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
Back to home.

1 comment:

  1. A lot of playing the trumpet is controlled by the subconscious. Think about it for a moment - if we had to have an aperture setting of .015 of an inch high by .015 of an inch in width with 4.7 psi of air pressure and lip compression of .0025 pounds to achieve note X - how could we possibly do this? We could not. It would be physically impossible. We do not posses the conscious control over our bodies in this extreme. Only the subconscious mind can control things on this level. It's like picking up a glass of water. You don't think about how much grip the fingers must exert or how much lift your arm must provide - it just happens because we let it happen. It is learned through feel as there was a time when you were a toddler that picking up a glass of water (or tying your shoes) was quite a challenge; yet we now perform these task on a subconscious level. Thus the reasoning behind Jeff's method - the exaggerated extremes of RO and RI kind of sets where the stops are. Once your mind conceives these stops in then tries to refine the whole range of motion to find ones particular balance point. Some people may have a natural balance that falls in the motion exerted in the RO, some will have it to fall within the RI, some it will be somewhere between. The old saying - get out of the way of the horn and let it play - has merit. Our body wants to achieve the sound concept that we have in our mind if only we will let it. Kenny Clawson