Just like its spelling, the concept, and acquisition of embouchure is a bit tricky. Simply put, embouchure refers to the way in which a musician uses his or her mouth to play a brass or wind instrument. Sounds easy enough—you just blow air into the instrument, right? Nope. Think again. In practice, embouchure is much more difficult.
Beginner musicians can spend months, developing an embouchure. That’s because it involves not only precise calculation and manipulation of one’s facial muscles, lips, tongues, teeth and breathing, but also habitual strengthening, training, and setting of all those muscles. To merely produce a steady sound on the oboe—which is the instrument with the most difficult embouchure—can take three months or longer.
Even when a musician isn’t actively playing, it’s recommended that he or she flex the key muscles in short bursts to build up that habitual muscle memory. Some oboists practice with exercises, and even by holding a pencil in their mouth. Talk about dedication to your art!
Why, though, is embouchure so gosh darn important? Well, embouchure determines whether an instrument plays in tune, at its full range, and with a clear tone. It’s a very exact process that can result in your instrument making either a beautiful crooning, like a warbler’s song, or a horrid honking, like a dying goose.
With woodwinds, if you put the mouthpiece too far into your mouth, there will be too much vibration and not enough control. On the flip side, if the mouthpiece is not far enough into the mouth, no sound will be generated at all because the reed will not vibrate. With a brass instrument, the sound is produced when a player buzzes their lips into the mouthpiece. Muscular contraction and lip formation also play a role in changing the pitch of a brass instrument.
Now that you’re more familiar with embouchure, you might be more in awe of jazz musicians, and more appreciative of the countless songs that include woodwinds and brass. As you listen to the following tunes, think about all the diligence, time, and patience that these musicians put into developing their excellent embouchures!
Gerry and The Pacemakers – Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying
Since the oboe has the most difficult embouchure, we wanted to find a popular song that includes the underrated, double reed instrument. Listen carefully to this 1964 tune to see if you can spot the clear, bright, and robust sound of the oboe (I’ll give you a hint—it shows up early on)!
Lorca Hart Trio – Discoveries
This 2020 tune opens with the talented Ralph Moore on the tenor saxophone. As you listen, think about his embouchure. A good saxophone embouchure requires the lower lip to rest against, but not over, the teeth—like when pronouncing the letter “V’—and the corners of the lips must be drawn in.
If you’re looking for more jazz songs that include woodwinds and brass, check out the albums in our store, and on all major music platforms!