Friday, June 25, 2010

Flat Chin: Andrew Joy Sets the Record Straight!

Andrew wishes to set the record straight about his chin:

Hi Valerie, I was working in the orchestra this week and only now got around to reading your blog. I was surprised to read that I play with a flat chin. I don't know where that opinion comes from. It is definitely not mine. My former teacher in Cologne, Erich Penzel is really big on the flat chin (or was in my time with him). My limit, using his method, was a high B flat and on a good day, like when I won the Cologne audition, I could squeeze out a passable high C.

A couple of years later whilst preparing Daphnes and Chloe for a German tour with the orchestra, I stumbled on the roll in technique when ascending. Subsequent investigation revealed Barry Tuckwell (in the Farkas book) doing the same. Since I was a great fan of Barry's playing, I assumed I was onto something important.

Those days I didn't make the further connection of the tongue touching (and supporting) the bottom lip. I then got completely off track preparing and recording the Ligeti Trio and actually hurt my bottom lip. An injury thereafter, a blister in the middle of my bottom lip with a tiny hole in the middle of it, led me to talking with a trumpet colleague who introduced me to Jerome Callet. Which led to Jeff Smiley and BE.

Looks can be deceiving. I am acutely aware of the "FEELING" difference between a flat and a bunched chin. My "FEELING" when playing these days is definitely bunched.

Best wishes,
Andrew Joy

Thank you, my dear friend Andrew, and my sincerest apologies for misrepresenting your agile chin! Your point is well made and well taken.

Here are links to a couple interesting interviews with Andrew.

Valerie Wells

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I Don't Get It

I'm my previous article, Jonathan describes what he calls a “huge breakthrough” from doing the Roll-Out exercises (RO). He believes he was prompted or guided to change his embouchure set-up in the right direction by something he experienced while practicing RO. Jonathan's experience is consistent with stories Jeff Smiley has shared about trumpet players whose embouchures were transformed through practicing only the RO.

I understand that RO can and does improve embouchures, often in dramatic ways. What I don't get is HOW it is done. The mechanics of this process escape my reasoning ability. I can only postulate that the trumpet players Jeff talks about, like Jonathan, were missing some weighty element on one end of the range of motion spectrum. Adding RO provided the needed weight that brought “balance” to their chops. It's a nice & tidy sounding theorem, but what does this mean in a mechanical nuts & bolts way inside the mouthpiece? I don't know.

When I started BE, I experienced a "huge breakthrough" directly from the RI exercises. It was easy for me to see, feel and understand the connection: roll in, play higher, clearer & stronger on a firmer part of the lips! Tadah! But for me, exactly HOW Roll Out exercises can produce similar and dramatic improvements remains the mysterious part of BE. Seeing results such as JP and others have had with RO proves to me that BE is more than just rolling in for high and out for low. The opposing forces of RO and RI as well as other maneuvers in BE merge to produce something greater than these do when used singularly.

I’m glad I don’t have to understand the inner workings of the embouchure to help myself and other horn players improve. It’s satisfying enough to know I can help others by simply encouraging them to do the exercises. That's easy. Like Doug Wagner writes: "Spend the time, do the exercises. It works."

Below are responses and insights to what I've written above:

I don't get it.--oh, yes you do!

This does make sense. I agree with your postulate. I would take it even farther by speculating that BE allows one to search for one's best embouchure in ways that mysteriously could involve more than just RI and RO adjustments: for examples, it could allow one to feel for one's best inner-cup embouchure that Farkas writes about; it could allow one to adjust the vertical alignment of the lips; it could allow one to discover that embouchure position could be more dynamic and changeable than we usually think of it as being-- I know that I don't always play with the exact same embouchure, that through BE practice, my lip positions are more versatile to move around a bit similar to an experienced baseball pitcher being able to change his body and arm positions in throwing pitches (I love the comparison of a horn player hitting a note to a baseball pitcher throwing a strike!). Why would I move my lip positions around? Well, for us older folks and those on medications, I find that my lips aren't the same everyday; indeed, my lips change during a single playing session, and I need to make slight embouchure adjustments to accommodate lip swelling and other idiosyncratic lip changes. As a youth I never seemed to need to deal with changeable lips, or, at least, I wasn't aware of it at the time.

If we aren't crazy to decide to play the horn, we eventually become crazy as we learn to play the horn.

Understanding how RO exercises can make an embouchure work better, even on high register, can be a challenge. I got myself the most benefits from RO practicing, but I am not sure I really understand how it works. I have clues but may not get the whole picture. Three months after starting on BE, I was able to play up to high F when practicing RO#4. I had a big week of rehearsal and concert, very tiring, after which I lost this ability to play higher than High C. After a few months of patience, it is back, but with a slightly bigger proportion of RI, and a much better connection with the rest of my range. It is hard to catch for our analytical minds, but even my high F on the horn and even my high F on the trumpet show some elements of RO.
I think it is hard to understand mainly because the perfect RO set up is not that easy to find, and the RO feel is harder to get on the horn with our narrow rim mouthpieces. I really feel RO much better on the trumpet with a more cushioned rim. Also, on the horn, we tend to associate RO with soft lips, and relaxed muscles, whereas I believe RO relies more on firm lips than we would believe.
This seems to directly contradict the understanding you showed when pointing out that RI is not just for high notes, and RO is not just for low notes. sounds remarkably contradictory to the strongly-worded essay you posted on why RI does not equal high notes. Maybe its just me, but I have a difficult time getting that contradiction out of my mind.

The actual shape of the lips dictate how much RI or RO is required. For some players, with a particular lip architecture, both lips rolled out could actually facilitate high notes, as they have a double fold of inner lip tissue which acts as the vibrating surface. Other players actually use the tongue in place of the lower lip with great success. Both conditions are rare, however.

Jeff Smiley
Hi Valerie - one of the great things about BE is that it does not purport to be a one size fits all thing. It's ok to roll out more than roll in...if that works for you...and vice versa. One of the problems some folks have with previous attempts at technical codification is that their successes were sometimes devalued because they were 'doing it wrong'.
It's kind of like what Duke Ellington said about music - 'there are two kinds of music...good music and bad music.'
We could go on for a LOOOOONG time about how today's success can often be breeding tomorrow's failure - short cuts and dead ends and all that. But in the end, our audience does not care 'how' we do what we do...they simply prefer excellence over over technical display.
The horn and brass in general are difficult...but we often make it more difficult than it is by our desire to know - to the nth degree - every why, where, and how.
Sandra Clark, Toledo Symphony Orchestra
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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"Huge Breakthrough" with Roll-Out Exercises

This made my day! Read what Jonathan just wrote to me.....

So here is the latest in my saga...I have recently changed my embouchure setting to put more top lip in the mouthpiece and setting the rim on the bottom lip; it is completely different than my old setting which was apparently all wrong, because I have seen an almost overnight improvement in endurance, accuracy, mobility and slurs. It has also allowed me to play fff in the mid and low registers and add some edge when needed. I cannot play the high register with this setting (yet). I believe that this new setting is a result of the RO exercises, and it is probably what most other players are using, but since it is hard for them to describe what they are doing, and you can't see inside the mouthpiece while they're playing, I never realized that I was using a setting that was inefficient and holding back my progress. I feel like this is a huge breakthrough for me!

I keep forgetting that BE does not prescribe an "ideal" setting, just what works, and BE helps you find that.... apparently BE has done that for me; I NEVER would have even thought of playing with this new setting. So, this new setting is like riding a stallion; it has raw power and grace, I just have harness it. My practice now is aimed at getting the "feel" of each note with the new setting...

I KNEW that there was something fundamental that I was doing wrong, the symptoms told me that... unfortunately no one but you and BE steered me in the right direction. I got the classic list of solutions from teachers, friends and pros, none of which (important as they each are) got to the heart of the problem.... you need more air, you're too tight, too loose, too puckered, too smiley, too much pressure, not enough pressure, too much practice, not enough practice, not enough support, wrong mouthpiece, wrong horn, it's mental.... believe me it was MAKING me mental!!! Not any more.... I'm loving my practices.... thanks Val, you're the best!

Thanks, but Jeff Smiley deserves the credit! All I did was provide the book and a little encouragement to stick with the program.


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