Sunday, August 23, 2009

Guest Post - Warm Up

(Here's a post via e-mail from Valerie Wells. She runs the horn side of things for Jeff Smiley, adapting Balanced Embouchure for horn players. We were in touch back when I posted this on warming up, and I said if she had anything to add I'd be glad to post it. )

Earlier this year, Lyle asked if I'd like to contribute to his blog on the topic of warming up. I'm religious, actually fanatical, about doing my warm up "the right way" and it seems a simple task to write about it, so why have I struggled with this idea for so many months? I believe it's because I realize we are all unique and thus have unique warm up needs. The last thing I want is to promote the idea that I alone know the best one-size-fits-all warm up for all horn players.

I associate with fine horn players who have vastly different warm up strategies. I know one 60+ year old semi professional horn player who pulls his horn out of the case cold & plays Siegfried's Horn Call then proceeds to play anything else with equal ease and facility. Sheesh! I know another who spends 5 minutes on mid range scales, does two or three minutes of selected Balanced Embouchure exercises, then gets right to work on technical drills, practicing her band & orchestra literature, etc. I know a professional horn player who plays through a 12 minute set of tough chops building exercises (BE) two or three times in a row for his warm up. And then there's me . . . my personal warm up is about 25 minutes long, but before I tell you what I do, I think it would be helpful to tell you my horn playing history.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I dropped out of university music school because I was frustrated with my dysfunctional embouchure. 33 years later, I decided to come back to horn, hired a qualified private instructor and began practicing diligently. After 7 months, I'd regained all my previous playing abilities, and unfortunately, the same disabilities, severely limited range and endurance. Since the conventional approaches to embouchure development had failed me, I decided on my own to risk trying something radically different, The Balanced Embouchure (BE). BE is a unique development system for trumpet players "master minded" by the successful trumpet teacher, Jeff Smiley. Within a few weeks of starting BE, I was playing with noticeably improved range and endurance. My playing took off like a shot. My private instructor was so impressed she bought the BE book for herself.

But . . . almost a year later, in spite of the success I was having from the Balanced Embouchure, I still had a problem. I could play with good flexibility and facility for the first 45 minutes I played each day. When I came back to my horn later in the day, I would always find my lips had stiffened making playing difficult and the tone rough & "scratchy." I was doing my best to follow the practice schedule my private instructor recommended, so I was puzzled.

It was then that I found Wendell Rider's book, "Real World Horn Playing." Wendell claims that the most important thing we play each day is the warm up. He explains that when the warm up is not appropriate for the hornist's needs, the lips will stiffen, especially for older players. That made sense, so I dumped my old warm up and began the Wendell Rider warm up. The improvements began the very first day. As long as I warmed up the Wendell Rider way, I was finally able to play with good tone and flexibility anytime of the day.

It was just over three years ago I started The Balanced Embouchure and still find Jeff Smiley's BE exercises essential for maintaining my range and endurance. It was 2+ years ago I found Wendell Rider's warm up and I've found his warm up essential for maintaining my flexibility, tone & facility throughout the day. The few times I've departed from these excellent teachers' instructions, my playing has suffered. Just yesterday, I decided I didn't want to take the time for Wendell's warm up & did something else for a warm up. And just as before 2+ years ago, I played well for the first 45 minutes, but after a rest period, I came back to my horn and found my lips had stiffened so I couldn't play anything well. So last evening is when I knew exactly what I wanted share warming up on Lyle's blog today!

The Wendell Rider warm up starts in mid range and very gently, slowly expands upward and downward with lots of built in rests and pauses. During the first 10 minutes the ratio between the time the mouthpiece is on the lips and off is about 50/50. The complete Rider warm up efficiently covers just about every element of horn playing including tone development, listening, intonation, scales, transposition, phrasing, tonguing, dynamics, etc. But Rider's warm up is lacking the crucial & universal embouchure building elements found in "The Balanced Embouchure." To cover everything I need in one sitting, I put Jeff Smiley's BE exercises smack in the middle of Wendell Rider's warm up. I've found this routine not only keeps my playing at its best, but provides for my advancement as well.

I'm very pleased with the progress I've made since coming back to horn and know that I wouldn't be enjoying my horn today if it weren't for Jeff Smiley's and Wendell Rider's excellent contributions.

I have since written my adapted version of The Balanced Embouchure (BE) exercises to share with other horn players. I sell the BE book and give away my adapted exercises free of charge to all horn players who are working the BE development system. If any of you believe you could improve your chops with a fresh approach and would like to try BE, shoot me an email.

Valerie Wells
"The Balanced Embouchure" for French Horn

Lyle adds - If you're interested in the Rider book, here's a link for it via Bruce Hembd's blog store.

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