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.