Embouchure specialist?

In 2012, aware of the limitations of traditional teaching methods, Rich Colquhoun began to study current and historical methods of embouchure development. Although he was a working professional instrumentalist and teacher, Rich saw the potential of evolving his understanding of trumpet playing and affected a change to a vastly improved embouchure system. Since mid-2017 Rich has begun teaching lessons specifically targeted at improving the playing capabilities of existing brass musicians. He has helped as many working professional players as enthusiastic hobbyists in this endeavour.

Embouchure… what’s all the fuss about?

Many brass players believe that we all have natural limitations – that we can all reach a basic standard but only a rare few are gifted with massive stamina, a strong high register, or a powerful sound that is actually pleasing to listen to. Even many talented players with the abilities listed here believe that they play in the same way as everybody else, although it is clearly not true.

The subject of embouchure in the brass teaching community is often a one of contention. There are plenty of horror stories about teachers insisting that a pupil change their embouchure to match theirs. For a rare few, things will turn out for the better but often it will result in the pupil struggling and giving up. The reason that teaching somebody to copy your embouchure doesn’t work is that we are all different. There are as many brass embouchures as there are brass players. The correct approach is understanding how the embouchure should function and how to train it to work efficiently.

Historically there have been a few well-known embouchure specialists such as Doc Reinhardt, Roy Stevens, Jerome Callet or Clint McLaughlin; but the majority of brass teachers shy away from, or even actively discourage, learning about this topic through fear of “paralysis by analysis”. The truth is that ignoring basic problems with the embouchure will never result in fixing them. Problems can be masked well by working on other aspects of technique such as breathing but ultimately there will always be a limit to tone, range, power and stamina caused by playing on a faulty setup.

What should I expect from lessons?

Changing the way that you play your instrument takes time. We all have habits and the idea of “breaking” them is a bit of a misnomer. Instead we need to overwrite old habits with better ones. There are things that you can change about your approach to playing that have an immediate effect and these are usually discussed and insisted upon first. However the real benefit comes longer term from focusing on playing a range of exercises that are designed to help a player use their embouchure in the most efficient way.

Defining terms like efficiency (putting less in and getting more out) and thinking about defining the correct brass sound are key to adjusting your intentions as a player. Sometimes just having a decent model of how moving the lips affects what comes out of the instrument is enough to give players a boost to their abilities.

Pupils are supplied with the materials needed for learning and when beneficial a detailed lesson summary is provided via email. As well as planned lessons, Rich is available to chat on the phone for clarification or just discussing ideas. There is also a subscription service that many of Rich’s current embouchure pupils use to share experiences. Part of this service includes video responses to questions and short articles explaining the ideas to help with development.