. Because there are exceptions to these rules and it is indeed possible to find virtuoso trumpet players that have a very strange looking set up. Even though they are few and far between.
Bottom line, if your are playing trumpet on the side of your mouth or you have a very low mouthpiece placement, but your sound is fine and you are doing ok then don’t worry about it. Just keep practicing and one more thing…
…remember to have fun while practicing!
P.S. Perhaps you also would be interested in reading the article “how to reduce mouthpiece pressure”
P.P.S. Are you playing trumpet far to the left side on your mouth, or to the right side? And if so, have you done it your whole life? Is it working fine for you? Please feel free to comment something in the comment section down below. I would love to hear from you and learn about the way you play, if you are using, what many would consider to be, a somewhat strange looking setup…