Embouchure is the position of your mouth upon the mouthpiece of an instrument. A good embouchure, along with an instrument which has been well maintained, will yield quality timbre, or tone, while you play your instrument. The volume at which you play will be very neatly correlated to the velocity at which you expel air from your diaphram, but the pitch (octave) will generally be manipulated via a change of your own embouchure. There are four different classes of instruments which will be described, in brief, below.

Single Reed Woodwinds: Clarinets, Saxophones.

These instruments produce noise like a blade of grass you hold between your thumbs and then blow air through. Assemble your instrument and mouthpiece. Lick the reed to moisten it with the same pressure as licking a stamp or an envelope. Place the mouthpiece in the center of your mouth, with the exposed section of the reed inside your mouth. Your upper lip should form a seal with the mouth piece which your upper teeth should rest against. Your lower lip should be protecting your lower teeth (or, more accurately, protecting your reed from your teeth!) and gently touching the reed/mouthpiece, but not firmly as the reed must vibrate against the mouthpiece as your air passes between the two. Expel air by "humming" with your facial muscles and vocal chords emulating a you sound.1

Double Reed Woodwinds: Bassoons, Oboes.

These instruments produce noise like a blade of grass you hold between your thumbs and then blow air through, if you had two blades of grass. Assemble your instrument and mouthpiece, moisten both reeds. Place the mouthpiece in the center of your mouth, with less than the entire exposed section of reed inside your mouth. Both the upper and lower lips should be pulled back over the teeth to form a protective barrier against your teeth for your reeds. Expel air by "humming" with your facial muscles and vocal chords emulating one of three different monosyballic sounds: for the bassoon vo, and later tu or du sounds, for the oboe ohm, and later tu or du sounds.2

Air Reed Woodwinds: Flutes, Piccolos, Recorders, Whistles.

These instruments produce noise like a bottle which you blow air across the top of. For flutes and piccolos, the embouchure hole should be centered with your mouth, with the edge of your lower lip covering nearly one-fourth of the hole (rotating the mouthpiece towards and away from your mouth will quickly illustrate where the "sweet spot" is for your mouth). Expel air partly into and partly across the embouchure hole with your facial muscles relaxed and vocal chords emulating a too sound.3 The vibration caused by the edge of the embouchure hole opposite of your lip will generate the standing wave inside the instrument. For recorders and whistles, close your mouth entirely around the mouthpiece and breath out through your mouth normally. The vibration caused by air escaping a small hole between the mouthpiece and the key-holes will generate the standing wave inside the instrument.4

Brass instruments: Trumpets, Tubas, Sousaphones, Trombones.

These instruments produce noise like the angry, frightened elephants of Hannibal fleeing the fires of Carthage. The lips must be moist because it will be the minute vibrations of the lips which generate the standing wave inside the instrument. To begin, try to make a buzz sound. Now, try to do that without moving your lips. Right? The key is to close your mouth completely, and then part your lips ever so slightly. Expel air with your facial muscles relaxed, chin pointed down, and vocal chords emulating a mmm sound.5

All types of wind instruments can be mastered within twenty minutes or so of introduction to the instrument. The key is to have quality embouchure with your instrument's mouthpiece. The number one suggestion for new students to a musical instrument is to use only the mouthpiece at first - to isolate the mouthpiece such to train your mouth and vocal chords how to interact with it - until a steady and controlled sound is produced. Once the "mouthpiece timbre" (oftentimes the sound produced by the mouthpiece alone, while creating a steady note, does not resemble the sound a fully assembled instrument will make) is attained, you can consider yourself on your way to being a practicing musician.



Footnotes
1Banddirector.com, accessed 1/5/2012.
2TheConcerBand.com, accessed 1/5/2012.
3"Essential Elements 2000 - Flute Book 1". Lautzenheiser, Tim et al. Hal Leonard Corporation. 2000.
42012.01.06 at 16:56 Maevwyn says re Embouchure: Actually, on a recorder you don't blow across the mouthpiece like you do on a transverse flute - you enclose the mouthpiece with your lips and blow through it. In a transverse flute, the edge that makes the air vibrate is the edge of the hole opposite your bottom lip, so you have to blow across the hole to get a sound; in a recorder, the edge is a hole cut into the instrument below the mouthpiece.
5BBTrumpet.com, accessed 1/5/2012.

Em`bou`chure" (?), n. [F., fr. emboucher to put to the mouth; pref. em- (L. in) + bouche the mouth. Cf. Embouge, Debouch.]

1.

The mouth of a river; also, the mouth of a cannon.

2. Mus. (a)

The mouthpiece of a wind instrument.

(b)

The shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece; as, a flute player has a good embouchure.

 

© Webster 1913.

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