Friday, November 27, 2009

BE is Not Boot Camp!

If you’ve ever done any conventional embouchure development exercises, you’re likely to associate embouchure development with painful, grueling exercises that are often like strength training at the local gym or a military boot camp. The Balanced Embouchure (BE for short) uses a different approach.

The major focus of BE is technique, not strength. When the lips learn the techniques or “how to” of moving the lips into various shapes, the player quickly learns which movements and shapes most efficiently produce the desired results. Embouchure technique, rather than strength, enables the musician to comfortably play the upper register without having to develop super human strength.

Jeff Smiley refers to efficient embouchure technique as “leverage” in this interesting article: I particularly enjoyed reading this article because it reminded me of my junior high school science teacher demonstrating how the smallest girl in class could lift the heaviest boy in class with one finger by using the right tools. It’s the same with the embouchure. Using the right embouchure tools can make lifting the range to the upper register a one finger task.

The few repetitions of well designed, properly executed BE exercises will more effectively develop the embouchure than hundreds of repetitions of poorly designed exercises. BE exercises are surprisingly short and simple. Once learned, the basic Roll-Out and Roll-In exercises can be executed in about 15 minutes a day and yield substantial results.

So . . . if you are slaving away on "killer" embouchure exercises and only getting minimal results, it may be time to stop working so hard on strength and start working to learn the effective techniques of BE.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Why BE Works

Recently, a young horn player asked for help with his upper register on a public horn forum. He received several suggestions including: put more upper lip into the mouthpiece, roll your lip in a little towards the mouthpiece as you ascend into the high register, practice low notes to play high, use more air, etc.
I was happy to see that rolling in is becoming a more accepted practice for developing the upper register. And while I agree with the general idea, this idea alone begs clarification and direction: How does one “put more upper lip” into the mouthpiece? What about the lower lip? How, when and where does one roll the lips in? How does one incorporate rolling-in into regular playing? How does one smoothly transition between the rolled-in setting for high notes and low notes?
BE provides clear guidelines to address all these questions. But . . . while The Balanced Embouchure teaches the mechanics of rolling in and out, BE is much more than that. BE is often misunderstood as being a prescribed "rolled in" embouchure or a playing method that means rolling in and out. Neither are accurate descriptions of BE.
BE is actually an embouchure development system based upon universal principles of embouchure mechanics, cognition and “muscle memory.” When practiced consistently, the BE exercises challenge the embouchure to function in every configuration possible enabling the player to find, consciously and unconsciously, exactly what works most efficiently for them as an individual. It sounds complex, but it's so easy to learn, even children master it. In fact, children often learn it more easily than adults because they have less pedagogical baggage to interfere with the process!
When I started BE in 2006, I didn't understand what it actually is. I simply did the exercises and enjoyed the accelerated improvements. Since then, I've begun to understand why BE works through using it and helping other horn players do the same. Because BE is comprehensive for overall embouchure development, it often fills in the embouchure "gaps" that many horn players have. I’ve worked with beginners and even advanced horn players who have highly developed skills, yet still struggle with “gaps” such as: poor tone or instability on certain notes, weak or non-existent upper register, inability to play pianissimo in the upper register, weak low register, inability to smoothly transition between high and low range, poor endurance, etc. BE has helped them bridge the gaps and develop more consistent performance in all registers.
Horn players who already have a well developed high range, often report that BE improves their stability and overall tone, "beefs up" their low register and helps them transition from high to low with greater fluidity. Players who are challenged in the upper register often report improvements in the upper register within weeks or months.
Because BE helps the player find the most efficient way to use their embouchure, it also enhances endurance and breath control. Some have reported that BE enables them to make soft delicate entrances in the high register like never before. [All these descriptions are taken from responses I’ve personally received from my fellow BE horn students.]
Some horn players have great teachers and practice hard for years to develop excellent embouchures that function well in all registers. They are the fortunate ones. On the other hand, some players have great teachers, practice hard for years, yet end up with poorly functioning embouchures with troubling "gaps." BE can be a godsend for those in the second category.

~~Valerie Wells
Wells123456 at