finding the right embouchure

Hah!  Check it.  I actually spelt “embouchure” correctly.  Apparently the word originally just meant “to put an instrument in one’s mouth”, but now it’s more like “the mouth shape a wind player makes to suit his mouthpiece”.

Previously, I’d used a double embouchure on my saxophone – the lips curl round both the up and lower teeth.  This has the advantage of allowing a larger mouth cavity (bigger sound), but has a distinct disadvantage insofar as my lips were being torn to shreds.

So, when I picked up my horn again in December, I thought I’d try a new approach, with a standard embouchure, wherein only the bottom lip covers the teeth; the upper teeth lie directly on the mouthpiece.  Still, I found that my lower lip was too cut-up to be able to play, and covering my teeth with Rizla paper just meant I ended up with a mouthful of papyrus.

My latest angle is therefore the third accepted type of mouth-shape, in which the lips are placed out and don’t come into contact with the teeth at all.  This is the method used by many of the great black jazz saxophonists.  So far, I don’t have the lip muscle to be able to play in tune for more than a few minutes at a time –  on the plus side though, my lips are blissfully intact.  One prominent downside is that I look a bit of an idiot pouting the whole time I’m playing.

If it doesn’t work out I’ll probably go back to the standard embouchure, but I wonder what other players use nowadays…?

P.S. Also worth taking a look at this post on SaxStation for some interesting further reading 😉


5 thoughts on “finding the right embouchure

  1. I find your blog very interesting. I read the post through google reader entitled what’s the big deal. I am actually very intersted in both languages and music. So I wanted to let you know that there are others out there with those two interests. For me, the more I learn about language the more I realize that music is a language and that while I am not fluent in another spoken language, I already understand to some degree the language of music which helps me learn spoken languages better. Please keep blogging about these topics. Very cool indeed.

  2. Funny you should say that – saxophonist Greg Fishman writes exactly the same thing:

    “Jazz is a language, and the best way to learn any language is to be constantly surrounded by native speakers… the same is true in the language of jazz.”

    I think it’s really interesting how language and music are related to each other, and it’s certainly good to know that there are other people who do too 🙂 What kind of music do you play/listen to?

  3. I play trombone and am in a big band right now. I like to play just about anything as long as it lets me play with others. Truthfully, though, I prefer to sing. I love a capella church music and gospel hymns. The harmony and intricacy of singing with others is purely amazing to me. I don’t really listen to much music. There is usually too much music going on in my head to care to listen, I do like it.

  4. Hey Eldon,
    I like the philosophy of Joe Allard on embouchure. That it should be just enough.

    So my approach is closest to the third approach you describe. Sounds like you might be sticking your lip out a little too much?

    Look at pictures of guys like Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Joe Henderson. This will give you some ideas of how they did. Of course your physiology is unique.

    Greg Fishman is a solid sax player, I met him at the Monterey Jazz Festival this last year.
    -Neal –

    • Cheers for the pointer – I think my lower lip probably is out a little far, it’s certainly covering too much of the reed. I took a look at pictures of the great saxophonists and they don’t pout quite so much! (On the subject, looking at pictures and videos of other musicians playing is a great way of improving, and is another thing I’ve neglected to do recently… thanks!)

      By the way, your site rocks 🙂 loads of interesting stuff on there.

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