Friday, April 22, 2011

BEyond Description

When I first began studying BE, I enjoyed an instant boost to my embouchure performance because I was "allowed" to roll my lips in and out. I remember thinking how grateful I was to Jeff Smiley for letting me in on the big "secret." At the time, I thought that's what BE was all about: rolling in and out. I shared this idea with others in the French horn world and some began experimenting with the idea and teaching their students to roll in and out. Of course, they reported success from this simple intervention because it is based upon a universal principal of embouchure function -- rolling lips inward raises pitch, rolling lips outward lowers pitch.

It wasn't until later, after working the BE exercises consistently over time, that I began to see the bigger picture and realize that the power of The Balanced Embouchure is found in the system, not one specific technique. BE is much more than rolling in and out. BE is a comprehensive method using multiple techniques that can stimulate a faulty embouchure to self correct. Consistently following Jeff Smiley's instructions can actually provide guidance for the hornist to find a new and more efficient embouchure set up. Sometimes this improvement comes with a subtle repositioning or reshaping of the lips; other times it often comes with radical changes in embouchure mechanics.

BE uses a variety of specific techniques including rolling in and out, to provide a wide range of experiences for the embouchure components (lips, tongue, teeth, air, cheeks, breathing apparatus, etc) that the BE student can experiment with and choose from. Using sensory feedback (hearing, touch, proprioception, etc.) and innate intelligence, the player is guided, both consciously and unconsciously, to make choices that optimize embouchure performance. Simply rolling the lips in and out cannot provide the horn player as comprehensive a range of experience.

Through the past five years I've been working BE, I've enjoyed discovery after discovery, AHA moment after AHA moment. Most of the details of the changes and improvements are beyond my ability to analyze and describe, but can only be personally "felt." When I try to share the specifics of what I've learned through BE, I often find myself "tongue tied" by the effort. There's little more of substance that I can add to this simple statement:

"Do the Balanced Embouchure exercises because they work!"

Those who only apply rolling in and rolling out to their regular playing may get a boost in embouchure performance, like I did. But if they don't work the whole BE system, they are missing the bigger picture, the remedial and long term benefits that the complete Balanced Embouchure development system provides.

(I wish to thank my son, Aaron, a philosophy student, for sharing the quotation in the comments section below. This quotation provided the inspiration for this article. Since I can't accurately describe what goes on inside the mouthpiece of any single horn player, I chose to remain silent about the details!)

Go back home.