Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A little BE goes a long way!

Sometimes I get feedback from horn players who bought the book several years before, read it, but for whatever reasons, didn't work the program.  It's fun to get feedback from them when they finally take time work at the exercises. 

The first example is from Andy in the UK:

Hi Valerie,   
I wrote to you a couple of year ago about how much my stamina had improved since reading BE. Now to be honest, I’m not a serious horn player these days - occasional amateur playing but mainly just play a bit of jazz at home for fun.  However, it always played on my mind that despite studying at a London Conservatoire I couldn’t really play the horn other than being a vaguely good low player in orchestral music (Doesn’t matter these days - I’m a school teacher/composer/conductor). My stamina let me down for solo repertoire and getting out of the stave was a great struggle. Anyway, I haven’t practiced any of the exercises religiously and I sometimes go a few weeks without playing at all but I can now get out of the stave and I’ve attached a top Bb video just to prove that even just reading the book and doing the exercises a bit can transform your technique! The Bb was a very insecure high note for me before I read BE. Thanks for promoting BE.   Andy Meyers (London -UK)  
The second example is from a local horn player in the Tacoma, WA area.  Steph has played low horn for years but was recently given the fourth horn with challenging high register requirements. Here's what she wrote me in a text message recently:

Steph: Been working on RO and RI. Is much easier to play the upper range.  Doesn't sound pretty yet, but will keep at it. 
 Val:  you go, girl!!! It's amazing what a little BE can do for the chops. BE still dazzles me after 11+ years using it.  If it weren't for Jeff Smiley, I would have given up long ago. 
Steph: Well right about the time I resigned myself to not playing the highest couple of notes in the 3rd movement of Star Wars between 71 and 79, I was able to play it today without cracking or pinching the notes. Go figure... I guess I'll have a couple weeks to keep working at it. 

A third example is from Colin Ng which is linked here

A little BE goes a long way!

Please see this link for more articles & information on acquiring The Balanced Embouchure for Horn.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Balanced Embouchure for Horn


Hello and thanks for stopping by. I’m Valerie Wells, a horn player dedicating this blog to share my success using The Balanced Embouchure (BE) and to provide a place for other horn players to share their positive experiences with BE. The Balanced Embouchure is an embouchure development system originally written for trumpet by Jeff Smiley. BE is now helping an ever growing number of horn players improve their embouchures, too. To learn how I came to BE, see this. The Balanced Embouchure book and CD are available directly from me. My adapted exercises for French horn are available with the purchase of the book. There's only one BE book. The same book is used for both horn and trumpet.

The Balanced Embouchure Book with CD is $45.00.
The BE for French Horn booklet and/or PDF of horn adaptations is $3.00 (with book purchase).
Shipping & handling is $5.50 to $25.00 depending on location. (The quoted prices are in US dollars.)
Those who purchase The Balanced Embouchure with a Comfy Horn Strap, receive a $5.00 discount (as well as break on shipping).

To Order:
Step 1. Email me: ValerieW78 “at” Gmail “dot” com. Please tell me what instrument you play and the country you live in.
Step 2. I send you an invoice with payment options (credit card, PayPal, check or money order).
Step 3. You pay the invoice.
Step 4. I ship your BE book.
Happy horn playing!
Valerie Wells

For additional information about BE in general, please see the following links:

Jeff Smiley’s website
The Balanced Embouchure Forum
Michael Camilleri’s website
Phil Mach's website
Bert Loch’s website
Ko de Rooj's website (Netherlands)

Skype lessons available
Bruce Lee: teatro333 "at" gmail "dot"com
Valerie Wells: ValerieW78 "at" gmail "dot" com


Comfy Horn Strap 
My horn strap is now available.


For various reasons that seem inherent in our approach to the instrument, French horn players (self included) often develop misconceptions about The Balanced Embouchure that can potentially impede progress.

Misconception #1: BE is written for trumpet, therefore much of it will not apply to French horn.
Some exercises need transposition or adaptation for French horn, but the principles and techniques taught in this book are as applicable to French horn as they are to trumpet. (I learned this lesson the hard way.)

Misconception #2: BE is all about rolling the lips in and out.
Lip rolling is only part of BE. There are tonguing exercises, snaps, zips, breathing exercises, etc. All these elements combine to form a development system that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Misconception #3: Roll-Out exercises are for developing the low register. Therefore a horn player with a secure low register, need not practice Roll-Out exercises.
Roll-Out exercises are designed to develop tone, flexibility, endurance and balance in all the registers, not just the low. A balanced embouchure has elements of roll-out in every note of every register.

Misconception #4: Roll-In exercises are for developing the upper register.
Roll-In exercises are designed to develop tone, flexibility, endurance and balance in all the registers, not just the high. A balanced embouchure has elements of roll-in in every note of every register.

Misconception #5: “Doing BE” means rolling out for low notes and rolling in for high notes.“Doing BE” means practicing the BE exercises and following the program as designed. Directly applying lip rolling to your regular embouchure is not BE and will be of limited value.
Misconception #6: The correct BE embouchure has a bunched chin and puffed cheeks.There is no, one correct “BE embouchure.” The balanced embouchure you develop following the BE system will be unique to you. There is no way to predict what your final embouchure will look like. Horn players need to avoid preconceived ideas of what their balanced embouchures will look like.

Bert Lochs
 has taken the above #6 misconceptions and elaborated upon them for trumpet players.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Just Thinking....

I was thinking this morning that if it weren't for BE, 
there's no way I would have the confidence to calmly approach the high register.  What other method teaches you exactly, precisely how to set your chops to play the highest notes on the horn straight on, cold turkey, without slurring or "glissing" up to it? I could be wrong, but there are none that I'm aware of.    Jeff Smiley is very clever.

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