Monday, March 24, 2014

BE- It's Not Just for High Notes!

On Tues my BE arrived and I immediately began Roll Out 1. Did LCS, some Roll In, got acquainted, so to speak.

Late Thurs I got an emergency call from a a local Maestro that the 2nd horn had torn a retina, could I sit in on 2nd for the Fri and Sat shows? No rehearsal, no music, sight read the concerts. I am a high horn guy, I play a Bb/Eb horn, I can count on my thumbs the times I have ever played 2nd, I have no idea what a ledger below the staff is. So, naturally. I said "Sure".

In the Faure Pavane the 2nd blasts out A,G F whole notes, (below middle C), ff with accents, my worst notes and range. Long story short. The notes roared out. (I reminded myself to pull my corners in and roll out). Then the same A, breath attacked at piano with a steady cres to forte in the Bruch violin concerto. Same result.

The encore piece was Gliere Russian Sailor's Dance, which I played 1st on to spell the Principal. Decided to take the F# after the non-stop D's the end. Roared.

Nobody is more amazed than me.
Michael Langiewicz

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Questions from a BEginner

Q: Should I wait to move on to Roll out 2 until I can play every note in Roll out 1??? If I EVER hit the low C it will be something I have NEVER been able to do....

A: No. I always say do what you CAN do, keep trying to do what you CAN'T, and MOVE ON. Over time you will be able to do every note of every exercise. In the mean time, there's no need to hold yourself back unless you're trashing your chops overdoing things. But, you'll have to be the judge of how much is too much.

Q: Can I do the Roll ins and LCS with less air pocket? I find I can get more clamp and squeak by keeping the air pockets to a minimum...

A: Yes, you can. That's how I did them for two years and I progressed very nicely. But . . . I encourage you to continually strive to play RI's with one or more air pockets (in upper lip and/or lower lip and/or cheeks). If you never learn how to do the air pockets, you'll still play well and progress quite nicely, but you'll miss some additional benefits that can only come from playing RI with air pockets. The benefit of playing RI with air pockets brings a whole new shape & feel to your lips that are so "inside the mouthpiece" I can't even explain them. It's kinda like religion, it's one of those things that simply must be experienced to understand. HAH! Do it as often as you like. You will have to be the judge to determine how much is too much. I had an interesting experience with LCS when I first came back to horn. I had been playing for only a few months when I joined a community band. There was a younger man, Andy, sitting beside me who came back to horn about the same time I had. I was practicing 3 hours a day; Andy only practiced 30 to 45 minutes a day. I was killing myself to play a fourth line D; Andy was playing above the staff with ease. It was baffling to me. I chalked it up to his youth and strength. A few months later I found BE and read about LCS. I went to band rehearsal and demonstrated LCS to him. When he saw it he said, "Oh yeah, I do that all the time!" "Why?" I asked. He explained that he does LCS, not as an embouchure exercise, but for fun when he plays silly games with his 2 year old son. He also explained that he had been doing LCS since his childhood because that 's how little boys make "naughty noises" to embarrass their mothers, teachers and the girls! I carefully watched Andy play his horn, and observed that he bunched his chin upwards as he pushed his lips together to play. When it came to embouchure & the high range, Andy was just a "natural." Well, guess what? My practice habits and BE paid me big dividens. A few months later, I had all the range I needed and then some.. as if I were a "natural." This was one of several experiences in my early days of studying BE that served to convince me that Jeff Smiley knew what he was talking about. Jonathan, I can tell by your questions that you are going to progress very nicely with BE! You're grasping the concepts very well. I may want to use these questions either on my blog or a "BE for French Horn" email. Would that be okay with you?  Valerie

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Trumpet and Horn: More from Cameron

I posted a discussion from Cameron Kopf a few days ago (scroll down).  Now Cameron is sharing a picture and more information about his application of BE principals to his regular embouchure and his mouthpiece choice.  [I commented at the bottom in brackets.]  

"I'm playing on a modified Yamaha 667: Dennis Houghton mouth pipe and Lawson ambronze bell, in case you're interested. I am very happy with this horn.

"At the moment I am using a Schilke #29 stock mouthpiece (unlike the Osmun London cup in the pic). I find that the slightly wider inner cup diameter of the Schilke works much better now that I'm doing BE. It's easier to roll in.

"By the way, I am now concentrating on using RI for all registers, just over the past couple of days, and am seeing good results. My particular challenge now is to get the second line G on the staff to open up, both in sound and for tonguing. So I am now working on opening that note up with sustained tones and faster tonguing. 

"Like you, I feel more comfortable with RI for most of my playing needs, but RO exercises are very important to do regularly to keep the RI muscles properly balanced."

"Best regards,

[Thanks, Cameron!  I don't really understand how & why RO works, but I know it does.  One trumpet player who's been studying BE for many years tells me that RO makes RI possible.  He says he does RO so he can do RI.  And, many, many horn & trumpet players report HUGE improvements from playing RO.  One pro trumpet player Jeff taught, struggled with several years of stagnation.  He took off like a shot with RO alone so never bothered with RI.  Go figure.  Some horn players think they don't need RO because they already have a low range.  I always tell them RO is not for the low range; it's for the whole embouchure.  Whatever develops the whole embouchure, develops range in both directions.] 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Trumpet and Horn: Cameron Kopf Feedback and Discussion

This post is a little more technical than most I post in my blog.  It contains some information
that will only be understood by BE students.  I decided to post it because it's another
testimonial from someone who has benefited from BE on both trumpet and horn.
[I will post my responses in brackets.]

Dear Valerie,

I have a lot to say about my experience with BE (on both trumpet and horn)...

I started using the Balanced Embouchure method (BE) last year, initially on 
trumpet. I experienced instant positive results on both RO and RI exercises 
from the very first day. My range and endurance on the trumpet improved 
immediately, and it gave me hope that I could actually manage to play both 
horn and trumpet interchangeably without problems.

A few months later, I began applying BE in my horn practice. I was hesitant 

at first, as I had been a professional horn player for 37 years, and didn't want 
to "mess up" what had worked reasonably well for me for so many years.   
I wanted to wait until I built a more solid foundation with BE on trumpet before 
playing the exercises on the horn.  Two months ago, I started practicing 
RO and RI exercises after my regular warm up, and am seeing progress 
now on the horn as well as I did on trumpet.

The main challenge for me with BE and horn is getting a rich, full tone while 

using RI. It is getting better all the time, the more I do the exercises. I am finding 
now that I am able to roll the lips in AND enlarge the aperture in the center 
 of the embouchure at the same time, which produces a better sound.

[I'm so glad to hear you're working it out for your benefit.  If we rush the RI into our 

regular playing to get high notes, "directly" as Jeff puts, that's what can happen.  
In the book he writes that we can learn to play with a full and beautiful tone on ANY 
embouchure setting.  I totally believe that.  It's just a matter of judicial application 
of BE principles, practice, careful listening and, of course, patience.]  

Another challenge is to coordinate my tonguing, which is in a different 

place while using RI. My particular issue is just above the staff, F, F#, G 
where the tongue becomes a bit "ploddy". I have to remind myself to keep 
the tongue very close to the top lip, further towards the roof of my mouth, 
in order to gain clarity on those notes.

[Very interesting.  Notice that on page 88, referring to the exercise on the bottom 

of page 89 (Tonguing With Lips Rolled In), Jeff Smiley writes: "When tonguing 
becomes easy, this embouchure can be used in everyday playing."  The key word in 
that information packed sentence is EASY.  I noticed that when TOL finally became 
easy, both my tonguing and my tone settled in the upper register and everything 
became clearer.  Jeff has seen this so many times in his 30+ years of teaching 1000s 
of trumpet lessons, he knows when the transition can be most beneficial.]  

I am developing my own set of exercises to supplement the BE materials for 

horn that you have already so generously provided to the Horn Community. 
Generally I am extending the RI notes downward.

[I think this is especially important for horn players because of our low range 
requirements.  In my video, I demonstrate "dragging down" the RI setting all the way 
down to pedal tones.  This practice has been very helpful for me so I can play 
"rangey" phrases without awkward resetting.]

I have yet to be able to tongue scales from the octave below middle C all 

the way up to high C smoothly, because it is difficult to shift from RO 
to RI fluidly encompassing those three octaves. Starting on middle C 
upward is much easier at this point. So I will start a few notes below middle C 
and see if I can extend my range upward, using the RI setting. The RO 
exercises starting on the pedal notes working upward are of great benefit, 
and perhaps if I continue working on them, these 3-octave scales will be easier 
using the RO setting.

[I would suggest practicing your a few 3 octave scales in both RO and RI every day.  

From doing this, you may find clues that will help you decide just how much RO and 
RI you need to combine to achieve a smoothest flow across your break.]

I have a question for you: Are the slurring exercises following the RO and 

RI sections supposed to be played on either setting, or both?

[The rule with the advanced lip slurs is "If it works, it's correct!"  This is when you 

will consciously apply the principles you've learned in the RO and RI exercises to 
your developing embouchure. But, when you get back to "regular" playing, you 
must try & forget about BE!  Easier said than done!]

There is a lot more to say, but this is enough to digest for one email. I look 

forward to hearing back from you, whenever you get a chance!

Best regards,
Cameron Kopf

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pole Vaulting

An unsolicited email from a happy BE'er.

Hi Valerie,
I have meant to let you know for a while how much I am enjoying the BE for French horn.  I originally thought of it mostly for extending my upper range but I have been surprised at how much it has extended my lower range and made it more rich and stable.

I first started using BE when the last summer Olympics was on.  As I was watching pole vaulting, it occurred to me that the way I had been attempting to play higher notes was a lot like someone like me trying to clear 17’ by blindly running at the bar with no idea of the mechanics involved.  Years ago, when I had the privilege of taking lessons from Kathleen Farner she would tell me to just relax when I was having trouble reaching a high note.  At the time it seemed impossible.  Now I am realizing that it actually works because BE gives me the ability to actually think about how to make my embouchure work for the note I am trying to make.  This also works psychologically because, as Kathleen also pointed out, half the battle was not panicking when the dreaded notes were approaching.

Now that my embouchure is improving its time to fix the growing problem with my left hand.  To that end I would like to order one of your comfy straps before my left pinky falls off.   -- Stephen Klassen

Friday, January 31, 2014

Julia Rose: Still Benefitting from BE

Julia Rose began writing about The Balanced Embouchure in 2009 and wrote extensively about "BE" before retiring her blog in 2012.  I hadn't hear from Julia for some time so I asked how she's doing in an email.  This is her reply:  
Hi Valerie,
Very well, thank you- thanks for asking!  I've been enjoying my internet anonymity- I am so short on time that I don't have time for all that anymore.  I'm still doing BE (specifically RI and RO 1-4) as part of my daily routine.  I feel that I'm playing better than I ever have right now.  I do take time off from the horn from time to time, and when I do feel the slightest out of shape, BE whips me right back into shape very quickly.
That's one of the benefits professional horn players seem to report and enjoy the most, the ability to take time off without losing much in terms of conditioning.  BE just keeps on giving year after year.  

Thanks for allowing me to share this, Julia.  :)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Air vs Embouchure and Other Things

Recently, John, a trombone player with some BE experience, told me that he has observed brass players obsessing too much over embouchure when they should be spending more time on air.  This was my reply:  
"I played French horn in college, but stopped for 33 years.  I came back to horn about 8 years ago and have observed just the opposite -- at least in the French horn world.  Embouchure talk seemed totally taboo in 2006, yet some French horn players seemed to obsess over air as if lips weren't even necessary for horn playing.  I listened intently and tried so hard to make it happen with air the way so many said it was supposed to work.  I was huffing & puffing blowing huge volumes of air through my horn to the point of hyperventilation but still couldn't come near the upper register.  And low notes were equally frustrating.  I couldn't hold a low register note for more than a few seconds before running out of air.  I thought I'd never be successful on horn because I assumed I just didn't have the lung capacity for it and my college experience had nearly convinced me that I didn't have the embouchure either.  When I finally found BE and was taught to manipulate my lips this way or that way, I suddenly could play notes in the upper range for the first time ever and could sustain low notes for much, much longer.

"When I informally introduced BE to the French horn community, huge efforts were made to correct the error of my ways.  I was ridiculed for using a trumpet method, especially one that blatantly taught the idea of rolling the lips in and out.  Shameful! Someone even scolded me for discussing the intimate subject of the embouchure in public, as if I were talking about bladder control! HA!  
"So.... My observation has been that only lately has it become "okay" to talk about chops again in the French horn world.

"I think the advancement of BE into the horn world has added a healthy weight and emphasis towards balancing air w/ embouchure.  Hundreds of horn players are now using BE and it's also being taught in private studios, high schools, middle schools and universities around the world.  Maybe the demands of the horn embouchure are more stringent than that of trombone, I don't know, but I see BE making a very positive improvement in horn pedagogy."   
I'm not certain my observations are accurate for the entire horn world.  What I observed may have simply been the dominant theme in the on-line discussion groups of the time (Memphis list and Yahoo Horn). But I believe it is most productive to emphasize both air and embouchure working in tandem as The Balanced Embouchure system does.

John responded,  
"Wow! That’s different from my experience but I surely believe you.  My take on BE is that, after a while, you’re not really rolling in and out so much anymore. Things stabilize and strengthen but the rolling in and out is natural while you’re building up.
"When I saw Claude Gordon and was rolling in and out for range changes he said go ahead, let the lips do whatever they want to do….and do the routine everyday! Sure enough, the lip motion started to become less and less. More efficient I would say.  I think it’s completely natural to do this. Who starts outs from day one with a strong, balanced embouchure?
"I'm really glad to hear that BE has been well received and is being used to success by so many players.  I think it has changed people’s lives for the better. So stressful to want to play well and not be able to get a handle on it. And some people make it look so easy!
"I’m sure horn is a lot tougher than trombone, chop wise. But every instrument has it’s own devil."   
I love John's observations.  BE uses exaggerated lip motions ("roll in" and "roll out") and breathing techniques ("snaps" and "zips") to awaken the student to movement and breathing possibilities they may not be aware of.  This awakening gives the student options for more productive, satisfying development. Here's an experience shared recently in an email:

"Hi Valerie,
"Well I've been pretty busy over Christmas with the band and two orchestras.  Like you I've followed the Farkas method religiously for 30 years. This will be my difficulty. To get out of pulling down the bottom lip. The Farkas method has failed me to an extent as I have a fairly fleshy top lip. As I said. The roll outs are no problem whatsoever. I can get the pedal E in Shostakovich 5 last movement no problem. Some of my students in band have said my lip was all over the place when I show them how to blow pedals. I said so be it if it aids in getting the extreme low notes. I can now reinforce my method to them when I show them Jeff's book. So I was right all along sort of thing. The roll ins will be more difficult after 30 years of puckering my lips. I have however started roll in exercises. I have to continually remind myself to roll in especially in the high register but it will be worth it. A small victory. We took out 633 Squadron at band the other night. Notable for it's many long unison top A's. It used to be about 7 out of 10 on the worry scale for pitching and endurance. I made myself use the roll in position and as the piece went on the worry scale became 2 out of 10. You and Jeff deserve top praise for helping all us trumpet and horn players throughout the globe.
          "Many thanks, Vincent McArdle."

I love what I do!

So why the picture of Steve Park playing a pedal tone?  Steve is the one who helped me see what BE really is when boiled down to it's simplest terms:
                                       Balancing air with embouchure.

For more about Steve Park, see these links: