My Chops Are Sore After Every Gig

If your lips feel sore or tired the next day then you bruised them and there is some swelling present. That kind of soreness can only come for excessive mouthpiece pressure. What is normal and acceptable mouthpiece pressure for compressed lips (cushioned) is too much for flattened chops. You would be amazed at how many players set their chops and then unset (thin the lips and spread the embouchure) as they take a breath. This is the case in 75% of the cases that you described.

No amount of lip pushups will cure this. Isometrics are only taught by to people who have a viable embouchure. For people who need some embouchure help (fine tuning) the embouchure must be fixed before the gross muscle building program begins.

Remember holding a pencil between your lips is not the same as playing. One is for gross muscle building while the other requires a great deal of finesse training.

I would say that if you bruise your lips on a daily basis then the setting is spread. You can only play when mouthpiece pressure flattens them enough so that they are touching. Also I’ve seen many players start a session right and distort the lips as they breathe. I would advise you to learn to buzz just your lips. Mendez made all new students buzz their lips 30 days. After 30 days they got a mouthpiece. After another 30 days they played the trumpet. Buzzing the lips uses all of the playing muscles at once unlike other isometrics. Buzzing the lips uses the entire length of the lips. The mouthpiece divides it and prevents over half from buzzing.

The other 25% has bad days because they LEARNED to RELY on the swelling to FORM the embouchure. This is different in that they tend to learn a setup. If I play this long then tomorrow will be good. There is a window of work because a certain amount of swelling is needed to play. They usually have a lip flap or mouthpiece ring that they need to keep pumped in order to play. A really hard day hurts their playing for a couple of days. However a couple of days off and they are at a loss to play also.

Let me assure you that a properly trained and formed embouchure requires NO set routine. It is nice to have a warmup but you should be able to play with no ill effects without one. Also taking a day or two off should only affect your sound for a couple of minutes at your next playing session. And playing a really hard day should be taken care of by a warm down that day. The next day should not suffer at all.

Work for a close embouchure setting. Set your lips close together, breathe through your nose (only for this example) and buzz them. After a couple of minutes of this sneak the horn up into playing position while you are buzzing. You should have a very full sound with no air. You will also need less mouthpiece pressure. I like to advise some buzzing 15 minutes any day that you don’t practice. While it is true that hours of buzzing will stiffen the lips 15 minutes will not. BTW hours of isometrics will stiffen them also but with fewer tone building benefits.

What working on range is NOT.

Let’s look at how you developed your range. From low c to g on the staff you played scales, etudes, songs, ect. From high c to super c you played arpeggios holding the top note.

So your lower register was developed by making music and it IS musical. While the upper register was ‘developed’ by making noise and it is NOT musical. I hope that my point is clear.

Arpeggios are only for power. To make music you must play music.

Maynard Ferguson developed his range by playing the Arban book an octave up. Jacoby had me use the Williams book. It’s the same idea.

To be reliable you have to play music. You have to work on tonguing, lip trills, vibrato, phrasing, you know total music. That’s what makes Maynard Ferguson, or Bill Chase different. They played musically.

So you say that you have tried all of this yet still the notes don’t come out. Then you are not letting the sound out. There are several ways that this can happen. Too much lip compression will roll the lips in so far that the air can NOT come out. Too much pressure on your top lip can pin it and again hold in the sound. Finally Too much lip curl will prevent the notes from coming out.

Let me expand on playing musically in the upper register. I’ve known players who developed range by arpeggios only. It works to a point. They worked on it as weight training. The problem was that they increased the stiffness in their lips to a point where they lost flexibility. This approach also easily leads to requiring an embouchure shift. Think about it. As you play your 1 octave arpeggio or scale the starting note gets higher and higher. You take a breath and play the next series. You take another breath …. There is an almost overwhelming desire to make subtle changes on each breath.

Here is a test start on high c and play an arpeggio up then play it down to low c. Was it slow to respond or of a poor tone quality? Then you are playing with an embouchure shift. There are some ways to avoid this. Always set your chops for a g on top of the staff. It is only an octave to high g and only an octave and a half to low c. When you do practice arpeggios or scales up for range always play them back down to low c or below on the same breath. This will help you to learn to play all registers with one embouchure.

The reason to play simple songs one or two octaves up is to learn to play musically. Even if it is Mary had a little lamb there IS phrasing. Play old Jr. High or HS solos an octave up. Tired of your Concone studies play them up an octave. That’s a real workout. Work on tonguing drills in the upper register. A range to 2 octaves over high c is no good if you are NOT in CONTROL all of the time with a good tone.

Working past a bad day. A bad day is mental part of the time and the other times it is due to strain a day or two before. They are both cured the same way. Play a second line g over and over until it sounds good. Then play a simple melody. Mary had a little lamb would do. Play this over until the tone phrasing and tonguing are right. Play a c scale tongue each note 4 times. Do the scale until it is right.

Why so simple a workout over and over. Because IT IS MENTAL. Use your head to think about playing without worrying about notes. As ‘Jake’ used to say ‘Where’s your head?’


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