Wednesday, October 17, 2012

BE Update: Benefits Not Anticipated

Doug Wagner, a former professional trombonist turned hornist, began studying The Balanced Embouchure three years ago.  He emailed this to me this past weekend:  

I signed on to Facebook, which is not a regular habit for me, and found your post of comments from Jane Swanson. My takeaway was from her first two points: 
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.
Yesterday, I endured a brutal two-and-a-half rehearsal featuring repeated, sub tempo rehearsal of high, loud passages. Even allowing for laying out at strategic points, I was burned out after two hours and struggled for the ability to play in the high range. Even so, I was able to finish the rehearsal in reasonably good shape by judicious rest, and by depending on my section. I chose not to play any more after I got home.

Today. I considered not playing at all, but I warmed up carefully and after a few minutes had all the flexibility and range that I've had previously. The conclusion I reached is that, I can recover quickly, if not completely, by a few seconds rest, and that the next day, I don't suffer prolonged fatigue. So, I will echo Jane's comments. BE had benefits not anticipated.

I'm 66 years old. If I could duplicate the benefits of BE with the rest of my body as it ages, I'd be the wonder of the Western world. I'm amazed at the progress I've made. A new horn doesn't hurt either.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Colin Ng, 14 Month Update

Dear Valerie,

In another 10 days it will be my 14th month anniversary of BE practice. I was then disabled due to a “guided” embouchure change and later in the year, broke my front tooth due to a hard grain. Before then, consistency of sound production was something I had to work very hard on, yet with very temperamental results.

After a year of dedicated BE practice, consistency of good sound production is now no longer a concern; and after the due efforts to make technique transparent, I am able to direct my thought to music aesthetics freely during rehearsals and performances.

I even came out with some original exercises based on BE concepts with crazy good results. Stamina is astonishing and range is still extending and climbing!
Playing the first movement of the Otto Nicolai duet no. 1 on both 1st and 2nd horn parts as an extended warm up is something that was unthought of; now it's a possibility.
Here are some thoughts on BE after a year:
  1. BE is not music but BE enables Music.
  2. Ease of play and good sound happens only after BE not during BE. Be need not sound good in practice, and is not to be used as a performance technique. BE is a conditioner.
  3. Even for my one day phenomenon a year ago, it is normal to have a slow start off that kicks off into exponential results over time.
  4. Hitting a plateau means hanging on to your BE even more religiously. Before you know it, you look back and realized that plateau is far behend you.
  5. Haters gonna hate. Some people will ask about how its done and yet reject BE even more due to their pre-conceptions. Let pre-conceptions bring them to hit their own brick wall. BE only work for people who need it; not simply want it.
Cheers to everybody and have a great day!

Yours sincerely,
Colin Ng

This note added 10/8/14:  Colin Ng is still enjoying BE and had been developing  his own exercises based upon BE principles.  See this.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Feedback from a Low Brass Player

I've never worked BE with low brass and have always been curious to see how it works.  I received the following email yesterday:  

I bought Jeff Smiley’s BE book 8 years ago when I was playing Tuba to help with the upper register. I even bought a Trumpet to work on the BE exercises. They did help to develop my Trumpet and Tuba range. A couple of years ago, I switched to Horn, my instrument in high school. I play with a community band that needs Horns.
I’d like to purchase your BE for French Horn PDF, if available. How might I obtain it?
Thanks for your help,
Don Talbott

Friday, July 20, 2012

BE and Verdi

This is from an email I received from Doug Wagner.  Doug had a career as a trombone player and music arranger.  After he retired from arranging & trombone performance, he decided to pursue one of his dreams, to become a horn player.  He's written several times about how BE has helped him.  Here's his latest in a spontaneous email I received from him just this week.

I just got the music (3rd horn) for Verdi's Otello which we are performing in August. So far I've found horn in: Bb, C, D, Eb, E, A and A Basso, and your favorite, horn in B. He either loved or hated horns. Lot's of nice solos in the 3rd part. Dave threatened to take 3rd away from me and make me play 1st.   
I don't think that anyone who has never experienced something like this could even remotely begin to understand.  The old joke is that playing in a symphony orchestra is like flying: endless boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror.  We've all been there and done that. But the thrill of getting it right is what keeps us coming back.... And actually, it wasn't until I started BE that I ever had any confidence that I ever would perform.     
The Otello horn parts have stuff that is right out of BE exercises. I would never have thought I could play some of these passages before BE. Now it's - "Oh yeah, I know how to do that." I'm not bragging, it's just that I've done those exercises so much, that it's very natural to incorporate the BE techniques into real world playing. I approach every playing situation from a BE perspective, practice, rehearsal or performance, because first I have to be able to produce the notes. After that I can work on the musical aspects. If I can't play the notes, there isn't anywhere to go. BE has helped me make sure I can play the notes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My BE Anniversary

This June marks my 6th year BE anniversary.  I'm still mesmerized by it.  I'm still learning from it.

I've spent a lot of money on horns, mouthpieces, music books, symposiums, workshops and lessons, but the best money I ever spent to advance my horn playing was for one little book, "The Balanced Embouchure."  And, the most valuable time I've given to this end was to learn & practice the exercises... rarely more than 15 minutes a day, 4 or 5 days a week.  Wow.

Thanks, Jeff Smiley, for creating this amazing method.  I couldn't be more pleased.

The only thing I can add is more superlatives, so I'll stop my gushing!

Sincerely, Valerie Wells

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Balanced Embouchure for Horn on FaceBook

I've formed a group on FaceBook called The Balanced Embouchure for Horn.  Postings are open for the public to read.  All BE students (BE'ers) with a Facebook account are invited to join.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Playing is so much more enjoyable."

In an email I recently received:  
Just thought I would give you an update now that I have had BE for a couple months. First of all, you should know that I am a former horn major who like you, gave it up to pursue a "safer" profession.  So I got a business degree.  I have kept a horn or two around to play when I felt like it.  Usually, I would practice hard for a couple months and then step back again.   I have always had a good range, but it was a lot of work to stay in shape.  I hoped that BE would help me keep up my chops with the 1/2 hour or hour I have each day.
All I can say is BE delivers.  My range is up to over 5 full octaves.  I can consistently hit high E's (which I never could do, even when I was a horn major).  The great thing is that I know I have made this progress with a strong lip and not pressure.  You have no idea how exciting it was the first time I played the entire long call without feeling shot afterwards!  I can finally focus on the music and not worry about whether I am hurting my embouchure or not.  Playing is so much more enjoyable.  I have even thought about preparing for an audition or two.
From one "amateur" to another, thanks.
  Micah Cooper

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Julia Rose "Retires" her Blog

Julia Rose has had a very popular blog, Julia's Horn Page, for a number of years.  She recently retired her blog, but graciously allowed me to publish what she's written about her BE experience.  For more about Julia see this:
Thanks, Julia, for all you've done to advance horn playing.
The Balanced Embouchure
Published on Jan. 6, 2009 by Julia Rose

 I’ve been reading a lot about something called “Balanced Embouchure” lately. It is a book by a trumpet teacher named Jeff Smiley,who states the following on his web site:

… "The Balanced Embouchure" is the core text of a projected series of books dealing with unique dynamic range of motion exercises. These exercises tend to enhance every player's embouchure development - often dramatically. After years of teaching thousands of trumpet lessons in the "real world," ranging from beginners to students who had struggled for years, I confidently make this statement on the first page of the book: ("The Balanced Embouchure" is...)

   ...A Dynamic Development System That's Easy To Learn And Works For Every Trumpet Player...

> Regardless of your age or number of years played
> Regardless of how weak your current embouchure
> Regardless of your lip architecture
> Regardless of how confused you are
> Regardless of what you've been told…

Sounds intriguing, eh?

I first read about it on the horn forum a while back, where an amateur hornist was glowing about the fabulous results she was getting on the horn by reading this book and doing the exercises. She was immediately shot down by another hornist who felt what she was doing was incorrect, and then she was later defended by a well-regarded teacher (Wendell Rider) in the horn world. It was a typical internet forum flame-fest, but the whole discussion rather intrigued me. Mr. Rider was intrigued enough to take a look at rolling in/rolling out of the lips while playing, experiment with it with himself and his students, and it inspired him enough to write an addendum to his fine book.

Mr. Rider’s addendum can be found here: What Mr. Rider says in the addendum I absolutely agree with. Basically, “Balanced Embouchure” involves exercises designed to get the player to roll their lips inward as they ascend in range, and outward as they descend. I am in agreement with Mr. Rider, as I also think there maybe something to it.

I am not a natural player by any means. When I made my embouchure change in college, what made the new embouchure finally click for me was getting a rolling in/out motion of the lips correct. Doug Hill put it into words for me as a “chicken beak.” Seems like strange imagery, and yes,chickens do not have lips :), but hey, it worked for me. To me, this motion seems a lot like the “Whistling” embouchure that Farkas talks about inhis books.

In thinking about the rolling in/rolling out, I believe the principles that Farkas discusses in his books are, for the most part, an excellent starting point for the proper horn embouchure. But from what I’ve seen over the years by watching others play the horn, the Farkas method may only completely work for players with small lips and a slight overbite. Others (like me, for example, with my fuller lips and a large overbite) probably have to modify this to get things to work for them, perhaps with some of the methods that Mr. Smiley describes. Balanced Embouchure may be another tool for someone to solve their embouchure troubles.

It’s a shame that the trumpet world can talk about embouchure experimentation openly, while in the horn world it gets shot down as blasphemy. (How dare you say that the great Farkas was wrong?!) I see the whole BE rolling in/out discussion as very healthy, if it helps more brass players realize their dreams. The only danger I see in the whole BE discussion is too much attention to the physical while performing, and not enough attention to making music. But then, the physical does have to be worked out before one is free enough to be a great musician.

For more Balanced Embouchure discussion, click here:
Lower lip discipline (or lack thereof)
Published on Aug. 29, 2010 by Julia Rose

Throughout my playing career, my lower lip has caused me trouble.  Ever since I got braces way back when I was 12, my natural tendency (even today) seems to be to not to use enough lower lip in the mouthpiece.  I know this is exactly the opposite problem of many horn players, but it's the case with me.   I had to correct this in college, but I'm finding out that I'm still having to tweak it even now.

You may recall that a while back I mentioned that I had a breakthrough in my practice, but I didn't go into much detail.  Well, I'm now sure that what I've been working on has put me on the right path, so I'm ready to write about what I've been doing.

For the past few years, I have struggled with my middle range.  My high range was very comfortable, my low range was pretty good, but my middle register was troublesome.  Perhaps it was a "high horn syndrome," as this is very common among 1st and 3rd horn players.  Specifically, I lacked clarity when I articulated in the mid range, and during legato passages I had a real lack of flexibility.  I had been working on this extremely hard,especially in the past year.

The weird thing is that the situation used to be reversed- way back when, my middle andlow ranges used to be my strengths, and my high range used to be my weakness.  What exactly was I doing before to make my middle and low ranges strong, and how did I improve my high range?  And is there a way to combine the 2 methods so that every range is strong?

Well, I think I figured it out for myself.  Through arduous practice of flexibility exercises this summer, I've realized that (once again) the culprit was my lower lip.  It was not providing a proper anchor in the middle register, which I believe was the source of my problem. I believe I have now fixed it and I'm beginning to see the fruits of my efforts.  The general feeling in the middle register now is that I'm using slightly more lower lip, and I am doing much less pivoting in the middle register than I had been doing.  In every other range I'm doing the same things as before.   My middle range is much easier now, with no loss of the ease of my high and low ranges.  I have seen some exciting improvements so far, and it's going to be a great next couple of months!

There's been a lot of talk (and disagreement) this past week on various brass blogs about embouchure, and the importance (or unimportance) of the 2/3 to 1/3ratio between the upper and lower lips of the horn embouchure.  Yes, most horn players (including myself) use more upper lip to lower lip, but I believe that's merely coincidence caused by similarities of facial structure(such as overbites) that most of us have.  Horn players with underbites and other unorthodox facial features may need to useother setups, and other methods (like the Balanced Embouchure, for instance) to find their best individual embouchure.

Personally,I believe that what matters most is what the lower lip is doing, not how it looks.  I'm beginning to think that every single technical problem I've ever had is related to my lower lip.  It's weird how this same problem rears its ugly head from time to time with me!
More on the Balanced Embouchure
Published on Aug. 28, 2011 by Julia Rose

Last week James Boldin posted his opinion of the BalancedEmbouchure method by JeffSmiley.  James wrote that he did not own the book, but was open to any possible new ideas that might be presented there that may help himself and his students become more efficient.  I thought it might be useful to follow up to his post with one of my own, as I have experimented with the Balanced Embouchure this summer.

There has been much controversy about the Balanced Embouchure (or BE) all over the internet from both trumpet and horn players.  When I first heard about BE, I was intrigued because of Jeff Smiley's claim that it worked for every trumpet player, and I posted briefly about what I thought here.   But since that post I have heard even more positive things about it from members of the horn-playing community, including more and more professional horn players coming out of the woodwork endorsing it, plus a presentation at the last International Horn Societyworkshop, and I really wanted to find out more.  Before I forman official opinion about something, I like to find out as much as I can aboutit, so I bit the bullet and paid $50 for the book plus the horn exercise addendum from ValerieWells.

I don't feel like I'm in desperate shape chopwise, but like James Boldin, I was curious about what it may offer that I didn't already know, so that I could help myself and possibly my students improve.  I have my chops together, but I have had students who have struggled with range.  So over the past month or so, I've read the book thoroughly and done the exercises.

I am taking my time going through the book, as that is what Mr. Smiley recommends.  It is meant to be a self-help method (with CD included) that allows the student to discover his/her own best individualized approach to brass embouchure, and it has made for a perfect summer project.  The student only needs to spend 5-15 minutes daily on the exercises, so it is not disruptive whatsoever to a normal practice routine.  In a month or so of about 10 minutes of BE practice perday, I have gotten to the point where I can play all the rolling-in (RI) androlling-out (RO) exercises pretty well, but have not yet started on the Advanced Lip Slur (ALS) exercises.  I did find that I was able to do most of the RO exercises immediately.  This is probably because my embouchure naturally leans toward einsetzen, and a big component of the RO exercises is pedal tones, which I have never had much difficulty with.  I have more difficulty with the RI exercises, not in playing the high notes with that embouchure but in using that rolled-in embouchure in the middle register.

Valerie Wells has stated in her blog that BE employs concepts that many fine players are using already, either consciously or unconsciously.  I agree with this, as I have noticed some positive improvements in my playing, but nothing earth-shattering.  I have seen improvement in large intervallic leaps in the middle register.  I think this is because I am actually practicing them while using the exercises (go figure!), and I am also practicing pedal tones systematically, which I have never done before.   I think that part of the success of this book is that it requires the student to practice extremes which they would normally not be practicing.  Not only extremes in range, but extremes in tonguing and embouchure movement that are not necessarily meant to be used in regular playing.

I have also noticed that my range above high C has become more secure.  Whereas some of the licks up to high E in the Schumann Konzertstuck and Strauss Domestic Symphony have been hit-and-miss for me in the past, I can hit them dependably now.  A dependable high E is a nice thing to have!

One of the most appealing things about this method to me is that 5-15 minutes of practice a day isn't enough to mess up your current setup.  As your lips learn to do new things, the things that work better are gradually and unconsciously incorporated into your current embouchure.  It is an individualized approach guided by the student's ear, and not guided by a teacher dogmatically telling the student what to do, or guided by what one thinks they see in a mirror.  The student uses his ear as a guide, and if it sounds right, it is right.  No one horn player's physical makeup is like anyone else's, and I believe that depending on one's ear when playing music (and not how it looks or how it feels) is the best way tooperate.  As that type of approach to brass playing and pedagogy appeals to me in general, I really like this book.

I plan to keep on practicing the BE exercises until I master them, and then I plan on keeping them in my personal practice arsenal.  I can see how this book could really help a struggling student find his/her own best embouchure. If this book had been around when I was in college, I think it would have saved me an enormous amount of practice time.  I think BE could be a terrific tool to help students, and I plan on using it with my own students as needed.  BE is currently quite controversial, but I see it becoming more and more popular as more people give it a chance, because it makes sense and it works!
A few more random thoughts on BE
Published on Sept. 4, 2011 by Julia Rose

Wow.  As of today, last week’s post generated 11 comments, a new record for my blog.  I’m thinking that since a lot of readers enjoyed my last post, it would be anti climactic to talk about leadpipes and valve oil, so I thought I’d continue with a few more random thoughts about BE (Balanced Embouchure).

It's fun to have joined the BE club.  It may seem a little cult-like to outsiders, but on the whole it's a great group of people.   Consider me part of the cult! :) It's difficult to be cutting-edge about something like horn playing, which has been around for hundreds of years, but I think BE is as close to cutting-edge as you'll find inthe music world.  Valerie and Jeff are really on to something and I predict even more players will begin to recognize BE as legitimate.

Personally, I think that BE is a great tool for horn players, but not for beginners. I think it’s more important to get a beautiful, characteristic horn tone in themiddle register before working on extreme range.  After all, the horn is known for its sound, and we don’t want to turn all our horn players into trumpet wannabees.  Every beginner must develop an appreciation forgood horn tone, if it isn’t there in the very beginning.  If I were working on the basics of horn playing, I think I'd also have the beginner work on the LCS (lip clamp squeak) alittle bit away from the horn, and perhaps on a few pedal tones.  Then after a year or 2 of playing, once a great horn sound is established, it might be a good time to start on BE.

One fun new thing I’ve done this week is occasionally play the BE exercises on the descant horn.  All the exercises are supposed to be done on the Bb side of the horn, so since I’ve been wanting to learn my descant horn a little better, I’ve just been doing the BE exercises on the Bb side of the descant (not the high F side).   After playing the RI/RO exercises on the descant horn, I play through some descant horn excerpts (like Haydn 31) using normal mechanics and normal usage of the high F horn.  Haydn 31 is so easy compared to the BE exercises!

Playing through the RO #4 exercise, I’m realizing that those great orchestral horn players who can scream up in the high range like lead trumpeters (I’m thinkingPhil Myers, Dale Clevenger, Bill Caballero, and others) MUST do some extreme high range exercises much like the BE ones, or perhaps Caruso.  BE is great training for that kind of playing, no doubt about it!

It's good that my son has started school again for the year, because now I can raise all sorts of BE racket in my practice room during the day without disturbing anyone.  The only one who is bothered by it is my dog, but I know it's nothing personal- he howls along to whatever I play.  (I've got to put a videotape of his howling up here sometime.  It's hilarious!)  I think I'd be a little self-conscious of how weird I sound if family members were around.  By myself, I don't give a rip. :)

If I spin things just right in my mind, I see that I am extremely blessed to have a normal family life with lots of time with my family, lots of time to practice, and lots of time to try new things (like BE) and otherwise"sharpen my saw," perhaps for something better in my musical future.  A busier musician would not have the time to practice that I do.  Many musicians look at my personal situation (only being employed by the Columbus Symphony for 26 weeks per year due to severe cuts afew years ago) extremely negatively.  Yes, it sure sucks that my orchestra's only working for 26 weeks rather than 46 weeks just a few short years ago.  But all that free time does allow one to practice A LOT if they so choose, work on other musical projects and have a "normal" family life.  Sure, I'd much rather be playing in an orchestra right now, but when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.
BE update
Published on Dec. 4, 2011 by Julia Rose

Last week I returned from a vacation over Thanksgiving to visit relatives in Florida.  My accomodations were pretty spartan, basically a tiny trailer with no air conditioning, but my family and I had agood time.  I had orchestra services immediately upon my return to Ohio,so I needed to hit the ground running and stay in shape.  I did bring my horn, and I ended up practicing about 40 minutes daily every evening in a practice mute, staying in shape by making tiny sounds in a tiny tool shed in a tiny trailer.  When I returned home after the trip, after some long tones to get my air working normally again, I was surprised to find that I was playing better than when I left.  How did this happen?  I attribute it to the fact that I have revamped my maintenance routine, adding exercises from Jeff Smiley's Balanced Embouchure after a brief warm up.

As I mentioned here and here, I've been working on the book for a few months.  I originally was doing the exercises at the end of the day because I was worried the exercises would interfere negatively with my normal playing (they ARE intense).  That seemed to be going well, so during some of my off weeks I decided to try to putt hem at the beginning of the day to see what would happen.  It turned out that everything improved.

The RI/RO exercises make perfect range and attack studies, and the TOL (tongue on lips) exercises allow one to experiment with articulations and air speed, making for a complete maintenance routine.  When added to a brief warm up and a few scales, it's a perfect 40 minute routine for me.  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. After playing through my new routine, I feel like I can play anything, anytime and anywhere.  I play my warm up, the BE exercises, and then forget about it all and just play music.

Being able to play in any range using either a rolled-in ora rolled-out embouchure has given me the flexibility and confidence to know I can play anything under any conditions, no matter how my chops feel.  The TOL  exercises have been especially ground breaking 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.

When I'm having difficulty with an excerpt or passage, I find myself relating the passage to a specific BE exercise.  For example, I was having trouble with the mid-range intervallic leaps in the beginning of Bruckner's 4th symphony.  But a mid-range interval of an octave or a tenth is by no means as large as a 3 octave leap in and out of the pedal register!  So, by reminding myself of what I have to do to play the interval leaps in RO #3 and RI #4, Bruckner 4 has become much easier.

I've decided that in my own development, the ALS (advanced lip slur) exercises weren't really doing anything for me.  I found that I was able to play through all of them right away, so it wasn't advantageous to keep playing them.  I find that I get plenty of advanced lip slur practice in my normal playing, so I've decided to just keep working on the other exercises.  I may decide to work on the ALS exercises later,but extending them into the trumpet ranges.

Overall, I've been thrilled at the results I'm getting from BE, which I was not expecting atall.  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.  I look forward to even more improvements in the months/years to come.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Feed back From Alex Shuhan's Studio


Continuing to experience more and more revelations thanks to BE. Students are all responding very well, in fact, I've had more students offering to me their own self-awareness observations than I've ever experienced. Typical lesson is for students to come and wait for me to tell them something, and if I ask questions, they're usually uncomfortable and baffled! Now, it is not uncommon for the students to be offering up their own questions and observations of things they are suddenly noticing about their playing. This is huge and completely a result of BE.

Other thoughts, one-liners, etc.:

Compression ALLOWS for vibration. (I NEVER really understood what compression meant. For me now, it seems to be the MOST important thing to understand/experience and it has been revealed to me entirely thanks to BE).

If you've mastered range, tone, flexibility, intonation, articulation, dynamics and a general ease of production, BE is not for you. All others should consider opening the BE door to possibility.

BE allows for real understanding.

Anything that has changed in my playing as a result of BE has happened in a gentle, easy manner. The adjustments, improvements have all occurred in a way that makes the whole playing process better informed.

If you've been stuck, unable to affect change and/or improvement…BE!

Alex Shuhan, Assoc. Prof. of Horn
Ithaca College School of Music

Monday, April 2, 2012

BE in a Nut Shell-- Well Sorta

I exhibited The Balanced Embouchure for Horn at the Northwest Horn Symposium in Tacoma this past weekend.  It was great fun meeting young horn players in my local area.  I bought this T-shirt pictured to the left from the Ted Brown Music exhibit.  Cute, huh?

Here in Tacoma, as in San Francisco, the most frequently asked questions about BE were this type:  How does it work?  What's the main idea behind it?  People want a jiffy sound bite to concisely explain the core concept of BE.  Tall order for an enthusiastic and verbose individual such as myself.  So.... here are five little elevator speeches of decreasing lengths to answer this question.

(1) How does BE work?  in less than 30 seconds:
The Balanced Embouchure is a set of exercises that help develop the embouchure that works best for the individual.  BE expands range of motion providing opportunities for discovery that can prompt positive changes in the embouchure.  This process enables the player to break self limiting ties that bind him to his "comfort zone" enabling him to increase range, endurance, flexibility and tone.

(2) How does BE work?  in less than 15 seconds:
The Balanced Embouchure a set of exercises that help develop the embouchure that works best for the individual.  BE expands range of motion to influence  an increase in range, endurance, flexibility and tone.

(3) How does BE work?  in less than 10 seconds:
The Balanced Embouchure a set of exercises that help develop the embouchure that works best for the individual.  It improves playing by expanding range of motion in the embouchure.

(4) How does BE work?  In less than 5 seconds:
The Balanced Embouchure a set of exercises that help develop the embouchure that works best for the individual.

(5) How does BE work?  in less than 2 seconds:
It's magic! 

For one of the most specific, articulate and elegant description I've read of how BE can helps one horn player embouchure develop her embouchure, read this by Julia Rose.  Below are some comments I've received to this posting:
From Luke Zyla:
"Played the most taxing gig in my life yesterday.  I was just thinking that I could not have done it without your help by introducing me to BE and the help from David Nesmith and his new book on breathing.  Thanks,  Luke" 
From Jonathan Penny:

"Dear Val, There may be some kind of delayed response to the BE exercises, because truthfully, in the last six months, I have only been on the horn for twice a week for church orchestra and community with no practice sessions in between (no BE exercises)… Anyhow, I have been enjoying much improved playing lately (the horn is fun again!!!); more pleasing/richer tone with better flexibility and less “clams” thoughout all registers, along with more dependable upper register up to a usable B flat (never had that before!!!) with better endurance; basically making progress in all the areas...All in all, my playing feels much more natural; I don’t micro-analyze it, just depend on the sound to tell the embouchure what works and what does not…. JP"

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Alexander Shuhan's Early Impressions of BE

Alexander Shuhan purchased The Balanced Embouchure January 25th, 2012.  One month later I received this from him in an email:

Valerie, Greetings!  Starting to wade into BE and pushing my studio along on the cart ahead of me.  Thanks!  More sharing will follow soon... 

A few days later, Alex emailed again to order BE books for all his students:

I just had a freshman in for a lesson who had never played below a low F# on the F horn--she was just now getting pedal B's to speak a fifth lower!  Unbelievable!  :-)  . . . .

Looking forward to sharing my experiences w/ you as my students have a little more time to soak all of this in.  A couple of them have already shown significant changes in their playing.  My own playing improvements are blowing my mind.  I'm trying to keep track of everything I'm thinking about and how BE is informing change/growth, but it is seriously almost overwhelming in a positive way.  All I know is that just about everything I've ever heard said about how to play NOW makes sense...and at least for me, it's all nearly completely opposite of what I thought I understood.  I'd call that somewhat significant!!! :-)  More later...and thanks again!


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

BE for Horn, Dreams Realized

I started BE in the spring of 2006.   At that time, my dream was to acquire the ability to play the full range of the horn with ease.  I believed if I could do that, everything else would eventually fall into place with enough practice.  I remember writing to Jeff Smiley, "If this works for me, I'm going to tell my old  horn professor about it," because nothing he and I tried helped me improve my range and endurance.  After my sophomore year, I dropped out of university music school in 1973 feeling defeated.  Some 30+ years later, I decided to give horn playing another try.

Now, after nearly six years of studying BE, my dream of having command of the full range of the instrument has been realized.  I have the range to  play any note in the literature and any horn part for a very long time before tiring.  (That's not to say I can play any part, just the range needed for any note of any part!)  For example, after performing 1st horn on Beethoven's 7th, my chops still felt "fresh."  Having good range and endurance frees me to focus on the many other aspects of horn playing such as tone, phrasing, technique, etc.

Ten months after I began studying The Balanced Embouchure, seeing that BE really "worked" I had another dream, to share BE with the horn world.  I wanted all horn players with a desire to improve their embouchures to know that there's a simple method available that not only promises, but delivers results. (See Christain Hansen's testimonial here.)  I wanted to tell them that this method works without the drudgery of slaving away for hours a day on strength building exercises.  This method is technique driven and is mastered by practicing a few exercises that are so simple, kids can do them.  

I especially wanted to share this message with college students who may be struggling with embouchure issues like I did.  I am very happy to see my dream come true as college level horn students and instructors from all over the globe are now studying BE.  In addition, there are now high school and middle school band directors teaching BE as part of their brass instruction.

What I never dreamed of in my BEginnings was to see professional horn players embrace BE for their own use.  That was a complete surprise to me.  I naively assumed that all professional horn players had perfectly balanced chops so had no need for BE.  I was wrong and have enjoyed seeing a substantial number of pro's embrace BE for their own benefit.  I've even had the pleasure of seeing a couple who had thrown in the towel on professional performing due to embouchure issues, but return to it joyfully!  (Search my blog for testimonials of professional horn players who use BE:  Andrew Joy, Dave Stoller, Steve Park, Sandra Clarke, John Ericson, Julia Rose, Hans Christian, Alex Shuhan....)

This gives me a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment to have my dreams come true.

Valerie Wells

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Amazing Steve Park!

Steve Park is an amazing guy. How does he find the time to teach full time, record you tube videos, play a million gigs a week AND generously share his work with others on line? Maybe there are two of him.  Anyway, here's a link to his latest. It's a website where you can download audio files of the recordings he has done. Thanks, Steve, for all you do.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tough to Squeak & Feedback from Dan

It's long been a mystery to me how the Roll Out exercises (RO) could improve the upper register.  It seems counter intuitive, but time and time again I get feedback of BE students claiming significant improvements in their upper register as well as the mid and low by practicing RO.  I've come to accept the idea that whatever improves the embouchure will improve every aspect of it's performance.  The following is an exchange I had with JB, a newbee to BE.  Following this, I received insightful feedback from Dan whose experience is typical for BE students.  

JP: The books and CD arrived safely. Roll out was easy - always had a pretty good low register.

Val:  This is typical for horn players.  RO is usually easy for most of us.  

JP: Have been doing lip clamps. So far no lengthy squeak!  Rats. If I get a squeak it lasts only two or three seconds, and definitely does not keep going if I put the horn to my lips - even gently. The sound I am getting in the horn sounds more like something dying.

Val:  LOL!  This is normal and expected.  Some people can squeak beautifully, others can't.  It doesn't matter.  What does matter is this:  first, you learn to roll your lips in and second, you learn to keep them rolled in while you blow air through them.  The sound is less important than the technique and motion you will learn from practicing the exercise.     

As you persist in this exercise, you will eventually learn how to keep your lips rolled in and produce a tone with the mouthpiece applied.  The first tones are never beautiful.  They oft times are messy with multiple buzz points.  That's okay.  It's only an exercise.  Even now, after doing BE for 5 1/2 years, some days my RI exercises don't sound clear.... but I remember to tell myself, it's only an exercise.  I have progressed very satisfactorily in spite of my not-so-pretty lip clamp squeaks and RI exercises.

JP:  Has anyone else experienced no results after two days?

Val:  Are you kidding?  People struggle with this for weeks and months and work for years to perfect it.  Don't worry.  You're right on schedule.

JP: I'm hoping lip clamps will eventually provide enough strength to get a good squeak going.

Val:  There's a little "strength" involved, but mostly executing the lip clamp squeak and the RI exercises is a matter of learning a technique that you will eventually be able to wrap your brain around.
JP: I majored in horn in college during the 50s, but could never develop the high register enough to consider a performance career. Did a career without playing horn, then, at age 72, took it up again after 50 years, bought an early Elkhart 8D, and now play in (location withheld). I like 4th horn just fine, but darn, I want endurance and a high register. I'm counting on BE.

Val: As you persist doing these exercises with extreme lip shapes, you will learn (both consciously and unconsciously) to "borrow" bits and pieces from these positions of RI and RO that can be applied to your regular playing to improve your range and endurance.  Trust me, it works!  :o)  BE will deliver, but it takes time, persistence and patience.  

Hang in there,  you will succeed!  

Warm regards,
Valerie Wells 
Dan's Feed Back

Dear Valerie,

I would like to tell you of my experiences with BE.
I have been working my way very slowly through the exercises and have not progressed beyond RI and RO 3. I've worked on them intensively but sporadically for about 6 months but I can now say that I have noticed great improvements in the strength of my high register.
For some time I did not see any progress but I kept the faith and it seems to have paid off.  It may be of interest to some students that the exercises that made most of the difference were the ROLL OUTS! I had assumed that I needed to work on Roll Ins for my high register but this was not so.  For some reason the roll outs were much more effective for me. Of course I still do the Roll ins but it was the Roll Outs that enabled me to do the Roll Ins. [Italics added.]

Dan DeWitt 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Truth Passes Through Three Stages

Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher (1788 -- 1860), wrote:

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."  
I believe The Balanced Embouchure method is approaching stage three. I am glad I haven't been "violently opposed" as I've promoted BE, but anyone who has followed this little saga since the spring 2007 can not deny that I've been opposed with vigor and venom!  There remain only a few who openly ridicule me for what I do.  However, The Balanced Embouchure for horn is now used by over 237 French horn players on every continent, except perhaps Antarctica.  It's exciting and satisfying to be a part of this.  

Jeff Smiley is making a significant and positive contribution to brass pedagogy.  

(Update in 12/23/13:  I stopped counting a about a year ago when the number of French horn players using BE passed 320.)