This issue of Dr. Mouthpiece deals with qualifying lip type and size. Many readers admit not having any real understanding or true way of knowing what is meant when I have outlined the basic groups of thick lipped vs. thin lipped players. When  doing a consultation, generally the first question I ask is: Are your lips thin, average or fleshy? Most often, the puzzled response is: I really don’t know! Followed fairly quickly by quizzes to wives and /or girlfriends (women usually have a better sense of where they fall with this) until a consensus can be reached.

I consider basic lip structure to be the most critical element in properly fitting a player. The size and type of lip a player has absolutely decides which inner diameter they should be using. Choosing the correct inner diameter is where proper mouthpiece selection starts. Nevertheless, not a week goes by where someone, somewhere will make a desperate inquiry concerning which lip type they possess. I also receive pictures, plotted graphs and detailed mechanical drawings of lips in the pursuit of a resolution to this great issue. The problem with this approach is that it’s not really just one particular criteria that can be counted on to reveal  all. If it were as simple as just measuring some physical parameter, the myths and mysteries that surround the whole issue could have been put to rest a long time ago. Rather, it is more of an amalgam of criteria that must decide.

The collection of pictures that follow attempt to help players get some idea of where they fit into the ‘great chain’ of lip types. Not through measurements, but through comparisons which cover three major groupings.

Lip Width – Which is meant to imply how much inner membrane is present… the classic lip look. Basically going from very little inner membrane like this: 

to something more substantial like this: 

Degree of Fleshiness – A make or break aspect in deciding proper inner diameter! It’s not just how much red shows, but rather how much flesh there is front to back (inside to outside).
Lip Structure – In which we’ll look at some lip patterns that are potentially problematic for a brass player and the reasons why.
One issue that we will not be visiting here is teeth formation and dental occlusions. We will, for the most part, be narrowing our scope to the 3 categories above and how they affect inner diameter selection. However, I will say that I have personally witnessed players with the most severe dental issues, in terms of teeth sticking out at wild angles, play with the greatest of ease. I was lucky enough to learn the phrase from one such player, “If you can feel your teeth, you’re using too much pressure.” Consequently, it has been my experience over the years that most dental concerns can be ameliorated by establishing the right “balance of resistance” for a given player. Briefly, if the internal volume of the mouthpiece / equipment set-up is too great for a given player, he will be blowing harder than he should to try to create velocity. The harder any player has to blow, the greater the odds of having to use pressure to maintain the aperture. Adjusting this balance and educating a player on how to manipulate the air in an efficient manner has been a time tested solution for individuals with this type of problem.

Click on the tabs below:

Lip types:  This page of the gallery features an assortment of lips types ranging from the very thin through to average and on to the very fleshy.

Fleshiness: This page looks at players with thin to average lips with a more qualitative eye, drawing distinctions among the groups with special attention to comparing degrees of fleshiness and how they would affect inner diameter selection.

Problematic Lips: Devoted to the more problematic lip types this page includes a discussion of the drawbacks inherent in each.

The overall objective here is to add a level, perhaps two, of sophistication to the overall understanding of how to categorize these lip types. If there are players out there who are finally able to interpret themselves as being, for example, in the thin lip category, but who are still struggling along on an inner diameter that is way too large for them, or conversely, those with very fleshy lips who are trying to play on something too small, life can be a whole lot happier for you if you make the appropriate corrections. The happiness factor is in direct proportion to how far from the proper inner diameter you’re using now. For the very fleshy lipped player who is still trying to play the Bach 7C given to him in school, your wildest dreams can come true! Well, maybe not all; but believe me, playing a brass instrument can be much more rewarding than it is for you right now.

In closing, I would also point out that it is certainly true that trumpet players as well as French horn players are seemingly plagued a great deal more by issues related to inner diameter size than are the larger brass instruments. For this reason, I have confined inner diameter recommendations to the range of these instruments only. However, the same principles apply to these instruments as they do to the larger brasses in that players with lesser lips would do well to stay with inner diameter sizes that are on the smaller side. It also must be said that overall internal volume and the amount of which a player can sustain is not only a function of lung capacity, but also of lip fleshiness and muscularity, but again, in depth discussions must wait for another day.

Photothin lipsthin side of average lips
DescriptionUltra thin top lip - No red and no fleshiness eitherThin bottom and top lips, very little fleshinessThin top lip - no red showing but fleshier than previousThin side of average
Thin sideof fleshy - even though the bottom lip is full, the top is very thin...and short!
These are fairly average lips, in general the bottom lip is fuller than the top... this is standard
Rim recommendedRecommended ID: 15.25mm or lessRecommended ID: 16mm and lessRecommended ID: 15.25 - 16mmRecommended ID: 16 - 16.5mmRecommended ID: 16.25 mm
DescriptionThese lips are fairly unusual in that they have barley any inner red showing, but they are very fleshy front to backFleshy side of average. Note the "V" shape of the top lip. This lip can be compressed easily.Fleshy side of average, not a lot of inner red showing. Again the shape of the top lip allows it to be compressed quite a bit.Even though these lips can appear to be faily average, the amount of fleshiness present front to back bumps them into the a larger ID size.

Decideedly fleshy lips. A good deal of inner red showing and lots of fleshiness.

Ultra fleshy - These lips belong to a very successful player who has the ability to compress them down to nothing! Well, almost...

Note the formation of the top lip! Even though these lips are fleshy they are efficiently drawn in.
Rim recommendedRecommended ID: 16.5mm This is an interesting case. As a very successful commercial artist, this player does play on the ID listed above. However, if he had been a classical player, he almost certainly would have played on something between 17 - 17.5mm.Recommended ID: 17.25

Recommended ID: 17.25 - 17.5mm

Recommended ID: 17mm to 17.5mm. These lips need to be free to vibrate!Recommended ID: 17.5 - 18mm
Photothin side of average lips
Descriptionthin / average thickness

average / thin - You can clearly see here how there is significantly less fleshiness to this top lip, even though the bottom is full.

average / thin top lip is thin in every way

average/ thin top lip shows little inner membrane and has less than average thickness

average/ fleshier top lip has medium thickness, full bottom lip

Average - thin top lip

Rim recommendedRecommended ID: 16 - 16.25mm
Recommended ID: 16.25 - 16.5 Anything bigger would be pushing it.Recommended ID: 16.25 - 16.5mmRecommended ID: 16.25 - 16.5mmRecommended ID: 16.5 - 17mmRecommended ID: 16.25 - 16.75mm
Descriptionthin top / very fleshy bottom - a real study in contrasts! The top lip is very short.

average to fleshy - long top lip! medium thickness

average - even with the fleshy bottom lip I would guess that the top lip virtually "disappears" when compressed so...

fleshy side of average - The top lip has some fleshiness to it.

fleshy side of average; the top lip is just as full as the bottom and fairly fleshy.

Rim recommendedRecommended ID: This is really going to depend on how well the bottom lip is drawn in. If it compresses well, perhaps 16.5mm, if not 17mm, but this embouchure will have to be driven by the flexing of the bottom lip. The top should compress quite easily and naturally.Recommended ID: 16.5 - 17mm

Special note* The top lip does not show a lot of inner membrane and might be able to compress easily down to a 16.5mm ID. To go larger might be too much.
Recommended ID: I would probably stay around the 16.5 range. This player would have to "show" me something to convince me he could go larger.

Recommended ID: 17 - 17.5mm

Recommended ID: 17 - 17.5mm

The first 3 pictures in the picture gallery below show examples of people with short top lips. This type of lip structure can be a problem because it can seriously impede a player’s ability to compress down the aperture. (See fig. 1 -2 below)

(fig. 1 -1) lips in relaxed position

(fig. 1 -2) lips in compressed position







A short top lip can make it very difficult to bring the lips together enough to create a seal below the top teeth so that the air has a clear path to the lips without having to first hit the teeth.




The next category of pictures below demonstrate a type of lip that I will label as “upturned”. Rather than having the obvious and much more common “V” shape down the middle. (see fig 1 -3)

(fig 1 -3)

These players have a long, upward sloping arc shaped  lip structure. (see fig. 1 – 4 below)

(fig. 1 -4)

It has  been my experience over the years that players with this type of lip structure are generally unable to compress or “roll” the lip down to close the aperture. For every player that has been forced to try to adapt this traditional style of compression playing, but has the type of lip structure that I have described, let me introduce a ray of hope into your lives. This style of playing is not for you. There are other ways! Rather than trying to affect a type of playing technique that is unnatural and physically impossible for the majority of players with this type of lip structure, this type of player needs to learn to use a “controlled pressure” approach. This would be along the lines of using the weight of the mouthpiece to hold the aperture in a closed position (combined with relaxing the lips into a closed position) while learning to become a master of using one’s internal mechanisms (tongue-height and syllables) to manipulate the speed of the air.

Short top lip

This is an extreme case of a short top lip. The teeth are not terribly long, but the top lip is quite short. Check the distance that the lip extends from the base of the nose. The concern in these cases is the ability of the player to be able to close the aperture.




Upturned lips






These lips belong to a very famous and successful player. Yes indeed! He plays with the controlled pressure approach. It is possible!