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.

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