Q: What is the "correct" placement on the chops for the trumpet mouthpiece?
The correct mouthpiece placement is the one where you sound the best and are most comfortable. If one looks about, he sees successful players playing nearly all over their faces. A quick example or two: Wynton Marsalis and Tom Harrell seem to play very low, with much more of the mouthpiece on their lower lip than on the top. Maurice André seems to be well over half on the top lip. I could go through (and so could you) all of the pictures of trumpet players and take a poll and waste a couple of hours, but the generalization would remain true that successful players have success with a number of different embouchures, nearly all of which may not work for somebody else. Also, remember a guy like Rafael Mendez (although there may never be anybody "like" Rafael Mendez) who played and could play, uh, well on a number of different sets.
This is why most (good) teachers let beginning students choose for themselves where to place the mouthpiece by sounding "mmmmm" and letting them put the mouthpiece where they want. In the majority of cases, the student will find the most comfortable place and then develop the musculature to support it. This is healthy. We all have different teeth, lips and muscles, so we will have different embouchures.
However, occasionally one runs into a student whose mouthpiece placement is so bizarre or inappropriate that it inhibits their development. I have a young student who insists on playing with more than 2/3 on the bottom lip and off to the left. She has no range and the sound is thin and airy. I have told her many times that this will not do, and that all she has to do to see why is to listen, but she refuses to change. She may make a fine soccer player.
One hopes that any teacher that has discovered a flaw in your mouthpiece placement is trying to help you get over a stumbling-block by having you change, rather than just advancing a theory to which he or she violently clings. There are a significant number of teachers who do not believe that a low placement will ever be successful and when confronted with Wynton and Tom Harrell, they say, "Yeah, but just think how good they'd sound if they had a good placement." Right. I'd play out my left nostril if I could play like Tom Harrell.
Any embouchure change of that magnitude is almost like starting over, where one has to teach the muscles how to "do it" all over again. It takes a while, at least several months.
For the record, I play at about 50/50, for what it is worth. But I still don't play like Tom Harrell.
© 2000 by James F. Donaldson
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