Monday, May 2, 2016

BE Now for Doug Wagner

The following is an email sent to Jeff Smiley and shared with me March 16, 2016.  Doug is retired, played trombone for many years, and took up horn 10 years ago.  Doug has been studying BE since 2010.  

It has been a few years since I contacted you, and I don't even remember what I told you about my progress. The main thing I remember from your first reply, was that age was not my issue. That had to have been nearly seven years ago, and today I am approaching seventy years old, and my chops have never been in better shape! You were so right, and I am so grateful for your encouragement back then. 
The thing I believe age has influenced, is how long it takes to get to the same place a younger person would take. The good news is that consistent practice and dedication can still get you there. I will never play with a major orchestra, or even play professionally, though I have been paid for a few performances. My goal is to play to have fun and to get better and have even more fun. Music and playing horn is the passion of my retirement.
For several years I have not steadfastly practiced the BE routines, but I have always kept firmly in mind the BE principles as I progressed. I have stayed in contact with Valerie over the years, and she and I have become good friends.
What is personally important to me is that I struggled and struggled with the lower register on horn, and came up against the Reicha trios for horn, opus 82. The 3rd part drops down into the bass trombone/tuba range and expects that the player has the flexibility to play nimbly in that range. So I began experimenting, keeping BE in mind. I certainly could play the lowest notes without any difficulty, having learned from BE how to play that low, but to move back into a more RI embouchure for the higher notes was a daunting task.
I kept experimenting and one day recently, the epiphany/eureka moment arrived and I found that I could still roll out enough to reach those lower notes without rolling entirely outside the mouthpiece. It's kind of a pooch of the lips that still allows a quick roll in of the embouchure. It made all the difference.
I'm not quite up to tempo yet on being able to perform those low passages, but I'm closing fast. On the high side, my upper range has increase a solid performable fifth, from my beginnings. This I truly believe is because of embracing the principles of BE, and finding ways to implement them in my day to day playing.
I play principal horn in a small town pops orchestra in Colorado, and occasionally sub in area orchestras that play major works. I travel to California each summer to play in the Brass Chamber Music Workshop at Humboldt State University, and have such a fantastic time with all those terrific brass players.
So I just wanted to give you an update and a huge thank you for what you have brought to my playing. I'm so glad to see that your web site is up and active, and that BE is alive, well, and thriving. 
Regards and appreciation,
Doug Wagner
Lakewood, Colorado

More Feedback From Alecia

Now this is BE-ing patient!  Alecia's well paced application of BE will certainly pay great dividends.    

Hi Valerie, thought I would check in again.  Thanks for your description. 
I am continuing to use BE, rather slowly because I enjoy what I do so much, I don't feel any great need to rush though the exercises!  I can now initiate lower notes (not the pedal notes) during pieces in rehearsal without thinking it is a big deal.  I could not do that last November.  I am also starting to attempt some of the higher sections, eg. Bb two above middle C, in public and no one has turned a fire hose onto me.  I take that to be a passive compliment.  I can't really play that area properly, but I am WORKING with it, which is a door that has only opened to me via BE.  I can see that I am earlier in the same development process I had around low notes, and I confidently expect to be able to play up to C reliably, within a year. 
I still find that trying the BE embouchure for high notes when playing causes chaos and shut down, so I don't!  But I can play the higher range available to me with less fuss, because I know that I am able to play even higher, so my brain doesn't think of it as such a big deal any more!
I practice "strategically" rather than long, and still pretty regularly use the embouchure strengthener, and the BE embouchure "squeeze" method.  I find I can't play sustained passages that center around D-G two above middle C, but aside from that I am amazed how good my endurance is, and I can feel that I have more lip muscle.  And a bar's rest is mostly enough to get me back in order.  I no longer subscribe to blindly putting in hours and hours of practice, albeit that I am not a professional.  I'd rather do BE, then solve problems I meet in pieces, eg the flutter tonguing that took me 4 weeks to get the hang of. 
So, all is going well! 
Hoping this finds you well,
Kind regards, Alecia

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Holy What-was-that, Batman!"

It's fun to receive feedback, especially like this.  Last week I received this in an email with the subject line "Holy What-was-that, Batman!"  

Hi Valerie,
Today was my first chance to try out the exercises.  I just did roll-out 1, squeaking and roll-in 1.  Within 2 minutes I had played a low E I had never played before!! I got to D in various stages of disbelief.  It was interesting; at one point ... suddenly the note seems to be sucked out of you, then I go lower.
My squeaking, which I could not do every time, got me wailing around G and B 3 above middle C.  More exclamation marks due.  I could not do it on the mouthpiece though...
This is F U N !
Thank you so much for the video.  I needed it to know how to do the lip turn out.  I have to do it in front of the mirror for a while, I think.
Sorry to bother you, had to enthuse.  Even my husband was impressed, not by the face mind.
 Then this additional comment came in the next day:  

Just to see what the mouth clamp approach would do, I tried my high notes after finishing the BE exercises.  I got my target note for the year immediately!  (G two above middle C) It's only March, now what do I aim for??  Oh yes, decent tone so the neighbors don't try to rescue the kitten apparently being tortured in my living room.                                            
Best, Alecia

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Jill K. Brown Pleased with BE

The following is a recent email exchange between Jill K. Brown and me.  

Hi Valerie,

Thought I would check in to let you know how BE is going for me. I've been at it since January and had a 5-day recording session at the beginning of July. Normally, on an extended recording session like that, I am constantly conserving my lip, hoping and praying that my endurance will hold out. The stress of pacing myself while needing to be able to really PLAY when needed has always been exhausting (both physically and mentally). Well after 5 months of BE, I was able to get to day 5 without sweating it. Don't get me wrong, there were still some moments of gauging how many more takes vs. how long my chops will last, but on Day 5, they pulled out some overdubs with high B's in them. I was a nervous wreck (old habits die hard), but was shocked that the Bs were there, over and over. At least 6 takes on a lick that normally would have had me using your Comfy Horn Strap as a sweat towel : ) I can only say that it had to be the BE that gave me the endurance (and confidence)! My section mate was using a descant and even remarked at how well I was holding up with my double.

My next question is how to turn what I call 'circus tricks' into everyday playing. I can squeal up to the F above High C now and can crawl down to the A below Double Pedal C. Unbelievable to me, honestly. But if I practice high stuff in etudes, I find that I must reset to the Rolled-In set up or else revert to my old ways of using pressure. How do I get to a place where I can roll in smoothly as I ascend? My lower lip is pretty fleshy, so it's quite a distance I must roll in for, say, RI #3 (my preferred RI exercise).

Thanks for any suggestions.
Jill, this is wonderful news, indeed! Congrats! This is what we all hope for when we start BE.

About your questions, all it takes is time to develop. I think I needed about 18 months to get to the point that playing high for a good long time felt so natural that I no longer obsessed over my chops. Of course, I was a much less experienced horn player than you at the time, so you will likely get to that point sooner than I did. Jeff Smiley says we're not supposed to think about BE when we perform, but that's kinda like telling people not to think about little brown monkeys. It's almost impossible for someone new to BE.

About resetting vs not resetting: as long as you're getting the job done with nice tone, good phrasing, etc., what does it matter how you did it? Hah! Getting it done is what counts. But, I think I had studied BE for three years before I made a serious attempt to learn to traverse all the ranges with a unified embouchure setting. I wanted my "continue flex", rolling in and out, to be more subtle & "inside the mouthpiece" so to speak.   I took my cues from Steve Park who plays all the ranges with a quite rolled-in setting. I wanted to see if that would work for me.  I learned it over a six week period using 3 octave arpeggios that started on fundamental F with both lips inside the mouthpiece, ascended to staff top F then went back down to the lowest F using a rolled-inish embouchure throughout. (Each "lap" started one half step higher until high D was the highest pitch.) But I have never needed to use this skill in actual playing. Doing it, however, did bring improvements in my overall flexibility and confidence.  This rolled-inish embouchure setting doesn't work for everyone.  Some people (like Lou Denaro) prefer using a more rolled out setting though out the registers.  Everyone is different, but BE will give you the tools you need to discover what will work best for you.  

Does that help?
Thanks for your reply, and yes! that does help. I tend to lean towards being an overachiever in life, so knowing a generic time frame of "keep doing what you're doing" is helpful. My goal is to eventually be able to gradually roll in as I ascend (rolling out while descending is so much easier!) until I can smoothly get my fat lower lip neatly tucked in without resetting. Whenever I scrutinize professional players' embouchures, most look like a smooth line while playing, which I can achieve with a completely rolled in lower lip. And for me, that RI setting produces powerful and clear notes above Bb, so I am definitely motivated.

Jill K. Brown

Friday, May 1, 2015

Erik: Two Months on BE

I received this in an email from a trumpeter who began studying BE two months ago. Although it can very greatly, it is typical for the BE student to experience notable improvements in embouchure function at the 2 month mark.  

Hi Val,
This is Erik.  Just an update.  My endurance and playing have improved dramatically.  I actually have been doing BE combined with another method.   I started with the other method a while back before I got the BE book you sent me and I just kept going with both.  The other method is a collection of exercises with no emphasis on embouchure formation, so I think it works well with BE.
I was able to play my first triple high C last week (not very loud, but still was able to hit it).  Thinking it was a fluke, I tried it again after a short break and was able to do it again.  High C which used to be an "iffy" note for me is a pretty easy note, now.  In performance, I am hitting high notes with confidence and power and the band and audience are definitely impressed.
I am determined to turn my previous weaknesses into my strengths.  Before I was known as the guy who could play but was inconsistent.  My goal is to be known for my consistency.
You mentioned to me before that I might be "thankful" that I am self-taught, and I see what you mean now!
Anyways, hope you are doing well.  I will send you another update when I get further along.
Another thing, I am able to play almost any type of mouthpiece now.  Before, I could only play big mouthpieces and would bottom out on small pieces.  Now, I am playing very well on a 10 3/4 CW.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Keeping Up With The Kid

I love receiving feedback from a "fast responder."  It's interesting to see how quickly Bryan grasped the overall concepts. His insights about BE compared to other methods are interesting.  The BE exercises are not easy, so it's impressive that he could execute so many in his first "session."  I had to chuckle when he described figuring out how to "keep up with the kid."   Here's what Bryan emailed me today:  

Actually, just finished my first session. Really good. I get the whole philosophy. The other methods try to explain the different positions but really, there is so much going on, it's impossible to describe for one person, let alone every person. That's why some methods work for some people and not others. BE is not really an "embouchure" but a framework to allow people to find out how to make their chops work optimally. I've seen this concept in sports, but this is the first time I've seen this for brass playing or even music. 

I stopped after an hour because I don't want to get too zealous and hurt myself, but I made a lot of progress. I feel like could go all night, but I know my lips probably need a rest more than I can tell.

I believe the key to this system is to stick with it until my muscles figure it out and the mechanics get stored in muscle memory. When I got stuck, the tips in the book really helped out. I was able to get RO1, 2 and 3 down pretty good today with a strong pedal sound. RO4 is still shaky, but I will get it soon. I was able to get the RI's too, just need to work at it so I have better accuracy and sound. Some attempts were very good, so I know I am on the right track.

I had a hard time at first with the RI tone--also, I was running out of breath within seconds, so I knew I was doing something wrong since the kid on the CD was going on forever.  So I checked the tips. I was keeping my lips too far apart, due to having the mp too low (previous embouchure). Adjusted, brought my lips closer together and it worked like a charm. Since it was a smaller aperture, i didn't need as much air, so I was able to keep up with the kid. 

Also, the tonguing on the lips was very natural for me and I can see how it is a good gauge of lips position. In fact, with my new setup, tonguing on the lips is the only way I can tongue, which was unthinkable before.

Anyways, things are going well, so far. Looking forward to more. Will keep you posted.

Thanks, Bryan