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 that he figured 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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Andrew Joy & Mouthpiece Independence

"One of the great beauties of BE for me is that I am now relatively mouthpiece independent. Meaning for the horn that I can instantly play on a variety of horn mouth pieces and feel fairly comfortable immediately as well as very easily switching to trumpet and or trombone. Apart from that, I now own the G above high C and everything in between. The sound in this upper register keeps filling out and improving in quality. And it just keeps on getting easier. The end is nowhere in sight. At this stage of my life and career, I find it rather fascinating and exciting."  
~Andrew Joy

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

BE for All High Brass

Oft times, high brass players quickly find improvements in endurance before they've even learned all the BE exercises in spite of the difference between the instruments. Alan Greene's experience quoted below is very similar to Tzippi's experience (shttp://beforhorn.blogspot.com/2014/10/tzippi-something-is-definitely-changing.html).  Responses like this are typical for BE'ers on all high brass. 
Hi  Valerie – I just wanted to relay a brief progress report.  I can get 5 of the 7 double pedals in RO#1 pretty consistently.  I occasionally get the 6th with good tone, but not every time.  The interesting thing about this one (the 6th, a G on cornet):  if I get it at all, it’s with a good, focused tone.  If I don’t have that, I can’t get it with poor tone.  I also try RO#2 and #3, going down as far as I can at this point (usually 5 of the 7). I am having some success with RI#1, and am sometimes starting the day with this one.  I have not yet attempted anything further on the Roll-in side. I do the “hold until empty” exercises, and am up to Advanced Lip Slurs #1 and #2 with reasonable results. The great thing (for me) at this point, is that in regular playing I notice much improved tone quality, range, and endurance.  The last (endurance) was always my downfall.  In the past I would sometimes get great compliments from accomplished musicians, such as “You played beautifully”.  I would graciously thank them while thinking, “Just don’t ask me to do it again, at least not right now”. Anyway, thanks for your encouragement. 
Regards, Alan Greene 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tzippi: "Something is definitely changing!"

Following are excerpts from a little discussion that was posted in "Horn People", a FaceBook discussion group.  

Tzippi Cheryl Pellat:  I have been playing horn continuously for 40yrs. (many of them as a professional) and am quite a skeptic. I have a large collection of warmups from various teachers-all of which were going to help various facets of my playing. Even at my best I always had high register and endurance problems. I decided to take the plunge and bought the BE kit from Valerie Wells and have been doing the exercises for about 2 months. I still can't get to the bottom or top notes and haven't yet done all the exercises...40min about 4 times a week is about all I have... So imagine my surprise when I was at a WW chamber music day and played 4 sessions of 90 min. each. Session 3 was Mozart Quintet for horn and strings and session 4 I played the 2nd bassoon part of Grand Partita....and then got through our orchestra rehearsal the next evening (3rd hn. Brahms 4). Something is definitely changing!

Andrew Joy:  Tzippi, congratulations. Hang in there. I promise you it just keeps on getting better. If it is an encouragement, I fought for four years before the range above high C finally gave in to my efforts. Now I own a high G above that high C, also and even after say six weeks off playing.

Michael Langiewicz:  It works.  

Valerie Wells:  Wonderful!  Thanks for sharing.  You made my day!  The 2 month mark is usually when BE "students" begin to see improvements, but sometimes it can take longer.  

Andrew Joy:  But also much shorter, Valerie.  Two weeks were all I needed to BE hooked!

Kristina Mascher-Turner:  Andrew Joy, when do you ever have six weeks off?  

Andrew Joy:  Good question, Kristina.  Only after I got BE working.  

Michael Langiewicz:  The proper muscularity is essential. The greats have it naturally, the rest of us need a disciplined routine. I still get the eye rolls when I talk BE, but no one else in the section is warming up to F above high C.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Born Again" Horn Player

When Christian Hansen first approached me about The Balanced Embouchure, he had returned to school to get his teaching certificate. After 10 frustrating years of professional performance in another country he was ready to stop professional performing and start teaching.   About a year later, he sent me this photo.  He is now happily performing  again with the 113th Army Band "Dragons" in Ft. Knox, KY.   

Below is a copy of an email he sent to Jeff Smiley in 2009:  

"I received the BE book, with horn amendments, about two weeks ago and have been in close contact with Valerie Wells since with lots of "how too" questions (Valerie has been great by the way). In all my years I have never seen a (for lack of a better word) "miracle" product that actually delivers what it says like BE has. 

RI is no problem and RO is getting better but the amazing thing is the results on my regular playing. I can easily play up to a high C and with surprisingly little effort can play scales and arpeggios up to F, G, A and Bb (only once) above that. I am not contorting my face or straining. Tone and low register have gotten stronger and more solid too. I am SHOCKED that your system has not taken the brass teaching/playing world by storm.

All my formal training was - whether they actually said it or not - with the Farkas method. Heck my Undergrad was at IU. I have never seen a horn player without something of a flat chin and tight corners. Trumpet players are another story. I have seen many with air pockets and a bunched chin and always wondered how they could play with that "screwed up" set up. I think that is funny now. 

Thanks again. I am so glad I stumbled across your system. The internet is a wonderful thing."

Christian Hansen
Band Director and born again Horn Player

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Eight Years on BE and Still Going

This is my original copy of BE purchased in 2006. 
It's been 8 years since I began studying BE.  Knowing how ADD I am and my history of flitting from one hobby to the next, I think it's amazing that I'm still playing horn.  For me, 8 years is a record for continuous engagement in one single, just-for-fun, creative endeavor.

Earlier this summer, I enjoyed playing pit orchestra for a local production of "The Sound of Music." And I'm definitely looking forward to another season with the Tacoma Community College orchestra and symphonic band.  And I'm hoping to play in the orchestra for local church productions of "The Messiah", "Lamb of God" and any other ad hoc music activities that come my way.  And I'm looking forward to many more years of horn playing.  I know, without any doubt, if it weren't for BE, I would have quit (again!) years ago.

My husband commented recently, "You'd be miserable without your music." He's right. I'm grateful for Jeff Smiley's huge contribution to my happiness.  "The Balanced Embouchure" has helped make horn playing a joyful and satisfying experience.

-----------------------

Cameron Kopf gave this feedback to this post on FaceBook:   

CONGRATS, Valerie Wells! Your sharing of this technique is valuable to the horn community, and it is gratifying to hear that it has helped you keep playing for 8 years!

BE has truly been one of the best things to happen in my playing over the past 2 years, both on trumpet and horn! I continue to evolve with it daily.

I am discovering over time that BE is a very fluid technique, enabling me to play both horn and trumpet with much more ease, and I incorporate various aspects of it in different playing situations.

After learning the basics and following the instructions as closely as possible for the first year, later on it is up to the individual to decide how to apply the techniques; it's not cookie cutter. The concepts of rolling-in and rolling-out forms the basis for all brass playing, really. It's all a matter of pacing and combining RI & RO techniques to fit the musical situation at hand.

As time goes on, it seems to be becoming more "fluid" for me, being able to shift between these techniques. And so, as a professional horn player, I have made good progress on the trumpet over the past 2 years.

I am firmly convinced that I would have NOT been able to achieve this progress without BE. Thanks again Valerie. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Losing a friend, Sandra Clark


        With sadness that I report the passing of Sandra Clark.  Sandra was not only a fine horn player, but a good friend. Sandra took the time to study BE then kindly and publicly supported my efforts to promote The Balanced Embouchure on the Memphis Horn list when many French horn players openly ridiculed it. She also took the time to email Jeff Smiley to show her appreciation for his work with the same passion she used to express herself in her every endeavor.  
         "Congratulations on your work. I believe that within ten years (less if there is any justice and fairness out there), everyone will be teaching your concept of lip rolling -- if not the entire spectrum of your method."
Read her complete testimonial here
Read her obituary here.  

Many will miss you, Sandra Clark. Rest in Peace.