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. 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.

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.

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: 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.