Fleshy-lipped players can have an incredibly tricky time with the trumpet because our lips are relatively large, while trumpet mouthpieces are relatively small. Many successful fleshy-lipped trumpet players worldwide play at the highest level in all music styles. However, many aspiring fleshy-lipped players struggle to progress beyond a certain point in their technical development, finding their musical ambitions inhibited without ever really understanding why. Those who have had or are having such an experience (or have students who struggle to progress) will find the following advice reassuring, as the solution to a fleshy-lipped player’s struggles may be found in a simple change of mouthpiece.
The Right Mouthpiece for Fleshy Lips
I have observed several curious young trumpet players over the years broach the question of mouthpiece compatibility with their teachers, at masterclasses, or music camp, only to be met with the conventional wisdom that “great players sound good on any mouthpiece”; or the (absolutely correct) advice that the key to correct mouthpiece selection is to play on something “efficient.” The instructors in question then inevitably went on to name a few examples of “efficient” mouthpieces, listing widely-distributed models that fit players with relatively thin or highly-compressible lips. Those mouthpieces undoubtedly work efficiently for them, but the “efficiency” of a mouthpiece varies with each player’s physical attributes. Lip shape is a critical factor, and fleshy-lipped players must be sure that their mouthpieces fully accommodate their lips. A mouthpiece that impedes a player’s lip vibration is not efficient for that player.
You can begin assessing whether your mouthpiece matches your lips by looking for a few symptoms that commonly affect fleshy-lipped players. One clear sign of trouble is if you see that your mouthpiece rim leaves an impression on the “red” or softer part of your upper or lower lip. You want that soft part of your lips to be indisputably free inside the mouthpiece rim. Otherwise, you are compromising your ability to resonate and risking permanent injury to your lips. Other signs that your fleshy lips require a different mouthpiece are:
- They often feel pinched by excessive mouthpiece pressure.
- They often seem to want to slip out of the mouthpiece.
- You have tension in your cheeks and your jaw or a slow and imprecise tongue.
- You split a lot of notes even though you practice accuracy drills obsessively.
- You’ve hit a stubborn, incomprehensible wall in your development as a musician and also happen to have fleshy lips.
If any of these things are happening to you, you likely are not maximizing your abilities or enjoyment with the trumpet. If the mouthpiece is the problem, you can breathe a sigh of relief because better times will be ahead once you make a simple technical adjustment.
Whether you’re directly struggling with the phenomena described above or have a student who might be, or you are interested in the topic, I highly recommend reading and watching Phyllis Stork’s articles and videos on lip types, lip shapes, rim shapes, and inner diameter in the “Dr. Mouthpiece” series on Stork Custom Mouthpieces’ website. Mrs. Stork wrote the book on mouthpiece anatomy; her “Dr. Mouthpiece” article about lip types will help you identify where you fit on the spectrum and what might be your individual needs. If you can have a video consultation with Mrs. Stork, that would be even more effective for identifying what you need. My path to greater success and satisfaction with the trumpet began with such a consultation; it’s fair to say that it changed my life for the better.
Once you’ve identified the right inner diameter for your lips, it might be helpful to see what results you get from different rim bites and contours. There are reasons for the abundance of different rim designs on the market: how the lips vibrate differs for each player, and players experience varying comfort levels on any given rim. I’m aware that some fleshy-lipped players have benefitted from adopting a flatter rim or a softer rim bite, for example. My physique and musical intentions led me to settle on a rather sharp rim that might or might not work for someone else. Well-informed experimentation may help you get closer to that ideal of efficiency that will enable you to forget about the mouthpiece altogether and focus on the music.
You Have the Right Mouthpiece
So once you have the right mouthpiece… Then what?
Suppose you can fit your lips wholly and comfortably into your mouthpiece. In that case, the rest should be pretty straightforward: follow the principles of effective trumpet technique that any well-informed teacher will be imparting to you—you also can receive great advice from the video lessons available to subscribers here on Trumpet Magazine; practice the way you always have known that you should, and try to get your mind focused on musical qualities sooner rather than later. If you have suffered from some of the symptoms described above, you are accustomed to working harder than you need to get results on the trumpet. Transitioning from playing with an ineffective setup into playing with an effective one is mostly a process of understanding how easy playing the trumpet is.
So once you’re sure that your lips fit appropriately in the mouthpiece and you’re consistently practicing optimal embouchure mechanics, make sure that you remember why you went to all of this trouble! The end game is to be able to play everything that you’ve always wanted to and beyond, unimpeded by physical limitations.