Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Year of The Balanced Embouchure

It's been just over a year now that I got in touch with Jeff Smiley, the trumpet playing originator of The Balanced Embouchure, and he put me in touch with Valerie Wells, who handles the horn side of things. I bought the book and have blogged about it over time (with the tag BE). 

I continue to think Jeff's approach to helping people find their best embouchure is the best approach to music making I've ever come across. From time to time you'll see folks on the web talking about what they think it is, but you can tell they haven't read the book, so seize on a detail without appreciating the full range and scope of the method.

It's easy to understand why this is, because even though I've read the book from cover to cover twice now, whenever I flip through I'll come across a passage that I'd forgotten about or hadn't fully appreciated at the time of reading. Often this is because the passage is so common sensical I assume I already "know" it. Music making includes all kinds of large and small scale mental and physical activities, and knowing about them all isn't enough. You need to be aware of them in real time as you play as well, until they become second nature.

Jeff's book is a terrific aid for gaining those necessary awarenesses, but his method is to help you achieve them in the best way that works for you, not to instill "the right way". As a therapist, I see the way you walk the path towards greater abilities of making music to be more important than the abilities themselves. I think it's also the case that how you go about developing your music making abilities shapes those abilities for better or worse. 

Since I've been working with Jeff's method, my horn playing has been transformed in some deep sense. I've got better range and endurance, but the main thing is I now have a much better "feel" of what's going on with my embouchure. A big part of Balanced Embouchure is how the exercises give your musculature a chance to find its best way of working, a lot of which is happening below the conscious level, which is why it's hard to describe and is so often misunderstood.

For those of us who aren't natural players, Jeff's method helps us find our way towards how we would play if we were natural players. It's that approach of helping people find their own way towards natural music making I'd like to expand into more general aspects of making music.

1 comment:

  1. Lyle, I sincerely appreciate your comments. I first started studying BE almost four years ago. I laugh when I think about how I misunderstood what BE actually is. [I thought it was all about lip rolling. HAH!] In spite of my lack of understanding, I did the exercises as best I could and enjoyed tremendous improvements in my playing. Jeff Smiley developed BE over 30 years of study, research and teaching 100s of students. I will likely need 30 years to understand it. Like you said, Lyle, there's more to learn about this process than can be learned in only reading the book. BE is like a one of those life things that must be experienced to be understood. BE is an amazing system that provides me with learning opportunities daily. I've seen dramatic transformations in horn players. Several are professionals who thought their professional playing days were over, but are now able to continue. But most, are amatuers like me, who for whatever reasons had hit the wall and felt they couldn't continue. BE has restored hopes and dreams for them. It's very gratifying to be part of something that is making a difference in people's lives.

    Thanks for your insights, Lyle.

    Valerie Wells