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Back to Crescendo 1962 July



Pages 24-25 of Crescendo, July 1962, Vol.1, No.1, featuring an article on embouchure, the use of the facial muscles and lips to play woodwind and brass instruments, in this case the clarinet and saxophone. An advert for Conn musical instruments appears at the top of page 25.

Image Details

Catalogue Reference Number
Creator Tony Brown [ed], Leslie Evans
Date Made 1962
Item Format Journal
Title or Caption Embouchure.

This text has been generated by computer from the image and may contain typographical and/or grammatical errors.

TAEVELOPING a reliable, steady em-bouchure on either sax or clarinet can be troublesome. If it is to give blowing freedom and a decent tone, it has to suit the player’s own facial build-up.
Bad habits established early carry right on to the advanced stages, so it is essential to give the subject of embouchure the utmost attention and respect.
A bad embouchure can result in thin, rough, or otherwise unpleasing tone, uncertain control—therefore faulty intonation—and poor vibrato.
Teeth, jaw and lip formation differ from player to player. It will be appreciated, then, that exact measurements and pressures cannot be quoted.
However, whether you possess thick or thin lips, prominent or receding teeth and or jaws, there are two basic formations of embouchure. Within these two widely-used formations there are countless variations. The adoption of one method or the other, coupled with small experiments to determine more exact positioning, should depend entirely on the player and the results he produces.
When it comes to embouchure, you see, it doesn’t matter what Joe or Bill does, or how they look when they blow. To copy them is probably just as illogical as buying their size in suit or shoes!
Study your own formation and your own embouchure—or take your problem to a teacher of high repute.
THE OPEN LIP METHOD. I call it this because the lower lip is left in normal position, so that a cushion for the reed and for the lower teeth is formed by the fleshy top, or inside part of the lip.
THE CLOSED LIP METHOD. Here, the lower lip is turned in over the bottom teeth, so that part of the outside of the lip forms the cushion for the reed and the lower teeth are probably embedded rather more deeply into the lip.
How do you know which suits you ? First, place the mouthpiece in your mouth without turning the bottom lip over. Bear upward with the lower teeth ■—straight upward without jutting the jaw forward. Do the teeth contact comfortably inside the lower Up ? Or do they slide past the lip so that they could touch the bottom of the reed ?
If they meet the lip comfortably, then the open lip method is probably right
for you. If the teeth miss the lip, then you should turn the lip over the teeth and use the closed lip method.
Printed tutors may advocate one and decry the other. Experience and research have taught me that it is wrong to insist on one method. It’s an individual problem. There is, however, one embouchure described in some old text books which must be discouraged. This advocates turning in both top and bottom lips to cover the teeth completely.
I have never found any sort of justification for its use.
In clarinet playing it is certainly true to say that the closed lip method is very satisfactory and widely used by practically every player and teacher. It would appear to be safe to assume the same method could be applied to the saxophone.
But the upper register of the clarinet in particular needs the extra control and bracing provided by an in-turned lower lip. So I am still suggesting that results may justify using closed lip for clarinet and, equally, confirm that the open Up is best for saxophone. It depends, I repeat, on the player.
The top teeth bear on the mouthpiece itself in both methods. The next question to be answered is, how much of the mouthpiece should be taken inside the mouth? The governing factor here is the position of the lower teeth. They serve to bolster the lower lip and to regulate the pressure exerted on the reed itself.
If the position of the lower teeth is too close to the end of the reed, then even slight pressure might close up the aperture between the tip of the reed and the mouthpiece, thus restricting tone. The positioning and degree of pressure should be enough to control the reed without closing the aperture too much.
Additionally, both sets of teeth should be in the normal biting position. The lower jaw should not be either forward or backward.
Commonly, the lower teeth close fractionally behind the upper set. Yet there are plenty of people whose teeth meet almost exactly. Others have protruding upper or lower teeth. How much mouthpiece should be taken depends on all these factors.
Obviously, if your top teeth protrude,
Reed Clinic
conducted by
then you must take more of the mouthpiece in to enable the lower teeth to take up their correct position inside the lip and under the reed.
People with the common formation usually take approximately one-third of the top of the mouthpiece with their top teeth. Whereas those with a protruding lower jaw would take in a smaller amount because their lower teeth are already well forward under the reed.
You follow the reasoning ? Don’t worry what the other guy does. It’s your face, not his.
Assess your results. If you take more of the mouthpiece than is necessary for your features, you will find that the tone is harsh. More volume, perhaps—but the wrong kind. Find the right amount of‘bite’ to produce good tone and blow harder if you want more volume.
Taking too little of the mouthpiece will give a thin tone, especially in the upper register.
The top of your head should be slightly sloping, so that the top teeth bear down on the mouthpiece, not just rest on it.
When you blow (especially a low note) do you feel a vibration pass up through your top teeth into your head ? If so, bear down a little harder. The top teeth
page twenty-four
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serve to hold the mouthpiece firmly, so that the lower teeth have something to bear up against and form an assessment of pressure.
Incidentally, if you change your mouthpiece, you may well find that the new shape and new tone chamber may call for a modification of the amount of mouthpiece taken in.
The upper lip closes down on the mouthpiece firmly against the top teeth.
It must not be blown forward by the force of air. The lip muscles apply only moderate pressure.
Only turn the lower lip comfortably over the teeth if you have decided this method suits you. Turning it in too much causes undue tension. How much to turn it over depends, to an extent, on how thick or thin your lips are. Experiment.
If you happen to get severe chafing, cutting or even bleeding of the lower lip, caused by sharp or uneven teeth, your dentist can advise on extraction or smoothing. It is possible to be supplied with a shield to obviate such discomfort.
The muscles around the mouth enclose the mouthpiece and these and the cheek muscles are meant to stand up against the force of air when you blow.
Thus the space within your mouth through which the air is forced retains ^
the same shape, whether you blow loudly or softly. If the air column changes its shape and direction, then it is reasonable to assume that your tone will also fluctuate.
The embouchure itself should not change according to the range of notes. It is often taught, too, that the pressure exerted by the lower teeth should not change. In practice, however, it will be found that there is a slight increase when ascending into the extreme top register and a corresponding decrease when descending. This will be noticed most when encompassing a wide interval, such as an octave.
But as these differences in pressure are so slight, it is better to allow the ear govern the embouchure in pitching a note, rather than make a conscious—and probably exaggerated—physical adjustment.
Blow with an open throat and relax the middle of the tongue so that it does not restrict the flow of air.
There is not sufficient space in this article to go into exhaustive detail or to examine individual difficulties. However, I am prepared to answer queries on embouchure or any other aspect of playing. Write to me care of Crescendo— and remember to give full details and to enclose a stamped, addressed envelope.
A reed that is dark in colour (almost brown) is likely to be too hard. One that is greenish, too soft.
The ideal reed is a golden colour with a regular grain running right to the tip.
When shaving a reed to soften it, use a piece of Dutch rush, obtainable from the best music shops.
Don’t touch the heart of the reed (the raised crest on the back) or it will lose its spring.
Don’t scrape the reed on the mouthpiece. Place it on a flat, hard surface, such as a pane of glass.
If the high notes are harsh, scrape the taper of the reed, excluding the thin end. Jimmy Staples
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