Tuesday, December 13, 2011

BE Update from Julia Rose

Julia Rose has written a BE Update on her blog.  Julia reports what I often hear from Balanced Embouchure students, that they return from a vacation with unexpectedly well functioning chops.  She also articulates the finer details of  how BE benefits her playing.  I've seen other horn players "catch on" to BE very quickly like Julia has, but I've never seen anyone articulate the message with the same comprehensive clarity.  

Here are a few excerpts that I found particularly impressive:       
Ironically, the weirdness of the different embouchure sensations allows me to tune out how things feel and instead focus on what I want to sound like. The vast differences between the RI and RO embouchures have fine tuned my regular embouchure, making it more streamlined, with no unnecessary movement.  The overall effect has been very freeing. 

The TOL exercises have been especially groundbreaking for me.  They have reminded me of the importance of tongue position in ease of range and tone color, along with articulation, and now I have another tool to work on those techniques.

Overall, I’ve been thrilled at the results I’m getting from BE, which I was not expecting at all.  The exercises are fun, challenging, efficient and mercifully brief, allowing me more time to work on what I really care about in my practice sessions.
Thank you, Julia Rose for sharing your BE experience.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Feedback From a Horn Teacher

Jane Swanson, a retired schoolteacher who teaches privately and plays horn in San Luis Obispo, contributed an article to the latest issue of  "The Horn Call."  She reports impressions of attending her first IHS horn symposium in June of this year.  Here is what Jane wrote regarding BE:
Steven Park's Roll Out
Steven Park's Roll In
Workshops:  BE:  The Balanced Embouchure Method, presented by Valerie Wells with Stephen Park.  This workshop presented an approach to embouchure development that was 100%  new to me.  Valerie and Stephen demonstrated the exercises up close and personal, which was essential because I had no idea it was legal or possible, let alone beneficial, to do such odd things with a face.  I had only two choices:  write them off as nuts or try it.  Given Valerie's stunning demonstrations of producing super high, pianissimo, pure pitches out of thin air, and given Stephen's gorgeous sound and security as a performer (search for Steve Park to find some lovely video performances), I chose the latter.  And sure enough, the BE exercises do not demand the dreaded "embouchure change" but do lead to embouchure improvement in all registers.  I recommend their website (beforhorn.blogspot.com) as a source of information for those not at the workshop.

Jane emailed me to add a little more information regarding her progress:

My own progress with BE is hmmm..... maybe modest is the word but maybe not. I still don't squeak well - can't do what you do with those high sounds without and with the horn. But I am pretty consistent with the basics of roll-out and roll-in. And my endurance is still a work in progress. But here are my pay-offs:

1. Even when I play to exhaustion I do NOT have swollen lips afterwards or the next day! So I can jump right back into action.

2. In the midst of challenging playing, same story - my chops recover if I give them a few seconds off. That was not the case previously.

I am combining BE work with a focus on using air better, meaning those things we KNOW but which can slip away over time if we take them for granted:
monitoring speed of air
using more of it
using that low gut support every second

For me the combination is paying off nicely, and I know that more progress lies in my future.

Thanks for the feedback, Jane.  This ability to recover more quickly is something I hear often from those who study BE.  See the discussion on Julia Rose's blog about this.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Rule Breakers

Alexander Kienle recently shared a couple items that I find very interesting: 

Baborak bunches his chin up as he ascends for the last note of Don Juan.
Interesting to watch!  And what a grand moment in classical music to savor.  Does it get any better than this?

Some of you may have already come across Froydis' article about "nevers": http://www.hornsociety.org/en/publications/horn-call/online-articles/194-never-say-never-again  As Alex pointed out, this is particularly relevant when discussing BE!

With examples like these, it's hard to see how some believe bunching the chin or puffing the cheeks is "bad" or even "damaging" to the embouchure.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

More BE Analysis from Lou Denaro

I've tried for years to analyse & understand BE. I've just about given up. The embouchure is such a fluid thing, and so difficult to analyze, I've adopted this attitude: Just do BE because it works.  But..... Lou Denaro is different.  His analysis on BE fascinates me. Lou's also teaching me a thing or two about the mysterious world of mouthpieces.  Here's a discussion he recently initiated on my FaceBook wall. 

Lou: Latest BE observation: I've compared it to a "Lip Stretch" (ala Yoga). Now I believe that it's really about using the settings to harden our too soft lip tissues. Ultimately the player ends up covering both sides of Farkas' "oboe reed" aperture, build up the inner tissues in roll out to maintain the larger aperture and build up the outer tissues in the tighter roll in aperture and it's simply a matter of intuitively playing to your dual strengths rolling in and out across the registers and keeping things nice and smooth and beautiful. Amen.
Lou:  Also left out that this tonguing on the lips business is as basic/san artifice attack as most players can manage, it prompts the appropriate response in the appropriate tissues that should be engaged. All of my comments are not purely scientific, but I believe Jeff left it vague in order to let us explore for that reason.  
David:  Lou, great update. Question, given the increased strength of lip muscles due to rolling in, and out, have you found that the ID (inner diameter) of the mouthpiece is sufficient or have you switched, might switch to a larger or smaller id mouthpiece?
Lou: David, this is a put on right? It's almost too good that you're asking this question. I switched to a G&W 4.75 (the biggest cup in their lineup Inner Rim: .709 / Cup Depth: 1.040 / Throat: .184) 3 weeks ago. I also put a bigger rim ID on my Cantesanu piece (for the Paxman). I'm not proud of this. The thing is that Jeff's method is supposed to work with smaller IDs, but it got to the point that I was visibly overpowering the G&W 3.25 (modified Schmidt 10 copy) on my NiSi Schmidt last month. The 4.75 diffuses sax-player-playing-on-a-metal-reed effect that I was starting to get on the 3.25.  Not that matters any way, because I can still play on smaller rims (provided the horn can take it), but Schmidt's have lighter more penetrating sounds than most other horns out there and having more cup volume up front gives you something to back off from and in any case I'm glad I've got more choices up front on how to power up these beasts.
Valerie:  Lou wrote "but I believe Jeff left it vague in order to let us explore for that reason." Exactly! I think you've nailed the "universal principals" side of BE, Lou.  The "vague" part that Smiley left out are the exact details of how these principles apply to the individual. I believe it would be impossible for Jeff to describe exactly how each person's lips achieve balance... so it's best not to speak of such things. 
Valerie: I love the Yoga analogy! 
 Lou: I thought of it last month in Winter Harbor, I was up by myself doing BE on the seashore every morning crack of dawn, we had an Alexander Technique (efficient use of the body) class and participants shared that there was overlap between Yoga stretches and whatever exercise we were doing at 7:45am and then it hit me that I've been doing my own stretches since 6:00.

For more of Lou's insights see this.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Believe It or Not, The Balanced Embouchure is Not an Embouchure!

In brass embouchure pedagogy, the usual training involves being told how to correctly place the mouthpiece and lips to play, such as einsetzen, ansetzen, 2/3 - 1/3, etc.  Because of this context, when horn players hear of The Balanced Embouchure, they often assume it's another prescribed embouchure setting.  And, because BE claims to work for everyone, horn players often doubt this claim knowing that there is no one "correct" embouchure setting that works for everyone.  Here's an example.  A thoughtful comment was recently left on James Boldin's blog that includes this sentence:

Being that there are anatomical differences from person to person, I don’t see how it is possible for one way to be “the right way." 

If the writer of this statement believes BE is promoted as a "correct" embouchure setting that works for everyone, I agree that it's impossible to be "the right way."  Fortunately that's not what BE is.  In fact, theory and practice, BE is quite the opposite.  BE is not an embouchure; BE is a set of well designed exercises that develop every embouchure. 

One of the specific reasons BE works for everyone, is that it is not a prescribed, one-size-fits-all, embouchure setting.  The application of BE to the embouchure is as unique as each brass player's anatomy.  There are no instructions in the BE book that say, "set your lips this way for the upper register", "drop your jaw for low notes," "frown for the high register," etc.  The only specific instructions in BE are how to set the lips for executing the BE exercises, not for regular playing.

BE exercises "work" by extending the brass player's range of motion in directions and to degrees most would never imagine.  In this ability stretching process, the intuitive brass player consciously and unconsciously finds positions, techniques, movements, lip shapes, etc. that can be applied to his/her embouchure.  Jeff Smiley recognizes that the individual brass player is the one best suited to determine what does and doesn't "work" when that individual is given good tools to guide their choices.  (See: I Am Not a Guru.)

See also:  Why BE Works

Friday, September 9, 2011

More on Lip Swelling -- Make Lemonade!

Larry Jellison, who has added so much to the discussion on lip swelling, recently wrote this to me on the topic: 

When the lips are messed up from supplements and meds, my opinion is, go ahead and practice.  Don't get upset about how you may sound.  Practice the best you can.  Many aspects of horn playing are worse-- tone, accuracy, high range, intonation.  But, try really hard to play the best you can.  With super concentration, you can play better.  This kind of practice improves one's overall horn playing then when the lips are in good condition.  Practice when playing is bad does bring overall improvement.
I love his making-lemonade-out-of-lemons attitude.  Thanks, Larry.  

Another horn player has added an item on krill oil to the list of things that can trigger lip swelling.  See this new entry, #20

Monday, September 5, 2011

Timm Leukel, Fast Responder

I always encourage horn students who study BE to take their time, learning to work every exercise, to do "the whole thing."  But I get surprising emails like this from time to time that leave me scratching my head asking myself, how could so little BE make a difference?  But apparently it can and does or I wouldn't hear this same story over and over.  Here's a spontaneous little message I received from European horn player, Timm Leukel, who graciously consented to my posting this testimonial of his early experience with BE.  I will add here that it seems like those horn players who have the heaviest playing schedules seem to get the greatest boost from just a "little" BE work.

Hey it’s me again :D
I have some good news to share: This weekend my heavy rehearsal and concert schedule started (20 hours of playing in the 3rd and 1st seat).  And just for doing those exercises—and I’m only talking about roll out 1, roll in 1, and lip clamps+squeaks—it seems that my rationally strong chops seem to be unlocked in the upper register. This doesn’t mean that I’m able to play higher than before.  But it doesn’t seem to be impossible anymore to play in the higher range without loosing my chops quite fast because of my corners cramping up.  So I guess it seems to be quite the success to me.   Luckily I only have about 2 hours of playing left since my chops seem to be finally breaking down, but what a weekend.  

I can’t put into words how thankful I am for discovering the book Jeff wrote and for the help and support I’m gaining from all of you.  I’m looking forward to see what changes occur in my playing when I continue to practice these exercises.  

 Updates coming soon :-) Timm

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Julia Rose Is At It Again!

Well, Julia Rose is at it again, and this time she made me laugh out loud.  I won't spoil it by telling you what she wrote that made me laugh, but she made some thoughtful observations, great suggestions and a funny comparison!  I left a comment that will refer you to a pertinent article I wrote nearly two years ago.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Julia Rose writes about The Balanced Embouchure

Here's an article Julia Rose recently published on her blog. I'll classify this as a positive BE testimonial!

I'm impressed with Julia, not only for the quality of the article's content, but also for her integrity. I appreciate that she took the time to give BE an honest, thorough investigation and trial period rather than dismissing it as some have without reading the book or trying the exercises.

Many thanks to you, Julia Rose.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Two New Testimonials!

See the TWO new testimonials below from Luke and Colin Ng. Both were unsolicited, and both are deeply appreciated.

Luke Zyla, No Longer a Skeptic

The following is a composite of remarks Luke Zyla shared with members on the Memphis horn forum with in the last week. Thanks so much for sharing your testimonial with the horn community, Luke.
Dear Horn Listers,

I am not what you call a "stellar" horn player, but I do make a decent second income from performing with the West Virginia Symphony and freelancing in the area. I have been practicing the BE method this summer and have found positive results already. I definitely have not mastered the exercises yet, but working on them has improved my high register and endurance. One of the things I find most valuable is that it is not a method that tears down and rebuilds a new embouchure, but one that gradually improves ones playing.
Being a second horn player, I always dreaded having to play pops concerts where one plays music arranged by people who do not understand the custom of having horns 1 and 3 on high and 2 and 4 on low. The music of John Williams always brought concern to my mind. I have found that these exercises have enabled me to have better endurance and a more relaxed high register. I am not at the point where I am ready to attack the screaming high baroque horn literature yet, but I expect that my horn playing will continue to become more effortless.
The BE method does not involve lots of time practicing the extreme embouchures. I find that it does develop my embouchure in a positive way. The immediate result is that my endurance is much better. I think the best feature of this method is that it is not a sudden change and restructuring ones embouchure, but a gradual exploration and development that can result in positive results. Personally, I do not bunch up my chin when I play. Just can't get my chops to be that relaxed. It is more relaxed than before, which is a good thing. One thing I have noticed about the really great players in the world is that they all seem to produce tone in every register effortlessly. The method does not result in a goofy looking embouchure. Check out Steve Park's videos on YouTube. I don't think anyone would fault his embouchure.

The method is very simple. I was very skeptical about the method for a long time, but have come to appreciate the benefits of the exercises.

I would encourage anyone to buy the book and give it a try. The cost of the book is small compared to the benefits one can achieve.

Luke Zyla, second horn
West Virginia Symphony Orchestra

Colin's BE Testimony: A Zero to Hero Experience

To the Memphis horn list, Colin wrote:
Dear Fellows,

I have been following the BE thread with great interest. I hope you do not mind me sharing my recent BE experiences so far.

I am a band instructor and a specialist horn tutor in secondary schools (junior high?). I ordered my BE book months ago (February?) and decided then I was too busy for BE; and I admit that it also seem radical then. I thought I was managing 'well' despite my struggles on my instrument, but recently I am going through both a career change and hence having more time for playing the horn; and I am also being put through a much needed embouchure correction under guidance from a friend who is teaching French horn in Germany. I was struggling with the embouchure change to what that should be proper (flat/pointed chin and einsetzen), and was incapacitated for past couple of weeks.

Having the luxury of time now, and watching with interest the recent BE controversy in the forum, I thought I might as well use the BE method that was collecting dust on my shelf. I have nothing to lose really, so I read carefully and struggled with the roll-out exercise #1 to #3 for one whole day and managed also to effect the lip clamp squeak.

I then went for a rehearsal the next evening not knowing what to expect and tried playing the concert repertoire of about 12 crazy pop pieces with my 'normal and proper' setup. Nothing BE about it, but the facility of the 'normal' embouchure increased many fold. I hop around between 4th horn and 1st horn parts with growing confidence. I enjoyed surprisingly good tone with no distortion, greater flexibility and accuracy; and I can now take my mind off to focus on articulation and more musical expression. It's a very real zero to hero experience for me.

The next evening (which was yesterday), I only did 5 minutes of the roll-out exercises, a clumsy warm up, and used a mouthpiece totally different from what I used the day before. Surprisingly I had the same success with this mouthpiece (which I felt wasn't a good mouthpiece before). The change in the sound, efficiency and facility is equally dramatic but my colleagues observed little or no visible change in my einsetzen setup.

Tomorrow is the 3rd repertoire session -  "Mozart Serenade in C minor," I did nothing today save a couple hours of BE RO exercise #1 to #4 and lip clamp squeaking. I look forward to tomorrow and I am going use the most un-preferred mouthpiece in my inventory.

I have to say I still sound terrible when I struggled with the BE exercises for the 3rd day so far, but when it comes to 'normal' playing, the positive changes is both so dramatic and sudden, I can only attribute it to the effective of the BE program.

It give me back the same sparkle like how I fell in love with horn as a child 25 over years ago.

Hope this testimony is useful

Yours sincerely
Colin Ng
Soon after, I received the following in private email:
Dear Valerie,

I want to say a big thank you to you and Jeff Smiley, but words cannot express the extent of gratitude I am feeling now. All I can say is that the new playing experience is too sudden and too dramatic. It can only be BE.

If I was not brought to standstill and totally zero-ed because of the 'professional' embouchure change, I could not have experienced such dramatic improvement thru BE. The BE brought about what I previously thought would take months to experience through professional help.

Now I feel stupid to have put the book aside months ago then. It was so difficult to accept and understand because of our existing concepts and conventions. But BE is actually a very simple concept, so simple that we get to keep what we have and yet able to excel exceedingly. It's just that we have to approach with the attitude of the dry sponge, or the empty cup to receive and soak up what that was offered compassionately and sincerely.

Do give me a little more time and I hope to bring you more favorable progress report and perhaps seek validation on my BE progress.

Yours sincerely

Colin Ng
Thanks, Colin for your inspiring words.  To see more of Colin's writings see this or visit his blog:  http://simplysymphonic.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


In a horn forum, Steve M. asked:
...I searched "balanced embouchure" on YouTube and all I found was a bunch of demented trumpet owners making horrible farting and screeching noises, so far I haven't heard any tone. Wassup with that?
Good question, Steve, although it may be a little insulting to trumpeters! ;o) There is a good reason BE exercises don't sound so pretty. What you see on YouTube are exercises specifically designed to develop tone while traversing the registers with the fullest range of motion possible. They are awkward by design and especially difficult to execute with a pleasing tone. Striving for and meeting this challenge enhances the player's ability to adapt the embouchure under the less extreme circumstances of "normal" playing. See: EXTREME EMBOUCHURES!

For an example of a fine musician who has used BE exercises for quite a number of years to keep his embouchure in top condition, see the links below. You may recognize Uwe Zaiser, the piccolo trumpeter and soloist, as the same gentleman who posted several BE exercises on YouTube. After viewing these clips, I doubt anyone would regard Uwe as a "demented trumpet owner."


Practicing BE exercises is like a football player running agility drills at practice. When it's game time, the athlete is better prepared for the rigors of the game. Like the BE exercises, you don't see the agility exercises in actual performance, but you do see the results of the training.

Exercising in the extremes to develop skills is not a new concept, but as far as I know, this has not previously been applied to horn pedagogy in this particular way. I suppose that's why some still considered BE controversial.

And, BTW, to answer the assertion one horn player has made that BE exercises will "damage" the embouchure, please note there is no evidence of damage in these clips nor in the experiences I've had working with over 200 horn and trumpet players studying BE for the past five years. As a matter of fact, brass players with "damaged" embouchures and health have testified that BE has helped them recover. (For examples see: Andrew Joy, Dave Stoller, lip swelling.)

I anticipate The Balanced Embouchure or a watered down variant will eventually be taught to brass players everywhere. Along these lines, Sandra Clarke wrote:

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. (http://www.trumpetteacher.net/testimonials.html)

Also see:  "Circus Trick" or Developmental Tool?
Also see:  EXTREME Embouchures!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Joy Continues on The Balanced Embouchure

My first contact with Andrew Joy was in 2008 when I received his enthusiastic email telling me how happy he was with the results of using the Balanced Embouchure for only 2 months. He commented that the improvements to his embouchure were "fairy tale like!"

In 2010 Andrew was interviewed by Dr. John Ericson for Horn Matters discussing his two years experience with BE.
Around the time of this interview, Andrew wrote me:
"Jeff Smiley is a genius and I'm on a serious mission to tell the world about it!"
Now that Andrew's been using BE for three years, his enthusiasm continues. He recently wrote on Face Book:Link
"The Balanced Embouchure is priceless genius. I spoke with an amateur horn player yesterday. It has also revolutionized her personal horn world and given her access to a greater playing experience. Jeff's a giant!!"
Andrew's concise description of what BE did for this amatuer describes my experience as well.

I agree with Andrew; Jeff Smiley is a genius and a giant!
Thanks Andrew Joy, for sharing your testimonial comments with the world.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For BEST Results, Do The Whole Thing!


When I initially began studying BE, I formed a misconception that I've since observed in other horn players who study BE. I believed that the roll-out (RO) exercises were obviously designed to develop the low register and the high squeaky roll-in (RI) exercises were obviously for developing the upper register. Fortunately for me, I didn't apply this idea to my practice of BE exercises. I worked the whole program and enjoyed very satisfactory results.

The truth is, roll-out and roll-in exercises are designed to develop the embouchure, not a particular register. When the embouchure is developed in a balanced fashion, all registers are improved. RI exercises will improve your upper register, as well as your mid and low registers. RO exercises will improve your low register, as well as your mid and high registers. (Funny how that works!)

The elements of roll-in need to be balanced with the elements of roll-out to develop balance overall.

It's true that some people may benefit more from RO than RI and vice versa, but it may not be obvious exactly what exercises are needed. For me and quite a few others, learning RI seemed like a miracle pill that opened up the upper register. Since I've been working the BE system for 5 years, I now see benefits from practicing RO exercises in myself. I've seen experiences in other horn players that support this as well.

For example, one of my young horn students was struggling with the upper register. After introducing him to Roll-Out #1, he came back one week later thrilled because playing high notes became easier. Jonathan Penny is another who has had unexpected benefits from RO that were not even range related. http://beforhorn.blogspot.com/2011_02_01_archive.html It's a good thing Jonathan didn't decide to ignore the RO exercises!

Jeff has shared similar stories of RO exercises improving the upper register of trumpeters. Keep in mind, compared to horn players, trumpeters don't even have a low range. Yet, an exercise that appears to a horn player to be designed to develop the low register actually helps trumpeters develop upper range (as well as other aspects of playing).

If you decide you may not need Roll-Out or Roll-In exercises, be aware that you run a risk of missing important elements in the BE system that can help you develop a balanced embouchure.

If you want the maximum benefits of The Balanced Embouchure development system, you need to work the whole program, not just a few exercises.

Lou Denaro has recently been tootling around with the BE exercises. He's found early success with increasing his upper register and recognizes the value of working both extremes. He recently wrote this on the Yahoo Horn:
I think Jeff laid out the book well and users have to work both Roll-Out and Roll-In as Jeff intended and I do believe the overall results in the upper register come from retraining the soft inner lip tissues (roll-out) to work with the harder outer tissues (roll-in). In fact, if you really want to be solution oriented, I suspect that is the whole point of this BE thing.
Thanks, Lou, for sharing your insights. You've stated in just a few words a concept I've been struggling to both understand and communicate for years! For more recent comments by Lou, see this

Some have asked why Jeff Smiley doesn't make public one or two of his BE exercises so people can try them out and see if BE really works. There's a good reason Jeff does not do this. BE is a comprehensive system that is greater than the sum of its parts. One part, one exercise, taken out of context and practiced alone will not yield the desired results that the BE system will.

HOWEVER.... to keep things in perspective, doing the "whole thing" doesn't necessarily mean practicing every exercise every day. Some have found success by rotating and/or alternating the exercises. See Pressed for Time and Practicing BE.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Kerry's Questions

Q: Is BE a program one can undertake on their own, or is it something best done with a teacher?

A: The Balanced Embouchure is a self help book written for trumpet. Most trumpet & horn players learn it on their own with a little email support as required. A few people have difficulty learning from books, so for them there's the opportunity for skype if there are no instructors in their area. I've heard some say that having an instructor helps them catch on more quickly. Jeff has a list of BE friendly instructors on his website. http://www.trumpetteacher.net/teachers.html

I learned BE directly from the book with support from The Balanced Embouchure forum in The Trumpet Herald. The BE forum is monitored by Jeff Smiley. http://www.trumpetherald.com/

Q: What supporting materials are there for somebody who wants to look into it? Books? Videos? A Web site?

A: The BE book comes with a CD of the exercises played by Jeff Smiley's young students (they're amazing, too!). The BE book is well written & provides detailed illustrations. With very few exceptions for placement of harmonics in the range, BE works exactly for horn as it does for trumpet. I distribute the BE exercises adapted for horn as well as other supplemental materials, for horn players to anyone who owns the BE book regardless of when or from whom the book was purchased. My adapted exercises are available as a PDF email attachment or as a bound booklet for $3.00 (to cover printing costs).

Since Jeff Smiley discourages BE students to copy the "look" of another's embouchure, there are no "official" videos provided for BE study. However there are a few recordings of enthusiastic trumpet players who have published YouTube videos of themselves performing BE exercises. Steve Park and I have put together a little video with a few of the basics of BE on horn, mostly to encourage horn players by showing that BE exercises can be done on horn. The link to this private video is available with the purchase of the BE book.

There are several links on the right to helpful sites provided by Jeff Smiley and other trumpeters discussing The Balanced Embouchure.

Hope this helps, Kerry.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Can you hear the cheesy radio/TV ad announcer attempting to increase adrenalin levels with: "EXTREME demolition derby!" "EXTREME sports!" "EXTREME thrills!"  Hmmm.... How about a cheesy announcer to say...

"EXTREME embouchure exercises!"

These are still shots of the extreme embouchure settings I use when I practice some of the BE exercises. This is how it works for me:

(1) If I can develop tone, range and facility in an extreme embouchure; then tone, range and facility with a "normal" embouchure will be easier.

(2) If I can learn to play in both extremes, I'm bound to find settings between the extremes that work well for me.

(3) If I systematically practice in the extremes as well as transitioning from one extreme to the other, I'll eventually learn maneuvers I can use to navigate efficiently within the less extreme registers I encounter in daily playing.

Works for me!
Also see:  Why the Extremes?
Also see: "Circus Trick" or Developmental Tool?


The roll-out and roll-in exercises can be performed "correctly" with or without air pockets as seen in the examples contributed by horn players here. Air pockets are an option, not a requirement in BE. Some people can't do the exercises without them; others can't do the exercises with them. It's an individual thing and nothing to stress over either way. I like practicing with air pockets as pictured, because it helps me isolate and control individual muscle groups to play with less overall tension.

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful!"
Cute comment from Iris: Thanks, Valerie— these pictures are great! I was just joking earlier this week with my daughter (an accomplished trumpet player) that everyone would want to try BE if it was called "X-treme Embouchure!" The photos also helped to show me that I'm on the right track with my goofy-faced ROs and RIs! ~Iris 

If one picture is worth a thousand words, then multiply that by what you see here!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Circus Trick" or Developmental Tool?

On Yahoo Horn, Aleks wrote:
I suspect that your understanding of an einsetzen embouchure has been dictated by trumpet players who roll their lower lip out and put it practically outside the mouthpiece cup to play pedal tones. This is not an einsetzen embouchure, but a circus trick.
Aleks, Thank you so much for your comment. You may call this a "circus trick", because you aren't aware of its value and use to the brass player. I would also call it a "circus trick" if I didn't have positive experience using it. I will agree that it has little or no direct application in regular performance, but I do regard this technique as a valuable tool for embouchure development. I liken it to buzzing, which also seems useless to those who have never used it systematically. No one actually performs free buzzing or buzzing the mouthpiece alone, but this is never-the-less a valuable development tool for many.

The technique of playing with the lower lip completely rolled out below the mouthpiece rim, which I consider an exaggerated or extreme form of einsetzen, is the foundation of the roll out exercises in the Balanced Embouchure system. Trumpet players and horn players alike use this technique to help them develop their embouchures. Those who have benefited from this development tool, are very grateful for this "circus trick!" Here are links to one horn player's positive experience working with this exercise:


Also on Yahoo Horn, Richard Hirsch defined einsetzen as one in which the mouthpiece is set into & stays in the lower lip. After thinking about this, I realized that his definition closely describes the activity of one particular BE exercise (RO#4) which I practice daily. This exercise employs this set up to develop the ability to play the fullest range possible while keeping the rim of the mouthpiece set into the lower lip as much as possible -- pretty close to Richard's definition.

There's another set of exercises, the roll-in's, that do the opposite. These start way up high with an exaggerated rolled in set-up, then drag the setting down as far as possible into the lower ranges. This set up, which I believe may be a form of ansetzen, could also be called a "circus trick", because in its most exaggerated form, has no direct application to regular performance. I regard it as a valuable tool for embouchure development, practice it daily, and am pleased with the results.

Working with both extremes of einsetzen (roll-out) and ansetzen (roll-in) on a systematic, daily basis as presented in The Balanced Embouchure, provides comprehensive experiences for discovery that are not part of any other embouchure development system I've seen. These exercises expand the range of motion and abilities of the average brass player far beyond anything most could even imagine possible.

"Everything's impossible until someone does it." --Bruce Wayne

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dave on Barrows and BE

Dave Stoller, who studied with John Barrows at UW recently wrote. Below is Dave's description of his experiences with John Barrows and BE. For a little background material, see Dave’s testimonial on Jeff’s website from a couple years ago: http://www.trumpetteacher.net/testimonials.html I'm very grateful to Dave for being willing to share his personal insights & experiences. Here are Dave’s words:

Barrows died in 1974 and there was no BE back then. But Callet and Caruso were around in the trumpet world. The horn world at that time was very glued to the Farkas system. Barrow's emphasis was on aperture and total focus of the air stream. He could do things with the air stream and holding one's finger about a foot or two from his chops. You could feel the pin point accuracy of his air stream that far away. He did not like bouncing chins or sloppy chop settings. His focus was so acute it was scary. Barrows was a protege of Wendell Hoss, the leading hornplayer in LA back in the 30's and 40's. Wendell also had this amazing and mind boggling focus. I had the pleasure of playing quartets with him at his house in Glendale CA about 1970. He confessed that Barrows was, arguably, the finest player to pick up the instrument in those years. I wish there was a video of him playing so you could observe what he did with his chops. It was so clinically correct and so incredibly efficient. I just could not get over his virtuosity compared to other major players I heard.

I studied horn with the master of masters, and probably was his worst student ever from a chop standpoint. He took four years to help me develop an embouchure that would work effectively. Then I honed it more as I got into more challenging playing situations. But I have always had slumps when something would go haywire. Or I would have a year where I did not do much playing.

Obviously I could go on and on about all this, but I have given you the salient stuff. And you can post it on your blog since I believe the other hornplayers need to know about Barrows. These are only my observations about him and his teaching.

Only a handful of Barrows students are even around anymore. But I dearly wish you could have seen and heard him play. It was beyond comprehension, but a very different approach - so refined - so elegant that many horn players would not "get it."

Barrows was the true genius of the horn but few players even know about him. Obviously great horn players like Barrows, great brass players in general, have been using many of the universal principals taught in BE, but without formal knowledge of the BE program as Jeff Smiley presents it. What BE does for so many of us is to pull it all together. Yet so much of it is personal and hard to explain.

I can pull out of a slump in 15 minutes with BE. I just run the summary page and take it in about four different keys. It is the best way to open up that range without simply hammering away on high notes. Hammering away never has worked for me and I have to approach all the ranges from a literature standpoint. In other words I have to work the BE around etudes and solo/chamber works, along with orchestral stuff.

For instance, using RI coming down off of the real high licks. I never mastered that until I got into the BE protocol. You must keep the RI (rolled-in setting) going even down into a neutral range. It is almost like we have many little embouchure's and we combine them for what we are doing - subtract some - add some in. I know this sounds loony but it is hard to explain. It is more than muscle memory and allows a soloist to move more freely through very difficult phrases. I cannot imagine playing anymore with the same old chop setup. It’s like being stuck on … ‘chop stupid.’

Some more observations concerning how I apply BE. There are many wicked licks in the standard repertoire and orchestral literature. With BE they simply are not that wicked anymore. For example I might take a solo lick in Mozart and use RI for the whole thing - never relaxing my setting back to neutral. It is like having many little mini computer programs that one uses for the tasks in a piece of music. This is so contrarian to the orthodox world of horn playing/teaching where one uses a very rigid and doctrinaire approach to the music. And this traditional approach robs so many younger players from ever having great high chops.

Apparently I am in RI way more than RO (rolled-out setting). I am naturally in RO because of my classic einsetzen chop setting. It was BE that got me to change much of my chop approach and RI has allowed me to play/perform tunes that I have never done before in public. Yet I cannot explain this to someone who is not grounded in BE.

If there is one salient point about BE, it is that BE gives the player permission to be who they are, and not have to reinvent the wheel to be a second rate copy of someone else. I guess I can draw a parallel to one of the great lady golfers since they are having their US Open here at the Broadmoor Hotel Complex. Few people have the gift of the perfect swing and perfect physique to be a lady golfer, nor the innate talent that separates someone from the rest of the pack. But one can take what they have and use it to the best of their ability. That is the essence of BE from my perspective.

Gotta go, Dave

After reading this article, Eric Johnson added:

For what it is worth. I heard John Barrows play at an International Horn Society workshop in the 70's. He played the Hindemith Horn Sonata, and a couple of Alec Wilder's works as well. At that time he was retired from the University of Wisconsin. He still sounded great and, as usual, his wife was his accompanist.

He did a lot of his recordings on a very old Schmidt Horn. However when that instrument finally died, he went to a Holton H-177 (the 178, only in nickel silver) He always said: "the Holton plays close to the old Schmidt and does everything I need a Horn to do. What more could one ask for!"

The Holton was what he was playing at the time of the workshop.

Thanks to Dave for the testimonial & to Eric for sharing his experiences.
Go back home.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Monday, July 4, 2011

How Steve Park Came to BE

In his own words:
I found BE courtesy of Andrew Joy, principal horn of the Cologne Radio Orchestra. Andrew contacted me after watching some of my Youtube videos. He contacted me through Youtube and asked me if I was familiar with Jeff Smiley and The Balanced Embouchure book. He said that I looked like I used the concepts found in Jeff's book in my playing. I became curious when he said that he had added an octave to his range and improved his endurance by 70% after using the BE exercises. He also said it really improved his understanding of how to play a brass instrument. So I contacted Jeff Smiley to order his book. I sent Jeff a link to one of my Youtube videos. He agreed with Andrew that I looked like I was already doing many of the things that he talks about in his books. He referred me to Valerie Wells. He told me that she was the expert on BE for French horn and that she had modified the trumpet exercises for horn.

I contacted Val and ordered the book. When it came, I looked through it briefly and set it aside. That might have been the end of it, except that Val and her husband came to Utah and while they were here they stopped by my home and Val gave me a BE lesson. I was amazed at her range and what she could do. This was in April of 2010. On June 8, 2010 I had emergency brain surgery and was out of commission for about a month. When I started playing again, I started practicing the BE exercises. I found that they validated and re-enforced most of what I was already doing.

When school started last fall, I started teaching BE to my horn students. This is when I really got excited. Several of my students had reached a plateau and weren't really getting any better. After I started BE with them, everyone of them began making excellent progress. This was very motivating to all of us. Every single student I teach has improved their range and their confidence substantially. To me, this has been the most rewarding and satisfying part of my BE experience.

Steve Park
Thanks, Steve Park, Andrew Joy and so many others for sharing testimonials & lending support.

Steve playing Dukas Villanelle.

Go back home.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Back & Forth, Trumpet to Horn

Brigitte from France, now playing in Germany, recently shared this testimonial:

Since I started the BE, I improved a lot, my sound is much more stable and I can play much longer. Another important thing is I am able now to play again trumpet and can switch from one instrument to the other, practicing the BE with both ...
I started the trumpet as the first instrument more than 20 years ago but was not a good player because I had no real good basic practice and after 45 minutes to 1 hour I was unable to play because the lips were "gone".

I cannot tell if I can play more now because my favorite instrument is still the horn, but for horn I never stop playing because the lips are fade up, but only because I have something else to do ...

Kind regards,


Go back home.

Monday, June 27, 2011

San Francisco was GREAT!

What a wonderful week we had in San Francisco last week for the 43rd International Horn Symposium! My sweet husband came along to lend general support and help with book keeping. Doug Wagner stayed close by lending moral support and helping promote the BE message. I enjoyed getting better acquainted with Steve and Lorna Park. (We'd only met once before the symposium in April of 2010.) And, I seriously enjoyed meeting some of my BE for horn friends face to face, and was thrilled to welcome more horn players (and even one tuba player) to the BE group! I learned much from the many horn players who stopped by my exhibit to chat and share experiences.

I believe the symposium this year was historic. It's probably the first time in IHS history that a embouchure method written for trumpet has been formally introduced at a symposium for horn players! Pretty cool, huh?

Steve Park (with precious little assistance from me) really knocked the BE message out of the park with his presentation. In Power Point, he showed dramatic "before" and "after" pictures of his embouchure. The "before" picture showed a mass of soft flesh protruding from under his top lip which had at one time prevented him from developing an efficient high range. The "after" picture showed how the problem was corrected by rolling in. This was graphic proof of one benefit the roll in exercises can provide.

Steve believes that about 2/3 of his students have a mass of soft flesh that protrudes from under the top or even both lips. He also believes that most great brass players who are "naturals," don't have a this problem which enables them to play the full range without the need for much rolling in.

Steve also showed a video of 12 middle school students each playing a "double pedal" F (our fundamental) followed immediately by a high C. Undeniable proof that anyone, any age can learn BE & develop expansive playing range. (Don't expect this video to appear on you-tube. It would require permission from 12 parents before this could happen.)

One of the BE students on horn, a gentleman pushing 80 years old, asked me for a BE lesson. He had felt insecure in his progress so did not allow me to use his name for promotional purposes. In our lesson, he played RO#4, starting on double pedal F (fundamental F on the Bb horn) and slurred all the way up to high F above high C while solidly nailing every note in between. He did this without resetting, but rather in a smooth clean motion. Sheesh! I had to ask, "Exactly what part of BE isn't working for you?"

Another BE student I worked with played his RI exercises with such a lovely tone, he could easily use this as his normal performance embouchure provided he could learn to tongue efficiently with this set up.

Milton, a horn player (not a BE student) who played principal horn for many years told me of an experience that resonated with me. After attending our presentation Milton said he realized what he'd been doing for many years was actually a part of BE. (Well, of course! All successful brass players use the principles of BE whether they know it or not.) Milton had used a rolled in setting on both trumpet and horn which gave him a wonderful high range, but eventually it"morphed" into something too extreme to allow for flexibility. In other words, his chops became unbalanced and too heavy on the roll in side to be efficient. He was forced to go through a difficult embouchure change to correct it. I believe this could have been avoided or even corrected had Milton been practicing the BE roll-out and roll-in exercises consistently all along. (Too bad BE wasn't available back in the day for Milton.)

Another exciting happening came from David, a BE trumpeter in the San Francisco area, who came Thursday for our presentation. David brought a book describing the Maggio method. The descriptions of the Maggio method had a few striking similarities to the embouchure that trumpet players often develop studying BE. What was especially interesting was that David had studied Maggio's embouchure for 30 years, but in all those years never made the progress like he had in just two years of studying BE. This shows where Jeff Smiley's genius is. Jeff has taken the elements from past players as well as his own teaching experiences and organized these elements into a system that is so simple, even children can learn it.

And, BTW, David picked up my horn and played a fundamental pedal F, then slurred through the partials to a double high C -- each note with a nice full tone. Don't we just hate it when trumpet players do that? ha ha ha!

A representative from Conn-Selmer, a tuba player, was intriqued by BE so bought the book. I'm eager to hear how this works out for him. I know only one other tuba player who uses BE.

For all the BE newbies, I'm hoping to make email contact with each and everyone of you. Unfortunately, I don't have all your email addresses, and some of the email addressed I've tried have failed. So if you don't soon hear from me, please contact me by email at: ValerieW78 "at" gmail "dot" com.


Go back home.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

BE in San Francisco

A few things:
(1) I've been invited to do a presentation on The Balanced Embouchure (BE) at the upcoming IHS symposium in San Francisco. Since Steve Park is an accomplished horn player, music educator and very enthusiastic about BE, I invited him to assist. He has agreed and will be performing a solo as part of the presentation. Whoo hoo! I can hardly wait for that. For information about the Symposium see: http://symposium.hornsociety.org/

Steve recently gave a presentation about BE to the Utah Horn Club. He wrote me this about the experience:
"Hi Valerie - The BE presentation went very well last Saturday. I got some great feedback from Larry Lowe and Jeb Wallace. They said that the most impressive and convincing part of my presentation was the video that shows all of my young students playing a pedal F and a high C. Larry said everyone knows that young students can't play a high C. And yet there were 12 of my young students doing it. -Steve"
(2) Since I've been invited to present BE formally in SF, I've decided to attend the symposium as an exhibitor rather than a participant. This means I will have a table where participants can purchase a book and stop by for a chat. (Please, please stop by!) I will make myself available to as many BE students as possible for extra help with the exercises while I'm in San Francisco. I don't know how I'll work the logistics, but even if it means using my husband's and my dormitory room as a make-shift studio, I'll do it! I plan to have a "Help w/ BE" sign up sheet on my table.

(3) I have designed a Comfy Horn Strap which has become quite popular in my home town among students and my horn friends. It's fully adjustable, lightweight, non bulky, strong, requires no professional installation and, most of all, very comfortable as it takes the pressure off the left hand while playing. It fits every horn and hand I've tried it on so far. I'm testing the market to see if it's worth my while to make and sell these. I'll have a limited number available at the symposium, but anyone who orders one before the symposium is over will get the "introductory price." Email me if you're interested. ValerieW78 "at" gmail "dot" com.
(I've used mine for four years & it's holding up well.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lip Swelling, The Embouchure Performance Wrecking Ball

Lip swelling can impair embouchure performance for brass players. Lip swelling can be caused from medications, allergies, certain dietary supplements, foods, mechanical stimulation (vibration/pressure), infections, cosmetics and who-knows-what-else. Lip swelling seriously reduces endurance, range and the ability to make clean attacks.

For some, the embouchure muscles are well conditioned, the players have good mechanics, technique and range, but for various reasons, their lips swell as they play. For these folks, performance is seriously diminished before they begin to feel fatigue in the embouchure muscles.

How can you tell when your lips are swollen? Larry Jellison wrote:
I can tell quickly my swelling condition by putting the mouthpiece on my lips and playing for a couple seconds. If my lips are NOT swollen, then both lips feel like feet being in roomy shoes-- lots of room for the lips to move around which is important for dexterity and overall response with a good buzz. When the lips are swollen, there is less room for the lips to move around in the mouthpiece ... less dexterity, less ability to start notes consistently. 
More recently, Larry added this sage advice.

When the lips are messed up from supplements and meds, my opinion is, go ahead and practice.  Don't get upset about how you may sound.  Practice the best you can.  Many aspects of horn playing are worse-- tone, accuracy, high range, intonation.  But, try really hard to play the best you can.  With super concentration, you can play better.  This kind of practice improves one's overall horn playing then when the lips are in good condition.  Practice when playing is bad does bring overall improvement.   
Sometimes the cause of lip swelling can take a long time to identify and resolve, but sometimes a few simple interventions remedy the problem. The following is a list of various causes and possible remedies I've gathered through personal experience and experiences of others:

1. Those who have swelling due to prescription medications, may talk to their doctors about changing medications. For example, some blood pressure medications work by dilating blood vessels which can lead to swelling. Changing to a medication that treats hypertension with another strategy may ease the swelling. (See #19 below for a specific medication.)

2. One hornist explained that a rushed, strenuous warm up used to cause his lips to swell and stiffen. He now gets better performance because he's using Wendell Rider's gentle warm up. (I also use Wendell's warm up and love it for this and other reasons. http://www.wendellworld.com/html/HornBookSamples.html)
Another horn player doesn't play at all the day of a performance only blowing a few easy notes just prior to the concert for warm up & preparation.

3. Taking aspirin or ibuprophen before a performance helps three horn players I'm acquainted with. One reports that prescription doses of ibuprophen are the most effective.

4. Supplements that have been reported to increase lip swelling are fish oil, arginine, niacin, so one horn player routinely abstains from these products for at least six hours before performing.

5. Two horn players I know find the dietary supplement, Serraflazyme (serrapeptase) very helpful for reducing and preventing swelling. Another finds this same supplement to aggravate swelling. 

6. Two reported that if a salty food touches their lips, they can not play for hours after.

7. A young lady posted on a horn discussion forum about trying a new lipstick that made her lips swell so badly before a concert, she was unable to play the concert.

8. Many report that arnica, an herbal anti-inflammatory, helps reduce swelling. Arnica is available in OTC products such as ChopSaver, creams, gels and tablets. (BTW, every product I've ever used containing arnica makes my lips burn and swell. Go figure.)  At a master class I attended, Gail Williams said she uses oral arnica preparations as well as ChopSaver.

9. Several trumpet players I know put a cold can of beer against their lips during strenuous performances. One said forget soda pop, only beer will do! ;o)

10. Sometimes, if I'm exposed to something I'm allergic to, nothing helps but an antihistamine/decongestant. Yet, one horn player's lips swell more if he takes antihistamines. (Go figure.)  Nuts are a common trigger for lip swelling.  http://www.livestrong.com/article/446613-raw-almonds-and-swollen-lips/

11. Also, certain foods can cause embouchure swelling. I personally have experienced embouchure problems after eating red or green peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, kiwi fruit, pineapple or cashews. I've heard of some who have problems with spicey foods, highly acidic foods or beverages, such as citrus & berries. One horn player reported a disastrous performance after eating spicy chicken verde enchiladas prior to her concert debut as principal. Ouch!

12. Another cause for my lips to swell is dehydration making them feel hot and burned, then swell and I end up "clamming" all over the place. [Since clams are aquatic creatures, it stands to reason that they'll stay calm & quiet if given plenty of water. ;o) ]

13. Aside from dietary interventions & antihistamines, something else that has helped me is to get allergy tested, start allergy shots and remove as many allergens from my home possible. In testing I was found to be highly sensitive to insect proteins & molds. I don't live in an area where insects are a problem, but I did have a lot of silk in my bedroom. (Silk is an insect protein.) Removing the silk bedding, drapery and throw pillows made a significant improvement in my embouchure function and overall well being. My husband and I also had the 30 year old moldy insulation in our attic replaced and that has really helped, too. (It was surprisingly affordable.) I only occasionally need antihistamines anymore, whereas previous to the interventions in this paragraph, I used them twice daily for many years.

14. (5/6/11) I just heard from a horn player who took hydrocodone before and after surgery. He wrote,
"It worked for the pain, but made my face swell enough that playing the Horn was very inconsistent. For a while I used one of my Neill Sanders wide rim mouthpieces, because it was easier to move around in. After the surgery it took about 3 months for things to get back to normal. Now I am back on either my trusty Schilke #30 or a mid 70's Giardinelli F-16. (Giardinelli's version of the original Farkas mouthpiece)"

"It took me several days to realize it was the Hydocodone, that was the cause of the problems with my Horn playing. My first reaction was: Oh damn, along with everything else, I have the first stages of embouchure dystonia! It was only after my brain kicked in and said: A doctor's first question would be: What have you eaten, taken or done differently recently? With that thought in mind I looked up the side effects of hydrocodone in the internet. "
15. One horn player with embouchure dystonia reports that symptoms are more manageable if he reduces lip swelling with ibuprophen before a performance.

Of course, what works for me and others mentioned in this post, may not work for all. I'm sharing ideas hoping that something here will help any who may be struggling with performance problems related to lip swelling. If any have additional related experience, please share so I can add it to this list. Feel free to leave a comment or email me directly ValerieW78 "at" Gmail "dot" com. Thanks to all who have contributed.

16. This just in (5/10/11) from one of a BE correspondents in Europe :
About lip swelling, it was an issue for a couple of years ago. It was mainly due to bad lip functionning and the overuse of mpc pressure for extensive periods of practice. I had to play a really big mpc so I could get low notes. Since BE helped me improve my lip functioning, I do not have that problem any longer. I can play for hours without any swelling, neither on the moment nor the next day. I now play a Holton Farkas MDC, which is a fairly small mpc diameter wise (it is already quite a deep cup) and my low register has never been better.
17. This from Larry:
BE DOES help with the lip swelling, the RO-RI helps to adjust the lips the minimize the worst of it.  You touch on a key concept-- an inefficient embouchure will make swelling worse, and this because the lips are getting "beaten up", thus aggravating the swelling. Swelling may at least be partly a symptom of an embouchure problem.
18. Reading this jogged my memory of my first few months back to horn. The center of my upper lip was always swollen, sometimes bruised and a few times it tore leaving a tiny thread of loose skin attached to the underside of the lip. This particular problem completely resolved after I began BE.

19. A specific hypertension medicine may adversely affect horn playing. This came today (8/15/11) from one of my readers:
There are many Internet sites that describe the side effects of Norvasc. Here is one: http://www.drugs.com/sfx/norvasc-side-effects.html . Side effects include flushing and swelling. Supposedly, these side effects apply to a small percentage of users, less than 5%. In my case, I experienced both flushing and swelling. Swelling was noticeable in my ankles. The flushing is gone and the swelling is reducing since quitting the medication.

I am one data point that indicates that these the side effects happen. The swelling affected my lips and my horn playing. Playing was difficult, and most aspects of my horn playing were affected. I suspect that flushing and swelling occur together, so if one experiences flushing, the swelling is likely occurring.

Within one week of quitting Norvasc, my horn playing improved and my lips were more comfortable while playing horn. Norvasc (amlodipine) is a calcium channel blocker used to treat high blood pressure and angina. Similar reactions as described above can be expected from other calcium channel blockers.
20.  This just in (9/9/11) from a reader:
My embouchure hasn't functioned well in the morning for years. I just thought it was my "normal" not to play well until about 2 or 3 PM.  I stopped taking krill oil with breakfast three or four days ago and have been frankly surprised at how much better I'm playing in the morning now.  If my doctor insists I keep taking krill oil, I'll try taking it at bedtime or I'll ask him to suggest a substitute. 

21.  Bizarre thing happened to me this past weekend.  On Friday, the insides of my mouth suddenly became so sensitive, eating my normal lunch left the insides feeling burned.  After about a hour, I looked in the mirror and saw that much of the mucous membranes had turned white and were actually peeling.  It looked like burns, as if I'd taken a big bite of hot cheesy pizza, except it was in a perfectly symmetrical pattern.  I hoped it was only a temporary thing, but the tenderness continued.  By the end rehearsal that evening, my lips were significantly swollen and I clammed quite a bit.  I discussed it with a dentist who plays in the orchestra.  We agreed that it wasn't a chemical burn and could possibly be the first signs of an impending viral infection, possibly a herpes virus similar to those that cause fever blisters.  The dentist suggested I try lysine. Before I got home, I stopped at my local grocery store's health food department and purchased some L-lysine.  When I got home I looked in the mirror and saw there were swollen ridges and a few blisters inside my lips and mouth.  (PANIC!  I was preparing for a concert in two days!  Herpes infections typically last a week or more.)

I reasoned that if this was the beginning of a viral infection, I might as well do all the anti-viral things I could think of.  So that evening, in addition to large doses of L-lysine, I began taking large doses of vitamin C w/ bioflavanoids, oregano oil & olive leaf extract, echinacea, and zinc lozenges.  The next morning, Saturday, I continued with the supplements taking them every 2 to 3 hours.  As the dentist and I suspected, I developed a low grade fever with chills.  I spent the day in bed feeling just awful, mostly sleeping.  I was scheduled to attend the fiinal rehearsal that evening and wasn't sure I was going to make it.  By 4 PM, the chills & fever "broke."  By 5 PM I had energy again.  By 6 PM, there were no more blisters inside my mouth and no sign of lip swelling, just a little remaining white peeling tissue.  I attended rehearsal and played pretty well.  I continued the supplements the next day and performed in the concert with well functioning chops.  Nailed my solo with the high sustained G.  Whoo hoo!

22.  A similar incident recently occurred involving a friend of mine.  About 6 PM and two days prior to a critical concert, one of my horn friends found his lower lip swollen up two or three times its normal size & he couldn't play a note.  There was no pain, there had been no injury or trauma, he had no allergies that he was aware of.  He called his friend who is a nurse.  She suggested he alternate ice packs with warm packs, take a vitamin C tablet every hour or two (to tolerance) and follow recommended doses of an over-the-counter antihistamine.  He reported to me that within an hour the swelling began to resolve and he was back to normal within 24 hours.

23.  Larry contributed the following December 19, 2011:

I have knowingly been struggling with lip swelling for a year that adversely affects my horn playing. The struggle may have occurred much longer; I just didn't know that it was going on until Dave Stoller recognized the symptoms I was having after he read my comments about my playing that I posted on a hornlist. David e-mailed me and told me my problem could be lip swelling,and he suggested some solutions.

I started studying my condition and studied how food, supplements, and medications affected my horn playing. Hypertension medications were the worst, and I went through different hypertension meds to find some that worked the best for my horn playing. I finally got down to taking only beta blockers (atenolol, propranolol) and a diuretic (water pill- hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ)). I had always taken the HCTZ once a day away from my horn playing time, as I assumed that it would be a problem. My doctor then doubled my HCTZ dosage to 25 mg. twice a day. I could no longer keep this med away from my horn playing. When I doubled the dosage of HCTZ, I noticed a remarkable improvement to my horn playing. I then tested this further by dropping off the med for a few days, played horn, then resumed taking the med, followed by playing horn. The beneficial effect could be noticed a within a few hours of resuming the med. All aspects of my horn playing improved, most notably tone, accuracy, dexterity, high range, and endurance. I noticed that my lips felt roomier in the mouthpiece, and the increased room actually created a minor temporary problem of needing to strengthen my lip support structure within the mouthpiece. I will check later to whether I can downsize to a smaller mouthpiece rim; for now I will stay on the Laskey 85G. The amount of improvement is significant, and I am able to play more confidently. 

24.   I personally experienced troubling episodes of swelling, tooth sensitivity & break outs of rashes in the mouth for a couple months before discovering that it was all caused by a bad tooth. Once the dental problem was resolved, the symptoms went away.

 25. From Larry:  I want to make another update to your blog on the lip swelling issue, to reflect my latest findings.  My current strategy involves recognizing that we can tolerate some minimum level of lip swelling.  It is a continuum, and the more swelling, the worse the playing.  My new finding is that (after all my criticism of Norvasc) these troublesome medications can be taken, as I have been back on them for about three weeks now.  They can be taken IF one reduces the other supplements that cause swelling.  Now I realize I got into trouble with lip swelling because i was taking both troublesome medications and troublesome supplements.  I have had to greatly cut back on supplements, especially on important horn playing days, starting with the day before.  

26. From Doug:  

Started on my aunt's cornet.  Lovely little Reynolds.  Never had any range on that and remember hating the mouthpieces.  An absolutely wonderful 7th grade band teacher (Eric Sorenson, who I believe died last year, great educator) told me I had French Horn lips.  He was a horn player.  HAH!! Imagine that.  Put on a horrible compensating horn with a Bach 11 (I Think).

All throughout jr high I had problems getting through a performance without tiring.  My horn teacher (8-11th grades) switched me to a giardinelli mouthpiece, much better made he said, and found a very used, very good custom H-181 that I still have as my second horn.  

I played Giardinelli's all through college (just orchestra with required lessons, though my studies were in composition) switching from very deep cups to very shallow, C1 through s15!  Finally settled on an s15.  After college I mostly stopped except for a brief stint playing in the Kensington Symphony Orchestra (community).  Then almost 2 years ago (after I think a decade) I picked up the horn again.  Here's the lowdown:

  • Bach 11 bad compensator - rough time through concerts
  • Giardinelli C4 (I think don't own anymore) with silver plate screw rim and Holton - Got through the Mozart stuff and had problems with high-end.  Told that I had some embouchure issues that teacher and school instructor didn't know how to work out
  • College - Conn 8D with (Briefly) Holton tuckwell goldplated - Embouchure issue persists, switch to old Giardinelli S15 with old C Rim.  High end improves, embouchure problems continue, college instructor thinks I need to build strength puts me on lots of long notes.  No improvement.
  • After college - S15 and Holton 181, notice that high end is fine at beginning of playing but flexibility and range degrade quickly.
  • Various community orchestras
  • Return after long time away - for first time going through exercises identify that lips are tingly and actually get puffy (look in mirror and see ring that persists for 30-50 minutes after playing).  Suspect something is wrong.  Switch from Holton 181 to Paxman 25.  Decide to buy lots of New Old Stock off ebay to figure out mouthpiece issue (as I'm calling it).  After trying about 6 or 7 find that I have much worse problems with the unplated/bad plated mouthpieces, and last longer on the silver plate.  Try the Kelly Lexan mouthpieces and have no tingle, no puffiness, and no red ring.  Try out the Laskey MP's in San Francisco and find I love them so decide to try one and switch to it for working out pieces, while the Kelly is the warm up.  Find I have almost no reaction to the Laskey, allows for much longer practices and don't feel tingle or puffiness to nearing my practice duration anyway (about 1.25-1.75 hours).  Correspond with Mr. Laskey, very kind in taking his time and says that his brass blanks are nickel free and he plates in extremely pure, as nickel free as possible, silver.  Suggests I have an allergy test done to narrow down the metal.  Have not tested yet but suspect zinc, cadmium, or rhodium may be to blame.   
27.  From Ann:  I recently found that I can get relief from lip swelling without the usual stomach irritation that comes from other anti-inflammatories by taking Pepto Bismol instead.  It contains the anti-inflammatory, aspirin, plus bismuth to protect the stomach.  Works great.  

28.  Following my injury in December, I had a lot of swelling issues.  I found the best way for me to use ice during the healing phase was to gently rub an ice cube on the center of my lips (the part that's inside the mouthpiece) for about 10 seconds every 10 or 15 minutes during the first 30 minutes of playing.   I was careful not to use ice for too long while playing.  I only wanted to cool them down, not dampen response.  

29.  I'm a retired registered nurse with a history of thyroid illness so I can't believe I failed to mention before now. DUH!  Swollen lips can be a sign of a poorly functioning thyroid.  See this: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/myxedema   And... one of the main causes of thyroid disease is iodine deficiency.  From The Silent Epidemic of Iodine Deficiency we read:   
In 2008, researchers concerned about the growing threat of iodine deficiency analyzed 88 samples of iodized table salt—the main supply of this critical micronutrient for most people. Less than half of those tested contained amounts of iodine sufficient for optimal health. Coupled with the trend of reduced salt consumption, rates of iodine deficiency are now reaching epidemic levels.  In the developed world, iodine deficiency has increased more than fourfold over the past 40 years. Nearly 74% of normal, “healthy” adults may no longer consume enough iodine....  You will discover iodine’s vital role in thyroid function. 
I believe adequate iodine intake could reduce some of the chronic lip swelling that is so common among brass players.  For up-to-date information on thyroid health see this site.

30.  Just received this from Eric.
Valerie, I read your most recent comments about embouchure swelling. I made and interesting discovery this summer. Myself, and several colleagues have been trying Laskey mouthpieces for a music store in the Omaha / Council Bluffs area. They are trying to get players to use them, as they are relatively unknown in this area.   
I usually play on an older Schilke #30. (because, it was made by hand, before computer driven equipment, it has a flat rim) While I still prefer it for most of my playing I did find that a Laskey G70 works quite well when my embouchure has swelled a little bit. The G70 is basically a 21 Century version of the Schilke #30 Farkas model. The rounded rim of the computer designed G70 seems to give that needed space inside the cup. Everything else feels and plays the the same as the Schilke #30. Tone, intonation, note placement etc.
Have a great rest of the summer!
Eric in Iowa
31. This is the latest from Larry.  (July 2014)  He kindly shared this with a horn player who is struggling with swelling issues and taking blood pressure medications.

I am my only "subject", so a scientific study of one person isn't much science at all.  Read  Valerie's blog on the topic of lip swelling. What might negatively affect one person may not affect another.  I suggest as much as you can, simplify your intake to simple whole foods and only the necessary meds that you need.  Then, one by one, add something else in and see how it affects your horn playing in the following 24 hrs.

Things that cause lip swelling for me are: calcium channel blockers (are the worst), omega oils, Co-Q10, vitamin D3 (in larger than 1000 unit doses),   Beta blockers and diuretics will reduce endurance, but don't cause lip swelling. These are the things that affect me. I take the mentioned supplements, since they are important to health, but not within 48 hours of important horn playing.  With my home practice, I will "suffer" with self-inflected lip swelling-- you can actually make progress in playing and also try to learn how to play with swollen lips.  BE helps with learning to play with swollen lips. Some horns and mpcs are easier with swollen lips (I found my 8D to be the most challenging).   If I can help further, feel free to e-mail.

Larry Jellison 
Oceanside, CA 

Richard Prankerd  commented the following on FaceBook:  Valerie, if you want to re-post on the BE site, please do. With reference to Larry's last post: "I am my only "subject", so a scientific study of one person isn't much science at all. " On the contrary, there is a very well established science based on the concept of the "n = 1 clinical trial". This recognizes that in many things, we humans display a great deal of individuality. What works for one person does not and never will work for another. So, how do we make this "n = 1" concept work? By applying a sufficient number of positive and negative controls, with a statistically significant number of repetitions to the problem under study. By applying (a) the treatment under test, (b) a known treatment that works, and (c) a placebo treatment to the one subject can be made into a meaningful test of the treatment. It's best if the subject does not know which treatment is being applied at any time, that there is an objective way of measuring the response, and that the number of repetitions is significant. This last criterion can be hard to gauge, and depends on the magnitude of the response. A big response requires fewer repetitions of the test, but 4-6 is usually OK.

[Thanks, Richard!]

32.  There was a recent discussion on FaceBook about lip swelling.  Most of what was discussed is mentioned above except for one item posted by Christina Marioneaux.  She knew of a brass player who used Preparation H (yes, the hemorrhoid medication) to shrink swollen lips. 

The Vibrass Lip Massage Trainer has been suggested on FaceBook.  

Lip Medex, Carmex, Bag Balm have also been suggested. 

Witch hazel, the natural astringent and active ingredient in some hemorrhoid medications was also suggested.  

33.  Donald D Krause wrote on FaceBook: "I have been using apple juice for the past 15 years-- really lick my lips with it -- brother and I used it when deer hunting in Wyoming many years ago-- not apple drink as it has a bit of alchohol in it.. works for me... On solo ensemble day for the past dozen or so day -- the thurs and friday before that when I have all my students come to the house for a last run through-- I give them a 12 oz can of Apple Juice and the morning of solo ensemble some of my students come again with another can of Apple juice -- I have had Doctor parents say I'm crazy but, I know for me it works especially in winter -- had a student a couple years ago always came to youth symphony rehearsal with a jar or can of apple juice-- so I know quite a few of my students think it works and even if they think it does -- nothing wrong with that..

34.  Audrey Destito wrote on FaceBook: Using tea bags (let them cool off first) like a hot compress helps swelling. I struggled with swelling a lot before figuring out that I have a metal allergy. Tea bags were the only thing that reduced the swelling enough for me to keep playing.