Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Embouchure and Cherry Picking

I liken the embouchure to a cherry orchard. You’ve got 300 trees, but only some make sweet cherries. Your job as a cherry picker is to find and pick only the sweetest cherries. It will take quite some time to sample the fruit of all 300 trees, so you need an easy-to-use system to enable you to quickly locate and remember the best cherry producing trees before the season is over. If you approach the orchard randomly you are sure to miss some trees, check others redundantly, and forget where the best fruit is found.

The embouchure is like a cherry orchard because there are hundreds of lip shapes (trees) possible, but not all will produce the desired notes (sweetest cherries). The Balanced Embouchure (BE) is a system that enables you to explore all possible lip shapes in a short period of time, with enough built-in repetition to store the memory of the most desirable note-producing shapes into both the mind and the muscle. It sounds complex, but BE is so simple, children master it.

The Balanced Embouchure systematically challenges the embouchure (or scans the orchard) in these important ways: (1) to play from as low as possible to as high as possible on an a “low note” embouchure, (2) to play from as high as possible to as low as possible on a “high note” embouchure, (3) tonguing with a rolled-out embouchure and (4) tonguing with the rolled-in embouchure, (5) an articulation/breathing challenge for accuracy and stability of attacks (snaps), (6) a breathing/articulation challenge to encourage tone support of individual notes, and (7) a breathing challenges to encourage support of the tone through phrases (specific crescendos). The basic Roll-Out and Roll-In exercises provide all this (and more) in a tidy, user friendly package that only takes about 12 to 20 minutes to execute.

The BE system is an organized plan for scanning all the possible shapes an embouchure can produce. The Roll-Out and Roll-In exercises are for locating and identifying the lip shapes that produce desirable notes. The Advanced Lip Slurs develop speed and efficiency to smoothly move from one desirable shape to the next.

To further abuse the cherry orchard analogy: BE is the plan that provides an organized method for checking every tree in the orchard. Roll-Out and Roll-In exercises are the part of the plan that provides a ladder to climb each tree to sample its fruit. The Advanced Lip Slurs are like providing a motorized cherry lift that makes quick work of gathering the sweetest cherries.

I hope this helps horn players better understand the purpose and value of each BE exercise as well as the entire BE development system. Understanding this should help the BE student appreciate that BE is greater than the sum of its parts. Practicing any one single exercise will provide benefits to the embouchure, but working the whole system is the surest way to achieve the maximum results of The Balanced Embouchure is designed to deliver.

Valerie Wells

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fear and the Embouchure

"Fear is a great multiplier of embouchure problems," wrote Jeff Smiley on the Trumpet Herald Balanced Embouchure Forum.
Below is a private email I received from CM, one of our fellow BE students that plays horn. CM's experience perfectly demonstrates how fear can interfere with embouchure function and what can be done to alleviate it. I believe CM's insights and coping strategies can be a valuble example for us all, so with her permission I share them below. I'm grateful that CM is allowing us this treasured glimpse into the intimate side of her horn playing life. [Location details removed.]

"Hello Valerie, ... I just came back from [the city] shows last night. We had 4 shows, I did very well for two, not so great for two. I don't think it was due to my embouchure. My embouchure worked very well. I think for the last show I did not do well, it was due to my mental tension. Our top manager came our show last night. I was nervous for some reason, therefore, I felt my fingers and lips were a little "out of control" for a few moments. When I focused on the music only, I was back normal.
"During those days in [the city] (even on the day we had two shows) I kept practicing BE. I want to feel confident that my embouchure was strong enough. I got up very early in the morning to practice BE. And when everyone was practicing during the day, I meditated Falun Gong to rest myself. It worked very well. I see your point about RI#3 and #4 and RO#4. I also applied my horn teacher's method--singing the notes. I tried to sing the notes and forget about embouchure or lip change--let the lips to do the RI and RO by itself. It worked well when I was very focused on the music.
"Overall, I am happy with my tone and volume for the shows during the tour. I still need to work hard on RI/RO coordination and range. The other day I found Wagner's Long Call was a good exercise for "melting" RI/RO. I will keep working on it. Thanks again. Take care,CM"

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hooray for the come-back player!

This came from Theodore Greaves:

"Thanks. I'm a comeback player of 3 years. With the help of BE I have gained lower range I never had at my best in the early 70's , and I have been playing well above high C like I did 35 years ago. Never thought it would happen. Ted"

Thanks, Ted. This makes me smile!

Valerie Wells