Saturday, November 22, 2014

Andrew Joy & Mouthpiece Independence

"One of the great beauties of BE for me is that I am now relatively mouthpiece independent. Meaning for the horn that I can instantly play on a variety of horn mouth pieces and feel fairly comfortable immediately as well as very easily switching to trumpet and or trombone. Apart from that, I now own the G above high C and everything in between. The sound in this upper register keeps filling out and improving in quality. And it just keeps on getting easier. The end is nowhere in sight. At this stage of my life and career, I find it rather fascinating and exciting."  
~Andrew Joy

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

BE for All High Brass

Oft times, high brass players quickly find improvements in endurance before they've even learned all the BE exercises in spite of the difference between the instruments. Alan Greene's experience quoted below is very similar to Tzippi's experience (s  Responses like this are typical for BE'ers on all high brass. 
Hi  Valerie – I just wanted to relay a brief progress report.  I can get 5 of the 7 double pedals in RO#1 pretty consistently.  I occasionally get the 6th with good tone, but not every time.  The interesting thing about this one (the 6th, a G on cornet):  if I get it at all, it’s with a good, focused tone.  If I don’t have that, I can’t get it with poor tone.  I also try RO#2 and #3, going down as far as I can at this point (usually 5 of the 7). I am having some success with RI#1, and am sometimes starting the day with this one.  I have not yet attempted anything further on the Roll-in side. I do the “hold until empty” exercises, and am up to Advanced Lip Slurs #1 and #2 with reasonable results. The great thing (for me) at this point, is that in regular playing I notice much improved tone quality, range, and endurance.  The last (endurance) was always my downfall.  In the past I would sometimes get great compliments from accomplished musicians, such as “You played beautifully”.  I would graciously thank them while thinking, “Just don’t ask me to do it again, at least not right now”. Anyway, thanks for your encouragement. 
Regards, Alan Greene 
An update from Alan Greene:

 Hi Valerie – I haven’t emailed in a while, and just wanted to touch base.  Hope you and yours are well. BE continues to deliver.  Interestingly enough, what has proven to be most beneficial to me is the roll-out side of the equation, and so I concentrate most of my time with the RO’s.  Also doing lip slurs and TOL, with noticeable benefit. In summary, the development is no longer by great leaps and bounds (which was the case in the early stages of my “comeback”), but rather slow and steady.And most enjoyable! Regards,Alan

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tzippi: "Something is definitely changing!"

Following are excerpts from a little discussion that was posted in "Horn People", a FaceBook discussion group.  

Tzippi Cheryl Pellat:  I have been playing horn continuously for 40yrs. (many of them as a professional) and am quite a skeptic. I have a large collection of warmups from various teachers-all of which were going to help various facets of my playing. Even at my best I always had high register and endurance problems. I decided to take the plunge and bought the BE kit from Valerie Wells and have been doing the exercises for about 2 months. I still can't get to the bottom or top notes and haven't yet done all the exercises...40min about 4 times a week is about all I have... So imagine my surprise when I was at a WW chamber music day and played 4 sessions of 90 min. each. Session 3 was Mozart Quintet for horn and strings and session 4 I played the 2nd bassoon part of Grand Partita....and then got through our orchestra rehearsal the next evening (3rd hn. Brahms 4). Something is definitely changing!

Andrew Joy:  Tzippi, congratulations. Hang in there. I promise you it just keeps on getting better. If it is an encouragement, I fought for four years before the range above high C finally gave in to my efforts. Now I own a high G above that high C, also and even after say six weeks off playing.

Michael Langiewicz:  It works.  

Valerie Wells:  Wonderful!  Thanks for sharing.  You made my day!  The 2 month mark is usually when BE "students" begin to see improvements, but sometimes it can take longer.  

Andrew Joy:  But also much shorter, Valerie.  Two weeks were all I needed to BE hooked!

Kristina Mascher-Turner:  Andrew Joy, when do you ever have six weeks off?  

Andrew Joy:  Good question, Kristina.  Only after I got BE working.  

Michael Langiewicz:  The proper muscularity is essential. The greats have it naturally, the rest of us need a disciplined routine. I still get the eye rolls when I talk BE, but no one else in the section is warming up to F above high C.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Born Again" Horn Player

When Christian Hansen first approached me about The Balanced Embouchure, he had returned to school to get his teaching certificate. After 10 frustrating years of professional performance in another country he was ready to stop professional performing and start teaching.   About a year later, he sent me this photo.  He is now happily performing  again with the 113th Army Band "Dragons" in Ft. Knox, KY.   

Below is a copy of an email he sent to Jeff Smiley in 2009:  

"I received the BE book, with horn amendments, about two weeks ago and have been in close contact with Valerie Wells since with lots of "how too" questions (Valerie has been great by the way). In all my years I have never seen a (for lack of a better word) "miracle" product that actually delivers what it says like BE has. 

RI is no problem and RO is getting better but the amazing thing is the results on my regular playing. I can easily play up to a high C and with surprisingly little effort can play scales and arpeggios up to F, G, A and Bb (only once) above that. I am not contorting my face or straining. Tone and low register have gotten stronger and more solid too. I am SHOCKED that your system has not taken the brass teaching/playing world by storm.

All my formal training was - whether they actually said it or not - with the Farkas method. Heck my Undergrad was at IU. I have never seen a horn player without something of a flat chin and tight corners. Trumpet players are another story. I have seen many with air pockets and a bunched chin and always wondered how they could play with that "screwed up" set up. I think that is funny now. 

Thanks again. I am so glad I stumbled across your system. The internet is a wonderful thing."

Christian Hansen
Band Director and born again Horn Player

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Eight Years on BE and Still Going

This is my original copy of BE purchased in 2006. 
It's been 8 years since I began studying BE.  Knowing how ADD I am and my history of flitting from one hobby to the next, I think it's amazing that I'm still playing horn.  For me, 8 years is a record for continuous engagement in one single, just-for-fun, creative endeavor.

Earlier this summer, I enjoyed playing pit orchestra for a local production of "The Sound of Music." And I'm definitely looking forward to another season with the Tacoma Community College orchestra and symphonic band.  And I'm hoping to play in the orchestra for local church productions of "The Messiah", "Lamb of God" and any other ad hoc music activities that come my way.  And I'm looking forward to many more years of horn playing.  I know, without any doubt, if it weren't for BE, I would have quit (again!) years ago.

My husband commented recently, "You'd be miserable without your music." He's right. I'm grateful for Jeff Smiley's huge contribution to my happiness.  "The Balanced Embouchure" has helped make horn playing a joyful and satisfying experience.


Cameron Kopf gave this feedback to this post on FaceBook:   

CONGRATS, Valerie Wells! Your sharing of this technique is valuable to the horn community, and it is gratifying to hear that it has helped you keep playing for 8 years!

BE has truly been one of the best things to happen in my playing over the past 2 years, both on trumpet and horn! I continue to evolve with it daily.

I am discovering over time that BE is a very fluid technique, enabling me to play both horn and trumpet with much more ease, and I incorporate various aspects of it in different playing situations.

After learning the basics and following the instructions as closely as possible for the first year, later on it is up to the individual to decide how to apply the techniques; it's not cookie cutter. The concepts of rolling-in and rolling-out forms the basis for all brass playing, really. It's all a matter of pacing and combining RI & RO techniques to fit the musical situation at hand.

As time goes on, it seems to be becoming more "fluid" for me, being able to shift between these techniques. And so, as a professional horn player, I have made good progress on the trumpet over the past 2 years.

I am firmly convinced that I would have NOT been able to achieve this progress without BE. Thanks again Valerie. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Losing a friend, Sandra Clark

        With sadness that I report the passing of Sandra Clark.  Sandra was not only a fine horn player, but a good friend. Sandra took the time to study BE then kindly and publicly supported my efforts to promote The Balanced Embouchure on the Memphis Horn list when many French horn players openly ridiculed it. She also took the time to email Jeff Smiley to show her appreciation for his work with the same passion she used to express herself in her every endeavor.  
         "Congratulations on your work. I believe that within ten years (less if there is any justice and fairness out there), everyone will be teaching your concept of lip rolling -- if not the entire spectrum of your method."
Read her complete testimonial here
Read her obituary here.  

Many will miss you, Sandra Clark. Rest in Peace.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

"Try BE first... it might be the cheaper solution to your problem."

Last week, I received a delightful email from Marina in Germany.  

Dear Valerie,

First of all my husband and I want to say "thank you".  The BE book and the French horn booklet I had ordered on march 31st arrived quite quickly. Your e-mail with some additional information for French horn players was very helpful to me, too.

This e-mail is quite long and I´m going to refer to different topics.
It might be helpful for you to know what I´m going to write about. Otherwise you might find it somehow unstructured.

1. " 3 weeks of "To BE and not to BE": what happened?"
2. "Surprise, surprise: Uwe Zaiser´s performance of the LCS on Youtube!"
3. "What I (long time ago!) learned from three different teachers:
     (Short summary: lots, nothing, nothing.)"
4. "How you (with BE) can save or (without BE) can waste a big amount of 
      money ;-)"
There we go!  

1. " 3 weeks of "To BE and not to BE": what happened?"

After 10 days:  Now both of us (my husband (trumpet) and I (French horn)) are practicing BE for about 10 days and we can sometimes give feedback to each other; that´s great.  And yes, there are already funny things happening during our every day practicing sessions and during the rehearsals.For example:  I recognized that that very little bit of "finding the double pedals" , "RO#1" and "figuring out the lip clamp squeak" is affecting my flexibility in normal playing in a positive way.  Even the sound is getting richer. I should tell you that I quite soon could hear that myself, but I refused to believe my ears.  I thought: "It´s somehow psychological... you WANT that big sound and now you started practicing BE and that´s why you´re thinking you can hear it yet. It´s like going to see the doctor and while you´re speaking to him you already feel a little bit cured." But, hey! Others can hear it, too! (So I don´t have to go and see a shrink ...)

The most funny thing is that since the sound is becoming richer, there are incredibly large amounts of water in the slides, while I´m practicing in the same room and at the same roomtemperature as before. I could almost fill my dog´s drinking bowl with it!  (By the way: my dog is a ShiTzu, not a Saint Bernard, in case you start wondering about the size of the bowl...)

So I started thinking about that. Result: there can only be two reasons for it:

Reason 1: It´s not water, it´s spit. Well, I could tell you funny stories about huge amounts of spit in the third valve Bb-horn-slide, related to being the principal during Tchaikowsky 5th... but in this case, it´s NOT spit.

Reason 2: The way my lips are moving in the mouthpiece is changing. Because of this I´m blowing more air into the horn than before. The richness of the sound and the water are due to (still small) development of the embouchure. I suppose, that´s more likely. Honestly: I can´t get through an Gallay-Etude anymore because I have to stop and empty the slides. If the producer of the slide grease I use has shares on offer, I´m going to buy all of them! (Just kidding...)

After 3 weeks: After those 10 days of practicing BE I unfortunately got a serious cold that affected my breathing in a way that I could neither speak nor play horn. (But I did the Lip Clamp once a day!)  I had to stop playing for more than a week and started again 3 days ago.  The first 2 days the BE-effect seemed to be gone, but I didn´t worry about that.

Yesterday (third day of playing after the cold) I started practicing at 6 p.m. That´s normally the time of the day we have dinner. So I told my husband he would have to wait for one more hour.  At 8 p.m. he said: "I´m really hungry..." Oooops! 2 (!) hours of playing? And I had already been playing for 1 hour that morning. 3 (!!!) hours of practicing a little bit of BE, some scales and arpeggios and 4 different Gallay-Etudes? Three days after I hadn´t played for about 9 days?  And: the sound was almost as good again as after that 10 days of BE before I got ill.  And again there´s a lot of water in the slides...

 2. "Surprise, surprise: Uwe Zaiser´s performance of the LCS on Youtube!"

There´s ´something else I wanted to tell you about:  When I tried to figure out the LCS for the first time, I didn´t really understand what Jeff meant by using the word "squeak". I was asking myself if it was something like buzzing a very high pitch. So I asked my friend "Youtube" and found a guy called "Spasstrompeter" demonstrating the LCS. With his heavy German accent he says: "No-no buzzing!" This helped me a lot! Without that little video I would have done the wrong thing without being conscious of it. (Later that week I read about the fact that some years ago he had uploaded almost all BE-exercises, but Jeff convinced him not to share all of them on YouTube, because people would imitate his embouchure. And BE is not about imitating somebody, but about figuring out what your own individual balanced embouchure is like. I think Jeff is right, but I´m also very happy that the LCS can still be found on Youtube. It´s helpful because of the  "mosquito-sound". And yes, the player´s corners are quite tightened, but it´s his individual way to do the LCS...)  

When "Spasstrompeter" appeared in front of his camera I immediatly recognized him as Uwe Zaiser.  I know him for more than 20 years, even he does not know me at all. Uwe Zaiser is not only first chair in a very good German orchestra, he has also been (and still is)  a member of the excellent German brass quintett "Rennquintett". The Rennquintett was founded in 1987 and I started taking French horn lessons in 1993, when I was thirteen. The first 2 years my teacher (and band leader) was Ralf Rudolph, tuba player of the Rennquintett.  (In my first e-mail I told you that my first teacher was a tuba player, which might be the reason that I have kind of a trumpet embouchure and that I´ve never been told anything about such strange things like "einsetzen"...He also played the trombone quite well, but couldn´t get a proper sound out of a French horn (*LOL*).)  Of course I heard Uwe perform with the Rennquintett and I still have some 20 year-old Rennquintett CD´s... (Time to get the newest ones!)  

And I think it´s funny when I as a German order the BE-method (which is quite unknown here) from someone in the United States and then find my old teachers colleague on Jeff´s official BE-teachers list and as the one who solved my LCS-problem via Youtube.

 3. "What I (long time ago!) learned from three different teachers:
     (Short summary: lots, nothing, nothing.)"

 Due to the fact that I almost didn´t play between my 20th and 30th birthday, it took me quite a long time to recognize that  I have had a good teacher (-> Uwe´s colleague). I didn´t recognize until the time when I was a "come-back"  in the Dutch orchestra I´m playing now with. More than once one of the other horn players said: "You must have had a  good teacher!" Yes, I´ve had a great teacher who was not able to play French horn at all, and I´m very, very grateful for that (*LOL*)!  After two years of teaching me he decided that I  needed someone who could teach me more specific things concerning the French horn. The next 18 months I tried two professional horn players as teachers and what I learned was: nothing.

At that time I also got some health problems and so I quit.  I gave up the idea of becoming a professional player, but I went on playing in the orchestra as long as I still went to school. When I became an university student I had to move to another town and I couldn´t find an orchestra which I could have joined.  I (almost didn´t) play anymore until I was 31 years old.

 4. "How you (with BE) can save or (without BE) can waste a big amount of money ;-)"
By the way: In the second year of my come-back-period I struggled enormously with my horn, especially with the sound. (It´s one of the very early Engelbert Schmid horns, manufactured after his plans, but not by himself. My first teacher (-> the one who played tuba) found it for me in 1995. One of his colleagues wanted to sell it.) So I took it to a professional horn player near Amsterdam (The Netherlands) for a general overhaul (...the first one after 15 years...shame on me!...) This man is also a French horn manufacturer and I told him that I was thinking about buying a new horn. When he seemed very interested in buying my instrument, I became suspicious.  So I looked up Engelbert Schmid´s price list on the internet in order to find out what my kind of horn would cost right now when it would be new. I almost lost consciousness...And I decided that I´m a lucky devil.

I also decided that it must be me who creates the bad sound, not the horn. At the same time a Dutch horn player whom I had told about my plans to buy a new instrument gave me a magazine from the Dutch horn society (Nederlands Hoornisten Genootschap).  In that magazine I found an interesting article. The title was: "There exist no bad horns, just bad ...(horn players)".  The next day I opened the website of my favourite search engine and entered (in English): "French horn embouchure".  And I found a website with a picture of a very nice looking lady and her horn ... Guess who... I started practicing more seriously, which helped a lot (*LOL*), but after 4 months I wrote you an e-mail...

So if somebody says: "I need a new horn, because mine sounds badly somehow!", you can answer: "Try BE first, because it might be the cheaper solution to your problem..."

(And OF COURSE there are bad instruments and buying a good one is not a waste of money, but it doesn´t make sense to buy an Engelbert Schmid Triple or an Alexander 103 when you cannot play properly...)  It´s unnecessary to say that not all of my dreams concerning my horn sound and flexibility have come true yet.

Kind regards from Germany, Marina

Monday, March 24, 2014

BE- It's Not Just for High Notes!

On Tues my BE arrived and I immediately began Roll Out 1. Did LCS, some Roll In, got acquainted, so to speak.

Late Thurs I got an emergency call from a a local Maestro that the 2nd horn had torn a retina, could I sit in on 2nd for the Fri and Sat shows? No rehearsal, no music, sight read the concerts. I am a high horn guy, I play a Bb/Eb horn, I can count on my thumbs the times I have ever played 2nd, I have no idea what a ledger below the staff is. So, naturally. I said "Sure".

In the Faure Pavane the 2nd blasts out A,G F whole notes, (below middle C), ff with accents, my worst notes and range. Long story short. The notes roared out. (I reminded myself to pull my corners in and roll out). Then the same A, breath attacked at piano with a steady cres to forte in the Bruch violin concerto. Same result.

The encore piece was Gliere Russian Sailor's Dance, which I played 1st on to spell the Principal. Decided to take the F# after the non-stop D's the end. Roared.

Nobody is more amazed than me.
Michael Langiewicz

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Questions from a BEginner

Q: Should I wait to move on to Roll out 2 until I can play every note in Roll out 1??? If I EVER hit the low C it will be something I have NEVER been able to do....

A: No. I always say do what you CAN do, keep trying to do what you CAN'T, and MOVE ON. Over time you will be able to do every note of every exercise. In the mean time, there's no need to hold yourself back unless you're trashing your chops overdoing things. But, you'll have to be the judge of how much is too much.

Q: Can I do the Roll ins and LCS with less air pocket? I find I can get more clamp and squeak by keeping the air pockets to a minimum...

A: Yes, you can. That's how I did them for two years and I progressed very nicely. But . . . I encourage you to continually strive to play RI's with one or more air pockets (in upper lip and/or lower lip and/or cheeks). If you never learn how to do the air pockets, you'll still play well and progress quite nicely, but you'll miss some additional benefits that can only come from playing RI with air pockets. The benefit of playing RI with air pockets brings a whole new shape & feel to your lips that are so "inside the mouthpiece" I can't even explain them. It's kinda like religion, it's one of those things that simply must be experienced to understand. HAH! Do it as often as you like. You will have to be the judge to determine how much is too much. I had an interesting experience with LCS when I first came back to horn. I had been playing for only a few months when I joined a community band. There was a younger man, Andy, sitting beside me who came back to horn about the same time I had. I was practicing 3 hours a day; Andy only practiced 30 to 45 minutes a day. I was killing myself to play a fourth line D; Andy was playing above the staff with ease. It was baffling to me. I chalked it up to his youth and strength. A few months later I found BE and read about LCS. I went to band rehearsal and demonstrated LCS to him. When he saw it he said, "Oh yeah, I do that all the time!" "Why?" I asked. He explained that he does LCS, not as an embouchure exercise, but for fun when he plays silly games with his 2 year old son. He also explained that he had been doing LCS since his childhood because that 's how little boys make "naughty noises" to embarrass their mothers, teachers and the girls! I carefully watched Andy play his horn, and observed that he bunched his chin upwards as he pushed his lips together to play. When it came to embouchure & the high range, Andy was just a "natural." Well, guess what? My practice habits and BE paid me big dividens. A few months later, I had all the range I needed and then some.. as if I were a "natural." This was one of several experiences in my early days of studying BE that served to convince me that Jeff Smiley knew what he was talking about. Jonathan, I can tell by your questions that you are going to progress very nicely with BE! You're grasping the concepts very well. I may want to use these questions either on my blog or a "BE for French Horn" email. Would that be okay with you?  Valerie

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Trumpet and Horn: More from Cameron

I posted a discussion from Cameron Kopf a few days ago (scroll down).  Now Cameron is sharing a picture and more information about his application of BE principals to his regular embouchure and his mouthpiece choice.  [I commented at the bottom in brackets.]  

"I'm playing on a modified Yamaha 667: Dennis Houghton mouth pipe and Lawson ambronze bell, in case you're interested. I am very happy with this horn.

"At the moment I am using a Schilke #29 stock mouthpiece (unlike the Osmun London cup in the pic). I find that the slightly wider inner cup diameter of the Schilke works much better now that I'm doing BE. It's easier to roll in.

"By the way, I am now concentrating on using RI for all registers, just over the past couple of days, and am seeing good results. My particular challenge now is to get the second line G on the staff to open up, both in sound and for tonguing. So I am now working on opening that note up with sustained tones and faster tonguing. 

"Like you, I feel more comfortable with RI for most of my playing needs, but RO exercises are very important to do regularly to keep the RI muscles properly balanced."

"Best regards,

[Thanks, Cameron!  I don't really understand how & why RO works, but I know it does.  One trumpet player who's been studying BE for many years tells me that RO makes RI possible.  He says he does RO so he can do RI.  And, many, many horn & trumpet players report HUGE improvements from playing RO.  One pro trumpet player Jeff taught, struggled with several years of stagnation.  He took off like a shot with RO alone so never bothered with RI.  Go figure.  Some horn players think they don't need RO because they already have a low range.  I always tell them RO is not for the low range; it's for the whole embouchure.  Whatever develops the whole embouchure, develops range in both directions.] 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Trumpet and Horn: Cameron Kopf Feedback and Discussion

This post is a little more technical than most I post in my blog.
It contains some information that will only be understood by
BE students.  I decided to post it because it's another testimonial
from someone who has benefited from BE on both trumpet and horn.
[I will post my responses in brackets.]

Dear Valerie,

I have a lot to say about my experience with BE 
(on both trumpet and horn)...

I started using the Balanced Embouchure method (BE) last year, initially 
on trumpet. I experienced instant positive results on both RO and RI exercises 
from the very first day. My range and endurance on the trumpet improved 
immediately, and it gave me hope that I could actually manage to play both 
horn and trumpet interchangeably without problems.

A few months later, I began applying BE in my horn practice. I was hesitant 

at first, as I had been a professional horn player for 37 years, and didn't want 
to "mess up" what had worked reasonably well for me for so many years.   
I wanted to wait until I built a more solid foundation with BE on trumpet before 
playing the exercises on the horn.  Two months ago, I started practicing 
RO and RI exercises after my regular warm up, and am seeing progress 
now on the horn as well as I did on trumpet.

The main challenge for me with BE and horn is getting a rich, full tone while 

using RI. It is getting better all the time, the more I do the exercises. I am finding 
now that I am able to roll the lips in AND enlarge the aperture in the center 
 of the embouchure at the same time, which produces a better sound.

[I'm so glad to hear you're working it out for your benefit.  If we rush the RI into our 

regular playing to get high notes, "directly" as Jeff puts, that's what can happen.  
In the book he writes that we can learn to play with a full and beautiful tone on ANY 
embouchure setting.  I totally believe that.  It's just a matter of judicial application 
of BE principles, practice, careful listening and, of course, patience.]  

Another challenge is to coordinate my tonguing, which is in a different 

place while using RI. My particular issue is just above the staff, F, F#, G 
where the tongue becomes a bit "ploddy". I have to remind myself to keep 
the tongue very close to the top lip, further towards the roof of my mouth, 
in order to gain clarity on those notes.

[Very interesting.  Notice that on page 88, referring to the exercise on the bottom 

of page 89 (Tonguing With Lips Rolled In), Jeff Smiley writes: "When tonguing 
becomes easy, this embouchure can be used in everyday playing."  The key word in 
that information packed sentence is EASY.  I noticed that when TOL finally became 
easy, both my tonguing and my tone settled in the upper register and everything 
became clearer.  Jeff has seen this so many times in his 30+ years of teaching 1000s 
of trumpet lessons, he knows when the transition can be most beneficial.]  

I am developing my own set of exercises to supplement the BE materials for 

horn that you have already so generously provided to the Horn Community. 
Generally I am extending the RI notes downward.

[I think this is especially important for horn players because of our low range 
requirements.  In my video, I demonstrate "dragging down" the RI setting all the way 
down to pedal tones.  This practice has been very helpful for me so I can play 
"rangey" phrases without awkward resetting.]

I have yet to be able to tongue scales from the octave below middle C all 

the way up to high C smoothly, because it is difficult to shift from RO 
to RI fluidly encompassing those three octaves. Starting on middle C 
upward is much easier at this point. So I will start a few notes below middle C 
and see if I can extend my range upward, using the RI setting. The RO 
exercises starting on the pedal notes working upward are of great benefit, 
and perhaps if I continue working on them, these 3-octave scales will be easier 
using the RO setting.

[I would suggest practicing your a few 3 octave scales in both RO and RI every day.  

From doing this, you may find clues that will help you decide just how much RO and 
RI you need to combine to achieve a smoothest flow across your break.]

I have a question for you: Are the slurring exercises following the RO and 

RI sections supposed to be played on either setting, or both?

[The rule with the advanced lip slurs is "If it works, it's correct!"  This is when you 

will consciously apply the principles you've learned in the RO and RI exercises to 
your developing embouchure. But, when you get back to "regular" playing, you 
must try & forget about BE!  Easier said than done!]

There is a lot more to say, but this is enough to digest for one email. I look 

forward to hearing back from you, whenever you get a chance!

Best regards,
Cameron Kopf

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pole Vaulting

An unsolicited email from a happy BE'er.

Hi Valerie,
I have meant to let you know for a while how much I am enjoying the BE for French horn.  I originally thought of it mostly for extending my upper range but I have been surprised at how much it has extended my lower range and made it more rich and stable.

I first started using BE when the last summer Olympics was on.  As I was watching pole vaulting, it occurred to me that the way I had been attempting to play higher notes was a lot like someone like me trying to clear 17’ by blindly running at the bar with no idea of the mechanics involved.  Years ago, when I had the privilege of taking lessons from Kathleen Farner she would tell me to just relax when I was having trouble reaching a high note.  At the time it seemed impossible.  Now I am realizing that it actually works because BE gives me the ability to actually think about how to make my embouchure work for the note I am trying to make.  This also works psychologically because, as Kathleen also pointed out, half the battle was not panicking when the dreaded notes were approaching.

Now that my embouchure is improving its time to fix the growing problem with my left hand.  To that end I would like to order one of your comfy straps before my left pinky falls off.   -- Stephen Klassen

Friday, January 31, 2014

Julia Rose: Still Benefitting from BE

Julia Rose began writing about The Balanced Embouchure in 2009 and wrote extensively about "BE" before retiring her blog in 2012.  I hadn't hear from Julia for some time so I asked how she's doing in an email.  This is her reply:  
Hi Valerie,
Very well, thank you- thanks for asking!  I've been enjoying my internet anonymity- I am so short on time that I don't have time for all that anymore.  I'm still doing BE (specifically RI and RO 1-4) as part of my daily routine.  I feel that I'm playing better than I ever have right now.  I do take time off from the horn from time to time, and when I do feel the slightest out of shape, BE whips me right back into shape very quickly.
That's one of the benefits professional horn players seem to report and enjoy the most, the ability to take time off without losing much in terms of conditioning.  BE just keeps on giving year after year.  

Thanks for allowing me to share this, Julia.  :)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Air vs Embouchure and Other Things

Recently, John, a trombone player with some BE experience, told me that he has observed brass players obsessing too much over embouchure when they should be spending more time on air.  This was my reply:  
"I played French horn in college, but stopped for 33 years.  I came back to horn about 8 years ago and have observed just the opposite -- at least in the French horn world.  Embouchure talk seemed totally taboo in 2006, yet some French horn players seemed to obsess over air as if lips weren't even necessary for horn playing.  I listened intently and tried so hard to make it happen with air the way so many said it was supposed to work.  I was huffing & puffing blowing huge volumes of air through my horn to the point of hyperventilation but still couldn't come near the upper register.  And low notes were equally frustrating.  I couldn't hold a low register note for more than a few seconds before running out of air.  I thought I'd never be successful on horn because I assumed I just didn't have the lung capacity for it and my college experience had nearly convinced me that I didn't have the embouchure either.  When I finally found BE and was taught to manipulate my lips this way or that way, I suddenly could play notes in the upper range for the first time ever and could sustain low notes for much, much longer.

"When I informally introduced BE to the French horn community, huge efforts were made to correct the error of my ways.  I was ridiculed for using a trumpet method, especially one that blatantly taught the idea of rolling the lips in and out.  Shameful! Someone even scolded me for discussing the intimate subject of the embouchure in public, as if I were talking about bladder control! HA!  
"So.... My observation has been that only lately has it become "okay" to talk about chops again in the French horn world.

"I think the advancement of BE into the horn world has added a healthy weight and emphasis towards balancing air w/ embouchure.  Hundreds of horn players are now using BE and it's also being taught in private studios, high schools, middle schools and universities around the world.  Maybe the demands of the horn embouchure are more stringent than that of trombone, I don't know, but I see BE making a very positive improvement in horn pedagogy."   
I'm not certain my observations are accurate for the entire horn world.  What I observed may have simply been the dominant theme in the on-line discussion groups of the time (Memphis list and Yahoo Horn). But I believe it is most productive to emphasize both air and embouchure working in tandem as The Balanced Embouchure system does.

John responded,  
"Wow! That’s different from my experience but I surely believe you.  My take on BE is that, after a while, you’re not really rolling in and out so much anymore. Things stabilize and strengthen but the rolling in and out is natural while you’re building up.
"When I saw Claude Gordon and was rolling in and out for range changes he said go ahead, let the lips do whatever they want to do….and do the routine everyday! Sure enough, the lip motion started to become less and less. More efficient I would say.  I think it’s completely natural to do this. Who starts outs from day one with a strong, balanced embouchure?
"I'm really glad to hear that BE has been well received and is being used to success by so many players.  I think it has changed people’s lives for the better. So stressful to want to play well and not be able to get a handle on it. And some people make it look so easy!
"I’m sure horn is a lot tougher than trombone, chop wise. But every instrument has it’s own devil."   
I love John's observations.  BE uses exaggerated lip motions ("roll in" and "roll out") and breathing techniques ("snaps" and "zips") to awaken the student to movement and breathing possibilities they may not be aware of.  This awakening gives the student options for more productive, satisfying development. Here's an experience shared recently in an email:

"Hi Valerie,
"Well I've been pretty busy over Christmas with the band and two orchestras.  Like you I've followed the Farkas method religiously for 30 years. This will be my difficulty. To get out of pulling down the bottom lip. The Farkas method has failed me to an extent as I have a fairly fleshy top lip. As I said. The roll outs are no problem whatsoever. I can get the pedal E in Shostakovich 5 last movement no problem. Some of my students in band have said my lip was all over the place when I show them how to blow pedals. I said so be it if it aids in getting the extreme low notes. I can now reinforce my method to them when I show them Jeff's book. So I was right all along sort of thing. The roll ins will be more difficult after 30 years of puckering my lips. I have however started roll in exercises. I have to continually remind myself to roll in especially in the high register but it will be worth it. A small victory. We took out 633 Squadron at band the other night. Notable for it's many long unison top A's. It used to be about 7 out of 10 on the worry scale for pitching and endurance. I made myself use the roll in position and as the piece went on the worry scale became 2 out of 10. You and Jeff deserve top praise for helping all us trumpet and horn players throughout the globe.
          "Many thanks, Vincent McArdle."

I love what I do!

So why the picture of Steve Park playing a pedal tone?  Steve is the one who helped me see what BE really is when boiled down to it's simplest terms:
                                       Balancing air with embouchure.

For more about Steve Park, see these links: