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MENC: The National Association for Music Education

Electromyographic Analysis of Embouchure Muscle Function in Trumpet Playing

Author(s): Elmer R. White and John V. Basmajian
Source: Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Winter, 1974), pp. 292-304
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of MENC: The National Association for
Music Education
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Elmer R. White
John V. Basmajian

A review of the pedagogical brasswind literature revealed that the varying

and contradictory opinions concerning embouchure function are based
primarily on theory or conjecture. The physical and physiological functions
involved have received very limited attention from researchers. This experi-
mental study investigated the possible effects of register, intensity, and
subjects' proficiency level on electromyographic potentials (a measurement of
muscle activity) from four facial muscles of 18 trumpeters. Electromyograms
were made simultaneously of the muscles of the upper and lower lips and the
levator and depressor of the mouth corner using Basmajian's indwelling,
fine-wire electrodes during 51 trumpet performance tasks. Statistical analyses
of the data revealed several interesting differences between advanced and
beginning trumpeters concerning muscle activity preceding and following
the tone, between upper and lower lips, between in-the-lips and out-cf-the-
lips muscles and during the playing of several musical or technical passages.

Key Words: acoustic, fundamentals, instrumental technique, psychomotor

ability, trumpet

Neuromuscular control of skillful motor performance reaches its

acme in music. One example of this is the delicate control required
of the lip and other facial muscles by brass instrumentalists in the
function of the embouchure, i.e., the technique of controlling the
firmness and vibration of the lips in relationship to each other and
to the mouthpiece. However, little knowledge exists concerning the
function of the facial muscles comprising the brasswind embou-
The pedagogical literature consists of contradictory and highly
controversial theories concerning virtually all of the physical and
physiological functions in brass playing, leading one writer (Weast,
1961) to characterize brass pedagogy as being in a "state of chaos."

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Weast further states that there "... may almost be as many interpreta-
tions of function as there are performers (p. 1)." Opinion surveys by
Bellamah (1960), Richtmeyer (1966), and Trosper (1962) among brass
players and teachers have documented this wide divergence of opinion.
The present study was concerned with the systematic analysis of
experimental evidence (electromyographic potentials) of four selected
facial muscles of subjects during trumpet performance. Electromyography
is a technique for studying live muscle function through the use of
various types of electrodes and associated electronic apparatus that can
detect, measure, and record minute electrical discharges (emg potentials)
produced by muscles during contraction. Pilot studies suggested the use
of bipolar fine-wire electrodes (Basmajian and Stecko, 1962)-surface
electrodes proving to be too indiscriminate in their pickup-and the four
muscles chosen for further study. The muscles studied were: orbicularis
oris superioris and inferioris (OOS and OOI, the upper and lower lip
muscles), levator anguli oris, and depressor anguli oris (LAO and DAO,
the elevator and depressor of the corner of the mouth).
A few of the physical and physiological functions involved in brass
instrument playing have received attention from researchers. Using
various techniques, measurements have been made of intraoral and intra-
thoracic air pressure, arterial pressure, air flow, vital capacity, pulmonary
function, articulation speed, labial mouthpiece pressure, labial vibration,
and labial strength, as well as the functions of the jaw, tongue, throat,
larynx, oropharynx, glottis, oral cavity, palate, and respiratory system
(Amstutz, 1970; Berger, 1965; Bouhuys, 1964; Briggs, 1968; Carter, 1969;
Faulkner, 1965, 1966a, 1966b, 1968; Faulkner and Horvath, 1967a, 1967b;
Faulkner and Sharpey-Schafer, 1959; Hall, 1954; Hanson, 1968; Haynie,
1967; Henderson, 1942; Hiigel, 1967; Leno, 1970; Martin, 1942; Meidt,
1967; Merriman, 1967; Merriman and Meidt, 1968; Nichols, Hanson,
Daehling and Hofman, 1971; Smith, 1970; Weast, 1963; Weast and Hake,
1965). Partly as a result of these investigations, some controversies about
the functions involved in brass instrument playing have been settled;
but many important questions about embouchure function remain
The only facet of embouchure muscle function about which any sub-
stantial amount of agreement can be found concerns the corners of the
mouth. Many brass authorities agree that the mouth corners should be
kept firm; but there is still much disagreement among the so-called
"smile" system, the "pucker" system, and the "puckered-smile" system.
More specifically, various teachers advocate pulling the corners of the
mouth laterally and upward as in smiling, laterally only as in grinning,
laterally and downward as in grimacing, medially as in puckering, and
finally, holding the corners motionless. Some suggest that the chin be
stretched downward, others that it be pushed upward, and still others
that it remain in the natural state of repose. Some state that the lips
themselves should be kept relaxed, concentrating all muscular tension in

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other facial muscles, while others advocate precisely the opposite. Many
well-known brass teachers and performers say that the embouchure in
general should be tensed when ascending into the higher register, while
others, equally renowned, insist that the embouchure be kept as relaxed
as possible at all times. Similar disagreement exists concerning virtually
every aspect of embouchure muscle function.
The anatomical literature provides little help. While all authors agree
on the general location (origins and insertions) of the facial muscles and
give similar accounts of each muscle's general description and function,
there is considerable variation in the accounts of the specific functions
of each muscle. Isley (1971) observed that no anatomist describes the
functions of the facial muscles as they are related to opening or closing
the lips or to thinning or thickening the lips. Little more is known today
about the normal function and kinesiology of the muscles of facial
expression than has been known for a century-knowledge gained through
the dissection of cadavers and simple outward observation. Thus, electro-
myography (emg) has the potential for revealing the live functions of the
facial muscles as it has for many other parts of the body (Basmajian,
1972). For example, several emg studies of the muscles of mastication have
been conducted (reviewed by Basmajian, 1967). Although the position
and movement of the jaw are of considerable importance to the overall
function of the brasswind embouchure, they are not of primary interest
to the present study.
The facial muscles have been almost ignored by electromyographers.
DeSousa and Vitti (1965) in an emg study of the buccinator (cheek)
muscle using needle electrodes observed that the muscle was constantly
active during lateral retraction of the angle (corner) of the mouth (as in
smiling) and during compression of the mouth, but was inactive during
distension of the cheeks with air, blowing, or whistling. They concluded
that the activity observed during blowing of a tube or cornet mouthpiece,
swallowing, sucking, and masticating must be related to the compression
of the lips or to activity of the mouth angle, but not to the compression of
the cheeks as was previously believed. Blanton et al. (1970) using fine-wire
electrodes, confirmed some of these findings and refined others. The
buccinator was consistently quite active during mastication, sucking,
blowing with the cheeks taut, pulling the lips against the teeth, and
pulling the commissures of the lips laterally. During swallowing and
blowing with the cheeks relaxed, the activity decreased.
Lubker and Parris (1970) simultaneously measured intraoral air
pressure, labial contact pressure, and labial emg activity (surface elec-
trodes) during the production of the English bilabial stops /p/ and
/b/. They concluded that the lip muscles appear to function only to
achieve closure, with considerable between-subject variability. It should
be noted, however, that this reported variability is based on data
derived from surface electrodes that yield only gross indiscriminate
information about the small and intricately interlaced facial muscles.

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Leanderson et al. (1967, 1970), using needle electrodes, studied the

coordination of various facial muscles in and around the lips during the
performance of speech gestures. The closing movement of the lips
elicited activity in the depressor anguli oris (depressor of the mouth
angle) and the mentalis (chin muscle) while the separation of the lips
elicited activity in the depressor labii inferioris (lower lip depressor).
They concluded that muscle function during speech consists partly of
basic tonus, called "speech posture," and partly of manipulatory activity.

The Problem

The primary purpose of the present study was to determine the effects
of register, intensity, and subjects' proficiency level on embouchure
muscle activity (emg potentials) in four selected facial muscles. More
specifically, the investigation sought to answer the following questions:

1. Does register or intensity affect embouchure muscle activity?

2. The theory of Farkas (1962) that the lips function in a "tug-of-
war" with the other facial muscles, and the seemingly conflicting theories
of Stevens (1971), Severinson (n.d.), and others, that embouchure muscle
tension should be concentrated in facial muscles outside the lips, led to
the following question: Do advanced and beginning trumpeters differ in
the level of muscle activity in-the-lips (OOS and OOI) to out-of-the-lips
(LAO and DAO)?
3. Because of the widely held belief that the upper lip is the prime
vibrator (single reed theory) and the somewhat conflicting findings in
studies of brass players' lip vibration by Martin (1942), Henderson (1942),
Weast (1963), and Leno (1970), and, the theory of Stevens (1971) that
embouchure muscle tension should be concentrated in the lower portion
of the face, the question was asked: Do advanced and beginning trum-
peters differ in the ratio of muscle activity in the upper lip (OOS) to the
lower lip (OOI)?
4. The widely held belief that the brass embouchure musculature
should remain as motionless as possible suggested the following question:
Do advanced and beginning trumpeters differ in the range of variation in
embouchure muscle activity during trumpet performance?
5. Because of Stevens' (1971) theory that the depressor anguli oris
(DAO) is the primary muscle for establishing the embouchure-set, and
that this muscle should be tensed first to attain the proper leverage in the
embouchure musculature, the question was asked: Does the duration of
muscle activity in the DAO differ from that of the other facial muscles,
and does this duration differ between advanced and beginning trum-
6. The theory that advanced trumpeters learn through training to
make accurate attacks and releases of the tone through the precise
preparation and follow-through of the embouchure-set, suggested the

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question: Do advanced and beginning trumpeters differ in the duration

or magnitude of embouchure muscle activity before the tone or following
the tone?


Eighteen volunteer trumpet players served as subjects for the tests.

A wide range of proficiency levels was represented from professionals to
junior high school students with less than one year of playing experience.
The subjects were rank-ordered according to (1) number of years of
private study, (2) years played, and (3) age. Then they were divided into
two groups for statistical analyses: the advanced group consisting of
subjects ranked 1 through 9 and the beginning group consisting of sub-
jects ranked 10 through 18.
The study was limited to the investigation of the four facial muscles
earlier found to be the most critical to the trumpet embouchure. Pilot
studies also indicated that bilateral symmetry was the rule in normal
trumpet performance (no subject placed the mouthpiece considerably
off-center, nor had a conspicuously asymmetrical embouchure); therefore,
emg potentials were recorded only from the left side of each subject's
face. The lip muscle itself (OOS and OOI) is obviously the most intri-
cately involved muscle in the trumpet embouchure. Not only is the
mouthpiece rim placed directly upon part of this sphincter muscle, but a
portion of the muscle acts as the vibrating agent. Also, Isley and
Basmajian (1970-71) found that activity in the upper and lower portions
of the muscle were not necessarily synchronous during brass instrument
performance; therefore, emg potentials from each lip were recorded
Several factors influenced the choice of the other two facial muscles.
Leanderson et al. (1967, 1970) reported that DAO was involved in lip
manipulatory activity during speech, assisted in the closing of the lips,
and possibly inhibited lip separation. Also, Isley and Basmajian (1970-
1971) found that DAO and LAO are two of the most active of the facial
muscles during brass instrument performance and that clear and quanti-
fiable emg recordings of this activity can be made.
Simultaneous emg potentials of these four facial muscles were recorded
from indwelling, fine-wire, bipolar electrodes as described by Basmajian
(1967). The signals derived from those electrodes were channeled into a
multichannel electromyograph with a frequency response of 10 to 1,000
Hz. This apparatus included a multichannel cathode-ray oscilloscope
for visual monitoring, an H-P FM tape recorder (Model # 3955A)
especially designed for recording emg input, and a continuous-strip
photographic recorder to produce the electromyograms for future study
and measurements. Seven-channel recordings were made. Emg potentials
of the four muscles were recorded on channels one through four. Channel
five was used to record an electrical pulse or mark for synchronization of

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White-Basmaj ia n/297

final records. Channel six recorded the trumpet sound, and the last
channel recorded the voice of the investigator.
The intensity level of the trumpet tones was measured and controlled
using a decibel meter mounted inside a specially designed partial
anechoic chamber to control the variable of room acoustics. To assist in
later data analyses an additional monaural audiotape recording, an
videotape recording were also made of all test procedures. All subjects
were exposed to the same controlled environment, technique, instrumen
tation, and procedures. While performing on the trumpet subjects wer
seated in a padded reclining chair adjusted to an upright position.
Each subject was allowed five minutes to warm up, to tune up to a
electrically generated tone, and to become familiar with the use of the
sound level meter. Familiarization consisted of simply playing a tone and
gradually getting louder or softer until the meter reading reached the
desired level. Each subject used his own trumpet and mouthpiece.
Electrodes were inserted with a 27-gauge needle into: orbiculari
oris superioris (OOS) and orbicularis oris inferioris (OOI) about tw
centimeters from the midline, through the mucosa, at the level of the
vermilion border; levator anguli oris (LAO), through the mucosa, into
the belly of the muscle; depressor anguli oris (DAO), through the skin,
about two centimeters below the angle of the mouth, into the belly of
the muscle. This is usually a relatively painless procedure and becaus
of the extreme fineness of the hair-thin wires that were left in place,
the subjects did not report performance difficulties nor discomfort.
A series of 51 test items were recorded. These were chosen to include
a wide variety of techniques of trumpet playing including extremes of
dynamic and pitch range. Preliminary tests revealed that the dynamic
range from 85 to 105 decibels approached the limits of what is possible
on the trumpet as well as a negligible order effect for the isolated tones
on the measured variables; therefore, convenience dictated the presenta-
tion order of the 51 items. Performance items included sustained tones
from G3 to C6 (and higher for the more advanced subjects) each at
three intensities: 85, 95, and 105 dbs.; long tone crescendi-descrescendi;
two-note lip slurs: C5 to G4, C5 to E5, and E5 to G5, each at several
speeds; short-spaced repeated tones at several speeds on C5; and the
two-octave C major scale, arpeggio, and chromatic scale, all three both
slurred and tongued. For statistical analyses the sustained tones G3 and
C4 were designated as the low register, G5 and C6 as the high register,
85 db. as low intensity, and 105 db. as high intensity.
The responses of each of the 18 subjects to the 51 experimental test
items were quantified, reliability levels computed, and criterion measures
for the statistical tests determined. A visual analysis of the recordings
was made of the 51 test items on each channel of the electromyograms,
with repeated attention to the acoustic recordings. Emg activity was
quantified according to Basmajian's (1967) four-integer systems as follows:
0 = nil, 1 = slight, 2 = moderate, and 3 = marked (maximum).

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One vertical timing line each 2.5 cm. (one second) on the electro-
myograms made possible the analysis of timing and synchronization of
emg potentials between muscles and between emg potentials and the
trumpet tone, including the attack and release of the tone.
Since the choice of nonparametric tests was dictated by the non-
normal distribution of the data, any possible questions concerning the
measurement level (ordinal, interval, or ratio) of the emg data became
academic. The measures used in the present study meet or exceed the
measurement level requirements of the nonparametric statistical tests
used. When testing for differences between related scores, that is, com-
paring two measures on the same subject, the Wilcoxon matched-pairs,
signed-ranks test was used; and, for comparisons between independent
scores, i.e., measurements made on two different groups of subjects, the
Mann-Whitney U test was used, as recommended by Siegel (1956). Siegel
claims a power-efficiency for both of these tests of 95 percent or more
when compared with the t test. Whitney (1948) shows certain distribu-
tions for which the U test is more powerful than parametric alternatives.
The criterion measure in all cases was each subject's mean score on
the dependent variable computed across one or more independent or
assigned variables. For example, the criterion measure for determining
differences between registers was each subject's mean score on two tones
at three intensities, that is, the mean of 24 measures (2 tones x 3 inten-
sities x 4 muscles) for each register.


1. Emg activity is greater in the high register than in the low register
(p < .005), and is greater at high intensity than at low intensity (p < .005).
Register affects emg potentials more than intensity (p < .005).
2. Advanced trumpeters have greater emg activity out-of-the-lips (LAO
and DAO) than in-the-lips (OOS and OOI) (p < .025), while beginning
trumpeters show no difference.
3. Beginning trumpeters have greater emg activity in the upper lip
(OOS) than the lower (OOI) (p < .005) while advanced players show no
4. Advanced trumpeters have a smaller range of emg potential varia-
tion than beginners during small-interval lip slurs (p < .025), during
short-spaced repeated tones (p < .05), and between slurred and tongued
arpeggios (p < .05). No differential effect of subject proficiency level
was discovered on the range of emg activity variation between high and
low registers or intensities.
5. No difference was observed between the duration of emg potentials
before the tone attack in the DAO and the other muscles studied, nor did
proficiency level have a differential effect on duration of emg potentials
in the DAO before the attack.
6. Advanced players show less difference than beginners in magnitude

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of emg potentials between the preparation for attack (one-half second)

and during the tone (p < .025). No differential effect of proficiency level
was discovered on (a) emg activity duration before the tone, (b) emg
activity duration following the tone, and (c) difference in magnitude of
emg activity following the tone release and during the tone.
7. Relationships between experimental variables not accomplished
in the tests of hypotheses were examined by computing the Spearman
rank correlation coefficient, rs statistic. Siegel (1956) states that the
power efficiency of this statistic is about 91 percent, compared to the most
powerful parametric correlation, the Pearson r. No significant correla-
tions were discovered.


The finding that both register and intensity positively affect th

embouchure's muscle activity supports the conventional wisdom rather
than the suggestion sometimes found in the brass pedagogical literatur
that there is, or should be, unchanging muscular tension levels in a
registers and at all intensities. Also, the finding that register has
greater effect than intensity on embouchure muscle activity supports
prevailing opinion.
The finding that advanced trumpeters have more activity in the
muscles surrounding the lips than those in the lips, while less advanced
trumpeters show no difference, bears upon various controversial theorie
concerning the function of the embouchure musculature. The widel
accepted theory of Farkas (1962), usually referred to as the drawstring or
tug-of-war theory, proposes that the lip muscles are pitted against all th
other facial muscles in the correct embouchure formation. If indeed this
were true (for about 10 pairs of muscles in all), then considerable emg
activity would be expected in the lip muscles themselves. However, there
is less activity in the lip muscles (OOS and OOI) of advanced trumpeter
than in only two of their out-of-the-lip muscles (LAO and DAO). Due t
the relatively greater size and strength of these muscles outside the lips
the lesser activity in the lips precludes a tug-of-war. The data support th
theory of Stevens (1971), Severinson (n.d.), and others that muscle activity
should be concentrated in muscles outside the lips.
The finding that beginning trumpeters have more muscle activity in
the upper lip than the lower lip supports the findings of anatomists and
the electromyographic findings of Isley and Basmajian (1970-71) tha
although the lip muscles can be considered anatomically as a single unit
(a sphincter muscle surrounding the oral orifice), functionally the lips
must be considered as two separate muscles. While the data do not show
that advanced trumpeters have less muscle activity in the upper lip than
the lower, they do show a smaller ratio of upper to lower lip activity
than beginning trumpeters. This finding suggests that beginners should
either concentrate more activity in the lower lip or less activity in the

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upper lip, or both; but the present data do not disclose which of these
possibilities caused the difference between groups. Some limited support
is given to the theory of Stevens (1971) who states that students should
attempt to concentrate more muscle activity in the lower lip. Whether or
not this relatively lesser amount of muscle activity in the upper lip
actually contributes to freer or greater vibration of this lip, and whether
or not this relatively lesser activity would support the belief that the
upper lip is the prime vibrator-as concluded by Martin (1942), Hender-
son (1942), and Weast (1963)-are not specifically determined by the
present findings; but the present data seem to lend some support to
these theories.
The widely accepted belief among brass instrument performers and
teachers that the embouchure should remain as motionless as possible
during performance finds some support. Although no difference between
advanced and beginning players was found as to the range of variation of
muscle activity between extreme registers or intensities, differences occur
between groups during several of the technical passages performed. Also,
it should be noted that muscle activity does not necessarily imply
motion-it is quite possible for muscle activity to be present without
motion, e.g., when two muscles are acting as antagonists or isometrically.
Advanced trumpeters vary their muscle activity in the embouchure
less than beginning trumpeters during the performance of small-interval
lip slurs. When variations occur, they consist of an increase in muscle
activity during the playing of the higher tone and a return to less activity
during the lower tone. The number and amount of variations among
advanced players is very small indeed, leading to the conclusion that
these trumpeters manipulate some other variable, such as mouthpiece
pressure or its distribution on each lip, air pressure, air flow, teeth
opening, tongue position, or, quite improbably, variation in activity of
facial muscles other than those studied in the present investigation.
Because advanced players, to a greater extent than beginners, perform
tongued arpeggios with a pattern of muscle activity like that used during
slurred arpeggios, support is given to the pedagogical procedure of
practicing a passage slurred, then attempting to maintain the same
physiological sensations while tonguing the passage. Also, advanced
trumpeters maintain a more constant embouchure-set during short-
spaced repeated tones than do beginners. The data, therefore, support the
theory that the embouchure should remain relatively motionless during
performance; for while a lack of motion does not necessarily imply lack
of muscle activity, little or no variation of muscle activity does mean
that little or no motion can occur.
The similarity between advanced and beginning trumpeters in regard
to (a) duration of activity in DAO before the tone attack, and (b) the
relative duration of pretone activity between DAO and the other muscles
studied fails to support the theory of Stevens (1971) that DAO is the
primary muscle for establishing the proper leverage in the embouchure

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musculature and should be tensed first in preparing the embouchure-set.

Further investigation into the interrelationship of muscle activity prepara-
tion time between DAO and several other out-of-the-lip muscles is
Although no difference between advanced and beginning players was
found on the duration of pretone embouchure muscle activity, players'
proficiency level does affect pretone magnitude of activity. The peda-
gogical implication of this finding regarding what to teach is clear,
although the question of how this might be taught is not answered. It
remains a matter for theoretical consideration and subsequent research
as to what method would be most effective for training the student to
prepare the embouchure muscle activity at the same level as that to be
used during the tone.
The finding that all embouchure muscle activity stops abruptly, com-
pletely, and precisely with the tone release was unexpected, based on
the theoretical pedagogical literature. Why this abrupt cessation of
muscle activity occurs can only be surmised. X-ray photographic studies
by Carter (1966), Hanson (1968), and Nichols et al. (1971) have shown
that with advanced players the area of the larynx or glottis closes com-
pletely and abruptly with the cessation of the tone. Therefore, those
investigators concluded that this area of the throat acts as a valve-like
mechanism for controlling and stopping the air pressure used in brass
instrument tone production. (Some trumpeters, especially jazz or popular
performers, report that they use the tongue as the valve-like mechanism
for stopping the tone). Stevens (1971) believes that the embouchure
muscles should be allowed to react to air pressure changes and therefore
air pressure is, or should be, the gauge or barometer for muscle tension
changes in the embouchure. This theory in conjunction with the X-ray
findings would seem to explain the abrupt cessation of muscle activity
found in the present study. If air pressure is indeed the gauge for
embouchure muscle activity, then, when the air pressure is abruptly
stopped either by the closing of the larynx or the tongue, the embouchure
muscle activity would also cease reflexly.'


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IThis article is based on the first author's doctoral dissertation, Electromyographic

Potentials of Selected Facial Muscles and Labial Mouthpiece Pressure Measurements
in the Embouchure of Trumpet Players (Columbia University, 1972).

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* Appalachian State University

Boone, North Carolina

Emory University
Atlanta, Georgia

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